A ‘Primal Alpha Bottom’ On Her Experiences in the Kink Community in NYC
One of Cass’ friends really said it best. When she told him that she started participating and exploring kink, he turned to her and said, “It feels like this has always been a part of you and just now has been able to surface.”
“In a way, kink is an expression of passion for me,” says Cass. “For me, passion is something that is by nature, violent. Passion is fiery. It’s aggressive. It’s forceful, but that’s not to say that it doesn’t take anyone else into consideration. Things like love can be a very tender thing, but love can be also very fierce, very teeth-and-claws-and-lust.”
As Cass points out, passion often associated with fire and not calm, rolling rivers. It’s true. You don’t often hear passion described as a light misty rain.
“Passion is definitely violent, but not necessarily angry. Violence isn’t always ill-spirited,” Cass adds. “I think that’s a misconception.”
She recalls having an epiphany while in a relationship with someone she really loved. “We had a conversation where the person said to me, ‘I think I’m asexual.’ That was the first moment when I really thought about it, because I was very much in love with this person, but when it came to physical love and sexuality, we were on very different pages.”
The idea that she could love someone and yet physically be with other people and even have love for multiple people simultaneously was a powerful one, even if she wasn’t ready to pursue it while in that relationship. When the relationship ended, her roommate put her in touch with a friend we’ll call Alex. Cass recalls her roommate saying, “I think you two would have a lot of fun together.”
There were huge sparks with Alex right from the start. “When we started hooking up, it was a really warm and gentle kind of fire, and not in the sense that it was dinner and hand-holding. We were fucking, but we cared. There was lot of care for each other.”
What they had was never romantic love. There was never a desire to be each other’s ones, but there was safety and mutual respect. “The passion just kept growing and intensifying and the rough sex kept getting rougher. One day, I was looking back on the night before and I realized I entered subspace during our fun. Really it was thanks to all the smut my friends in college and I would read, that I could identify what I experienced and knew some of the terms.”
Subspace and other Kink Terms
BDSM is a combination of a few different phrases. B/D being bondage and dominance, D/S being dominance and submission, and the S/M, sadism and masochism, or sadomasochism (depending on who you ask).
BDSM falls under kink, which is a catchall phrase for alternative sexual lifestyles, whatever they may be. Within the alternative lifestyle communities, there are people who identify as different things other than their own age, gender, sex, etc. There are people who have certain lifestyle desires, certain sexual desires outside of the mainstream. Kink is a place for all of this to play out.
“Within the kink and BDSM community, you can look at it almost like a scale. There’s always one person who is doing and the other person who is receiving. Closest to neutral, that would be top/bottom. An easy way of defining those is the top is the person who is doing, and the bottom is the person who is receiving. This goes for whatever the action or scenario is: whether it’s humiliation, being tied up, or impact play – like paddles and other things like that.
I’d define Dominant/submissive as being a little further out, and I’d say even further out would be Master/slave (in the BDSM community, “Dom” and “Master” are usually capitalized as they’re honorifics). These are all terms that people choose for themselves and choose within their dynamics with others, and different people have different definitions of these words.”
Subspace is the feeling of euphoria that someone gets bottoming to someone else. It’s usually not something that happens immediately, and sometimes people have trouble getting there, but it’s often associated with lightheadedness, feeling out of body, feeling really warm or elated, or sometimes it’s just a feeling of calm serenity. It can definitely be classified as euphoria and one thing you need to be aware of with that is there can also be subdrop – an intense comedown – afterwards.
“Like with any other drug-induced or natural high, there’s a coming down period and you need to know how to prepare for that or be aware of what might happen,” Cass explains. “Subdrop can present as emotional anxiety, worry, depression, needing to feel connected with the person who was topping or dominating you, but it can also manifest in psychosomatic symptoms, like a cold.”
When she told Alex – who had been highly active in his local kink community prior to moving to NYC – that she had experienced subspace, they talked about it. “He was really excited that we could experience that, but he wanted to make sure I wasn’t experiencing any subdrop,” Cass says.
Aftercare is a prescribed set of actions aimed at preventing subdrop. Common things are chocolate, blankets (a person coming out of subspace can feel a drop in body temperature), and tender touches like hugs and cuddling. “Since we’d fall asleep cuddling after, the aftercare was already there.”
In the kink world, consent discussions are everything. Before doing anything kink-related together – which people often call “playing” or “having a scene together” – you talk parameters. This is ok, this isn’t ok. “Consent and conversation are key,” explains Cass, “and aftercare is a big part of that conversation.”
With Alex, consent and aftercare was natural to their relationship. Still, Cass was thrilled to be able to talk to someone with actual scene experience. Cass was aware for a long time that kink communities were out there, but she had never actively sought them out before. While he had little interest in getting involved in the NYC kink scene, he encouraged Cass to venture out and finally experience it for herself. She soon found herself at her first munch.
What’s a Munch?
A munch is a meeting of kink-interested people in a non-kink or “vanilla” location. The first one Cass went to was held in a diner.
“It’s a safe space to talk and not feel pressured to do any certain thing or act in any certain way, especially since within the kink world there are certain dynamics that people have, and part of that includes things like established codes of conduct. If someone’s in a dynamic where they have to use honorifics with others or they have to act a certain way at a party, that doesn’t come into play at munches.”
In essence, a munch is neutral territory. There are general munches for everyone, as well as specific ones: munches for black kinksters, munches for people who are into leather, etc. Cass was part of a munch group for female-identifying submissives, which she says she got scooped up into. “It was a way for women to talk about their experiences in the scene, situations that they’d been in. It was a setting to ask for advice, help, and just be ourselves with each other. It’s part support group, part networking.”
Much of organizing kink groups and events happens on FetLife, the kinkster version of Facebook, which has over 7.5 million users. There are doctors, lawyers, teachers – people in all sorts of professions – who are part of the kink world, according to Cass.
Because kink is still largely misunderstood and judged, people use aliases. For Cass, using a different name in the scene was difficult at times.
“No one from the kink world is friends with me on Facebook,” says Cass. “Some of them – a handful – do know my real name because I’ve shared it with them. It’s difficult navigating that, navigating the identity crisis of being honest with someone about something that in the vanilla world is so basic and normal.”
In some respects, the steps to building a relationship in the kink world are in complete reverse of the customs of the vanilla world.
Each person has their comfort levels with what they share about their life outside of the BDSM community. In a kink relationship, you find out someone’s deepest fantasies and fears pretty early on. Then down the road, you might find out their profession, their backstory, and education. Further down the road, you might end up spending the night with them. It’s possible that the last thing you’d find out is their actual name.
Relationships can end because of not knowing someone’s real name. Cass experienced this firsthand. She was in a relationship with someone who was part of a lesbian community that had some overlap with the BDSM community. They met at an event and formed a relationship. “She was in the lesbian scene and using her real name, and I was part of the kink scene and using a fake name. It created an unevenness between us that we couldn’t overcome.”
Kink and the Mainstream
Kink and BDSM exist at an interesting place in the zeitgeist. “In sex surveys, certain kink fantasies score among the highest,” says Cass. “Even things like anal sex, which tended to carry a lot of stigma -especially among straight people – are now being talked about more.” Still, pop culture’s representation of kink and BDSM is very, very wrong.
Cass was a part of the kink community when Fifty Shades of Grey came out in theaters. “Everyone was talking about it and bracing themselves for a lot of newcomers who were excited by these books and the movie without realizing that the books – when it comes to kink – were very wrong. Fifty Shades portrays an abusive and manipulative relationship that’s being masqueraded as BDSM.”
The books (and subsequent movies) depict Christian Grey’s problematic behaviors: possessiveness, intimidation, isolation, gift giving, stalking, and gas lighting, to name a few. “Those abusive behaviors are what you see, as opposed to an accurate representation of a good BDSM relationship. There’s a saying in the community that all activity should be safe, sane, and consensual. What Fifty Shades shows is not any of those things. It does the whole scene a disservice because, in essence, it’s lumping BDSM with this abusive guy – it’s just so bad.”
Cass saw the movie with a group of kinksters. “We were laughing the whole way through it. Even the play scenes in it… when he picks up the first ‘toy’ to use on her, we were all laughing and saying, ‘Noo, why would you start with that? The flogger is right there!’”
There was basically no conversation beforehand, let alone talk of boundaries, especially on the part of Ana, who was the bottom in her relationship with Grey. Fifty Shades of Grey adds to the misconception about being a top or a Dom – that it’s all about them and ‘this is how it’s going to be,’ when actually, the bottom is in complete control in a healthy kink scene. The bottom is the person who dictates their boundaries, and who controls the progression of the action being done to them.
“People have safe words, but it’s also very common to use the stoplight system,” Cass explains. “Green means go or keep going, yellow can mean ‘Stop what you’re currently doing’ or ‘Hold on/I need to take a break’ and then red means ‘Stop everything’ – you’re shutting the whole thing down.” The exact meaning of the words in the stoplight system are among the many areas of discussion needed before jumping into play, as each person may have their own definitions.
Prior to Fifty Shades of Grey, the kink scene experienced a similar influx of newcomers with the release of Secretary, a 2002 film starring Maggie Gyllenhaal. Gyllenhaal plays a woman who, upon being released from a mental institution, gets a job as a secretary for an attorney (whose last name, interestingly enough, is also Grey) with whom she begins a BDSM relationship.
“Kink is not a replacement for therapy. Not everyone who is into kink is fucked up or in need of therapy, and in the movie, Gyllenhaal’s character is cutting herself and she’s in poor mental state and she finds her way to even footing through kink. It becomes consensual, but the safe is in question and the sane is definitely in question.”
Dealing with Bad Actors in the Community
Christian Grey-type behavior is very far from the norm, but like with any community, there are occasionally people in the kink world accused of violating the rules.
A common example of this is when a person is flagged for not honoring someone’s safe word or boundaries. But pushing someone of the community is complicated, Cass says. “For one, not everyone might have had the same experience with them, so then factions form. There’s also the fear: what if that person were to out people as a form of retaliation?”
Kink parties are usually held in event spaces that people rent out in the city. There is typically an entry fee to cover the cost of renting the space and the organizers. A lot of them are dry parties, but some are BYOB. The organizers appoint DMs, or Dungeon Masters (the space where a party is held is sometimes referred to as a dungeon). DMs are tasked with making sure that all activities are safe, sane, and consensual. If people have an issue, they report it to a DM.
Contrary to popular belief, kink parties are not necessarily sex parties. “That’s a huge stereotype,” Cass says.
“Some of things that go on are sensual, some are sexual. You can watch someone be suspended on ropes, fully naked, and so inherently there’s a sensuality and a sexuality to it. At some parties, there’s no penetrative or other sex allowed. Usually it’s just stimulation, with hands or toys. There are other parties which often overlap with the swinger community where there’s tons of sex.”
At parties, it’s common for people to do scenes in front of a crowd.
Exhibition and voyeurism are part of the appeal of going to a BDSM party, but no physical audience participation is allowed unless explicitly stated. Depending on the equipment and the space, you might see rope bunnies (a term for people who like to be tied up) on the floor or suspended from a hard point. It makes for a compelling visual: the audience watches the rope bunnies float and change positions as the rope top navigates their scene.
“You could see a chorus of spanks set up against a wall, spanking benches, or a St. Andrew’s cross. There could be needle play, with needles used to create illusions and designs (like a corset or butterfly). Whips make for a good show, cracking loudly across a room. There could be puppy-boys in cages. The atmosphere varies but overwhelmingly it’s about embracing all the delightfully dark aspects of pleasure.”
After participating in a BDSM scene and receiving aftercare, the participants mingle with friends and acquaintances. Some people only play with people they know, others are comfortable with playing with someone new. Parties are also a great way to see other dynamics. Watching kinksters playing can be for pleasure, getting ideas for your own scenes, or observing a potential “playmate.”
“I usually stick with impact play at parties – floggers, canes, paddles, etc,” Cass adds. “Impact play is usually categorized by sensation into ‘stingy’ or ‘thuddy’. Bringing your own toys is best, but good tops keep their toys clean.”
Cleaning supplies are usually around too, as are med kits. “Safety is always a priority. I usually carried my own things to make sure I had easy access to anything I could need – as a top or bottom.”
To ensure safety, hosts will often hold a pre-party negotiation class in order to discuss potential pitfalls, things to think about, and run through practices. This helps newcomers navigate basic party etiquette and give them a chance to get more comfortable before everything gets into full swing.
I happen to know Cass personally. Before I was properly informed, I definitely thought it was curious that my friend, who I consider to be one of the most assertive and fierce people I know, was a submissive. Looking back, those thoughts were a completely vanilla way of looking at it.
When I admitted these thoughts to Cass, she didn’t judge. “We’re all multifaceted and that’s really the thing that makes something beautiful. Take a diamond as an example. What makes a diamond beautiful is the facets.” It’s true. And that’s the beauty of kink, according to Cass. It’s an arena where people can be who they are, or who they want to be in their heart of hearts. It’s about choice.
Cass doesn’t identify as a sub or a bottom, even if those words may describe her role during play. When Cass first entered the scene, she referred to herself as a switch – someone who was comfortable as in both the top and bottom roles. She used the term almost as a placeholder, as she didn’t have a way to properly describe her identity – someone fierce and fiery who also enjoys being dominated and paddled.
A friend asked her: if she were only allowed to be a top or a bottom for the rest of her life, which would she choose? The more she thought about it, the more she knew she was a bottom at her core, despite loving to “top” kink friends at parties.
Still, sub and bottom didn’t feel like they encompassed enough. In the end, she kept putting words together until she found something that sounded right: primal alpha bottom.
Love in the Community
Cass is no longer active in the community, and hasn’t been for some time.
She left after major drama went down within two group of friends in the community. “Things like that are unfortunately very common in the scene,” admits Cass. “But I have a lot of friendships that I maintain on varying levels. There are a lot of really good, intelligent people in the scene.”
There are pitfalls, Cass affirms, but there’s also a lot of love in the kink community. It springs from a good place, but, just like sex – just like anything else – it needs to be safe, sane, and consensual. After my conversation with Cass, I realized that perhaps the biggest misconception vanilla folks have about kink is the idea that the activities and scenes are always taken to the extreme and are meant to be pain-inducing. Again, the media is largely to blame for this misconception.
“Kink is a big old rainbow spectrum; the full-on color wheel,” explains Cass. “It’s every color, every shade – from the lights to the darks, from the greens to the reds, to the blues – because you can take any action and bring it to either its gentlest form or to its most extreme. Kissing can be very gentle or very aggressive. Nipping someone’s earlobe…that’s a little more aggressive than a standard kiss, but how hard are you biting that earlobe? Spanking is sometimes seen as ‘Ooh, so kinky,’ but I’m betting more couples than not have some form of playful thwack that happens here and there.”
Not everyone in the kink community is into pain. “It’s not even about control or power all the time,” Cass adds.
Kink is about connection. “That’s really the most beautiful thing about being mentally on the same level as someone,” says Cass. “When you’re doing a scene, you’re both experiencing something. And while it’s two different sides of the coin, you’re part of the same coin in that moment.”