Excerpt: Kaleidescope by Renee Flowers

Published: JUNE 16, 2021 | Updated: JUNE 17, 2021
This first-person excerpt by Renee Flowers delves into how a traumatized sub gains control through BDSM.

This is an excerpt from Sub/Mission: An Anthology published by House of Theodora. The book includes 16 works written by subs from all walks of life. It has been republished here with permission.


M messaged me on Tinder about some Ashanti lyrics in my bio that I jokingly credited to the Chinese philosopher Confucius. We met at a bar off Broadway with a floor to ceiling vinyl sticker of Marilyn Monroe and vanity mirrors above the sinks in the bathroom. M had dark brown hair, short on the sides, and a bit longer on top, with a section dyed a blue that matched his eyes. We talked about our shitty hometowns in California and our queer identities, and what we didn’t believe in, like astrology and god, while we drank whiskey sours at the bar. As the night went on, our barstools swivelled towards each other and I rested my hand on his knee.

We ended up on my bed, kissing. The pink light from my Himalayan salt lamp softened his skin.

“Do you want me to take off your clothes?” he asked, his fingers playfully tugging on the stretchy fabric of my shirt. “Yes,” I managed to whisper. I wasn’t used to being spoken to so directly in the bedroom.


Every time we graduated to a different physical act, M asked me if I wanted what was coming next. Every touch was considered. I laid on my bed, stripped, but safe. The directness of his communication was erotic and tender. “Do you want me to lick your pussy?”he would ask. I was collaborating in sex, not just being used as a fleshy body to ejaculate in. After we both came, he rested his head on my chest and sobbed while my arms cradled his convulsing body.

Like me, M had experienced sexual trauma as a child. He didn’t always cry after we fucked, but he usually did. One day we sat at a dessert place downtown with a zine containing tables of different kinks and sexual interests where we could fill in “Yes,” “No,” or “Maybe” for each kink. I was shy but we got it all filled out with a lot of maybes. I spilled some chocolate ice cream and left a brown smudge next to the “Scat” box and after he explained what scat play was, I laughed about the coincidence.

It’s not like M and I experimented all that much with kink and BDSM, but the exercise of explicitly asserting our boundaries around physical touch was empowering for both of us. This was the first time I had expressed out loud what could and could not be done to me in a physically intimate encounter. The sex with M looked vanilla on the outside, but it was far from it. Vanilla sex isn’t about any particular act, or a lack thereof—it’s sex where boundaries are never discussed but simply assumed.


My encounters with M were starkly in contrast to some very vanilla sex I had a year earlier with a housemate that left me with a dozen bruises all over my chest and neck. There’s always this moment when I know for sure that someone is interested in fucking. It manifests in the form of prolonged eye contact in the sweet moments after a shared laugh. My housemate and I were wasted on the porch couch when that moment took place, and afterwards he led me up to his room, which was across the hall from mine.

I woke up the next day with bruises and some conflicted feelings. I thought I liked the rough sex the night before, but I didn’t remember much of it. We had zero check-ins, during or prior. How did he know I was into it? Was I even into it? Despite the bruises, it was awfully vanilla. I did like the bruises though, and the way their colors changed over time.



A few years later I showed up to a Halloween party at 2 a.m. dressed up as Hello Kitty and met J later on, while I was waterfalling a fifth of vodka down people’s throats in someone’s bedroom. I met J again the next morning in my bed after he spent the night. He shook my hand and reintroduced himself. We started dating after I told him I’d always be nonmonogamous and he was okay with it.

Monogamy was the shadowy figures that bothered me when I tried to sleep. My childhood trauma trapped me into unsatisfying relationships, and monogamy kept me in their control. Open relationships meant freedom and agency. Every day I chose my partners, and I had sex with them because I desired to, not because I was obliged to.

The sex with J was mediocre at first. Around the time I met him, I started reading more about kink, BDSM, and trauma-informed consent. I read about a scale that a couple used to communicate how interested they were in having sex: 1 for not at all, 3 for possibly, and 5 for “take off my clothes right now.” I loved the scale because saying a number felt less intimidating than telling him I didn’t want to have sex. We adapted it into a cat scale after I ate too much pasta one night and said I felt like Garfield when J asked if I was interested in having sex. The scale changed from 1 to 5 to Garfield, Cheshire, Felix, Pink Panther, and, of course, Hello Kitty. It was ridiculous and we always forgot where each character was on the scale, but I needed it, and J was patient.


Once I finally was able to object to sex—by way of some pop culture cat icon—I worked towards figuring out what I was into. I logged all my sexual encounters and reflected on what I did and didn’t like about each experience. If anything turned me on during the week, I frantically scribbled it in a desire journal I kept in my bag. My observations made me realize that during missionary-style penetrative sex with a man I’d start to separate myself from my body; I didn’t want to be there. Lying there underneath a man, with him inside of me, reminded me of all the times in my early twenties that I stumbled into that position. I was often drunk, seeking validation and pleasure from some stranger who never made me come and put themselves inside me without asking or putting on a condom.

J and I started experimenting with power, submission and domination, and role play. It turned out that being dominated and pretending to be someone else really got me going. When I pretended to be someone else, someone way younger, way older, a student, a teacher, an extended family member, I could generate a voice and communicate during sex; I wasn’t me.



I sat on J’s bed with a legal pad and a pen. It was early summer and the windows were open, animated voices floating from the street to his room.

“So, let’s start with words describing the moods we’d like to embody.” I bounced with excitement.

We brainstormed together—naughty, animalistic, primal, rough, gentle, caregiving.

“Ok. Now, what specific acts are we interested in?”

We decided on spanking, slapping, positive reinforcement, fellatio, and cunnilingus.


J and I invented all sorts of codes and rules to make each other feel safe. Whenever we talked about anything regarding our open relationship, we used the codeword “pomegranate” as a way of asking for consent to talk about a potentially emotional topic.

Because penetrative sex is particularly triggering for me, the rule was that there needed to be verbal consent for it to happen. We had our safewords, of course. Sometimes we planned an entire scene out in explicit detail, and other times we didn’t plan them at all. No matter how intense it got, if he saw me begin to disassociate, or start to shrivel up with shame, he knew to check in. As I extended power to him in the bedroom, I received power back.

Paradoxically, in this very controlled setting, the more similar he behaved to all those men who hurt me, the more I healed. By carefully crafting a scene together in which he treated me like a piece of meat, called me names, told me what to do, I reexperienced my trauma, but in a safe context.

For the first time, I’m in total control of my sexuality. I can now access pleasure through my traumatic experience, instead of being numbed by the pain of it. Nevertheless, a body that has faced trauma can be provoked by the slightest of offenses. I’ve processed and accepted so much of the experiences of my childhood and young adulthood, things I cannot go back and change, and I’ve worked hard to figure out what would make myself and others feel safe. Still, I turn the kaleidoscope wheel and bits of my life are magnified and manifested into new patterns of trauma. I’ve tried to normalize advocating for myself shamelessly, but in moments of panic, I suddenly morph into that little girl who was sexually assaulted.


I was at J’s apartment in his clawfoot bathtub. The flicker from the candles blended with the freckles on his skin. The bathwater smelled like lavender. He sat behind me with his arms gently wrapped around my body. Out of nowhere, I was gripped by a familiar feeling of helplessness and deep shame. I started sobbing and told J that I didn’t want to sleep with him, as I got out of the bathtub. My skin felt like it was inside out. All my organs, my soul, were outside of my body. I felt full of dread and totally alone.

After J repeatedly told me I didn’t have to sleep with him, that I would never have to sleep with him when I didn’t want to, we took an Uber back to my house so I could sleep in my own bed. My system adjusted, and the warmth from J’s body enclosed me like a protective shield. He placed his hand firmly on my chest, where my heartbeat was descending steadily. While the sun rose, I began to regain the parts of myself that had shattered in the bathtub hours before. I fell asleep next to J as sunlight peeked through the thin slivers in the blinds and made elongated shapes on the wall.

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