An old friend of mine just sent me an email. It wasn’t just to me- she’s set up a mailchimp newsletter. The email was about secrets- she has just made a journey to tell a huge, life- changing truth to people who needed to hear it, and when she writes about the process her words are swollen with liberation and potential. It’s glorious to read.
She stopped writing for a while. She needed to pause in order to reassign her energy to bringing up two kids on her own, like a total fucking badass. A few years ago we were talking about how she wasn’t writing and I sent her a quote from Natalie Goldberg, about how our senses are dumb, and our experiences need time to compost so we can turn them into poems and stories, let them mulch from broken eggshells to black gold. I knew what Natalie was getting at, but my friend hadn’t a clue. ‘What the fuck does that mean?’ she said, maybe in as many words.
She stopped writing. I wrote less, and not about the things I really wanted to write about. We both had secrets. We both had to let stuff compost.
She I were close friends, back in the day. We were drinking buddies and writing buddies both. We would read each others’ writing on Diaryland and Livejournal, and then meet up in central London pubs to drink red wine and talk about writing and the stuff we’d been writing about. As will tend to be the way of these things, we mostly wrote about angst and feminism and fucking ridiculous men. In addition she wrote a lot about music and I wrote a lot about getting drunk and falling over, as that was my major hobby at the time. I was enormously good at it, better even than I was at angst and fucking ridiculous men, but eventually I got so good at it I had to stop, as will also tend to be the way of things.
In order to stop drinking I left London, and then spent most of the next decade not drinking and learning how to be a person who neither drank nor needed to do so. I read self- help books and meditated and did a lot of excellent therapy. I drank an incredible amount of Rooibosch tea and had a very ill- advised, brutally short haircut. I eschewed all forms of hedonism bar the odd night out dancing to crunchy techno, and for most of 2008 slept in a neck- to- ankle green flannel nightgown. For the entirety of that decade I did not sleep with any men at all, let alone ridiculous ones (which is something, I suppose). I basically became a bit of a nun, and to begin with- for the first few years- sloughing off the need or desire to have any kind of sexual relationship felt enormously freeing.
Until it didn’t. As I’m sure you can imagine if you’ve read any or all of this blog, the life of a nun is one to which I am profoundly unsuited for extended periods of time. Asceticism has its attractions, especially if you are still (sub- consciously and unnecessarily) atoning for your behaviour as a wayward and eventually raddled twenty- something. However, in an attempt to recalibrate my behaviour in intimate relationships I ended up cutting my sexuality off at the root, and as a result I went a bit mad. I took to my bed for months at a time, and stopped writing for extended periods, or wrote overwrought poetry about crushes on unobtainable people. (The crushes! We will not speak of the crushes. I try not to think about the crushes).
I was very unhappy. I didn’t know what I wanted, or maybe I did and I just didn’t know how to ask for or even accept it. I was terrified of rejection and therefore incapable of being available. In retrospect I was very close to LadyInceldom at points. Thank God for good therapists.
People ask me how I discovered I was into kink, and I don’t really know what to say. I find it an impossible question to answer concisely. I know that back in the day, when my writing buddy and I sat and drank wine and talked about ridiculous men, she would often laughingly tell me I was sexually repressed. She was pretty kinky, but I was, to be honest, pretty kink- negative back then. I loved sex, pretty mucky sex a lot of the time, but I didn’t really understand consent at all, and if you don’t understand consent then of course rough sex and D/s are weird and frightening and bewildering- of course they are.
(And maybe, if some of your first experiences of sex are not consensual, and not just not consensual but violently so, then that might govern your ability to understand consent. Of course it might).
But eventually I couldn’t bullshit any more. A few years ago I found myself reading a lot of slash fiction, much of which was BDSM flavoured. I realised that maybe part of the reason I had switched my sexuality off was that vanilla sex, and the idea of it, bored me to tears. That on some level it always had done. That I’d always felt like something was missing with my partners, except when the sex had spun off- road into the marshes. That the things that got me really wet were darker and weirder and unallowed.
I’d read Nancy Friday books, and lesbian erotica collections, and the stuff I returned to again and again had a theme: women giving up control. Women being used. Women being punished. Women playing with power differentials. Women being told what to do, and doing it, and enjoying pleasing the person doing the telling.
I remembered the time I asked my ex to call me horrible names in bed, and the man at a fancy- dress party who spanked me in a jokey, unnegotiated messaround that was also headfuckingly serious. I remembered lying in my bed after that party, stroking my reddened arse with a wondering hand, my mouth slightly open, whispering what the fuck was that? What the fuck was that? Unable to sleep for hours afterwards- because what the fuck was that?
I’d had to hide those memories away, because they were too confusing. I unearthed those memories, read a lot about consent and negotiation and started to realise and really accept that it was possible that the things I wanted weren’t intrinsically anti- feminist. They didn’t mean I’d ceded control of my sexuality to the men who’d violated my consent years before.
I joined Fetlife, did some dicking around online, went to some munches. And then I met a man and fell in love with him. He covered me in bruises and used me and called me beautiful. I showed him who I was and he shrugged and smiled and told me to kiss his feet, so I did. I started writing about us and he told me to do more of that, so I did.
After a year or so one of us broke my heart- it might have been him but I can’t really be sure. But after that year I couldn’t hide who I was any more. Not from myself, at least.
My friend and I have swapped places now. I’m the kinky one, she’s discovered radical feminism. I sent her a link to this blog a year or so ago with a content advisory, and she didn’t respond. We’ve never talked about it- we don’t talk the way we used to anyway. But it’s not a secret. She’s writing again, and who knows what she might say.
I was thinking the other day about how I need to start writing about this stuff. About all the secrets- about my recoveries, my time as a nun, about how I came eventually to find myself looking in mirrors and seeing a version of myself that was unashamed, bruised and beautiful. There’s so much to write, so many secrets to unfurl, pick apart, examine and laugh at. So much mulch, so much compost. So much black gold in which seeds can be planted.