Grey alert: why Fifty Shades Of Grey is a menace to society

All publicity is good publicity, the maxim goes, but I’m inclined to disagree. Sometimes things going ‘out there’ in the wrong way is counter-productive; and Fifty Shades of Grey is a great example of why this is so.

Fifty Shades of GreyAccording to my friends at Sh! Womenstore and the sales teams at Ann Summers, Fifty Shades is good for business. Sales of nipple clamps, butt plugs and floggers are up, and this indicates a growing curiosity about BDSM amongst the British public. This might suggest that the book is opening people’s minds and giving them permission to try something new. Perhaps this is true, but I maintain that the book itself is dangerous and detrimental to BDSM.

Enough has already been written about how bad a novel Fifty Shades of Grey is. Critics have highlighted the mediocre writing, the dull repetitive language and the absurd descriptions of sex. (If I ever hear the words ‘his considerable length’ or ‘I shattered into a million pieces’ again I’ll hurl.) I particularly enjoyed Thea Euryphaessa‘s comprehensive dismissal of the book in a single paragraph:

[The book] is, in essence, Pygmalion with Paddles, My Fair Lady with Floggers, Pretty Woman with Whips. Oh, and the story’s anaemic, the writing repetitive, the characters one-dimensional, and the plot poverty-stricken. But, then, what do you expect of a piece of fanfiction that owes its very existence to the Twilight series? (full article >>)

If the best-selling paperback of all time were simply a crap read I’d be disappointed but not surprised: the lowest common denominator for a poorly-educated populace. What really troubles me is the way BDSM is depicted in the book, and the potential implications this has for people who practice it in a sane, consensual way.

Firstly, there are the clichés. Christian Grey is impossibly handsome, ridiculously rich, bossy to the point of caricature and, of course, a Dominant. By contrast Anastasia Steele is gawky, insecure, unsure what she thinks and (ahem) a virgin at 21. With each of them playing so obviously to type there’s little to compel any reader who knows the diversity of people who practice BDSM. Sure, there are those who dominate because they need to control everything, and those who submit because they wouldn’t say boo to a goose; but equally there are those who crave submission because they control everything else in their lives and desperately want release from their wearying responsibilities; and others who are dominant in a BDSM context even though they are shy and meek the rest of the time. And at least fifty shades in between.

The biggest cliché of all is the most worrying: Grey needs to control everything because he is traumatised by a horrific childhood. It is well documented that the proportion of screwed-up people into BDSM is pretty much the same as the proportion of screwed-up people in the world at large – and many people are into this form of eroticism for ‘no good reason’. (Perhaps they just like it?)

It’s bad enough that these cliches reinforce the popular perception of BDSM propagated by the mainstream press. But the worst of it is the dynamic James sets up between BDSM and ‘healthy’ vanilla sexuality. Grey uses BDSM as a way to avoid intimacy, expressing the paltry amount of love he can muster by controlling and beating his subs. By contrast Miss Steele is gushing with love, and as she gains confidence she winsomely nags for ‘more’ from their relationship. As he relents the message becomes clear: nice healthy vanilla love can save this troubled man from himself and his twisted desires. This dynamic is the real danger of the book for the public perception of BDSM.

I believe that at its best BDSM should be done from a place of love and mutual respect, ideally by people who are also comfortable being intimate without any power-play or pain. (I know that vanilla sex simply bores some people, but the fact that Grey is incapable of being touched is quite a big problem. Perhaps it’s time he found a new therapist?)

When I see powerful people play with power, it’s totally different from the messy, troubled kink of Fifty Shades. They do not waste energy wondering if being submissive means they are weak, or thinking ‘He’s so bossy’ whenever they receive an instruction. The submissive chooses an empowered surrender and loans their power because they have some to loan. (Thanks to Rebecca Lowrie for that one.) Equally the dominant chooses to hold that power because they are strong enough to do so. For both sides the result is expansive, leaving them stronger and more empowered as a result.

Of course there is a spectrum between this ideal and the mess that is Fifty Shades, and that’s ok: I don’t expect people to wait until they’re fully empowered before starting to explore BDSM. However this image of empowered people sharing power in a conscious way is useful as both guide and goal, a BDSM ideal to which we can aspire.

As my friend and mentor Dossie Easton likes to say, both the dominant and submissive are in service to the scene. This doesn’t mean that the power play is fake – far from it. What it means is that it’s truly and deeply consensual, a conscious sharing of power not another manifestation of power-over / power-under. There’s enough of that in the rest of the world – who would we choose to re-enact it in the bedroom? In fact one of BDSM’s great gifts is its capacity to heal power abuse in the world at large, by enacting it consensually and with love.

By contrast Grey’s bossy control-freak feels weak, insecure and potentially abusive, and is perfectly matched by Anastasia’s petulant, one-dimensional version of a young woman. Tracing a path through the valleys of crap writing and the mountains of cliches, we find that E L James has reinforced everything that is wrong with the mainstream view of BDSM – making it a neurotic power struggle between a weak man and a disempowered woman. In this way her book is a menace to kinky people everywhere.

At the same time it’s no surprise that it’s so popular, because it is heaps of contemporary conditioning condensed into a poorly-written, lowbrow volume. The publishers of Cosmo must love it.

Would you like to experience some excellent BDSM with a conscious and loving dominant? Find out more about Ecstatic BDSM with Faerie >>

Or if you’d prefer to attend a course:

On Sat 25th & Sun 26th April, Faerie & his partner Marti lead The Purple Door, a scintillating introduction to consensual conscious kink. Find out more >>

On Sat 16th & Sun 17th May, there’s Shibari with Santi, a one- or two-day introduction to Japanese rope bondage by the amazing and talented Santi. Find out more >>

Following the breadcrumbs

One of my guiding principles for Personal Growth is “Follow Your Bliss”. As a guide it is extremely useful; however, people are often far away from knowing where their bliss is, so telling them to follow can be counter-productive. Most of the time those people are at least a little depressed in their current situation, so “Follow Your Bliss” can feel like a judgement and reinforce the problem rather than helping to move things towards a more positive direction.

Instead I often talk about following the breadcrumbs. The image I have is of someone walking through a forest, feeling a bit lost. The breadcrumbs are those things they spot en route, that point the way out of the forest, towards a clearer view. This is much easier for people to relate to, wherever they are in their soul’s journey. It works because everyone knows what it’s like to be lost, and also what it’s like to find some landmark that points us back to the path.

So what does it mean to follow the breadcrumbs? In a way it’s terribly simple. As I’m fond of flowcharts I drew one up to illustrate how it works:

Follow Your Bliss

This is so simple it can seem a bit inane, perhaps even dumb, at first. Mostly this is because we are conditioned to believe that we should be unhappy, so the idea of simply asking “Are you enjoying it?” seems stupid. However this thought is simply a mask for the deeper feelings of unworthiness underneath it. By calling it stupid we are missing the fact that we don’t believe that we are entitled to be happy.

This flowchart applies best to the most important parts of our lives: work, home, love and friendship. I am not someone who believes that every moment of every day should be blissful, or that we should love every single thing we do: even the most scintillating job involves some dull admin, and even beautiful friendships have off-days. However, when we look honestly at a relationship or a job and ask ourselves “Am I enjoying it?” in a broader sense, it soon becomes clear where we are denying ourselves joy.

I was talking this through with a friend of mine, and he wisely pointed out that there are some obligations for which this approach doesn’t work. Doing the tax return is a classic example: I don’t know many people who enjoy it, but it’s something we have to do. Some family obligations also fall into this category.

From this conversation I modified the flowchart thus:

Follow Your Bliss

Where something is an obligation, there are two choices – sit there being miserable or find a way to make it more enjoyable. Even a tax return can be made more pleasant – for example, by preparing a treat for when it’s done. And that dull dinner with Great Aunt Glynis can be made more pleasant by remembering that we’re giving her pleasure, even if it’s not something we find that scintillating ourselves. Whatever it is, there’s a way to make our obligations feel better, if we look for it.

More importantly, these obligations represent maybe 10 or 20 per cent of our lives. So while it’s important to acknowledge that this is part of the picture, it doesn’t take anything away from the core principle: “Are you enjoying it?” If we look at our home life and realise that we’ve been unhappy for a while, it’s time for a change. Rather than investing energy in feeling miserable, we can instead put that energy towards finding a better situation. This simple shift begins a powerful process and frees up a tonne of stuck energy.

As we start to apply the question “Are you enjoying it?” to key aspects of our lives, a lot of emotion can arise around it. We are socially conditioned to fit in, and one of the ways we are kept in our place is through the idea that we shouldn’t expect to be happy. How many times have we heard someone talk about a failed relationship as if they have no choice but to stay there? And how often do we hear that we shouldn’t expect to be paid well for work we love?

I think this outlook is a crock of shit. Being happy is our birthright. At the same time I recognise that it’s vivid and real for many of us to feel that we don’t deserve it. This is why it’s useful to follow the breadcrumbs. By taking little steps towards more joy, we can begin to bring more happiness into our lives without getting overwhelmed.

And here’s a cool and unexpected thing about the people who ask this question: they become less selfish. Those of us who focus our energy on the things we enjoy and stop doing the things we don’t like are happier and more fulfilled, and as a result we are more generous, kinder and more loving to those around us. The idea that it is selfish to do what we love is just another way we’ve been conditioned for unhappiness.

So next time you feel unclear about whether some part of your life is working for you or not, ask yourself the question – “Am I enjoying it?” And if the answer is a resounding no, and you know that it’s been like this for a while, then stop wasting energy trying to ‘fix’ it and instead put that energy into figuring out what to do instead.

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Sacred Kink in Fetish Film Festival

I am very excited that Sacred Kink, the short film made by Ana Morphic about my Ecstatic BDSM practice, has been shortlisted for the Fetish Film Festival in Germany. And here it is … the content is a little out of date now (particularly the stuff about what I offer), but it gives a good flavour of the work nonetheless.
[vimeo clip_id=”37330402″ width=”600″]

Thanks to Ana Morphic, Mojo Factory, Claire Black and Ruby May for their valuable contributions to this film.

My Shadow Healing journey (guest post)

This beautiful guest post is written by Amala Bodhi, who bravely journeyed into the dark to heal her wounds, under Faerie’s loving watchful gaze.

Bioenergetics is a way to access trapped emotion held on a cellular level in the body, a powerful tool that really gets beyond your story and just helps your body open and flow. However, I also found I needed specific work on areas of triggering, especially around my relationships to men or should I say one man, my father. Now that is in a dark closet under the bed – as it’s related to the sexual imprint I received from him, meaning I didn’t recognise, let alone hold boundaries around anger and sex. I have found many cathartic techniques taught by some incredibly knowledgeable people, however I went looking for something specific and targeted.

In walks the irrevocable London Faerie. If you haven’t met him, he’s this beautiful warm-hearted charismatic man, often to be found in a pink tutu as well as leather chaps. When you get closer to his Scorpio eyes you see depth in him like Neptune and a killer sense of bullshit – he can smell it a mile off. As soon as my eyes caught him, I felt a magnetic attraction, knowing he held keys for me, this guy has been to the deep lands and come back laughing. He can hold incredible amounts of contradiction and emotion in such a powerful, unassuming way.

The journey I went on with him through three sessions, took me through some of the most painful memories of my childhood and early adulthood. Not only did he recreate the perfect conditions for revisiting them without re-traumatising me, he also helped me reframe them and come to love myself in a powerful new way. He used incredible insight, instinct, love and all of the multifaceted modalities of Tantra, bodywork and BDSM to help me come to terms with pain. The journey itself is a long one and too personal in parts to reveal all however, what I will share is with each session I moved through the deep strangle hold of anger. The stuff that you just can’t find without going back in time and someone saying – I know its dark in there, but honey, you deserve to be broken out of your chains, breath and come back to the light.

He held my sobbing 8 year old, he helped me see the dignity and damn right passionate courage of a broken 15 year old and he held me through releasing the trauma of my bewildered, angry 21 year old who no longer trusted men. By the final session, he had helped me birth a Queen, I sat wearing my new red dress, a crown and my energy humming with sweet, silent love of life and self. Its beyond words what I experienced and there is a part of me returned to innocence because of those incredible sessions!

<< Find out more about Healing sessions >>

Working with intention

Intention and ritual magic in LondonI’m sure that those who’ve seen me at work, particularly at demos like Your Kinky Cherry, imagine my main tools to be floggers, paddles, canes, cuffs and the like. In a sense this is true: these are the things I use to take people into an altered state of consciousness from which they can expand and grow.

In another sense, however, these items are secondary to a tool that I use in almost every session, and without which the magic wouldn’t work. This tool is intention.

When I first started this blog I laid out a simple Mathematics of Magic to explain this key aspect of my work:

Increased energy + focussed intention = change in the world

To put this another way: when I take someone into an altered state of consciousness while they hold an intention in their mind, we together invite this intention to become manifest, to be made flesh.

With this in mind, what is the right intention for you right now? This is a very important question. Setting your intention isn’t like writing a wedding list or asking your partner for something special for Christmas. You might really want that gorgeous Le Creuset skillet to complete your collection, but is that really the right thing for you to ask for in your ritual?

A useful question to ask yourself is this: what does my system need most right now? (By system I mean your body + your mind + your heart + your soul.) Asking this question usually leads you to the most powerful intention quite quickly.

To give an example: a few years ago I realised that my heart was closed and I was not available to let other people’s love in. This felt very important at the time and so I chose it as my intention for a big ritual. The effect was astonishing. For the six months that followed I felt a lot of pain: pain that had, apparently, been locked in my heart while it was closed. Gradually more and more came out, and in time my heart opened so I could receive love from others.

It is a good example because the intention was perfectly ripe for me at that time. Barbara Carrellas encourages you to add a phrase when setting intentions: “for the greatest good of me and all concerned.” Whether you choose to add these words or not, the sentiment feels important. Your intention will have a much greater effect if it comes from the highest place you can access right now, and if your underlying desire is to grow into a wiser, kinder, more compassionate version of yourself.

That doesn’t mean that you should balk at intentions that invite material success. A friend of mine recently did a ritual with the intention of “effortlessly receiving cash for her work”. She was a little hesitant about this until someone in the group pointed out that cash was necessary for her to meet her basic needs of food and shelter, and that without this she wasn’t able to contribute anything positive to herself or those around her. I would also add that in this case her worries about money were stopping her from fully accessing her wisdom, kindness and compassion. In this case the clear, simple and apparently materialistic intention was just perfect for her.

In my session work I use ritual magic to help you manifest your intention. During a session I support you to identify and hone your intention, helping you to tune into what is right for you at this stage of your journey. Then together we identify the best activity to support this intention. (I wrote about the unique “medicine” of different types BDSM here.)

For example: if your intention is to let go of shame and guilt about a past relationship, a powerful cathartic beating might be just the thing you need. If your intention is to welcome a new partner, I might invite you to self-pleasure while I witness you. If your intention is to cleanse yourself of an old habit that no longer serves you, I might run you a bath and wash you from head to toe. (It’s not always as harsh as it looks!) The important thing here is that there’s a resonance between your intention and the action, and that whatever we do raises the right energy.

When you are ‘bang on’ with your intention things move very fast, and not always exactly as you’d expect them to. Returning to my example above, I didn’t realise that what was stopping me from letting love in was that my heart was blocked with pain, grief and anger. I found out in hindsight because my intention was perfect for that moment. This highlights an important point: once the process starts, there’s not much you can do to stop it. You just need to ride it out and let things happen until the intention is fulfilled.

This is why it’s so important that your intention come from the highest part of you that you can access in that moment. If this is true then even changes that seem painful at first will unfold beautifully. By tuning into what you need for your growth, you can feel safe knowing that you are moving in the right direction, even if the journey feels bumpy at times.

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