It’s been an emotionally taxing time for women across the United States. I shouldn’t need to remind you that men like Harvey Weinstein are literally everywhere. (Even our President was caught on tape describing how being famous allows him to grab women “by the pussy”.) And every time the media and public finally pay attention to the realities of sexual harassment and assault, it triggers memories and experiences that women push down daily so we can simply get though the day.
I have experienced sexual harassment and assault. (#MeToo) I have never walked home alone without thinking about rape. I have never felt completely safe in a taxi alone with a male driver. I have felt pressure to keep certain aspects of my sexuality private, or act in a certain way to protect myself from unwanted attention. I have been treated differently for openly discussing sex or masturbation or pleasure. I have shared personal stories in hopes that collectively we will dismantle misogynist violence. And while I am frustrated that it is women who must open our wounds, sharing our assault and harassment accounts to convince others that things need to change, I am astounded at the powerful women charging the movement in innovative and bold ways.
Meet Yin Q and Poppy Liu, the powerful force behind Mercy Mistress – a web series based on the memoirs of a Chinese-American professional dominatrix in New York City. The fictional show was created and written by Yin, based on her own career, with each episode focusing on a particular client and collectively weaving a story of a woman’s past, present, and identify. As Yin describes it, “It’s a story of violence, empowerment, and spirituality.” Poppy, who portrays Yin in the series, is also one of the Creative Directors of Collective Sex – a storytelling initiative and production company partnering to crowdsource filming of the series.
Coming across a sex-positive project that tells a story about a woman’s work, written by a woman, and made by women could not feel more timely. “The choices we are making to create this story is political,” said Yin. “The Women’s Movement is charging forward, fueled by both anger and love.” And women like Yin and Poppy are certainly warriors in the movement.
Yin is a lifestyle BDSM (Bondage, Discipline, Sadism, Masochism) practitioner and educator. She is Chinese-American, queer, a bondage enthusiast, a mother, and makes a truffled edamame dumpling that will rock your world. Yin began navigating her sexual awakening through literature, music, and film as a teenager. She even wrote her senior thesis at Barnard on The Erotic Taboo. In her twenties, she sought out apprenticeships in New York to learn how to practice kink with safe and consensual methods.
“I learned the freedom of radically honest communication, the power of the safe word, agency, consent, and the enormous responsibility that both participants of a kink exchange have over one another and themselves,” she recalled. “I also learned that so much control over another being’s intimate body was both thrilling and humbling.”
In today’s culture, we rarely talk about sex in a way that includes BDSM in an honest and open way. All too often, aspects of sex may be fetishized, mocked, judged, and ultimately go underground. In the U.S., sexual education is barely taught in schools anymore. In fact, the country has spent approximately $2 billion in the past two decades on abstinence-only programming for adolescents. But sex is still happening. Sex that explores boundaries and consent. Unfortunately, films like 50 Shades of Grey, which earned $571 million worldwide, may be a person’s only introduction to eroticism and exploration.
“50 Shades is a great example of a film based entirely in non-consent, psychological coercion, and manipulation,” Poppy noted. “It couldn’t be farther from the truth of BDSM and kink which are rooted in deep communication, boundaries, negotiations, and enthusiastic consent.” Bringing her own passion to create spaces for our most vulnerable stories to the table, Poppy was eager to partner and star in the project.
“BDSM is interesting because it exposes a truth of sexual violence in a really big way,” she said. “Pain is not violence; non-consent is violence. If we don't talk about it, we perpetuate these cycles of violence.”
For a topic often stereotyped as violent or extreme, kink practice is primarily built upon consent. In kink, a “yes” to one activity doesn’t mean a “yes” to another or future activities. A “yes” can be withdrawn at any time. And the absence of “no” doesn’t mean “yes”. (Consent is so sexy.)
If you think this sounds like an amazing space to explore, you’re not alone. Kink communities and sex parties are spaces where individuals, and couples, can explore what personally and mutually feels good. These spaces are rich in practicing communication of desires and boundaries, and have even helped some survivors change the way they view their sexual assault.
“After an assault, many people feel powerless — I know I did,” wrote Sophie Saint Thomas in her recent article in Bustle. “Which is part of what made the play party scene so appealing; in the play scene, most often women have the power.”
Mercy Mistress not only examines a woman in power, but a Chinese-American woman in power. Yin noted that is feels absurdly radical to feature Asian American characters: Absurd because there are well over 17 million Asian American in the U.S., yet they are so rarely portrayed with depth in media. It is a series that is opening the door for others to speak their own stories.
“Everyone has secrets around sex and sexuality,” Poppy said. “Everyone has parts of their life that they keep hidden or have shame around.” What Mercy Mistress attempts is creating a space where we can question and explore our personal convictions of consent, pleasure, pain, and intimacy. It guides viewers to be more present within themselves, to tune in and listen to our bodies, and to discern what we desire. And it calls into question: who is in control?
You can support the development of Mercy Mistress here.
To learn more about Collective Sex, click here.
To learn more about information about the kink community, check out FetLife.