San Francisco. Why are you still so squeamish about sexual taboos? Even if we have days, events, and open fondness about it?
To your credit, you’re the only city that allows sexual freedoms such as nudity in certain spaces, women can be topless where men can be topless, you have Folsom Street Fair—where connoisseurs of kink can freely express their interests without the persecution of wandering eyes. So San Francisco, when I talk to you about kink outside those realms, in the real real world, you rarely want to converse. San Francisco, being the people.
What was supposed to be a generically vanilla hook-up evolved into a session of leadership roles—like I was at a team bonding experience on the company card. If you read my Craigslist hook-up story, what I perceive will happen in a generic hook-up surprisingly evolves into something I do not expect. Picture this, a statuesque man walks into my Scandinavian styled room, perfect skin, a fitted sense of style, soft and conditioned hair, and then—plop—a backpack filled with toys, ropes, and machinery I wasn’t aware could be used in a sexual manner. I’m sweating metaphorically and physically but he wants me to do the latter to him. A sigh of relief, slightly.
Also let me also just say that this essay took me three months to write because it took me a while to come to terms with the experience.
Growing up as a small town Gay boy—I didn’t lose my virginity until I was 19. And it wasn’t spectacular or evergreen. Basic, minimal, and no frills. In your mind, you’re expected to have “knight in shining armor” moment but for most college-goers, once you got it done, you evidently wanted more. In college, exploring was the name of the game. You start exploring with other sexual partners—partners of other ethnic backgrounds, social classes, ages but the thought of outside manipulators never crossed my mind. Add spice or potency to the sexual bed experience is far outside the realm of reality.
In my mind, everyone acted and played to the taste of vanilla, french vanilla to be exact—so much so, that asking questions based around bondage, dominance, sadism, and masochism never left my or my close circle of friends lips. In my head, it’s the sex that makes the freaks come out. It’s the sex that draws a certain connoisseur to the bed. It brings out the bad in people. Again, these were existing thoughts and in no way was I going to partake in the culture.
Enter in my first Folsom Street Fair experience and by proxy, everyone can relate. It’s eye-opening, it’s dirty, a sub-culture for those to meet and greet. But that is all on a surface level and once you start attending more and more, you start to feel a truth—a real family-like mentality amongst the crowd. You immediately see old friends hugging, those separated by class, age, background come together under the San Francisco fog to celebrate individuality and freedom. What SF Pride could have been. Though the only experience I had witnessed with BDSM in mass media was Fifty Shades of Grey, and like most others, we found the film to not represent the BDSM community with respect, painted with a broad brushstroke. But how could any of us make assumptions on a community we were not attune with. Not to mention, I saw this movie with an ex-love interest who the whole time was probing me with statements like, “I wish I could find a guy who would do that to me.” It wasn’t awkward at all, he said sarcastically recalling that date.
But the BDSM lifestyle in my own sex was something I wasn’t ready to add to my cup of coffee. I’m sex-positive but I don’t want to do the things I encourage and root for. Does that make me a bad person? In a 2016 Complex article that followed the narrative of a young woman who found BDSM liberating, “the appeal lies in how it allows her [the subject of the piece] to access pain while being in full control of that pain,” Lisa Pham, the writer of the story states, “BDSM allows her to process complex, traumatic experiences in a way that’s safe and consensual.” But what “pain” per say would I want to escape? I couldn’t rationalize it in my day-to-day sexual journey.
And so it begins—in my head I thought, “thank God I was a boy scout… For only a week.” He wants me to tie him up in whatever manner I choose. Whether too tight or too loose, he stands there as I wrap the cord around him in a semiotic manner. Hands to his side, eyes closed, and breathing deeply in… and out… But let me describe you to him, architect, tall, slightly nerdy, but also very normal looking. You would never know that he was into a world that’s all hush hush. But that’s kind of reality, no?
Do you remember when CRAVE, a sex toy company based in SoMa, chronicled the double lives of men and women for Folsom Street Fair 2017? Well, that’s what it felt like. My mind instantly recalled that article whilst bounding him to himself. He walked into my home, he was gorgeous, tall; my cup of tea and as the backpack was dumped onto my white sheets, my face expressed worry in the slightly dim space. But I didn’t want to send him home because of my naive preconceived notions—just like a football game, public speaking engagement, or a first date, I psyched myself out. We went forward. He began turning subordinate right in front of my eyes and the quote, “with great power, comes great responsibility” rung through my ears. “Do whatever you want to me, sir” he says softly. My spine jitters with electricity.
As I lay him down, I still don’t know what I was doing. “Aim for symmetry Anthony, symmetry,” I chanted in my mind’s church. The rope being overlapped in whatever which way like I was preparing a screen print to be sent through the roller. But as we got more and more into the rope bondage, I felt my honest truth. The distilled essence of me, who I see is powerful, strong, in-charge, in control (sans my daily life) this became more about me and less about him. I started to center in myself and see that I was enjoying myself in that moment as I laid him on my bed with rope inter-spiraling between my bed frame and his thighs; I drank the Kool-Aid. As we came to the end of our time together, I took a step back inside my mind and saw that I was dipping into a self that I hadn’t met nor did I take the time to acquaint myself with. As he laid blindfolded in my sheets, in my temple, I felt my inner persona embroiling outward onto the personification of the moment at hand, a boy tied up on my bed. How did I end up here? How did this experience come to be? Did I ask for it? Did I want that? Did you want that? You would think that during a sexual experience I wouldn’t be asking a lot of questions, but I was.
I was getting high off the fact that this new experience was fueling a side of me I didn’t know I was aware of. It’s akin to the idea that your dad throws you into a pool when you’re learning to swim and either you flail because you’re afraid or you figure it out. Maybe not the best metaphor but ultimately my fear of wanting to try BDSM was just to be thrown into it without a notion of knowing—it seemed to had helped. For better or worse.
After this innocuous hook-up, I didn’t think much of it. The boy stayed over at my apartment for the night, we talked about what we did, what were doing with our respective lives, we cuddled in bed until we both had to go to the office the next morning; I got to know him in a way I wasn’t expecting of a hook-up. But was this something I wanted all along? The Guardian wrote an op-ed about how kink didn’t need to be only sexual gratification, “most of us have demons and neuroses, swallowed frustrations and some of us act on them more than others and at different points in our lives,” writer Nichi Hodgson states, “For a minority, BDSM may be a way those are expressed – as vanilla sex is for many others. But most of us lack the self-awareness necessary to pick apart the vagaries of our psychological motives and sexual peccadilloes. If you and your partner walk away from a sex act both satisfied and unscathed – or at least with no lasting emotional or physical bruises – perhaps that’s an outcome that needs no further probing.” Both the boy and I walked away feeling full of what we needed. Me: a new sexual stimulant added to my repertoire, him: satiated from experiencing and fulfilling his fantasy—we both came out unscathed and feeling met.
When questioning sexuality further—was this the most extreme thing I could do (personally); did I peak? In the Gay world, there is always the next, best, most exciting, most thrilling, most adrenaline inducing experiences—no question. But on a person-to-person narrative, it can ultimately resemble a peak. I wonder now in my sex life, will I be unsatisfied? Since that night, my sexual encounters have been few and sleight. It makes me think about my needs in a sexual encounter and how I can better voice what I want. As for the boy, I haven’t seen him since that night. I still see him around on the apps and sometimes in the wild with his new Jewish boyfriend—they are happy on social media and seem to be crazy about each other out and about. I’m not the type to get in between people to satisfy my needs but when you find a piece of gold in a landslide, you try to hold onto that piece. He was a dime a dozen; he was calm, kind, and great at providing the fantasy.
But where can I find others in a space that practices BDSM in a safe and holistic manner? Spoiler alert: it’s not a lot. There are a variety of play parties based in San Francisco in a variety of clubs, bathhouses, and anonymous postings throughout the internet. Enter: Recon, an app for Gay men to “Find Your Fetish; Show Your Fetish” but after further investigation (i.e. downloading and using it,) it feels too aggressive and doesn’t exude a safe space. “The world’s biggest dating app exclusively for gay, bi or curious men into fetish,” says the apps profile on the Apple App Store, “not only an app, but an online profile accessible on recon.com. Completely free and the best way to meet like-minded men seeking men into fetish. Recon’s Home feed feature provides you with up-to-date, real-time info on Recon and the world of gay fetish.” While working my way around this app, I notice that I’m not finding anything that has a more “explorative” section—from my point of view, everyone on the app is experienced; who’ve had years of BDSM “training.” If I were to explore this side of myself, I would want to find a man who could teach me more than what I had to teach myself in that one encounter.
But I can feel it bubbling, I can’t lie to myself and say this was a “one time deal,” when in fact, I want to try it again and again. I want to relive the same night over and over—will it happen? You never know. But it’s about keeping note of when I feel these urges to explore and examining how, when, and why do I want them. So when it came to experiencing the lighter side of BDSM, it intrigues me and makes me more and more curious everyday to try, explore, and find my self. Reality, no?
// Illustration by Anthony Rogers.
Anthony is the founder of Bob Cut Mag and the director of business development. Anthony writes on LGBT, people, and gender issues but catch him also writing about other shenanigans he finds himself in. Want to partner with Bob Cut? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org