Taking the Knife

On kink in queer spaces

Randa Jarrar
Oct 10, 2019 · 11 min read
Illustration by Carmen Johns

II found a dungeon that hosts events that are exclusively queer. Most attendees are people of color, and I walked in to the sounds of slaps, moans, and laughter. Leo, the “doorboi,” was dressed in slacks, a dress shirt, and a black tie. They told me I could walk right in, but to be prepared that Mx. Cele “was being fucked with knives.” Leo is biracial and has a side shave, roots dark and curls bleached blond and haloing their face. They’re a bratty bottom and a commanding presence. I trust Leo more than any cis-gendered dude bouncer. They asked me to leave my belongings in the coat closet and welcomed me in.

Beyond the front waiting room was the loft, decked out in gear: a St. Andrew’s cross, glowing red and black; a spanking horse bench; a large bird cage; a white, four poster bed; hooks hanging from the ceiling; a padded bench with a cage locked underneath it. Someone was curled in there, sucking a lollipop.

When Leo had said that Cele was being fucked by knives, I had no actual idea that they meant it literally. Cele was spread on a bench while a butch daddy stood between her legs, holding a large knife, and pumping it in Cele’s pussy. I was standing behind Cele so I couldn’t tell if this was really happening. There was a crowd cheering on the scene — all women, mostly of color. The domme yelled at us, saying we were missing the whole view. A few of us moved over and sat on or around a bench just a few feet from Cele. We could see the knife pumping into Cele. I told myself that the knife was dull. It was flat and glinting. I kept looking to see what the trick was, the way I had once, when I saw a magician sawing a woman in half at the Magic Castle (a kinky but awful dungeon in its own ways). Cele was orgasming. I could tell because her clitoris had enlarged and was bouncing against the silver surface of the knife that was making her cum. When she was done, the domme stopped, and untied and held Cele while we all applauded. She was melting in the domme’s arms, enjoying the aftercare. When it got quiet, Cele sat up blushing, shouted, “Holy fuck!” and jumped off the bench.

TThere is a stereotype that those interested in kink come from abusive families. But the truth is, almost everyone in general is brought up in homes where we were taught to obey our parents without question, and to believe that our bodies belonged to our parents, to the state, to our bosses, or to God.

Those of us who are femmes were taught that we needed to care for others before caring for ourselves; that we were only worthy of love if we could handle harm; that our femininity, or whatever registers as such, is the cause of our pain. We were not allowed to name or even grieve the transgressions of others, and we were never taught how to draw and maintain boundaries, and those of us who drew them were not allowed to maintain them, or were called whores, fags, sluts, worthless. Those of us who aren’t White were told that boundaries were things made up by those outside our culture to control us. And because we had seen the ways borders and neighborhoods and schools functioned, we believed that boundaries were for and by strangers. It never occurred to us that it was also we who sought to control each other.

I didn’t have a lock on my door until I moved away from my parents’ house. The last time I was abused, I was sixteen years old, and my father chased me around the house with a knife. I ran outside and he came after me. I ran back inside, and he finally put the knife down. But afterwards, I called the police. I’ve written before about what happened when the police came- how I smoked a cigarette with the cop who drove me to the station; how that cop later told me that my father being Arab would be a problem. I understood that this meant it would be a problem for my mother, and for me. I dropped the charges against him a few weeks later. But that didn’t change that I had been very afraid of my father and very afraid of that knife.

NoNo one can touch you here, unless you ask them to. No one can hurt you here, unless you beg them to, negotiating the level of hurt and a safe word, if “stop” does not suffice.

You may not touch anyone here, unless they ask you to. You may not hurt anyone here, unless they beg you to, and negotiate with you the level of hurt and a safe word.

You may ask anyone to touch you and you may ask anyone if you can touch them.

You don’t have to touch anyone or be touched by anyone.

You always have the right to say yes, to say no, and to change your mind.

If you don’t accept someone’s no, you are kicked out immediately.

In kink, consent is queen.

Unlike vanilla sex, consensual kinky sex makes sure each and every party is in negotiation and therefore in control of how much they dish and how much they take. Of all and any levels of pleasure, of pain. For people of color living in 2019 America, this measure of agency and power can mean the world.

CConversations about straight monogamous sex between a heterosexual couple, especially a Caucasian married couple, are unnecessary- mainstream culture is always, always having one. Queer kinky sex between people of color says more. Queer kinky sex between people of color is a rebel constellation to straight WASP-affirming sex’s colonial lone star. Queer kinky sex is subtitles and it is also the foreign film — you were taught it was inaccessible or for weirdos, or you fetishized it but never actually bothered to learn the language. You thought your tongue couldn’t roll like that; thought your mind couldn’t memorize so much.

Great kink busts binaries wide open. Maybe there is not a duality of the self, but a hexagonal? Maybe we have so many desires that we also have just as many selves? Maybe having vanilla, one-on-one, straight sex is also a kink? Maybe we lie to ourselves all the time about what hurts and what doesn’t and how much?

Kinky queer sex is playful. All the trauma bonding that was forced on us as children, and that is forced on us now as we navigate and try to protect our bodies in a hateful empire: we can flip that and choose to bond with someone over pain we have both agreed on. Many of the dynamics of being a child are revisited — asking for care, being swaddled, belonging to a crew of neighborhood kids, riding a pony, eating a cake, pinning the tail on a donkey blindfolded, bossing your friend crew around, getting bossed around by your crew, asking your friends to tie you up and pretend to be bandits, tying up a friend and then tickling them- everything is revisited now. And it’s all so much better this time around: you are an adult, and can give and receive consent.

I cannot imagine a life without kinky queerdo friends of color. Being unable to discuss the dude whose ass I’d fucked the night before. Unable to talk to friends about the woman who I can’t stop thinking about, who loves for me to whip her. I need to be able to tell friends that she has the same name as my mother. I need my friends to laugh at this coincidence. To hear me talk about how the woman said, “Touch me everywhere, please,” as I tied her wrists and ankles to the ends of the X shaped cross, her breasts squeezed against it. How I warmed her up first, slapping her butt and skin, then began to crop her from the feet up, increasing the pressure when I got to her thighs. How we fucked on a bench at the back center of the dungeon, even though nobody was fucking yet.

When we were ready to move to a spot to cuddle, and she asked me for aftercare, I brought her to the poster-bed and held her while everyone around us was fucking, finally. We giggled. I told her I was so glad she was there, and that I’d been worried, since this was my first time at this particular event, that there wouldn’t be many people of color. She said she felt the same way, and that she was relieved and excited when she saw me. “When I saw you, I was like, yes! Another South Asian!” I was shocked to hear this; that she knew I was Asian at all, because no one ever does, or considers me that. “Southwest Asian, right?” she said. “Right,” I said.

She me.

Whenever I walk into a dungeon, I breathe more deeply. I feel every moment. I am in the present completely. I have to be: the person I am playing with depends on me and trusts me completely. Cropping, tying, and spanking someone so hard my palms smart, I don’t feel gravity as much as I did before. When I leave the dungeon, I am completely free of all my chronic pain, of my emotional hunger, of my sadness. I am just me, in that very moment.

WWhen I was two days old, the nurses at the Chicago Women’s Medical Center asked my parents if they could use me as a model during a bathing demonstration they wanted to share with all the other new parents. My mother and father agreed.

I was held, naked and chubby, in a small yellow tub as two nurses wiped the fat folds of my newly emerged flesh, bathed my downy bottom, and washed my hair.

My mother and father didn’t have a baby to wash so they got to watch. For weeks they had been taking childbirth classes in that same hospital, my father giggling as he held my mother and supported her through breath-work exercises.

The reason I used to love the bathing demonstration story was that in it, I was a body used to show other bodies how to care for bodies like mine. In the story, there was no dangerous knife, and there was no need to be ashamed of my naked body; it would be years before my fat rolls would be deemed repulsive, before being naked in front of a group of people would be unacceptable. Years before I would learn that fat femmes are both hyper-visible and invisible. That Muslim femmes are erased or ignored or used as an excuse to invade and decimate entire geographical regions. That if you pose nude, you get death threats from Cairo and get memed as Jabba the Hutt in America.

But I recently learned that two months after my birth and this bathing demo, my parents’ childbirth instructor was abducted and assaulted outside this same hospital. She had been taken at gunpoint, bound, and held in her abductor’s car trunk; had knocked against the metal of the trunk in parking lots, but no one was able to help her. The abductor sexually assaulted her, and later murdered her. He was given the death penalty almost 2 years later, and died in 1995, years before I would find out that the woman who had helped my mother and father understand how to deliver me to this world, was speedily and cruelly delivered out of it by a man who was a rapist and murderer.

AAgain and again, the world reminds me that women are never safe.

When I first started writing this piece, my main preoccupation was with the knife that Mx Cele was taking. I wanted to explore the ways that kinky sex feels safe while vanilla sex does not. I wanted to really ask myself: what is the knife?

Two nights ago I was invited by a partner to join him at what was billed as a “sex party.” When I read the party’s rules, I saw that they were mostly suggestions for straight men to behave.

At the party, only two couples were fucking- both straight. One of the men asked me to bring lube from the other room to help his partner be more comfortable. There was no lube. “Well, shit,” the man said. “Get in here and help me get her wet.” I leaned towards the woman and asked if I could touch her. She didn’t respond, and the man kept telling me to touch her. I asked her again. She finally said, “Only him.” In that moment, I understood, looking at the man and the way he had tried to consent for someone else — what and where the knife was. What and where real danger was: in all heterosexual non-kinky spaces, where women are in the most danger. Where men think that they can consent for women, and women are dehumanized, silenced, and bound.

“H“Have you ever been chased around your house by a knife?” my partner asks the morning after the party. I tell him the story about being sixteen and running from my father holding the knife. He says I tell the story so calmly. He wants to know what healed me from that pain. If anything has. If I am even healed. I ask him why he asked in the first place. I ask him, “Have ever been chased around house by a knife?” He says yes. “I was seven.”

He asks me why a mother would hurt her child like that. I ask him why a father would hurt his daughter like that. We hold each other and I think about the dungeon and about Mx Cele and the knife.

Mx Cele, spread wide open, chasing the knife with her pussy. Is there even, or can there ever be, a better vision for the kind of love that constantly keeps us, heals us, transforms us, and releases us, cyclically, desperately, longingly, and forever?

Gay Mag

A new magazine from Roxane Gay offering some of the most…

Randa Jarrar

Written by

Writer of the books A MAP OF HOME, HIM, ME, MUHAMMAD ALI, and the forthcoming LOVE IS AN EX COUNTRY. Professor. Executive Director of @rawinews Muslim & Arab AF

Gay Mag

A new magazine from Roxane Gay offering some of the most interesting and thoughtful cultural criticism to be found on the Web. Our first quarterly is coming in June 2019. We value deep explorations, timelessness, and challenging conventional thinking without being cheap and lazy.

Randa Jarrar

Written by

Writer of the books A MAP OF HOME, HIM, ME, MUHAMMAD ALI, and the forthcoming LOVE IS AN EX COUNTRY. Professor. Executive Director of @rawinews Muslim & Arab AF

Gay Mag

A new magazine from Roxane Gay offering some of the most interesting and thoughtful cultural criticism to be found on the Web. Our first quarterly is coming in June 2019. We value deep explorations, timelessness, and challenging conventional thinking without being cheap and lazy.

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