How To Come Out As A BDSM Participant



The first and most important thing is to make sure you will be safe coming out. Make sure you are not dependent on anyone who is anti-BDSM (or anti-you participating in BDSM) for any important practical matter, such as your salary/wages, where you live, tuition, money, rent money, etc. Consider the views of your parents/guardians if you are a minor, your boss if you have one, your professors, etc. Remember even if you come out to one person specifically, others may hear about it. If you are not sure of someone’s views on BDSM, remember that people who are socially conservative in general (perhaps they belong to a conservative religious group, are against gay rights, or similar) are likely to be against it. If you want to try finding out someone’s views without risking coming out before knowing them, you might mention BDSM in a way that does not mention or suggest your participation in it; for example, describing a music video you saw that has BDSM in it and seeing how they react.


Once you’re sure you will be safe coming out, the next thing to do is to decide when. Try to pick a time when you have plenty of time to talk and the person(s) you are coming out to is not likely to be stressed or busy – avoid times like the holidays, when they’re in the middle of work, and so on. You may want to tell them in advance that you have something important to talk about – reassure them it isn’t anything bad – and let them pick the time for it.


Then there’s the actual coming out. It’s best to do this in person (rather than for example by leaving a note) so you can answer questions and correct misunderstandings. This is especially so if you’re coming out as a sub or switch, in which case vanilla people may have concerns that you are being abused. If you are coming out as a top who has a certain steady partner or partner(s), it is best to have them come out – if they are willing – on your behalf, naming you as their top when they come out as a sub. If you just come out as somebody’s top, a vanilla person you come out to will likely have concerns about the other person consenting to this; it’s like saying that you hit someone while assuring that they like it, so naturally the person you’re saying this to will want to confirm the other person likes it.


If you think you’re better at writing than speaking, or just prefer it, you may want to come out in a note, but it’s best to speak to the person(s) you’re coming out to about it afterwards in case they have any questions. (As a BDSM participant myself, I can tell you a lot of vanilla people have a lot of misunderstandings about it, and it doesn't necessarily mean they're unaccepting. The media doesn't do a good job of covering us.)


The most important information to convey in your coming out is not just that you do BDSM, but what that means to you; even if somebody you’re coming out to knows that BDSM stands for "Bondage/Discipline, Dominance/Submission, Sadism/Masochism” (and you should explain that in case they don’t) you should still explain that it’s consensual, and that any injuries/bruises you may receive from it are not serious and are worth it to you. You might want to compare it to getting hurt/bruised from participating in sports, which often happens and doesn’t mean a person is being abused by participating in sports, or that no one would consent to participate in sports.


If you are a woman, the person you come out to may claim that it is anti-feminist to be involved in BDSM, particularly if you are a sub to a man or men. While I do think some things can be anti-feminist even if a woman freely chooses to do them (for example, some women in America campaigned against women having the right to vote) it may help to point out there is no reason to consider BDSM anti-feminist when not only did a woman (you) choose it, but it is not self-destructive or harming women’s rights in any way. Emphasize that you are not claiming women naturally are or should be submissive to men, but only that you enjoy freely choosing to be submissive to a man (or men) because you enjoy it, not because you believe yourself to be inferior to him, and you have the right to stop or say no at any time. Explain that you enjoy your submission and it is not harming you in any way (aside from possibly small injuries which, as noted, should not mean you are being self-destructive any more than similar injuries from participating in sports means sports is inherently self-destructive.) Likewise if you are a person of color with a white top or tops, your participation in BDSM may be considered self-destructive racism by the person you come out to, and you can counter this in the same way – pointing out that you chose it because you enjoy it and that you have the right to stop it, that you did not choose it because you believe yourself or people of color/your race to be inferior, and that it is not self-destructive.


Remember - and say when you come out – that oppression (including but not limited to sexism and racism) involves being harmed, and being forced or pressured into things, and since that is not true of your involvement in BDSM, it is not oppression. If you are a woman and/or a person of color, it may help to tell a vanilla person you are coming out to that just as women and people of color can consent to sex without being oppressed even though sex has been used to oppress women and people of color through rape, likewise women and people of color can consent to (for example) being whipped if they want it even though it has been used to oppress such people. It is consent that makes the difference.


Remember that even if the person(s) you come out to is not accepting, that doesn’t mean you being involved in BDSM is wrong, and it’s not your fault because you didn’t come out “correctly”. Perhaps the person(s) will come around eventually, but even if not, their lack of acceptance doesn’t mean you shouldn’t accept yourself or come out to anyone else if you wish to, and you can still be proud of your involvement with BDSM and proud of yourself for being brave enough to come out.

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