When I publicly tell stories about my own kink experiences (which I do quite frequently both as a kink educator and on this site), it is primarily in service of a goal: to illustrate something I’m trying to explain, to make a point, to give context, to articulate something about myself or something I’ve learned, to share my own vulnerability so that folks feel more comfortable taking risks themselves. These are generally not stories for their own sake, but stories to get us somewhere.
For this kind of public storytelling, I am careful. I avoid sharing unnecessary details. I avoid sharing identifying information. Most importantly, my intention is to center my own experience, my feelings, my reality, what I have learned for myself. To make myself vulnerable. In telling stories about kink, I inevitably have to talk about the folks I do it with. Where I’ve landed is that I choose to talk about other people’s behavior (what they do and say), not their motivations, emotions, or internal experiences.
Telling stories in private is a different matter. I tell stories in private to let people in, to help people know me, to create intimacy and connection, to get reality checks, to sort through my feelings, to ask for advice, to try to understand what happened. A very different set of goals. In private storytelling I am more likely to name names, to share a wealth of detail, and to discuss not just the behavior of my partners or exes but also consider and speculate about what they might be feeling, or thinking, or experiencing, what their motivations and intentions might be.
I perceive private storytelling as essential in my life, both as a way to build intimacy and as a way to manage risks. Every time I’ve been in a relationship where there is an expectation that I not share stories about my relationship with close trusted others, that relationship has turned out to be abusive. If my partner expects/asks me not to talk about my own experiences with the people I trust, then something is wrong. I need to be able to do reality checking, it is vital to my continued practice of discernment of abusive dynamics and behavior.
In private storytelling, I am responsible for choosing carefully who I share stories with, and the setting in which I share stories, and for being respectful in how I tell the stories.
In my mind, public storytelling comes with a different set of responsibilities.
When I tell a story in public, I have little control over where it goes or how it is interpreted. What I do have control over is what I say. I am much more careful about what I say, and focus my stories on my own experience.
There are a few reasons for that and a lot of them have to do with the realities of being a top.
- Domism in kink culture creates situations where tops do a lot of public theorizing and pontificating and speculating about bottom experience, needs, intentions, and motivations. Much of which is flat out wrong. Much of which is done to talk shit about their exes. Much of which occurs in top-centered conversations. I don’t want to participate in that. It contributes to a culture of deep disrespect of bottoms, and their voices and experiences.
- Tops rarely center their own vulnerable feelings and needs in public conversation. I want to shift that. Focusing on my own experience and vulnerability hopefully helps create that shift.
- I can really only know my own experience, what people tell me, and the behavior I’ve witnessed. So it makes sense to stay in that zone, and tell stories from that place, especially when I’m in a role that is often perceived as expert. However much I care about and want to know what’s going on for the folks I play with, I’m not an expert on my partner’s experiences or motivations or internality. Only they can be an expert on that. I don’t get to speak for them. (Tops are not actually mind-readers, y’know, however much people fantasize about that.)
- Pretty much everyone I’ve played with has been a woman, a femme, a genderqueer person, and/or a trans person. Those folks are often not listened to, silenced, not allowed space to name their own experiences and realities. If I start naming their realities, I’m participating in that and encouraging others to do so. It doesn’t take much to encourage that kind of misogyny, transphobia and transmisogyny. I don’t want to be part of that.
I once attended a panel that was ostensibly about the experience and needs of bottoms. It had three tops and two bottoms on it, and was facilitated by a top. The bottoms rarely spoke and were often interrupted when they did. A dominant on the panel (who held a leadership position in the community) spent a good twenty minutes explaining the experience and feelings and motivations of his recent ex, a submissive woman who was not in the room, and using that opportunity to disparage her with pretty much every sentence.
There was an intense amount of domism and misogyny going on in that room. It is one of many experiences I’ve had where dominants who are butch, masculine and/or men publicly talk shit about submissive exes or partners that are femmes, feminine and/or women, and encourage other dominants to do the same. (Not very different in a lot of ways from how heterosexual men are often cheered for spewing misogyny about their exes or current partners.)
The reality is that as a top, my words often have more weight in a public forum. That my storytelling is taking place in a kink culture that values my words and my supposed “expertise” on my partners experience. That I have power and privilege in these arenas, particularly as a masculine top. We are not equal parties in our stories about what happened in our kink relationships, and I cannot pretend these social realities away.
What I can do is use care when I tell stories in public. I believe very strongly that we hunger for stories, personal stories about the realities of people’s kink lives. I love writing fiction and see great value in it, but real stories are deeply important, too. So I do not want to stop telling my own stories, but I also want to take responsibility for the stories I tell and how I tell them.
I treasure my partner’s vulnerability when they choose to share it with me, and a big part of what I treasure is their choice, their trust. I don’t want to choose for them. So when I tell stories about my kink experiences, I endeavor to make myself vulnerable, instead of choosing to tell a story in a way that makes my partners and exes vulnerable.
My behavior as a top does not stop at the end of the scene or the relationship. It also includes how I talk in public about my partners. I value care and intention and responsible consensual use of power in my BDSM practice, and this is another extension of that.