On Kink Dynamics: “Holding the reins”

tran nguyen 3

My lower vertebrae clutch and seize in towards centre, bringing my back to sway, chest thrown open. The muscles along my inner thighs grip, and I sense your body surge under me, releasing. That familiar flush of lavender spreads across the temples: I enter the state that lets me unleash my strength on you. This armour is a lie, but it is mine. The taste of metal in my mouth as I plunge into the folds of your body shields me and offers resilience. I do want to reveal myself to you, but slowly.

First, I want you to want me. Tell me over and over how good it is, how nobody has understood your body like I do. I shut my eyes out and feel you. It is not calculated, it is how I have learned to protect myself. I still don’t know how to ask for precisely what I want, while your desire is bare under me.

What I don’t tell you is how much I need this: not just to please you. I am not that generous. Your moans awaken a power in me that I cannot access alone.

The thought of you is not enough: I need to have you breathing against my skin, to feel your heat, to hear you say Please. I am not just doing this for you.

You tell me not to ask permission and I take this in, swallow it, find other ways of asking. I watch the arch of your back, listen for the depth of your breath, testing.

The lift of your pelvis instructs my mouth to move and you tell me not to be careful. You sense my fear and I say, Yes, because we are treading a thin edge. The structure slips, you taste my tears on your face, wrap my limbs around yours. Still trembling I gather strength and move into you. Each tug elicits the sound of more, the scrape of your claws on my thighs, your pulse beneath my teeth.

We catch each other over and over again.


These words by Alisha Mascarenhas were inspired by the art by Tran Nguyen,

and are also a response to Xan West’s “I’m not just doing it for you” 

From the author: “I wrote this in response to Xan West’s article on myths about “topping” in kink dynamics. West’s piece suggests some of the ways in which tops/dominants tend to be seen as selflessly offering an experience to bottoms/submissives, obfuscating the top’s own pleasures and desires. The physicality of Tran Nguyen’s piece evoked a sense of mutuality within an image that might presuppose power being held by the person holding the reins. I must be dead clear that I am not likening bottoms to animals being ridden (which would further exacerbate existing dichotomies between masculine/feminine and civilized/savage). I am, rather, drawing from the implicit, dynamic power relationship and vulnerabilities being represented through this visual.”


How We Deal With Trauma


word by Keah Hansen

colour by Garry Tugwell Smith

content warning: violence

Her steel flanks glisten under a sordid sun. Scream white when sparring with that heady fire which scalds and percolates. Steam abates and disappears under the softer consciousness of the moon. In a world of duality we see seek healing our gendered symbols. We trail our fingers with alacrity over constellations of great queens. Bury our toes in the soil of wildflowers.  In a world of gender, the male deftly danced us to the mantelpiece and left us there to sweep and decorate and gaze about winsomely. Coddling the hearth with a dainty steel prong. Another wary night- the room is aflame as steel and her fire twirl and jest.

At the present moment we find our battleship sinking into black waters. She heeded caution and wore her armour willingly, heaving bells of alarm when the first missile singed her pristine sides.  In that vast ocean of a house, the cries besides the mantelpiece dissolved at the mudroom, unheard by the neighbours outside. Dashed twice on the rocks; a champagne flute smote under his gaze; the fire burned the scented candle wax and the moon waned to hide the rosy cheeks of the slipping ship.

Watch her picking ash off her skirt. Laundering out the lingering smoke of last night. Watch him watching her as they resume position- his fire rising out of that chimney and filling the world with another declaration of maleness. The delicate steel prong with flower etchings rests mutely by morning, like the battleship that poises leaden on the ocean floor. Salty water urges rust to spread up her shoulders and into the newly formed cavities.

This water mutes and oppresses. It won’t offer rebirth to she who has so many others to birth and support. Her body is a symbol of victory for patriarchy- the self-effacing female imprinted onto the minds of millions like a postcard of a battleship at rest. A war song rolls over the banks, prettying words of chauvinism.

For now, we pour our healing and ourselves into smaller symbols of identity. The ocean will someday offer its support– after countless battleships have chipped away and yielded to the currents- then women too will claim this territory as reverential. The mythic female will nest in these digressive and mysterious tides and the battleship will morph into a chanting pacifist baring flowers and peasant skirts. Identity is formed by such symbols- the kind that animates and roars and threatens to enflame a house with words.*

From the author:

“As I started writing this piece, I was inspired by the symbolism of the sunken warship resting on a seabed, and reflected on the processes of healing for different types of people, honing in on women in particular. However, these musings inspired a digression on the symbolic as a catalyst for growth and as a figurative location for anchoring, which unleashed a self-reflexive essay on the transience of the meanings behind symbols and the potency in claiming symbols for tangible social change.”

Read more words on mental health by Keah Hansen

See more colour by Garry Tugwell Smith