The term itself is hardly used as often as it is in circles devoted to Bondage/Discipline/Sadomasochism (the acronym “BDSM” seems overly benign compared to its long form, perhaps by intention), who often employ it to describe anyone outside of their preoccupation and the capitalist webs that serve as a backdrop for their fixation: Vanilla, always referring to others, is a way of focusing on the insider-outsider dynamic and to privilege the group in conceptual space. Accusations of Vanilla do not at all rely on factual evidence of what others do in the bedroom but what one group needs to imagine them doing in order for the insiders to shore up their own sense of identity. Thus, the very idea of hypocrites tends to be elided. While exposing the kink of the God Fearing might be good for a giggle, the amusement is its own end and political implications remain unexplored; outsiders must forever remain Vanilla, just as adherents must remain “otherwise,” even if their own acts begin to mirror the very worst aspects of mainstream culture. If, on one hand, Vanilla Sex is indicative of pre-feminist consciousness and inextricably linked to subjugation (hypothesized as inherent to the missionary position), and is therefore suspect, that the new and improved alternative-sexuality to Vanilla actually includes the word “bondage” in part of its acronym is a galling admission.On one hand I can almost understand the butthurt: "Vanilla" means boring and dull. No one likes to hear or wants to hear that the way he fucks (recall that this article writer is that most infuriating of creatures, the pompous feminist man telling us all how it is) is dull. Sex and sexuality are very personal, and most people leap to defend our sexual practices.
To be Vanilla is not just to be normative, it is to be banished wholesale from the new process of identity-politicking that favors choice: Vanilla people have none and are forced to derive their class-based identity from outside opinion, whether they are receptive of the outcome or not. Whereas identities that resulted in nonstandard or exotic “flavors” were once a liability (as it continues to be for those existing in, and under, traditional minority categories), today they are more often than not the result of privilege as it is upwardly mobile and highly educated whites who are most able to carve out for themselves a non-Vanilla identity while simultaneously working to buttress the myth of Vanilla to and append it to their social competitors.
Then there's the added wrinkle of the political as well. Most feminists subscribe, to a greater or lesser degree, to the idea that sexuality is affected by culture and cultural norms. If a certain sexuality is stressed, promoted, expected by the culture around you and you rebel against it, you're even more invested in that fight.
Of course this guy and I are on opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of what we believe the status quo actually looks like with respect to sexuality. He's subscribing to the radical feminist "sadomasochism (I hate 'BDSM' too, actually) is an exaggerated version of standard, compulsory sexuality under patriarchy" view, and I'm subscribing to the view that SM is nonstandard, deviant, the kind of thing that lands you out of jobs, losing custody of kids, in jail if you're unlucky, etc.
Which leads me to the part of me whose response is "oh PLEASE honey." "Vanilla" is a term chosen by people outside the mainstream to describe those in it. It's true that SM is in fact gaining more and more acceptance in mainstream society (at least in the US). More people are joking about it, trying it in the interest of being "GGG," etc.
But the people who really do identify with it, invest themselves in the community, experience it as orientational? We're still rare. We're still not taken seriously. We're still a counterculture, a community, a sub-society with its own culture, language, and traditions.
And whenever you have one of those, you generally have some term for people who aren't a part of the community. Often the word is, indeed, somewhat disparaging. I'm not disputing that "Vanilla" is often said scornfully or sadly by people who never fit into the mainstream and want to distance themselves from it.
But... what you have there is merely the obverse face of subcultural pride. It's "we as a counterculture feel downtrodden and scorned, so we'll spit in everyone else's eye a little. You think we're violent or sick or antifeminist or whatever else? Well, we know how boring you are..."
It's a piece, perhaps a somewhat ugly one, of reparative pride by a small and downtrodden community.
And yes, I said "downtrodden." I know it's a big fad for people to claim that the SM commuinity is all whiny and drama llamaful claiming we're "oppressed" and all. I can see the rolling of eyes begin.
But we are. Our conventions get shut down. Our names get published in the paper. We lose our jobs. We lose custody of our kids. Mental health care professionals decide that our sexuality is the source of our distress, regardless of what the DSM says (in the US; I believe it's the ICD-10 elsewhere, and I don't know how it's worded). We get raided, busted. Kicked out of feminist circles or conventions, some of us (consider all the recent messes in the UK.)
AND SPANNER AND PADDLEBORO WERE REALLY NOT THAT LONG AGO, PEOPLE.
Which makes the whole idea that we're the darlings of the system... quaint, to me. Where's the muscle that we flex when no hotel will take us? I've never seen it. Maybe I'm just not good enough at spotting cloak and dagger dealings.
"Vanilla" is a counterculture's way of reframing the mainstream, for purposes of reparative pride. It's not a profound insult.
If you don't like being part of the mainstream, don't be.
Just know that you don't get to clap your damn hands and claim you're not, and then we get to be and you get to feel good.
There is no mirrorshaded, leather-clad Illuminati of tops, sitting around waving sceptres or nightsticks while a harem of bottoms in slave bells sets in motion our evil plots to quash the vanilla. Or even to skillfully seduce the usually egalitarian into trying the terribly seductive fuzzy handcuffs.
We don't run this world. YOU DO. Wake up.