everything you ever wanted to know about BDSM/kink scene names but didn’t even know to ask . . . (part 1)
I write here as Michael Samadhi. By some strange coincidence, it’s also this site’s domain name.
Michael Samadhi is also the name I go under at FetLife. And, over at Facebook I go by that name too. Michael Samadhi is the name I’ve used at pretty much every other alternative sexuality site where I’ve registered, or have some sort of membership, with the exception of one or two where I’ve registered as SpiritulBDSM.
But, as you may have already guessed, the name “Samadhi” is not on my birth certificate. Nor is it currently found on any legal documents associated with me. Outside of the BDSM world there is no one named Michael Samadhi. Obviously then, the name is an invention. Instead of using my given name, Michael Samadhi is how I’ve chosen to identify myself in the BDSM and kink community.
Michael Samadhi is my “scene name”. Today’s essay is all about the use of scene names in the world of kink and BDSM. We will discuss the reasons why you might consider a scene name for yourself, the pluses (and minuses) of their use, as well as other considerations in this multi-part series of essays on the use of scene names.
what is a scene name?
While I was writing I assumed it would be published under a pseudonym, and that liberated me: what I wrote was exactly what I wanted to read.
~ Nicholson Baker
One way to understand a scene name in BDSM is to look at it the same context as an actor’s stage name, an author’s pen name, or a writer’s nom de plume1. Mark Twain, the famous author of novels about the adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckelberry Finn, was actually named Samuel Clemens at birth. In artistic fields like writing and acting there are long-held traditions where some people, for a variety of personal and professional reasons, use a fake name. Why should the world of artistic lovemaking be any different from the world of writing or acting?
Another viewpoint on scene names would be to consider them like a pet name (or perhaps a nickname) that distinguishes one special part of your life from the others. Back when I was growing up I had a friend named Joey on the playground. But, all our teachers (not to mention his mother) called him by his given name, Dante. I think we actually called him Dan in class. Joey wasn’t exactly the same kid that sat next to me in science class, his behavior varied in different settings. So, what we called him changed appropriately.
Yet another way to look at a scene name is to consider it to be something like a self invented alter ego. I’m talking something short of a full-scale Dr Jekyll / Mr Hyde style alter ego, more along the lines of a persona and not a split personality. Although it wasn’t related to BDSM play, I ended up being known (at parties I’d attend) as Arthur Deco. It all happened through a strange set of circumstance where a friend, while in art class, made up fliers for a party I was throwing. Acting on a whim, he decided to call the event an “Art Deco party”. Then, several of the attendees, not knowing a thing about art history, thought my name actually was Art Deco. Suddenly, my wild (party animal) alter-ego was born.
Another alternative model for a scene name is the way a special name might be used within a secret society, social club, or fraternal organization, as a matter of protocol. In cases like these, the name itself could be a ritual title, passed from one office holder to the next. It might also be a name chosen for them as a part of an initiation. That brings to mind the classic movie scene from Animal House, where John Belushi’s character assigns all of the fraternity’s new pledges their new Delta Tau Chi names.
Obviously then, when deciding whether to use a scene name, the novice to the world of BDSM and kink has a number of “models” they can choose from. They can look at a scene name and consider it to be something like a ritual name used in a fraternal organization. A scene name could also be looked at as a pet name or nickname, an alter ego, or even a writer’s pen name. Who’s to say you couldn’t enjoy having any of these options as a model for choosing your own identity for kinky adult playtime?
I’ve always kept this part of my life private, other than with people who I know are also involved. I’m a businesswoman, a quilter, a softball player, a town official, a volunteer at a residential care facility, make great jambalaya, read voraciously, and am learning to ballroom dance. None of the people in these other areas of my life need to know how I fall to my knees in surrender when a partner grabs my hair.
~ Stacy (quote originally from sensuoussadie.com)
I’ve heard and read a number of reasons why an individual would want to use a scene name when entering and navigating within a subculture like BDSM, some of them being better justification than others. The reasons you might consider using a scene name include:
- Security / Confidentiality – To my mind, this is by far the strongest and most compelling motivation to have a scene name, to serve as a means of protection. A scene name makes it harder for a person from your regular personal (vanilla) life to somehow accidentally connect your public and private lives. The converse is also true, using a scene name makes it harder for anyone who might be negative, disruptive, or disreputable to cause any harm in your everyday life.
- Empowerment / Liberation – While these two reasons might well be considered separately, there is also some logic in grouping them together. When looked at from this particular perspective, a scene name becomes a conscious act in taking control of your own unique personal erotic identity. Some might find such an act not only empowering, but also liberating, as choosing a name for this reason has the potential to help free their own individual erotic personality from the repression of their upbringing and/or the expectations of ‘mainstream’ society.
- Heighten Reality / Dramatic Effect – This is the primary motivation for assigned ritual names that are used by clubs and fraternities, to separate a person’s everyday identity from the role they take on for a ritual or similar dramatic event. Let’s be honest here, calling someone ‘Exalted Grandmaster’ has a lot better potential sound and effect for creating ritual drama than using their real name, especially if they ended up named something like John Jacob Jingleheimer-Schmidt.
- Whimsy / Escape – Sometimes it’s just more fun to be somebody other than your regular everyday persona. Using a scene name in this context could be considered to be similar to adopting a persona for a role playing game like Dungeons and Dragons. There’s a reason role playing games are popular among geeks while they are growing up (and sometimes after too!) Playing a role is a great escape, it can be great fun, and transport a person away from their daily grind, or any reality they don’t find too pleasant
- Popularity / Recognition / Brand Identity – There’s sound logic behind the thinking of Hollywood starlets and television broadcasters who change their names, it’s to become more popular, better known, and ultimately more successful and profitable. Norma Jeane Mortenson might never have become so famous had she not changed her name to Marilyn Monroe. I’m sure the name “Twisted Monk” is a lot more effective at creating a brand identity for a BDSM ropemaker than anything that might appear on his birth certificate.
Now in speaking frankly on this topic, I need to express to you that it’s my opinion that how you or I might happen to enjoy consensual sex should never impact anyone’s employment or child custody status. But, that’s really 100% theory now, and just my own personal philosophy, the real world we live in is sometimes very different.
It’s hopelessly naïve to think that people like a ultra-conservative employer or a vindictive ex-spouse is going to turn a blind eye to the blatant practice of an alternative sexual lifestyle. In the real world people lose jobs over their sexual desires, people living a kinky alternative lifestyle might very well have their own 100% legal sexual desires used against them in a court of law as well. I’ve seen it happen far too many times!
In my personal case, having an scene name allows me to become a member of the BDSM community without needing to sacrifice any of my personal privacy, which can be important for a good number of reasons. Going by the name Michael Samadhi diminishes the risk of bad things happening to me. Using a scene name helps prevent my private enjoyment of kinky pleasures from turning around and later causing problems in professional life. I also happen to think that Samadhi has a better dramatic effect than the surname I inherited from my father.
And while my scene name might be useful as an alter ego or persona I could adopt, that’s not really how it evolved for me. I usually have no trouble switching modes to inhabit what might be called ‘dom space’ or ‘master mode’. I’ve been there enough it’s a natural part of who I am, you might even say it’s where I live, and that the ‘persona’ is now what I adopt to go off to work.
I was not terribly worried about recognition (or brand identity) when I choose a scene name. But, I suppose this might be a renewed consideration, now that I’m authoring more and more essays and advice on alternative sexuality. With that said, I’ve been Michael Samadhi for more than 15 years, I’m not going to change now to make my writing more marketable, like Popeye used to say, “I am what I am!”
- A pen name, nom de plume, or literary double, is a pseudonym adopted by an author. ↩