Thursday, 9 August 2007

definition: I am not damaged

An awesome post that needs linkin': I am not damaged: the intersection of queer and kinky

One thing that has always really bothered me in feminist discussions about kink is the assumption I often see that a woman could only want to be submissive if she’s been abused, coerced, brainwashed — that nobody could possibly be born with these sort of desires, that they’re inherently unhealthy and abnormal and could not develop on their own in a vacuum. There’s this sometimes unspoken, often articulated, assumption that the only way a woman could want what I want is if she has been emotionally damaged.

I suppose I’m just here to say: well, they can develop in a vacuum, and they’re not abnormal for me. I have never been sexually or physically abused by a parent, family member, friend, partner, or anyone else. As much as I desire a relationship where I am not in control, where there is a distinct power imbalance, where I might get bitten and smacked a little, pushed to my limits and beyond my comfort zone sexually, mentally, and emotionally…I have no desire to be abused. Wanting to be dominated consensually by someone I trust who respects my hard limits but not always the more flexible, softer ones is entirely different from being with someone who forces me to do things I really don’t want to do.

....So now that I’ve laid that out, the real point I’m trying to get at. One thing that’s been nagging at me for awhile is the realization that these criticisms of kink are exactly the same as arguments about homosexuality. The argument, especially, that women are made queer by rape or other trauma. Most of the normally, otherwise very intelligent women I see arguing that BDSM is inherently harmful and degrading to women would never say such a thing about queer women because it’s plainly ridiculous. Most women do not decide to be lesbians because they’ve been damaged by men in their lives. The assertion is clearly and fatally flawed.

So why is it okay to say these things about submissive women? (And it’s always submissive women. The very concept that dominant women could possibly exist seems to fly over these people’s heads — when they do acknowledge the existence of dommes, it’s usually in a sneering, “it’s all just an act they put on for men, they aren’t actually powerful” sort of way. And forget the idea that a submissive woman might want to be topped by another woman.) Why is it not okay to say that I only like women because of some severe psychological trauma, but it’s perfectly fine to assert that I Must Have Nasty Issues if I want to let a partner (especially, heaven forbid, a partner with a dick) to tell me what to do and be in control?

I am not damaged. I am not queer because of abuse. I am not submissive because of abuse. I have been both queer and submissive my entire life. I can recall having both of these desires from an incredibly young age: an unusual attachment to female friends and a near total absence of crushes on male peers, and a persistent desire to be “owned”, an eagerness to please and take care of everybody in my life. These are the things which fulfill me. These are the things that I need to be happy. Attempting to deny me that because it’s “un-feminist” or “unhealthy” denies and undermines my actual health (mental and emotional, by extension, physical) and my very real dedication to women’s rights.

I should not have to justify my submissive identity (and it is that — it is not simply a role I adopt in the bedroom, it is a basic cornerstone of who and what I am) anymore than I should have to justify my attachment and attraction to women. Would the feminists demanding that I “examine” the roots of my kinky desires for their entertainment ever dare to say the same thing about my queer desires? Of course not! Even if (and this is important!) I did feel I were only attracted to women due to an abusive past, it still wouldn’t be relevant, it still wouldn’t mean there’s anything wrong with my same-sex attractions, and it still wouldn’t be any of their damn business. Because there is nothing inherently wrong with my sexuality, in the queer sense or the kinky sense.

I find the allegations I’m not a real feminist actually hurtful. It’s like someone saying that because I like to play video games with fake violence in them I can’t be part of the anti-war movement. One has pretty much almost nothing to do with the other. While it’s definitely worth looking at how violence is normalized in our culture and how that feeds our willingness to do real harm to others, my personal recreational habits don’t disqualify me from standing up for my pacifist principles.

The post itself is a bit longer than this. Oh, and I have been abused and I'm dominant. Which of course must mean I identify with someone whose idea of fun is torturing kids with disabilities. OH WAIT EXCEPT NOT.

20 comments:

EthylBenzene said...

Ah, Trinity -- you must have forgotten for a moment that you don't exist :P

Thanks for that post. It's a lot of what I've been trying to articulate lately, and I'm glad someone else did all the work for me :D

Myca said...

God, that's fucking awesome.

Something that I think gets missed too often in the debate about whether people are submissive because of past horrible abuse or dominant because they're fucked in the head or whatever. Is that in a way, the whole damn debate is academic.

I mean, I obviously disagree with the BDSM=crazypants theory of sexuality, but even if it were true, it would not eliminate people with these desires and feelings from the population.

We would still get turned on by control, and the questions as to how to handle that turn on in a safe, sane, and consensual environment would still exist. Precisely the same framework would still need to exist, it's just that now the people operating within it would be a little more stigmatized.

I guess what I'm saying is that since this helps approximately fuck-all, and would help approximately fuck-all, even if it were true, it's hard for me to see these arguments as anything other than smearing shit on people whose sexual identities you do not share.

Which, hey, I oppose. I know it's controversial, but I'm going to come out against that.

;-)

---Myca

Anonymous said...

'smearing shit on people whose sexual identities you do not share'. I'm cracking up. Hm. What'd the latin term for that be, do you think?

On a more serious note, yes yes and hell yes to the OP! Of course, it gets even more fun for the poor bastards who happen to mention that they're bisexual and/or switches. Then you get nonconsensual asshattery from all sides, including certain BDSM folk. Argh.

Trinity said...

"I mean, I obviously disagree with the BDSM=crazypants theory of sexuality, but even if it were true, it would not eliminate people with these desires and feelings from the population.

We would still get turned on by control, and the questions as to how to handle that turn on in a safe, sane, and consensual environment would still exist."

yes.

faustopheles said...

Great post.

And yes, myca, if some people are actually into BDSM because they had suffered trauma, their need for it would still be valid. Just because people with sheltered lives don't need something doesn't mean that people with other experiences are wrong to need it or that "it" is a bad thing. Is psychotherapy a bad thing because it appeals to people with trauma? Is a plaster cast a bad thing because people who have broken bones need it?

Also, many victims of abuse may be less timid. After growing up indoctrinated with the idea that you shouldn't do anything remotely adventurous or bad things might happen to you, some women have had bad things happen to them (including to ones who played it safe) and then learned they were strong enough to handle the bad shit and the benefits of being true to themselves outweighed the risks.

It isn't just the right to say who can't use your body that is important; there is also the right to say who (including yourself) can. Rape and other forms of sexual abuse take away the first right; fear of rape/abuse and prudish societal attitudes take away the second. Imagine if vaginal intercourse was the only form of rape. Would it be worth it to sew your cunt shut? Is it worth it to destroy a valuable asset (any asset) to prevent others from using it and thus lose your own use of it? Very rarely. Because that is, to some extent, what the culture of fear and victimization does.

So, you have at least three possibilities for people into alternative sexuality:
- non-victims
- victims looking for catharsis
- victims who prioritize their own use of their own body for their own purposes
above the small risk but significant risk that someone else might misappropriate the use for their purposes.

And in all three cases, letting people do what they want to with their own bodies is the right thing to do. It ultimately doesn't matter why people need it, what matters is that people do need it.

earlbecke said...

Thanks for the link! :)

Kramnik said...

Even if (and this is important!) I did feel I were only attracted to women due to an abusive past, it still wouldn’t be relevant, it still wouldn’t mean there’s anything wrong with my same-sex attractions, and it still wouldn’t be any of their damn business.

How are you in a position to say this?

earlbecke said...

Kramnik, I don't understand what your problem with the quoted passage is. I'm just saying that in cases where that is in fact true (and there are a very, very small number where that is the case) it still doesn't mean that someone "should" be straight. "Ex"-gay programs like to claim that gay people are gay due to trauma, therefore there is something wrong with that state and we need to be altered. I think even if trauma is involved, if someone is happy being who they are, it's nobody else's business -- homosexuality is no longer considered a psychological disorder because there's nothing wrong with it. Kink is the same way.

Throwing in the "you're damaged" argument is really a red herring. Even if someone has been hurt or scarred from their experiences, that doesn't make them invalid and it doesn't mean they're obligated to change, either for the comfort of the anti-BDSM/gay folks, or for some mythical concept of "health" thrust upon them by outside forces. That's the argument I'm trying to make here. If there's nothing inherently unhealthy about kink or homosexuality, arguments about health become meaningless and divisive. And I think that they are. And I think that the people who make those arguments do this on purpose.

That quote a rhetorical statement intended to make that point. I notice you didn't include the final section of that paragraph tying it all together. I'm not saying that is my experience. I'm using the assumption to make a point.

earlbecke said...

On that note, I think myca's statement here sums up the point that paragraph was trying to make:

"I mean, I obviously disagree with the BDSM=crazypants theory of sexuality, but even if it were true, it would not eliminate people with these desires and feelings from the population."

The idea wasn't the focus of that post. It probably deserves it own. (Okay, okay, give me a few days.)

Cassandra Says said...

Myca - I get the feeling that the people making the BSDM=crazypants allegations really, genuinely believe that if we all just REALISED that our kinks come from being "damaged" (even though in many cases they don't) those kinks would simply dissappear. I'm not quite sure why they believe this, but it does seem to be fundamental to their worldview.

Wouldn't it be great if that really worked, not just for BSDM (in which case I'd rather stay unfixed, thanks), but for all kinds of behaviors possibly based on trauma?

"Hey, I just realised when my eating disorder started and why...I'm all cured now!"

"So THAT's why I became a heroin addict...knowing that will make detox so simple and painless!"

It's like they have no idea how human beings actually function at all.

Also...I have never suffered any sort of sexual trauma, or any psychological abuse. I grew up in a household that didn't use corporal punishment. There is not a single reason that you can point to in my childhood for my attraction to BSDM. How do you explain that, armchair psychologists?

EthylBenzene said...

" but even if it were true, it would not eliminate people with these desires and feelings from the population. "

That's why I hate the "examine your desires" concept, too. You can examine and examine and examine, but at the end of the day, this stuff still gets you hot, so now what? Of course, the thinking then goes that you should suppress your desires and have an unfulfilling and resentment-filled sex life. Cause, yeah, that's so empowering and inclusive and feminist. Gah. Actually, the more I think about it, the more it does seem to parallel the "ex" gay thinking. Fuck that shit.


"Also...I have never suffered any sort of sexual trauma, or any psychological abuse. I grew up in a household that didn't use corporal punishment. There is not a single reason that you can point to in my childhood for my attraction to BSDM. How do you explain that, armchair psychologists? "

I dunno, but I'm the same way. Let's go add restraints to their armchairs, and maybe cover them in black leather (or PVC if you're vegan, I guess).

Trinity said...

"I get the feeling that the people making the BSDM=crazypants allegations really, genuinely believe that if we all just REALISED that our kinks come from being "damaged" (even though in many cases they don't) those kinks would simply dissappear."

Yep. I've been told to my face by shrinky types that a lot of people with trauma develop SM fantasies and that working through the trauma seriously sometimes makes them disappear. (The Freudian said "it depends how ingrained they are" which is a tiny bit more accepting but still made me feel that I was somehow at fault for being more damaged than others.)

It rather fucked me up because, well, yes, my SM fantasies were a useful coping device during some really horrible times, and the idea that I wouldn't have them to cling to -- or to enjoy -- when I got "better" made me wonder if "better" was worth getting.

Zonk said...

Sometimes, just sometimes, it's really hard to tell where feminists end and the religious right begins.

Male dominants are abusing women who are submissive because of trauma and past abuse. Women can't meaningfully offer their submission because you can't consent when you live in a patriarchy. Male submissives are only submissive because it is a twisted acting out of a females natural submissive role.

Blah.

I'm submissive because some days, all I can think about is being submissive. I'm dominant because I like kinky sex. I'm really sorry that I happen to be male and also be both of these things, but I really can't help what was dangling down there when I was born.

Myca said...

And actually, the other thread that runs through so much of this is what Cassandra said in reference to many radfem theories on transfolk: They seem to want to make people fit their theories, instead of the other way around.

That is, there are so many of us actively talking about this, gay and straight and bi, male and female and other, dominant and submissive and switch, all of us talking and discussing and figuring out how these things work from within the BDSM community, from within a feminist, kink-positive framework.

And then you have this analysis, the 'submissives-are-emotionally-damaged-and-abused-unless-they're-men-in-which-case-they're-colonizers' analysis, which seems to have been formed without reference to the actual voices of kinky folk themselves, and which they insist is true regardless of what people with personal knowledge and experience . . . people who are living this reality . . . have to say.

If you disagree with the theory, (whatever your credentials) you're lying or brainwashed or experiencing false consciousness or an apologist for abuse, or, or, or . . .

The theory is everything. Your life is nothing.

And dammit, I'm just really tired of it.

Trinity said...

"Sometimes, just sometimes, it's really hard to tell where feminists end and the religious right begins."

With some of them... yeah.

Trinity said...

"and which they insist is true regardless of what people with personal knowledge and experience . . . people who are living this reality . . . have to say."

Yeah. I run into the same problem working on my dissertation: "You can't just quote ANYONE."

Despite that part of my entire point is that people's personal stories run so incredibly counter to the "radfem" theory on BDSM and the theories of mental health professionals until VERY recently.

It leaves me with CAlifia, Coming to Power, a few other things, and a couple people quoted in a set of studies conducted from a neutral standpoint. Which isn't much simply because there's so much more written about us without us.

And I'm not at all happy about that.

Zonk said...

Hey trinity, what was the topic of your dissertation?

belledame222 said...


Yep. I've been told to my face by shrinky types that a lot of people with trauma develop SM fantasies and that working through the trauma seriously sometimes makes them disappear.


Yeah, I can see where that's a headfuck.

I do think that -sometimes,- working through scenes can have an unexpected shifting effect on old fantasies: they transform, or they lose some of the frisson. BDSM really can be like an especially intense psychodrama in that way. Doesn't have to be. But it can.

And even still, doesn't necessarily mean you're gonna go more and more vanilla. Hopefully it does mean you'll be healthier, whatever that actually entails for -you.-

belledame222 said...

and, I should add, it might not shift the fantasies at all; or it might free one up to go even -more- intense now that some of the baggage blocking full enjoyment of them has been shifted.

Trinity said...

"and, I should add, it might not shift the fantasies at all; or it might free one up to go even -more- intense now that some of the baggage blocking full enjoyment of them has been shifted."

yes.

i still love blades, but i'm no longer fixated on them in the way i was from trauma.

but the idea that I'd lose a primary fetish, entirely -- THAT was/is complete bull droppings.