Podcast

TRANSforming & Living More Authentically with Raj Bandyopadhy

On this episode of LaidOPEN Podcast, Charna invites former Data Scientist & current photographer and Sex and Relationship Coach, Raj Bandyopadhy onto the podcast. Raj defines himself as a straight man in a queer poly marriage with his partner Andy. Together, Charna and Raj discuss a variety of topics related to this experience including identity, authentic creative expression, the rigidity of marriage in a heteronormative culture, poly relationships vs ethical nonmonogamy & creating your own rules. We also talk about when Raj’s husband came out as transgender, defining BDSM and the power of being behind the camera. I hope you enjoy this episode because we enjoyed making it. If you’re moved by my work, please like, share, and review so more people can find our community.


Show Notes

Welcome to the Laid Open podcast with Charna Caselle. Today we’re going to explore the complexity of identity, being in a transgender and polyamorous partnership, living a more authentic aligned existence, how embodiment helps deepen intuition, how BDSM dynamics can serve as a template to assist photographers and being more attuned to their clients. I’m so excited for this conversation.

I’m sitting here today with Raj Bandyopadhy. In 2016, Raj was a data scientist at a hot Silicon Valley startup with a comfortable six figure salary status that came from success in a sexy field and only a mild sense of midlife dissatisfaction. Then, his partner, his then wife of eight years came out as transgender. Seeing his partner find joy in his true self force Raj to just ask the question, what do I need to change in my life to feel true to myself, that journey led him to training as a sex and relationship coach pursuing his creative passion and eventually finding a fulfilling life as an artist and photographer in New York City. Today, as a personal branding photographer, he helps coaches and entrepreneurs convey their full multifaceted, vibrant stories on camera. He believes that being true to yourself, and being vulnerable with others is not only a great way to live, but also the best way to build a deep, genuine and lasting connection with your clients. An audience. Welcome.

I’m excited to be here.

I’m so happy to have you. Do you? Would you Where would you like to start? What do you want my audience to know?

Well, depends on your audience, I have a lot of things to say. I mean, that I could talk about, I can talk about my career journey I can what I would have learned and that, you know, changing I pursuing going from like a very kind of analytical engineering, that sort of tech career did like a very artistic and, you know, Creative Entrepreneurship career, I can talk about that I can talk about my personal relationship and sexuality journey, both through the jobs of me and my partner bio, and sexuality. And then me and my partner figuring out our open kind of Polly relationship, and then how we navigated his gender transition. So all of that there’s open, there’s so so many transitions, right, it sounded like there was a really big starting point with your partner transitioning to being transgender coming out, and, and fully accepting himself. Yeah. And then, you know, there was a choice point, there were a lot of ways you could have responded to that, and you stayed together. And then that obviously affects your identity. Yep. And so I’m really, yeah, I’m really curious to hear more about how that impacted. I mean, you’re it impacted your identity on multiple levels, right, and your professional as well as your personal and then as an Indian man, how that you know, how you how you navigate that culturally? Right and in your family. So, any one of those pieces really.

So the identity question is, is really interesting, right? Because before my partner’s transition, we looked like a hetero couple, right? And I have always identified as straight and I still do in terms of my sexuality and who I’m attracted to sexually. However, because my partner has transitioned from female to male and now we know many situations passes as male, I am perceived as being queer and gay, in a gay relationship. So that is, that is an interesting identity piece that that I have to wrestle with, like, do I belong in the queer community or not? It’s like, you know, so I don’t often take it as on a case by case basis like after, after a transition, my my partner joined the San Francisco based gay men scores go living in San Francisco at the time. And because of that, you know, it’s a huge chorus of like 300 men who sang at the assemblies and partners and stuff like that. So we automatically ended up getting having this huge gay male community. And we were very welcoming that they always invited us to parties and events and concerts and rehearsal. And it was always an interesting feeling. For me, it’s like, do I really belong here today, which would be perfectly like I belong, but like, in some sense, you know, I was part of that community, we partnered with a sigma that grew. But also, I didn’t have that experience of gay male culture, like a male culture is a culture in itself, right? Whether it’s gay, me and our lesbian or like any other queer community, like they have their own cultures, and you sort of grow up in that. Right. And I didn’t have that experience. So that was an interesting question to wrestle with. I think right now I just describe myself as a straight man in a queer marriage. That seems to work, especially in cities like New York and San Francisco, where people don’t really care as much about stuff. But outside of that, I do do get the question.

So then how, how is that when you travel back to India? Does your parent come with you? And how does your family respond?

That’s a really good question. So I am not, I did not get the chance to come out to my parents, they both are in our we didn’t get the chance because they passed away. My mom passed away a while ago, and I don’t know how I don’t think she would have handled it. Well. My, my dad was much more open minded about, you know, even though he was, you know, he was an Indian guy born in the 40s. But he was much more open minded about queer people, I think that he would have come around. But unfortunately, I didn’t get to. I have extended family like cousins and uncles and on Stop uncle for now and for like, really very old and not even on the internet or anything. So it’s like, kind of like a group. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell with all my cousins. Like, we just don’t talk to them about this stuff. With my cousins, whereby it’s interesting, I kind of let them take them take the lead on this, like, our cousins or friends. Like, Andy, my partner and I are very out on Facebook and social media, we don’t hide what we are. We have pictures, we have stories. So some people are much more curious and open minded. And they have come to me when I’m in India and say, Hey, tell me what’s going on here. And I’ve been open about it and they’ve accepted it. Others are more circumspect. They’re like, like, Okay, I understand, but like, I only want to talk about this anymore. And some people just act like, I still have a wife. And it’s all like that, nothing has changed. And I’m just like, Okay, so I’m not gonna like, you know, I’m not I try not to venture forth at all on point anybody. Yeah, in terms of going to India together. That’s kind of an interesting thing. The only time when Andy and I after transition went to India together, was when my dad passed in 2018. And if we went to his funeral, this was still within a year of his studying to take hormones. And so he’s still like, you know, did not pass as much as a man. So what we decided he decided for that time was like, as long as we were hanging on to Stan Lee, you just fossils. Oh, cool woman got it. It was hard for him. But that was not the best. But it was just like for him just kind of framed it as okay, I’m just gonna wear drag for a couple of weeks. Like, Dragon. Yeah, that was fine. But outside of that, it was it was an interesting experience. Like, before that when we went to India together as an Indian man married to white woman, it was there was a lot of like, it was like, it could be very stressful, because there was a lot of street harassment or like, catcalling or whatever. But also, a lot of people try to sell sell shit, right? You want to like an Indian street in a big city, like people are always going to try and sell stuff, especially when they see what they perceive as a white woman. That’s right. All right, like you just get it. And after transition, especially in the box, when he was not passing as a woman, he just decided to be himself. We were just perceived as you know, two male friends walking together because we were careful not to like you know, do anything to couldn’t be a different impression. But I remember like that we walked through one of the busiest streets in Mumbai, like busiest markets, and it was complete silence. Like silence as in like, there’s a lot of noise, but nobody nothing directed at us. Nobody tried to sell anything. Nobody tried to like harass anyone. I could get used to this.

That’s fascinating, right? Like this gendered perception and said, and yeah, that have been no we spent a night we always wanted to get away from the funeral stuff because I had to spend getaway night in this really fancy hotel, and we went to dinner. And the dinner like, you know, was in a fancy in the flat in a fancy restaurant that was in the hotel and the dress code was like upscale. And the only upscale clothing that Randy had at that time was like a woman women’s like top. And so he wore that and everyone was like, man, bam, bam. And the next morning, we went to like the free breakfast buffet in the hotel. We just like a T shirt. The jeans, everyone was like, sir, sir. So, right. His mind was blown. He was like, I have always dreamed of hacking gender. And now I know how to do it. Yes. It’s like, wow. Like, so those are some really interesting experiences. It’s it. I found that it Oh, like, yes, dealing with family is hard. But like otherwise, actually, there’s some benefits to being perceived as just two men, though. Yeah. And the other aspect though, is legal. So anti has permanent residency in India, based on my you knows, former citizenship. And because I grew up in India, I was an Indian citizen. And so in India as a stain call, like the overseas citizen of India card, which is a permanent resident, like a green card in there in the US. So if you were born in India, even if you like, get citizenship from another country, you are eligible for that. And then for the person, if you’re married, your spouse is eligible for that. So Andy had that based on marriage. And except that India doesn’t recognize same sex marriage. When he transition and change the gender on his passport, we were like, Okay, what happens to this green card now? Alright, so we went to the Indian embassy, and we were like, alright, we want to change name, and we want to change gender. And the officials of the embassy were like, they were very nice, but they were like, we can change the name. Everyone changes names all the time, but we have no regulations around gender. And we don’t even know if it’s, like bureaucratically or legally, constitutionally possible. And so we’re like, okay, like, they were just like, we don’t have the route guidelines or rules. It wasn’t like a bad thing. They were less lenient, like kick us out anything. I’d say we kind of searched her out and found this like consultant who used to work at the embassy. And it was like, you know, that I know, some people I can make this happen. So he got it done. And so I do have a permanent residency in like an Indian permanent residence card that says male male, it also says that he’s married to be, we haven’t traveled to India together, or he hasn’t traveled to India since. So we do not know what a border control official will do when they see that, wow. We don’t know if it’s actually legal. Like, if they are like, if somebody is like, Hey, wait, you’re married, you’re mad, but you have a permanent residency based on that we can’t let you in. Or they’ll be like, whatever. Just go ahead. We don’t know. Yeah. So we actually and we also actually don’t know if we like in any way Our marriage is legal or accepted in India, which is a really kind of strange situation. To be in, we actually when we were going through that process, and we reached out to some of the top like queer lawyers in India, like we are rights lawyers, and they were just like, India recognizes three genders, male, female, and transgender, which is specifically to the transgender community in India. That exists, but they were like, We have no idea of what the marriage regulations for transgender people are. Right? Because nobody, like there’ll be no laws passed around that.

Well, it’s exciting because it’s potentially groundbreaking, like, you know, you could potentially be the first person that it’s you just don’t know, Oh, nobody

asked to be a Supreme Court test case. And yeah, well, I don’t want to deal with that. It’s a lot. Yeah, we have gotten requests from like, some really well known lawyers in India. Okay, you’re a very good candidate for this.

Thank you for sharing. So coming back to your your life here. And and how your partner is transitioning, and really stepping into authentically who he was helped you start to reflect on yourself and how, you know, it’s like, well, wait a second, what what would what would be more real for me to live into? And how that then impacted your career choices. And you know, even even doing things like somatic, what your transition was, from, you know, going to tech to being a photographer, and how that like stepping into a more authentic self expression, how your partner modeled that for you, but then how you took that and ran with it in other aspects of your life.

Yeah, I take so basically, it has to start back in India and the way I grew up, like I grew up in a very kind of lower middle class family. My mom was a middle school teacher. My dad was a chemical engineer. And it was basically like, I happen to be a quote unquote smart kid. Will God who could do really well in tests and academies. And so the standard expected that out follow like, you know, one of the few boards in my career likely to be a doctor or an engineer or something that brings more like, you know, money and status as much as my parents didn’t see. So pretty much the choice of, you know, becoming an going into tech. And I, that kind of, you know, continued for me in that, as I grew up as a teenager, I like, you know, India has a very kind of competitive education system. So I bought into, like one of the top colleges for engineering. And so there was kind of like, it wasn’t ever really a choice, right? It was just kind of like, okay, one thing just leads to another, this other expectation that I placed in me, and I didn’t know any better or different about making a different choice, I didn’t have any the resources, right, you’re making a choice for your family, right, you’re making a choice for yourself, and the really important thing. Exactly, and yeah, and then I think, in cultures like that, sometimes, and depending on how you grew up, you may not even realize that you have that choice, right? There is a different way to learn. It’s not because you are so kind of brought up with the idea that your life is always better to be like in a party and to please others, or like, you know, for family, or others. So anyway, I was in tech, I went to grad school after my undergrad at the US got a PhD started getting, you know, tech jobs and so on. But again, it was very much like, this is the job and I was good at it, I was better than average of the programmer, but I enjoy the transition to becoming a data scientist. And like, there are lots of aspects of tech that I like, and the challenge at the end, like there’s a very analytical part of my brain that that really needs it, but it’s still never felt like something that really was being and I think there was some part of me that missed that like the option of making that choice. So as I started exploring my sexuality, you know, first working with somatic honor, sex coach, and then things America, I think what happened was getting in touch with my body, getting in touch with the idea that I can have desires, or I can have boundaries, which are like really two very critical things that you learn when you’re doing any kind of sexuality work. Right? Because before that, especially as a straight person, you will, your role is kind of yours. Even your sexuality is kind of prescribed by society, right? It’s like, you get married to a woman and this is how you have sex. They’re like, you know, Bonilla, things you can do everything outside that is like really kinky yet, you don’t typically want to do that, like whatever they’re like these various, you know, at that at some point, you have kids and you know, that’s what happened. Like, it’s so prescribed, right? And so, when we started exploring when I started exploring this, working with, with, with a sex coach and relationship coach, I was like, first of all, my mind was blown by the fact that my definition of sex was so narrow, right and small, because that there’s so much more to it. And then there is actually this whole kind of, you know, exploration of like, what do I want? What do I enjoy? What do I not enjoy? It doesn’t have to be an obligation, it doesn’t have to be something I do just for others it can be something that I really enjoy for myself going back to this piece about desire and boundaries and again, how that’s not just shaped by being stripped but shaped by your culture. Right you know, North America’s like boundary boundary boundary, you go to China, it’s a very different story, or you go to India, it’s a different story. And so, you know, you are learning so many layers of if I could imagine your brain just going

Yeah, no, it was hard. It took a couple of years to even kind of start like getting that but what happened is once I did get that, then that didn’t those that knowledge or that understanding doesn’t didn’t stay confined to sex. It’s like, oh, wait, like this is something that feels fulfilling to be in my body or like, you know, feels like in accordance with my desire set boundaries of my body, insects, wait, I’m noticing the same feelings at work. Exactly like some things at work or graphing my own boundaries, some things like work I’m making me feel more fulfilled than others and desires and boundaries that are that are around work. And so then I started noticing things at work or around work around my career that will give me the same kinds of feelings. And so getting a more intuitive sense of like what I really enjoyed about work versus what I did.

So when you’re saying so when I want to pause you there for a second because I think it’s really important is that the more you came into your body, right that embodiment and connection to paying attention to what feels good, what do I desire? What don’t I desire, actually, so related to sex it also related to work and other parts of your life and it started to help you connect to your intuition which also lives in your body. Yeah. And guided decisions.

Exactly. And given you know, when you when you grew up in a more like social culture as opposed to individual culture, yeah, often you completely lose any sense of like, what do I desire versus what am I supposed to do? Desire, right, you use that distinction. And I think the work I did with sexuality kind of helped me get back in touch with that intuition. And get back in touch with like, what do I desire, and once I started on that path, it couldn’t stop.

It’s so beautiful. It’s also really, I just want to acknowledge, it’s just really, it’s really courageous to, you know, that it’s something that I think people in North America take for granted that like, the NI cultures versus we cultures, that there’s this orientation to what I want and what feels good to me versus how, you know, when you’re doing any kind of internal work, you’re releasing all of these, like familial and cultural belief systems of how you’re supposed and they’re so unconscious and subconscious. Yeah. And so you have to mind so much like, you just take things as facts like this is the way it is rather than, you know, like, oh, wait a second, this is just a belief, I can change this.

So when I said, noticing that I was like, okay, like, as I’m noticing things, and oh, boy, there is like so much about the corporate world that just wasn’t working for me the nature of work today, and suddenly reflect a lot of those things are things that people are talking about now, after 2020, right, the lack of flexibility, like, you know, all of these weird expectations at work like that, you know, you have to be there at certain times, and so on the lag, you know, all kinds of stuff that people are now recognizing, in 2020, and 2021, a lot of people are leaving their corporate careers right now to start doing their own thing because of that. Yeah. So a lot of those things are things I started feeling at that time that 2016 Or even before or, like, all, I was feeling them for a while, but actually noticing those feelings. Oh, like, there’s a lot of things about vote, like why specific career or job but also about nature of work, in general, that are just not working for me. And I just couldn’t see myself anymore. Like, you know, doing that for like, a long period of time, I’m like, I don’t want to be 50 doing the same thing, even if I’m making a lot more money and all that. And at the same time, I was also starting to notice how much joy photography caught me. Like, I have a very, like, you know, just very amateur photographer than me that was better, you know, a good average shop, like my friends loved my photos, and so on. But I noticed that even if I get a photoshoot with a friend, and the photos were complete shit, the presence brought me so much joy. And I was like, oh, there’s something here that I need to need you to think about. And then the decision point happened in a very interesting way. It’s this was like March or April 2017. And I was I had started taking sabbatical training to become a coach. And I was going through going through the early part of that. And then a friend of mine sent me a link to a job. And this was a job for a director level role at a big back where the the big bank was going to set up the center for artificial intelligence in San Francisco, and they needed somebody to like run the center, and like hire all the people and stuff. Very fancy, lots of cash secured, imagine no bad money at any problem. Let’s see what happened. Like, you know, this is something I could actually like, get. So I went to this grueling interview process, which took like several weeks, had several rounds of interviews, and I got an awful, and it wasn’t as fancy as I had imagined, like, you know, like, several, multiple, multiple, six figures, all kinds of stuff. And I was like, Okay, I want to take a week to reflect on this. And that was agonizing. Wow. Because on one hand, it was like everything I could, you know, like, I should want the next slide. On the other hand, like my body was just like shutting down.

Can you describe, can you can you when you say your body was shutting down? Can you describe some of the sensations because I think this is very relatable, and it’s such important information for other people to be able to go, Oh, those sensations me know.

Yeah. I mean, but it’s still, you know, I was very confused about like, Is this is this, like, Is this happening? Because I’m just scared of this job. Right? Because it’s like, you know, fancy like, you know, lots of responsibility, or there’s something more to that, because that it took me a week to understand. And it was something more it was just like a repulsion. Because like, every time I thought of myself imagine myself in that role, even though they were even with all the money even with all the status and everything. It was just like so what you’re doing right now, right so I can see you and no one else can but everything’s kind of pulling in and up, and he’s like squeezing his hand. So as Justin is making a face like he’s like, Whoa, I smelled something really stinky.

Yeah, exactly. That is like this is Oh, yeah. So I like couldn’t ignore that. So basically, on the Monday, I was supposed to make a decision, I set up a meeting with the founder of of the startup I was working at. Fortunately, I had a very good relationship with them as for the employee, and I was like, I walk into the CEOs office, and I’m like, I show him off a ledger. And his face just drops. And he’s like, he thinks I just want more money. Now, like, he’s like, I can’t pay you that much money. I’m like, No, I don’t want that much money. I don’t want any more more money from you. What I want is like, you know, if if, you know, I want is the option to go part time and work three days a week for 60% fee? That’s awesome. You know, so is that something you’re open to? And he was, he was just, like, so relieved? And he was like, Sure, let’s do it. So it’s like, you know, on one hand, it’s like something that triples my current table. So 60% of my current, you can tell from that even like, where my head was, right? How much how much, like, how important it was for me to like, do something that was like that, that, that gave me that pleasure, or gave me that joy?

Well, it’s what’s important about that it’s, you know, this thing of like, what do we value? And how do we make decisions, right? So it’s like, okay, so ultimately, I value what feels good inside myself and, and being aligned with myself more than I value this, you know, $500,000 a year or something? Yeah.

Yeah. And I’ve got for one day, I mean, there are lots of days where I’m like, This isn’t like, like, I’m frustrated at this, you know, trying to build my own business and photography and building a creative business and how, like, you know, the lots of days that I that I’m frustrated at No, at all, but not for one day, I felt like, oh, I should have taken that job.

Good. I’m so glad. Congratulations. Again, another courageous choice.

Yeah, I mean, it’s interesting. It’s like, I have worked things I’m very, like, I’m very much of a risk taker. Like I get this all the time. He wasn’t such a risk taker. I’m like, I’m not. Yes. Like, sometimes when you are compelled to do this, it doesn’t feel as risky. And especially if, you know, there are things that I have done to mitigate that risk. I mean, first of all, I didn’t just like quit my tech job and jump into photography, I worked part time for three, three years, in that three days a week role. So I could have the time and space to build my photography skills to a point where it could be considered as professional it also gave me the time to build some of my business skills to do so that’s one and secondly, my partner has a debt job and a deck income. So even though our life side has that flow reduced a little bit in terms of Willow, financial, whatever, we still are very, very comfortable. So there are there like, you know, mitigating factors, but sometimes it still people often perceive me as like, Oh, you’re such a risk taker or whatever. Like, because there’s this whole like projection or ideal.

There. Right. And you had strategy? Yeah. Can you share some about how this process for you and with your partner has influenced how the process you take your subjects through the people that you’re photographing? And how that has really informed and help you guide people?

Yeah, I think first, the first way it’s influenced me is who I work with. So I often work with people who are like coaches, or solo entrepreneur, or sometimes people who are like, trying to be like authors and speakers and stuff. But within that, I find that many other people who are drawn to working with people who have some kind of similar journey, where they weren’t at a place where they didn’t see children themselves, and they had some kind of transformation. And now they are the place where whatever they want to do, whether it’s like, get a different job, or like become a speaker, or start their own business or whatever. They wanted to do it from a sense of like purpose and joy and an authentic city and being being real, being vulnerable. Like, I know, like, you know, one of the things that I that I do not like I just say this all the time is that I don’t produce work. That’s Instagramming Hi, yeah, Nick, you know, I’m by that I mean, like, I don’t do work that’s past, perfect, perfect and positive. Like my work is very, very colorful. It’s all I do very intense black and whites to bow. And it’s, it’s not gonna just show you as being like perfect in every way. I wanted the vulnerability, I want a wide range of emotion. And definitely not all positive ones. Like there’s a culture on Instagram and branding of like, Oh, you just always have to show that you’re happy and like, you got it or cheated or whatever. And I’m like, I’m not interested in that. I think I want to show photos of like your you know, if your work involves being frustrated about something a lot, I want to show that frustration. If there is a part of your story that involves like, you know, the Being angry or being sad or a call about work show that because that makes you more human. And that makes you connect helps you connect with people more deeply your audience more deeply. The people who are drawn to my my work off, it drops to stories that I battled my way they have done something, they’ve gone through some kind of transformation, and they are now value aligned with me. And then the way I do my work is the first time I talk to a client, I’m always asking them, What is the story you want to tell? And for me a story I’m thinking, you know, when you when you talk about a story, a story always has an arc, there is no story without an OD, there’s no story without like, you know, a branded that you have to slay. Right? Like you start somewhere as a hero of a story. And then you have something that you have to like, conquer or some kind of like struggle that you go through, and then you come out of it being a different person, that is a story. So it story could never be like I was happy and unhappy. That’s not a story. It’s like, you know, so I want to get some kind of story and then capture the arc of that story. So, you know, it could be like, Oh, I was like, you know, burnt out and frustrated entrepreneur. And then like, I got, you know, I went through this transformation. And now I am a coach, and who helps other burned out entrepreneurs. But then I want to capture like, what did it feel like to be bought out? Let me show me that. Yeah, oh, what do you feel it feel to be frustrated to feel trapped in that career? Show me that show me let’s let’s pull those emotions out in photos? Or then what kind of transformation evolves? What helped you with that? What does that look like for you? And then what is today look like for you. So that gives you gives you a whole suite of photos of these various emotions, which let you tell all of your story to your audience. Right. And so that’s, you know, to me, like, you know, the whole idea of being true to yourselves consonant multiple levels. Absolutely. In my work.

I’m, I’m very interested in different definitions of freedom. Right? And you know, this podcast is very much about sexual freedom and what inhibits it and what enhances it and and when I think of sexuality and sexual energy, it’s it’s your lifeforce. It’s the energy that flows through you. It’s not just who you have sex with, or how you got sex. And, and so I’m, I’m curious to hear from you, you know, what’s your How would you define given especially like, you’re helping people through this process of capturing and individually telling the story of a movement towards more freedom, and aliveness? Right? Yeah, how, what’s your definition of freedom and sexual freedom?

That’s a, that’s a good question. Freedom from me, is, basically, is the ability to be able to learn and explore more about myself, in whatever way I choose. You know, one thing that I haven’t changed in is I’m always a nerd, I love learning, and the opportunity to learn new things like whatever I was not in practice, whether it’s photography, whether it’s, you know, King, like always be having have been able to explore, whatever you want to explore, I think that is for me, that for me is freedom. But then you have, you have a very good point that freedom, or other like any value that you will pick up is can mean or rates be expressed very differently by different people. So one of the big things that I tried to do with my work is, like, this is something I realized when I started learning what for more photography, as a professional as like, as photographers, we are often taught that we bring our vision to, to the to a photoshoot, and you show up as kind of a client, and I’m gonna tell you July, you know, where some things and post something in some ways, and that’s the photo shoot. And that doesn’t work for me. Because that, you know, it’s like, Yes, I’m an artist that I have a certain vision. But I am here to tell your story. And your story is like, you know, how do you express it is what I’m interested in. So a big part of my work and a big part of my sex and relationship coaching. And that training that I bring, is to kind of help extract that story from from my client, because sometimes they need that help it and then figuring out how do you visually express that story? For example, a very common value that my clients talk about is confidence. Everyone wants to look good, right? Right. But just simply some people confidence is like showing up in a business suit and striking a power pose, and they might genuinely feel confident that way. For some people, it’s like, hanging out in nature with like a flowy, red dress and dancing. That’s what they feel confident. And those are such different things. So what does it mean, you know, how does it serve my client? If I impose my definition of confidence on you, like oh, this is how people are supposed to look confident like that. That isn’t right. It’s not interesting. And it’s not like what we wanted to hear. Right? It would it’s also speaks to and I find this even, you know, in my work as a, as a body centered psychotherapist, if I’m doing body work with somebody, if you have an agenda, and you if you’re like, you’re gonna feel your legs, you’re gonna feel your chest, like if you do have that energy, and you’re putting it on someone, or if you’re, if you’re having sex with someone in real life, you’re gonna have an orgasm, right? All of those. Anytime you have an agenda, it is energetically communicated and felt as pressure on the person. Yep. And so it’s really important to go to step out of the agenda, at work and in bed. And allow, it’s like what wants to occur here, right? That’s really giving it space.

Yeah, I’m still kind of trying to figure that out. Because even like, you know, I have taken, I mess up my photography, learning is from taking workshops and online courses with well known photographers. And there is in photography, there’s so much of a culture of that having that agenda. Like as a photographer, you are taught to bring that agenda and the, you know, 15 poses that work for every woman or light here are, here’s the way you like to do this kind of situation. And what I’m trying to break is like, no, there is there is room for like, as you said, like what wants to happen. And it’s almost like bringing that somatic or coaching or like sex relationship kind of like, angle to my photoshoots. Like, I’ve been actually experimenting with this recently, where I have a sabbatical coach as my assistant in photo shoots, where they basically do a start with like a session, a coaching session, which really brings the client in their body and brings them into the present and what is happening, and helps us get away from that idea of what what should happen.

Yes, beautiful is so important. I want to underline that, like, the should is something I work so much with people around. It’s like how can we leave the shit out of the room out of your life as much as possible, and actually listen for what wants to happen. And remembering that you have choice instead of having like, shoulds all over yourself?

Yeah, yeah, that’s great. So that’s something that that’s kind of I’m trying to bring into, into into my work. And so far, I think, like, it’s pretty unique to portraiture or branding. Well, if I ever make it back to New York City, I’m gonna you know, which I love New York, I will have to do a session with you. Because I really liked that structure. I think it’s really it’s great. And that you’re probably exposing these people who may not know about this kind of work otherwise to something new. And if they get something out of it, then that might start them on a whole other trajectory. So self exploration and self awareness. Yeah, that’s what I love that covert covert self evolution. Haha, maybe not so cool word. But yeah, the other the other piece that I’m really curious about, and this is going back all the way this is to the conversation about being a queer relationship. Like, am I am I seen as a straight man? Am I seen as a queer man and depending on if I’m with my partner or not with my partner, and that the reality of like, I don’t know, if you were already in a poly relationship with your wife, or if that is something that happened later with your husband? And because I know a lot of straight men who identify as queer in, in poly relationships, you know what I mean? Okay, like, I think that there can be that people think it has to be one or the other. But it’s like, you know, I’m a straight man, I’m generally attracted to women, and yet also, being in a poly world and understanding relationships in a different way, in a more expansive way, then also lends itself to a more queer identity.

Yeah, interesting. I wish there was an identity that kind of, you know, award to capture that identity. Yeah, it’s like a friend of mine, who is also a very straight guy described, say, describes himself as about as queer as a straight guy can possibly can basically like, you know, in the sense that he is sexually right straight, like the guys and sleeps liquid is attracted to women. But he has a much more expanded mindset around relationships. I think there is, there is that part we don’t truly the words don’t really mean the labels don’t really capture but in terms of my own history, by relationship history, my partner and I, we actually, and I think we were fortunate, we navigated the Bali thing, like several years before his transition. Like he was one of those people that you know, there are many trans transgender people who sort of like, have those stories of like, Oh, I knew like, you know, I was trans when I was like five or something like that or as a kid, but he wasn’t one of them. He didn’t really recognize that it was a journey for him to recognize it was late 20s. So we had this period where we were hetero couple and we navigated and work with coaches and stuff to figure out the Bali relationship. You know, some of that work started, because we like many long term couples we did, our sex life was like kind of going down. And eventually it’s sort of petered out completely. So we started working part of that was part of the reason we started working with a coach. And then we figured out this whole Bali thing. And we realized that we didn’t actually want to be sexual with each other, but we had a really good relationship otherwise, that’s probably like, harder to find, or, you know, create in relationships like I was, you know, when I was in my, I was in my mid 30s, at that time, and that’s often age when a lot of people get divorced. So I was talking to a lot of friends of my male friends and female friends who are going through divorce or that ask them, like, what was happening, and they will, it was evident that it was like, creating, you know, the kind of trust in relationships is very hard. And Andy and I had put it in a lot of work into that we had a relationship that was really, really strong, intimate in many ways, and not sexual. So we figured out the Bali thing we bought, like the side dating separately and had our own life partners and stuff, and it still felt good. And then when he came out as trans, it basically didn’t really change anything about our relationship. There. It was, like it did change the external perception of it, but didn’t really change. It doesn’t change anything about the way we are with each other. So it’s like, why change that? Why lose the good things we have? Because of one thing, and it’s right, you know, and the reality is that there are so many couples that lose that physical attraction, and they end but they love how they partner with raising their kids or these other things, or they’re really good support systems for one another. And then we have this very rigid idea of what a marriage is supposed to involve and entail and what it’s supposed to look like. And, yeah, so So you made a choice to stay with your partner navigate the identity shifts that may come from the outside. Yeah. Because you really had that you were in a really strong partnership, and it didn’t have to be a sex ship, or whatever. 

You want to find it surprising to me that even even in very, like sex positive and poly communities, there is this assumption that a marriage has to be sexual. I found that I was very surprised by that. I mean, I didn’t expect that from the vanilla. Yeah, that would be there. But I was also very surprised to find that assumption so prevalent hidden, because x bar slim or poly words were, I thought people, you know, are much better at defining creating relationships.

Right? Well, in it, you know, I think I worked at Good Vibrations. And I also had started my own sexual trauma healing process. And so I was in this world of learning how to have embodied boundaries. And then I was, you know, all day, immersed in talking about sex toys, and offerings, and all the things and there would be moments where I would go into the back of the store and be like, I don’t understand why people like sex, like I would just felt so you know, and be those really extreme, like, totally sex positive perception. You know, it making my day when I would teach an 80 year old about clitoral legs, or whatever g spot was, or whatever. And then also feeling this thing of like, I want to have the right to say no, and I want to be sexual at all and holding seemingly extreme contradictions, and wanting to also help people understand that and in the sex personal world, I do think that there can be this thing of like, you know, what it means to be sex positive has to look a certain way sometimes. Yeah, yeah. And there needs to be I think expansive gray. Living in the day is always a useful choice. There’s something that when we spoke prior, there was something that you mentioned that I was curious to hear more about, what you just touched on a little bit, which is using photoshoots, like talking about them as a BDSM scene, right? Yeah. And then I also just want to rewind for a second. And I wanted to find because I’m, you know, we’re both making an assumption that the audience knows what, what polyamorous is what BDSM is. So if you could also just give brief definitions of these things totally, as well. That’d be great.

Thank you. So Labyrinth is obviously is the idea of having multiple committed relationships. It’s the umbrella term could be called as ethical non monogamy, which covers covers a wide range of relationships where you as an individual can have multiple partners. Add however you define partnership, but you do it ethically in the sense that you’re not cheating on anybody or aboveboard, on that. Now, if you ask like 10 polyamorous people about what polyamory is, you just get different destination, right? So I can talk about, like, the way my partner and I have structured our relationship in which is basically, we have an agreement that we can date or have sex, or anyone pretty much anything with anyone else, as long as we do it within Meccano safely, you know, with which in our current times, it can mean both, like STI safety and COVID safety. But I’ve always do it safely, as long as as long as we meet our commitments to each other. And then our hope beyond that, it’s like, you know, we can read can have sex, we can fall in love, we can not have deep relationships, and so on. So that’s the way that we have defined our polyamorous relationship. Do you think that’s kind of?

Absolutely, I mean, I think that that, you know, non monogamy can include more purely sex based relationships, where there are I mean, there’s, there’s there can be emotional connection over time, but that there might be stricter boundaries around how much you invest in those, both those relationships. While polyamory holds a little more expansiveness around, like, being in an actual, you know, relationship and eating and doing all of that. And, but I think what you said is so important, which is that you could line up 10 People that are poly, and they’re going to describe what they do, and the rules that they create, and the or the boundaries, they establish. There’ll be different for each couple. And I think that’s really important for everyone to remember. Yeah, yeah.

And he said, BDSM, I don’t even know how to define Yes, that’s what didn’t even start?

Well, so how about you start with how you, you were talking about it, when we chatted the other day about how you’ve used that, or you’ve constructed a way of approaching guiding, right, and kind of topping.

So if you’re familiar dollar BDSM, it’s, you know, it’s usually, regardless of whatever action you do, whether it’s like, you know, spanking somebody, you’re tying somebody up or whatever, you know, that’s what people think. But the fundamental underlying kind of principle of BDSM is a power exchange, right? Somebody is choosing in a very powerful way, like really choosing to give some degree of power to somebody else in a certain way. And the idea is that, you know, the person is giving away the power and stepping in this is typically a bar called the bottom, the person receiving the power is typically called the top. And the idea is that the top gets this power, but in the end is expected to use that power only to pleasure the bottom in some way. And the pleasure can be through pain, but like to basically give the bottom some kind of experience that they want, like both parties. So it’s ultimately for for the pleasure of both people. It’s not just a power exchange, when I really understood that something that I started noticing is that whenever I do photo shoots, and this is regardless of of the actual like power differential that I had with my photo shoot subject in the wall, like you know, before COVID happened, I was off and I was also doing shoe headshots for tech startups and venture capital firms, which meant that I was taking headshots of people who are extremely wealthy and powerful, it didn’t really matter, what I found is 99% of the time, when you put a big camera in somebody’s face, their first reaction is to go limp and say, Tell me what to do. And that is a power exchange, when you’re giving your power to somebody even in that, you know, five minute context of a headshot. Rarely do I had power over them because I had power over the image. Right, the image that I was creating for them that no show in the work world, I want. So when I had that realization, all of the you know, there’s a lot of machinery in BDSM in the BDSM world around how to negotiate these power exchange rules in a way that that brings pleasure to everyone how to negotiate these power exchanges in a way that doesn’t violate people’s boundaries, and makes them feel safe and comfortable. And all of that consent and, and there’s this whole art in BDSM, that is taught. And so that started translating to creative photoshoot sounds like okay, here’s somebody who was going limp and saying, Tell me what to do. And I am supposed to take charge of them physically keep charging them in some way. I’m telling them literally like how to move their bodies and show up in a certain way. But ultimately, it’s for their service in their service. Ultimately, it’s like the end result has to be something that makes them happy, right? Because that’s what you know, as a professional photographer. That’s my job as a portrait photographer, right? There’s total surrender and true trusting you and, and surrender, you know, like surrendering to you and asking you to be in control. Right? And it’s like, how many opportunities do people have outside of very intimate relationships? Where they get to do that? You know, I think it’s, I think it’s a service. Exactly. It is a service. And so that’s when I started, I started thinking about like, How can I how can I bring some of those ideas that we use really powerful ideas that BDSM has evolved to, to my photography Catina. And so, nowadays, I mean, even though I’m not saying this to a client, and my client doesn’t need to know that, oh, this is a, you know, BDSM thing, whatever. But I’m bringing some of those ideas in my conversations with clients about like, understanding like, what are what are their desires? What do they want to tell a show about themselves? What do they not want to show about themselves or talk about themselves? What you know, what are they what are they what are they are those what are they van? Phuc, yes. What’s that? Maybe a photo context? Right? What are they you know, when you’re talking about outfits, it’s like, they may be outfits that they want to wear or don’t want to wear? When when we’re talking locations, like so for example, I have an interesting little thing where I before a photo shoot, I usually send my clients in a very short, like shortlist like, here are some ideas of photos we’re going to take based on our conversations. And that gives them an opportunity to sign up, say, Yes, or Nick some of those ideas. Like there was just one client, I remember, like, we were doing the photo shoot in our house. And she had this beautiful bedroom, where, you know, she’s very beautifully decorated. And I had some ideas for shots that would be on her bed. I mean, they’re fully clothed, and like very professional, not just sharp, like if you’re like, I don’t know, like, you know, riding on in a journal or reading in her bed or something like that. And I sent him sent the shortlist to her. And she was just like, Nope, nothing on the bed. And it’s clear from her dorm that that was a hard dealt, yeah, like there was no negotiation there. She was fine with other photos about other parts of the bedroom, but just not on the bed. And if I didn’t tap, I remember if if this were a few years ago, I may have tried to, like persuade her to drink, or push or another bed and be like, Oh, no, like the photos and so on. But my experience in BDSM, and like the idea of like, Oh, something can be hard knows. And this is how, you know, those are not to be pushed versus like, what aren’t babies, it just it has given me along with some radical just a little more attunement to my clients. That’s great. I was like, Okay, this is not something to be pushed. And so that’s just one example. But it’s given me a lot better understanding of like, thinking about when can I push my clients to, like, try something that’s a little beyond their comfort zone versus something that’s like, a boundary? And a hard no, that that does not? And then I’ve also like, before my photo shoots, I have a lot of conversations with clients, we don’t actually have safe words, per se, but yeah, I have I tell them that they are always allowed to call a timeout. Yeah, they’re always allowed to, like take a break to drink water or like, you know, they they are not there to like make me happy. Right, it’s not their job to make me happy, it’s this is there, it’s not them. Again, bringing like a BDSM kind of idea, like a seed idea into that, that this is a container that we are creating. It also helps to, to have that idea when we want to close a container. Like you know, if you’re you know, if you’ve done any sex coaching or whatever, you know that there is transference that happens at night, you know, they’re like, in especially in like more relational coaching methods like America, like you have to be very careful that what you do in as in the container as a coaching session stays within that container. It’s very similar in photography to next and I am, even if it’s not, like, you know, sometimes I’m doing shoots that are like a little more like, you know, kink or boudoir, or all of that there’s a period or kind of, you know, connection that happens that. And then sometimes even if it’s not, even if it’s a branding session, I’ve learned a lot of really intimate things about by client. Yeah, their stories, they’re like, really deep. Like sometimes they’ll share things that they’re like really ashamed of, or not accepting them, you know, whatever, like, scared to share about themselves and their stories, very vulnerable. And so I have to think about how to make sure that that’s, that’s a closed container. Again, BDSM like the idea kind of ideas help with that, where it’s like, what is like, how do I make sure that that I leave them when I leave, like they’re feeling good about themselves?

Right. So there’s this piece of aftercare, right, like really taking care and checking in perhaps afterwards, but also just really certain kinds of boundaries that are established to create a sense of safety. Yeah, and you know, attuning to really listening and this is this is a tricky thing. And I think that this is something that should be taught in elementary all through high school, I think it’d be a different world if attunement was was was in the curriculum, you know, know like, how do you know how do you how can you feel when someone’s no is a hard No. How do you listen Right. Yeah.

And then just be, you know, I, I have been shocked that there is, you know, photography is an art that’s almost 200 years old now. But there really is no even and, you know, like, ever since photography came up as an gave up as an art, I mean, yeah, the first 160 years, it was pretty much the domain of white men. And now it’s only been democratized in the last 50 years or so cheaper cameras and stuff. But ever since photography, portrait photography became a thing, people have been taking pictures of other people, like, you know, in vulnerable positions, whether it’s like a non jury, or nudes or all of that. I mean, it’s a very old art form. Yeah. But there is actually really, almost no education for photographers around consent and trauma and like all kinds of things like that, that come up. Like a lot of times, I mean, it’s a power dynamic, right? I mean, a photographer has power over a client or a model, but they’re often not trained. And it doesn’t matter, the gender doesn’t really matter. At this point. It’s about like, what you know, there is power, whether it’s a male photographer, taking pictures of a woman, or a female photographer doesn’t really matter at that point. There’s a power dynamic, right, but there’s no training around. How do you recognize whether your model or your subject is actually into that polls that you’re trying to make them do? Or they’re having, like, you know, a freeze reaction? Right? dissociated and doing it?

Well? That’s very common among models, I think, yeah. It’s like having to hold positions that are uncomfortable for extended periods of time. Like, it trains a certain level of dissociation into their systems, and professional models get paid for that, like, you know, there are there are certain boundaries with different boundaries that you could do with with clients, like, because we’re regular people, but even if it’s like, it’s so common that yeah, a lot clients, I find that get into a mode of like, Oh, I’m, I should do what the what the photographer wants, because I need to perform for them.

Right? I’m a good girl, another girl, or good boy, even sure. It’s almost like that Tibet desire to please, that comes out. And as a photographer, I have to learn to be attuned and recognize when those like, I know, can’t accommodate that, again, a BDSM thing, right? As time it’s like your job to be attuned to your sub, to know to see, even if they’re nonverbal at the point where the safe word like are they actually? Missiles,

Right? Well, that’s what’s so important about that is that, you know, a lot of the times the person who is freezing and dissociating, they’ll know, they’ll realize that after the person who’s witnessing them, right now. And so if you’re not attuning and you’re overriding, you are, you know, they aren’t even conscious of how they’re crossing their own boundaries. And so it is, it’s so important for people who are in any position of power to, to learn about attunement, I would love for you to guide our listeners through a practice that you use with your clients, would you be willing to do that? Yeah.

So there’s an exercise that I make my clients do, every client who works with me create gets to create their mood board, a mood board is basically you know, if you’ve done a vision board or something like that, it’s, it’s similar, where you collect a bunch of images that that inspire you, and then we can we use that as inspiration for our shoot. But I do it in a slightly different way. And that is something that anyone can can do, which is, I want you to collect pictures. And you can do it in your sit down for 30 minutes and do it or you could connect it over like you know, a period of weeks, like whenever you see a picture, you add it somewhere. Some people call it a swipe file, like where you just kind of slide pictures and put it put them in. But any image that that resonates with you in some way in your body, without really thinking about why, like don’t think about like, why does this if I don’t analyze the image, if the image if an image sparks something you knew it couldn’t give it an image of a person, or celebrity or somebody you know, or like, you know, picture of an animal in nature or add something abstract to paint, it doesn’t really matter. Something that sparks something in you put it in your in your swipe file or a Pinterest board or software and collect like at least 50 Or so it can be overtime it can be you know, in a single setting doesn’t really matter. But keep collecting these images. And then at some point, start looking at patterns like look at what what that showed up in that. And I can guarantee you you’ll see learn something new about yourself. So this is an exercise that I make every every every client you and if you go to my website, you have a free self guided version of this that you can download and do on your own. But you can also make it a micro practice where you just collect an image every day or something like that, right? Yeah.

Yes, big fan of micro practices, little things that you do that add up to surprising transformation. Pricing insight Thank you. I’m curious, is there anything else that you want to share? And otherwise? How can my audience get in touch with you? Should they want to book anything with you or learn more about you? What are your, your handles and websites and my website is probably the best place to go check out my work, because I’ve structured it in a way that tells the stories of my clients rather than I mean, I have an Instagram but it’s like the Instagram I feel like it’s a little bit like kind of a bunch of dissociated photos. Whereas website is more of a coherent story. It’s series A photography.com, at the FBI, Instagram, a series a photography those days, s e r, i e, r, i e s, the letter A photography.com.

And it’s a beautiful, beautiful website. I think I shared this with you that I was while I was moved to tears by one of the women’s stories. And you know, there’s a paragraph and you can read a little bit about each person and then you get to see some of the photos and yeah, I feel like it’s really compelling. And I encourage people to go and check it out. Yeah, yeah. So good to talk to you. To know more about you and I look forward to a future trip to New York City.

Absolutely. Love to work with you some time. Ah, that would be beautiful.

I hope this conversation with Raj deepens your curiosity and awareness. If you learn something new from this podcast, please like, share and review it so more people can find our community. Find it wherever you get your podcasts, just search laid open podcast. You can also send questions to laidopenpodcast@gmail.com And please follow us on Facebook and Instagram at Laid Open Podcast.

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© 2022 By Charna Cassell, LMFT. Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. MFC 51238.

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