02/26/2015 09:55 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Growing Up Kinky

When you read popular kinky novels, you get the impression that being kinky is a choice you make as an adult. The protagonist reads a book, sees a movie, or meets that one certain kinky yin to their vanilla yang, and their entire sexual identity shifts. That's how it happened in Nine and a Half Weeks. It even happened that way in Story of O. You meet someone else, and before you know it, you fall into a pit of lust and do stuff you never even dreamed of doing before.

In other words, it's all fiction. It's a way for people to rationalize their desires: "Oh, I was just walking along, minding by own vanilla business, and then -- whoosh! -- I saw this hot woman behind me, and now I'm a lesbian." No. It doesn't happen like that. Even when it feels as if it does, it doesn't.

Sexual identity doesn't start in adulthood. You can't catch sexual identity from someone else or be "turned" if you are not built for it in the first place. It was that kind of thinking that led the sex hysterics of the 1950s and '60s to spread the insane idea that homosexuality is contagious and would somehow infect or alter people who were exposed to it. That has been the homophobic right's biggest argument against gay schoolteachers, although it is, without a doubt, one of the sickest lies ever told.

Sexual identity starts in childhood, usually long before you have any idea that there is a name or a label to describe the things you are most drawn to. It begins before you have the hormones to turn you on sexually. In prepubertal childhood, most of us already have inklings and inclinations that will develop into fully fledged sexual desires when we get older. Gay and lesbian children may know they're same-sex-oriented before they experience anything like adult lust; fetishists may already feel a special affection for future sex-fetish objects; and BDSMers typically recall how they loved bondage and spanking scenes in movies.

I'm typical that way. I always knew there was something different about me. In sixth grade I had an irrepressible urge to punch my boyfriend when we kissed, something that mystified me as much as it irritated him. I was a fan of all action/adventure movies that featured bondage and whipping. I fooled around with girls. As soon as I could buy my own clothes, I went with the tomboy look, living in workshirts, chinos and army boots. And when I started masturbating to sex fantasies at puberty, they always involved captivity, bondage and Tom of Finland-looking men.

Of course, I didn't know about Tom of Finland then, nor did I know that gender is fluid and that it was OK for me to prefer men's styles to women's. I agonized about clothing just as I agonized about my sexual fantasies. The real me didn't fit into the world. My secret need to do painful things to boys didn't fit with my relaxed, free-loving style. My bisexuality, my polyamorous nature -- I didn't even have those words to describe myself then. As a fiery young feminist, I found the idea of a power relationship, in itself, offensive. Yet when I tied my ankles with a scarf in bed at night, in the dark, when no one could hear me, I soared to ecstasy.

Growing up kinky, queer, non-binary, and non-heteronormative is a mixed bag that often includes struggles and self-doubt, insecurity about being weird, fear that your secret sexual desires make you unlovable, and endless questions about how you'll live and whether you will ever find anyone who accepts the real you. But you grow up. You find ways to deal, and if you're lucky and work for it, chances are that you will find that person or those people who don't just accept you but are grateful for who you turned out to be.

But one thing you won't do is become someone else. You can't pray away your DNA. No matter how many straight people one may sleep with, it doesn't turn that person straight. Nor do you suddenly turn kinky or queer through exposure. Who you are, sexually, has been with you all along, waiting to emerge, blossom, be resolved or find support that helps you get where you were heading in the first place.

I grew up kinky and wrote all about it in my new book, A Fetish for Men, now the number-one bestseller in the "Gay & Lesbian History" category on Amazon.