Less than two weeks into the Trump presidency and the news is already overwhelming. Alongside the material results of executive orders and appointments, many have been coping with the emotional and psychological impact. What does sexuality look like in a time of crisis?
At the beginning of October, my university revealed that the administrator who had handled sexual assault cases for the past four years was himself a sexual predator. Like many others on my campus, I felt shaken. I was sad and scared and it felt difficult to trust anyone. A few days before the election, I felt like I had finally recovered. Somehow, in the first days of November, I was able to enjoy sex again.
On November 8th, when the United States elected a rapist to the office of the President, it was that much more of a punch to the gut. Throughout that time, I have watched people in the communities I am apart of blame and delegitimize survivors of sexual assault and forgive perpetrators of sexual violence. Nothing has really changed. We have always lived in a rape culture. But somehow, it’s been hurting me more than it used to.
This may not have shaken me as much as if it had not been for what kink means to me. A huge part of my identity is kink-related. I feel invested in the kink “community”, I do kink education, and I spend much of my time thinking and talking kink. I also am primarily a bottom, and I have been submissive in some of my relationships. I’ve gone in and out of comfort with submission for years. I crave the sensations of bottoming for impact and rope, but I don’t always associate them with a power dynamic. In many of my experiences I maintain a “bratty” persona, refusing to fully hand over control in my scenes. But the trust I’ve felt with a partner of mine since the beginning of our relationship has allowed me to explore submission more.
In the weeks after the election, I found myself emotionally scattered. I could barely understand how I would feel one moment to the next about kink activities. At a party a week after the election, we attempted to play. In a room surrounded by friends, I was excited to show off. Many of them hadn’t seen me play before and I wanted so badly to do well. But as soon as he hit me, something flipped. I stopped the scene and went outside to cry.
A lot of my difficulties with submission come from feeling out of control. Submission only works for me when I feel like a capable adult. I can do what I want, make my own choices, and take care of myself. Often, submission is a reward for doing well. After a difficult week of adulting, I can choose to relax and turn off my brain. At that party, though, I did not feel capable. A few hours beforehand, I had collapsed on a sunken couch in the corner of a campus building. I needed to help with party set-up, there were school assignments I was late starting, and I was completely overwhelmed, unable to move. Frozen with anxiety, in the end I called my partner and he helped me pick up the supplies I had promised while I hid out in his apartment. I had needed him to step up, and he did! I was so grateful, but also ashamed.
I also found myself snapping at my partner more. This doesn’t seem to be uncommon among queer folks grappling with recent events. Relationship stress and conflict is unsurprisingly high in these times, and others have written eloquently about this. For me, this meant cries defending my adulthood. I realize I could never sound more like I’m in elementary school than when I’m shouting, “I’m not a baby!” but sometimes I can’t help myself. When my partner looks at me with concern and pity, talking softly and trying to offer care, I can recognize the good he’s trying to do but I just feel so small in the worst way. At times like this I feel the need to be strong. I joked with friends that I needed to take time off kink because the only way I could afford to get beat up right then was while punching Nazis. I wanted to conserve my energy to defend my friends. I wanted to be the strong and protective person I felt I should be, but I was so broken down.
Now, the election is long past. Despite the chaos and disaster in the days after the inauguration, I feel somewhat more adjusted and ready to resist. But these feelings have not completely passed. The message I’ve been hearing from many people is to make sex your protest. Living, fucking, and enjoying yourself, especially as a queer person or a woman/woman-aligned person, can be a radical act in the face of this kind of threat. And I want to embrace that. Some of my friends have and at times I have too—but I’m still struggling.
I wish I had the answers for how to move forward, but I don’t. All I can say is, please make space for folks who aren’t ready for sex or kink right now, or who need to go about it a different way. Please don’t abandon those people. Take them where they’re at. I’ve been struggling with my identity as well—where is my place in kink, in sexuality, if I can’t engage with those things the way I used to? I’m a sex nerd and a kinkster, and my relationship with sex and kink has not been the same since the election. I can’t just pretend that’s going to go away. But these are my communities and I’m not leaving.