Monday, July 26, 2010

Leather & Grace, Part II: Pushing Limits

This summer is my tenth anniversary when I first entered the realm of kink. I was having a summer fling with a wonderful young lady, when she asked if I would be willing to do some role-play. Not just any role-play, mind you. Dark, edgy, downright scary stuff. And it took quite a bit of convincing to get me there, and more work to process the intense emotional after-effects.

I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

BDSM is not easy. It takes learning not only various skills, but learning about oneself and the connection between what we do and the why behind it all. Still, there is a balance between allowing individuals to choose and affirm what speaks to them, and encouraging them to push their limits.

“Pushing limits” is a common phrase within the world of kink. Often it refers to a skilled top or dominant taking a bottom or submissive to the edge of where they want to go – their “limit” – and then carefully and skillfully “pushing” them just a little further. Yet it can also go the other way, just as my first experience pushed me past a limit I thought I’d never cross.

Limits are important for defining who we are, especially our desires and emotional needs. Yet they are not always so clear cut. We often speak in BDSM circles of “hard” and “soft” limits, and even so-called hard limits can be challenged in the right way. I remember hearing a woman describing her first experience with play piercing, which she had always feared because she expected it to be too painful for her to handle. When it was explained to her how it was actually done, and how the body typically reacted, she decided to try it under the guidance of a trusted and expert top. “Now,” she said, “I can’t get enough of it.”

Apply this ideal of pushing limits to spirituality and ethical thinking, and you have Unitarian Universalism at its best. Our whole history has been about pushing limits, from our early history of questioning Christian doctrines, to our evolution into a diverse and welcoming movement. Yet even with this history, we’re still human and too often fall short of that ideal. Where one limit has been pushed, another comes in its place.

An example of this is when, after describing myself as “heretical even by UU standards,” a young woman replied with wide eyes: “You mean … you’re a Republican?” Hilarious, yes, but what if a Republican or Libertarian who was attracted to our faith found herself surrounded by registered Democrats and Greens? What if a liberal Christian found that the only UU congregation in her area was overwhelmingly Humanist, Buddhist, Pagan, or a mixture thereof?

Such “what-if” scenarios have actually happened, and how we respond is the real test of our faith’s core values. And that includes those of us who engage in heretical forms of sexual expression, who not only push our own personal limits, but by our very existence challenge the assumption of how we may find joy and fulfillment in our relationships and erotic experiences.

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