I often speak about my BDSM mentor Flagg who passed away in 2009. Two months ago I was invited by our mutual friend Ken Soulhuntre Jamieson to contribute an introductory essay to the new edition of Flagg's psychological dominance manual The Forked Tongue. I'm sharing that essay here on my blog in the spirit of his memory, my own self-disclosure regarding the importance of my kink, and in the hopes that more people will find themselves in Flagg's words like I did.
The Forked Tongue: Revisited is now available for purchase on Kindle. It was and remains an exquisite, severely written, penetrating read. I'm not making any money from its sales but it would make me feel a little less alone if there were more people in the world who had read it.
Ever wish you could text the dead? I do. I do a lot.
At the time of writing, BDSM has become a hot topic in mainstream media. On the one hand, this is terrific for those of us who would appreciate our lifestyles being greeted with a touch less shock, horror, or fascinated otherism by the general populace. On the other hand, I fear that the mainstream’s portrayal of kink is going to leave me feeling more misunderstood than before – in place of curious if annoying questions by outsiders, my lifestyle instead becomes reduced to a bundle of assumptions and tropes that have nothing to do with what is in my heart or loins.
The reactionary clickbait BDSM 101 tutorials that have sprouted up on the internet in recent weeks are not altogether unlike what BDSM education was to me before Flagg came along. They focus on crucial things like consent, negotiation, and safety, instructing players on acceptable, healthy kinds of physical pain, the intent of all instruction being to impart to us how not to damage each other. What’s missing for me, however, is the crux of our kink – what is our intent when we set out to inflict pain on one another in the first place? Why do we, why must we do these things that we do?
I met Flagg during one of his classes in the summer of 2005. I was less than a year into the kink scene, less than a month into my employment as a pro-domme, and just a few flirtations into what would be a years-long relationship as a 24/7 submissive to my employer. When Flagg instructed on BDSM, he didn’t talk about how to swing a flogger, or how to tie a knot. He talked about how to exercise power over another’s mind. I sat mouth agape and took furious notes. Suddenly the whys behind things I had been fantasizing about since even childhood were starting to crystallize.
I rushed back to work and told my boss/boyfriend about Flagg, gushing that he had to come to one of his classes. Flagg had talked about The Estate, a submissive training program that he had set up with his colleagues Soulhuntre and Sir C. I was careful about sounding too eager, but I wanted to go. I wanted to immerse. I wanted to be my best. I needed discipline, a baptism of fire, to arise better and more capable than before.
The Estate seemed to have dissipated in practice by the time I met Flagg, but my boyfriend hired him to teach his classes at the commercial dungeon he owned. There we began forming our friendship, a friendship that would over the next four years course through classes and dungeons and parties and hospitals and conventions and hospitals and cabins in the mountains and hospitals.
My boyfriend would often tease that he was going to send me to Flagg for training, sensing how I both feared and was fascinated by him. We watched Kill Bill, and during the scene where Bill sends Beatrix Kiddo off to the mountain to train with Pai Mei, he pointed and said, “That’s going to be you when I send you off to Flagg.”
But he never did. He was a physical sadist, and perhaps unwittingly an emotional one too, but he never interrogated the depths of my mind as Flagg seemed to be able to do in our conversations. Flagg once described a woman he’d met who “was either delusional or had the richest fantasy life he’d ever seen; who would bow and scrape to anyone calling themselves a Dominant.”
“I wish I still felt that way,” I replied. “Being a pro has changed things. I wish I still bought into the mythology.”
Flagg grinned at me pointedly. “Would you like to?”
With my eager consent and my boyfriend’s permission, Flagg installed a hypnosis trigger designed to bypass my resistance and make me immediately obedient upon hearing it. My boyfriend used it only once, to get me to make out with a girl at a club in the meatpacking district (a task I would have happily done of my own volition).
I fantasized about being in service to Flagg, even if only part-time, even if only out of utility, to help him around the house when he became ill and immobile, but it seemed too emotionally dangerous a prospect to suggest to either him or my boyfriend, who was still my employer. I visited him and brought him food and mixtapes, transmuting service into friendship. On the occasions his health allowed him to teach for us, I would lay out spreads of food for his classes in a way I never did for other instructors. He stirred in me a desire to please, as few other human beings have done.
News of Flagg’s passing was sudden. I found out from a Facebook post and started sobbing hysterically on my living room floor. By that time the NYPD had shut down my place of employment and my relationship with my boyfriend had festered in co-dependence (mine emotional, his financial); that night, angered apparently at how my grieving differed from his, he turned violent. It took me another two months to leave him but I often credit the night of Flagg’s death as the beginning of the end.
I felt adrift for years after that, trying to purge and reclaim my sexuality in a way that felt authentic, trying to remember the whys of why we do what we do. I went through vanilla lovers with mixed results, some of whom inspired my service in weird and stifled ways, none of whom attempted to understand it. Some of them were willing to play with me physically, but none of them grasped my desire to please. I wanted so badly to reach out to Flagg, to be heard, to be understood. When in the past year I finally got into a relationship with a writer whose creativity and penchants for character and narrative seemed to enable him to understand and engage with the motives of my submission on a level that no one else had, whose acceptance and mirroring helped me understand myself better than I’d ever known before, I wanted to call Flagg and share my tears of joy. I imagined he would be proud of me. And when that lover left me suddenly and without warning for a traditional vanilla relationship, I wanted to call Flagg and ask him to hold my despair.
We are facing a world now in which BDSM is no longer seen as deviant and frightening but as cheesy, pandering fanfic for Midwestern housewives. Along with the popularity we have garnered have come tragic templates of what it is people think we are – defined by our floggers and spankings, wearing collars as chic accessories rather than as signifiers of actual ownership, of the genuine hold a person can have over you when your foremost desire is to please them. My identification as a submissive is no longer greeted with shock or awe, but a smug, “Oh, I know what that is.” Prospective lovers, instead of inquiring into my mind, simply reach for the obvious props, failing to understand that their false projections onto me actually make me feel far more unsafe than their judgments ever did. And all I want in those moments is the ability to send a text to a dead person.
Now more than ever, we need pack. We need tribe. Flagg is no longer on this earth, but we can grow in our ability to look into what makes each other the way we are. We can reclaim kink from the simplistic checklists it has become and begin to open our conversations to what makes us want to engage with power in the first place, what are the underlying emotional needs that our terrible physical sacraments somehow promise to fulfill.
This book will help you better understand why it is that we do what we do. This book will show you yourself, and it might show you those around you, too. It will most definitely show you me. Please read it. I’d like to have more people on this earth that I can reach out to who are still alive.