Everybody has a secret world inside of them… no matter how dull and boring they are on the outside. Inside them they’ve all got unimaginable, magnificent, wonderful, stupid, amazing worlds. — Neil Gaiman, “The Sandman, Vol 5: A Game of You”
I’ve changed out of my street clothes and exited the bathroom. My partner takes my hand and leads me to the private room in the back of the dungeon. I am nervous. I am here. I am being bound to a table made specifically for this purpose. My awareness shifts and I welcome this journey…
…A journey which was unexpected. I assumed we would come to this BDSM club to just “check it out” during a vanilla/non-members event. My partner and I went and took a tour. We returned again, this time during members-only hours, this time only to look. The space had a particular energy and pulse that we liked. We returned again, also during members-only hours, this time to play.
I’m still amazed at how beguiled I was by the scene. A journey taken step-by-step, at any moment I (or even my partner) could have said a safeword and left, never to return. It’s a journey we went on together, but it’s a journey I don’t know if I could have taken without the added support of my therapist.
She’s a “kink-aware” therapist. I didn’t know this at first. When I began researching therapists after moving from a small college town in Pennsylvania to Chicago, all I knew is that I wanted someone who works with people of alternative identities and who is sex-positive. On the practice’s website, she specified that she works with people of all orientations and identities and relationships.
Several months into our sessions, as I struggled with my identity, she suggested a book to me: “Sexual Outsiders: Understanding BDSM Communities and Sexualities”. It was through that book that I learned about “kink aware” therapists and that the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom had a database on their Website for Kink Aware Professionals (KAP) of all sorts.
It can be difficult to find sex-positive therapists, so if you’re looking for one, consider utilizing KAP. While about 45 hours of class time during educational training for therapists is dedicated to cultural diversity, only about six to 12 hours are dedicated to human sexuality. With that in mind, according to KAP, there are only about 600 kink-aware therapists in Canada and the United States. It was after I read “Sexual Outsiders” and checked out the KAP database that I saw my therapist’s practice listed. I realized just how lucky I was to have found someone who could give me the support and reassurance and understanding that I needed at that particular time in my life.
Being kink aware isn’t just about knowing that some people like to play with whips and chains. It’s about understanding very diverse, deep and complicated aspects of people. Kink aware therapists delve into those dark, secret worlds that may be hiding from even you, and if you make discoveries about yourself that are unexpected, kink aware therapists will support and validate those thoughts or feelings in a safer space. I think anyone — specifically those with fluid identities or already stigmatized identities — can benefit from seeing one.
For me specifically, having the courage to explore my kinks helped me in more ways than I ever imagined. It isn’t just about sex. I felt braver than I ever have in my life — and I already thought I was brave. Exploring this gave me a newfound courage and audacity. It showed me how to take control of my life and my desires and make them work for me.
I am strong.
I am brave.
I am complicated.
Find a therapist who works for you. Use the KAP database if you need to and know that there are people out there who will do their best to understand you for who you already are or long to be. If you’re not in a place where you can afford you the privilege of therapy, surround yourself with people who will build you up. Seek out a community of like-minded individuals who will welcome you. Take care of yourself.