Family Reunion: Father, Son, And BDSM

I’m not always a good boy; just ask Tommy.

Last night, he and I agreed to meet just off the Bedford stophe’d get a ride up from South Brooklyn, and I’d take the M15 SBS and the L from the Lower East Side. He’d asked me to wear my “cowboy shirt,” tighty-whities, and rubber rain boots; he’d wear a floral top, a tailored blazer, and a flat-brimmed baseball cap, ever the Brooklyn Italian dad. Though I’d been to a smattering of sex parties in New York, and Tommy’s been a dom in the scene for years, neither of us knew what to expect from Family Reunion, a daddy/son-themed sex party organized by the hosts of NYC Inferno. All we knew for sure was that, by night’s end, I was going to have a very red bottom.

I’d seen videos from Bound Gods, and I’d been peripherally aware of the Fifty Shades of Grey franchise. I’d heardas everyone in the theater eventually doesthe apocryphal story in which Elaine Stritch freed a man in a gimp suit chained up in Stephen Sondheim’s bedroom and invited him downstairs to the party. My first AA sponsor, an old-time rock ’n’ roller, had regaled me with stories about parties staffed by medics, where guys got their scrotums nailed to boards and bled all over the place, parties he’d invite me to once I’d finished my Ninth Step amends. As adventurous and slutty as I’d tried to be, I’d never been particularly interested in BDSM.

That is, until I met Tommy.

We’d met on an app in the summer of 2016, when I was in the habit of asking people on hookup apps what “queer” meant to them. Tommy had replied that his queerness manifested in his sexual proclivity for acting out the rituals of fatherhood: specifically, spanking. Spanking in my upbringing had served mostly as an outlet for my father’s unpredictable rage, so I’d never understood that, for some peopleTommy includedcorporal punishment is connected to a broader set of parental rituals of care and nurturing. For me, it had only been scary. As a self-proclaimed sexual adventurer who had read The History of Sexuality, Vol. 1 and some of The Ethical Slut, I was determined to learn more. We became fast friends.

Tommy and I had several conversations leading up to our first playdate to unpack the baggage I brought to a scene involving father/son role-playing. I thought re-contextualizing spanking in a sexy scene might be fun, and Tommy felt trustworthy and experienced enough for me to experiment with. We drank tea and told each other ghost stories until he went over and sat at the edge of his bed and ordered me to bend over his knee.

Being spanked kind of feels like dissolving. It feels colorful, vital, and ineffable. There’s a timelessness to a scene that makes it feel it’s always been happening and that it won’t ever end. There’s pain, but it’s only a small part of it. The whole body becomes preoccupied with a symphony of sensations that bear little resemblance to the pleasures of penile or anal sex. So little, in fact, that until recently, I’d hardly even been able to recognize it as an act of sex.

During that first encounter, I mocked him for not spanking me hard enough. I called him a bad dom; I’m sure I laughed in his face. I left not knowing whether I’d played my part: was I supposed to have given over control completely? Did he want me to talk back to him, even though he’d chided me for it? I was lost in the dramaturgy.

We didn’t reconnect for a few weeks. When we did, he noted that I’d been pushing and pushing; he said he’d felt as if I wanted him to physically hurt me. I conceded this was probably true. Though I’d felt I was in good hands, the scene had opened up a well of resentment against my own father and all the other men in my life who were supposed to have been emotionally present for me when I was coming into myself. A part of me had been sure that, despite the intimacy we’d cultivated leading up to the playdate, Tommy would be just another in a long cavalcade of narcissistic assholes who would use my body and heart without giving anything back. This man would hurt me, in the end, too; only now, I would get to have some say in how it was going to go down.

Tommy laid it out for me: BDSM is about consent.

This was before “Grab ‘em by the pussy” and #MeToo, mere months before a sexual predator was voted into office by people like my mom and dad. Still, I’d already begun a conversation with myself around consent and boundaries after attending a couple of men’s cuddle parties earlier that year, which began with 45-minute seminars on asking for permission, learning how to say “No,” and being okay with rejection. I’d learned that, not only was it all right for me to refuse things I didn’t want in a sexual scene, I could ask for things I did want.

It dawned on me that my father’s toxic habit of treating my mother’s body like it belonged to him, and my mother’s inability to see herself as worthy of agency, had been a poor introduction to the realm of adult intimacy. The conversation with Tommy about BDSM helped me see that I still had a ways to go in terms of taking ownership of and pleasure in my own body.

Over the following year, my friendship with Tommy existed entirely online. We chatted about queerness, comedy, sexual fantasies, and the humdrum details of everyday life. At times, I felt very close to Tommy; other times, I felt an overwhelming need to push him away. For a few weeks in September of 2017, we tried our best to abide by a lifestyle kink contract. I broke it off when I fell into a depression and couldn’t keep it up. As I came into an awareness of my childhood trauma and its effects on my ability to get close to other people, we modulated our roles to fit our states of mind. Sometimes we were friends; other times, we were colleagues, giving each other feedback on our creative work. I gradually began to trust Tommy with my full range of emotions, and he became someone I could come to for help, especially when triggered or depressed. I began to feel validated when I acted out like a bratty little boy and found safety in his playful gruffness and promises of spankings to come. Sometimes, he felt vulnerable and we swapped roles so I could take care of him.

Tommy had me over to his apartment in the winter, the first time we’d seen each other in a year. I was taken with how closely the cadences of our communication in person followed those of our online relationship; it was lifted off the page, so to speak. By that time, I’d begun working with Internal Family Systems, a therapeutic modality that treats a person’s psychic “parts” as members of an internal family unit, each with different roles, perspectives, and ages, working together to get us through life. It’s no coincidence that when Tommy and I got together, the vulnerable 8-year-old inside of me, whom I’d been getting to know in therapy, was coming out to play. We had a great time.

Tommy came over to help me clean my bedroom last weekend. My room has always been a sore spot: I moved a lot as a kid, and I’ve always had trouble fully inhabiting my living space as an adult. Having guys over always involves a process of frenzied cleaning, concession of defeat, and a best effort at self-acceptance; I’ve not invited my best friend to any of my apartments in New York.

I figured it was time to own up to the fact that I needed help, and Tommy was down for it. For three hours, we teamed up and went place by place. Sometimes, he’d pull me in for a cuddle; other times, he’d tell me that the dust bunnies were gross and that I knew better. Of course, I got spanked for being a messy little brat. It wasn’t enough, thoughI’d need to be disciplined in front of a room full of brothers and uncles to learn my lesson.

I was anxious to take our play relationship, which had been borne of intimacy and cultivated for a year and a half, into a room full of strangers. So was Tommy. Fortunately, I’ve been to enough parties to know that I’ll tend to be down for anything up until the day of the party, on which my social anxiety will kick in, and it’ll be a coin toss whether I can get myself to rally once that sets in. Most of my sex party-going has been by myself, though, and having a date makes a difference. Having been a professional dom, Tommy has the frame of reference to be able to kick into “I own this shit” headspace, but it doesn’t mean a part of him doesn’t get nervous, too.

The times I feel closest to Tommy are the times when, in spite of the commitment we bring to a scene, we break and get real. The break isn’t always about confessing feelings of anxiety, though: just as often, it’s about acknowledging the camp factor of daddy/boy play or just the utter absurdity of life itself. A queer sensibility seems to want both script and departure, a balancing act that depends on a multiplicity of affects and points-of-view. I’ve never been deeply into anyone who’s only one thing.

We got slices at Two Boots and headed over.

“Isn’t it a funny New York thing, to walk past regular people who have no idea you’re about to head into a sex party?” Tommy asked.

I said that it’s funnier to leave a party remembering that, on the street, you can’t just smile at strangers the way you do when everyone in the room is naked and confirmed to be horny. I was pretty sure of the address, but we walked a few steps past the door, where there were a few older daddies hanging around, while I double-checked the address on my phone. We stood under a tree on the sidewalk, looked at each other, and laughed like hyenas for no reason at all. He took a couple hits on his vape and we went in.

Did I learn my lesson? You’ll have to ask Tommy.


Karl Saint Lucy

Karl Saint Lucy is a composer, countertenor, and pianist living in lower Manhattan. He wrote the music for UCB’s Fucking Identical Twins and sings like a girl.

in case you missed it