“Soul, if you want to learn secrets, your heart must forget about
shame and dignity.
You are God's lover,
yet you worry
― Rumi, The Essential Rumi
“Shame squats over my face and sits.”
― Cathy Park Hong, Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning
The Marquis de Mertueil, in Dangerous Liaisons, remarks ‘You’ll find the shame is like the pain, you only feel it once’. But we don’t. We feel the shame and the pain over and over again. Shame peers into our hearts and into our bedrooms, tutting in disgust. That little voice that skulks inside us, whispering ‘You’re not good enough. You’re not good. You’re not enough’. Why does it affect most of us so much? It represses our creativity, shrivels our joy and twists us into all kinds of sexual ‘perversions’.
A client whispers to me, mortified, that he has gone through his wife’s dirty washing and (the horror!) sniffed her knickers. He’s visibly cringing, his voice hushed, his eyes lowered. He’s never told anyone that before, and he is thoroughly ashamed of himself. The interrogation is staged but the genuine embarrassment isn’t. Andrew, wriggling cross my lap with a scorching bottom, sobs with relief: ‘I’m sorry, I’m a naughty little boy, Aunty, I think dirty thoughts all the time and I deserve to get spanked’. An ‘adult nephew’ * who is ‘staying with me in the spare room while he works in London’ and is constantly being reproached for ‘watching porn in his bedroom without turning the sound down’ or ‘leaving CP magazines in the bathroom for my lady friends to find when we’re having a coffee morning’ or ‘playing with himself when Miss Moneypenny is staying over, while leaving his bedroom door ajar’ blushes furiously while I pull his pants down and remark through pursed lips ‘Tut tut, you may tell me you don’t like being corrected by your landlady, but that thing there tells me otherwise. You can’t hide that from me, can you, young man?’ ‘No…’ he stammers, staring at his feet, his face beetroot red. A sweet, studious young lady describes her procrastination and tendency to watch Netflix instead of completing her college assignments. ‘That’s not good enough is it?’ I scold her, tapping the hairbrush against my hand. The brush I’m about to thrash her with. ‘You can do better than that.’ ‘Yes Miss.’ she mumbles, hanging her head.
To be fair, in one way shame is my bread and butter- our history of protestant puritanism means many of my clients delight in being embarrassed, shamed and scolded. But this is ‘play’ shame, not the real thing. And I don’t want people to feel that about themselves. The real thing is no joke. I often hear people describe their hurt after they have tried tentatively to discuss their kinks with a partner, only to be rejected as ‘weird’ and ‘gross’. And men (women usually have at least someone to talk intimately with) who don’t have one single friend they can tell about their genuine need for corporal punishment, and how good it makes them feel, and how much it helps them rebalance and de-stress. They carry this secret shame with them everywhere. All of us spankers and spankees, even those who are fairly open and up-front about our ‘alternative’ tastes, have been outed or shamed by someone, and if not, we carry genuine anxiety that we might be. Even professional perverts like myself. My fear of being outed has long gone, but occasionally people still try to shame me, or do it unwittingly, and the shame is still something I work on: being an ‘outcast’ and a ‘sex worker’ carries its fair share of societal disapproval.
Only recently, at a family get-together, someone turned to me and announced, a propos of nothing:
‘We always knew you’d end up doing some kind of work to do with sex. You know, with your experience…’ It isn’t the first time she’s done this, nor will it be the last. My response to her comment? Instead of saying ‘I know you’re trying to slut-shame me and it isn’t working and that’s a bit rich isn’t it?’ I used a technique called ‘grey rock’. I just turned and shrugged. ‘Uh-huh?’ as if it were the most boring observation ever. Next time someone tries to shame you, give it a try- go grey rock. Be bland and impassive; don’t rise to it, because that’s what they want. Let it just roll off you, as if rolling off a boulder. You see, nobody can shame you if you choose not to be shamed. It’s a crappy gift- you don’t have to accept it. If you don’t take the bait it deflates back at them like a withered, farty balloon.
One girlfriend asked me by text, mid-lockdown, not to discuss my work with her any more, and said that she ‘could not support me in this life choice’. This brought up a sudden eruption of hot shame- a seething volcano of it: Jesus! I hardly said I’m drug-dealing or going into professional scamming. I just smack bottoms. Is that so beyond the pale? Are you actively withdrawing your support, then? Besides, I wasn’t asking for support. If you don’t understand it, can you not ask me, and learn about it? It stung, and it hurt. I replied that I felt hurt and shamed by what she’d said. I received a ‘customer-service’ reply: ‘I’m sorry you feel that way, I didn’t mean for you to feel that way.’ Yes, but I did feel that way. It was mid lockdown as well, remember that? Being boiled alive in an emotional pressure-cooker halfway through Armageddon.
After some cooling off, I came to the conclusion that she has far more important things to deal with currently than my kinks and my unusual choice of career. If she is uncomfortable hearing about spanking, that’s fine: we don’t have to discuss it. We still can be (and are) close friends without touching on this subject. In fact, she is currently being hugely supportive about something else. She just can’t deal with the bottoms. I recognised my own shame, (it was mine, I had been carrying it with me: she couldn’t give it to me or take it away from me). I expressed it and I let it go. I’m comfortable with what I do, and that’s what matters. If she isn’t at ease with other people’s ‘strange’ choices, then she needs to work on that. Or not- it’s up to her. You know, we all have to get along, as long as the differences between us are not huge ideological chasms. I realised it’s the subtlety of tone that is lost via text message. She probably meant: “I’m not in a good headspace to hear about this right now, it freaks me out a bit, and I can’t be the go-to friend to share it with’. Instead of hearing that, I found myself in the middle of a ring of pitchforks and flaming torches and heard ‘Shame! Slut! Outsider! Not good enough! Pervert! Burn the witch!’ and so on. In fact this experience was a gift: an opportunity to examine and let go of something within myself.
I once attended a ‘Christmas bullshit’ workshop held by the marvellous Jamie Catto. In one of the exercises he made us write a ‘naughty’ list for Santa, listing all the things we’d done this year that were good, and all that were bad. When we’d finished he told us to cross out all the good things. Then he sat at the front, in a Santa hat, and to get our gift we had to go up, one by one, and confess to him, and the group, everything from our naughty list. (We didn’t have to sit on his knee). Some people took it very seriously: choked confessions of behaviour they really felt awful about. Others were sillier: ’I try to do good in the world but I’m so lazy that when Avaaz emails me a petition I can’t even be bothered to sign it.’ ‘I skipped my therapy session last week and spent the day getting stoned instead and watching Jeremy Kyle.’ ‘My flatmate’s girlfriend stays over all the time and clogs up the plug in the bath with long hair, so I pulled it all out and left it in a passive-aggressive hair-ball on the side of the bath until, 3 weeks later, one of them finally dealt with it.’ Funny or serious the liberation was in the confession and the hearing of it. You see? It doesn’t sound so bad now, does it? Now it’s outside the confines of your own brain? And besides, to err is human.
Perhaps when it comes to our kinks and our secret shame around them, we should be more like one of my clients who was recommended to visit me by a friend of his. He’d never done anything like this, but thought it might help, as he was going through a tough time and wanted to challenge himself and try something new and different. Bent over my school desk with a nicely reddened bottom, he asked if I would take a couple of photos on his phone. After the experience, when he was back home he told the lads at work he’d been to see me, (let’s just say he works in a fairly ‘masculine’ environment). He even showed them the photo of him bending over with a red bottom, and this image ended up being photoshopped onto a surfboard, and widely shared, with general hilarity all round. He just shrugs and smiles about it. He can see the inherent ridiculousness of human behaviour, and he genuinely isn’t embarrassed to tell people he went and took a walloping from Miss Iceni, which I think is wonderful. He’s told me recently that coming to see me kicked off a whole process of self-actualisation and super-charged confidence. After all, if you can be brave enough to have your pants lowered by a grown woman you’ve never met before, and bare your bottom for a roasting, how humiliating can other life challenges be? And if you don’t care what other people think then you are genuinely free.
“Shame gives me the ability to split myself into the first and third person. To recognize myself, as Sartre writes, “as the Other sees me.”
― Cathy Park Hong, Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning
“I will not be guilted or shamed into being something I am not.”
― The Thoughtful Beast
“just know that it takes a bit of courage to unlearn that shame, and to be there for others when they try to unlearn that shame, and that it all gets easier after you feel how healthy it is.”
― Hugh Howey, Beacon 23
* all role play
* By the way- if you think I’m going to talk about your secrets here in this blog, I only ever discuss things in generic terms both here and in private. Your privacy and discretion are of the utmost importance. So I have no intentions of publicly shaming you!