Reading – as we all know – is fundamental! WINGS sat down with Stein Subman (he/him), a 58-year-old author from The Hague in The Netherlands who has just released his first BDSM novel Top Down.
In the book Stein explores what it means to rediscover sex as a gay man in his fifties who has been living with HIV/AIDS for almost half of his life. It’s a kinky, honest and engaging read that will leave you hungry for more, plus it’s available on Amazon as an e-book in English and Dutch, but more on that later!
Stein, what is your book about?
“The main character is a gay man who has just ended a long-term relationship and around the same time his mother passed away. He inherits her house and decides to move in. His friends help him to renovate his new home including a friend that he has liked for quite some time. It’s a friendship between two tops – at least that’s what the protagonist assumes at the beginning of the book. His friend on the other hand is not convinced of that at all. He wants to start a relationship with the protagonist but only on his own terms. The main character is up for that and when they start dating he finds out a lot of new things about himself. Apparently he’s not the person he thought he was.”
Which explains the title of the book: Top Down. It might be important to note that the relationship they start is based on master-slave dynamics. It’s not an autobiography, but there are a lot of your personal experiences in the novel, right?
“I write about my own experiences and about my fantasies. It started out with writing down my fantasies on paper and in the meantime, I found a Master in real life. At the moment I’m writing the sequel and there are a lot of things in there that I have experienced since then, like the way I communicate with my Master. But for the reader, it’s never quite clear what is real and what is made up. The main character is called Pisbak which means Urinal in Dutch. It’s a slave name that my previous Master gave to me and I still carry that name with pride.”
While we’re on the subject of what’s real and what’s not… are you in your mother’s house right now (editor’s note: we’re doing the interview through a video call)?
“No, hahaha. I’m happy to say that my mother is still alive. She’s in her nineties and she still has her wits about her. I’m in a stable ‘normal’ relationship that has been going strong for 38 years. It’s nice and fun. My husband gives me space to live out my kinks and to experience exciting new things outside of our relationship.”
In Top Down you write about gay men in their fifties living their best sexual lives; men who have survived the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Why do you think it’s important to talk about that?
“I’m HIV positive and when I was 27 I found out that I had AIDS. I was really ill for some time. Luckily, I never had to deal with guys not wanting to have sex with me because of it. It was never problematic. I’m a healthy man and it’s important for me to share that in my writings. I take my medication once a day and I’m fine. The book takes place in 2014. People didn’t know yet that Undetectable=Untransmittable and Pisbak is still dealing with being infected. In the back of his mind he feels this heavy responsibility of not passing on the virus to his sexual partners. As the story progresses he gradually starts to relax about it. I touch on that deliberately. You can also play with that premise. Let’s say someone keeps you in sensory deprivation for an extended period of time, then there’s at least this one moment during the day – when you get your pill – that you know that 24 hours have passed.”
PrEP and the fact that Undetectable=Untransmittable have made it easier for gay men to enjoy sex again without the constant fear of infection. They have created a newfound sense of sexual freedom within many of us.
“The last few years I’ve rediscovered my sexuality. It gives me a lot of pleasure. I also see that other men my age are having fun with being sexually active. I’m also more willing to experiment again. My current Master was confronted with my fear of whips. The first generation of HIV medication left me with almost no fat under my skin for a long time. Ten or fifteen years ago I broke my skin because someone hit me with a whip. When I started seeing my new Master he told me my skin feels really good. He wanted to help me face my fears and conquer them. He took the initiative and whipped me. At that moment I let go of my past a little bit. I realized I was a healthy man and not the sick person that I had been. All of the things that I’m experimenting with now confirm how healthy I am these days.”
What is the most thrilling or titillating fantasy that you included in your book?
“When the Master decides to completely disclose the nature of their relationship without deliberating with the slave. In that moment Pisbak realizes that he needs to accept that his Master will decide what his life will be like; that it’s his Master who will make future decisions for him. He just needs to trust in him to make those choices. I love that idea.”
Is this something that you’ve personally experienced?
“In my own life I’ve become part of a leather family. My Master has multiple slaves and we all meet from time to time. It’s a world that’s completely new to me. He actually does take the initiative more and more. He doesn’t deliberate. He also shows the outside world that I’m his slave. He might tell me it’s a good idea to sit down on my knees in front of him when we’re out in public. He took me to a straight hard rock café once and told me to sit on the floor while he was seated on a chair. We were both in full leather. People walked by and they knew exactly what was going on; they looked interested. I felt safe because I was with him and he knew everyone in that bar. Sometimes when we go to a restaurant he decides what I’ll eat. He orders without asking. None of those examples may sound earth-shattering but they do reflect the position that I’m in and they really excite me!”
I can see that from your face. Your eyes are shining and your cheeks are red of excitement hahaha. One last question, is there anything else you would like to share with us about the book that we haven’t talked about yet?
“It’s my intention to write a series of novels, so keep an eye out for that, there’s more coming! I would like to tell you where my penname – Stein Subman – comes from. There’s this thick BDSM novel called Carried Away. I read it on a holiday many years ago and when I finished it I was sad to have to say goodbye to the characters. I looked up the author, David Stein, on the internet and I found out that he was an important figure in the San Francisco leather scene. He came up with the concept of ‘safe, sane and consensual’ sex. He spread the word about that in leather bars and clubs to help gay men protect themselves better during the HIV crisis of the eighties and nineties. I contacted David and asked him if there would ever be a sequel to Carried Away. He told me he had never had a SM relationship that lasted for more than five months and that he didn’t want to write about things that hadn’t happened to him. He felt writing a new book with the same characters would make his stories implausible. For many years I wanted to write my own BDSM novel. Then lockdown happened; I was at home all the time; and one day I got behind my computer and I just started writing! As a tribute to David Stein I call myself Stein Subman.”