2 min

Abusing my religion

Is clinging to church unhealthy masochism?

Credit: Xtra West files

I saw a cool T-shirt on a dyke at last month’s BDSM conference. It said, in a clever twist on the work-out-’til-it-hurts slogan, “No pain; no pain.”

Seeking pain for pain’s sake is known as masochism. But interestingly, pain-seeking doesn’t count (in a larger social sense) as masochism if suffering has a tangible non-pain purpose.

When a firefighter gets singed while rescuing someone, her hurt is for good reason. When that muscular guy at the gym grimaces through the last chin-up, he’s toning his body and attracting dates. When a rock climber hangs by her fingertips from a crack in the rock face (ouch), that’s not masochism because her alternative is falling, never mind why she climbed up there in the first place.

Parenthood sets us up for a lifetime of swollen ankles, worry and tuition fees, yet we consider it noble because the next generation has to come from somewhere. Even if we know what we’re getting into, parents still don’t count as masochists in the eyes of mainstream society.

Following this line of reasoning, a masochist is one who expects nothing from her pain but the pain itself. Like in BDSM play, it’s the pursuit of suffering for its own sweet sake.

Hmm. Suffering. Just like when we queers fight to be accepted members of organized religion. By religion, I don’t mean your own personal queer spirituality; I mean the centuries-old juggernaut of vicious oppression in the name of love and righteousness and all that is … sacred.

We stand at the altar as penitents and plead to be allowed to bask at the warm fire of faith. We know we’re considered depraved, diseased, and sinners bound for hell, but perhaps if we’re just straight-acting enough? We endure fruitless suffering, yet because we can’t expect that an organization with so much intolerance to peddle would welcome queers, it must be masochism. Like BDSM.

But wait. I just thought of something else. BDSM players do reach the goals behind their purposeful pain-seeking. Some folks simply crave the safe, clean high they can get from play. Others are looking to face their own darkest fears and come out braver. Some bottoms want to please their top while in scene, and some look to conquer arbitrary limitations placed on them by their bodies and nervous systems. Most gain a heightened self-knowledge and hotter sex from their forays into pain-seeking.

If we continue to define “real” masochism as the seeking of pain without hope of gain to ourselves or our community, then I can only assume that kowtowing to organized religion rates high on the scale of perversion.

* Elaine Miller is a sadist.