Danny Thanh Nguyen, AKA ByronicPunk, is well known for his ability with floggers and whips, as well as a fiction and non-fiction writer. He's currently working on a book about kink, survivalism and the parallels between the gay leather and kink community and refugees. In this article he examines Kink in the Time of Corona
We're on a video call, Eric and I, sheltering in place at our respective San Francisco apartments while trying out the quarantine care package he had sent me. He's naked in bed, beaming through the square of light that is my iPad even though he's only three neighbourhoods away. I'm on red sheets, the goodies I got in the mail splayed out before me: a bottle of lube, five vials of poppers that arrived cocooned in bubble wrap, and a dildo the length of my forearm that purported to be a size small.
Eric has the same poppers on his end, and together we uncap our first sample. The tall skinny label-less bottle hisses, kicking off what he had proposed as a "variety pack taste test." Roughly the aroma of rubber bands, I inhale the vapours, its gauzy haze floating in my skull before puddling down to my throat, then settling between my shoulders and thighs.
"You'll feel this one more in your body," Eric says. "Some guys don't like it because it doesn't have that throbbing head rush, but I think it's nicely subtle and great for relaxing when you want to bottom." He sounds like a sommelier, instructing me on how to appreciate the bouquet of the fumes, its precious mouthfeel unique to the local grapes pressed in the bathtub with the maker's special blend of chemicals.
Eric suggested this training session because, after a month and a half of isolation from the COVID-19 pandemic, I was afraid of losing my newly acquired bottoming skills. Our play dynamic before the outbreak involved me beating him till he was bruised and bloody, but he is a far more experienced assplayer than me. I envy him and other friends who relate stories of being passed around at weekend gangbangs, bragging about their stamina and adaptability for men of different shapes and sizes. So, for the last two years, I began studying what I call "The Craft of Bottoming" — and I refused to lose it all while in quarantine. Because, like crocheting, being a skilled bottom truly is a craft, one that requires practice and honing. It's a different way of relating to your body than playing as a top: understanding your physical parameters and boundaries, knowing how to physically and mentally get ready, learning your personal cleaning strategies, trusting the process of welcoming something inside without hurting yourself, commanding your muscles to relax or flex or loosen or pulse...
I never owned a dildo before, let alone one as monstrous as the specimen I hoisted from the box Eric had sent me. I figure it will be a challenge to accommodate, but surely an attainable goal given the arsenal of poppers to persuade my body to comply. "You got this," I say inwardly, psyching myself up the way I would attack an intimidating stack of deadlifts. Eric counts down on the screen as I inhale a hearty five seconds from a bottle, then lube up the veiny silicone log jiggling in my hand and attempt to glide the toy into me—
You know you have a problem when your sexy video call starts looking less like PornHub and more like a slapstick comedy. When the dildo you try coaxing inside you repeatedly wriggles and flops away like a particularly stubborn fish — a sight not punctuated by the soundtrack of pleasured moaning, but rather one that would be more suited with the Benny Hill theme.
The issue has less to do with not having practiced bottoming and everything to do with the tiny window in the corner of the screen reflecting my image back at me. I stumbled into my mid-thirties underdeveloped as a bottom, yes, but I am even more stunted as an exhibitionist. Faced now with putting on a cam show, I shirk up, keep closing my eyes, and tense every muscle in my body so that it becomes a wall, even to myself. Eric tries earnestly to cheer me on — "Just relax and enjoy the process," "Notice your body; touch the parts you like; make yourself feel good" — but nothing he says can distract from how I don't really like the way I look right now.
On good days I'll feel passably attractive, and on bad days I'll look in the mirror and dissect what I see the way a robot in a sci-fi movie might scrutinize the world around it. My vision becomes infrared, scanning myself from head to toe, synthesizing the data before populating the sidebar with annotations of all the flaws: The Terminator for my self-esteem. Today, graphs for my chest and my arms are calculating the recent loss of weight and muscle mass, telling me I'm too scrawny to be sexy. Thanks to body dysmorphia, my brain's fickle attitude toward my body has become more precarious now that the pandemic has shuttered all the leather events, play spaces, and kink community gatherings that have become a major source of validation for me — places where the touch of another person allows me to feel real and seen.
Because kink is a way for me to experience sexuality and intimacy on a heightened level, the way it affirms my sense of self feels all the more amplified. Now that I'm in quarantine mode, I'm going through withdrawals that make even porn clips enviable. I'll stare longingly as the characters in a video of a twenty-person pileup grope each other with abandon like a Katamari ball of human flesh. Watching a boy gasp for air while his Sir fucks and chokes him with bare hands makes me think, "You lucky son of a bitch, you get to enjoy skin contact."
I keep hearing people say that COVID-19 is teaching us all how to live with ourselves. But the thing is: I'm not stuck with myself just now during the age of the Coronavirus — I'm stuck with him forever. For all the dominant qualities I have when it comes to BDSM, I can't dominate the feelings of desexualisation instilled by social distancing. I have no alternative for that unique energy source of connectedness I gain from the warmth of another person's body, but this pandemic seems as good a time as any to figure it out. Perhaps, then, the first step I have to take is to learn how to look up and stare at the window of my own reflection in the corner of my video screen. I must fight the urge to close my eyes, keep my gaze held, unflinching, until I find a version of myself, I can finally see.
Check out Danny's Recon profile, or find out more about him on his social media using the links below