As a psychiatrist, although I prefer the less rigid term ‘therapist’, working in the field, I have counselled clients with a variety of mental health disorders. I have over 20 years’ experience on three continents and have worked everywhere from hospitals to prisons, day centres to schools, military facilities to Britain’s National Health Service. But private practice in Seattle has proved surprisingly challenging. A large part of that is down to one particular client: CEO, entrepreneur, parasomniac, haphephobic and BDSM practitioner, billionaire, one Christian Trevelyan-Grey.
He is, without doubt, one of the most intriguing and challenging clients I have ever had. His intelligence, arrogance, and formidable sense of self-preservation and isolation, make it particularly difficult to get through to him; I have to say that progress is slow… or possibly less pro-active than that.
I sometimes wonder if our sessions are less about therapy that leads to change, and more about being an opportunity for him to have a no-holds barred conversation about the things he can’t, or won’t, discuss with anyone else. I have to assume it helps or he wouldn’t continue to come; as his therapist, I have to believe that.
Today I want to press him about his relationship with his family – and I know he won’t like this. Frankly, he doesn’t like being challenged on any level, yet he continues to come here. I must presume he finds something useful in our sessions. He is a paradox.
I note he is precisely on time, as usual. He has never been late, although his assistant has rescheduled some appointments at short notice.
And as always, he is immaculately dressed, but today, I observe that he has removed his tie. I would suggest that this shows he is beginning to relax a little with me. A small amount of progress, after all, perhaps?
“Good evening, Mr Grey.”
“How have you been since we last met?”
He sighs. “Fifty shades of fucked up.”
“Why do you say that?”
“You’re the doctor.”
“That is an evasive answer, Mr Grey, wouldn’t you say?”
He scowls. I’m sure it’s a look that makes most of his employees quail.
“Well, is there anything in particular you would like to discuss with me today?”
He shrugs and looks away. I repress a sigh: it’s one of those sessions where defibrillating a stone would have more effect.
“In that case, Mr Grey, let me pick a topic: your family, for example.”
He sits up straight in the wing-chair and frowns.
“What about them?”
“How would you describe your relationship with them? With your father, for example?”
I wait. Finally, he speaks.
I wait for another word. He waits, too. This session could be very long – and very silent.
“Would you like to risk another adjective, Mr Grey?”
We wait again. He sighs.
“My father is a compassionate man, an astute lawyer; he’s… good.”
There’s that word again.
“That describes your father; I asked how you would describe your relationship with him.”
“We’ve already covered that.”
“Hardly, Mr Grey. I don’t consider a one word answer to cover a topic.”
“It depends on the topic.”
More evasion. I try a different tack.
“Well, perhaps you would be more forthcoming if I asked you to describe your relationship with your mother.”
I really hope he doesn’t say ‘good’ again or I may have to consider retraining as an orthodontist.
“She saved me.”
“You mean because as a young child she adopted you? How would you describe your relationship now? For example, would you describe your relationship as close?”
“Can you give me an example of that?”
He frowns. “What do you mean?”
“What would you define as a ‘close’ relationship with her? Seeing each other, talking on the phone, sharing things in your life? You tell me, Mr Grey.”
He shrugs. “All those things, I guess.”
“Give me an example of something in your life that you’ve shared with your mother recently – in the last week, say.”
“I’ve been busy this week.”
“Well, in the last month then; an example of the close relationship you’ve agreed you have with her.”
“I work a lot, Dr Flynn.”
“I’m aware of that, Mr Grey. In the last two months?”
“Can we change the fucking record before tedium takes its toll,” he snaps.
He’s angry because he can’t give me an example. I want him to understand that relationships have to be worked at, to be managed, just like business.
“Have you ever heard the saying, Mr Grey, that on one’s death bed, no-one ever wished they’d spent more time at the office?”
“Isn’t that a rather simplistic, if not trite observation, Dr Flynn?”
“On the contrary, I think it encapsulates a great deal. The nutshell of my point, Mr Grey, which you are forcing me to use a sledgehammer to crack, is that you claim you have a close relationship with your parents, yet you are unable to give me one single, recent example of how you demonstrate that closeness. I might postulate that either the relationship is not as close as you claim… or that you are deliberately keeping your distance from your parents. In either case, I’d be very interested to know why.”
He stands suddenly, his face white with fury.
“You know nothing about my relationship with my parents, absolutely fuck-all!”
I remain sitting, my face impassive, but inside I’m delighted with his visceral response.
“My point entirely, Mr Grey. Nicely summed up if I might say so.”
He is speechless; I’m relieved when his anger turns to something that might look like grudging admiration, were I not a mere humble psychiatrist.
He takes a deep breath and sits down, leaning back in the chair, his eyes closed.
“My parents are two wonderful people. I couldn’t have had better parents; they’ve always done what they thought was right by me. They saved me; without them I’d probably be dead – or in jail – by now. But…”
I wait; he mustn’t stop now.
“But they don’t know me. They don’t know what I’m really like – what I’m capable of.”
“Are you referring to your BDSM relationships?”
“Yes. Mostly that.”
“How do you think they would react if they knew?”
His mouth twists unhappily. “They mustn’t know; not ever.”
“What if they did?”
“They’d be… disappointed, disgusted. Like any sane person.”
“As I understand it BDSM is a lifestyle choice within a safe, sane, consensual environment; it deviates from social norms, but that doesn’t make it insane. I’m sure you’re aware of this.”
“Semantics, Dr Flynn.”
“A medical definition, Mr Grey. But how do you think your parents would respond if they knew?”
“Of course they’d walk away – they should.”
This surprises me. “You think they would… abandon you?”
He doesn’t reply but instead stares directly at me, his expression carefully controlled. It seems that fear of abandonment is at the heart of his secrecy. And of course, he sees his mother’s death as a form or abandonment; it has led to this deep-seated anxiety that he would be abandoned again if his parents knew the ‘truth’ about him.
I sense I won’t get any further with this line of questioning tonight.
“You say that your parents don’t know of your contractual relationships.”
“As I’ve said, ad fucking nauseum, Dr Flynn.”
“What sort of relationships do they think you have?”
He smiles, a cold, cynical twist of the lips.
“They don’t know; they suspect I’m either gay or celibate; in either case, they think I’m repressed.”
“They’ve never asked you?”
“They respect my boundaries.” He raises an eyebrow.
“So you find it more acceptable that they think you’re something you’re not: gay, repressed, celibate, than that you have safe, sane, consensual if contractual relationships with women?”
“So you believe your parents’ love is conditional on not knowing what you have described as the ‘real’ you?”
A sharp intake of breath alerts me to his heightened reaction to my question.
I wait… and wait.
“Yes,” he whispers, his eyes closed in pain.
And here we are. At last.
I speak slowly and carefully, feeling my way.
“Would you say you feel undeserving of your parents’ love because they don’t know… the ‘truth’ about you? That you are… in essence… unloveable?”
He nods, unable to speak.
Finally he drags in a deep breath and looks at me again. “I whip and fuck little brown haired girls because I need it. I’m fucked up; my parents have had to deal with enough in their lives. I put them through hell as a teenager – they don’t need to know all this fucking shit about me. It would… it would kill them.”
I decide to press him, to take him further.
“And you don’t think that the distance you deliberately keep from them isn’t painful, for them?”
He looks angry again.
“It’s simply better that way, Dr Flynn, for obvious fucking reasons.”
“The reasons may appear obvious to you, but will not appear obvious to them. They will simply see you distancing yourself from them.”
He glares and crosses his arms, his body language closed in and defensive. But I have made him think, I hope. I change the subject, allowing him some room to step back mentally.
“You said that you ‘whip and fuck little brown haired girls’, correct?”
“Accurately remembered, Dr Flynn,” he says, his voice dripping with sarcasm.
“Why did you choose those words? They sound… rehearsed.”
He looks surprised. “It’s just the way I think of them.”
“Of all of them?”
“Do you think of them all in the same way?”
“Dr Flynn, I have no idea what the collective noun might be: a chain of subs?”
“Very droll, Mr Grey.”
He’s using sarcasm as a defence mechanism.
“Describe a typical scene for me.”
“Let’s call it background research.”
“Very well. She will wait by the door of my playroom in the appropriate position…”
“Kneeling, eyes cast down, naked except for her panties.”
“I see. Please continue.”
“I enter the room and decide which pieces of equipment I want to use. I enjoy using the saltire, the crux decussata, as the key restraining device; so once she is fettered, I’ll decide whether or not to give her an orgasm, depending on whether or not she has pleased me. I decide which toys I want to use, dildo, vibrator, anal beads, whip, cane, or flogger – and then I fuck her into next week, Dr Flynn, several times.”
Oh dear, Mr Grey, you’ll have to do better than that if you want to shock me.
“Very succinct, Mr Grey. And would you say you derive the most sexual gratification from her submission or from sexual congress?”
He thinks for a moment. “I’d say it’s about fifty-fifty, Dr Flynn.”
“And for your submissives?”
“What about them?”
Again, he seems unable to empathise, to think about or care about their reactions.
“Do you think they derive most sexual gratification from corporal punishment, submission to you, or sexual gratification through consummation?”
He frowns. “I don’t know.”
“You never asked?”
“Why would I?”
“To ascertain their levels of satisfaction.”
He shrugs, arrogant. “I’m very good at what I do, Dr Flynn. I have, you might say, developed an enhanced sense of what women want.”
“Interesting, Mr Grey: ‘an enhanced sense of what women want’ – only some women, of course, because the BDSM lifestyle is a minority one.”
“I give the women in my playroom extreme sexual pleasure. What is your point, Dr Flynn?”
“Twofold: that you refer to the women in your playroom as a generic type rather than individuals; and that your sexual relations with women have been limited.”
He looks amazed, almost amused.
“Why yes, Mr Grey. Have you ever considered having a non-contractual, non-BDSM relationship with a woman based on, oh, let’s be old fashioned, friendship, for example?”
“You mean vanilla sex?”
“I mean a relationship that doesn’t simply isolate sex as its only criteria.”
“That wouldn’t be enough for me.”
“So you have tried it?”
He looks uncomfortable.
“No, I haven’t,” he admits, at last.
“So, what makes you so sure that a relationship based on friendship rather than just sex wouldn’t be ‘enough’?”
“It just wouldn’t.”
“So you say, but why do you think this?”
He frowns. “This is the only kind of relationship I’m interested in.”
“Mr Grey, you do seem to be singularly lacking in curiosity for a man of your intelligence.”
He gapes at me, then anger flares in his eyes.
“You make some fucking big assumptions, doctor.”
“So do you, Mr Grey.”
His jaw tightens and his body radiates fury; for the first time during our sessions I’m relieved to know that my security buzzer is close at hand under my desk.
But he controls himself, although his breathing is still rapid.
“Something to think about, Mr Grey,” I say quietly.
He leans back in his chair, his eyes still blazing.
“Let me ask you another question, Mr Grey; you come here and sometimes you want to talk to me and sometimes you don’t; sometimes I think you want to shock me; sometimes you act as if my questions irritate you; you haven’t disclosed your lifestyle to your family, so I wondered: other than me, is there anyone else who knows about you, about your lifestyle, with whom you are completely open and honest? A friend, perhaps? Maybe even one of your subs?”
He snorts with laughter. “Talk to my subs? Hardly!”
“Anyone at all?”
“There is one person,” he muses.
I wait, unrewarded.
“Who is this person?”
“A friend, you could say.”
“And what does your friend think of your lifestyle?”
He replies grudgingly.
“She’s in the scene.”
“A sub? An ex-sub?”
“Yes and no.”
“Mr Grey, that is a rather cryptic answer: could you perhaps be a little more specific?”
“Yes, she subbed for me; no she’s not an ex-sub.”
He sighs. “She’s a Domme, like me. But she subbed for me for a while when I was learning the scene.”
“I see. And you met her how exactly?”
His expression turns sullen, childish almost.
“I met her when I was 15.”
And now he has shocked me. “You’re talking about the woman who seduced you when you were 15?”
“And you count her as a friend today.”
“She knows me better than anyone.”
An interesting way of avoiding the question.
He moves in his chair and looks at his watch. Clearly this topic makes him very uncomfortable – which makes me all the more curious, of course.
“I don’t want to talk about her, Dr Flynn. Not now.”
I agree: I think, for today, we have done enough.