Saturday, 22 December 2007

Rubber Bands and Kittens

I was just watching this YouTube vid, featuring an ex-"ex-gay" man. In it the man talks about his therapist having him snap a rubber band on his wrist each time he finds another man attractive.

I post it because it reminds me of my own experience as a teen, when I finally got up the guts to tell the therapist I was seeing that I had sadomasochistic fantasies.

"Imagine touching a boy," he said (I thought I was heterosexual at the time), "and then imagine petting the cat."

Ostensibly, it was to teach me to learn to enjoy touching people gently -- which I was never against doing, anyway.

I tried it all of once. Attempting to conjure up thoughts of my cat while sexually excited did nothing but creep me out.

I never brought up sadomasochism again to that therapist. I think I might have told him that I didn't think his method was helpful, but I may not even have done that. I just let the matter drop. I wanted health care -- I needed it, for a lot of other more pressing reasons. So I got the health care, and pretended my sexuality issues weren't there.

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Calling UK sex-"poxes"...

New activist venture....

The Pleasure Salon is being created to build community, allowing sex-positive activists to cross-pollinate. We are inviting organisers, activists, pioneers and the movers and groovers of the BDSM, swinger, alternative gender, LGBT, sex-activist, nudist, sex-magic, polyamory, Pagan, radical faerie, tantra, dark odyssey, sex-blogger, porn, pervert and sex-worker communities. Through networking and learning about each other, The Pleasure Salon hopes to act as a sex-positive think tank and eventually create a sex-positive world. It is a place for the open exchange of ideas and sensual expression.

Pleasure Salons will take place on the second Wednesday in each month, starting in March 2008. They will be in Amora, the Erotic Museum 13 Coventry Street just next to Piccadilly Circus from 7pm to 9pm.

Each month will have a speaker - one of us who has something exciting to share, or an expert to advise us on how to lobby, influence the media, politicians, and society. The talk will just be for 20 minutes with ten minutes for questions and then a short news update. After that it will be networking. There is a bar and we will charge a nominal £2 to cover costs.

The Pleasure Salon is replacing the Sexual Freedom Conference and will hopefully continue to improve on it, both in enjoyment and effectiveness.

Suzanne Noble has attended the Pleasure Salons in New York and testifies that they are most empowering, and we start one in London with their blessing.

Suzanne, Tuppy, Cat

Well, I'm excited!

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Sadomasochism: The Incredible expanding word.

as if it weren't long enough, right?

It's a bit petty of me to quote this, but I want to for a not-petty reason.

From Heart's place, discussions she will not allow on her blog.

See here: http://womens space.wordp ssions-we-will-not-h ave-here/
Defenses of sadomasochism as liberating, empowering, or good, whether it occurs in the course of sexual intimacy of any kind, in “scenes”, in “play parties,” between fundamentalist men and their wives, in marriage, out of marriage, in relationships, in friendships, overt, covert, unapologetic, unrecognized, none of it is going to be defended here. Sadomasochistic relationships are at the heart of the systems, institutions, mechanisms, dynamics, social orders which have created the world as we know it, teetering on the brink of annihilation. Whether it is the sadomasochism inherent in war, imperialism, colonialism, conquest, fundamentalisms of all kinds, sexism, racism, classism, lesbophobia, transphobia, abuse of children disguised as “discipline,” abuse of animals, abuse of the planet, seas, mountains, skies, earth, or whether it is sadomasochism in intimate relationships between individuals, all of it, because it is about dominance and subordination, about some groups subjugating others, harms human beings, creatures, and the earth, it participates in the destruction of beneficent life on the earth, and so I oppose it. It will not be defended here. Defend it elsewhere.
What I really want to point out, to people who have not seen this yet, is the way the term "sadomasochism" gets expanded here. Inflated like a balloon until it has no precise meaning. Watch:
whether it occurs in the course of sexual intimacy of any kind, in “scenes”, in “play parties,”
okay, that's about the SM scene, a particular subculture, and also some people outside the subculture who fuck a certain way. "Sadomasochism" here means something like "people who consensually play with power for sexual gratification." Which is what I'd say it usually means, though I'd add "or pain"; I don't think all consensual sexual SM is about power, and some may arguably not even involve it.
between fundamentalist men and their wives, in marriage, out of marriage, in relationships, in friendships, overt, covert, unapologetic, unrecognized
And here, well, wrt "fundamentalist men": yes, there's traditionalist Christian D/s if you want to look for it. And, expanding further, an argument could be made that a particularly consensual, aware, chosen version of religious submission *could* be similar to the D/s sadomasochists do.

But "in friendships" is where she begins to lose me, and she doesn't stop there. Yes, there are power dynamics between friends. They can be harmful. But why are they "sadomasochistic", if so? In most cases, they will not be sexual, though they may have undercurrents of sexual intimacy and attraction. Are they consensual? Do they really involve submission? How are we defining domination and submission when talking about friends?

What leads people to conclusions like this, as near as I can figure, is a notion of "sadomasochism" that divorces it from sex or even from chosen dynamics of nonsexual service, and takes it to stand in for any and all relations of power-over:
Sadomasochistic relationships are at the heart of the systems, institutions, mechanisms, dynamics, social orders which have created the world as we know it, teetering on the brink of annihilation.
Which of course means you find it anywhere and everywhere, and there's no relevant difference between the play party and the invasion of Iraq:
Whether it is the sadomasochism inherent in war, imperialism, colonialism, conquest, fundamentalisms of all kinds, sexism, racism, classism, lesbophobia, transphobia, abuse of children disguised as “discipline,” abuse of animals, abuse of the planet, seas, mountains, skies, earth, or whether it is sadomasochism in intimate relationships between individuals, all of it, because it is about dominance and subordination, about some groups subjugating others, harms human beings, creatures, and the earth, it participates in the destruction of beneficent life on the earth
This is just sloppy. Which is what gets me so much when I look at things like this (and you can see it other places too... just go read some Daly, for example) isn't even the opposition to consensual sexual sadomasochism (though duh, I don't like that) but the sheer papering over of issues.

Even if the play party *is* objectionable, because power-over *is* dangerous and not to be fucked (heh) with:

where is the difference between the play party and global warming? Surely, even if these are related (and I don't think it's completely *unarguable* that they are, *if* we assume all power-over to be pernicious), the harms each does are not the same.

Shouldn't it be part of our analysis, a strength of our analysis, that we can say

"these are the harms of consensual SM"
"these are the harms of religiously-motivated female submission"
"these are the harms of war"
"these are the harms of rampant consumption of resources"
"these are the harms of child abuse"

and have each of those be A DIFFERENT THING?

Presumably, "sadomasochism" is a word, here, for whatever thing they have in common, whatever holds them together.

Which has to do with power.

But we can't really say how. It's like Socrates asking "What's virtue What's common to any and all virtues that makes them what they are?" No one can answer him, and he doesn't know himself.

"What's pernicious power-over? What's common to it in every instance, when the instances look so different?"

No one can answer, and we don't know ourselves.

Which is why we need the ten-dollar word that means fucking to paper over it.

Monday, 10 December 2007

"Sex Pox"

x-POXted from my LJ:

On the term "sex pox", coined by some anti-porn radical feminists as a cutesy put-down version of "sex positive":

So - "sexpox".

I think the term originated a couple of months back, as a way to convey contempt for people who espouse a non-anti-porn, non-anti-sexwork, non-anti-BDSM, "sex-positive" point of view.

And then it was bandied about by people who espouse a "sex-positive" point of view, as a sort of snide self-identification, as a way to convey contempt for people who used the term to convey contempt for "sex-positive" people.

Now that I think about it, despite the fact that it's catchy and easy to remember and evocative and really, only five or six people use the term in its pejorative on a regular so maybe it's not such a big deal - I gotta say, I'm agin' it.

cuz, y'all, what about AIDS?

whatever side of the porn/sexwork/bdsm fence you sit on, what about AIDS, y'all?

I'm not HIV+, nor am I an AIDS activist. But I know people who work long and hard to purge the idea from the human consciousness that there is some consensual sexual behavior that deserves PUNISHMENT. Not just any punishment, but The Biggest, Baddest, Most Punishing Punishment - long, slow, conspicuously Capital Punishment in the form of a wasting disease, with clearly visible physical benchmarks of its progress as it slowly kills its victims.

so, when I see the word "sexpox", I don't think of cute hawtt titjobbed bisexee suckfuckers who giggle and simper on their spindly heels and tilt their empty heads and smile while cooing "ooh! I'm so empowerful! aren't I, Nigel?"

(and even if I did get that mental picture, it wouldn't match any of the individuals I know who identify as "sex-positive." the gulf of understanding here is unbridgeable, apparently, when it comes to that.)

when I see the word "sexpox", I think of a fatal disease that happens to people who fuck the wrong way, and need to be punished before they can die as a consequence for their behavior.
Totally bang-on, AP.

And pretty chilling.

Personally, I don't know if the person who coined this *was* thinking of HIV or not. I personally thought of syphilis. And while "syphilitic" isn't the greatest thing to call someone, it doesn't kill like it did back when *it* was the scourge. (At least until the "Bah, I scoff at your silly antibiotics!" version has its fun with the silly little humans....)

And I'm a bit leery of getting too Freudian, usually.

But I really do wonder: if you come up with a term like this, you have to know that you're calling people diseased. From sex. And any way you slice it, that's creepy.

That's not just calling people bad, wrong, misguided in a hellaciously frustrating way. That's saying people ought to be suffering for their views. That we're destined for illness, as AP says, as a punishment for our refusals to fit a particular mold of female sexuality.

I see a very strong loathing of bodies, in general, in the insult of choice being "sex pox.:" There's a strong body-disgust there. It's not just about the realm of the mind, when you call people poxy. It's like something out of the Old Testament: misstep and you get LOATHSOME BOILS as punishment for your sexual sin.

Or at least, that's the mild version. AIDS is our big sex pox, as AP points out -- and AIDS is worse than an angry deity giving you a few boils.

I'd know; as I've mentioned before, I'm watching someone waste away of it. And it's not pretty. He had a brain infection, people. He went blind. This isn't just "You get pneumonia one day and can't fight it off."

(ETA: I'm also grimly amused that "sex pox" is usually used by these people to indicate feminists who are pro-porn. Porn is generally used as a masturbation aid, and masturbation's guaranteed *not* to give you the sex pox, whatever disease it may be.)

Saturday, 1 December 2007

More of the "consent? wuzZAT, you patriarchs?" meme

(zposted from my blog)

http://wom ensspace.word ale-terrorism-exploiting-the-brut al-murder-of-emily-san der/#com ment-72901

I’m wondering (no seriously, guesstimate with me) how long it will take before “rape kill fantasies” are defended. Women collecting en masse (feministing, Bitchphd, pandagon, feminste, etc…) to assure everyone they find pleasure and joy in the sexualization of their own death.

Then police won’t even have to worry with their half-assed investigations–all “murders” of women will be considered assisted suicide (which will become legal once more).

Can we, as radfems, not use words like “want” and “consent” for, I dunno, another 1,000 years? Right now it has F$$$-all to do with us and I’m really tired of such concepts being thrown around.

My heart goes out to Emily Sanders and her loved ones.

I'm not here for long today (yay weekend fun -- no, not quite that kind), but I just want to note it.

I know these people aren't representative of feminism or even of thoughtful radical feminism. But it's often taken as a Feminism 101 point to assume "no one would ever REALLY say 'all sex is rape,' stop putting words in Dworkin's mouth."

And the thing is, whether Dworkin said it or not, there was, and still is among a very kooky, small minority of women who use feminism in some very weird ways, a strain of feminism where this kind of inversion happens. And it makes sense that it would, among absolute extremists, really, because their basic position is that choice is illusory in a world where one social class has control. If that control extends to hearts and minds, consent isn't real, isn't deep, isn't personal... it's hardly surprising someone would go all the way and ask if consent is meaningful in any way at all.

But of course, that's chilling. With no notion of consent, everything is rape.

Or nothing.

Or nothing at all.

As suspicious as some of us are (and rightfully, in some cases, IMO) of liberalism... we do need some liberal concepts mixed in with our radical ones. We need notions of bodily autonomy, free choice, and consent (whether to sex, to medical procedures, to body modifications, etc.) I'm the first to acknowledge that autonomy is a tough one, consent is a tough one, fully free anything is impossible since we're influenced all the time.

But that doesn't mean we abandon these concepts. That means we use our massive monkey brains to be sure as we can of when and how they apply.

Friday, 30 November 2007

DK's contented contemplations: Black or Red...?

DK's contented contemplations: Black or Red...?

I'm just going to link this and not comment, because it's amazing, I have little or nothing to add, and my brain is jell-o today.

Rearranging the World

I've been going around and around in my head about something, and it's one of those things that's ... if only I could explain this to people! It's a neat trick! I! ... but the words are so open for misinterpretation. I know if I tried to say it, tried to make the argument somewhere, that people would latch on to one thing and completely miss the point of what I'm driving at. It's a Mystery experience, and those are notoriously difficult to convey.

But I'm thinking about 'objectification', in its various forms; the specific bit that's relevant to my kink is the specifically sex-object kind, but I don't think that what I'm looking at is limited to that subset.

A lot of people look at the notion of objectification -- of, hrrr, for lack of better phrasing, constraining interactions with the person-treated-as-object to those appropriate for the type of object for duration of the scene or other period, let's define my terms -- and see something horrible. The cutting-away of everything not a part of the object, a reduction of person-to-thing-to-be-used, ignoring anything that doesn't fit in that, which can include dreams, aspirations, basic humanity ....

And when I look back on the ways I've been treated as a sex object nonconsensually in my past -- much of which is, y'know, junior high school crap, those horrible early-teens years -- it is something horrible. Minimising, dehumanising, disrespectful to self-as-person. All that shit, I understand the thing.

And that has nothing to do with my experience of objectification in a kink context.

I was talking with my liege about this the other day, trying to grasp at words to go at the mystery, and he talked about rearranging the world, resizing it. Like how in certain sexual situations, everything outside the bed just stops registering as relevant, doesn't matter to the situation at all. Which can be a way of finding a respite from a relentlessly awful world, for a little while: resize the world.

The sex slave thing is resizing the world and also resizing me. All that other stuff exists, outside the edge of the mindspace, folded up and implicit in my self but not relevant -- the whole question of acceptance, of love, of external value, winds up being evaluated on the success at performing the functions of the objectification.

Which, again, could be seen as an awful thing, but ...

... those folded-in bits aren't rejected, they're still there. Which means that the fact that it's possible to have a fairly clearcut success in the objectified role, a fairly black-and-white pass/fail thing, makes the whole horrible tangle of 'am I worthy as a person' fade to the background: it makes it possible to receive, hear, and believe an unqualified "Yes."

And that unqualified 'yes' doesn't stay constrained to the smaller world. It expands out with the boundaries of reality.

I sit here and look at this experience and say, "This! This is cool! This is useful! I mean, aside from 'this is good sex', this is neat!" and ... have no idea how to convey it to people who don't already know what I'm talking about.

It would be nice to be able to do, sometimes. But talking about narrowing the world like that is just offering up a hook for the antis to snag onto and haul, as far as I can tell. Which leaves me feeling awfully sad.

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Saturday, 24 November 2007

I shouldn't even be mentioning it, but...

...proof that some people need some time out of the ivory tower:

Once again I am in total agreement with you Demonista. S & M adherents over the last few years have been contriving to legitimise their pathetic, childish (and dangerous) practices in the eyes of people who are striving to bring an end to the capitalist system of production and distribution; they have even gone to the extent of formulating wanky theories about transgressing the boundaries of bourgeios morality. The simple answer to them is that they themselves are indulging in activities which only serve to re-enforce the dominant/submisive relationship between the ruling and working classes. Working-class women suffer enough pain and humiliation doing shitty jobs for even shittier wages without having to come home to whips, clips, chains and nipple clamps.
Unlike gay persons, S & M adherents are not oppressed because of their lifestyle, nor do they pose any threat to bourgoise hegemony. What really gets up their rubber knickers is the fact that the majority of people who are active in trying to bring about a truly free, democratic, peace-promoting, egalitarian society, see them as nothing more than a bunch of neo-fascists. Long may it remain so.
Honey, if you lean THAT hard on Marx, your crutch is gonna split in two. You might want some stronger assistive devices. Or a bit more brain exercise of your own.

I love how "bourgeois hegemony" the phrase really means, y'know, the oppression of the working class, but it gets made into the snootiest, most academic phrase ever. It's an interesting twist.

DEAR THEORY KIDLETS: I have a call for you from Reality on line two. Reality would especially like you to note that there are, in fact, gay sadomasochists.

Reality also notes that you have a flair for insulting language. Have you considered phone domming?

And "have to" come home to nipple clamps? I'd love to know what planet these people are living on, where dumping your top in annoyed exasperation is somehow not an option.

Oh wait, er, *ahem* *straightening up* Disregard that. I'm so top I've never been dumped.

NONE CAN DEFY ME! ALL SHALL TASTE MY WRATH! *cartoon villain cackle*

Friday, 16 November 2007

Framing SM in feminist terms

I've been working my butt off for my postgrad degree of late, and most of my written work looks like it's going be centred around BDSM. Excited though I am, when writing what I suppose constitutes some kind of narrative analysis through a feminist framework, I find the language associated with BDSM really problematic. "Domination", "submission", "objectification", "sadism", "masochism", "bondage", etc. Of course, we know these terms don't necessarily have to represent practices that are repressive/oppressive to women, but it's hard to explain them when they are so commonly used by feminists to mean something so entirely different. I think Pat Califia describes this difficulty with buzzwords briefly, but I wonder why feminist SM practitioners have not sought to make changes in the way we use those terms.

Do we need a whole new language of buzzwords to describe BDSM in feminist terms? Or is it partially using these buzzwords transgressively that, to put it bluntly, gets us off?

In other news, I have been reading some interesting books and articles on BDSM and related topics. I'm going to add a booklist to this blog, and would appreciate any ideas you might have, also...

Thursday, 15 November 2007

And now for fluff

quoted someplace, actually by a feminist I respect:

“I became a feminist as an alternative to becoming a masochist.”
-Sally Kempton

So uh, what was that again?

You became a feminist as an alternative to coming all over the place with great glee? :)

(oddly, sometimes reading through the sex wars it seems like this is the case for some folks...)

I am tired of "masochist" as a catch-all for "person with problems who doesn't stand up for himself." Masochism is about sex. It's about fun.

I don't mind jokes. I'm not the "humorless" sort of feminist. But I'm tired of this phrase being presented as this shiningly witty one-sentence explanation of the need for feminism.

That one was older than moldy cheese before I was born.

*stamps dumb quote with [OLD MEME, MUST LET DIE]*

Meredith Kercher

I've been asked several times what I, as a BDSMer, think of this murder. I figure I have to post something sooner or later, so here goes nothing.

Part of the reason I've avoided this is I hadn't even heard about it until I saw mention of it on my friend's blog. I'm still having trouble parsing exactly what happened.

That's a big part of why I've been silent for so long. All I knew until I saw that second post was that someone had been killed, allegedly because she refused violent sex, all taken from this blog post here.

While I could certainly see that any mention of "violent sex" or rape fantasy eventually gets us blamed and dragged through the media, I couldn't see the same direct parallels that something like the Glenn Marcus case would have. I didn't see any direct reference to sadomasochism at all -- what's "violent sex?" What's "sadomasochistic"? Were/are these people connected to the community in any way? I knew the answers to none of that until I saw Daisy's post today.

And, hell, I rarely if ever posted even about the killers and abusers known to be lurking in BDSM. I don't think I posted a lick anywhere about Glenn Marcus, for example, or paid enough attention to know his name, until I saw comments on blogs by his other slaves defending him. So I said "I'm not going to cover the Kercher murder; if any and every psycho who wants 'violent sex' (whatever that even is; like I said, that's so vague I don't know anyway) were my responsibility to talk about and deal with, I'd never get my own voice."

But then I saw this, from Daisy's latest post:
What really sets this case apart is the fact that Amanda had an ongoing narrative, as FOXY KNOXY--a MySpace blogger who openly wrote about BDSM scenarios and had something of a fan-base. One wonders if this case would keep us so enthralled if this pre-conceived character did not already exist, as the Columbine boys also had online personas that dovetailed with their real-life intentions. The Telegraph puts it very plainly, titling their update: AMANDA KNOX WROTE STORIES ABOUT RAPE (all that's required is an exclamation point, or several):
Apparently this person was actually connected with BDSM in some way, did it or wrote about it and knew enough to call it that. And apparently she was popular enough that some people might get their ideas about it from her.

Which matters. People saw this. People read this. Her stories are now evidence in a criminal case. And of course it's shocking and titillating that she wrote them. Perhaps especially so, since she's a woman, and we all expect women not to have these fantasies.

I'm female and have them too. Should I be worried?
What frightens many bloggers, is how Amanda's blog is now being used as evidence.

Moral of the story: Fantasies we write about may one day bite us in the ass, so be careful. For example, if I should write that a certain person makes me sick and I wish they would die, and they end up dead under questionable circumstances, does that automatically make me a suspect? (And if so, is that fair?)

If your roommate ends up raped and murdered and you have written fantasies on your blog about rape and murder, well, talk about some bad luck, huh?
Honestly, I don't know enough about the case to know. I don't know how much evidence links this person to the crime, or if the real story is that there is no evidence and violent fantasy is all they're going on. Is it almost definitely clear what happened, and they're looking for more information about motive, or is this the principal evidence linking this person to the crime?

And even if there is more evidence, what license does that really give the media to portray it all in this way?

I don't know. I've never hidden my fantasies. I've always thought that was the best policy. This raises more questions for me than answers, or concrete fears.

Does anyone know more about what happened?

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Sex, Lies, Transmisogyny, and the Heteronormativity of BDSM, pt. 2

Sex, Lies, Transmisogyny, and the Heteronormativity of BDSM, pt. 2

Part 2 of Lisa being amazing. On BDSM:

Her implication is that being a sub, being a slave, being a bottom, whatever you want to call it, is completely passive. That basically, all you do is lay there while your top whips you, drips hot candle wax on you, ties you up in restraints, and so on. The top gives and the bottom receives. That the dynamic goes exactly one way. That the top has power and the bottom does not. That the dynamic is identical to the stereotypical heterosexual missionary sex act where the man plunges in and the woman just lays there and takes it. Healthy BDSM relationships just don’t work that way. They have to be highly interactive, with communication and power going both ways. The top has the power to do whatever she wants within the bottom’s boundaries, and the bottom has the power to stop it at any time. Trust is the primary facet of a strong relationship between a top and a bottom, and Ms. Croson does not even acknowledge this. She can’t afford to, since she wants her readers to view BDSM as abusive heterosexual practices taken to an extreme. The top as an angry, controlling wifebeater, the bottom as a submissive victim who can’t even bring herself to leave her abuser.

This is echoed in the beliefs, when inclusion of BDSM practitioners at MWMF was being debated, and some women believed that allowing them on the land would give the subs a chance to escape these obviously abusive relationships. Some suggested setting up workshops to help them get away - of course, none wanted to get away because they love their kinks and have too strong a sense of themselves to allow others to talk them out of it.

On transgender:

She repeats the same arguments about transgender as she does about BDSM - which is expected, because she wants both equated as the same kinds of “wrong things” in feminist eyes. She again asserts that “where identity springs from is never examined.” What she really means is “Whenever trans people explain their identities, their sense of self, and why they transition, we ignore them and impose our narratives upon their lives. Those invented narratives never examine where identity springs from.” As I mention before, if you differ from the expected norm, you’re almost forced to examine it. I spent years when most kids think about G.I. Joe or Barbies trying to deconstruct what the hell “being a girl” meant vs. “being a boy.” I tried to see myself as a person with both a male and female spirit before I was eight years old. I tried to examine the possibilities that I was just a transvestite, or gay. I questioned constantly how I could know I was a girl when my body said I was a boy. I examined my identity, my sense of self, every way I could think of. I tried to suppress the idea entirely. I never really got to the bottom of it all, but I searched every nook, cranny, and crevice I could find that might give me some hint. I just don’t see how you can grow up with the sense of being one gender, your body being the other sex, and dealing with the messages society sends boys and girls while trying to sort them all out without some serious examinations of what’s going on.

Her argument seems to imply that trans people decide one day that we want to transition, that we’d be more comfortable as the other sex, or life would be easier because we can’t handle being gay - this isn’t much of a stretch, because other articles on Questioning Transgender explicitly lay this out. In her lack of understanding - and her lack of willingness to understand - transgender lives, Ms. Croson imposes patriarchy upon who and what we are.

Sunday, 11 November 2007

Sex, Lies, Transmisogyny, and the Heteronormativity of BDSM, pt. 1

Link time! Sex, Lies, Transmisogyny, and the Heteronormativity of BDSM, pt. 1

An amazing post rebutting a "radical feminist" "analysis" of the supposed politics behind SM and transgenderism, and how they supposedly intersect. I excerpt my favorite bits, but the whole thing is excellent.

This is one of the linchpins of bigoted feminism in general - the basic premise that women can never be the oppressor. That because women are oppressed by men, that it is impossible for women to oppress anyone else, that they don’t have the power. Earlier, she complains that pro-trans people and pro-BDSM people criticize Feminist arguments against both groups as “saying that women lack agency.” Of course, the idea that women can’t oppress is saying that - it’s saying that women are too weak to do anything. If you can’t oppress a group with less social capital than your own, what can you do? To be honest, the idea that these cis vanilla women are not oppressing BDSM practitioners or trans women is ludicrous, and smacks of newspeak. They’re trying to redefine the language - the meanings of the words used - to say that what they do is not oppression, while at the same time practicing oppression. They may as well place a sign reading “Freedom is Slavery” and “We have always been at war with Camp Transia” over the entrance gate to MWMF, given how thoroughly they practice this redefinition.

....The problem with not allowing yourself to be defined as an oppressor is pretty simple: It excuses you from owning your shit. It’s like white people who claim to be “colorblind,” thus denying the reality of race relations and pretending they aren’t racist. It’s a luxury the privileged have - to ignore their own status as oppressors. The cis women who want trans-exclusive space have the luxury - with their cissexual privilege - of denying that there’s any oppression going on here, because it costs them absolutely nothing to do so. On the other hand, I can’t deny the oppression I experience, I can’t afford to. I can’t look at the MWMF trans-exclusive policy and how it’s echoed throughout lesbian and feminist culture, and say “Well, that has no effect on me” because it is aimed directly at me. I don’t have the luxury of believing cis women who not only say that they’re not transphobic, but deny transphobia even exists. Women who openly practice BDSM are in a similar position. They can be ostracized for their “patriarchal sex practices” and do not have the luxury of pretending that all of the lesbian community accepts them, or at least treats them fairly. Lesbians who don’t practice BDSM can believe that, because again it doesn’t cost them anything to deny their own agency and complicity in this oppression.

Next, Ms. Croson discusses “transgression.” One of the red herrings that comes up in discussions about trans people is that transphobic radical feminists will start attacking imaginary transgender political stances. One of those is the idea that trans people run around claiming to transgress gender, that we’re gender rebels out to smash the gender binary. They then criticize us for not actually doing this. It’s immaterial that we don’t run around claiming this, we’re judged for not doing so because, well, radical feminism would like to destroy the gender binary, and they see us as reinforcing it.

She talks about how it’s transgressive for women to choose our own sexuality, to choose sexual roles denied by patriarchal norms. And I do think that the willingness to accept yourself as anywhere on the queer spectrum is transgressive. Modern society hates gay men, hates lesbians, hates bisexuals, really truly for sure hates transgender and transsexual people. When someone who appears to be a man goes through all that effort to become a woman, society punishes us harshly - we lose friends, family, jobs. We sometimes get pushed to the point where we have to engage in survival sex work just to pay the bills and keep the hormones flowing. A trans person is more likely to be murdered than anyone else in America. This is because to society, we are transgressive. The fact that a trans man can grow a beard and be accepted as a man if his trans status isn’t known is just plain outside what many people are willing to accept as valid. But because most of us go from man to woman or woman to man, we’re accused of reinforcing the gender binary, of not transgressing the norms, etc. etc.

The other problem with this is that it conflates our desire to live our lives with political goals. Real lesbians do not declare themselves lesbian to transgress heteronormative society. Real lesbians declare themselves lesbians because we want to live our lives and not suppress who we are. This does affect our politics, but our politics do not drive this. People who practice BDSM do not practice BDSM as a political statement. They do this because that is the kind of sex they enjoy. We do not choose these things to transgress, but society punishes us for doing so because they are transgressions.

I am in lust with Lisa's brain.

Especially the points about transgression. I definitely think people have a tendency to look at people who transgress and assume the thrill of defiance is the whole reason why. And for some people I'm sure it is... but for a lot of people, getting a little thrill out of transgression is a meager positive compensation for living the lives we have to live to be ourselves.

Friday, 2 November 2007


Every now and again in discussions of BDSM (especially discussions that some people deem "too" pro-BDSM), I see someone citing their personal experience, saying something like

"I wish I could be as optimistic as you that most people use/do BDSM positively. But I've simply met/run across/seen too many abusers in the community to think that your pro-BDSM position is anything but a 'head in the sand' stance."

(the latest iteration being someone who visited us, here.)

And the thing that always leaves me scratching my head is: I've not met many. I've been in the scene for, oh gods, seven years now? and I can think, off the top of my head, of all of three people I'd expect to abuse others. And a couple more who I'd think wouldn't go so far as abuse, but who might set up dynamics that would prove ultimately unhealthy (moreso than your average run of the mill bad relationship, I mean.)

Now, I couldn't tell you how many BDSMers I've met in all those seven years. And I'm pretty choosy in who I'm close enough to that I'd know how dating works for them. But all that said, I've met a pretty hefty number of people, and made a lot of friends.

Three out of (unspecified) really ain't bad, unless of course (unspecified) were, say, seven or something.

It's not. You meet a fuckload of people when you're interacting with large groups of BDSM folk minimum of once a week for a few years.

And yes, three is three too many. But I really don't think I've not met vanilla abusers, such that three is startling and horrifying and a reason to think BDSM has an inherent problem.

So what's this large proportion of abusers? Am I just odd, or particularly conscientious in choosing friends, partners, or community groups? Or are these "many abusers," as I sometimes suspect, actually a comment not on people one has interacted with but rather a comment on perusing clueless online websites. On which, as I'm sure we all know by now, anyone can assert that anything is "responsible domination?"

How about it, folks? How many abusers have you met? What enclaves have you run into, or not? Go wild. Let's talk. What's out there? How naive am I? I think of myself as a battle-scarred vet by now (and I gather that I'm actually more involved in larger orgs than most people here, even), but maybe not...

Saturday, 27 October 2007


In discussions of SM and feminism, I frequently see the following coming from anti SM people:

"People who do BDSM are not oppressed. When you complain about how people treat you, whether that be other feminists or mainstream society, you're insulting people who really are oppressed. It's as if oppression were a fad that you want to be a part of, rather than a brutal reality in the lives of members of subordinated groups. "

I was always sympathetic to this view. I always figured that most of us have life pretty easy, at least as far as SM goes.

Then I realized something. Not about how bad we have it, but about the words and concepts we're using. I realized that I don't actually know what the word oppression means. I know how it's used. I know roughly what we mean when we say it. But I don't know an official definition, such that it's possible for me to clearly delineate its boundaries. I know the paradigm cases of oppression, but I don't have a decent enough definition to be sure which cases aren't close enough to the paradigm to qualify.

And I started to realize that without that definition, my assertions that SMers are not oppressed were merely based on intuitions about how bad we have it compared to the paradigm oppressed groups, such as women, people of color, transgendered people, people with disabilities, etc. Since my intuitions were (and still are) that we don't have it as bad, I decided that we must not be oppressed.

But then I started to think about what the word might mean. Here's what I came up with. If any of you have definition of your own, or official citations about exactly what different theorists take to be the meaning of the word, please do add them here. I would love to see them; I'm flying blind.

Oppression is a social system in which one group has arbitrary power over another and exercises this power in an unjustly cruel, limiting, or stunting way.

Then I started thinking about SMers and other unusual sexual minorities, like fetishists of various sorts. I started wondering what I would say about our position in society, and whether a definition like the one I've given above could apply to us.

I'm going to save "Social system" for last, even though it comes first in the definition. This is because I think the sticking point in these discussions is whether members of these sexual minorities are mistreated in a truly systemic way.

First there's the question of social power. I definitely do think that there is a sexual mainstream, and that the members of that mainstream can and do wield power over those of us who are not members of it. We can be intimidated into hiding our identities. We can be fired from jobs. We can lose custody of children. We can face ridicule, distrust, and suspicion for not being members of this mainstream. We can be shamed into believing ourselves inferior. We can be told by mental health professionals that there's something wrong with us for not being part of this mainstream. (Yes, this can and does happen even though there are current movements to recognize us as mentally healthy. It's happened to me. ) All that indicates to me that there are two social groups here, and that one has power of various sorts that the other does not.

And I do think we're limited or stunted by these things. Obviously, if we happen to be the ones who lose custody of our children, lose our jobs, lose the trust of our communities, we've been limited and stunted. If we have to hide who we are, as most of us do, that's another form of stunting.

In my own personal life, I'm very excited about a possible job in the offing. My writing about disability rights will be relevant if I get this job. But I will have to pull all that out of its original context on my blog unless I'm willing to be out at work as someone who also not only supports the rights of kinky people, but freely and proudly admits to being one herself.

(Yes, even if I did feel I could do this I realize I would still have to "clean up" or lock some of the non-political adult content on TSA, but I think that is a different issue. )

I believe that my activism around sexuality only truly makes sense in its full context, but I fear offering that full context. Since I mentioned disability rights blogging to these people, I'd love to be able to say that I blog at TSA about all sorts of things, including disability rights.

I'm not going to do that. I don't believe that's fair or right, but I believe it's the wisest course of action in a world in which my sexuality is deemed fantastically inappropriate in a way vanilla sexuality is not.

Even more emotionally vivid, however, are the descriptions many of us have shared when of our struggles with internalized shame around our sexual interests and activities. These are toxic messages that we've received from people around us that say that we're violent, perverse (and not in the reclaiming way, either), or fundamentally broken because we don't function sexually in the way everyone is expected to. This kind of stigmatization is poisonous.

And it is pretty clearly arbitrary which sexualities are valued and which are not. There is no particular reason that I can see to disparage fetishes, or sexual interest in pain or power.

The sticky question, I believe, is the question of whether these problems are systemic. If we think about the ways that the paradigm cases of oppressed groups are treated, there has always been obvious social support for discrimination against them. If you look at the historical situation of women, for example, you can clearly see discrimination enshrined in law. Women not having the vote is one example. Doctrines of coverture are another. Looking at other groups, we see other socially enshrined discrimination. No marriage for gays, for example. The obvious example of legal slavery in American history.

I may sound like I'm too what's called "liberal feminist" here, focusing on the letter of the law. I don't mean to only do that. It's of course true that many forms of violence go on outside the law as well. It's not legal to bash, for example, even in places that don't deem it a hate crime. And various forms of group-based terror that are illegal are in fact ignored, tolerated, or actively encouraged, even, by those who supposedly enforce laws against them.

However, I wanted to mention and emphasize the historical legality of some groups' power over others. I think a lot of us, in our efforts to not be legalistic about oppression, are losing sight of the fact that most forms of oppression have actually had legal backing of one sort or another throughout history. I think that's an important fact, and one we shouldn't forget about even now that people are more genteel/covert about their oppressing.

And I think this legal history is a part of what makes BDSM look like it couldn't be an axis of oppression, as well. As far as SM goes, however, it's much more difficult to find laws on the books that are specifically aimed at preventing us from doing what we do, or from setting up the kinds of relationships that many of us want. Flogging, for example, is in fact illegal in my state so far as I know. However, as I understand it, the law arose not to prevent consensual sexual interactions but as a way of criminalizing punishments for sailors that people had come to consider overly cruel. Similarly, there are laws designed to regulate sexual conduct in public or semi public that impact what can happen at play parties or conventions, but as I understand these laws, they were originally designed as limitations on sex work in clubs, and on patrons of those clubs. (Which may well also suck, but is not about targeting SMers for being SMers.)

And I think this is where people get "But you're not oppressed. " I don't think it's really a statement about how little we are affected. I think many people admit that we are or can be profoundly affected by all this stuff. I think what holds people back from calling that oppression is that there's no blatantly obvious culturally enshrined history of beating up, locking away, or hatefully speaking to sadomasochists specifically. I think that's why people think that we're whining, or wanting a piece of "Oppression pie. "

But lately I've begun to think that there's no particular reason for considering what happens to us not to be oppression. While we're not specifically targeted as SM people, there is plenty that does affect us. The laws that I've mentioned. The shame that I've mentioned. The fact that laws about obscenity do specifically mention us and what we do in terms that flat out define what we do as abuse.

Looking up obscenity law in my state some years ago in an effort to determine what was legal for me to put on a personal web site, I found that the law mentioned depictions of "sadomasochistic abuse" without mentioning any possibility for sadomasochistic non-abuse. While obscenity laws at least in the US allow the out of proving your work has artistic or other value, I think it's telling and it matters that what we do is defined by a group of people, who are not us, as abuse full stop.

Because of all this, I'm beginning to think that in order to claim that people who practice BDSM and other stigmatized forms of sexuality are not oppressed, those who want to say it's obvious and clear that they are not need to

1) clearly put forth their definition of oppression, and
2) demonstrate that members of this these particular alternative sexualities are not covered under it.

It's quite possible that there is a cogent definition of oppression that does not include us; if there is, and it's a better definition, that's fine with me. I just find myself unable to think of one that captures what oppression is that clearly excludes us.

Thursday, 25 October 2007

Having the Conversation

So a bunch of threads I've read in various places lately that have had some anti-BDSM overtones, there's one thing that I keep seeing people saying, which goes something like, "Clearly I don't know about this subject to actually argue about it [with actual kinky people]." Which sort of has me thinking, as one of the things that I've been having a lot of conversations about lately has been, more or less, "If I could just impart this knowledge, I wouldn't have to fight about this ..."

So it struck me that it might be useful to try to assemble a few things that kinky folks think would be useful to have compiled as 'before we fight, you should know' or something like that. Not getting the words quite right there, but I hope I'm making some sense.

The ones I've thought of while reading some of the discussions that are sort of general are:

* being a top/dominant/sadist does not intrinsically mean being interested in abuse, rape, violence, or non-consensual pain.
* being a bottom/submissive/masochist does not intrinsically mean being abused, a doormat, or having embraced a sense of personal worthlessness.
* top-dominant-sadist and bottom-submissive-masochist aren't tidy little categories into which kinky people can be divided; there exist people like dominant masochists or people who bottom without submitting, to pick two of a wide variety of potential combinations.
* people who can happily adopt both sides of a typically paired (as in top/bottom) role exist.
* some people get off on being deviant/transgressive/"kink on sin", yes, but many people -- certainly the overwhelming majority of the ones I know, though I would not presume to speculate about whether that's true in general -- get off on what they get off on without reference to whether or not it is something that offends the mainstream.
* an understanding of what it is to be kinky derived from public reports of play parties, photography of the Folsom Street Fair or a Fetish Flea, or news reports about acrimonious divorces with unsigned "slave contracts" involved is at best woefully incomplete, and at worst an offensively cartoonish caricature of the lives of kinky people.
* while some people tie their kink to gender in some fashion, a large number of people don't, and trying to force their behaviour to fit a gendered lens will produce gibberish.
* gay kinksters exist; kinky-people-of-color exist; disabled BDSMers exist; also Christians, feminists, members of various political parties; in short, kink coexists with a wide-ranging variety of other adjectives and affiliations.

A few more personal ones:

* if your response to my identifying myself as a submissive is to ask me how I can reconcile that sort of humiliation with a certain set of values, you either need to learn that your assumptions about what submission entails are flagrantly incorrect or get over your belief that providing good and competent service (and being well rewarded for it, at that) is intrinsically degrading.
* I feel treated more like an equal in my relationship with my liege than I did in the relationship with my ex whose egalitarianism precluded comfort with kink involving power.
* a little light bondage combined with a spooning snuggle is one of the most comforting things in the world to me (when I mentioned this to a friend the other day she commented that they sell weighted blankets for kids with sensory integration problems and nobody calls that indoctrination into bondage).
* my kinky sexuality is thoroughly integrated into my spiritual life, and no, it does not cause me problems with god.
* if your political agenda demands that my sexuality serve it, I am likely to back away slowly and consider you extremely creepy.
* I don't find the idea that when utopia happens people like me won't exist to be terribly utopian.

So. Anyone want to add to these lists?

Saturday, 20 October 2007

Confession time...

...and please realize THIS IS JUST ME, and I'm not asserting anything.

I often find myself wondering just how it is that vanilla sexuality is as passionate as BDSM. It's not that vanilla sex isn't *nice*, I like it a lot, but it really doesn't give me that all-consuming feeling of drowning in desire as BDSM does.

And I always wonder: is that because BDSM is actually more intense, or is it just because I'm orientationally BDSMish, such that stuff that's not BDSMy in at least some vague way isn't going to fan my flames in the same way?

I wonder about this because I sometimes hear people who criticize BDSM talk in ways that makes it sound like they actually do think of BDSM as particularly intense, and that intensity as frightening or negative.

I sometimes suspect it's that that frightens people about BDSM, much more than patriarchy or pain or whatever the criticism du jour happens to be. It's the fear that if you submit you get lost in it, lose yourself, lose your autonomy, lose your soul -- and that's not something feminists want happening to women.

And it's that getting lost experience that I think a lot of people really want out of BDSM scenes and sex. Going under. Diving deep.

I think a lot of us have a fear of... our inner oceans. Especially the sort of thinkillectual people who find it worthwhile to write long essays about why they think the world is better off without them (not linking, but you can find it in the current Alas threads if you want.)

There's a part of me that doesn't know the meaning of "enough." That's what SM is about to me. Excess. Intensity. Indulgence. Glutting my soul on intense power and passion. Letting it wash over me like blood. (That sounds like something from an opera because it should...)

And I think there's a lot of fear of that in some people. Including me sometimes.

Monday, 15 October 2007


(xposted from my blog. and please don't spam the linked comm with rageyrage. it's not worth it. I link just to show you that it does happen)

There are two "models" I've used to understand SM and SM desire throughout my life.

The first I remember most vividly when I called the urgent care line at my university. I'd been having serious trouble coming to terms with my desires, and had seriously self-harmed for the first time. I remember calling the helpline and talking to a young woman, probably a student. I confessed my desires and my shame and the fact that I'd cut myself out of shame. I can't remember if I begged her to help me change. Maybe I did. I remember staring at my half-drunk smoothie on my desk as it melted, feeling like I was in some weird dream.

She had no idea how to deal with me. I can't recall if I asked for an actual psychiatrist or if I just called back the next night. But the same thing happened, the crying confession, and suddenly the voice on the other end of the line said words that changed my whole life.

"Don't you realize that among people who have gone through serious trauma like you have, sadomasochistic sexual fantasies are common?"

Common? It rocked my universe. I wasn't weird at all. (It almost made me sad. Took away this feeling I had that I was one of the few, the marked, the profoundly perverted.) I was just damaged, just responding to things that had happened to me. In a way that was not only understandable, but sensible and perhaps even sane.

Those words changed my life. I don't know if I'd be here if they hadn't given me an anchor, a way to believe that I wasn't cursed or doomed or rotten, crazy, fundamentally wrong inside.

And that is one model. The trauma model. This model says something like: Sadomasochism is a response to trauma.

On this model, it's a coping device, essentially. People develop fixations with pain and with traumatic experiences involving power (say, abuse), perhaps because the experience of it is intense, perhaps because it leaves psychic scars. But people feel compulsions to act out or to re-live their trauma. Sadomasochistic fantasy is an attempt to do this, in order to regain control that we had torn from us.

This model is okay, so far as it goes. It offers us a chance to be something other than twisted, insane, incomprehensible. But it still leaves us with something odd and unacceptable, to my mind.

That is that if we still have these interests or fantasies many years after the initial event, this indicates that we have not adequately processed the trauma. I was told many times that my fantasies "might" go away, or lessen in intensity, once I had dealt with the underlying issue. It led to many bouts of guilt when my fantasies were particularly strong or particularly violent, and to paralyzing fear that I had backslid on some scale of Survivor's Progress.

And it led to people like my parents believing that someday I'd be cured of SM, and asking me why oh why oh why I remained obsessed with the things that had happened to me and telling me of their great hope that someday I would no longer be fascinated with pain.

I don't believe the trauma had no effect on me. I actually suspect that the fact that my strongest fantasies involve knives and blood have more than a little to do with being cut open. However, as I'll make clearer in a moment, I don't subscribe to this model, and I don't feel at all sure I wouldn't have developed other sadomasochistic interests if I hadn't been.

The second model is an orientational model. This is the theory that, at least for some people, SM desires simply are what they are, a facet of the person, like being straight or being gay. Like those, we don't know quite what causes them. Unlike those, we don't have (at least that I know of) any interesting research suggesting a biological basis or link or influence.

This is what we get -- or what I get, really, as I don't want to speak for others, least of all for researchers -- when I look around and see the people who tied themselves up at age 8, and don't really remember any abuse, thanks. The people who would try to finagle their friends into bossing them around, and fuss and fume when the toppy-tots they recruited were too kind. The people who were never spanked, but who would see the family across the street punishing the kids and feel all tingly and wonder when it was their turn. The folks who tied up their teddy bears.

I don't think any other model makes sense, really. Even the most committed Freudian who felt sure the trauma model applied to me squirmed when I asked him "Can I change?" and said something about how it depended how firmly rooted my response to those formative experiences were.

His answer was the answer I knew perfectly well myself, but he couldn't say out loud, because to him it was a sentence of perpetual brokenness or abnormality: If you have to ask, the answer's "no."

It's possible for the two models to be complementary: This is your orientation, and you have it precisely because of past trauma.

But the thing is: if orientation is orientation, why care where it comes from? Think of the conservatives scrambling to get people into reparative therapy for homosexuality. It matters where this comes from because if it is a mental health problem, one common mode of talk therapy is to work through past issues. It matters because what they've got is a model like the trauma model: work your issues with Mo or Dad out and the gay will go poof.

But if gayness is an orientation, where it comes from is an interesting question, but not a vital one. Humanity is diverse, and that's that. If it's biology, well, so are a lot of things, from eye color to handedness. We stop caring why, because why is not the important question.

And that's the thing that many haven't gotten to yet with SM. Even when people do respect us, there's this idea that asking why is appropriate. It's the sort of thing for which a reason is needed, whether it be trauma or being spanked as a child or the influence of patriarchy or any number of other odd theories people come up with.

When people ask me why and I say "I neither know nor care," particularly in certain feminist circles, this is taken to be "compartmentalizing" a part of my life and not exposing it to useful or necessary scrutiny. But if I asked these women (as the case may be) "why are you straight?" or "why are you queer?" the answer, I'd bet, would not be a thoughtful discussion of social factors. A truly committed "radical" might admit some of it is socially constructed, but for most people, in the end, the answer is "I am."

And that's my answer, too. I am because I am. I don't have to know why, because it's the wrong question in the first place.

Thursday, 11 October 2007

Rape fantasy

I don't have time to write up a post, but I did want to point y'all toward this feminist discussion of rape fantasy.

Briefly, though, I will say that I've had rape fantasies most of my adult life. However, I gather they're not the same as most other women's. Mine are fantasies of doing the forcing, almost always to men. Sometimes they're simply violent (many of these are fantasies of getting revenge on male rapists by eye for an eye justice), and sometimes they are about forcing someone who is shy or someone who really wants to be fucked but couldn't ask for it because he's homophobic and thinks it would be emasculating.

I find that males are often a lot less troubled by these sorts of fantasy. I've never played one out, but many kinky men I've mentioned them to have responded with "oh, that's hot!" or "let's act that out!" rather than with intense fear of tripping emotional land mines. I think there's something to this: real rape is usually male-on-female violence, so my fantasy sounds a lot less real and a lot more like something to pretend for fun.

But personally I'm really troubled by the idea that someone who has fantasized about forcing someone else is someone who you should be leery of only for that reason. Shouldn't you be asking yourself why the person thought of it? Thinking about why you might fear that the person can't separate fantasy from reality?

In some cases I'm sure people can't. But... it just doesn't compute in my head how this might mean I'd actually enjoy doing real psychic damage to someone I like and am interested in. It's like saying that because I'd enjoy playing a video game deathmatch against my friends, I have a secret desire to harm them.

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

YouTube clip about censorship in the Criminal Justice Bill

This two-minute video has been produced to spread the news about the censorship measures in the UK Criminal Justice Bill, and Backlash's opposition to them. The bill passed its second reading this week and is now at committee stage.

[Edit: YouTube have removed the clip]

The film takes a "film censorship debate" approach rather than a "BDSM rights" approach, as the former is likely to be more widely understood.

WARNING: The footage is violent and potentially distressing, as it shows the kind of material that will soon be illegal to own as stills, including controversial art films such as A Clockwork Orange.

Saturday, 6 October 2007


Because of the recent discussion of "SM sadist" vs "abuser who seems to get off on abusing" over at another blog, I've been thinking a lot about sadism. About whether those of us who get sexual thrills from doing consensual things that involve pain (or power, though I'm never sure quite how interconnected those two are or aren't in any given case, and rambling about that is for another post) are similar to those famous monsters prowling the edges of human society, who get off on doing terrible things to people nonconsensually. I've been reading a lot about lust murderers in particular.

And the question for me is: How much is the same and how much is different? I'm working off the assumption that people like me wouldn't do what they do -- I'm not worried about that. I wish I had the source quote now, but I remember someone who had studied both populations mentioning "If you asked members of each group 'Imagine doing these things to someone consensually. How would you feel about that?' the SM sadists would find that exciting, and the others would find that a turn-off." So clearly there is a difference.

But I wonder if it's the same impulse in the human mind, or if even the drive is different (though similar enough to look related.) I think there's a very big desire to say "we're nothing like them" and "it's something else", but I'm not totally convinced. It makes me wonder: am I experiencing similar, or related, feelings to them, but I have ethics that serve as "brakes" -- that stop me from doing or even from wanting to do these things nonconsensually? Is it just that in my case morals trump lust, and they have none?

Or does the fact that, while I may fantasize about nonconsensual situations I have zero desire to actually rape (much less kill -- actually, killing makes no sense. [Count Rugen] Dead people can't feel pain. Why bother with that? [/Count Rugen]) mean that my desires are actually qualitatively different, such that using the same word (sadism) is actually a misnomer?

I don't know. I used to think that these two groups represented two very different types of mind, such that very little related was going on in each. But now I'm feeling like that's probably just an attempt on my part to further distance myself from them: "oh, these couldn't possibly be similar!"

When, really, there's actually a lot in human monsters' stories that sounds familiar: Trauma. Fear of other people. Desire for revenge. Shame, particularly sexual shame. Feeling that real people will never want you. Irrational fear, anger, hate. Overwhelming, seemingly uncontrollable feelings of lust (especially if, as many of these men are, we're raised to believe sex and desire are dirty and shameful.) I think we've all experienced those things (well, maybe not the lust, if we're asexual.)

And why shouldn't a dark impulse (to hurt people for fun) look at least vaguely similar in both, when you get right down to its nature, isolated from everything else? Why wouldn't it be that SM sadists are feeling/noticing/toying with a particularly spooky strain of the gamut of human desires? Every time I've tried to tell myself "this has to be totally different," I then find myself with a profoundly violent fantasy that really makes me wonder if I'm truly in the shallow end of the pool. No, I'd never intentionally do harm. But yes, there BE dragons in these waters. To pretend they're friendly eels is... not on. :)

So I've been thinking: what is it that makes the lust murderers and other such sadists so different, so unreachable? And the conclusion I keep coming to is that it's got at least something to do with empathy. It seems to me that maybe the underlying impulse/connection between inflicting pain and sexual desire is the same, but it manifests very differently in someone who has normal to high amounts of empathy and someone who has little or none.

I remember a while back someone contacting me via LJ who told me that he was fascinated by me because I openly admitted to being a sadomasochist. He mentioned that he'd always found pain "beautiful", both his own and others'. He mentioned having difficulty with empathy, and said things like "I don't understand why other people would be afraid of pain. It's beautiful."

And that, well, predictably, set off some alarm bells in the head of yours truly. Because, well, I can empathize with others, thanks, and if they don't want me to hurt them I have a pretty good idea why not. I might feel sad about this and prefer that we have SM-y fun, but I'm not going to wonder what's wrong with someone for saying "No, that doesn't feel good or 'beautiful' or whatever to me, please don't do it."

So the best I can parse: yes, these desires are probably at least vaguely similar. But they manifest very differently depending on whether you have normal or high empathy levels, or an empathy black hole.

But then the question becomes: why do some people who have normal-to-high empathy levels like to hurt people? And why would that be sexual?

And that's where I personally veer off into spirituality-land again, because reason just doesn't explain it for me, and the idea that there's some either genetic or culturally induced desire for dominance doesn't explain enough, either. I don't have any particular reason I can imagine for being like this. The dominance part I might make sense of in any number of ways: high testosterone, genetics, past traumas inducing a stronger than usual yen for control, societal training. (Some of these make sense to me, some don't. I'm not arguing for any, just saying they can be rationally argued for in ways that are at least somewhat convincing.) But the sadism? The fact that if sex is feeling stale to me all I have to do is imagine someone getting impaled by large metal implements of torture?

That I can't put in a neat box. I'm a mild-mannered nerdy female. Why my sexual desire would be so tied to violent fantasy... I can't parse with sense.

So, like most things that rationality doesn't answer for me, I turn to a spiritual explanation. I think we're here to, in some way, balance out the bad ones. I don't know how exactly we do this. After all, since this presupposes that we're the ones with morals, we can't hunt them down and exterminate or violently reprogram them. Even if we wanted to it's an open question whether it would be safe at all for us to try.

But I still have this feeling that the gods must have noticed the human monsters roaming around, and decided to do something about it. Even if it's just something like -- they were the prototype, and the gods saw them wandering around and went "oh shit" and made sure Version 2 came with empathy centers.

Thursday, 4 October 2007

Spirituality and BDSM

So this is coming up in some comments in other threads, and it's one of the things that I'm interested in, so what the hey, I'll open up the thought for some more general discussion.

For how many folks around here is their BDSM entwined with spirituality? I know I've been writing a fair bit on and off over at my place on things that touch on ecstatic practices around the world, which include things like orgasm/sex denial, flagellation and other forms of pain endurance, ordeal training, descent into the underworld and other things that are readily metaphorisable in terms of d/s, sensory deprivation, and so on; all things that translate rather well into kink and have been written about in kink/spiritual terms by various authors. I know that my current explorations of sadomasochism in specific are explicitly religiously driven at this point.

The biggest thing for me in kink and spirituality is actually in terms of my work with Feri witchcraft. For those who aren't familiar with the Anderson Feri tradition, it's an American tradition of religious witchcraft with ties in a whole bunch of places, and one of the parents of the far better known Reclaiming tradition, associated with Starhawk, which is a mover and shaker in the goddess spirituality / feminist spirituality circles in the States.

One of the major tools of the Feri tradition, which it shares with Reclaiming, is something called the Iron Pentacle. The relevant part of this is that each point of the Iron Pent is, for lack of a better word, a virtue, something which the tradition founders considered unreasonably denigrated in surrounding culture, which needed to be claimed by the individual in order to become a whole human being. Those points are Sex, Pride, Self, Power, and Passion. These are all things I write about and explore in terms of kink, and my d/s relationship both in its development and practice has been intensely intertwined with my work with the IP; I've been working with them both for about the same time, in fact, as my relationship with my liege began in the part of my training where I was formally taught the IP. I've gotten into arguments with other Feris about whether it's possible for a submissive to present the virtues of Iron, and this is one of the reasons I get vehement about things like expanding an understanding of what it means to have, hold, and manifest power.

One of the fascinating conversations I had a while back about the intersection of BDSM, specifically d/s, and spirituality was with someone who had a hard time understanding how a submissive could be a worthy follower of a god -- because all of their experience with subs was with the surrendered doormat style, "I can't do anything, do it all for me, what master says is what goes" thing, rather than someone who was capable in their own right and choosing a path of service. I about broke their head a little when I pointed out that I am a sub, and further that I frame some of my relationships within my faiths in d/s terms.

So, there's a little of how the kink and spiritual interact for me; anyone else want to share?

Friday, 28 September 2007

People != Magnifying Glasses

Mandolin's long-awaited post to Alas, A Blog on BDSM is finally up now.

It's quite long and quite thoughtful. I'll excerpt here, but you really should read the whole thing. I first got wind of it being up from a friend who excerpted only parts of it, and the parts ze chose made it sound really demeaning and obnoxious. So just in case I do the same: read it all.

First, the background. She had a friend, who ended up in a profoundly harrowing abusive relationship:

He had given her a collar, which she was to wear at all times. When he came home from work, she was to present herself naked for his inspection, on all fours and acting like a dog until he gave her permission to be upright and human again. He would examine her body, and then examine the house. If everything was not as he preferred, he would beat her.

My friend told me, “I asked her to stop telling me about it. He bashes her head into the sink, over and over again. She won’t stop it. She won’t let me help her. I can’t bear to hear her anymore.”

I saw Christina once after the abuse started, when she stumbled back to her home state for a brief vacation, after which she returned to her abuser. She was pained, and tired. Before, she had been mercurial and childish. Now, she flashed between moments of intense childlike pouting, and a kind of hard-used suffering when she would suddenly become still and talk about her life in a halting, labored tone.

....They called their relationship BDSM.
And now for the thoughtful parts of the post:

Increasingly, I think this is an important point. Abusive men who would never frame their desire for control in terms of BDSM are still experiencing a desire for control. Submissive wives who are too timid to protest rape may not be thinking of themselves as sexual masochists, but they may be acting in ways that are consistent with submission.

On television, we see sexualized rape scenes. We see the torture of women framed as titilating. We see women wilting from abuse who are still being filmed as sex objects.

This is *unacknowledged* sadomasochism — it’s sadomasochism divorced from the safety rules of BDSM culture and unleashed into the mainstream. It’s BDSM without honest discussion or contemplation. It’s BDSM without the name BDSM. It’s BDSM that isn’t a game.

....BDSM culture frightens us because it shows us, naked and acknowledged, the sadistic behaviors that exist elsewhere. Sadism is scary. It can be very problematic. But proper use of BDSM culture is itself the salve. BDSM is a game. It has rules and escapes. It has limits and safe words. It defines boundaries. It stimulates articulation of power dynamics which otherwise fester unacknowledged. If everyone who fetishized control acknowledged it, and respected the rules of BDSM, probably the world would be a safer place.

My own comments over at Alas, reposted here:

I first saw an excerpt of this post that mentioned only the “unacknowledged sadomasochism” bit and I was really uneasy. Reading the whole thing… I’m still uneasy, but not quite in the same way. What happened to your friend is chilling and horrible, and you are in fact right that there exist people who use BDSM as a cover for their abusiveness.

Well, “cover” isn’t quite the word. I think it’s being used as more than that, as legitimation. I don’t know too much about your average abusive man, but I get the impression that a lot of them are aware on some level that the relationship they’re in is fucked up. I may be wrong, but I suspect that some “honeymoon period” expressions of guilt may have some sincerity, even if the person has no ability or desire to actually stop.

Where with a guy like this, he never has to feel guilt (or at least doesn’t have to acknowledge it) — he can tell himself that that’s what a harsh “Master” does and feel no guilt — as well as have permission to get off on behaving that way, as well.

And yes, knowing someone in a situation like that, especially meeting them before you’re aware of the community and the safeguards present in it (which, as should be obvious from this post, don’t always work — especially not when people become fascinated with the fringes and decide that the people who keep it “too safe” are pansies, which does happen), would make one really suspicious of BDSM. It should.

But I still feel profoundly uneasy with “the unacknowledged sadomasochism in everyday life” type thinking. It’s been very common in anti-SM feminist circles, and it very often takes on a life of its own and grows to the point where it’s no longer clear what “sadomasochism” is supposed to mean. Any social power dynamic becomes a less obvious “form” of “SM,” such that looking at us is a “useful tool” for understanding “hidden” social dynamics. We’re no longer a group, a subculture that deserves respectful ethnographic study. Rather, we’re treated as a tool, a handy magnifying glass for theory-making.

Which is how you get, for example, the absolutely endless heterocentricity in the theory. Any and all SM that’s worth talking about becomes male dominant/female submissive. No gay folks, and no femdom, because that’s not useful for the theory. That doesn’t provide your handy blown-up Patriarchy Microcosm.

And what people are missing there is that gay leather, lesbian leather, femdom, etc. are not funny little outliers that don’t give you information about the patriarchy. They’re integral parts of the whole. If you look at the history of sadomasochistic subcultures in the US, you’ll find that a lot of what exists now in terms of community come from gay leather. The “feminist” focus on M/f dynamics is heterocentric in the extreme, and seeing feminists erase and neglect queer subcultures makes me very uncomfortable.

I’ve also talked incessantly, and I’m sure you’ve seen it from reading sm-f, about the way someone like me — a female who prefers the dominant role — gets ignored completely as some sort of rogue data point. Since I don’t square with the theory, and since people like me are rarer than the reverse, I get treated as someone who it would be derailing or tangential to bother to listen to at all.

I don’t have any problem with critiques of socially compulsory forms of male dominance over women. I share the worries you have about that. I don’t even have a problem with critiques of the heterosexual and pansexual (which reads, more often than not, “het men and bisexual women”) BDSM scene for not doing more to challenge these norms.

But I do object, and object strongly, to the “these people show us something about everyday life!” memes. I am not a magnifying glass. I am a person.

Wednesday, 26 September 2007

Authority (not in the sense you think...)

On a mailing list I'm on, someone mentioned old school radical feminism and brought up Ti-Grace Atkinson on BDSM. I haven't read much of her on it, just whatever was in Against Sadomasochism, and eve there I don't remember what exactly she said as opposed to the others. But what the person brought up was her idea that BDSM exposes, lays bare, shows up in stark contrast the power dynamics under patriarchy.

And I was just thinking about that, about how at least among anti-BDSM feminists, statements and theories like those are assumed to be authoritative. They're assumed to tell the real truth about us and what we do and its meaning.

The curious thing is that they're assumed to do this even when we, people who actually do BDSM, say that's not so, or even claim the opposite.

What that means is that the voice of the theorist ("feminist theorist?" "radical feminist theorist?") gets privileged over the voice of the members of the community. The theorist's voice, the voice of Analysis and "Neutral" Examination, is taken to be a better representation of truth than the voices of the people within the particular subculture/doing the activities being examined.

And that strikes me as a real problem with a lot of theoretical analysis. People get so hung up on theory, on coming up with a theory, on Having An Explanation, that they never stop to consider whether their explanation at all hooks up with the lived experience of those they describe.

It happens all the time. I lurk in various body modification communities, and some people (not everyone) do a lot of things that others consider incomprehensibly painful or strange. Fleshhook suspension. Subdermal implants. Tongue splitting. Cutting and branding. Castration. Voluntary amputation. Even genital piercing is strange to some people.

And of course, the reaction of these people -- some of whom are professionals; just have a look at the random bad editorial articles written by shrinks in magazines -- is to look not at the people's explanation, but to assume that the people must be deluded or have false consciousness to do such strange and drastic things to their bodies. There's little or no attempt to square theory with practice.

And to me, well, yes, it is possible for someone to be deluded about whether something is good for her. Of course. We all are sometimes. But the idea that an entire cultural identity can be ignored and written off simply because a particular theory of false consciousness or social dynamics is internally coherent has always struck me as very odd, if not downright dangerous.

Sunday, 23 September 2007

Update on the UK 'extreme pornography' ban

Thanks to verte for the introduction. Here’s a brief-as-possible summary of the current status of the British government’s proposals to ban the possession of “extreme pornography”.

These proposals have been included as Part Six of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill 2007, which is due for its second reading in the House of Commons on 8 October. If the bill is passed as is, people will be at risk of entry on the Sex Offenders’ Register, and up to three years in jail, just for owning an “extreme image”.

As for what on earth an “extreme image” might be, the bill has become even vaguer on this subject since the consultation stage. It states:

‘An “extreme image” is an image of any of the following—
(a) an act which threatens or appears to threaten a person’s life,
(b) an act which results in or appears to result (or be likely to result) in serious injury to a person’s anus, breasts or genitals,
(c) an act which involves or appears to involve sexual interference with a human corpse,
(d) a person performing or appearing to perform an act of intercourse or oral sex with an animal, where (in each case) any such act, person or animal depicted in the image is or appears to be real.’

Categories c and d are not relevant to consensual sexual activity in the SM community. However, a and b are likely to have extremely serious consequences. No distinction is made between images of real or staged sexual violence, and it appears not to have entered the heads of the drafters that there could be any distinction between sexual assault and consensual rough play.

A rigorous interpretation of the law could make pictures of everything from breathplay to fisting illegal. A really aggressive interpretation could make even images of vanilla sex without a condom illegal, as the participants could contract a life-threatening disease. How the law is interpreted will depend entirely on the investigating authorities.

Most ridiculously of all, it will become illegal to “extract an [extreme pornographic] image” from a “classified work”. This means that you can still buy James Bond: Casino Royale from WHSmiths, but if you take a still from the ball-busting scene you will be a violent pornographer!

Now the proposals are at bill stage, the government has also abandoned the emotive waffle about ‘protecting’ women and children that characterized the earlier stages of the process. Instead, in note 803 to the bill, they specifically refer to the footage in the Spanner case, describing it as ‘the type of activity covered by the offence’. Such material, it says, is ‘abhorrent to most people’.

The UK government, which has prided itself on its support of gay rights, is using one of the most notorious recent miscarriages of justice against gay people as a foundation stone for a new wave of sexual repression. They are doing so in the name of ‘protecting’ women, even though they have not bothered to produce a single concrete example of how women or anyone else will be served by a law that eradicates the distinction between actual sexual assault and photos of kinky fun.

To find out more about the Backlash campaign, visit

Saturday, 22 September 2007


.... Purplepenny!

Latest contributor, UK based switchy type, lapsed member of Feminists Against Censorship and 'women's representative', if you like, for Backlash's campaign, as well as general skivvy. I've written about this myself in brief, but as we're in the run up to the second reading of the Criminal Justice Bill the proposed law banning possession of 'extreme' material is contained in, commentary here is important, I think.


As for me, I've had a hell of a summer and been quiet. Reading, of course.

Wednesday, 19 September 2007


I was just having a peek at an LJ community I used to frequent with regularity (actually, I was once a mod. heh.) and found this. A young radical feminist who is anti-BDSM had this to say (don't bother with the non-bolded bits, really):

This essay will focus on violence in the forms of prostitution, pornography, and sadomasochism because I think that through an exploration of these, one can find the roots of violence against women. In arguing this, I’m not saying that violence against women is a recent phenomenon. I’m saying that prostitution and sadism have existed for millennia. For example, pornography is not a phenomenon of the twentieth century—for example, ancient Greece had “art” depicting gang rape of prostitutes, sexual abuse of boys, and so forth. This also raises a contentious question: what constitutes “violence against women?” As a radical feminist, I include the ejaculation industry , also known as the “sex industry”, as being part of it. This includes prostitution in all its forms, including pornography, stripping, escort services, and, in ways, women who are in relationships with men for economic security, as well as sadopatriarchy, generally known as BDSM (bondage, domination-submission, sadomasochism).

If one is doing exactly what one’s oppressor does, for example gay male pornography that eroticizes gay bashing, child sexual abuse, battery, and rape, how does that change anything? How is self-hatred and/or hatred of others suddenly revolutionary when sexualized?

[When asked by me why she's a member of a BDSM related community on LJ]

I want to be more assertive, but not aggressive. I'm not interesting in harming or humiliating my partner. I don't fantasize about it [BDSM] anymore (haven't for years--but have still had unequal fantasies a few times, about pedophilia).
And I just wanted to say to this person (still may, actually) that... there's a difference between what we think and what we do, and a difference between what we do and what we mimic.

I think there's a lot of emphasis in anti-BDSM circles (or other circles that are "sex-critical" (in quotes because it's only one phrase I've heard to describe people, and some don't identify with it)) on what you think about. What fantasies go through your head, and how and why. It's all about whether what's in your head is "what the oppressor does."

And if you do play, or you do like the rough sex or the D/s, or whatever, there's no possibility of it being playful or mocking or subverting the actual violent experiences. (By "subverting" I'm not here arguing that doing scenes by itself is politically meaningful/destabilizing of norms. I'm meaning "change/remap the meaning of this particular experience. Mock it, be a send-up of it, etc.)

And that just strikes me as strange, because I think back to childhood, and... kids play all the time. Kids re-map, think about, toy with their experiences through play all the time. It's a part of what play does and is about for a child: practice for adult life, attempts to experience or at least mentally visualize experiences they've not had (whether that be being a parent, having a job, or being a fairy princess astronaut rockstar. ;)

And... kids' play is not always innocent. Kids who have experienced abuse will often try to work out what happened to them in play, copy behaviors they've seen, etc. Some kids also just like to play naughtily. I remember best friends of mine burning the ends of toothpicks with candles, then putting the charred picks in our mouths, pretending they were cigarettes. I don't think any of us went on to smoke, and I know I for one thought cigarettes were Very Bad News.

But it was fun to pretend to be bad. And we had lots of games in which we did: Bonnie and Clyde-style, criminals on the run, with glamorous lives. Did it mean we wanted to steal, fight, rape? No.

(the following may be triggering/upsetting)

Actually one thing my friend in that particular game often wanted -- which leads me to wonder now if anything did ever happen to her as a kid, but I have no idea -- was play rape. We didn't actually know what the word meant, as you'll see in a moment, but we were playing "bad people" -- and how would a Bad Guy and his moll have sex? It would be Bad People Sex, and Bad People raped.

We didn't really gather that rape meant nonconsensual, just that it meant Bad + Sex. So my friend would climb onto my parents' bed and writhe, crying out "Rape me, Jack! Rape me!" while I looked on dumbly, knowing too little about the mechanics of sex to even know how to ape it and feeling nervous and scared and like I shouldn't play at *rape*, whatever it was, because it was something horrible in the real world, though I didn't know what or why.


I don't know. Some play can definitely hurt too, whether it's kids playing darkly or adults doing edgy BDSM. But playing with difficult things is a part of life. Imagining yourself in unjust situations, wondering what you'd do, wanting to feel the power or the awe of another person. And surely there's no reason to curse people for what they think about rather than what they do. The whole idea of not having or not wanting fantasies any more is so odd to me. Who cares what you thought about today? Why do you?

And yes, I get that some anti-BDSM people think that doing BDSM at all counts as "doing" exactly what you're thinking of doing -- but I don't buy that. I don't see how doing something in a consciously playful context as an adult is any different than playing as a kid. I don't even see why it's assumed that adults shouldn't play -- clearly kids need more play as a developmental thing, but it's never seemed to me that we completely change as we move from one stage of our lives to another.

I mean, the "play" defense doesn't defend long-term D/s by itself because those power roles are real. But even there -- how is a consensual contract/dynamic that's constantly re-examined and re-negotiated (as it is in the case of anyone I know who has a successful relationship) the same as slavery, when the concept of one is a working intimate relationship and the concept of the other is an unpaid laborer (yes, even in the case of a sexual slave) with no rights?

People have a very odd definition of sameness.

Wednesday, 12 September 2007


I occasionally notice some people getting all wound up over the term "vanilla," angry because they don't like what they look like through deviants' eyes. Here's one particularly over the top example:
The term itself is hardly used as often as it is in circles devoted to Bondage/Discipline/Sadomasochism (the acronym “BDSM” seems overly benign compared to its long form, perhaps by intention), who often employ it to describe anyone outside of their preoccupation and the capitalist webs that serve as a backdrop for their fixation: Vanilla, always referring to others, is a way of focusing on the insider-outsider dynamic and to privilege the group in conceptual space. Accusations of Vanilla do not at all rely on factual evidence of what others do in the bedroom but what one group needs to imagine them doing in order for the insiders to shore up their own sense of identity. Thus, the very idea of hypocrites tends to be elided. While exposing the kink of the God Fearing might be good for a giggle, the amusement is its own end and political implications remain unexplored; outsiders must forever remain Vanilla, just as adherents must remain “otherwise,” even if their own acts begin to mirror the very worst aspects of mainstream culture. If, on one hand, Vanilla Sex is indicative of pre-feminist consciousness and inextricably linked to subjugation (hypothesized as inherent to the missionary position), and is therefore suspect, that the new and improved alternative-sexuality to Vanilla actually includes the word “bondage” in part of its acronym is a galling admission.

To be Vanilla is not just to be normative, it is to be banished wholesale from the new process of identity-politicking that favors choice: Vanilla people have none and are forced to derive their class-based identity from outside opinion, whether they are receptive of the outcome or not. Whereas identities that resulted in nonstandard or exotic “flavors” were once a liability (as it continues to be for those existing in, and under, traditional minority categories), today they are more often than not the result of privilege as it is upwardly mobile and highly educated whites who are most able to carve out for themselves a non-Vanilla identity while simultaneously working to buttress the myth of Vanilla to and append it to their social competitors.
On one hand I can almost understand the butthurt: "Vanilla" means boring and dull. No one likes to hear or wants to hear that the way he fucks (recall that this article writer is that most infuriating of creatures, the pompous feminist man telling us all how it is) is dull. Sex and sexuality are very personal, and most people leap to defend our sexual practices.

Then there's the added wrinkle of the political as well. Most feminists subscribe, to a greater or lesser degree, to the idea that sexuality is affected by culture and cultural norms. If a certain sexuality is stressed, promoted, expected by the culture around you and you rebel against it, you're even more invested in that fight.

Of course this guy and I are on opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of what we believe the status quo actually looks like with respect to sexuality. He's subscribing to the radical feminist "sadomasochism (I hate 'BDSM' too, actually) is an exaggerated version of standard, compulsory sexuality under patriarchy" view, and I'm subscribing to the view that SM is nonstandard, deviant, the kind of thing that lands you out of jobs, losing custody of kids, in jail if you're unlucky, etc.

Which leads me to the part of me whose response is "oh PLEASE honey." "Vanilla" is a term chosen by people outside the mainstream to describe those in it. It's true that SM is in fact gaining more and more acceptance in mainstream society (at least in the US). More people are joking about it, trying it in the interest of being "GGG," etc.

But the people who really do identify with it, invest themselves in the community, experience it as orientational? We're still rare. We're still not taken seriously. We're still a counterculture, a community, a sub-society with its own culture, language, and traditions.

And whenever you have one of those, you generally have some term for people who aren't a part of the community. Often the word is, indeed, somewhat disparaging. I'm not disputing that "Vanilla" is often said scornfully or sadly by people who never fit into the mainstream and want to distance themselves from it.

But... what you have there is merely the obverse face of subcultural pride. It's "we as a counterculture feel downtrodden and scorned, so we'll spit in everyone else's eye a little. You think we're violent or sick or antifeminist or whatever else? Well, we know how boring you are..."

It's a piece, perhaps a somewhat ugly one, of reparative pride by a small and downtrodden community.

And yes, I said "downtrodden." I know it's a big fad for people to claim that the SM commuinity is all whiny and drama llamaful claiming we're "oppressed" and all. I can see the rolling of eyes begin.

But we are. Our conventions get shut down. Our names get published in the paper. We lose our jobs. We lose custody of our kids. Mental health care professionals decide that our sexuality is the source of our distress, regardless of what the DSM says (in the US; I believe it's the ICD-10 elsewhere, and I don't know how it's worded). We get raided, busted. Kicked out of feminist circles or conventions, some of us (consider all the recent messes in the UK.)


Which makes the whole idea that we're the darlings of the system... quaint, to me. Where's the muscle that we flex when no hotel will take us? I've never seen it. Maybe I'm just not good enough at spotting cloak and dagger dealings.

"Vanilla" is a counterculture's way of reframing the mainstream, for purposes of reparative pride. It's not a profound insult.

If you don't like being part of the mainstream, don't be.

Just know that you don't get to clap your damn hands and claim you're not, and then we get to be and you get to feel good.

There is no mirrorshaded, leather-clad Illuminati of tops, sitting around waving sceptres or nightsticks while a harem of bottoms in slave bells sets in motion our evil plots to quash the vanilla. Or even to skillfully seduce the usually egalitarian into trying the terribly seductive fuzzy handcuffs.

We don't run this world. YOU DO. Wake up.