In 2011, three unassuming fan fiction books were published, and before long the world had collectively lost its mind.
By 2012, over 20 million copies of the books had been sold and the mainstream world was suddenly aware of kink in a brand new way. BDSM was being discussed and debated on every morning show and in every late night monologue. Kink had become part of the mainstream cultural vernacular in a way that couldn’t be ignored.
At that point I had been a professional dominatrix for more than 10 years, based in Boston, a city that was culturally buttoned up, yet harbored a large underground population of kinksters. Though I was mostly retired (to focus on my educational project KinkAcademy.com), I still had a strong affiliation with professional domination; it has loomed large as part of my personal identity.
In my pre-50-shades life, when I would attend a party or BBQ, and the conversation would inevitably turn to “what do you do for a living,” I would respond with “I’m a kink educator and professional dominatrix!” No matter how much the conversation had been humming along up until that point, no matter how titillated the more vanilla folks at the party would be (and truth be told: the more vanilla they were, the more titillated they would be), they would quickly find an excuse to turn away from the conversation. At least that was before the kinky books that rocked the world showed up on the scene.
But oh, how living in a post-50 Shades world has altered this exchange. As someone who’s life included “full immersion perversion” (aka my career was centered around BDSM and so were my personal relationships), I’m in a position to have to talk about kink much more than the average private player. But now when I share my career history (I’ve been retired for nearly 5 years), instead of dismay and confusion, I’m met with enthusiasm. Inevitably someone invokes Christian and Anastasia…
“Oh! You mean like in 50 Shades of Grey?”
“Are those books.. you know.. Real?”
“You must like…. What did you think of…. Was your experience just like…”
This now universal response brings up mixed feelings for me. These books caused quite an uproar in the kinky community, with bloggers denouncing it as dangerous and the worst thing to happen to BDSM since Paddleboro. Kinksters I know would huff and puff when the books would come up at events, and the eye-rolls couldn’t get any harder. The BDSM Community as a whole were at best unimpressed with all the “lookie-loos” the books were bringing to local dungeons and kinky events.
But from the get-go, I couldn’t help but see the benefit to these books.
There are plenty of kinksters who have a distinct interest in keeping the BDSM world on the edge of society; they prefer it to retain its underground, ‘dangerous’ vibe. These kinksters are most attracted to the taboo aspect of kink, the deviance of being a “pervert” in the more traditional sense of the word. Frankly they’re pissed that mainstream culture is intruding on their private playspace.
But there are also many who, like me, see how kink being more understood in the mainstream world could create a lot of positives. For example, there are too many people deep in custody battles, where kinky activity is used to discredit one of the parents. There are those who suffer from intense fear that accompanies the risk of being outed as a leather-lover. The fact that a good number of people no longer have to hide their head in shame and fear, or suffer the consequences of ignorance, is a good thing for which – I have to say it – we can thank the 50-shades phenomenon.
In 2016, we live in a Post-50-Shades world. I for one am grateful we do.
Now that I’m moving more into the mainstream world, and expanding my speaking career, it’s become an especially big help for your average citizen to have some kind of a reference point for my past, even if that reference requires a bit of.. unpacking. When the book is brought up, it gives me an opportunity to share a more well-informed perspective. I point out that the books are intended as erotica, similarly to long-published Harlequin novels. That a Harlequin romance with a storyline about pirates and sailing the open seas is just as useful as a how-to guide for taking the helm of a galleon as 50 Shades is an instruction manual for kink.
In fact, my first large mainstream event presentation was at SXSW 2013 titled “The 50 Shades Phenomenon;” it was well attended and well received. This was the largest opportunity I had to talk to an audience that wasn’t intrinsically kink-focused, and start to share what the BDSM world has taught me outside of the bedroom.
I’ve learned about setting and enforcing personal boundaries, both emotional and physical, and my communication skills in general have skyrocketed. I’ve learned to tap into confidence and inner power in order to achieve what I want in life. It’s helped me be more self-aware and more disciplined. And it’s allowed me to have incredibly creative relationships and experiences.
Since I’ve been retired from the professional world for the last five years, my ability to branch out has expanded tremendously and I can’t help but credit the Fifty Shades series with helping to make that possible.
So while the obsession with the series itself has died down temporarily, the conversation about BDSM have changed forever. And I have no doubt that as the second and third movies are released there will be even more opportunities to educate the public about how awesome kink is, which can only lead to more public understanding, which likely leads to a safer world for the kink-identified, and ultimately for all manner of sexual identity & expression.
*Vanilla is a term some kinksters use to describe non-kinky people. It’s used in the same context as ‘muggle’ for Harry Potter fans, or civilians for military enthusiasts.