Tag Archives: communication

I think I just saw my therapist in leather.

A point of clarification: The title of this post is not a direct quote from myself or anyone else in particular, though I am fairly certain that these words have been uttered before, in a paraphrase if not verbatim. I bring up this idea because the potential for crossing paths with your therapist, or your client if you’re a therapist, is something that you tend to think about and perhaps anticipate when both of you run in relatively small circles. I mentioned in the GO Magazine interview that outing myself was a conscious decision for several reasons, but one of the reasons that I did not happen to mention in that interview was that I am active in the communities connected with my intersecting identifications, and therefore chances are very likely that I will run into people I’m doing therapy with. When your own identifications result in something reminiscent of the rainbow Venn diagram below, and you find value in interacting socially with others who share those intersections, you just might see your therapist in leather, or they might see you in latex, or you might notice them interacting with a partner or partners.

And then what happens?  What do you do?  What would you expect your therapist to do?


There’s no one correct answer to the above questions, because the answer will depend on both the therapist’s and the client’s comfort levels, though the agreed upon answer should go in the more conservative direction, the one that most protects the therapeutic relationship and most allows for progress back in the therapeutic environment.  Because I tend to work with people who run in some or all of the same circles that I do, I like to address the issue of a potential path-crossing at some point in our work together, as early on as makes sense.

The conversation might go something like this: I bring up the potential of running into each other outside of our usual meeting place, check in with them to see how they feel about that potential, and let them know I have a uniform code of conduct when I find myself in that situation.  Which is, if I happen to inadvertently make eye contact, I might smile and nod, but I will not approach someone to speak to them out of respect for their privacy and discretion, and I will likely move to another area, or make a decision to leave if that seems more appropriate and protective of the therapeutic process.  If someone approaches me, I will certainly say hello, but I will not engage in prolonged conversation, and in our next session together, we would discuss thoughts and feelings that came up around meeting in a different context.  Finally, I would check in with them to see how they feel about that process, see what their specific preferences might be, and come to a mutually consensual agreement.  This is a fairly standard way of handling such situations, according to what I’ve heard from colleagues and supervisors.

There are therapists who would avoid engaging with clients outside of the therapeutic environment at all costs, and in more mainstream communities, it is much easier to accomplish this. When there are limited venues in which to interact socially with like-minded people however, I don’t see the need to avoid engagement. In fact, I feel as though being an active part of the community is a form of autoethnography, a process in which “you use your own experiences to garner insights into the larger culture or subculture of which you are a part” (Patton, 2014, Kindle Locations 3895-3896).  Understanding yourself and understanding the community/ies you’re a part of is an active and ongoing process, as is therapy. Likewise, therapy is an active collaboration, as is community, and I encourage my clients to take an active role in their process, just as I do in mine.

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Cross-post: Thinking Globally about Sex and Gender

A couple of years ago I discovered a document called the Yogyakarta Principles on the Application of International Human Rights Law in relation to Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, created in 2006 in Yogyakarta, Indonesia by the International Commission of Jurists and the International Service for Human Rights, on behalf of a coalition of human rights organizations in reaction to egregious international human rights violations pertaining to individuals marginalized for their sexual orientation and/or gender identifications.

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The introduction to the Yogyakarta Principles begins with…

“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. all human rights are universal, interdependent, indivisible and interrelated. sexual orientation1) and gender identity2) are integral to every person’s dignity and humanity and must not be the basis for discrimination or abuse” (p. 6).

…and ends with…

“The Yogyakarta Principles affirm binding international legal standards with which all states must comply. they promise a different future where all people born free and equal in dignity and rights can fulfill that precious birthright” (p. 7).

I’m an advocate for every clinician and educator’s (and every human, really) reading this document in its entirety, which is why I decided to post this on the ManhattanAlternative.com blog, and is why I’m cross-posting it here as well. Though the abridged principles listed as follows can be interpreted differently depending on context and experience, thinking critically about them as they stand here is a useful exercise in itself:

  1. The right to the universal enjoyment of human rights.
  2. The rights to equality and non-discrimination.
  3. The right to recognition before the law.
  4. The right to life.
  5. The right to security of the person.
  6. The right to privacy.
  7. The right to freedom of arbitrary deprivation of liberty.
  8. The right to a fair trial.
  9. The right to treatment with humanity while in detention.
  10. The right to freedom from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
  11. The right to protection from all forms of exploitation, sale and trafficking of human beings.
  12. The right to work.
  13. The right to social security and to other social protection measures.
  14. The right to an adequate standard of living.
  15. The right to adequate housing.
  16. The right to education.
  17. The right to the highest attainable standard of health.
  18. Protection from medical abuses.
  19. The right to freedom of opinion and expression.
  20. The right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.
  21. The right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.
  22. The right to freedom of movement.
  23. The right to seek asylum.
  24. The right to found a family.
  25. The right to participate in public life.
  26. The right to participate in cultural life.
  27. The right to promote human rights.
  28. The right to effective remedies and redress.
  29. Accountability.

Some interesting questions to ponder:

Which of the above principles most affect you on a regular basis?

Which have you fought for in terms of your personal experience?

Which might you have taken for granted?

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Learning the Language of Grief

This week I was asked to facilitate a suicide bereavement group in collaboration with Persist Health Project to support those who had recently lost someone important to them.  This person also happened to be a leader in their community, and someone who had offered support and strength to many beyond their immediate circle of loved ones.  We sat together that morning in an effort to learn and teach each other the language of grief.

Please note, the following does not represent mine or any one else’s voice in particular, and is not meant to be a distillation or summation of all voices present, but represents a few of the ideas and feelings that were shared as our thoughts and emotions intersected and diverged.

We sat facing each other and talked about our emotions, the emotions of those who knew the person well and had seen them recently, and the emotions of those who had only met them once or twice but had been affected deeply by their fierce activism. Collectively, we were sad, shocked, confused, angry, numb, hurt, speechless, frustrated, anguished, heavy, isolated, overwhelmed, afraid, hopeless, guilty. We also felt love for the person who is now gone, and for others in our respective and intersecting communities. We also felt hate for the forces in the world that make life so difficult to live at times, and for the internal forces that can exist within individuals that sometimes lead towards destruction. We wondered what it means to die, to kill yourself, to exist after someone you care about kills themselves, what anything means, whether anything really has meaning, how meaning changes, how emotions change, how things can get better, then worse, then better, how nothing stays the same. We talked about wanting to take care of each other, and to take care of ourselves, and not always knowing how to do either. We talked about how sometimes taking care of yourself is a way to take care of someone else important to you, and asking for help for yourself is a way to help your community. We asked a lot of questions, and the most concrete answer was that there is sometimes no answer, because sometimes the answer is in the asking.

We talked about the different ways we react at different times to different people after something like this happens. We talked about the importance of self-expression, about fighting the good fight, about listening to music, about engaging all senses, about communication, about sex, about feeding yourself, about simply existing, about just being there, about sitting in uncomfortable silence, about trying, about letting go of meaning making, about asking for help.

It’s hard to talk about death and about grief because it’s not something we’re ever really taught to do in Western culture, so it’s like learning a new language. In the silence that comes with not knowing what to say or how to feel about things like suicide or grieving, there can be loneliness and isolation, and even those who seem to be the most prosocial and surrounded by support can be lonely and isolated and not seem like they are at all.

An experience like the one I describe above can never be encapsulated or distilled down in a way that accurately represents each individual’s perspective, but I will leave you with some thoughts that I feel are useful to contemplate.  Self-care can be as simple as becoming aware of one’s internal processes and emotions, even if that awareness is that there is a certain lack of awareness or ability to be aware.  Learning how to communicate transparently and empathetically with others is a work in progress that is not always easy, and can be clouded by grief.  Engaging with and strengthening our respective and intersecting communities can be active ways to support those we care about while strengthening our own support systems.

Finally, if I were to voice a take home message, it would be this: We sat facing each other.  It wasn’t about the sitting, or the direction we were sitting, but we shared space.  People came out to share space together, to take care of each other, to take care of themselves.

I will be offering free therapy sessions at the Persist Health Project office to those in mourning in the wake of this tragedy on Monday afternoons through April. Contact me directly through email or call 917-675-3446.

Some additional resources:

Parachute NYC provides alternatives to hospitalization for people experiencing emotional crises.

The Support Line is a free and confidential phone service operated by peer staff that offers support and referral services to NYC individuals experiencing emotional distress: 646-741-HOPE.

1-800-LIFENET is a free, confidential, multi-lingual, mental health and substance abuse information, referral, and crisis prevention hotline available to anyone at any time.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline—by calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255) you’ll be connected to a skilled, trained counselor at a crisis center in your area, anytime 24/7.

The Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention is a public-private partnership advancing the Surgeon General’s National Strategy for Suicide Prevention.

The Trevor Project is the leading national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) young people ages 13-24.

Persist Health Project is a peer-led, community-based health and community organizing project based on Brooklyn, New York that provides health referrals, health education, mental health services, herbal health services, peer support, job training, and leadership development for communities involved with and/or impacted by the sex trade.

ManhattanAlternative.com is a network of therapeutic service providers in New York City who are sex-positive, affirmative, and have expertise related to issues that kink, poly, consensually non-monogamous, trans, gender non-conforming, and/or LGBQ-identified individuals face.

NOTE: The content of this blog is owned by Dulcinea Pitagora. See Terms and Conditions for republishing restrictions/allowances.

Grappling with Consensual Non-consent, part 2

Continued from last week’s post, Grappling with Consensual Non-consent, part 1.

Langdridge’s1 chapter on the eroticization of pain in BDSM interactions describes the concept of losing control in a different way. Though CNC is not mentioned explicitly, the type of interaction described intimates an interaction that is initially consensual, but then brings the bottom to an altered state of consciousness in which there is a complete loss of agency and separation from reality, which the author notes can result in a greater sense of intimacy and bonding between the parties involved1. Though this and the previous school of thought are contrasting on the surface, it seems in some way a question of semantics, or perhaps more accurately, individual differences in perception. That is to say, while a given person in the bottom role might be able and want to hold a suspension of disbelief during a scene, and a given person in the top role might be able to orchestrate a scene that makes this possible, others may not be able to sustain that illusion and still attain the kind of CNC experience they want, and so they may need to approach it in a different intellectual way. Both of these instances of CNC might appear to be played out in the same manner, and may result in a similar experiential trajectory.

Just as there are different ways to conceive of consent and CNC, there are differences in meaning that each individual attaches to their BDSM play. With this in mind, it stands to reason that almost every BDSM scene could be considered analogous to a CNC scene, in that consent is negotiated and obtained, there is an illusion of a loss of control, and there is a way for the bottom to end the scene. The potential for trouble enters into any BDSM scene—whether or not it includes CNC—when negotiation occurs and consent is obtained, but there is a lack of compassion or connection between the top and bottom, and therefore there is a greater margin of error and potential for dissatisfaction. There is also the case of a participant’s misrepresentation, or one who is under the influence of alcohol or a substance; these scenarios would further confound the potential for a successful BDSM and/or CNC scene. This begs the question of whether it is always possible to assess the level of trust that a bottom has for their top, or to know someone’s ability to trust or be trusted. Further, if a top is deemed trustworthy, does it follow that they would never allow a scene to go too far? If that is the case, does it then nullify or reinforce the premise of CNC? It seems possible to split hairs indefinitely, but in all cases, the way CNC is defined and enacted seems to be a matter of perspective and context.

CNC is considered problematic by many who feel a sense of stigmatization by virtue of being BDSM-oriented. Many fear that assumptions will be made about the way certain people in the kink community play, and that these assumptions will be project misapprehensions onto the entire community, and further pathologize all BDSM participants2. This fear is not unfounded; unfortunately, the problem of abusers masquerading as conscientious and caring sadists has long been detrimental to the public perception of BDSM. Sexuality educator Dr. Charlie Glickman gave voice to this issue when he wrote that some people are drawn to BDSM not because they get pleasure from consensual BDSM interactions, but because they see it as an opportunity to manipulate people new to BDSM into accepting abuse, while convincing them that their boundaries and desires do not matter. Those new to the scene without an awareness of BDSM culture are particularly susceptible to believing such violence must be accepted2. Additionally, due to the stigma associated with being kink-identified, fewer people are willing to discuss the existence of such predators in the BDSM community because they are reluctant to exacerbate the already negative perception that mainstream society has about BDSM3.

Ironically, two recent textual analyses comparing BDSM and heteronormative relationships illustrated that the dynamics of a D/s relationship have the same discursive origins as traditional relationships, and fall prey to the same issues of inherent gendered power dynamics4,5. The distinguishing factor that some would say makes a full-time CNC relationship a better option than conventional relationship is the explicit negotiation of and agreement to power roles and behaviors, as opposed to most conventional relationships, wherein roles are assumed based on socially mandated gender roles handed down through generations of patriarchy. Similarly, CNC can be perceived as reminiscent of conventional sexual interactions. That is to say, in the former, consent may be more likely to be overtly agreed upon initially than in the latter, but in both cases there is an expectation of consent, and an assumption that consent will persist and not be rescinded unless the interaction/relationship is being terminated.

Along these lines, in Tsaro’s6 analysis of contemporary BDSM-themed texts, consent is sometimes described in mainstream representations of BDSM as being reinforced by the absence of overtly denying or rescinding it, which is reminiscent of typically gendered sexual assumptions4. This is of particular concern, as the media and entertainment industries often seek to sensationalize and distort reality and focus on the extreme in order to gain maximum reader- and viewership, at the same time doing a disservice to readers and viewers by communicating false information and reinforcing unhealthy social dynamics.

In summary, while grappling with the concept of CNC interactions may clarify certain aspects and suggest guidelines, there remain conflicts about its practice, which is oftentimes arbitrary and ill-defined. It stands to reason that the struggle among BDSM practitioners to agree on specific, inclusive, and clearly defined terminology to describe BDSM interactions and behaviors may represent avoidance and resistance based in a reaction to internalized stigmatization, as well as an indication that intellectualization cannot always address emotional and moral conflicts. In the end, it seems as though the best possible way to address the issue of CNC is to continue the conversation, and encourage open dialogues about sexuality and the vast range of sexual behaviors both within and outside of the kink community.


1 Langdridge, D. (2007). Speaking the unspeakable: S/M and the eroticization of pain. In D. Langdridge & M. Barker (Eds.), Safe, sane, and consensual: Contemporary perspectives on sadomasochism (pp. 85–97). Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books.

2 Fowles, S. M. (2008). The fantasy of acceptable ‘non-consent’: Why the female sexual submissive scares us (and why she shouldn’t). In J. Friedman and J. Valenti (Eds.), Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape (pp. 117-125). Berkeley, CA: Seal Press. Kindle Edition.

3 Glickman, C. (August 8, 2011). BDSM & rape, what now? Retrieved from http://www.charlieglickman.com/2011/08/18/bdsm-rape-what-now/

4 Barker, M. (2013). Consent is a grey area? A comparison of understandings of consent in Fifty Shades of Grey and on the BDSM blogosphere. Sexualities, 16(8), 896-914. doi: 10.1177/1363460713508881

5 Faccio, E., Casini, C., & Cipolletta, S. (2014). Forbidden games: The construction of sexuality and sexual pleasure by BDSM ‘players.’ Culture, Health & Sexuality, 16(7), 752-764. doi: 10.1080/13691058.2014.909531

6 Tsaros, A. (2013). Consensual non-consent: Comparing EL James’s Fifty Shades of Grey and Pauline Réage’s Story of O. Sexualities, 16(8), 864-879. doi: 10.1177/1363460713508903

NOTE: The content of this blog is owned by Dulcinea Pitagora. See Terms and Conditions for republishing restrictions/allowances.

Grappling with Consensual Non-consent, part 1

The concept of consensual non-consent1 (CNC) relates to the type of BDSM interaction in which there exists a mutual agreement between participants that allows for an atmosphere of suspended consent2 or suspension of limits3. This type of interaction can take place within the parameters of a time-delimited scene, such as a heavy discipline scene or rape roleplay4,5, or a D/s relationship in which the power dynamic extends beyond sexual interactions, such as in 24/7, Erotic Power Exchange (EPE), Total Power Exchange (TPE), or Total Power Transfer (TPT) relationships2,6. Identifying a clear framework for CNC interactions is exceedingly difficult, which is most likely why CNC has long been controversial within the BDSM community, both in terms of how it’s defined, and whether it’s a viable form of BDSM due to its pushing the boundaries of consent. Some would say CNC is entirely consensual and only presents the appearance of non-consent, along the lines of a roleplay2,7; others would say that once consent is given in this type of dynamic, anything goes, and rescinding it signals an absolute termination of the interaction or relationship2,6; and still others say that (from the bottom’s perspective) it is integral to their experience to experience a complete loss of control, and feel that there is no other option but to endure whatever happens within a scene or relationship8.

Tsaros’s2 article in Sexualities analyzes occurrences and conflicting understandings of CNC in two popular BDSM texts: Fifty Shades of Gray and The Story of O. The author points out the differences between ownership in EPE or TPE relationships (i.e., it is symbolic, and commonly incorporates intimate connection and protection from harm), and ownership found in non-BDSM instances of slavery and human trafficking2. The author also problematizes the concept of CNC, suggesting that the imitation of ownership is an integral part of all BDSM interactions, not just in CNC2. These points support the position that there may be an ideal way to enact a CNC scene, which incorporates the understanding among all parties that the loss of control is an illusion that can be ended at any time by the bottom9.

It can be argued that there should be room in human sexuality to encompass CNC, perhaps ideally a version in which all parties involved place concrete emphasis on the consensual nature of the scene, and are in agreement that the atmosphere of “non-consent” that follows is plastic and rescindable. In other words, for many, the ideal CNC scenario is explicitly consensual, and the non-consensual aspect is a roleplay contained within the bounds of consent, with rules in place regarding negotiation of and respect to limits, use of safewords, and incorporation of aftercare. Having said that, while it is easy to state that every sexual interaction should be explicitly consensual, it is not as easy to define what consent means to or how it is communicated between others10. For example, while consent is a social construct that can be defined in an important and useful way, society does not seem to have a strong collective understanding of what consent means or how it is obtained.

While there are those who would take issue with placing restrictions on a CNC scene, many who engage in BDSM find it helpful to play with certain guidelines in place, especially in the case of more extreme scenes, which CNC scenes often are. For example, such guidelines might include avoiding CNC interactions with people who lack experience with BDSM interactions and/or an understanding of how to communicate their boundaries. As Califia7 notes, it is crucial that newer players be aware of the distinct and necessary difference between fantasy and the manifestation of fantasy into reality. Another guideline might be that CNC interactions take place between people who have interacted with each other for a long enough period of time to establish a sense of mutual trust, care, and understanding. The problem many have with the concept of CNC is that there tend not to be such clearly stated parameters. As mentioned above, however, consent tends to be a difficult concept for many to clearly define, a fact that should not necessarily affect peoples’ rights to engage in what they consider consensual activities or lifestyles.

In an article discussing the need for a more sophisticated conceptualization of consent, the authors describe three different levels of consent: surface consent, i.e. “no means no” and “yes means yes;” scene consent, i.e., the pushing of boundaries and blurring of lines within a negotiated and consensual scene; and deep consent, in which the bottom may be in an altered state of consciousness, and consent may not become clear until considering it afterwards5. The authors also posit that in the case of deep consent, what makes a scene consensual or not is the extent to which both parties are aware of the potential for an altered state of consciousness, and there exists an adequate amount of affection, aftercare, and communication between participants before and after the scene. While deep consent in the context of a time-delimited CNC interaction might make sense in practice, the bottom’s inability to know in the moment what is illusory contradicts the idea that the non-consent must be illusory, especially given that every BDSM interaction is by definition based in consent, regardless of how it is framed or appears to be3,4.

BDSM by nature plays with the illusion of a loss of control and at times with an atmosphere of non-consent5. While this can be precarious, it is also what draws many BDSM participants to the lifestyle—finding a way to balance proper communication with a suspension of disbelief can result in the combination of fear and excitement that many people desire5. Inherent to a CNC scene is the desire to experience a range of intense emotions, and in the best case scenario, could provide a context for achieving transcendence. The concept of deep consent could contribute to a number of emotions on the part of those involved in the scene. In the case of a successful scene, participants might feel elation, happiness, a sense of intimacy, and empowerment. In the case of an unsuccessful scene, anger, resentment, disappointment, and alienation might surface. Even in the case of an unsuccessful scene, there is the potential for the rupture to be repaired with aftercare, an exchange of feedback, and renegotiation of rules11. If the participants have entered into a CNC scene with partners who they trust, know well, and desire intimacy with, even negative emotions could be processed in a way to achieve a closer bond12.

The continuation of this essay, Grappling with Consensual Non-consent, part 2, will be posted next week.


1 Fifthangel. (2012). Inside the mind of a sadist. In T. Taormino (Ed.), The Ultimate Guide to Kink: BDSM, Role Play and the Erotic Edge (pp. 333-351). Berkeley, CA: Cleis Press. Kindle Edition.

2 Tsaros, A. (2013). Consensual non-consent: Comparing EL James’s Fifty Shades of Grey and Pauline Réage’s Story of O. Sexualities, 16(8), 864-879. doi: 10.1177/1363460713508903

3 Moser, C. (2006). Demystifying sexual behaviors. Sexuality, Reproduction & Menopause, 4(2), 8690.

4 Fowles, S. M. (2008). The fantasy of acceptable ‘non-consent’: Why the female sexual submissive scares us (and why she shouldn’t). In J. Friedman and J. Valenti (Eds.), Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape (pp. 117-125). Berkeley, CA: Seal Press. Kindle Edition.

5 Williams, D. J., Thomas, J. N., Prior, E. E., & Christensen, M. C. (2014). From “SSC” and “RACK” to the “4Cs”: Introducing a new framework for negotiating BDSM participation. Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality, 17. Retrieved from http://mail.ejhs.org/volume17/BDSM.html

6 Dancer, P. L., Kleinplatz, P. J., & Moser, C. (2006). 24/7 SM slavery. Journal of Homosexuality, 50(2/3), 81-101. doi:10.1300/J082v50n02_05

7 Califia, P. (2012). Expanding masochism: How to expand limits and increase desire. In T. Taormino (Ed.), The Ultimate Guide to Kink: BDSM, Role Play and the Erotic Edge (pp. 309-331). Berkeley, CA: Cleis Press. Kindle Edition.

8 Taormino, T. (2012). “S is for…”: The terms, principles, and pleasures of kink. In T. Taormino (Ed.), The Ultimate Guide to Kink: BDSM, Role Play and the Erotic Edge (pp. 24-32). Berkeley, CA: Cleis Press. Kindle Edition.

9 Baumeister, R. F. & Butler, J. L. (1997). Sexual masochism: Deviance without pathology. In D. R. Laws & W. O’Donahue (Eds.), Sexual Deviance: Theory, Assessment, and Treatment (pp. 225-239). New York: Guilford Press.

10 Barker, M. (2013). Consent is a grey area? A comparison of understandings of consent in Fifty Shades of Grey and on the BDSM blogosphere. Sexualities, 16(8), 896-914. doi: 10.1177/1363460713508881

11 Faccio, E., Casini, C., & Cipolletta, S. (2014). Forbidden games: The construction of sexuality and sexual pleasure by BDSM ‘players.’ Culture, Health & Sexuality, 16(7), 752-764. doi: 10.1080/13691058.2014.909531

12 Beckman, A. (2007). The ‘Bodily Practices’ of Consensual ‘SM,’ Spirituality and ‘Transcendence’. In D. Langdridge & M. Barker (Eds.), Safe, sane, and consensual: Contemporary perspectives on sadomasochism (pp. 98–118). Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books.

NOTE: The content of this blog is owned by Dulcinea Pitagora. See Terms and Conditions for republishing restrictions/allowances.