“Home of Desperate Magic,” the first chapter of Yin Q.’s memoir, appears on the pages of Apogee Journal Issue 08. In it, Q. begins her journey into the wounds of childhood and inherited trauma; wounds she will later seek to heal and reclaim through the ritual work of BDSM. Here she speaks with Apogee editor, Cecca Ochoa, about the radical potential of consensual pain, empowering submission, and compassionate dominance.
Cecca Ochoa: “Home of Desperate Magic” is an excerpt from your memoir-in-progress, Mercy. What is your memoir about?
Yin Q: Pain, magic, and reclamation. “Home of Desperate Magic” introduces the idea of using pain as a way to “break the spell.” In this case a family dealing with abuse and loss.
CO: So, how exactly does physical pain heal emotional and/ or psychological pain?
YQ: Just as our bodies gain muscle memory through movement–-acquiring skills and agility––our bodies also harbor emotional memory. Acupuncture and massage therapy are respected practices of tapping into the body, sometimes to fix physical ailments, but also to release energy or Chi blockage. Rituals that incorporate physical tension or pressure can tap into the psychophysical story that the body has formed. That story can be retold, reshaped, and reclaimed. Psychoanalysis is based on the recall of memories, this is a form of recall and reclamation. By adding the physical dimension to the words, a more profound of release can be achieved.
CO: I imagine telling people you’re a dominatrix comes with a lot of sensationalism. I mean, not many people have jobs that can top that.
YQ: Sensationalism…not in New York City, and not in this day and age of the internet and instagram, where fetish images make their way into our daily lives. The dominatrix profession seems as common of a job as bartender or waitress. However, the profession still comes with a fair amount of presumptions and stereotypes. If I do out myself to strangers, I only do so when there is sure to be a dialogue about the BDSM lifestyle as a sexual orientation; and how, even for those not necessarily in the lifestyle, the rituals of BDSM (Bondage, Dominance/submission, Sado-Masochism) can be used as a healing art or consciousness hacking.
CO: What about in terms of media? Two of the narratives that come to mind are 50 Shades of Grey, which is essentially a Cinderella story, and a number of dominatrix-sex worker memoirs that are about the “repentant whore”: I did this thing in my crazy youth, but I’m better now. Which is to say, these narratives are not necessarily female or sex-worker empowering. How do you see your work in this milieu?
YQ: I am glad for any work on sexuality to be out there. It’s unfortunate that the only tales that the media is likely to promote are so irreverent (or irrelevant) to those who are in the kink lifestyle, especially women. My tale can certainly be baselined as a repetition of the cliche: an abused girl who becomes a man-hating dominatrix. But it’s not that simple. There is beauty in the darkness of my childhood, profound magic that may have been sparked by the chia scura of deep sorrow. And, though I often rail against the patriarchy, I do not hate men, nor do I claim female superiority––which is simply a mirror, rather than a resolution, to the present system. It bothers me just as much to see the men degraded in the kink orientation as it does to see women follow a path prescribed by constricted social norms. I identify as a queer person of color, with BDSM orientated sexuality, but I think of my memoir as another real story by another real woman.
CO: You’ve also looked at BDSM from an academic point of view. Which writers, and media representations, have you felt compelled by?
YQ: Bataille, Dennis Cooper, Mary Gaitskill, and Mishima, to name a few authors whose works on sexuality I revere. I was in college when Madonna released her fetish laden book, SEX, and it was a huge relief and thrill for me to see my own fantasies in her work. She was, and continues to be, iconic in her bravery and fight for sexual equality. I adore the works that the French actress, Isabelle Huppert, takes on. Though her female characters are fraught with troubling inclinations, Huppert courageously embodies the complications of sadomasochistic and obsessive sexuality. Most recently, I’ve felt a deep resonance with the Barry Jenkins film, Moonlight––the depths of the characters and story strip away the stereotypes.
CO: Aside from your memoir, you’ve written a number of personal essays about sex work that are highly political. Can you talk a little about that?
YQ: Feminists are divided on the politics of sex work. Even many professional dominatrixes indignantly refrain from calling their careers sex work, even when their clientele is obviously seeking erotically charged interaction. Why is sex still such a shameful concept? Why are women appalled by sex for commerce?
We can all agree that exploitation of minors and sexual slavery is inhumane, but that is a completely different issue. Adult sex work is about deliberate interaction between consenting adults. The fact that an adult woman can use/trade their reproductive bodies for financial gain as surrogate mothers and egg donors, but cannot legally use their sexual bodies for financial gain is absurd. It’s a repression of agency, a war on bodies, and particularly women-identified bodies. I believe that decriminalizing adult sex work would instigate an enormous shift in the power between the sexes that would be pervasive on all levels of our culture: political, economic, academic, and spiritual.
CO: In a society that is so rife with abuses of power, how do you think of power and control in BDSM? Why does this hold radical potential?
YQ: BDSM plays with power in a way that releases tensions that inhabit our real world. It’s called power exchange because there is an agreement of submission and control. Our consent, negotiations, and safe words provide agency over our own sexual desires, fears, and shame.
There is grace and strength in submission, and men are often not allowed to explore this role without loss of dignity. Women who take on the dominant role are stereotyped as cruel and bitchy. But to be a responsible Dominant or Top, one must embody humility and mercy. The paradoxes of power exchange are subtle, but when they are understood and exercised with intention, the results can be transcendent.
Yin Q. is a BDSM practitioner, educator, and writer residing in Brooklyn with her partner and two children. She has a BA from Barnard College and a MFA in Creative Nonfiction from The New School. Her rope bondage classes, published and forthcoming writing, and random thoughts can be found at www.YINQ.net. She is currently working on a memoir of violence and magic.