culture by Isabella Argosino

Freedom in Restraint: Inside the Local BDSM Scene

Manila’s burgeoning BDSM community can’t be defined by Fifty Shades of Grey.

“The world knows we freaks exist,” Joyen Santos quips, with a hopeful sheen and confidence to her words. In a conservatively Catholic society like Manila, to witness once-taboo art forms and expressions start to break into the mainstream is a breath of fresh air. According to the alternative entertainment performer, Manila has been experiencing a Renaissance period in the arts scene—paving the way for what we now appreciate as performance-style BDSM.

BDSM— an umbrella term short for Bondage Discipline, Domination/Submission, Sadism, and Mascochism— is a broad spectrum of mindsets and lifestyles pertaining to anything alternative to the sexual norm. “It has a pretty expansive definition, simply because BDSM can be anything; anything can be kinky,” explains Joyen. For some, it skirts a thin line between the safe and sexy. Thanks to Hollywood and its recent, infamous BDSM-centered franchise, it can be easy to reduce the movement to its stereotypical use of fishnet stockings and leather whips. However, what its artists want us to know is that, all kinks and cuffs aside, BDSM means business. Like other disciplines, it is built on rules and practice.

“We have two main guidelines that help us in differentiating what is kinky from what is not. First, it has to be Safe, Sane, and Consensual (SSC),” she advised. To protect all performers involved, its “scenes” (the BDSM term for an activity involving one or more people) must have minimized risks in terms of both parties’ personal boundaries. “The second main guideline is the Risk-Aware Consensual Kink (RACK), which acknowledges that risks will always be present and the actors must do their best to manage,” Joyen continues, pertaining to the more extreme practices of suspension bondage and edgeplay. Anything outside of this BDSM blueprint, she affirms, is just plain abuse. Its core lies in the strong trust and relationship between both parties involved—whether you’re suspended in chains and naked ten feet in the air, or at the receiving end of a paddleboard.

While it may be a relatively unheard of concept to many, BDSM didn’t just randomly condense in the humid Manila air. The underground community has been alive and kicking for years now. “BDSM as an art form has been poking its way into the local scene ever since a sketching group first integrated Japanese-style rope bondage in one of their sessions,” Joyen shares. As one of the founders of the local performance BDSM and burlesque scene, she has her college roots to thank. “I was lucky enough to attend the most liberated school in the country—The University of the Philippines. There I met colleagues and mentors who encouraged me in my field,” she states. “I’ve been in a creative partnership called The Uncoloured since 2011. It is a purely experimental, non-profit project where we note down everything we want to make art out of—disobeying every rule in photography and literature,” she muses. At the top of their list of rule-breakers was Japanese-style rope bondage.

What started off as a passing phrase in a sea of arbitrary brain juice led to a cathartic discovery. “I dug deep into the local kink community, where I was able to get my first lessons on safety and communication in BDSM. I started investing in books, specifically in rope bondage, and applied these to my creative works,” the self-taught artist reveals. “It was only as I decided to consistently perform BDSM as an art form when it became accessible to the general public.” Unlike other performers who came before her, she decided not to remain under the blankets of taboo impressions. Staying true to her breed of outspoken thespian, she claims that regularly performing in public has molded her into a rope-bound beacon of hope for vanilla folk and kinky crowds alike. “I gained the role of introducing and educating both sides on how to understand and interact with each other. Yes, we live in a country that is generally conservative, but I’ve found that if you explain things in a way that the other person understands, then anyone can see how reasonable it really is,” Joyen asserts.

Still intimidated by the liberal arts of tomorrow? Joining the club is as easy as signing up on Facebook. No, really. Kinky people all over the globe have their virtual cake and eat it too. Their main social media platform is Fetlife.com, where users are connected to thousands of other like-minded individuals. After signing up, one can list down their limits, expectations, and boundaries in a BDSM scene—all adding up to a personally customized and comfortable experience. Don’t worry if you’re fumbling for words to put in your bio. While it can be difficult to define at first, Joyen suggests browsing around local groups on the site to see what piques your interest.

“Go to munches in your area,” she advises. ‘Munches’ aren’t nearly what they sound like, but are just regular meet-ups in places as neutral as your neighborhood coffee shop. “This is where newbies can meet people in the scene. Ask questions and make friends who can educate you. No question is a stupid question as long as it comes from a sincere standpoint.” Yes, even that question that might still be lingering in your newly awakened BDSM brain region. Contrary to what Fifty Shades of Grey might suggest, BDSM doesn’t always have to involve sex. Though the activity is of a sexual nature, its statement lies in the experience. “It’s sensual. You feel it. You smell it. You smell the smell of natural rope. You feel it in your skin,” Joyen said in an interview with GMA Network.

In light of the said Renaissance period in the Manila arts scene, the bondage maven only has excitement and optimism for what’s to come. “Although that certain BDSM-flavored film we must not name may be an inaccurate depiction of the BDSM lifestyle, it raised awareness on a global level. It all starts with curiosity and then education, and it’s going to continue to snowball from there,” she beams. “I can’t wait for the time when most Filipinos are educated enough and responsible with sex—and yes, other things.”

Illustration by Danielle Chuatico

FOR MORE UPDATES ON UPCOMING BDSM EVENTS FOLLOW JOYEN ON FACEBOOK AT FACEBOOK.COM/JOYENJOYEN OR ON INSTAGRAM AT @JOYENJOYEN.
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Isabella Argosino
Isabella—better known as Argo (yes, like the movie)—is a freelance writer with too many thoughts and not nearly enough outlets for shameless self-expression. When she's not busy preaching the gospel of skin care (sunscreen is a MUST!), she finds fulfillment in jazz, a platter of sushi, and denim jackets. Follow her on Twitter at @argowho.
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