Do India's Kink & BDSM Communities Offer A Path Towards Liberation From Shame?

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Homegrown IllustrationAnjul Dandekar

Feminism is a fight for power; the power that lies with oppressors at the expense of minorities like women and non-binary/queer people. The status quo has found a million and one ways to withhold and maintain that power through false representation, unfair rights, targeted violence and constant negative messaging. Throughout our lives, we try to reclaim some of that power with feminist frameworks and dissent; we try to tip the scales in our favour in this imbalance of power.

A microcosm of the same can be found in Power Play or BDSM. As the name suggests, the dominant, submissive or switch roles in the BDSM community are a play on power; to leave the societal structures outside the bedroom and experience what it’s like to give up or take power in the most intimate way possible. Sex is used to work out the power dynamics in a relationship. Often these dynamics take place without our knowledge, but sometimes with conscious practice, consent and clear communication, they can be used as a way of exploring and expressing our deepest selves.

Unlike its mainstream portrayal, the world of BDSM (Bondage, Discipline, Dominance, Submission, Sadochism & Masochism) offers more than just sexual pleasure. It allows a person to dive deeper into their identities and the inclinations that form them, like kinks. Though often described otherwise, kinks are not always sexual; they rather make things sexual. Like feet, which aren’t sexual at all; unless you have a kink for them. From good old fashion bondage to formicophilia (arousal dependent upon small insects or creatures crawling on the body), kinks can be as unique as people.

Studies also suggest that our kink identities can be formed way back in our childhood. Children, even before age 10, can develop initial engagement in kinky behaviours, such as “wanting to be captured while playing cops and robbers, or seeing television shows with superheroes in peril and feeling absorbed by the show,”, writes Samuel Hughes in his research. As natural as kinks are, for most of us they remain uncharted territory, probably because our culture deems them deviant.

India, which is known for its traditional values is highly repressive when it comes to conversations about sex and sexuality. The sanctimonious lens through which we are made to look at sex in this country restricts us from exploring our sexual identities. The stigma against women as sexual beings or men and women being homosexual can still create tension in desi families that you can cut with a knife. The country practically runs on shame.

IMDb

Bonding, a Netflix series about the life of a dominatrix dismantles a lot of misconceptions about BDSM. It’s a comedy-drama that portrays kinks as they are; a part of our identities. In the show, men come to the dominatrix with their kinks for everything from humiliation to penguins. As absurd as that is, the theme beautifully counters the one thing it also elicits in the viewers' minds — shame. Tiff, the dominatrix says, "Everyone thinks dom work is about sex work. It’s really liberation from shame."

An Indian adult dating website I came across had pages full of sub-males looking for femdoms. It's as if the patriarchal narratives have forced men to be dominant even if they crave the opposite. Enough men have told me that they want to be a boy-toy and told what to do to draw a pattern that suggests that men want to be dominated. Like gym-bros on Instagram who call women ‘mommy’ and other muscular men ‘daddy’ even if they identify as straight, which speaks highly of their real desires to be fluid in their sexuality and identity as opposed to what toxic masculinity dictates. Men fail to see that patriarchy never gave really them any power, unlike feminism which is about the freedom of choice.

Just like BDSM which is also about choice. Whether you’re dominant, submissive or you like to switch, you decide what role you play and from that decision comes the power. BDSM is so influential that some therapists believe it can help people heal through the embodiment of trauma that is not accessible in talk therapy. It can help people feel how their body reacts to stress in trauma and give them the opportunity to feel more familiar with the uncomfortable sensations or even to control them.

Then there is trauma play, a darker side of liberation. Considered controversial, it can possibly help people re-enact trauma and weaken its hold over them, but only if it's done with a highly trusted partner. Sometimes this play can take place naturally. An odd example is of the women I know who developed submissive kinks after going through sexual assault. In the process of them consciously deciding to give away the power that was previously taken from them against their will, they reclaimed it.

In an incomprehensible and myriad of ways, Powerplay is a shame-busting exercise that holds the potential to transform and liberate those who are willing to indulge in it.

The progressive values the younger generation leans towards and the sexual frustration caused by repression are beginning to manifest through communities forming in bigger cities in India that encourage and educate people on BDSM like Official Kinky Bangalore and sessions like ‘K se Kink’ in Mumbai. There are also kink-friendly social networking platforms like Fetlife as well as intimacy coordinators that provide safe spaces for monogamous and non-monogamous couples to explore powerplay.

"You have to be deviant if you're going to try anything new."
David Lee

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