“Brinksmanship is…the deliberate creation of a recognizable risk, a risk that one does not completely control. It is the tactic of deliberately letting the situation get somewhat out of hand, just because its being out of hand may be intolerable to the other party and force his accommodation…showing that if he makes a contrary move he may disturb us so that we slip over the brink, whether we want to or not, carrying him with us.”
Dixit & Nalebuff, 1991
(as quoted in the 33 Strategies of War)
I have a problem.
Let me illustrate: once upon a time I really wanted to mindfuck my lover, RagingJourney. She was a brilliant and sharp woman, and I knew it would not be easy. I came up with a plan based on a bit piece in Closet Land. I was not a smoker, and she knew that. I thought that if I got her all bound up, pushing the edges of her comfort zone bit by bit, so that she just started to wonder what was going on, it would prime the situation…and then if I suddenly pulled out and lit a stogie, confidently, as if I’d been doing it my whole life, it would blow her mind, taking her out of the expected and into the WTF.
So I spent months, literally, learning to handle a cigar cutter, learning to light it, picking one out, holding it, all at events away from her. I enlisted the aid of people like Rita Seagrave, who was able to coach me. Finally the evening came at Sabbat de Sade: I had her down on the ground, securely trussed in rope, having pushed, pulled, slapped, and otherwise mauled her, and she was looking up at me with shining eyes and I oh-so-casually reached into my bag, pulled out an Acid KUBA, and lit up.
Her eyes widened as she was thrown into WTF…and then narrowed about three seconds later, as (she later told me) she thought “Oh, Gray learned how to smoke a cigar so that he could mindfuck me.“
You see the problem? On the one hand, yes, I value my reputation for being “safe”, for being someone who ethically and responsibly shares his kink.* However, it makes it harder to take things to the edge. In fact, the only time I’ve really been able to do it successfully has been through the illusion of incompetence – such as the kidnapping of my slave to a bondage B&B by convincing her quite thoroughly that I was lost for four hours and too proud to stop and ask for directions (note: this was in a long-ago time before GPS).
For the most part, though, I have such a strong reputation as being safe that sometimes it gets in the way. There have been times that I’ve tried things with Naiia that I was unsure of – kinds of suspension, or variations on needle play, or whatever – and she’s gone along gamely, because, as she puts it, “I trust you.” I value that trust, as long as it’s understood that sometimes it’s not “I trust you to know what you’re doing” but more “I trust that when things go balls-up you’ll be able to handle it and take care of me when it’s over.” Two very different skillsets, in my opinion.
In yesterday’s Toilet Paper (a newsletter I highly recommend) I read about Aron Ralston, someone who certainly takes his passion to extremes. In particular, I liked this phrase:
noun. 1. A term Ralston uses to describe the kind of outdoor activity where the risks are as extreme as the rewards.
Now, I’m not saying that we should all be doing kink that is so extreme that we end up amputating arms.** But I do think that the way we model our kink after leather and perverse practices is missing a bit of the point. Gay leathermen were risking their lives and reputations when they went to the bars or cruised a park, for example. Anyone who was claiming their sexuality across taboos of race, gender, class, or some other societal norm was risking far more than just “what if they don’t like me?“
Are many of us kinksters doing that? Risking that much? I know I’m not; I’m a middle-aged cisgendered white male with a computer, and my public face has been out for a while, through relationships with people young enough to be my daughter, of other races, or with people willingly subjecting themselves to wicked, wicked abuses and then thanking me for it as they beg me to fuck their ass.*** If any of that was suddenly on the front page of the Times – which is what Michele Serchuk warned me and Mollena about as we signed our photo releases – I would have, at most, some minor discomfort as I explained it to my parents, who I don’t talk to much anyway.
That’s not danger. That’s why I write this stuff, because between my reputation for being safe, and my being knot proud, I have to travel to more inner places to find the Brink, to play on the Edge.
If you don’t have that luxury – and believe me, I do not look at it as an accomplishment, I look at it as a privilege, a stroke of luck – then I hope when you play you will take a moment to think, next time you pull out the tools of your kink, about the full risk of what you are doing. How much are you really laying on the line, to embrace more fully who you are, what you love? How much more powerful does that make that act? Don’t let it dissuade you; take pride in your bravery, give yourself credit for just how much strength and passion it takes to be your authentic self.
And then dance on the brink, with passion and joy.
* At least, I hope that's my reputation! ** Unless you're into that. I don't judge. *** With a tip o' the hat to #FuckToyFriday