Saturday, 11 August 2007

Stealth Kink

Got thinking about this while writing my most recent comment on the "Superiority" thread a bit down.

One of the things I see a lot of in the fractal edge between the vanilla world and the kinked world is this notion that kink is clearly visible and obvious to others, that one can tell who is 'us' and and who is 'them' easily, by some set of tells. I see it in the discussions of Those Kind Of People in some spaces -- which have often led to me starting to put That Kind Of Content occasionally into my discussions there in response. In the discussions of things like dress codes -- formal or otherwise -- at certain sorts of events, even reasonably open-access things like the Fetish Flea or the Folsom Street Fair.

I've been in email correspondence with another submissive woman I met in the friends-of-friends way, and she commented something to the effect of, "I tend to think it's obvious in the way [my partner] and I interact". I flagged her as probably a sub because she came to dinner wearing a collar, and probably would have missed it otherwise -- she flagged me as something of the same in significant part because I played up some of the subtle interactions I have with my liege in order to try to communicate that back to her.

I negotiated a business transaction recently through Craigslist, and when I met the woman I had been corresponding with, I said, "Yup, rainbow Pride license plate frame and ... isn't that a leather pride flag?" Didn't notice a single bit of kinkiness aside from the sticker, in her or her partner.

I suspect that this feeds into a bunch of issues with prejudice around kink, because there is that invisibility -- and even if people are putting their leather pride stickers on their cars or doing other reasonably low-key communications, that doesn't necessarily break through the symbol-knowledge barrier. (With the woman I'm chatting in email with, I suspect that if I weren't BDSM-aware I'd have flagged the collar as being part of her, to nick her phrase, "punky biker chic" kind of look, with which it was entirely consistent.)

When I say I'm 24/7 or non-scene-delineated or whatever else, I sometimes get the impression from some folks that they can't wrap their heads around it because much of my life is so normal. I'm not wearing a collar and leather bangles and going on all fours and master-this and master-thatting all the time. I refer to my liege by his name in general conversation rather than some set of titles. I am reasonably competent, am not looking for a get-out-of-responsibility-free-card, and make my own decisions about the major matters of running my life. I don't wear fetish stuff all the time -- I mean, at the moment I'm wearing an old ink-stained school t-shirt for the math team, which while I'm sure it's someone's kink ....

And I've gotten the head-snapping, "Wait, what, you're a submissive?" response from people. One who had, say, the image of the snivelling whiner who thinks kink is about not having to think because Master does it. Or the person who's constantly blatantly expecting other people to engage with their dynamic. Or whatever else.

And I'm here, relatively stealthed, with all these little cues -- like the way I do small favors for my liege without him prefacing the requests with anything other than the expectation that I will do it, the way he touches my neck and shoulder when we're out together, the way I will occasionally sit on the floor when he's on the couch and rest my head on his leg and get petted. Stuff that I think is reasonably clear cueing, at least. And when I explicitly mentioned the d/s relationship to a friend -- the one who introduced me to the woman I'm corresponding with, actually -- she started visibly and said, "Oh really."

And so I'm sort of wondering how to deal with the stereotypes, in the whole pro-SM sort of way, the presenting things, because -- y'know, damn, it's not like I don't talk about kink. I wrote a trip report in my livejournal that included mentioning my liege dropping me into subspace in a bistro a couple days ago. And still people don't seem to notice, really. Which makes it hard to back up far enough to get a sense of what people understand about kink (I tend towards education as activism in all my weirdnesses), because there's this sense that the stuff that isn't obvious and fitting the prejudices just goes under the radar. (And this isn't just the sort of relationship d/s that I do that goes invisible -- witness Trinity's comments about being invisible as a female top as another example.)

It's an interesting problem for education and activism, really. How to express the breadth of what exists without necessarily needing people to be blatant about their private lives. How to shift the stereotypes so the quieter folks get recognised as existing at all. I know I'm at a loss.


Trinity said...

And the interesting thing, like I said over on the other post, comes when you're looking and that subtlety is what you want.

I don't want to punish, for example. I'm not totally averse to occasionally using "you don't get to do this" or some other negative stimulus as a reinforcer if sorely needed and if both of us recognize a need for colsure of some big issue that requires it.

But, well, it's like a lot of the local D/s folks in my group say: "I've been punished all of twice in ten years. It's something that's delineated, but not done."

And... that gets hard to talk about because you're expected: Oh, D/s. Well, every few weeks ze fucks up, right?

And that's not what I'm aiming for. I'm aiming for the substratum you have. It's actually something that develops quickly and easily with some people -- contrary to the endless discussions and presentations that claim it HAS! to be always on! lest you become SWEETIES! rather than Master and slave...

Numi said...

Heh. And here I have the other problem, where people mistake my introvertness/shyness/sometimes social fobia as obvious signs that I'm a submissive. Or, y'know, in one of those *cults*.
One of the most vivid examples happened recently. I and two male friends (big, strong guys dressed relatively macho at the time) were at a con. I hate crowds, so I was keeping back a couple of steps behind them so that they effectively acted as wavebreakers. After a while a couple approached them (not me, mind) and asked if I was their sub, since I'd been walking behind them and 'seemed shy'. The poor guys were quite mortified, I was oblivious.
The funny/irritating part? I'm actually a fairly bratty sub, given the opportunity. I like wrasslin', teasing, and most of all I want to feel like an *equal*. Not someone who has to walk several steps behind. In crowds and accompanied by more than one friend I just do that because I'm lazy and don't like people cooties. Bah.

EthylBenzene said...

Dw3t, thanks for bringing up these issues. How do we educate people? Well, that's a good question, isn't it? I wish I knew.

I discussed this a bit over on maymay's blog, but I wish people would stop it already with the binary systems. Not everyone fits into pigeonholes, not everyone is an either-or. Our human desire to pigeonhole things and people just no longer holds up. It was probably useful in our evolutionary history at some point, but I strongly feel at this point that it is no longer adaptive. Everyone is in the middle in some way, whether you're bisexual, or a switch, or like pain only when you have PMS, or only want to bottom in certain specific scenarios, or are biracial, or or or whatever.

I'm tired of people deciding the world is one way, when all of my experience says it's another, more subtle, more complex way. I think the best way to try to change people's minds is just to be visible, speak up, share -- warts and middle ground and shades of gray and all.

Numi said...

Ah, but that takes effort, Ethylbenzene. And effort requires energy expenditure, and (other than the plain lazy folk, myself included) often that energy's already been spent/is being spent on other things. It's just easier to assume that X, Y and Z Smith all fit into such and such compartments rather than taking the time to get to know them.
So whereas I get what you're saying, I think it'll be a long while yet before human societies drop that.

ellefromtheeast said...

I have a really different perspective on signaling one's kink. When my partner and I were searching for a collar, we finally chose one that was so subtle that we had to explain to people in the scene, including our leather family, that yes, that metal necklace is my collar.

For us, I think this comes in part from my partner's traditional Leather training. Remember, the BDSM community's traditions were originally developed by gay men who had to be really subtle about kink for their own safety. Indicators like flagging were deliberately designed to be hard for outsiders to pick up on.

Dw3t-Hthr, there are a lot of aspects of my relationship that sound a lot like yours, although I'm not 24/7. And I agree that there's so much sweetness there that many people can't imagine. But, hell, I'm okay with that. It's not hard to find the community via the Internet, and I make a lot of effort to welcome new people at BDSM events. If someone's not at a kink event, I assume they're not interested, and that's fine with me.

Silvia Sea said...

Wow... I just discovered your blog via "I Shame the Matriarchy" and just wanted to say that this is an awesome topic for a blog, and one that I will definitely check in on again. Being a feminist with submissive leanings, I am all too familiar with the issues and contradictions that come with falling under both of these categories.

Keep up the good work!

maymay said...

Invisibility is the enemy of awareness and as long as there is a lack of awareness there will be no understanding of the prejudice against kink.

But frankly, how can we expect the mainstream to even begin to engage in conversation about this sort of thing when abortion or homosexuality or even just having sex before marriage are thought of as evil-bad-unhealthy-wrong? Not that we shouldn't try, and not that we shouldn't demand better, but I just don't see it happening in my lifetime—and I'm fucking 23 years old.

EthylBenzene said...

Maymay and Numi --
I understand your frustration, but it doesn't seem to me like the right way to deal with things is hopelessness and giving up. I mean, everyone has their comfort levels regarding how active they want to be, but I find it really disheartening to see you guys basically throwing up your hands and saying "oh well nothing I can do!"