Shades of Black BDSM

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard of E. L. James’s erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey (it’s sold over 40 million copies). What I’ve noticed is that the voices of a few “shades” of people have been missing from mainstream discourse about the books: namely, Black folks.

The book contains explicit scenes of acts associated with the BDSM lifestyle (bondage, discipline, Dominance/submission and sadomasochism). I’ve often heard brothers and sisters dismiss this…let’s say “alternative” way of life as “something White folks do,” but the fact is African-Americans participate too. Some people of color simply like to push the boundaries of standard or “vanilla” sexual behavior (as it is called in the lifestyle).

In fact, there is a growing community of those of us actively engaging in BDSM. We, too, have proudly chosen to incorporate certain sexually alternative behaviors into our lives that allow us to freely express ourselves and indulge in kinkier pleasurable acts. Black BDSMers see ourselves as different, yes, but different ain’t bad.

WHAT IS BDSM, REALLY?

To go deeper (pardon the pun), BDSM is the broad term for a sexual lifestyle wherein informed adults discuss, negotiate and consent to their roles and participation in activities generally based on hierarchical relationships. Generally, two people come together and establish a dynamic where one person is the dominant partner (or the “top”) and the other is the submissive partner (the “bottom”) in anything from a one-time-only enactment of kinky “scenes” to lifelong partnerships.

A Dominant/submissive (D/s) relationship is based on a consensual power exchange between two (or more) people where one (or more) dominates and one (or more) submits. Most D/s relationships are based on agreed-upon rules that set the protocol for the relationship. The dominant partner is in control; the submissive partner submits and adheres to the will, control and power of the dominant partner. In poly-relationships, there can be more than one dominant or submissive partner. There are various levels of submission, dominance and power exchange, and a multitude of reasons people choose to engage. Some may seek a spicier sex life or kinkier way of living. Others may find that a power-exchange relationship fulfills a non-sexual need to exert or release control in their daily lives.

Sadomasochism is a term derived from the writings of French aristocrat Marquis de Sade and Austrian writer Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, which details sexual activities that involve deriving pleasure from causing pain or being on the receiving end of such painful inflictions, respectively. Kinkier activities might include erotic asphyxiation, being tied up and blindfolded, spanked with a paddle or tantalized with the sting of a whip. Some participants are aroused by being told what to do, or they derive an inexplicable thrill from being in complete control. For some, it’s simply to spice up the bedroom occasionally; for others the goal is to live a life that satisfies their kinky compulsions.

Some people of color simply like to push the boundaries of standard or “vanilla” sexual behavior.

MEETING UP

Some groups of Black BDSMers regularly get together and go to dungeons, nightclub type of places set up with rooms that contain various devices and toys/instruments to engage in this type of play. We often meet at local restaurants for food and conversation (you never know who’s sitting next to you at the soul food joint!), then head to these dungeons for an exciting, adventurous night. In many ways, these gatherings are like family reunions. People can connect with new family members and reconnect with old ones. Because we exist on the fringe of society these types of social gatherings help us feel like we’re not alone, that there are others who understand and support us as we explore our darker sides.

EMBRACING YOUR TRUTH

This lifestyle relies on adults giving their consent, decreasing harm, and making conscientious choices for personal fulfillment and pleasure. BDSM is not about kids, breaking the law or violating anyone’s consent. It requires a knowledge and understanding of self, and an embracing of your innermost compulsions, many of which might not be deemed “normal” or acceptable in mainstream society. It requires that you know who you are and what you want, that you be willing to go beyond the limits and constraints of society.

I have learned that many people struggle not only with identifying the truth about themselves, their needs, and their wants, but also with fully embracing those truths—and living them. This is especially true for African-Americans who can be rather conservative when it comes to sexual morality and acceptance of alternative sexual practices. To this day, I don't discuss this with anyone in my family. They’re deeply rooted in conservative Southern religious views; I know they’d never even try to understand, much less accept, that this is how I live. By building support networks within this lifestyle, we’re allowed freedom to be who we are with our people, without fear of judgment from our people.

Black Rose and Black BEAT (Black