Monday, 13 August 2007

Face of the Scene

Pantryslut on LJ writes in a post titled "on the Fetish Flea, and the scene in general":

    Really, I don't think it's nostalgia that has me remembering a time when "the scene," that is, the public face of BDSM ("our community," however you want to put it) was much, *much*, MUCH more diverse. D/S was always the predominant flavor, of course, and that's always chapped my ass a little bit. But there were all sorts of ways to do it, and all sorts of folks to do it with, including a hefty dose of queers, and a lot of dominant women, and quite a few just kinky weird folks doing whatever the heck they felt like at the time.

    Now, there's a definite predominating dynamic.

    It's male dominant, female submissive.

    In fact, it's a little more specific, but I am having a hard time right now explaining exactly how. But, you know, women are there to be displayed, men are there to display them. Women are there to give blowjobs and accept spankings. Men are there to dole them out. Women are on their knees, or on leashes. Men hold the lead. Women smile and flirt and tilt their heads, or they stare at their feet. Men bare their teeth and joke about "if you know any beautiful young Scorpio women, send them my way."

    It's also aspirational, with people aspiring to be more and more submissive, give up more and more control, and not just in scene. And you're supposed to have one role with one person. You can switch, but that means you top person X and you bottom to person Y, not "yesterday I tied you to the bed and cut pretty designs into your chest, and tomorrow I think I want you to spank me."

Which of course reminded me of maymay's There is so little space for me:

    The overwhelming feel of the event was decidedly…patriarchal. "This is a flirt-heavy zone," the greeter told us as we entered, and proceeded to inquire about Eileen's weekend. Maybe "flirt-heavy" is just the PC word for meat market now. Maybe that's too harsh, but there's no denying the implication that men would do the purusing and women would be the pursued. There's nothing wrong with that (putting my head in Eileen's lap at a party was how we got together—quite the forward thing for submissive male to do, many people would probably think), but the expectation is nauseating.

    Even the men, the poor ignorant sods, are succumbing to the peer pressure. (Maybe that's because most of them are spineless bastards to begin with who are just aching to be told what to do. Oops, maybe that was too harsh again.) You see it in their ridiculous bait-and-switch routines where the submissive men pretend to be dominant only long enough to get the woman to bed with them. Then they turn around and get on their hands and knees and start talking about how pathetic they are. This is probably one of the very few times I'll actually agree with those men: they are pathetic, and I'm not only ashamed but enraged to be thought of as similar to them, not to mention just how many things are wrong with the very idea that this tactic might actually work out well for anyone.

    I'm jealous of the submissive women for whom this kind of space must be an incredible cornucopia of sexual celebration. I bet they actually had a blast at the art show. At the same time, I'm sorry, for their sake, that this potentially wonderful environment is all but destroyed by utterly disrespectful men.

Now, I'm light-years from being experienced with the way things are in the "scene", as I'm pretty much a private player and always have been, but I've seen bits and pieces of this in a lot of the online conversations I've seen and the references people who actually do nonprivate play or interactions make. And I can't say I know how it used to be, any more than I can say I know how it is now.

If I make it out to the Flea this weekend, though, I'm going to look and see what I can spot.

How hard do folks here find it to find diversity in their kinked communities, or niche communities that are friendly to their particular things? For people who have been around the scene for a while, how has the diversity changed where you are? Has the community fractured into splinter subcommunities, have people gone more private in disproportionate fractions, is it the big town luxury of having kinksters one can afford to dislike? (Thinking of Trinity's comment on Little Light's small town queer folks post on Feministe, here.) And how can it be fixed?


Trinity said...

I find that in big groups there's actually more of a 50-50 split. In my experience in smaller towns, it's either the same or so overwhelmingly M/f I feel unwelcome even if I know I'm not.

maymay said...

To be brief, my experience in New York City is that communities are composed of self-selecting members that have a largely similar dynamic and opinions, even if they are not of the same orientation.

For instance, I find TES to be relatively healthily mixed in terms of M/f and F/m players, but their attitudes and way of thinking about D/s dynamics are all of a similar "this is the way it is because I have said so" bent. (And of course I'm being totally unfair to at least a few individuals, but I think even they—and they know who they are—would at least in part agree with the general sentiment here.)

Similarly, GMSMA was so gay-focused that I found myself feeling uncomfortable identifying as bisexual. Not to mention how uncomfortable I felt when someone told the group I "hailed from TES."

Also, as an unrelated note, I plan to be at the Boston Fetish Flea market this weekend with Eileen and several friends from New York City. It would be lovely happenstance to get the chance to see you there, if you happen to go. If you're interested in meeting up for a meal or coffee or fetish shopping or whatever in person with me and possibly several of my friends, you can find my personal email address at the bottom of any of my blog pages; shoot me an email and I'll send you my mobile contact info.

LAS said...

Hi Trinity,

I'm the original poster (pantryslut on LJ). It might be worth noting that the Flea in question was in San Francisco.

Trinity said...

"I find TES to be relatively healthily mixed in terms of M/f and F/m players, but their attitudes and way of thinking about D/s dynamics are all of a similar "this is the way it is because I have said so" bent."

That I do find also. People tend to have One Opinion of what works and how. Whether that's "SM is the way to go" or "All D/s dynamics need punishment" or "BDSM isn't spiritual" or "Long-term relationships in the Scene don't work" or... etc.

Katie said...

I'm in DC. The scene I am affiliated with has deeply racist and sexist elements, and a general tendency toward assumptions of both heterosexuality and (for women) submission. I can't say that it used to be any different, but that's how it is now. Of course, there are great individuals that buck that trend, but the trend is there.

I don't know about the gay male scene, and didn't spend enough time in the lesbian scene to get a really good read.

ellefromtheeast said...

I think I must be really, really lucky to live in a city that's big enough to have diversity within kink, but not big enough to allow us to get away with too much splintering.

At the play party put by the umbrella pansexual organization I was at most recently, the scenes I saw included:

*Three M/f impact scenes (flogging, spanking, paddling, etc.)

*One F/f and one FF/f impact scence

*an M/m impact scene

*an F/m impact scene

*an F/f piercing scene and MF/m piercing scene

*an M/ffm piercing and wax scene

*One M/f rope scene and one FF/mm rope scene

*an F/mmm puppy play scene

There's less of a gay male presence at the parties, because gay men maintain more of their own spaces, but the relationship is largely cordial.

Now, it is true that the most common couple type is M/f. For some reason, they were playing less that night. And the local Master/slave discussion group is all about the dynamic you're describing. But take heart - diversity isn't dead.

Dw3t-Hthr said...

maymay -- dropped you a note.

Trinity said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Trinity said...

Racist elements? How so? Or does that mean "some people do race play?"

Bitchy Jones said...

Thanks for bringing these two posts together. I was reminded of one by the other too.

I find, in my own small way, that even if the split on the ground is even, M/f dynamics seem to have a lot of control of the authorship of kink. And like pantry, it can make me very uneasy if I feel there is a lack of awareness about the dynamic being recontructed.

OTOH I learnt evertything I know about submission - that I then twist an apply to male submission on my blog - by talking to feminist femsubs

BJ x

Trinity said...

"I find, in my own small way, that even if the split on the ground is even, M/f dynamics seem to have a lot of control of the authorship of kink."

That I do find as well. There's a way that those voices are accepted as authority and others are not.

Katie said...

Trinity, when I said "racist elements," I didn't mean race play. I meant that I experience racism on a regular basis in the scene. Given my experience, it makes sense that the scene I am affiliated with is primarily white.

Race play is a whole other conversation... Did you read that interesting post on freaksexual ("your kink doesn't get a free pass" I think it's called) a while back?

I also want to revise my original statement - there's an assumption of heterosexuality for men and bisexuality for women.

Trinity said...
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Trinity said...

"("your kink doesn't get a free pass" I think it's called"

I don't really read his blog.

But... as far as "not free passes" go, depending on what exactly that means (free passes to fantasize? free passes to do it with a consenting partner? free passes to ask people to do that with you? free passes to brag? free passes to pressure people? free passes to what?) I've never been as comfortable with that as some people in the Scene actually.

I think that the psychological forms of BDSM can get pretty deep into exploring the shadow. And I think that in a culture like ours that shadow can sometimes take the form of: hey, I'm privileged. There's a history of crushing/subjugating these people. I wonder what that's like...

and, well, is it creepy to think about that? Okay, sure -- but why that is creepier than my frequent fantasies of vivisecting innocent people I don't quite know.

So this idea that there are some kinks that are beyond the pale -- well, beyond WHAT pale?

I get that it's not necessarily wise to engage in them. I get the idea of saying to someone "If what really turns your crank is (to cite something I saw in someone's journal once that squicked the fuck out of me, as the guy in question was actually thinking of asking his co-worker out in the service of this fantasy) to play-rape a Palestinian woman because they're your enemies and brutalizing one through sex would make you hot, perhaps you should leave that one in your brain and not look for a partner and not talk about it in public, as that could really be horribly upsetting and even triggering to some people"

THAT I get.

But beyond that it just seems like a place in which I for one don't really think I belong: WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT?

That to my mind takes us right back to the radfem "examine your desires" territory and I'm not comfy with that.

I mean, if someone is totally obsessed with one of these especially difficult fantasies and can't understand why some people really don't like them, I could see the benefit of "examination" if by that is meant "telling this dude/lady just why that's creepier than a whipping, and shunning hir if sie doesn't get it."

But "What have you thought? What have you done? Who has consented to that (possibly upsetting, descriptions of race play)?"

That... no, I'm not so sure that's really productive.

faustopheles said...

The question of race play is a tricky issue.

I have met a few black women in the scene that I was interested in enough to play with though due to circumstances did not. They tended to have white male masters or Doms.

And yeah, I wonder if I would be ok with having them as slaves or subs, particularly in public. Superficially, it resembles things I am opposed to (but then so does most BDSM play).

But if they had asked me to assume that role, which would be the greater evil?
To play with them in that way would superficially resemble the non-consensual abuses of the past (non-consensual slavery, racial discrimination). But to deny them that, when all other things (including sexual attraction) being equal I would not if they were white, is discrimination on the basis of race. One situation superficially resembles discrimination on the basis of race and one actually is discrimination on the basis of race. So the irony is that by attempting to distance myself from something I am opposed to, being uncomfortable with it, or by avoiding the appearance to others of supporting what I am opposed to, I would actually be engaging in a form of what I oppose.

If I actually took one as a play partner, sub, or slave I would not be doing so on the basis of my race or theirs. Race would be irrelevant to the decision to do so. But race would not be irrelevant to the decision not to. I don't go looking for black women specifically (or white women for that matter). I don't decide which role based on race. If I happen to be a white master with a black slave, that is merely coincidence.

And if they wanted to use the abuses of the past as fantasy material? To incorporate the imagery, scenarios, and vocabulary of racism? What then?
Does it really matter who is white and who is black, in this scenario? White/black, Black/white, White/white, Black/black? If the answer to that is yes, then race is a determining factor and that is racism (or at least dramatic typecasting). And if the answer is no, then we are not, in fact, repeating or condoning the abuses of the past no matter what it might superficially resemble.

Do those abuses trouble me? Yes. Can I reasonably assume that they would trouble a black woman (or anyone else I would likely engage in such play with)? Yes. So, why not exorcise those daemons with a little play? Parody them, take advantage of what good can be had from bad, or even celebrate the ability to find something good even in the presence of something so evil? Acknowledge the power of the human spirit to in many cases triumph even in the face of adversity? Study the subtleties of the dynamics that distinguish good play from evil exploitation?

It wouldn't be easy. But it wouldn't be wrong either.

What were the abuses of the past (some of which still are practiced to a degree today)?
- determination of role based on race
- non-consensual slavery
- abuses of power
- enforcement through non-consensual violence
- denial of education

I know that those would be absent from the play dynamic. Spectators, however, would have less knowledge of the actual dynamic and often a less objective, rational, and nuanced ethical analysis. And it could be an emotional trigger for spectators (which is largely either the recalling of suppressed memories and/or the irrational conflation of different situations in spite of evidence to the contrary). The biggest obstacles would likely be those that originate outside the relationship, rather than within.

Due to lightning strikes nearby, better to post this now as it stands.

faustopheles said...

The scene I am affiliated with has deeply racist and sexist elements, and a general tendency toward assumptions of both heterosexuality and (for women) submission.

Not much of that here. Yeah, some male doms tend to err on the side of seeing women as submissive while some male subs tend to err on the side of seeing them as dominant. One white male posted a very racist personal ad looking for female subs on the mailing list and was promptly eviscerated by many. One white male was a bit racist but that was evidenced by his own self criticism, not actions. In a neighboring group one black man was run off for assault and racism. Very few blacks show up. Lesbians are under represented. Very few ever show up in the first place and none are local. Lesbians are also scarce at some other local organizations, as well. A number of bisexual women, though. Significant number of bisexual men and gay men. The under represented demographics tend to reflect their failure to show up in the first place more than attitudes toward them when they do.

Walk through our door and we don't much care about your gender, race, age, sexual orientation, top/bottom/switch, disabilities, cross dressing, etc.

M/f dynamics seem to have a lot of control of the authorship of kink

Well, my first book was Learning the Ropes (M/m). Joseph W. Bean was another M/m author. Dossie Easton & Janet W. Hardy (pseudonym used on previous editions) are F/f. And most of the how to books that are written from a particular gender role explicitly acknowledge other gender combinations.
Many books are written by female tops:
Midori, Christina Abernathy, Lady Green,
Deborah Addington, Mistress Lorelei.
And some of the fiction has a variety of gender roles. Been a while since I read Laura Antoniou's marketplace series and Ann Rice/A. N. Roquelaure's the sleeping beauty series but my recollection is they are mixed.

devastatingyet said...

I've been in the scene here in Denver for about 8 months. I go to the smaller of the two clubs that I know of. I find the atmosphere to be really diverse (in terms of orientations, ages, appearances) and not very obnoxious.

I actually wrote all about it just the other day.

Juliet said...

I wrote something connected to this yesterday.

I've certainly witnessed clubs moving from a open, everything-goes dynamic to a more M/f one, with a bit of F/m but much of that of the women-in-very-high-heels variety. Not good.

belledame222 said...

per faustopheles: yeah, I encountered most of those books, along with all-women play parties, before knowing anything much about the whole M/f scene (still don't, really, as far as that goes).

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