Kinky feminist: Origin stories

Image credit: Curtis Alan Jackson

When I was kid — about seven or eight years old — I remember sitting with my parents while they watched a film set in an all boys boarding school. As the film progressed, I became more and more uncomfortable, without being able to pinpoint exactly why. The culmination of my discomfort arrived when the main character, after misbehaving, was caned by a teacher — or, at least, that’s what I presumed was about to happen when I leapt to my feet and told my parents I needed the toilet before running from the room. I spent the next five minutes sitting anxiously on the stairs, waiting until I felt the scene must be over and it was safe to re-enter the living room.

As I grew older, I came to associate this particular brand of cringe with the kind that's induced when you’re watching telly with your parents and the characters start having sex. At the age of eight, though, sex meant nothing to me, and the things I now call kinks were then little more than games. When I was playing with my friends, I was never pretending to be the mum or the dad, or even the annoying sister — more often than not, I was the dog. Games I played by myself usually involved me being kidnapped and tied up, or getting stuck in a cave, or being someone’s servant or apprentice. 

I still don’t quite understand the satisfaction I got from these fantasies. They were not at all sexual, but they also weren’t innocent in the sense that I felt I could talk about them with anyone else. All of it gave me a little edge of what I felt when watching that film with my parents — a general sense of wrongness and taboo.

Now, with internet access, kinky friends, and the brain of an adult, I know that my experiences were not unique or abnormal. Most people have some kind of origin story when it comes to their sexuality — especially if that sexuality deviates from what is considered the norm. When I’ve asked friends about their own stories, they sound very familiar to mine: a man rips off his top in a TV show and a little boy tilts his head, more interested than he was by any of the women on screen; a girl can’t stop watching a scene in a cartoon where the character trips over and is put in a full body cast, and when she’s older realises that she is definitely into bondage. 

The assumption I'd like to challenge by sharing these stories is that kinks and ‘deviant’ sexualities necessarily stem from some kind of traumatic event — usually one that occurred during childhood. Although they can indeed develop this way, and it is true that some people find past traumas reemerging and forming into kinks, this is not the case for many. And the questions that tend to arise from those who do not know this are usually along the lines of, “What happened to you to make you like that?” — as if there is no possible world in which the answer is “absolutely nothing”. What is often more likely, in the minds of those who ask this, is that kinks are always a symptom, which is the same kind of thinking that leads to stigmatisation and horrors like conversion therapy. 

In terms of my own sexuality, my kinks feel even more central to my orientation than whichever gender I am attracted to. I am certain, having considered my childhood, that they have been there in some capacity for most of my life — intrinsic, and not something I could have made the simple choice not to have. Of course this is not the same for everyone, but bearing in mind such experiences might be a way to view kinks in a more positive light, and appreciate the varied, fluid, and often inexplicable nature of sexualities.

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