Although in many years of research on kinks I have met several… peculiar individuals, one that struck me the most is toby, whose courageous story might be familiar if you follow Italian media. I too got to know him – in his Mario Bonfanti identity – from a newspaper several years ago, and hurried to contact him to learn more. Unfortunately, the pandemic and the hypocrisy of a long series of editors and institutions postponed a meeting until January 2023, when I was able to invite him to one of my events.
On that occasion, toby held a brief seminar on BDSM and spirituality which – to be honest – I feared would go almost empty. After all, who would care hearing the musings of a former priest when they could enjoy a kinky party?
What actually happened was an unexpected success, with more participants than the room could accommodate and many requests to organize a new meeting soon. So, while waiting for the next appointment, it seemed appropriate to at least start with an interview…
Hello, can you introduce yourself to the readers and summarize your journey between faith and BDSM?
Hello! For the moment, my legal name is Mario Bonfanti, but I go by toby: I have felt a slave since forever and since December 1, 2015, I belong to a bisexual master. Professionally, I deal with personal growth, training, and well-being in a holistic way; I am also an ‘erotic-spiritual researcher’ in the Metropolitan Community Churches, a worldwide movement of Christian inspiration that is totally inclusive of every diversity, where sexuality and spirituality go hand in hand. I have been a pastor there since 2019, after leaving the Catholic Church on October 11, 2012 (in correspondence with Coming Out Day). Oh my, I think I have already created confusion for those reading! Let’s take a moment to clarify…
First of all, my identity is that of a cisgender slave attracted to dominants of my own gender. Since elementary school, I have felt attraction both towards the feet of men of any age and towards flogging and torture – in particular, the mini-series Roots had a great fascination on me, and I wanted to be in the place of the protagonist Kunta Kinte, hung and whipped to blood. It is no coincidence that my name now is the one imposed on Kunta, and represents the acceptance of the authority of the master – as well as having in Hebrew the meaning of ‘pleasing to the Lord’.
Then at the age of 15, I entered the seminary because I felt a strong spiritual yearning: a deep attraction to the mystery, which I had in me since I was little and which I loved to cultivate by immersing myself in nature – in particular, on high mountain rocks or in contact with water. Not knowing anything other than Christianity (in fact, to be more precise: Catholicism), the only way to fully develop my spirituality and dedicate myself to it full-time was to embark on the path of becoming a priest. And so I did: in 1985, I entered the seminary, then in 1991, I moved to a convent and in 2002, I was ordained a Catholic priest.
Initially, in elementary school, the two tracks of eros and spirit traveled together peacefully, in parallel, without conflicting. From adolescence, however, they began to collide, diverge, struggle… raising in me a lot of energy that I was not always able to manage and that no one helped me navigate. Sometimes it seemed to me that I was like on a roller coaster: on one hand, the religious push lifted me vortex-like upwards and then, on the other, sex made me plummet at full speed into the depths of my darkest fantasies. I risked derailing completely several times.
Luckily in the end, sex saved me: my erotic charge prevailed and overcame the spiritualistic aspiration that risked leading me towards inhuman angelism. Using another archetype, I can say that the weight of my body made me crash to the ground just as I was trying to soar into the sky like Icarus. And that’s exactly how I was saved.
Sinking into my most unconfessable erotic impulses made that lotus flower bloom that can only grow from the mud. And so it was that the Kundalini, the vital energy, awakened in me and led me to integration.
Now in me BDSM and faith, eros and spirit, fully coincide; they are two sides of the same coin: submitting to the Master is trusting and completely relying on that Erotic Energy that flows from us, thanks to us, and between us – and that someone calls “the divine.”
When it comes to sexuality – and especially its kinky variations – it is often common to complain about the obscurantist impact of the Church and religions in general, as if it were an unbeatable enemy capable of embodying every evil and very helpful to end any conversation immediately. So, to start, I would like to ask you how founded this perception is and how the issue is viewed from the other side of the altar.
Indeed, Christianity and other religions have too often devalued sexuality in recent centuries, as if sex and spirit were at odds and there was a sort of disastrous equation whereby the more a person has sex, the less spiritual they are considered; and, vice versa, the less sex someone has, the more elevated they seem. It is inconvenient then that mystical people – Christian and non-Christian alike – often speak of their highest spiritual experiences using erotic language.
Staying in Christianity, the Greek Orthodox Church speaks of God as eros. Even the Bible is full of passionate manifestations of the divine: for centuries the Song of Songs has been considered the holiest book of all Scriptures, but it is actually a collection of erotic poems comparable to the Eastern Kamasutra.
From what is clear from the Gospels, Jesus was not at all an icy person, but a very passionate man who loved to touch and be touched… even sexually. There is an interesting passage in which it is narrated that Jesus had been invited by a famous nobleman, and as was customary at the time, a prostitute also entered and began to offer her services to the guest. The host was disoriented because he expected such a famous teacher as Jesus to reject such profusions and began to doubt the guest. But Jesus, with a short anecdote, cunningly invited him to let her be and even praised her performance (Luke 7:36-50). Most likely, Jesus was enjoying himself and certainly did not want to be interrupted just when things were getting good!
It is a pity that Christianity has then forgotten about this and similar episodes, emphasizing the Platonic primacy of the soul and celibacy that are completely nonexistent in the Hebrew Bible.
Some say that controllilng that powerful universal energy that is eroticism, has been part of a strategy of maintaining power over the masses. In fact, if we look closely, many religions have a plethora of precepts to regulate sex, because passion is truly such a powerful vital force that can escape any control.
Perhaps even today, the true revolution that can transform a society passes through the liberation of sexuality – especially the most alternative ones. It is not a coincidence that even today our culture fears and pathologizes kinksters. We are a real scandal… and that is precisely our strength!
I seem to recognize the same mechanism that is often observed in politics and condominium meetings, as well as in many other areas. The voices that are most opposed to progress are few, but extremely noisy; they are able to stir up so much aggravation that, in order to silence them, we end up accommodating their irrational positions. As for the relationship between Churches and sexuality, do you think there is hope of overcoming this impasse? And how?
What a big question! Personally, I believe that eroticism has already defeated the Churches a long time ago. I would say for centuries, since even in medieval monasteries sex was practiced more or less everywhere. Although Catholic ostracism has exacerbated the hatred towards that vital energy thanks to which we all exist, sexuality has always prevailed. It may have been more or less explicit, but eros has always expressed itself in every way and at every time in the history of humanity, including the most sex-phobic and puritanical cultures – just think of how much kinky vitality there was during the Victorian era!
So in my opinion there is nothing to overcome, because sexuality has always been rampant everywhere: we just need to take note of it and surrender to its inevitable victory. Continuing a battle when the opponent is already celebrating its wins makes no sense.
In essence: either the churches of every religion and spirituality prostrate themselves in worship of the vital power of eros and serve it, or they will be overwhelmed and miserably annihilated. Because eros is God.
This is a wonderful view of the issue, but still quite far from being realized or at least recognized socially. Just to give a random example, today there is a big part of the world where religion imposes patriarchal segregation between different genders, and literally kills those who disagree. Or, to stay in our Italy, we have fundamental rights that are not accessible to everyone in the name of religious doctrine. So I accept the previous answer, but let’s go more concrete: while waiting for love to triumph over obscurantism, what can be conceretely done to advance the secular cause today?
You rightly speak of the ‘secular cause’, and in my opinion in Italy this is the first step that needs to be taken: to make the State increasingly secular. How? Well, first of all by freeing ourselves from Vatican domination. A first gesture in this direction could be to stop donating part of your taxes to the Catholic Church, which I think many already do. Second: de-baptism, which has no theological value since sacraments cannot be canceled, but represents a powerful political act, in the highest sense of the term. A third, for those of us who are believers: leaving churches/communities/sangahs… that discriminate against us and only adhering to spiritual proposals that are inclusive of alternative sexualities.
A second aspect that I believe is fundamental is coming out. I take this terminology from the LGBT+ world where coming out (in public), rejecting segregation (in gay bars), and having the courage (Pride) to be oneself with one’s head held high has brought great results over the decades. Perhaps we kinksters should also move in this direction and start being public and visible.
It takes courage, I know: I have lost jobs due to my media interviews where I discussed BDSM. But I willingly take the risk, because for me contributing to an inclusive society respectful of every sexuality is very important. Perhaps not all kinksters feel the same way, and that’s okay.
To eliminate discrimination, a long process based on people willing to put their faces on the line is needed. We need to organize and work on different fronts: psychological and psychiatric, anthropological and philosophical, legal and legislative, media and communication, etc.
Let me say that I’m not entirely sure that “kink pride” and secularism are directly linked, but as you know, we’re trying anyway. Regarding your MasterClass at Sadistique, two aspects struck me very deeply. The first was the joyful and mentally open attitude with which you presented yourself, ready to question everything. The other was the very large participation of those who could have realized their wildest erotic fantasies in the next room but chose to squeeze into a small private hall to listen to a talk about theology and the spirituality of kink. I felt it was a truce in the perennial underground conflict between Religion and the secular State, and it was inevitable for me to think that there is a hunger for dialogue on these issues as evident as the shortage of forthcoming and competent people ike you. If there were more tobys, both factions would benefit greatly. So why are combinations like these so rare?
You are absolutely right! I too was deeply impressed and moved by such a large turnout at my MasterClass. And – I must be honest – this crowd gave me great hope that in Italy too, sex and spirit can finally dance together again. Because there is no sex without spirit, nor spirit without sex! Alas, unfortunately, the two sides of the same coin are still very far apart. Or rather: in truth, they have always coincided because anyone who has sex moves an erotic energy rich in spirit, and anyone who walks on a spiritual path can only enjoy life erotically. However, even today, many people are unfortunately myopic and remain attached to only one side of the coin without seeing that those on the other side are brothers or sisters who are following a parallel path that leads in the same direction. Then some of us – like myself – stand between the two sides and, with our scandalous life for both sides of the coin, remind everyone that there is no side without the other. Just as in a coin there is no head without a tail, so eroticism and spirit can only be One.
Okay, so I’ll turn the question around from the opposite point of view. What can we do as practicing individuals and as a subculture of unusual eros to promote peaceful dialogue with religious institutions?
To be honest, I wouldn’t seek any dialogue with religious institutions at all! The powers that be have never changed a religion; it has always been ordinary people who have done so. So, I am not at all interested in the hierarchies recognizing and accepting our existence. It’s not my business: it’s their problem! We kinksters already exist, and we absolutely do not need anyone to recognize us – let alone those types of institutions. I don’t have this illusory expectation, and I don’t have such delusions of grandeur: I know I don’t have this power. What we can definitely do is to come out, occasionally leave our dungeons to show the human and spiritual depth inherent in our practices. Also, despite all the judgments and prejudices against us, it is undeniable that every culture and religion contains sadomasochistic practices. Domination, adoration, veneration, service, devotion, dedication, sacrifice, immolation… are all practices deeply rooted in humanity and practiced for millennia, with which to shape oneself deeply and be fully human. In addition to emerging, I believe it is essential to study anthropologically, psychologically, and spiritually this universal human need that we are cultivating through BDSM practices. And in this regard, I find it interesting that the University of L’Aquila has established a research unit on BDSM.
During your talk, there was a moment that made many people in the audience sit up and take notice. That was when you described the party we were attending as a celebration of a ritual, and BDSM practices as a means of spiritual elevation. Would you care to elaborate on what you meant?
Yes, exactly as I was just saying: BDSM practices are rituals that allow us to fully experience our spiritual yearnings through the flesh. Kneeling, prostrating, imploring, venerating, adoring, humiliating, sacrificing, etc. are all practices found in every human religion. And that’s precisely what we do every time we’re at a BDSM party – or in a session or relationship. So for me, an event like Sadistique is a true celebration.
Let’s go into a little more detail. First of all: what is a ritual? According to Wikipedia, “A ritual or ceremony indicates any act or set of acts performed in accordance with established norms.” And what characterizes a ritual? Well, first of all, I would say a dedicated space – therefore sacred, separate from the ordinary – which one enters (transforming oneself) and from which one exits to return to everyday life. Then a specially created atmosphere is needed to lead participants into a particular state of consciousness. Finally, at the base of a ritual there must also be a myth, that is, a particular interpretation of reality shared by the participants.
At Sadistique, I would say that all these elements were present. The appropriate space with background music and special lighting to create an atmosphere that allowed us to enter a particular state of consciousness. Anyone there shared norms and embodied a common basic myth. The BDSM/kinky narrative is mythopoetic, that is, it generates a particular view of the world and offers very specific reference frameworks for which a person can be Master/slave, human/pet, top/bottom, etc. and relate in that space through these attributions of meaning in complete safety and mutual trust (hence also faith!). In fact, at the base of everything, there is truly a Creed: a profession of faith that unites us and makes us feel like Family, Community, completely at ease in that place and time.
It is precisely this that allowed me, for example, to throw myself at the feet of the Master to whom I belong, and lick them while he was sitting on a sofa drinking a cocktail in front of all the other partygoers. I wouldn’t do that in a public bar (although I would love to – I admit it!)… At Sadistique, the sacred space and the ritual in progress allowed me to act spontaneously in complete safety and without any indiscreet or judgmental eyes on me.
That’s why I say that BDSM parties are rituals! These are our “masses”!
I have already received a lot of requests for further workshops with you. The next one is scheduled for June 4th, but in the meantime, where can you be found or contacted?
Wow, how wonderful! These numerous requests move me deeply!
I too can’t wait to come back and delve deeper into some aspects that I just touched on in my first MasterClass and in this interview. In the meantime, if you want to contact me, you can find me on the website I’m creating right now, on Facebook, or by email. Please feel free to write to me: I will be very happy to read and answer all your questions.
Above all, I hope to meet many new people soon and see you again at Sadistique! Bye, and remember, kinksters: have as much fun as you can!