“Man-up!” “Pussy!” “Faggot!” Our society is very harsh on men with its demands that they be strong and “masculine,” with restrictions on emotions (men don’t cry) or any other form of vulnerability that flows therefrom. Society is persistently–whether outright or by implication–telling young boys to push back their tears, to ignore and suppress their emotions, to be strong and not to ask for help, to always have things under control, and so forth. For this reason in part, a man whose inner life seeks to balance these demands by indulging in kinky play that entails his submission, feminization, or other forms of vulnerability, is likely to hide this aspect of his life — not only because of its private psycho-sexual nature, but also because it does not correspond to the expected role of a ‘normal’ heterosexual male in the eyes of the social majority. The consequences of this societal non-conformity are not only interpersonal but often practical as well, such as the loss of one’s partner, employment, or friendships. And so, men whose kinks do not conform to traditional male roles and stereotypes are especially prone to keeping them strictly to themselves.
While I am not male, I have an idea of what it feels like to be forced into silence about one’s natural and innocuous proclivities. I was raised in post-soviet Russia, where sexual repression was the norm. Women were slut-shamed for deviating in even the least bit from the very vanilla, while men were just as insistently expected to be ‘alpha’ and macho, both of which I have always instinctively found to be unhealthy and toxic. When I moved to the US, I began my life with an office career, where this alpha masculinity was also encouraged. Dressed in conservative office attire, always emotionless and keeping everything under control, striving to be successful, smiling at the right times, providing the right answers, unwaveringly pursuing goals, and unfailingly achieving them was the idealized expectation of which everyone was aware.This was topped off by the additional aspect of competition, in which only the best (whatever that meant) were truly successful. Not only were men expected to be all this at work, they were simultaneously increasingly expected to also be perfect husbands and fathers at home, successful breadwinners and capable heads of households. No pressure! These office drones’ only socially-approved time to let their guards down would be some bar outings, which their limited time allowed. But these too entailed restrictions: it was appropriate to have fun at the bar, but not to grow sad and pour out one’s soul. So these men would typically adopt a convenient role, such as “the funny guy”, “the extravert”, “the flirt” and so on. I never felt comfortable in this atmosphere. It felt suffocating to me, if I’m being really honest.
In my after-work life, things weren’t much different. Take dating. I never liked going on official ‘dates’ because they were equally scripted. They were where men would try to impress me in accordance with the same socially-prescribed set of values. They would flex this conception of manliness in front of me for the duration of the date by trying to be funny, appear clever, by bragging about their achievements, and so on. These early experiences have so put me off dating that I have never even tried any dating websites. Submitting myself willingly to this awkward scenario in which some poor guy bends over backwards all evening in his attempt to leave me with a favorable impression while I am expected to do the same…no, thanks. Perhaps ‘dating’ can be done differently, but I’ll stick to meeting people in more causal settings. It saddens me too much to bear witness to what social conditioning makes men act like in traditional settings – a mask with no life behind it, a puppet fulfilling a set of expectations.
Life isn’t easy for men in this respect. It is difficult to find a place where their vulnerability is encouraged. This is a large part of the reason I–and my clients–value my work so much. The dungeon is the place where the men who come to me show up in their Truth. Yes, a weird one, a kinky one, sometimes a challenging one, sometimes exciting, but one that is finally devoid of pretentious masculinity! I’ll let you in on a little secret – it’s a bit of a myth that dommes are vigorously active at all times during sessions. In reality we spend a lot of time listening to our clients’ confessions. Most of my clients have a real need to talk about their vulnerabilities. I sincerely welcome it, all of it. No more need to play the alpha-male role, guards down, shells off, all secrets and emotions out, and at long last some light shining in their eyes. Finally I can see that their eyes are mirrors of their souls.
My life doesn’t revolve around kinksters only. In my personal life, even in less kinky situations, I also admire vulnerability in men. I admire it when men can tell me exactly how they feel, when they can express their emotions and own them, for example, when a man can say things like – I’m scared, I have a fear of abandonment, I catch myself feeling jealous when you look at this guy, I must admit I feel lonely when you do this, I must be getting attached to you more than I thought, I feel very insecure when this guy is flirting with you, right now I really need your embrace, I’m feeling overwhelmed because I go out of my mind when I see this kind of beauty, I feel angry when I hear you speaking like this. Nor is crying something to be ashamed of. No one should have to suppress their emotions in order to fit within the stereotype assigned to them. Tears are yet another example of how true beauty and courage are revealed when we surrender. Ironically, pretentious masculinity is not nearly as attractive as sincere vulnerability. Ask any woman. Sincere vulnerability looks a real strength to me, while pretentious courage appears rather superficial and unattractive. If a man is strong enough to be truly vulnerable in front of me, he has my heart. As social researcher Dr. Brene Brown said, “vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.”
Image by Maud Fernhout photography //www.maudfernhout.com