An SM Closet

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August 1998

by William A. Henkin, Ph.D.

Copyright © 1998 by William A. Henkin

<Q> I've been involved with SM for a half-dozen years and I still have issues about people knowing how I live my sex life. SM is really important to me, but I don't necessarily want to be the token perv at work, and I'm not especially comfortable with my friends knowing about Janus, Links, Differences, and the other places I go to play. Do other people have this sort of problem coming out?

<A> Are you having a problem coming out, or are you having a problem staying in? When Sybil Holiday and I started teaching SM classes back in the Pleistocene Era we used to joke that she had never been in the closet about anything, while I had been in the closet about everything, so every class we taught was a coming out process for me. But a couple of years ago, when we stopped teaching so much, I had the chance to see that I really was what she had once called me – a private exhibitionist, with the emphasis on private: without imposing the judgment on other people, I prefer my intimate pleasures to be extremely intimate. Once coming out was no longer my public issue every month, I could reconsider exactly how much it ever really had been. I discovered that I don't feel especially closeted or feel the need to be especially closeted, and with few exceptions one way or the other I don't much care in general whether someone knows about my lifestyle or not. But I do like to live in a fairly quiet, self-contained manner, and so I prefer to keep the particulars of my behaviors to myself and my partners. Another way to understand this might be to say that if I don't seek to be the token perv at work it may not be because I'm in the closet, but simply because I'd rather be left alone; I might choose not to be a lightning rod so as not to be questioned by the curious nor to be the focus of every truly closeted person's projections.

The gym I go to, which I chose because it's very close to my office, is a pretty straight place as San Francisco gyms go. Despite a couple of buffers it makes its major money from a relatively grey-haired het and straight membership that does not see fabulous bondage possibilities in the Cybex machines. Recently I went there wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with a paddle and the words "Beat Jesse." The shirt was a relic from Ron Gant's first campaign to unseat Jesse Helms as Senator from North Carolina, to which I contributed both directly and through some leather community fund-raisings including one fronted by Susie Shepherd, where I got the shirt. As I walked into the gym the young woman at the front desk exclaimed, looking at the logo, "You really put it out there!" I explained what the words meant in political terms, without making reference to the paddle, then I went on to my workout, and she went back to the telephone. Later I wondered what she could have meant by her remark – for instance, was she a player who thought my name was Jesse and I wanted to get done? I also wondered why I'd chosen to explain the words instead of the graphic – it could be that I'm a writer and not a visual artist, or it could be that my action was that of an SM-closeted man. When I realized that I'd have been perfectly willing to answer further questions if she had asked them, I concluded that I'd simply taken the road of least conspicuousity, which may be what you prefer to do as well.

On the other hand, if your friends don't know where you like to hang out and what games you like to play, what do they know about you? Who exactly is it that you hang out with at Janus and the other places you frequent? Who are your friends: the people who know about your interest in SM, or the people who know of your other hobbies? Perhaps you're simply in a long experimental period, learning by experience what's important to you. That's a well-established road for learning at any age. At the same time, though, if you keep your life so vigorously compartmentalized it's worth some self-reflection to learn what message you're sending both to your play partners and to your friends about their importance in the scheme of your life. More importantly, it's worth some self-reflection to learn what message you're sending to yourself.

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