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Coming out kinky: more questions than answers

No, of course ‘Ayzad’ isn’t the name I was given at birth. It is a nom de plume, a pseudonym, a nickname from the past century, when privacy was approached in an entirely different way. Choosing your own name – and in the end your whole identity – is a self-affirming gesture, but it was also routine for anyone who used the Internet when long-distance calls and screeching modems were still the rage. Most of all, it was a wise precaution in the magical world of eroticism. In part because it was a given that sexuality was a private matter, and in part to avoid laying oneself open to attacks [Note: the link is auto-translated from a very long original article] – sometimes even physical ones – which have always been a political tool in my country, where having “different” enemies to hate is a classic career path.

The most frequent argument in the BDSM world I come from was, in particular, that there is no need to come out. Homosexual or trans people, it went, are forced to since they cannot hide their partners or their looks to the world… but why attract unduly attentions if you “just” have a thing for bondage, transvestism or some other “invisible” fetishism? Sure, ancient activists from the Sixties occasionally popped up to remind us that «your private is political» and the importance to live your sexuality keeping your head held high, yet we managed just fine even amid that Catholic guilt-scented, coven-like climate – especially after the Net made so easier to meet other “deviates”. In quotes, of course. Just like so many other self-ironic terms which, come to think of it, spoke volumes about how we felt: “sleazebags”, “perverts”, “pigs” who reveled in “smut”, “lewdness” and so euphemistically joking. Better: “joking”.

I am telling this because, last week, I stumbled onto two things that got me thinking. The first was the Padua Pride, where I was invited to take part to a round table about intimacy within kinky relationships. In addition to having been a nice occasion to meet new interesting people and old friends, I took the opportunity to follow another conference about psychology for LGBT clients, where they touched upon the distress caused by homolesbobitransqueernegativity. Meaning: by the fear of coming out and by the dangers of other people’s reactions.
I will save you from other three-lines-long words. The gist of the matter is that hiding your erotic preferences (even from yourself) hurts, but today it can be much more easily done thanks to decades of cultural initiatives, associations, activism and institutional support structures for the LGBT community.

But what happens when one’s sexuality isn’t described by those four letters, and there are no such resources? Well, the second thing happens. Which is to say, Serena (young, pretty, a rape survivor) tells about her passion for BDSM in a couple of interviews offering her face and her name… and gets pelted with lots of heavy criticisms from the so-called “kinky community” itself, both online and during the public events I attended. Not to mention the usual, delightful prigs – who, as good Christians do, rushed to insult her and even send their death threats, just as expected. The result: for her peace of mind, the young woman in question had to ask the interviewer to remove her face and personal information from the published articles.

If you can’t read Italian, this is the time to explain a couple of things. The kinksters’ disapproval was mostly caused by a couple of statements about the thorny issue of sexual abuse and rape fantasies. Their blame was also partially out of their worry: with so many cheerful individuals around, a beautiful girl publicly announcing her masochism could be seen as the perfect bait for dangerous lunatics. However – this must be said – there also was an unmistakable subtext of envy: a sort of «who does this floozy thinks she is, to pontificate about our elitarian world of extreme eroticism?»
The general public’s reproach was founded on a much simpler logic instead, straight out of the Old Testament. If you like sex, and queer sex to boot, you are a whore. And whores must be punished. Just like that.

Now, disregarding our homegrown brand of Talibans, the truth of the matter is that the one “sin” of that woman was to accept to be interviewed, in a very unjudgemental way (the same journalist faultlessly interviewed me as well). Truly Serene in her name and in her deeds, she saw no reason to hide what makes her happy and, maybe a little overenthusiastically, she candidly exposed herself.
Honestly, I don’t think I can judge whether she did anything wrong. From her point of view, I was the wrongdoer with my pen name. All of us were, while the gay scene fought and suffered for their rights, only focusing on our private games; maybe writing in our personal ads that we were ‘above suspicions’ and ‘outside of particular circles’. I always wondered what that meant, by the way. The all-important “BDSM culture” did wrong with all its wink-wink, nudge-nudge and all those quotation marks – so many of them that today there is not one Italian word to indicate those healthily living their paraphilias: we are forced to use idioms like ‘extreme eroticism explorers’.

To sum it up: these facts gave me food for thought – but I couldn’t come to a conclusion, so I preferred sharing my perplexities with you. Yesterday, in a movie theatre, I saw the trailer for a teen comedy about a gay coming out. The day before I assisted to the tragedy of a kinky coming out. The only thing I can think of is asking myself: «now what?»
While searching for an answer, I had a chat with the individual concerned.

 

Serena TsukiHello, Serena! Shall we start with your introduction?

Sure! I’m Serena, I’m 20 and I am a philosophy freshman. I can’t tell you much about me since I still have go through most formative experiences in life, but I can sum up my story so far. The key point to understand what I do and my reference points is my art high school degree. I love art in every form, and I try putting this big passion of mine in everything I do: from dishwashing to recreating (or trying to) my favorite artists’ masterpieces by dripping colored hot was on someone’s back.
I was sucked into photography at 16. I admit I am no expert about that, but in time I discovered I loved being on the other side of the lens. So I became very active as a portraits model, and once I became of age I decided to specialize in the fetish and BDSM genre: my “public” adventure came out of this, somehow.

 

You are also the person who, in Italy, made the most visible BDSM coming out of late. You appeared in various interviews with your full name, unmasked, with your preferences and your story – you even appear with questionable characters like Andrea Dipré [Note – the previous link barely skims his shady life, including the long public abuse of porn talent Sara Tommasi until her mental health was permanently damaged], nor going on full-on fetish walks. Why such a radical choice?

I wouldn’t call mine a true coming out, but a growth of self-exploration path. I never planned for all of this to happen. I could frame my BDSM story so far in three phases: “the silence”, “the approval” and “the love”.

I attended my first munch at 18. I went to find someone sharing my passions, someone to discuss with and talk about the sides of my life I had kept hidden from most people. That was my beginning, in silence: I didn’t talk with my schoolmates about my discoveries, I tried not to be caught out by my family… I could only keep silent and listen to those older and more experienced than me. I tried to learn and imitate, like children do in their first months.

Lacking a kinksters’ network, at first I published the Japanese bondage pictures I downloaded from the Net onto my Facebook profile, where I had schoolmates and childhood friends as contacts… without giving much thought to it. Then I followed a suggestion of creating the alternative “Serena Tsuki” identity, which however was reported as a fake, forcing me to put my personal data in. That sparked a challenge of sorts for me.
I kinda felt like the utopian, revolutionary girl who hoped to slightly change the opinion of those who didn’t know kink – or to contribute to the cause at the least. I felt sorry for people I knew who were afraid of judgment, who couldn’t reveal their passion at home, who were almost forced to hide something they loved to do. Quoting Martin Luther King, I could sum it up with: «A riot is the language of the unheard».

Going unmasked came one year later, with the latex photo sets in Milan and Como, or the interviews. About the “questionable characters” thing, I believe there is nothing wrong in having a slice of reheated pizza with someone I followed online during my adolescence. Sadly, the Web often makes us hide our true selves, forcing us to create more and more masks every day.

 

Serena TsukiGiving your private passions so much visibility sparked lots of criticisms from the BDSM world itself, which mostly runs on the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ principle. Thus, it feels natural to ask you whether you had other negative reactions, and whether it was worth it.

Among the negative reactions there were initially those of my parents, but after a long talk and some time they dealt with it. Among my acquaintances they were varied: they went from the indifference of childhood friends to the bullying in class, where my mates pelted me with stuff while secretly exchanging my pictures on their mobiles. I felt hurt at first, but with time I found that everything was irrelevant compared to my happiness with my life. However, I took my small petty revenge when I brought shibari as my graduation thesis, with very positive reactions among the teaching committee.

 

The heart of the matter is that who doesn’t have visible kinks usually doesn’t feel the need to come out unless with their partners. I must admit that, as someone who found his attraction to BDSM when this country was even more in the grip of the Catholic party with all of its hypocrisies, learning that you even informed your parents of your tastes sounds rather impressive. I am not doubting the need you felt to make that decision, but I am curious about whether you considered the consequences in the long run. I am thinking for example to your working life in this neoconservative, quasi-fascist era, or even farther away.

Before answering, let me clear up that I only told my parents when I was 19 and going to my first play parties or buying my earliest fetish outfits. I must say I didn’t think of the consequences initially, also because nothing was planned.
Moving forward, I am now a little stricter about my privacy. Everything was open before, but for example I have now made my Instagram profile private; the Facebook photos are mostly protected; I now only allow social networks friends requests from my friends’ contacts… This decision wasn’t really to “protect” my future but to keep my family safe – my sister especially. I have no problem answering direct questions about what I do: the important thing is that they suffer no consequence.

And talking about the future, close or far it may be, I believe that BDSM not to be a hiring issue as much as in the past anymore. Of course that also depends on the career you want to pursue, the lifestyle you want. I am enjoying youth and university life now: when I will need to get a job because I won’t be able to live on modeling and BDSM events, I will see what to do and I’ll try to take the most appropriate decisions about the pictures and the social profiles. Since I would like a steady job and a family, I could put all my “public” side away.

 

Lastly, I would like to address the gender violence issue, since you say it is one reason behind your approach to extreme eroticism. One criticism about your statements I do agree with is that you carelessly say you use BDSM as a therapy for rape PTSD and fantasies. While it may be a useful tool for you, I find it difficult to see it as a universal solution. Besides the fact of how some of the interviews can be misconstrued to almost justify violence, there is a big international activists’ trend – like doctor Caroline Shahbaz – warning about the unqualified pundits who treat erotic domination as therapy. Can you elaborate on this?

Let me clear this up: I never spoke of BDSM as therapy, even if lots of people interpreted my statements that way. In my opinion, the wish for abuse is totally removed from using BDSM as therapy, since the two things are most definitely far apart.
Like I said in that so controversial interview, in my case it wasn’t BDSM that allowed me overcame my abuse. Before exploring eroticism, I went to several psychologists, doctors and specialists so that even during my alternative sexuality discoveries I always had someone at hand to guide me and give me medical counsel. I believe the misunderstanding derived from the interview cutting out lots of the finer explanations I gave. To be published like that caused as much admiration as reproach, both of which I believe to stem from each reader’s education.   

I also spoke of “house parties”, but they were no proper event. They were just afternoons among friends discussing their likes and passions, among which the topic of rape fantasies came up too. Even on those occasions we never saw BDSM as a therapy for rape survivors: I couldn’t even give my opinion, since my path was a different one. I would never call myself a therapist… Of whom? Of what? Bringing my experience to a group doesn’t make me one, nor a doctor or a psychologist. If organizing sessions about dealing with one’s desires and fantasies in a safe and consensual way – like most people into BDSM do – makes me a therapist, we all probably went into the wrong job!

Joining the BDSM scene helped me building a circle of friends; it made me meet the man I love, but I don’t see these practices a cure for trauma and past pains. I applaud doctor Shahbaz and the other activists dealing with such a touchy and important subject, which I believe not to be restricted just to BDSM but related to everything.

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