Saturday, 19 May 2007

Content! Fortheloveapete! Content!!

I'm feeling rather tired of the interminable feminist bickering about BDSM. I've been studying the arguments on both sides of the sex wars since college and into graduate school. I know them backwards and forwards, whether that's the arguments of people in Against Sadomasochism, or with the that's the arguments of Califia and Rubin.

So there's not much knew I have to say. All I really want to mention is that, as a woman who tops not only women but also men, there really isn't much about us in the internal warfare. And I wonder why this is. on the one hand, I know that it's because the radical feminist analysis (Yes, I realize that not all radical feminists agree with this analysis, but that's what it's most often called, so that's the short cut that I will use.) is concerned about dynamics between submissive women and dominant men. I know that their interminable analyses of lesbian sadomasochism, as well, center around a faulty idea that all leatherdyke are butch-femme, and at a butch is emulating men.

All that means that a woman top, unless she is very strongly masculinely identified (oddly, I think I might actually qualify on some of these analyses, though I doubt people would expect me to top men since this would slot me into "butch" if anything), doesn't make any sense and doesn't show up on the radar at all. Neither does a male bottom, unless he is into such stuff as feminization, in which case he's slumming for fun. ( gay men don't fit into this well at all either, since these sorts of feminists pride themselves on not caring much about men. The assumption is sometimes a similar butch-femme dynamic, which totally misses the hypermasculine emphasis in much of gay leather.)

So the fascinating thing is that these radical feminists have nothing to say to me. They have nothing to say about what it means that my Barbie doll locked Ken in towers and kept him captive there, a boy Rapunzel -- and let's not forget that to a little girl like I was, boys don't grow out their hair!

They have a few things to say about my fascination with pain, since the fantasizing little-girl me was pretty indifferent to who that happened to. But even there, the idea that it's fun at least in part because it feels good, rather than because of incredibly polarized power roles, doesn't show up much at all when you look at their analysis.

And that's the thing. I happen to believe, probably unlike many other sadomasochists who've run afoul of these people, that their analysis is actually impressively internally consistent, and difficult to argue with in some ways because of that. But the big problem with it is that it's extremely narrow. It works, if it works at all, for a tiny set of textbook cases. Not only are they all male dominant and female submissive, or *maybe maybe maybe* *possibly* butch-femme in an extremely traditionalist way, but they are all male dominant and female submissive in a cartoony way. No one's dynamic actually looks like that, not even the M/f folks I know who consider themselves old-fashioned.

And that's the problem. What they've come up with is a theoretical analysis of a theoretical problem. It's internally consistent enough that it can convince people that they understand what's really going on -- if said people don't actually know or want to know about the real nuts and bolts of sadomasochists' lives, play, and (possible) power relations (remember, they're optional!)

53 comments:

belledame222 said...

heh heh. my Barbie dressed my Ken doll up in drag (i had a Darcy doll, somewhat bigger, whose clothes worked nicely), then set him up to run off with the king from my chess set. then got involved in some sort of intrigue involving the dagger from my Clue game and red gook from my DIY makeup kit.

Anonymous said...

Trinity, I agree with the observation that the anti-BDSM folks sort of assume the non-existence of you and me both (I'm a het man and I switch, but mostly bottom). Discussion of women topping tend to revolve around the pro scene, which is sex work; the rest of the critique, as you say, is about masculine-identified people topping feminine-identified people.

The more general argument is that BDSM in any form eroticizes inequality. Now, that's not subject to the argument that it doesn't cover what lots of us do. It does seem to me, though, that it proves too much.

The vast majority of BDSM is scene-to-scene erotic power exchange. The power dynamics, therefore, are temporary, put up and taken down like circus tents. That is not the stuff of persistent hierarchies. Now, at this point, we're outside BDSM proper into the realm of highly general theory, but is there anyone out there arguing that temporary, voluntary, purpose-specific exchanges of power are bad, or that it is possible to do without them?

I thought to be entirely serious about the arguments that get raised, we should put "eroticizes power differentials" into the hopper.

Thoughts?

Thomas

Trinity said...

"Now, at this point, we're outside BDSM proper into the realm of highly general theory, but is there anyone out there arguing that temporary, voluntary, purpose-specific exchanges of power are bad, or that it is possible to do without them?"

Honestly I think there are. Not many, but there are. For example, if you have a look at this very old post of mine and wade long enough through the comments, you'll see that HC is deeply committed to creating a hierarchy-free life, or at least as close to one as she can:

http://trinityva.livejournal.com/397423.html

(NB: I'm actually more open to long-term D/s than I was when I wrote that post, and I'm not convinced that defending BDSM as discrete units of "play" without defending longer-term power exchange provides a thorough enough defense.)

verte said...

I'm not convinced that defending BDSM as discrete units of "play" without defending longer-term power exchange provides a thorough enough defense.)

Agreed. I think people who are more 'lifestyle' (there ARE actually a huge number of lifestyle BDSM people, and that number would include me, and oh, the cliché, I'm even topped by a man) have it quite tough, even from others on the BDSM scene at times. And I think the problem most people have with BDSM is the same, whether it's lifestyle or individual scenes. Again, it's the free will debate. Are we capable of volunteering to be in relationships which consciously contain elements of hierarchy? I would say my D/s relationship is more equal than any vanilla relationship I have ever been in, where I would always fight and fight until I wore the trousers and was in total control.

And it fucked me right up.

So I returned to pursuing D/s in a more 'lifestyle' mould, where everything would be spoken and communicated, and I wouldn't end up falling into a role that I was desperately unhappy in by default, and that brought out all the things about myself I despise.

Basically, I don't think dominance and submission have very much to do with gender at all, but anti-BDSMers tend to approach them with the attitude that these relationships are abnormal (so what, yay for heteronorms?! Hoo-fucking-ray), abusive, always gendered and non-consensual.

Trinity said...

I've been spending time with lifestylers lately. I'd never previously done that, and had always seen BDSM somewhat like Thomas sees it. I say somewhat because I knew that when I started to get serious about people that I interacted with in BDSM ways, a little bit of the power exchange would begin to bleed naturally into our everyday interactions. Not very much of it, just little ritual things, and definitely no big or important decisions. But the other person would begin to defer to me, and I would begin to automatically make small decisions that I otherwise would not.

But I never really considered myself lifestyle or, because I had this idea in my head that lifestyle meant absolute and total power exchange, full protocol all the time, no decisions made by the submissive person. And I didn't want that, and never have, and still don't. But when I started actually interacting with local people who identify as masters and slaves, I started to see a lot of what they're doing is very similar to the sorts of things that would just sprout between me and a partner that I deeply trusted and felt serious about and who felt the same way about me.

And that totally change the way I looked at my dominance. Previously I had thought that I must not be very naturally dominant and all, and that any lifestyle stuff I tried to do would automatically be too difficult for me, because it would constantly be striving to find the authority within myself to make decisions that I thought my partner should help make, or even be the one to make.

Now I see dominance as a natural thing about me that simply starts to happen. Now I feel that I would like a serious relationship with those elements that previous partners and I always enjoyed. I feel like it's not important to decide, right up front, the moment someone and I start dating, exactly how much power I'm going to have in any and all situations. I feel like it's possible to work that stuff out as we go, and I don't feel the same kind of pressure to do more -- or less -- that I often felt from the community around me.

Trinity said...

and even the one very long good relationship I had that didn't include any acknowledged power relations, in which I dated another top (not really into D/s tho)... I tended to set more of the agenda there, too.

belledame222 said...

At some point, I would like to write more about power in general; actually I think I did write a post along those lines, which I might just go ahead and repost here. yeah, that's where it gets interesting, sociopolitically speaking: what -is- power? What do people mean when they say "power?"

Trinity said...

belle:

doooo eeet.

I want to as well, but that thurr is basically my dissertation, so my mind is wrung dry on that. If you post, tho', I'm sure I'll add some of my mad think-fu.

Anonymous said...

Trinity, I did say that the argument only covered the vast majority of BDSM, and I meant to exclude from that 24/7 relationships because they are susceptible to the argument that they create and eroticize a persistent inequality. I have to say, I think that raises real issues from a feminist standpoint that put it in the "don't try this at home, does not work out well for most people" category.

you said this:

I knew that when I started to get serious about people that I interacted with in BDSM ways, a little bit of the power exchange would begin to bleed naturally into our everyday interactions. Not very much of it, just little ritual things, and definitely no big or important decisions. But the other person would begin to defer to me, and I would begin to automatically make small decisions that I otherwise would not.


Now, y'see, I've got a problem with that.

I have noticed that a minority of folks in the community (IME) do let their BDSM role orientation leak into non-play interactions: tops assuming that I'll defer to them when I don't play with them and don't want to (and I must say that's not something I take lying down). I read you as conceding that this happens. (But are you saying that it's not causal; that the dominance and submission in scene and in life are inherent to the people? Because I have not found that to be the case.) Now, if that's the way it is between people in the community who are not playing together, it underlines my concern about 24/7.

My concern is that, when one undertakes to make a hierarchical power relationship by choice and maintain it that way all the time, the habit of deference becomes ingrained. Most folks have experience with close and hierarchical relationships; bosses, parents, etc. My issue is that, IMO, the habits of hierarchy in those relationships are a deep rut, and it takes major effort and sometimes life-changing events for people to alter the structure.

As feminists, we recognize that pervasive and diffuse power dynamics constrain choices so that some (all?) are not truly free, or that some are more constrained choices than others. Relationship choices are constrained by a whole bunch of social pressures, and the choice to say, "hey, this is not working for me anymore" is often significantly disadvantaged. What I'm saying is that I'm concerned that constructing a 24/7 D/s dynamic makes the process of constantly reevaluating the relationship and continuing to consent to it so much more constrained that I begin to distrust that decision-making.

(Also, I dislike the term "lifestyle." I've been doing BDSM since my teens, I've topped and bottomed, I've been flogged, single-tailed, caned, clamped and pierced and I've been kicked in the balls so hard I lost consciousness, I've marched in parades in leather uniform, made my own gear and gear for my friends, helped friends discover their own interest in BDSM, written about my experiences on comment threads all over the blogosphere and come out to my entire immediate family. Because the D/s dynamics of my relationship don't extend outside the corners of the scene doesn't exactly make me a dabler.)

Verte, you said you're in a 24/7 relationship and that this counteracts your tendency to sieze control in a relationship -- so would you agree that it is difficult to step out of the roles to evaluate the relationship as though one were on equal footing?

Thomas

Trinity said...

Thomas,

You seem to want people to agree with you. I don't.

I don't, honestly, think that most people fit into these two polarized camps of "pure SM" and "pure D/s." Yes, some people are pure SM, and there's absolutely zilch wrong with that.

But I don't think that any and all of D/s looks like what you're afraid of, either. I think it can look that way, and I think newbies with no community to connect to often try to make it look that way. And I think that's a bad thing.

But I've done it myself enough, and met and talked to enough people, to know that it sometimes doesn't.

And I don't think I get to decide what people do and don't do based on a risk assessment that I've made for other people.

That right there is nonconsensual power-over. I don't like the idea of wielding power over people to make sure someone else doesn't. It happens all the time, and it's worse, IMO, than people straight up admitting how bad they want to meddle.

If you've got a buddy you know personally and you see that person heading for a bad relationship, then you can tell hir so, friend to friend. Aside from that, my view, in two words, is "butt out."

verte said...

Right, there's some misinterpretation going on. I never said I was 24/7. I'm definitely not! When I say 'lifestyle' I mean 'not just in the bedroom', but it's not a role I play, just part of the way I relate to my partner, that I've chosen to relate to him.

That part of my identity, or that 'role' is NOT something that I let other people impose on me. I've talked about this before on my own blog. Most people I've met in the BDSM scene get this, and don't play the public protocol game, and talk to subs as equals. However, sometimes it is nice to do high protocol in public (it's also part of one particular kind of play I'm especially into, but haven't quite figured out yet), and I find it quite horny. Mmm. anyway...

I do evaluate the relationship on equal footing. I am a thinking, breathing, evolving adult, not a brainwashed robot. My opinion is (nearly) always welcome. He does not make decisions for me. He pushes me to make the right decisions for me. If you see what I mean... There are many, many different kinds of lifestyle D/s relationship.

Personally, I think being aware of a power dynamic in a relationship outside of the bedroom makes the idea of consent, and where that line is, a lot clearer, if anything. It's not like relationships DON'T have power dynamics!

Trinity said...

"Personally, I think being aware of a power dynamic in a relationship outside of the bedroom makes the idea of consent, and where that line is, a lot clearer, if anything. It's not like relationships DON'T have power dynamics!"

Yeah. Exactly.

And deciding to involve D/s is not necessarily deciding to be "24/7" (gods, I hate that term, sounds like an open-all-night convenience store). Actually, TBH I'm not even sure what "24/7" is supposed to mean. "There's a twinge of power dynamic to all we do that's never not there but it's mild"? "We're TPE"? I vote that term be kicked off the island. :)

And I think a big thing that doesn't get discussed in these interminable "how much D/s is too much?" headspinning games is:

the concept of service.

Many, if not most, of the "slave" types that I have met are not so much looking to lose their freedom or not make decisions so much as they are looking to serve. They feel called to some kind of life of service, and want to be part of relationships or dynamics that allow them to serve well.

To me, the dominant partner in such a dynamic is not so much The Boss making All The Decisions as she is someone who provides the opportunity for the submissive to be of service to someone. The service is more important, for most I've met, than the decision making.

There are of course many people who do have the Stepford attitude, both male and female: decide everything for me O Sir/O Ma'am. They tend to proliferate, a la roaches or paramecia, on the internet especially -- as do the sorts of "Master" they want.

But in the real, dedicated, M/s community *I've* met -- it's Service that matters most. Obedience is secondary.

Do I know some people who I think overvalue it? Yeah. But I only consider myself qualified to offer relationship advice to people I know. And I find the more I get to know people, the more flexible I realize their power dynamic actually often is.

Yes, even the masters and slaves.

(I think I may make this its own post.)

Trinity said...

"However, sometimes it is nice to do high protocol in public"

For short durations of time, in front of other leatherfolk... yes, definitely.

It's like showing off a treasure. :)

verte said...

And deciding to involve D/s is not necessarily deciding to be "24/7" (gods, I hate that term, sounds like an open-all-night convenience store). Actually, TBH I'm not even sure what "24/7" is supposed to mean. "There's a twinge of power dynamic to all we do that's never not there but it's mild"? "We're TPE"? I vote that term be kicked off the island. :)

Totally. But then, TPE is another concept that varies hugely in different partnerships, so much that sometimes it's hard to see what these might have in common.

I enjoy playing around with power dynamics. But at the end of all that, I want some underlying dynamic in the relationship that sticks. It does involve some behaviour modification on both our parts, but I don't really see why that's a problem. And it's also why I sometimes liken elements of D/s to CBT (am intrigued to see what BD has to say about counselling and BDSM).

I'd also be so interested to read something about service in BDSM from a feminist perspective. It's not something I want or need from D/s, personally, though I'm sure there are elements of service and obedience in my relationship.

And yeah, I'm a pony girl in training. :) Definitely something I want to do in public, and I love all the protocol that comes with that kind of play. That's something I'd love to write about here once I've figured it out a bit more...

Trinity said...

"And yeah, I'm a pony girl in training. :) Definitely something I want to do in public, and I love all the protocol that comes with that kind of play. That's something I'd love to write about here once I've figured it out a bit more..."

Please do.

I'd ask you how the "training" works as a long-term thing (if it does) but I don't know if that requires an entire post.

verte said...

I'd ask you how the "training" works as a long-term thing (if it does) but I don't know if that requires an entire post.

No, I can answer that fairly shortly. It is a longterm thing, and it's something we're just beginning to explore. In many ways, it's really just a simple way to learn obedience as I'm naturally rebellious, and sometimes that needs taming, and if that happens in a more defined role, as something that's a regressive version of me, it's easier, I think, to learn. My defence mechanisms are down.

In terms of ritual and behaviour, it just takes practice and discipline, and a certain element of acting and character development. I like the idea of an element of sexuality that's purely performative, I think. I also have a major exhibitionist streak. Luckily our current flat is huge, but we're quite keen to trot over to a pony farm one weekend. Although the owners tend to be named Sir Poncey The Elder, and probably refer to women as 'fillies' anyway...

Trinity said...

Heh! Actually I meant a very specific and pedantic question: what are they training you to DO, exactly? Is it all horse-showing type behaviors? How long does it take to learn, and what happens when you make mistakes?

Also, what's the training designed to do? I noticed that you mentioned service isn't your thing, so you're not doing that. You mention rebelliousness -- are you trying to feel/be less so?

It's those very pedantic questions I find people answer least, and that I most am curious about.

Dw3t-Hthr said...

Trinity -- that old post of yours will probably lead to me posting a noodle on egalitarianism over at my place. Interesting stuff.

I also want to second your comment about service; IIRC, it's a big part of that post of mine that belledame222 quoted....

Anonymous said...

Trinity, is it your position that any feminist analysis of any BDSM practice that concludes that the practice is a problem is no more valid than YKINOK?

Thomas

Trinity said...

Thomas:

Not knowing what you actually mean by "a problem," I don't know how to answer you.

I think that the privileging of theory over lived experience is, generally, an extremely bad idea.

I think that many members of the community have an understandable fear of intense D/s dynamics, but I think that in many cases it's grounded in ignorance and wonder how much close listening people do to those who do such stuff, identify as masters and slaves, etc. I know that, for myself, joining MAsT, hearing people from the M/s community speak, etc. was massively eye-opening and I found that a lot of my assumptions about how "those people" do things were, frankly, wrong.

How much interaction do you have with members of those communities (especially leather-based D/s, which I find often has a different bent to it than many heterosexuals who are not experienced at it/not mentored in the same ways)? What worries you? Is it based on actual practice as done by actual people, or is it feminist theory about egalitarianism?

Because, honestly, if it's the latter: I'm tired of that, and I'm very much not for a feminism that says "Well, I guess we'd better open the door a crack and let the endorphin junkies in -- OH SWEET MOTHER GODDESS, NOT *YOU PEOPLE*!!! AIE!"

JackGoff said...

"Well, I guess we'd better open the door a crack and let the endorphin junkies in -- OH SWEET MOTHER GODDESS, NOT *YOU PEOPLE*!!! AIE"!

Heh,yes. Am I, are yo, are anybody the "endorphin junkies" ready to infultrate the lovey dowey bran of love which we pool and collect upon. Fuck you, assholes.

Trinity said...

Actually JG, I meant it more along the lines of:

"well, I suppose the pain junkies are okay, 'cos they're not playing with power, 'n all. And maybe if we're feeling hugely generous, a few of the D/s-in-scene-only, yee-gah-if-I-start -to-submit-outta-scene-GETTITOFFMEGETTITOFFMEGETITOFF people, if they've got enough feminist cred. But dear mother Gaia, NOT THE LIFESTYLERS/24/7ers/insert term of choice here!"

verte said...

Trinity:

Pedantry is good. I ask far too many questions about BDSM myself, and it pisses people off sometimes. But curiousity is GOOD!

But heh, what am I trying to DO as a pony? I guess just learn a very strict set of disciplines, which, for short periods of time, are absolute, and if I break them I'll probably get punished. Some people play by those rules every time they scene, or even for the entire relationship, but I prefer to do it in a set fantasy role. As to what's actually being played with, well, it's being taught to walk elegantly, assume a role that is totally poised, disciplined and, for the most part, pretty silent. Occasionally, and especially while in that role, I really enjoy being silent (really!). There are various different types of pony, so the end 'result' will vary. I prefer the dressage stuff. Eventually, apart from going to a club in role, I'd quite like to take part in competitions. :) Competitive streak, y'see...

A big part of learning the poise and the mannerisms is the constrictive gear you get to wear (most of which we can't afford at the mo), but I find even the bit has a massive effect on my mood. It calms and tames, and as soon as it's in my mouth I fall into role, the way many people do when a collar is put around their neck, I suspect.

I still sometimes rebel, kick out, make un-pony noises, etc, sometimes. I get away with it sometimes, but not all the time. But if anyone other than my partner touched me without my consent in public, they'd get a proper kicking. Hooves and all.

Anonymous said...

Trinity, what I'm afraid of is Glenn Marcus.

Thomas

Anonymous said...

Verte, that sounds wonderful. Too bad the gear is so damned expensive. When you're punished, does it tend to follow a specific form, or do you not know what you're in for?

Thomas

Trinity said...

Who the fuck is Glenn Marcus?

Anonymous said...

This is Glenn Marcus. A google news and blog search will turn up lots of articles, but last I looked most of them repeated the same copy from reports throughout the trial.

It was a big story in the NY media market; maybe it was under the radar in other parts of the country. I apologize for assuming you'd know the background.

Most importantly in my mind, the jury refused to convict on the obscenity charge. That makes it unlikely in my view that they were simply prejudiced against BDSM or the defendant. They just believed that she was not consenting during the course of the relationship.

Thomas

Trinity said...

Thomas:

Okay. I thought that might be who you meant.

But now:

Why does that lead to fear of D/s? It seems to me that in the general public's eye, there is no distinction between someone who tops and someone like Mr. Marcus.

How would some of us, the ethical people into BDSM, deciding to limit our activity to non-D/s or time-limited D/s prevent Glenn Marcuses from preying on our community?

Trinity said...

"As to what's actually being played with, well, it's being taught to walk elegantly, assume a role that is totally poised, disciplined and, for the most part, pretty silent. Occasionally, and especially while in that role, I really enjoy being silent (really!)."

*nods*

Thank you for this detail. It makes a lot of sense.

verte said...

Verte, that sounds wonderful. Too bad the gear is so damned expensive. When you're punished, does it tend to follow a specific form, or do you not know what you're in for?

It's entirely dependent on the scene we're playing.

Anonymous said...

Trinity, before I even get to the question of "how do we prevent people like that ..." I first want to know if we have a way of defining who we are and who Glenn Marcus us that amounts to more than "because we're sane and we say we're nice people."

I read what you wrote about service-oriented submission above, and certainly a relationship where the mechanics of the D/s dynamic orient around autonomously pleasing rather than around obedience, there are fewer problems. (Not none, in a patriarchal society where women are taught to be self-abnegating in favor of others' happiness; it is easy to replicate those patterns and call it submission -- but that leads to less horrific problems than an obedience-oriented M/s dynamic can).

I don't see any basis for saying that what Glenn Marcus does is not BDSM. In fact, one of his play partners took the stand in his defense and said that she believed that everything about his three-year relationship with the complainant was consensual. People toss off facile terminology like SSC -- which IIRC started as a slogan on a parade banner and morphed into someone's idea of a standard, and one that could never be defined. But people have rebelled against that, with lots of folks positioning themselves as edgier by identifying with RACK.

If we as a community can say, "Glenn Marcus is not one of us" then we have to be able to define what "one of us" is. Meaningful (rather than nominal) consent has to be the cornerstone of that, IMO. Now, defining consent is easy when its boundaries are clear. Scenes with hard limits, scenes that are bounded in time where the D/s dynamic is not part of the relationship -- it is easy to understand how this works.

In relationships where the D/s dynamic is persistent, what defines meaningful consent? Can we define meaningful consent in a BDSM context and still recognize that some choices are so constrained that they amount to no consent at all?

Thomas

Anonymous said...

Verte, I was speaking specifically about the pony training.

Thomas

Trinity said...

"I don't see any basis for saying that what Glenn Marcus does is not BDSM."

Personally, I see the same basis for saying that's not BDSM as I do for saying that the recent threatening tactics used by some radfem bloggers to silence opposition are not feminist.

I don't believe something is BDSM because somebody says it is. I also don't believe rape is sex because someone says it is -- as most perpetrators inevitably do.

I think the parallel between those two things, in fact, is about as exact as one is ever gonna get.

belledame222 said...

mhm.

or--look, there's abuse within BDSM relationships/arrangements, even as there is within vanilla relationships/arrangements.

This was abuse.

belledame222 said...

...this page on abuse in a BDSM context seems apropos.

Something along which lines I would not mind putting in the FAQ section. I'm looking for a better one than this one; if I can't find it online, there's a section from one of my P. Califia books I can type out, I suppose.

belledame222 said...

...this feels apropos as well.

Iamcuriousblue said...

I'm a bit confused by how people here are defining "lifestyle BDSM". Because when I first heard of it 10 years back, it was basically described as the kind of thing advocated by the Takeninhand folks. But when Verte describes herself as a lifestyle BDSM person, I'm pretty sure that's not what's meant. Could someone clarify the term?

verte said...

I'm a bit confused by how people here are defining "lifestyle BDSM". Because when I first heard of it 10 years back, it was basically described as the kind of thing advocated by the Takeninhand folks. But when Verte describes herself as a lifestyle BDSM person, I'm pretty sure that's not what's meant. Could someone clarify the term?

Well, I've expressed my opinion on the TiH website, and specifically gendered D/s dynamics to some controversy from the BDSM community (though some also expressed similar reservations).

I'm planning to write on exactly this issue - of clarifying that D/s CAN (if not always IS) be very different from TiH, though I do think 'lifestyle' means something different to everyone. In short, I would describe my relationship as queer. But that doesn't mean everyone would accept that term, or that I don't have a number of things in common with TiH women.

However, the assumption that lifestyle D/s is always based on that gendered structure is a mighty source of irritation for me. It's a really bad, and often irrelevant stereotype to place on people.

Not having a go at you here - just that lifestyle D/s gets some almightily bad press.

Anonymous said...

BD, I've read lists like that since I was a fifteen year old kid wrapping shoelaces around my own balls at night and stealing alligator clamps from the high school science lab. From a "helping" standpoint, they are useful. From a definitional standpoint, not so much. The list you linked, for example, imports SSC, which I talked about above, and other concepts that are so subjective in interpretation that anyone can make an argument to justify anything.

One problem we have is that the public's view of BDSM, and the view of many other feminists, is informed by the information available. The information available includes a disproportionate number of instances of abuse and misconduct -- it's a classic clinical sample, where the only instances that come to light are the ones where there's a problem requiring attention. In answer to that, it falls well short to say, "if it's abusive, that's not what we're talking about," unless we can define abuse using something other than subjective, case-by-case decisions. In fact, that's as useless as some antiporn feminists' definition(s) of porn, which is to pick something subjective and generally avoid talking about what is and isn't.

We all seem to agree with twelve people from the jury pool of the Eastern District of New York that what Glenn Marcus did was abuse. But can we give any explanation of why, other than "we know it when we see it?"

Thomas

belledame222 said...

Yes. Someone who was in the scene is saying it was abuse. At minimum it deserves to be taken as seriously as any other such accusation.

Anonymous said...

BD, obviously I agree with the statement that if a participant says the conduct was abuse, then it ought to be taken seriously. I do not, however, view that as any roadmap as to how one reasons to a conclusion that it was, in fact, abuse.

(Are you arguing for a Twisty-model presumption that if the bottom says it was abuse then it was?)

Thomas

Trinity said...

"I'm a bit confused by how people here are defining "lifestyle BDSM"."

I'm using it to mean any kind of long-term power dynamic structuring a relationship.

Most of the people I personally know involved in those self-identify as Masters and slaves, and that self-identification is tied to a view that, as far as I can tell, comes mainly out of certain traditions within gay male/otherwise queer leather:

http://www.mast.net/

If you poke around a bit, you'll see that it's very different from TiH in that for a lot (though by no means all) of these people there's emphasis on the leather *family* -- a multi-person household with a strict hierarchy -- rather than a couple-based model.

Though most people I know are couples, and many of the people I know are straight... but I doubt they'd go in for TiH much, either.

belledame222 said...

Thomas: Twisty is far from the only one who holds to that basic principle.

Look, there are a few things here. One is the difference between -legal- standards (i.e. the defendant is innocent until proven guilty) and simply taking it as a default to believe ("take seriously," if you like) the person who says "hey, I was abused; I'm hurting; I need help." The essence of what sie's saying, that it: -something- bad went down.

Yes, if we were in court there'd be a certain amount of tension here; thing is, we're not -in- court. At least I'm not. So by and large--I tend to simply bypass that particular dilemma, myself.

...oh, wait, right, she did come out with a particular missive lately, if that's what your thinking of. You know--I just glanced at that, I really try not to read her these days, wouldn't have done so at all if mandos hadn't come along to poke me. And no, I still don't really know (or care) what exactly the hell she was on about.

It's...eh.

I mean, for one thing, it's not really that comparable in a legal sense, is it? She's going off a very particular view of hetero vanilla relations; against the grain, but, agree with her conclusions or otherwise, truth is, there -is- a cultural belief, which often manifests in court, that "she was asking for it."

In part that's ingrained sexism; in part that's heteronormativity. Of -course- she wanted to be sexed up by the guy, hey, maybe he was a little rough, but; that's what sex -is.-

In cases like -this-, though--the radical feminist POV that (because of the gender makeup here) it'd just be an extension of the womanhating we see everywhere, in the mainstream perception, it's -not- normative; a lot of people -don't- believe that -anyone- could voluntarily sign up for -anything- like -that.-

So--a bit apples and oranges, I'd say, in some ways.

Anonymous said...

BD, I'm not a Twisty fan, and I was in fact specifically referencing her thought-experiment where the absence of consent was (depending on how you read her; she was internally contradictory and possibly deliberately so) conclusively presumed, so that any woman could at any time decide retroactively that her consent was not valid for any reason, so that all men having sex with women did so at their peril.

The reason I referenced that was because I mean to ask you whether, if a scene or a D/s relationship sours, is the fact that the bottom/sub/slave says it was abuse sufficient -- not as a legal matter, but in your view -- to conclude that abuse occurred? Or simply to begin from that presumption and inquire from there (and if so, what is then the nature of the inquiry)?

Obviously, the anti-BDSM radfems are not going to bring any kind of analysis to this. To a certain extent they are misinformed, but more than that, being anti-BDSM is just part of the canon. But just because they can't make any useful inquiry into the questions that their rhetorical criticisms raise, does not mean that they aren't real questions that we should answer.

Verte already raised reservations about highly gendered (and gender-stereotyped) D/s like TiH. I suspect that we all look at some or other D/s dynamic and cringe, thinking not just that we wouldn't like that, but that it's a bad idea. Are we willing to actually analyze that, or are we just going to mutter under our breath, "well, we don't do that stuff"?

Thomas

belledame222 said...

Well--depending on the context, but: why am I inquiring? If it's a friend who says she's been abused, I'm not gonna start interrogating her and make her feel crazier.

If it's a question of, I'm/we're checking out whether a player is safe, and the rumor is that sie's been abusive, -once-, well, yeah, then: further investigation. I'd look at it as not dissimilar to someone interviewing for a job who's gotten mostly glowing reviews but one really black mark. Either way, I'd proceed carefully before working/playing with the person.

If there's more than one bad "review," or if the person's giving me bad vibes--red flag, do not pass go.

If it's two known people and it comes down to "sie said, sie said"--well, it would depend on the situation.

But generally speaking, I go with the assumption that -most- people do not level charges of abuse unless abuse happened.

And "gee, -I- didn't think it was abusive" really isn't sufficient to make it not so. If there's that much lack of communication--well, that right there.

Sometimes there are grey areas. Occasionally people who aren't very stable might bring charges to bear, or stir up drama--but in my experience, relatively speaking, it's -rare.-

Anonymous said...

BD, you asked, "Well--depending on the context, but: why am I inquiring?

First, the context I brought it up in gave at least one answer to that. We were talking about someone who left a M/s relationship after several years, and then asserted that the relationship as a whole had been abusive. Does one take her word for it (I'm actually okay with that -- it puts a whole lot of responsibility on tops, particularly of D/s relationships that don't have time-bounded scenes, but that's fine by me), or does one have to know more, for the purpose of making up one's mind?

Now, you seem to be asking why we have to make up our minds. First, one's reputation in the community is an important factor in deciding whether to play with somebody for a lot of folks, and there's a big difference between "I know someone said he was abusive once" and "someone said he was abusive once that I think that was probably true."

But actually, I have much bigger fish to fry than how we draw the conclusion (or why we need to) in the individual circumstance. If we can't form an opinion about whether something is abuse, we can't have norms. If we're a community without norms, then the anti-BDSM radfems have a pretty damned trenchant criticism. If we lack an identifiable consensus or even set of competing positions about the propriety of what people do that they call BDSM, then we can't meaningfully say, "what that guy does is out of bounds, he's not one of us." (And doing it case-by-case is not that. That's just moving the goalposts.)

Verte has undertaken above the inquiry that I'm trying to get to: are there relationship structures and dynamics that are not okay? It seems that most of us think that there are, but some people are reticent about coming right out and saying that for fear of "judging" others. You know what? As feminists, we judge. We judge that domestic violence, for example, or sex trafficking, is wrong. We may disagree on prescriptions for fixing those situations, especially when there are a lot of moving parts, but we don't try to say, "hy, that woman chooses to stay in a relationship with that guy that beats her, so who are we to judge?" We call it misogyny, patriarchy, wrong. As feminists, we oppose patriarchy, we oppose that which supports patriarchy, and if we're going to oppose that stuff, we have to think about what that stuff is.

Thomas

belledame222 said...

are there relationship structures and dynamics that are not okay?

Oh. Yes. Most definitely. General what-is-abuse guidelines, apart from the general horror at various -acts- committed within the context of a BDSM relationship, are pretty valid and consistent, I find. To wit:

f'r instance:

http://www.4woman.gov/violence/signs/

* monitors what you're doing all the time
* criticizes you for little things
* constantly accuses you of being unfaithful
* prevents or discourages you from seeing friends or family, or going to work or school
* gets angry when drinking alcohol or using drugs
* controls how you spend your money
* controls your use of needed medicines
* humiliates you in front of others
* destroys your property or things that you care about
* threatens to hurt you, the children, or pets, or does hurt you (by hitting, beating, pushing, shoving, punching, slapping, kicking, or biting)
* uses or threatens to use a weapon against you
* forces you to have sex against your will
* blames you for his or her violent outbursts

************

So, obvious, the hitting, biting, etc. is something some of us do consensually. Ditto what some call "erotic humiliation." And "scenes" involving -play- with "force" and even weapons. But as we know, context matters. And so does safety and consensuality -really stringently-, particularly when it comes to "edge" shit like weapons and stuff that's likely to be heavy emotionally.

Most of the rest of those are pretty standard, I think. Threaten a pet or loved one? Smash up property? Blame outbursts on the drugs or you or anything but your own behavior? Cut off and isolate from other loved ones? Control in ways not specifically agreed upon, or make it difficult for the partner to back out if it doesn't feel right? Abuse.

Anonymous said...

BD, a significant subset of what you posted applies to at least some M/s relationships, no?


* monitors what you're doing all the time

Mr. Benson Doesn't Live Here Anymore...

* prevents or discourages you from seeing friends or family, or going to work or school
For some folks, this comes with being a sexual minority ...

* controls how you spend your money
Heard of that. Heard of "paycheck goes to Mistress" too.
* humiliates you in front of others
Play dynamic in some D/s relationships, so whether it is abusive or just play depends on the context

* threatens to hurt you, the children, or pets, or does hurt you (by hitting, beating, pushing, shoving, punching, slapping, kicking, or biting)
Again, distinguished from corporal punishment only by context

* uses or threatens to use a weapon against you
In New York, as a matter of law, dripping candlewax on someone is use of a deadly weapon. That was decided in the Jovanovic case, which you may know as the "cybersex" case that dominated the NY Post in 1997 and 1998. But even if we agree that that was bullshit, who would deny that a single-tail is a weapon?

* forces you to have sex against your will
Sex at the time and method of the Master's choosing is part of many M/s relationships, no?

Like I said, I've seen lists like this since I was knee-high to a grasshopper and they all provide little more guidance than throwing the inquiry back to, "is it really consensual?" without giving criteria for how to assess that.

Thomas

belledame222 said...

well, again, what you're saying, at least for the first few (agree wrt the implements--and, -candle wax is a deadly weapon??- wtf?); but--

"monitoring," I don't know, I think again, it comes down to the question of 24/7 stuff versus not, which, I just really don't "get" in many ways, but I -think- that even in such agreements, there have to be -some- boundaries.

and particularly wrt

prevents or discourages you from seeing friends or family, or going to work or schoo

see, no, -preventing- doesn't go with the territory of being a sexual minority, at least, not from your -partner.-

If your partner keeps you in isolation from other loved ones, tries to isolate you in any -real- sense, then that is abuse, I'm sorry. If it so happens that one's relationship with the family of origin is toxic and you've decided to cut it off (whether or not this has to do with their attitude toward one's sexuality), okay, but that has to be -one's own- decision;

and i think one still ought to have other sources of emotional sustenance, no matter what kind of relationship. I think that's just...basic. To try to do otherwise is to elevate the "Master" (domme, whatever) into a guru, superhuman, even, offering to take care of -all- the bottom's needs ("I am a jealous God") and, no, I don't think that can ever be healthy, and I would question any top who tried to insist on it.

belledame222 said...

or any bottom, for that matter.

Trinity said...

BD/Thomas:

There are some folks who do M/s stuff who do all of that.

I don't think any of it's wise.

I don't think any of it's necessary to M/s, either.

I think M/s relationships are very different animals depending on who's doing them and how they're set up.

There are supposed "players" who are more strict than many M/s folks get, and then there are wacko M/s people who start up clearly unsustainable dynamics.

That's why I really strongly recommend, if you want to understand it in any sensible way, that you actually get in touch with those communities.

I find that the ones tied to gay leather tend to generally be more sensible and less about absolutism and more about what works and what has a history of working.

I also hear a lot from the people I know about "master's heart" and "slave heart" -- it's hokey but the particular version of it I see around me (from gay leathermen, again, not Gorean types) offers a framework of understanding this stuff in terms of general personality traits that lead to particular needs, rather than "the roles mean you do anything I say."

Anonymous said...

Hello.
I am a friend of Glenn Marcus, and having known him for years, (since 1998, met him in person in 2003) and having spoken to both him and the complaining woman, Jodi, I can say with 100% certainty that the jury believed her lies. To convict, the jury had to overlook so much...that she stayed in touch with him after her supposed escape, went camping, had fun, other things as well. I was in a BDSM relationship with Mr Marcus as well, and from that, I also know he acted with full and informed consent. I believe the jury WAS biased, and acquitted on obscenity because they didnt understand what the statute meant. They asked the Court several times for explanations on the definition of "obscenity"

They convicted because they saw the images on the site and were horrified; vanilla jury could not concieve of consenting to that, so they believed Jodi did not either. As Glenn Marcus was involved in consenting adult acts, it WAS BDSM.
-meesekite

http://meesekite.livejournal.com/

site said...

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