One of my close friends is a sadist. Some of her favourite stories fall squarely into my definition of horror.
She is also terminally warm-hearted. She can’t finish reading some of my favourite stories because the ethical problems upset her so much.
And she used to worry whether she was evil.
This post is for her.
I am told that from the inside, dominance feels selfish, possessive, atavistic. As Raven Kaldera puts it, most people “don’t want to be the focus of the predator who wants to piss on them and declare them to be territory, to be hoarded and defended.” And sadism seems to add another dimension: it’s slavering at the end of the leash, you’re afraid it will eat the guests. Guy Baldwin describes the experience of topping as “this delicate balancing act on the razor’s edge between the urge to rape, pillage and destroy and the need for self-restraint”.
That is, and isn’t, how it feels from the other end. From an email I once wrote to someone special:
You know, love, I’ve been afraid to tell you how much I like it when you milk my fear and humiliation, when you draw it out so delicately with casual caresses and signals and the merest lick of your lips … it’s practically an art form how minimalist it looks. At first I didn’t know how to describe it – and then I was scared to tell you because I realised that there was a word for it, and it was sadism. But suddenly I realise that of course you would be glad that I love it, because ‘sadistic’ means enjoying every shading of my helpless responses to the subtlest finger-tap of your manipulations … and when you’re at your most sadistic we are at our most intimately connected, we live in each other’s minds.
Does it help to think of sadism that way – a form of intense attention? It’s not incompatible with caring and protection. Arguably, they’re complementary. Even as you are convincing your victim that they are less than the dust, sadism means you are cherishing them – and their every last shred of emotion.
And it really, truly goes both ways. When you’re with someone like me, it’s communion. There is nothing in the world more important than the person who’s torturing me. I want anything they want, I want it like a drowning diver wants air, I want it like pain hurts. We exist, your equal and opposite numbers. You are, literally, God’s gift to us. The longer you hesitate at the water’s edge, the longer one of us might be going lonely.
I know that not all BDSM interactions are like this. My email was about emotional sadism, but bodily pain works the same way on me. Then there is the peace of being given orders and (apparently) ignored. And that can also be a form of caring and protection. I actually get kicked out of a scene if I can’t hear an order clearly. I think it’s because I need the security of having orders; evidently I fear the responsibility for success so much that it’s an automatic turn-off. Taking all of that away from someone like me is an act of love and sacrifice.
Sadism is not about hatred or callousness. It is about love and intimacy. My cat, may she rest in peace, used to mourn deeply over mice who wouldn’t play any more. You’re smarter than a cat; you can have your mouse and play with it. Find us, and if we have respect, trust, and [cough] suitable escalation, you can cherish us and play with us again and again.