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I had fifteen minutes before my physical therapy appointment would start. Chronic pain was shape-shifting to create fibrous knots of muscle in my back, neck, hips, ass, hamstrings, and calves. The physical therapist took me to a partitioned area and motioned for me to lay on the table. They put a towel over me and said I would be tryingspinal traction.
“First, we will strap you in so that you cannot move.
We want to make sure that your neck and spine are stabilized. Next, we will put weights on your neck. Try your best to relax.
If things get too intense, just raise your hand and we will come over immediately.”
They pulled my hips up with ropes. My head tilted backward, supported only by the precise placement of a foam block. The fibers, joints, and discs protested to their re-shaping at first. If I listened deeply, I could tap into the pulsing of mini-alarms and pain signals that my brain was sending through my body. I inhaled deeply, remembering that the pain would give way to stretching, space, restructuring, and spinal relief. As I exhaled, I consented to enter the space between gravity and the elevation of the ropes.
I cast a glance to study the pieces of this device before closing my eyes to meditate. It reminded me of this one time when…
It reminded me of the ways I found my body again. It reminded me of the kink community, rich with somatic healers. It reminded me of the sub practices and personal rituals I’d already been cultivating.
Subbing is short for ‘submission’ and is a form of expression within the BDSM (Bondage dominance sadism masochism) community. Submissives (or subs) are those who might be described as being consensually acted upon, while dominants (dommes) are often seen as those who do much of the acting. It doesn’t always happen within that binary and community language is still expanding and evolving. In my experience, the practice of subbing is prompted by interests in safe and sexy negotiations & applications of impact on their bodyminds. It is prompted by allowing yourself to be guided into a state of increased endorphins and deep mutual listening in a sexual moment.
Engaging subbing as a spiritual practice is a topic that brings us deeply into the spaces of “nepantla” (a term coined by spiritual activist & intersectional feminist scholar Gloria Anzaldúa).
“Nepantla” is Nahuatl word meaning ‘in-between space’. Anzaldúa adopted this term, and used it to represent psychic / spiritual /material points of potential transformation.Keating, A. 2006. From Borderlands and New Mestizas to Nepantlas and Nepantleras: Anzaldúan Theories for Social Change
For the kinksters who are wondering, I’m not talking about being a sub as an identity. Instead, I’m hoping to unpack the practice of subbing, the act of Doing itself: a nexus of understanding, norms, and sensory strategies that we can call upon in the everyday.
Engaging ‘subbing’ as a spiritual practice brings us into the ‘nepantla’ space of kink, erotica, and ritual. Gloria Anzaldúa warned us of what we might find in this space – both mental / spiritual whirlwinds and hopefully, transformation.
The traumas of capitalism, the medical industrial complex, ableism, racism, gendered racism, homophobia have manifested within my body in very specific ways. They have pushed the alarms in my nervous system beyond their typical capacities. They have made me sensitive to light, sound, and they have eaten away at my bones (quite literally).
Yet, subbing (both in sexual settings and consensually in the everyday) has been a way to tap into my parasympathetic nervous system. It is the place that our bodies find when we are resting. It slows down the heart rates and allows for sexual arousal. It allows for healthy digestion of food and supports us through periods of inflammation. In this space of rest, our muscles, joints, tendons, and discs have room to heal.
I am aware of the whirlwind that the word or positionality of “subbing” might bring up in people – especially those unfamiliar with kink community. I am aware that we must not conflate pain with desire as an automatic gesture. Pain can be problematic in so many ways (and it would take an entirely different post to unpack that).
Additionally, as a Blackqueerdisabled church(ed) woman, the word “submissive” holds a variety of loaded meanings. I am acutely aware of the ways in which I will not submit as a sign of resistance and an acknowledgement of my right to take up space in the world. This, too, swirls in the whirlwind.
I am aware of the subs’ transformative power inside of (and outside of) kink. Kink fucks with social power dynamics in that it is the sub who discerns what can / can not be done to their body and to their Person. In BDSM space, consent is not only crucial but expected (or it isn’t BDSM at all). So, subbing can become a practicing space to be open and to abundantly clear about our needs and desires – if and ONLY / gloriously / amazingly if – we want it to.
To read more of my thoughts on the subject, feel free to check out a few pieces in the Spirituality & Sexuality suite.
To read more disability & sensuality, click the hyperlinks in the piece above and / or check out links in this resource.
Subbing as a spiritual practice is offered as a workshop in the Embodied Rituals series. You can check out the description here!