Yes, this post will be about Jillian Keenan’s book, Sex With Shakespeare: Here’s Much to Do with Pain, but More with Love. I don’t know if I want to call it a review; it’s more of a ramble, random bits of the thoughts her book evoked. Because Jillian’s book did make me think, a lot. And isn’t that the hallmark of a good book?
It is good. It’s smart, literate, interesting, and bold. It’s honest. And it accomplishes one hell of a feat: it links spanking and fetish activity with Shakespearean plays and characters, bringing both into a magical reality in which Jillian interacts with several of them. There are one hell of a lot of books about spanking, and a lot more about Shakespeare. But I daresay this is the first that combines the two, and entertainingly so.
I do have a confession to make. You know that Sam Cooke song, “Wonderful World”? “Don’t know much about history, don’t know much geography…” Well… I don’t know much about Shakespeare, beyond the bare basics. Sure, I know the story of Romeo and Juliet (but really, who doesn’t?). I know that the quote “Alas, poor Yorick” is from Hamlet (and I also know that the oft-added “I knew him well” is a misquote). I know that King Lear’s daughters were named Cordelia, Regan and Goneril (although every time I see that latter name, I think of gonorrhea. What the hell kind of name is Goneril, anyway?). But other than that… I have never read a Shakespearean play. (hanging head in shame) So, while I do wish I could have related more to the Shakespeare part of Jillian’s book (and that’s my shortcoming, not a criticism of SWS), I nonetheless found that aspect intriguing. And I found myself admiring and relating to Jillian more and more as I read.
At a glance, you put us together and we are very different beings. I am twice her age. She has worked and lived all over the world; I’ve lived in one state all my life, and my travel is limited to seven states and Mexico. She embraces change; I crave stasis. And yet, I felt those tendrils of kinship with her. Because I know that in one major area, she gets me, and I get her. We both have that gene, that wiring, that thing, whatever the fuck it is, that draws us inexorably to spanking.
(Side note: Funny how even within that commonality, we differ. She can’t stand the word “spanko,” while I think it’s a perfect term and use it often. But out of respect for her, I will refrain from using it for the remainder of this post. 🙂 )
When I read of Jillian’s childhood and adolescence, and all the feelings and desires around spanking that caused her shame and a sense of otherness, I realized I’d been wrong about one of my long-time assumptions. I know everyone is different, of course — but in general, I thought those in the Millennial generation had an easier time of exploring and reconciling with their kinks, because they always had the Internet — and its wealth of information and connections — at their fingertips. How could anyone feel alone when they had that? But I was mistaken. Apparently, Jillian went through as much angst and self-loathing as I did. Fortunately for all of us, she did manage to embrace her spanking fetish much earlier than I did.
When she spoke of her first spanking, I remembered mine. When she talked of how it’s so much more than just a hand striking a bottom — it’s about headspace, it’s about scolding or certain verbiage that accompanies it, etc. — I nodded, and frequently said “Yes” out loud. At her insistence that this is not something that we choose, but it chooses us, I did a fist-pump.
I have referred to Jillian Keenan as brave before, and I continue to do so. Yes, a lot of us write and blog and talk about our kinks and how they impact our lives. But Jillian does so, openly and honestly, while revealing her full, real name to the masses… including the haters out there. While others battle to keep from being outed, she outed herself, and risked everything. That, to me, is fucking brave. That is conviction. I certainly couldn’t do it, as proud as I am of my place in the kink world.
For years, I have tried to explain why I think spanking and BDSM are different. Yes, the former is a subculture of the latter. But they have a fully different look, feel, language, clothing, etiquette, and so on. I said that I was OK with visiting a dungeon, but going to a spanking party felt like coming home. For this, I have been accused of being elitist, exclusive, of perpetrating the “us vs. them myth.” On FetLife, when I stated that I considered myself more of a “spanking purist,” one dreadful woman went so far as to say that anyone who uses the term “purist” is probably also an advocate of “ethnic cleansing.” Right — so preferring spanking over whips and chains makes me akin to Hitler?? Fuck her! But then Jillian came along with her book, and on page 141 (hardcover version), she explained the difference in two sentences. Perfectly.
I spent enough time at a dungeon in San Francisco to realize that although BDSM is a broad term that includes spanking obsessives, like me, we also belong to different subcultures, with different aesthetic styles and mind-sets. I fit in at that dungeon only as well as a gay man might at a lesbian bar: we could relate, but it wasn’t my place.
How. Freaking. Brilliant. Is. This? She nailed it. If people still don’t get it after reading this encapsulation, then they never will.
It was just one of many “aha” moments I had, reading this book. When she claimed that spanking yourself is like trying to tickle yourself, it just doesn’t work, I laughed in commiseration. At her confession that she had a fondness for Star Wars-themed spanking fanfiction, I thought, well, is that any different than my writing Dark Shadows-themed spanking fanfic, with Quentin Collins spanking me? Oh, and how many times have I lamented that I can’t stand having my nipples touched, that it seems all the sexual wiring that was intended for my breasts went to my butt instead? So you can imagine how I crowed when Jillian referred to her own backside as a giant clitoris hitched to the back of her pelvis.
Even when the topic made me uncomfortable, I appreciate how it made me think. Jillian posits that children, even at a very young age, have emerging sexual identities. I agree with this, especially when it comes to the vague notions of kink. How else can we explain our fascinations with spanking as children? How so many of us played spanking games, looked up “spanking” and all its synonyms in the dictionary? Jillian goes on to opine that if a child has an emerging spanking fetish, and early sexual feelings around it, then spanking said child is sexual assault.
She’s taken a lot of heat for this statement — again, the bravery thing. Granted, I have always been uncomfortable with the idea of spanking kids. But I figured it was simply because it’s a crappy thing to do to a helpless little person and it sends the wrong message (“I’m bigger than you, so I get to hit you, but you can’t do that to anyone else.” “I have control over you, and I can hurt you if I choose to.”) Granted, that last quote is fine if it’s between consenting adults — but children cannot consent. Still… sexual assault? Then I thought back to my own childhood.
My mother hit me a lot. She was impulsive and temperamental and would usually slap whatever she could reach at the time — my face, my arms, my legs. My primary reaction to that was helpless rage; I so wanted to slap her back. However, my memory of a single OTK spanking from my father is altogether different. It was so long ago, but I’ll never forget how I felt. Humiliated. Betrayed. Ashamed. I ran outside, wept into my dog’s fur, and wished I could simply disappear into thin air. I never wanted to face anyone again. Why such an extreme reaction? And even now, thinking about it makes my flesh crawl. Could it be because my little self was already feelings those tendrils of fetishism, and the confusion was unbearable?
You may agree with Jillian. You may not. But I believe she knows what she’s talking about, and her views are worthy of respect. Only one of us can truly say how wretched childhood spanking can be, I think. Because for us, it’s so much more than the temporary pain.
I really am rambling here, so I will stop now. In short: If you happen to be both a Shakespeare aficionado and a spanking fetishist, Jillian’s book will be an extra special treat for you. But you don’t need to be both in order to get plenty out of it. Because there is much to be learned on both subjects. And if you are just becoming aware of your own inner spanking enthusiast and are looking for someone to learn from and relate to, here she is.
Thank you, Jillian. ♥