Sunday, 28 December 2008

Pain, Sex, and Scientology

As I do every now and again (because it's both funny as hell and gives interesting information on successful mind control techniques), I've been reading some pages on Scientology. I found a document here called "Pain and Sex."

I found it interestingly relevant to our usual discussions because, although it doesn't come from anti-SM feminists or anti-SM conservatives, I think it reveals something interesting about mind control that I do see mirrored in some of the anti-SM writing, particularly the strongly theory-oriented radical feminist stuff.

Here's the mighty mighty LRH:
There are two items in this universe that cause more trouble than many others combined.

One is PAIN.

The other is SEX.

One should know more about these things.

They may have applications but they are used by destructive beings in great volume to cave others in.

....Pain becomes a lock on a being's abhorrence for misalignment of his own electrical flows. It is a lock upon unconsciousness which shuts off knowingness.

Sex is a lock on and perversion of the "joy of creation" which involves a whole being and expands him, but by using just one wavelength, sex, this can be perverted and he contracts.

When pain enters a scene, a being withdraws, contracts and can go unconscious.

When sex enters the scene, a being fixates and loses power.

Destructive creatures who do not want people big or reaching -- since they are terrified of punishment due to their crimes -- invented pain and sex to shrink people and cut their alertness, knowingness, power and reach.

Thus, you see people who are "experiencing" either pain or sex introverting and not producing much.

Pain and sex were the INVENTED tools of degradation.
Basically, if I properly understand this mutilated English (my poor language! I'm sure it safeworded paragraphs ago!), what he's saying is that pain and sex distract us from Serious Business by taking control of our consciousness and making us unable to "produce much."

Which, at least in terms of sex, is that same old line: Sex is unimportant. Sex distracts from the Important Things -- in Scientology, "clearing the planet"; in various feminisms, fundamental and far-reaching sociocultural reform that radically changes the social status of women.

Don't fuck, PRODUCE! How dare you waste perfectly good time getting off that you could spend changing the world?

Don't enjoy yourself, that's individualism, and we've gotten beyond that foolish white male delusion!

It's very close indeed.

And then there's the pain bit. I think in the Scientology case it's more of the self-helpish veneer they have: We're promising you that if you give us just a little more money and time you won't experience pain any more. It won't bog you down, bother you, upset you. No more tears.

Which there isn't really an analogous phenomenon to in the groupthinkier forms of radical feminism. Radical feminists of this stripe often pride themselves on pain to a degree that would make a masochist green: They're not the fun kind, and don't you forget it.

While you're enjoying the approval of your masters, laughing and getting wet and partying, they're up to Serious Things which are Eminently Serious Business. They're forcing themselves to hold it together through a porno movie so they can adequately Theory, and weeping great tears and risking horrible flashbacks to do it. (I do think this is actually the truth in a lot of cases. Personally I think it's an oddly ungratifying form of masochism that's probably not good for people, but what would I know, I like sex too much :)

(Speaking of, here's what he has to say about us specifically. It's charming indeed!)
Believe it or not, a being can be so overwhelmed by either [sex or pain] that he or she becomes an addict of it. Priests become flagellants and cut themselves to pieces with self-whipping. Torturers drool over pain. Lovers are very seldom happy. People do the most irrational things when overcharged with sex, and prostitutes use it as a knowing stock-in-trade. Combined, pain and sex make up the insane Jack-the-Rippers (who killed only prostitutes) and the whole strange body of sex-murder freaks, including Hinckley*, and the devotees of late-night horror movies. Under the false data of the psychs (who have been on the track a long time and are the sole cause of decline in this universe) both pain and sex are gaining ground in this society and, coupled with robbery which is a hooded companion of both, may very soon make the land a true jungle of crime.

Go into an asylum or a prison and look at the increasing institutional population and know what you are looking at. In the main, these are pain and sex addicts, decadent and degraded and no longer capable. They were sent on that route down through the ages by the psychs and here they are still in the psychs' hands! And do they get well or go straight? Oh no. Whether in prisons or insane asylums they just get worse. And the psychs in both places rub their bloodied hands as they turn their products loose again upon the remaining population! It's no accident. And the stocks-in-trade of psychs are PAIN and SEX. They will even tell you it's "natural" to steal!

....They [pain and sex] are the most-used tools in the campaign against beings in furthering the general goal of those creatures whose sole ambition is destruction. The universe does not happen to be either destructive or chaotic except as such obsessed creeps make it. Statements it is otherwise are just more false data from the same suspect "authorities"....
But I do think there's a connection here too. Pain and pleasure are fraternal twins after all -- they're both words that apply to sensation and emotion, and the sensations are bodily responses. They're not conscious. They're the gut reacting, and the gut reacts to things that seem off to it. Things feel nice that people tell us aren't so nice. Things raise our hackles sometimes despite people assuring us those things are good for us.

Controlling these basic responses -- controlling pain or controlling pleasure -- is controlling the beings who feel them.

And radical feminism of this sort, while it isn't invested in battling pain, is certainly invested in controlling pleasure.

Pleasure is suspect from the get-go. As I've already discussed, it distracts one from Serious Business. It drives one to look at, want, savor things and experiences that go against the theory, that have been branded "Bad For Women."

Think about all the emphasis on examining your desires. The statements that "oh, we'd never demand someone give up her pleasures, but we want her to be aware of where they come from." If we say we already are aware, or that we've uncovered that their sources are benign or even positive, we're told to do it again, as if we're faulty computers that never quite properly executed some complex subroutine.

There's one answer, and it's that certain pleasures are out of bounds. While many such "feminists" recognize that these pleasures aren't avoidable, indulging in them requires regular confession and purging, proper purification after soiling oneself with the pleasures of the fle-- er, Patriarchy.

I may get laughed at for this, but I really am beginning to think that sadomasochists -- not the real people, the actual participants in certain sexual activities, but rather Those Who Love Pain as an archetype, paradoxical and irreducible -- frighten this subset of radical feminists and frighten Scientologists for the same reason: because they resist these forms of control.

Of course any given kinky person will be more or less resistant to mind control. I've gotten deeper involved in culty groups before than I want to admit, and my pain fetish wasn't a good defense. But the archetypal sadomasochist is something different: someone who knows and seeks her own pleasure, someone who explores her pain and its sources through unflinching experience.

Someone who seeks pleasure and isn't afraid of pain cannot be controlled, cannot be roped in by an ideology that rests on the fear of sex or the fear of pain (or its twin.)

She is free, radically and wildly free... and therefore she is the ultimate Enemy.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

The Anonymous Avenger Strikes Again...

My last post was a response to an anonymous commenter who posted an excerpt of an interview with Audre Lorde, who claimed that SM reproduces unjust social power dynamics.

The adorable thing struck again with a comment to that post, this time sticking to a rather famous -- and similarly to the Hanisch, usually ridiculously misquoted -- quote from Lorde: "The master's tools will never dismantle the master's house."

As I'm one who'd never disappoint trolls who don't seem to fully understand what they're quoting (I shall cuddle her and squeeze her and call her George!), here's my response to that one too.

First, as with the Hanisch, the "master's tools" quote is very often taken completely out of context, so... here's the real context, an essay about how women of color are excluded from feminist conferences.
It is a particular academic arrogance to assume any discussion of feminist theory without examining our many differences, and without a significant input from poor women, Black and Third World women, and lesbians. And yet, I stand here as a Black lesbian feminist, having been invited to comment within the only panel at this conference where the input of Black feminists and lesbians is represented. What this says about the vision of this conference is sad, in a country where racism, sexism, and homophobia are inseparable. To read this program is to assume that lesbian and Black women have nothing to say about existentialism, the erotic, women's culture and silence, developing feminist theory, or heterosexuality and power. And what does it mean in personal and political terms when even the two Black women who did present here were literally found at the last hour? What does it mean when the tools of a racist patriarchy are used to examine the fruits of that same patriarchy? It means that only the most narrow perimeters of change are possible and allowable.
The context, then, is not one of personal introspection, of looking into oneself and weeding out the influence of the patriarchy. While she does, in other places (such as the quote from Against Sadomasochism in the previous post), tell us that such introspection is important to her feminism, it's not what she's talking about here. She's talking about how social patterns are reproduced, yes, but she's talking about them being reproduced in the structure of feminist community, a community which claims to have a commitment to anti-racism, yet can only spare the most paltry tokenism for women of color.

To take the phrase so wildly out of context and make it a comment on women's personal lives, entirely removing the statement on race relations of which it is a part, is, more often than not, an example of the white-feminist arrogance it was written to combat. I do not know if cuddly little George is white or a person of color, but I do know that I have seen women of color lament the way this essay is reduced to one sentence and the context is lost, allowing people to use the sentence to judge any opponent for bad politics for any reason.

Now, here is the context in which the "master's tools" sentence occurs. (It's a long excerpt, but I feel it needed to give the true picture of Lorde's oft wildly misunderstood point.)
Advocating the mere tolerance of difference between women is the grossest reformism. It is a total denial of the creative function of difference in our lives. Difference must be not merely tolerated, but seen as a fund of necessary polarities between which our creativity can spark like a dialectic. Only then does the necessity for interdependency become unthreatening. Only within that interdependency of different strengths, acknowledged and equal, can the power to seek new ways of being in the world generate, as well as the courage and sustenance to act where there are no charters.

...As women, we have been taught either to ignore our differences, or to view them as causes for separation and suspicion rather than as forces for change. Without community there is no liberation, only the most vulnerable and temporary armistice between an individual and her oppression. But community must not mean a shedding of our differences, nor the pathetic pretense that these differences do not exist.

Those of us who stand outside the circle of this society's definition of acceptable women; those of us who have been forged in the crucibles of difference -- those of us who are poor, who are lesbians, who are Black, who are older -- know that survival is not an academic skill. It is learning how to stand alone, unpopular and sometimes reviled, and how to make common cause with those others identified as outside the structures in order to define and seek a world in which we can all flourish. It is learning how to take our differences and make them strengths. For the master's tools will never dismantle the master's house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change. And this fact is only threatening to those women who still define the master's house as their only source of support.

Poor women and women of Color know there is a difference between the daily manifestations of marital slavery and prostitution because it is our daughters who line 42nd Street. If white American feminist theory need not deal with the differences between us, and the resulting difference in our oppressions, then how do you deal with the fact that the women who clean your houses and tend your children while you attend conferences on feminist theory are, for the most part, poor women and women of Color? What is the theory behind racist feminism?

In a world of possibility for us all, our personal visions help lay the groundwork for political action. The failure of academic feminists to recognize difference as a crucial strength is a failure to reach beyond the first patriarchal lesson. In our world, divide and conquer must become define and empower.
Again, it's not that she wasn't against SM; yesterday's quote shows that she in fact was. It's not even that she wouldn't have agreed that doing SM is copying the erotic style of "the masters"; she's clear that she does think so.

It's that, as she herself said in the interview George quoted the other day, the SM issue is a diversion. The erotic is not what she's talking about here. Yes, she does make it consistently clear, that she does not divide a woman's personal choices from her political stances. She believes that the things we focus on, give our attention or energy to, at home or in bed or with our families or friends, directly impacts all we do.

But to say that she's talking about, for lack of a better word, the aura of our bedroom practices when you're quoting an essay about the representation of voices of color in the larger feminist movement is to twist her words. It's to plaster them onto your issue as if her agreeing with you about sadomasochism and feminism is more important than race issues within feminism, when she herself said in what you quoted the other day that it emphatically is not.

If George is white, she's doing something I strongly suspect Lorde would vigorously protest: removing the essay from its racial context, deeming the race issues less important than correcting some other white girl (i.e., me) on her sex life.

Friday, 12 December 2008

Audre Lorde, Carol Hanisch, Sadomasochism, Free Love, and Feminism

This one is going to get long.

An anonymous commenter responded to yesterday's post with a quote from Audre Lorde, ostensibly to explain exactly what radical feminists' opposition to SM actually looks like. I responded in comments there as well, and then figured it would make a good post of its own. So without further ado, here's the Lorde quote and my responses, taken from the conversation in comments here.

Interview with Audre Lord [sic; it's "Lorde", anony] on MediaWatch [The interview was originally published in Against Sadomasochism: A Radical Feminist Analysis, edited by Robin Ruth Linden, et. al. Pp. 68-71.]
Leigh: What about the doctrine of “live and let live” and civil liberties issues?

Audre: I don’t see that as the point. I’m not questioning anyone’s right to live. I’m saying we must observe the courses and implications of our lives. If we are talking about feminism then the personal is political and we can subject everything in our lives to scrutiny. We have been nurtured in a sick, abnormal society, and we should be in the process of reclaiming ourselves, not the terms of that society. This is complex. I speak not about condemnation but about recognizing what is happening and questioning what it means. I’m not willing to regiment anyone’s life. If we are to scrutinize our human relationships, we must be willing to scrutinize all aspects of those relationships. The subject of revolution is ourselves, is our lives.

Sadomasochism is an institutionalized celebration of dominant/subordinate relationships. And, it prepares us either to accept subordination or to enforce dominance. Even in play, to affirm that the exertion of power over powerlessness is erotic, is empowering, is to set the emotional and social stage for the continuation of that relationship, politically, socially and economically.

...Sadomasochism feeds the belief that domination is inevitable. It can be compared to the phenomenon of worshipping a godhead with two faces, and worshipping only the white part on the full moon and the black part on the dark of the moon, as if totally separate. But you cannot corral any aspect within your life, divorce its implications, whether it’s what you eat for breakfast or how you say goodbye. This is what integrity means...

Those involved with sadomasochism are acting out the intolerance of differences which we all learn: superiority and thereby the right to dominate. The conflict is supposedly self-limiting because it happens behind bedroom doors. Can this be so, when the erotic empowers, nourishes and permeates all of our lives?...

I do not believe that sexuality is separate from living. As a minority woman, I know dominance and subordination are not bedroom issues. In the same way that rape is not about sex, s/m is not about sex but about how we use power. If it were only about personal sexual exchange or private taste, why would it be presented as a political issue?...

The linkage of passion to dominance/subordination is the prototype of the heterosexual image of male-female relationships, one which justifies pornography. Women are supposed to “love” being brutalized. This is also the prototypical justification of all relationships of oppression-that the subordinate one who is “different” “enjoys” the inferior position.

The gay male movement, for example, is invested in distinguishing between gay s/m pornography and heterosexual pornography. Gay men can allow themselves the luxury of not seeing the consequences. We, as women and as feminists, must scrutinize our actions and see what they imply, and upon what they are based.
My responses:


I'm not sure if you posted the Lorde because you agree with it, or simply as a way to explain to us exactly where radical feminists are coming with this stuff. (I don't need the education; Against Sadomasochism, from whence that quote comes, is actually on my bookshelf already.)

[ETA: I think it's also important to look at the very end of the interview, wherein Lorde mentions that she sees the SM issue as far less pressing than others within the feminist movement -- a bit that I note Anon leaves unquoted:]
First, we must ask ourselves, is this whole question of s/m sex in the lesbian community perhaps being used to draw attention and energies away from other more pressing and immediately life-threatening issues facing us as women in this racist, conservative and repressive period? A red herring? A smoke screen for provocateurs? Second, lesbian s/m is not about what you do in bed, just as lesbianism is not simply a sexual preference. For example, Barbara Smith’s work on woman-identified women, on “lesbian” experiences in Zora Hurston or Toni Morrison. It is not who I sleep with that defines the quality of these acts, not what we do together, but what life statements am I led to make as the nature and effect of my erotic relationships percolate throughout my life and my being? As a deep lode of our erotic lives and knowledge, how does sexuality enrich us and empower our actions?
[With which I totally agree. My disagreement with Lorde is that she sees SM as unavoidably leading to bad effects. I don't. I think it leads to understanding what power means for us, as well as allowing many of us to experience a mode of living less focused on selfishness and ego than modern American society is. I think such experiences are a powerful, and important, corrective for many people in an ego-focused, "me me me" society. It's not about subordination. It's about distance from the ego.]

"If we are talking about feminism then the personal is political and we can subject everything in our lives to scrutiny."

As much as I respect Lorde (Sister Outsider? On my bookshelf too.), I'm gonna have to say she's doing what many feminists do, and misinterpreting what Carol Hanisch had in mind by the phrase.

Here's Hanisch's essay.

First, what it was referring to:
For this paper I want to stick pretty close to an aspect of the Left debate commonly talked about---namely "therapy" vs. "therapy and politics." Another name for it is "personal" vs. "political" and it has other names, I suspect, as it has developed across the country. I haven't gotten over to visit the New Orleans group yet, but I have been participating in groups in New York and Gainesville for more than a year. Both of these groups have been called "therapy" and "personal" groups by women who consider themselves "more political." So I must speak about so-called therapy groups from my own experience.

The very word "therapy" is obviously a misnomer if carried to its logical conclusion. Therapy assumes that someone is sick and that there is a cure, e.g., a personal solution. I am greatly offended that I or any other woman is thought to need therapy in the first place. Women are messed over, not messed up! We need to change the objective conditions, not adjust to them. Therapy is adjusting to your bad personal alternative.

We have not done much trying to solve immediate personal problems of women in the group. We've mostly picked topics by two methods: In a small group it is possible for us to take turns bringing questions to the meeting (like, Which do/did you prefer, a girl or a boy baby or no children, and why? What happens to your relationship if your man makes more money than you? Less than you?). Then we go around the room answering the questions from our personal experiences. Everybody talks that way. At the end of the meeting we try to sum up and generalize from what's been said and make connections.

I believe at this point, and maybe for a long time to come, that these analytical sessions are a form of political action. I do not go to these sessions because I need or want to talk about my "personal problems." In fact, I would rather not. As a movement woman, I've been pressured to be strong, selfless, other-oriented, sacrificing, and in general pretty much in control of my own life. To admit to the problems in my life is to be deemed weak. So I want to be a strong woman, in movement terms, and not admit I have any real problems that I can't find a personal solution to (except those directly related to the capitalist system). It is at this point a political action to tell it like it is, to say what I really believe about my life instead of what I've always been told to say.
So what she's talking about, actually, is not the idea that women must carefully examine their personal lives for false consciousness. What she's doing is defending the work of C-R groups as political rather than personal, because they focus not on being therapeutic rap sessions for "messed up" women, but on doing political work together. It's not about whether issues are personal or not (though the implication is strong that what's considered "personal" is affected by patriarchy, I'll grant that), but about whether a certain kind of group meeting can be considered to "count" as political work. It's a response to "Why are you talking for two hours when you could be lobbying?", not a response to "Why do you have sex that way?" or the like. In faaaaaaact....
The groups that I have been in have also not gotten into "alternative life-styles" or what it means to be a "liberated" woman. We came early to the conclusion that all alternatives are bad under present conditions. Whether we live with or without a man, communally or in couples or alone, are married or unmarried, live with other women, go for free love, celibacy or lesbianism, or any combination, there are only good and bad things about each bad situation. There is no "more liberated" way; there are only bad alternatives.

....When our group first started, going by majority opinion, we would have been out in the streets demonstrating against marriage, against having babies, for free love, against women who wore makeup, against housewives, for equality without recognition of biological differences, and god knows what else. Now we see all these things as what we call "personal solutionary." Many of the actions taken by "action" groups have been along these lines. The women who did the anti-woman stuff at the Miss America Pageant were the ones who were screaming for action without theory.
As I read this and the other quote, she's actually vehemently denying that being for or against particular "personal solutionary" things is actually good political work, because it sidesteps the real problem, which is not that women choose one thing over another, but that all possible choices have been stunted in some way or another.
One more thing: I think we must listen to what so-called apolitical women have to say---not so we can do a better job of organizing them but because together we are a mass movement. I think we who work full-time in the movement tend to become very narrow. What is happening now is that when non-movement women disagree with us, we assume it's because they are "apolitical," not because there might be something wrong with our thinking. Women have left the movement in droves. The obvious reasons are that we are tired of being sex slaves and doing shitwork for men whose hypocrisy is so blatant in their political stance of liberation for everybody (else). But there is really a lot more to it than that. I can't quite articulate it yet. I think "apolitical" women are not in the movement for very good reasons, and as long as we say "you have to think like us and live like us to join the charmed circle," we will fail. What I am trying to say is that there are things in the consciousness of "apolitical" women (I find them very political) that are as valid as any political consciousness we think we have. We should figure out why many women don't want to do action. Maybe there is something wrong with the action or something wrong with why we are doing the action or maybe the analysis of why the action is necessary is not clear enough in our minds.
[ETA: There is also this:]
Of course there were women within New York Radical Women and the broader feminist movement who argued from the beginning against consciousness raising and claimed women were brainwashed and complicit in their own oppression, an argument rooted in the sociological and psychological rather than the political.
Also, I disagree with Lorde's analysis of play, there. To be fair, I don't think that we remain completely unaffected by the things to which we turn our attention. At the same time, though, play is an important part of the growth and socialization of youthful creatures, whether human, dog, cat, whatever.

But small humans' play is very complicated. The simple fact that one finds a child playing a certain game of make-believe today does not tell us what she will grow up to be like tomorrow. I liked pretending my Barbie dolls were rock stars. Am I a musician? No.

There are other games that I played with them that more closely paralleled what I grew up to be. Sure. Like I said, we're not totally divorced from what we do for fun. But that doesn't mean that we can look at what someone plays with and read off who she is, unless we have more information.

[ETA: And I think getting that information will tell us what we need to know about what the play, whether a child's game or an adult's SM, means or doesn't mean. How does it relate to how she sees herself? Is she trying on a way of behaving that's foreign to her as a kind of personal exploration? Is the adult woman submitting or dominating because she feels she does the opposite in her regular life, and seeks balance? Is she expressing something she believes is essential to her character? If she is doing this, is she doing it because she looks down on herself or others, or is she reflectively involving herself in a relationship where her personality is valued? The answers to those questions are what strike me as important. On the question of whether SM itself, as some monolithic Practice, is better or worse for women or others than Vanilla, as some similarly monolithic Practice, I'm inclined to agree with Hanisch's analysis of all alternatives as just as bad (or as good -- I'm not so pessimistic) as one another. I also don't believe that either SM or vanilla activities are any kind of monolith, so theory based on seeing them as such is unavoidably flawed and therefore bad.]

I am, however, guilty as charged about believing that hierarchy is inevitable. I don't think this because it's so damn sexy I'm willing to put up with patriarchy, though.

I believe it because every time I've gone into a relationship expecting there to be no power dynamics, I've found myself ripe for other people's manipulation. I know how to handle someone with authority behaving in a way I don't approve of: challenge her, renegotiate our ranks if possible, or leave.

But I've had much less success in situations that were supposed to lack power dynamics. It was a big thing in my family as a kid, that no one should "want power" or "be selfish." Which yeah, sounded nice, but it left a lot of room for people to manipulate others and, when called on their manipulations, to say "You're crazy. I'd never do that."

I've seen the same thing when I've been in relationships that would supposedly be especially relaxing or healthy because "no one had the power." It's very easy for "the power" only to refer to some kind of rank ordering, and for people who are skilled at manipulation to turn that into, "Oh, you're not outvoted, sweetie, you're just wrong."

Especially when there's a specific ideology that the accuser can point to: "Oh, you want that? Well, but that's bad feminism, honey! Oh, don't get so upset, this is just about liberation!"

I think that the idea of ending hierarchy is nonsensical and dangerous [at least as I've so far seen it presented] because it doesn't include plans for ending manipulation and emotional abuse. [If it did include such plans, though, I'd likely dismiss the whole thing as a pipe dream, so make of that whatever you will.]

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Selfishness: How They Getcha

I'm still following the conversations over at Nine Deuce's critiquing BDSM. I've noticed one theme popping up lately in the comments that I wanted to highlight and address.

That is the idea that it's not wrong to do BDSM, but that it is selfish in a morally critiquable way.

These folks subscribe to a certain "radical feminist" critique of BDSM that suggests that it perpetuates male dominance over women. So if someone does it, well, they're not going to call the Feminist Police, but they are going to say "Hey, maybe you could pay less attention to your own orgasms, and more attention to vulnerable girls who may get the message that men's power is especially hot."

Some examples:

I think I understand why radfems tend to just stop commenting, go away and silence themselves out of frustration. It’s because these arguments always come down to personal sovereignty for these people, and we’re not allowed to discuss anything pertaining to a person’s choice. The problem is that ‘choice’ doesn’t = ‘feminist’ just because you say it is. People are no longer wishing to look internally in order to understand larger social constructs. For the last decade, in all other movements (such as environmental conservation) we’ve used mottoes like ‘think globally, act locally’. But once you apply that same reasoning to feminism, and ask individual women/men to examine their choices for the good of the entire sex class, suddenly ‘UR OPPRESSIVE’. Why have we become SO self-centered?
Nine Deuce 1:
It’s sort of like a conversation about single-payer health care between a Democrat and a Libertarian. One side is about the big picture and the other is about individual interest, with the Libertarian being unwilling to consider the implications of the bigger picture lest he be forced to admit that his stance is myopic and might have effects outside of those he experiences directly. I understand people’s not being into hearing me disapprove of what they’re aroused by, but that’s not the point. The fact is that mingling sex and power is inherently problematic in a hierarchical society and it directly affects our ability to ever dismantle patriarchy. I’m not saying that means I have the right to tell people not to do something, but the fact remains that there’s a problem.
My response, attempting to remind all that the Libertarian's selfishness (if we agree she is wrong; I do) and the BDSMer's selfishness are orders of magnitude different:


With all due respect, I don’t think they’re similar at all. The presence or lack of a health care system, and the details of coverage and what one must do or have to get health care, affect the welfare of the citizenry obviously and directly. It’s nonsensical to say that individual interest trumps the good of the uninsured, because it’s obvious how they’ll be affected.

In the case here, we’re talking about a personal behavior choice. While it’s true that we disagree about how much “people doing BDSM” affects society as a whole, I don’t think it can be at all disputed that whatever effect it would have is tiny compared to the effects of one health care system versus another.

Nine Deuce 2:
Trinity - Libertarians with money (who usually have insurance) think their best interests are served by our not having a single-payer system because they believe having one will cost them money. They’re all about individual choice and responsibility when it benefits them and refuse to admit that what they do as individuals is connected to a larger system of phenomena. It’s an each-man-for-himself thing, which is naive and selfish. And the same goes with “sex-positivism.” The counterargument to radical feminism is always personal choice/liberty, and it’s always made from the “I get off on this, and anyone telling me that I have to consider the fact that my choices take place in a larger context is trying to oppress me, and is therefore just as bad as the patriarchy itself” position.
You all can already see how I respond to these critiques: I think that even if BDSM reinforced patriarchy, a person's consensual sexual activity does not have anywhere near the social effects that choosing a single-payer health care system would. Objecting to the "selfishness" of a person who chooses to explore her sexual fantasies rather than reform them strikes me as just as important, socially, as objecting to the selfishness of the person who doesn't cover his mouth when he coughs, or something -- unless there is some clear sign of serious disease vector there, it just plain hardly matters even if we accept that there is risk.

(I actually don't think that BDSM reinforces, reifies, or copies patriarchy either. I'm tired of people making my relationships invisible because I am not a man, and then claiming they are feminists. But that is for a totally different post.)

What I want to do here, though, more than I want to talk about exactly where the argument train derails, is to talk about the technique here.

This is designed to make people feel guilty. "You're being selfish" is the kind of ad hominem that is going to work particularly well on people who:
  1. commit themselves to social justice/social equality, which feminist or feminist-friendly people do
  2. know they have social status that is undeserved and that others don't have, which the typical feminist blog audience is probably swimming in: likely white, likely middle-class, likely from what's called the "first world," etc.
  3. support left-wing politics and causes, which are usually centered around at least the idea of minor self-sacrifice to help others less well-off
  4. are anti-capitalist, or at least for a moderated and "socially responsible" mixed capitalism, which is another cause/ideology that feminist or feminist-friendly people often believe in
When someone says to the Libertarian 9-2 references, "You're being selfish," it likely bounces off. There's whole schools of thought, like those that look back to Nietzsche and Rand, that claim selfishness, individualism, and the like to be virtues, both personal and social.

But many feminist-leaning folks are idealists who want to help those less fortunate, and want to do it by trying to eliminate social disparities. Many such people feel that they're not doing enough to help. (I did, until I took a job working for disability rights. I'm totally comfortable now, knowing I'm not "selfish" but rather devoting my career itself to doing my part. And no, I am not giving more details. I am not out.)

This is perhaps exascerbated by what I'll call the "endless" quality of some feminisms and feminist activism. "We'll march until we stop rape," for example. Or "We need a new, egalitarian social order," where just about every existing way of bringing this about (legislation, liberal political reform, etc) is rejected as not enough of a radical change. It's easy to feel we just aren't doing enough when our best friend is assaulted the day after TBTN, for example.

So when someone comes along and says "You're selfish because you do BDSM" or "You're selfish because you are sex-positive" or "Doing SM is fine, but if you defend it, rather than seeing it as a tragic blemish on your soul due to trauma, you're selfish" it stings. It rubs salt in those wounds.

And for many people, it's easier to get the salt out by "examining," by "purging" for a while, or by taking on the "Woe is me, I'm kinky but wish I weren't" attitude than by volunteering at the rape crisis center or the soup kitchen, or taking the low-paying job at the nonprofit, or whatever have you.

But the thing is, going along with the bullies for however long you do it has no more or less effect on society as a whole than you doing something totally different with a consenting partner. Your "selfishness" is only a black mark on society if it leads you to do things that affect society -- and one more drop of water in the patriarchal ocean, even supposing these folks are right, is not that.

If the selfishness jibes sting, that may mean you should "examine" your life. It may mean you really do want to do something more than what you're doing. (It may not; like I said I think these people are bullying, and bullies raise discovering what stings to an art form.) But if this is the case, it's not your sexuality you should be looking at. It's your footprint on the world. Do you volunteer? Do you do activist work? If you do, is it the kind of "endless" marchy stuff, or things with clear-cut outcomes? If the former, is that OK with you?

Getting people thinking about their footprint on the world is good. Doing that with the intention of shaming or feeling superior -- which is what these folks are up to -- is just stupid, and not worth getting stung by anyway. These folks rarely let us all know just what they are doing to better the lives of the downtrodden themselves, after all.

Oh no, they must be sellll-fish! But at least their "radical feminist" theory isn't. Thank the stars for that.

Monday, 8 December 2008


In my past posts, I let you all know about some conversations going on at Nine Deuce's blog about BDSM and feminism. Some of you joined in there, some people came from there to here, etc.

I thought I'd let you all know that I got into a conversation with the woman I posted about here. (Looks like, for example, she did leave the Scene, but still does BDSM.) We moved the conversation over to my journal, here and here. I thought some of the folk here might want to see it.

I'd post excerpts to avoid possible linkrot, but it's a bit long.

Monday, 1 December 2008

Details From Someone Who Left

I've posted several times that when I see narratives from ex-BDSMers, they tend to leave out a lot of details. I've said that I hoped someday to find someone who was willing to say, not only, "I got out, and I'm glad I did" but be willing to say what group she left, and go into specifics about why.

Well, I've found such a narrative now. I'm not going to specifically quote it here simply because it seemed the person wanted some measure of privacy, and I don't want people finding its text here and behaving in harassing ways or anything.

(I don't think any of the regulars here would do such a thing, but there are a lot of spam-harvester types out there on the WWW, and I'd hate for this person to find her personal stuff re-posted somewhere random or even hostile simply because gods know who picked it up.)

Here it is, though. There are some things in it I question (most notably the idea that endogenous endorphin "highs" can lead to the same sorts of addiction that taking exogenous drugs can), but for now... it's someone's story, and it's personal, and no, not everyone has a wonderful, leather-pride-flag-waving hootenanny of a good time.

http://rageaga instthemanc ual-equival ent-of-being-into-renai ssance-faires-part-3-some-of-the-data/#co mment-3971

In less awesome news, there's also this one, yet another example of the stuff I think *isn't* very productive.

TOPIC TYME: Where do people think this "subspace substitutes for intimacy" thingy comes from?

Personally, I think that subspace and domspace can feel very intimate, and can sometimes lead people to think they're closer than they really are. We play with vulnerability, and being or becoming vulnerable is something people usually don't do until they trust you.

So I do think casual play runs a certain degree of risk. A bottom might let himself be vulnerable because the idea of it makes him hard, then think afterward "Whoa, I let my guard down, and it was great. Therefore I know I can trust you."

And that may be true in that he can trust the top for play, for a good time, for emotional safety while on the cross or something... but not that he's ready for a relationship, because they don't know they're compatible.

So yes, I do see that and think that's real, and an issue... but I think that the idea that this really messes up people's idea of intimacy is a stretch. Among people I know, most of us worked out pretty quickly that there are many different kinds of emotional connection, and that the emotional connection of a close relationship is not the same sort as the kind you have over the spanking bench.

And for me, as far as aggression goes... I think I was a lot more aggressive as the staunch sort of feminist than I ever was before or since, though I don't doubt that some people out there top out of vindictiveness, nastiness, or joy that they've found someone who consents to basically let them toss tantrums.

It's not been most of the people I know, though. The vast majority of other tops I've met are awesome people to talk to and learn from, IMO. It's like anything else -- it takes discernment to know who is your peer and who is immature.


Sunday, 30 November 2008


This guy "Spartacus II" apparently has an entire blog dedicated to mocking BDSMers.

Er, okay... whatever tickles your pickle, guy?

BREAKING NEWS: Tops Are Horribly Violent People. Film at 11.

....all I've got to say to this one:

There’s much I could say at this point, but I’m sure nobody wants to read through 10+ paragraphs of pure bile. I’ll just stick with saying that anyone interested in being a BDSM dom probably fits the same personality type as those who staffed the camps at Belsen and Auschwitz. Torture is torture by any name.

is that as I understand it, assuming that there was such a personality type is wildly misunderstanding what actually happens when societies justify evil through systematic campaigns of dehumanization.

Saturday, 29 November 2008


I'm about to head to bed, but random websurfing led me to this little study of SM, and I thought you all might like to read it.

It's nothing new to most of us I wouldn't think, but it's a fun brain snack. :)

And I'd love to see if Nine Deuce's promised posts in her anti-SM series include things like it.

I wouldn't have such faith in most who style themselves radical feminists, but although I find Nine's snarky manner eyeroll-inducing, she seems to have a far better eye for nuance than many of them.


I'm too tired to say much about this, but (as I said over there):

On tons of anti-SM websites, posts, and blogs, I run into this idea that SM is about "role-playing," that people who are into SM really get into acting out corny roles.

Honestly, as an eight-year veteran of the Scene, I find this rather odd, and I wonder where it comes from. I tend to see a lot more of people just straightforwardly doing stuff than I see setting up elaborate role-playing.

So, uh... where's this idea that we're all "role-playing" come from exactly? It doesn't seem to me to quite square with reality, tbh.

Really, "the sexual equivalent of Renaissance faires?" Where on earth am I supposed to get that kind of free time?

ETA: Also, didn't we do this already back in '06?

Friday, 28 November 2008

Personal Stories

I originally posted this over at my LiveJournal, as an answer to AngryScientist's "what motivates sadists?" over here. He doesn't seem to have been impressed with my story, but I thought some of you might be interested in it, especially as it does talk about gender norms and how they've affected me. Anyone else care to share?

My Story, Version Eleventysixish

As far as my own perspective, exactly what made pain-for-pleasure sexually exciting to me, I don't know, although I was attracted to stories with dominance and submission as themes (usually female over male, but sometimes the reverse. I'd probably have enjoyed stories about same-gender setups too, but these were rarer for me to find when I was a kid) since I was a very young child. I know that some feminist theories suggest that this is not necessarily a matter of personal nature, as patriarchy gets to us from early ages, but I honestly doubt that it is fully a product of nurture in my own case. (This does not mean, as some assume, that I take it to be fully ingrained/biological. It only means I question the idea that social construction is ALL of the story.)

I, like many girls, also got the clear message that I was expected to be fulfilled by submission to men, swooning over their masterful demeanor, etc. As a girl trying to "be good" under patriarchy, I often felt that my desires were "backwards" and worried that something was wrong with me.

I've also, as a person born with a disability, had a rather medicalized life from birth. I do not think this made me attracted to pain in some way that "broke" me, but I do suspect that some of the curiosity I have about the limits of the human body, and some of my lack of fear of things that hurt, stem from having experienced a lot of invasive things that demonstrated to me how the human body responds to a lot of stimuli and also how it heals (better than one might think!)

I honestly, because I connect my kinks and my disability in my head, feel that people who argue that people are interested in consensual sadomasochism must be "damaged" or "broken" by culture or patriarchy are using a similar logic to those who argue for the medical model of disability. I can't separate the claim that my mind is "broken" and I experience bodily pleasure in the wrong ways from the claim that my body is "broken" and functions in the wrong ways. I don't know whether you do or don't subscribe to the social model of disability, but I've never understood how people who do could be anti-SM. In my mind, SM is a product of how I experience the world, and my disabled body is a large part of that.

For me, dominance and SM are times when my body can not only be graceful (I actually find, and I don't know why this is, that my movement is least impaired when I'm topping) but also times when my body can express power. That's very heady given that all my life I've been told that my body made me weak, inferior, dependent. To be the one in control, and to have obvious physical manifestations of that, like physically controlling what sensation someone under me feels, is really intoxicating given all that.

Also, I think that everyone has a dark side. This isn't to say we're all evil, it's just to say that I've never met anyone who hasn't had the occasional violent urge or forbidden desire. For me, one of those forbidden things is anger -- which I think is common under patriarchy. Women are expected to be nurturing and quiet, not aggressive and claiming. And being kind and nonviolent is definitely a good thing to be, and not something I'd want not to be. It's just that I don't always feel kind... and I don't think any human does all the time.

I mean, even look at radical feminists again. Someone like Twisty enjoys being angry and snarky and mean, for fun. She doesn't mean she wants to destroy men, but she does seem to enjoy saying things in biting ways. For me, sexual desires to be cruel are similar. They're not who I am most of the time, but they're things I feel sometimes.

Having a partner not just accept but eagerly desire to "play with" the cruel side of me, enjoy not only sexual stimulation I give but *pain* I give is really fun to me in part because it's very radical acceptance. I do these things that are supposed to be scary and hurt, and instead of recoiling, he gets hard/she gets wet and begs me for more. It makes me feel that any part of me, whether socially acceptable or not, is worth loving.

And I think there's really something to which emotions are "forbidden" that feminism can and does have a lot to say about. Women are expected to be "nice", quiet, demure, nurturing, put others (usually men) first, etc. SM gives me a space where I can be greedy, insistent, impolite, harsh, and not Put The Guy First by default. It's exhilarating to let that go, and to know as I do that it not only is OK with my partner, but is also sexually exciting to him (or her, though I primarily involve myself with men, in part I think because I kink on reversing the patriarchal default. And no, before you ask, I don't think that just because I do so in bed this "empowers" women as a class. It's just a lot of fun.)

Many men I've topped have said the reverse is exciting for them: that patriarchy expects them to be cold, in control, not "soft," not "feminine" or having any traits associated with the "feminine." When someone like me consensually mock-"forces" them to submit, that allows them to experience and express things patriarchy tells them not to. For a lot of them this is a very emotionally powerful experience, and it makes me feel gratified that they trust me enough to experience a richer and more full palette of human emotions around me.

Some of this I'm sure doesn't apply for heterosexual males who enjoy the dominant role, but I'm sure some of it does. I've heard many a friend of mine talk about how cool it is to do something to a woman that is "supposed" to be bad and mean, only to have it send her into sexual ecstasies. I've heard many of them say they like playing with the forbidden, too, whatever that's been in their lives.

The men who answered Fortuny may or may not be this type of person; I suspect a lot of them were assholes with anger issues. But I don't think that means one can draw conclusions about BDSM from them, either.

Finally, I note that you wanted people on your thread to address your friend Jen's story.

I do think that such things can and do go on in some BDSM circles, and that they are bad things. What I question is how common they are. In many of them that I hear, the woman is isolated from the larger BDSM community. Either she's not involved at all and BDSM is just something hubby brought home, or the guy gradually isolates the woman from the larger community by asserting that she's worth more to him or more serious or more loving if she's more completely submissive. This is an abuse tactic and a recipe for disaster, and it's not something most people I know have any patience with or support for.

I am, however, not one of the folks who say BDSM has to be time-limited "play" to be healthy. Personally, I'm in a relationship with some small, very minor D/s rituals in and out of bed. I think this sort of setup, where the power roles exist but are faint and fluctuate, is common, but for whatever reason is rarely talked about. Also rarely talked about are the many people whose relationships begin as play-based but evolve into more serious D/s because that's what the submissive partner, rather than the dominant one, wants.

Thursday, 27 November 2008


I was going to post something serious and thoughtful right now, but, well, uh... HOLY SHIT!

I got an email from someone who told me she found this site hunting around for resources on SM and feminism, and wondered just how easy it was to find... so, well, here, let me show you:

(1:03:39 PM) trinityva: but wow, is sm feminist that easy to find
(1:03:48 PM) trinityva: maybe i shou;d see how far up on google ha
(1:04:02 PM) lugalzagazzi: Hee! Let me know ;-)
(1:04:21 PM) trinityva: omg
(1:04:22 PM) trinityva: omg
(1:04:24 PM) trinityva: #1
(1:04:25 PM) trinityva: ...
(1:04:31 PM) trinityva: *falls over dead from yay*


(ETA: It's not #1 for "sadomasochism and feminism", but it is also #1 for "s&m and feminism" as well.)

Wednesday, 26 November 2008


xposted from my lj

I left a comment earlier to this post on BDSM; it doesn't show up. I'm not sure if this is aggro-moderation or "I'm home for the Thanksgiving holiday," so I don't want to kick up a fuss. But I will post what I posted there here:


Before I say anything else, I’d like to ask you this: You seem to be suggesting that female sadists are totally beside the point, but wanting to know what it is that makes some men have the fantasies they do.

Would you, or would you not, then, be interested in hearing about how I see my own involvement, or am I beside the point because I’m not a man? Personally, I don’t think my fantasies or activities are all that different from the men I know who have similar fantasies and do similar things, so I’d think I could answer your questions too, but you seem to think the mere fact of my being female makes everything… different? Irrelevant?

Personally, I tend to think that discussions that say “Men who have or wield sexual power matter; women who have or wield it are odd plot points” are a bit… off. It seems to me to replicate something very patriarchal: as a woman, you have no power, so you are not worth talking to or thinking about.

But if you feel that my situation or my psyche is so different from a man’s that my saying anything is silly, let me know and I’ll leave you to your discussion. :)

There's another post that hasn't yet made it through moderation here.

The thing that intrigues me particularly about all this is the way that these posters seem to think they're "unmasking sadism," as if they've come across some new fact about SM or those who do it that makes their analysis a good one. When, as far as I can actually tell, the thing at the core of it is basically the same old
  1. refusal to take people who do BDSM at our word when we talk about endorphins, or play, or negotiation, or whether we see D/s as "egalitarian" (some do, I don't) or "fair" (I do); and
  2. anecdote by one poster/about one friend who was duped by someone using extreme, poorly-negotiated D/s to abuse or harm, by making the claim that "serious slavery" or "true love" or "being cool enough for me" involved never being permitted one's own life, interests, or personal growth, with
  3. no discussion at all of how common such a story is, or in what subgroups within BDSM it is common or uncommon, or whether and how we can determine whether it is representative or not.
(okay, okay, in this case there's also "My buddy the dominatrix was a mean drunk, and I didn't believe her when she said she wanted out of sex work." I don't know if I read that right, but is she seriously saying there that because her friend was mean, the friend must have been dominant and therefore enjoyed work she claimed she wanted to leave? That's how I read it, though I hope I'm missing something obvious.)

I'd really like an "unmasking" that tries a little harder, guys gyns guys -- didn't realize he was male.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

A Finer Point On It

Some people that I respect mentioned that my last post struck them as universalizing in a problematic way. They mentioned that for some people BDSM can be unhealthy or maladaptive. they wanted to be sure that I wasn't getting ahead of myself comparing into anti-SM theory to the theory behind conservatives recommending reparative therapy for gay people.

So I want to make this perfectly clear. I don't think that SM is wonderful for everyone at every point in their lives. I do believe that some people use SM to self harm. I do believe that some people bottom or submit because they believe that they are inferior or unworthy. I also believe that some people use sex and sexual pleasure, whether from SM or from non SM sex, in ways that are unhealthy for them.

However, I believe that this is all beside the point. Look, once again, at many of the reparative therapists' reasons for objecting to what they call "The gay lifestyle." They often cite such behaviors as promiscuity, drug use, partying, and shallowness as reasons why such a lifestyle does not ultimately satisfy the people who participate in it. People are actually looking for a lifetime monogamous relationship that is deep and intimate.

The problems with this are twofold. The first problem is obvious: not everyone wants monogamy, intimacy, or relationships. The second problem is different. For many people, the party circuit is indeed unsatisfying. However, this is not what being gay is about. A gay man may enjoy those things, but he may not. Being gay only means that he is attracted to other men, not that he will embrace particular social behaviors or not.

And I think a similar confusion is going on when people say "Wait, Trinity! You have to acknowledge that for some people, SM is an unhealthy fixation." no, I don't, because my point is not whether SM is always wonderful for everyone, but whether a particular sort of social constructionist theory captures what the SM experience is about for everyone.

It does not. Yes, for some people SM is a maladaptive coping strategy. But this does not mean that SM sex is fundamentally about self-harm, any more than sex, as a whole, for all humans is about self-harm. I'm sure we've all met someone who we at some point thought was using his sexuality in a way that was ultimately damaging to him. But very few people would say that he needs to give up sexuality. That therapy designed to make him asexual is wise.

I do think that some people who do, and enjoy, SM are not orientationally sadomasochistic. (For example, some try it only because a lover suggested it, but find they like it. Some value being sexually "adventurous" and see trying SM as one part of this. And some, yes, may try it because of pressure, or low self-esteem, or trauma.) I also think that some subset of these people who are sadomasochistically active may be so because they are dealing with an unresolved issue or problem rather than because it is actually good for them. SM may be a horribly bad idea for these people, and giving up SM may, therefore, be a positive step for them, in a way that I don't think "praying away the gay" can ever be for anyone.

However, this does not reveal anything about SM being bad. It reveals something humans have always known about sex and sexuality: that sex can be quite emotionally powerful, and that sometimes we can harness or use that emotional potency in ways that are actually bad for us.

Saying that I believe that the underpinnings of anti-SM "radical" "feminist" theory are disturbingly similar to the underpinnings of the theory fueling an obviously life-denying organization like NARTH is not saying that any given person who gives up BDSM is unhealthy for it. For some people, that is a positive step.

But that's due to personal factors, and it's certainly not due to my orientation being a "patriarchal lifestyle." (I couldn’t resist snark there…:)

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Theories and Commonalities

I spent some time yesterday reading over the blog of Truth Wins Out, an organization dedicated to "fighting right-wing lies and the ex-gay fraud." As I was reading through some of the discussions and descriptions of reparative therapy and its proponents, I was struck by some commonalities I see between the theories underpinning that movement and the "radical feminist" theories that claim that SM desires are imposed by the patriarchy and bad for women.

Here's TWO's description of NARTH, a a self described “non-profit, educational organization dedicated to affirming a complementary, male-female model of gender and sexuality":
At the Feb. 10, 2007 Love Won Out conference in Phoenix, the “secular” therapist told the audience, “When we live our God-given integrity and our human dignity, there is no space for sex with a guy.”

Confronted with protesters at their 2006 national conference in Orlando, NARTH instructed its members to “sing a hymn or pray instead,” according to Mother Jones magazine, in its Sept.-Oct. 2007 issue.

...Dr. Nicolosi has said in his first book, “Reparative Therapy of Male Homosexuality that, “I do not believe that any man can ever be truly at peace in living out a homosexual orientation.”

The late Dr. Socarides, who has a gay son that once served as President Bill Clinton’s gay liaison, told The Washington Post on August 14, 2007, “Homosexuality is a psychological and psychiatric disorder, there is no question about it. It is a purple menace that is threatening the proper design of gender distinctions in society.”

Now, obviously this is religion-based, rather than based on a theory that sexuality is socially constructed in a way that's bad for women. But there's a lot that I see that I find very familiar.

First, the "there is no space for" remark. The most strident of the anti-SM feminists also don't usually claim right out that no one should do BDSM. They just remind us that living to our full potential would not include doing BDSM, and that those of us who continue to do it are misguided and confused.

Second, the comment about "peace." This is a big one. According to these sorts of "radical feminist," it's perfectly within our rights to behave as we want, but we can't possibly be happy. Being subordinated to men is a bad state -- and even female tops like me are supposedly "subordinated" to our partners, since only men could ever really want this stuff -- and some secret part of us, deep inside, knows it. We're not content, somewhere inside ourselves, and in five years or so we'll come to the revelations that saved the ex-BDSMer feminists and be unable to deny that we "weren't at peace."

This is a particularly nefarious one. No human being is ever totally at peace with herself over everything. That makes it quite easy for manipulative techniques like these to get their hooks in people. If you're sad, if you're confused, particularly if you're currently unhappy sexually, it's very easy to remember what someone, be they radical feminist or reparative therapist, said to you about not being truly at peace with yourself. It's very easy for that, in turn, to trigger a "purge" if you're insecure: tossing out your sex toys and vowing to "find peace."

I haven't here quoted the bit from the website describing what NARTH takes the origins of homosexuality to be. First, we've all likely heard it: distant fathers, dominant mothers, and other gender-nonconforming setups in our home life. Second, the specifics of that are totally unlike any "radical feminist" theory about anything.

But the similarity I see even there is that the "not at peace" sexuality is taken to be socially constructed. For NARTH, homosexuality comes from being around gender nonconforming people and copying them. For "radical feminists" of this stripe, it comes from being around patriarchy. In both cases, the sexuality cannot be inborn.

It's not only that, though. I personally do think both homosexuality and BDSM orientation can be inborn, but that they need not be, and that using "inborn or not" as the barometer of whether the sexuality is okay or not is beyond stupid. It's that these theories of social construction/nurture are taken to be obvious and beyond reproach.

No one can really, truly prove for sure that social environment doesn't shape sexuality, sometimes radically. We believe that the "mother" theory is stupid as an explanation for homosexuality because there are tons of people it doesn't fit. I believe the "patriarchy" theory is stupid as an explanation for BDSM orientation because I've met tons of people who don't connect it to gender at all.

But unlike the "mother" theory, there's no way to say "this is what happened outside of patriarchy." If you accept their understanding of patriarchy as something that not only affects but shapes every part of our psyches, there is no way to prove them wrong either.

But notice, from what I say above, that this doesn't actually suggest that they are correct. It only looks like it does. Just like there's no way out of the claim that people who do BDSM are unhappy or "not truly at peace" because no human ever is, there's no way out of the claim that people's sexualities aren't fruits of patriarchy because no one is free of it either.

But all that that line of thinking indicates is that we have no idea what human sexuality would look like free of patriarchy. I've seen scads of discussions in feminist spaces about whrther there'd be SM in utopia. They've never come to resolution, for the very same reason: all that any of us, pro or anti, can do in such discussions is speculate. I speculate that SM would still exist, because pain play isn't about power, and that D/s would still exist, because power play isn't about injustice. Someone else speculates that pain and power are attractive because of oppression, and no one in Utopia would dream of it.

Problem so totally solved, there.

Third, both NARTH and the "radical feminists" are careful to inform everyone that they don't intend to impose on anyone. They acknowledge that their treatments or theories are not for everyone. Here's NARTH:
NARTH respects each client's dignity, autonomy and free agency.

We believe that clients have the right to claim a gay identity, or to diminish their homosexuality and to develop their heterosexual potential.

The right to seek therapy to change one's sexual adaptation should be considered self-evident and inalienable.

We call on our fellow mental-health association to stop falsely claiming to have "scientific knowledge" that settles the issue of homosexuality. Instead, our mental-health associations must leave room for diverse understandings of the family, of core human identity, and the meaning and purpose of human sexuality.

I hear something similar from "radical feminists." They are careful to remind any pro-BDSM person they debate with that they have no interest in preventing us from doing BDSM and no personal investment in any individual coming to agree with their theories or to change sexual behavior or orientation. They say instead that they only hope to get more people thinking about where their desires come from and why they have them. I've even e-met a few who've told me they agree with "radical feminist" theories about where their desires come from and kinda wish they could change, but know they can't.

The thing about this, though, is that neither NARTH's nor the "radical feminists'" theories are as neutral as they claim. No, no one is compelling anyone to seek change, if we do these folks the courtesy of taking them at face value when they say that. However, their theories assert that you're broken. If you're gay, it's because something's wrong in your life and you are so desperate for closeness with people of the same gender that you act out sexually, desperate for their attention. If you're kinky, it's because you have been so supersaturated with the message of male dominance and female submission that you're incapable of sexually relating to others in a positive way.

And that, in the end, is the big commonality: the theory that people are broken and need fixing. Homosexuality supposedly comes from family dysfunction; BDSM is often described as the result of abuse, despite many people enjoying BDSM who were never abused and many people who were abused thinking they had BDSM interests before any abuse happened. Corollary to this is the idea that as you heal, your sexuality may change.

I've spoken before about how damaging I feel this is, and I think it cuts straight to the heart of both what's wrong with reparative therapy and what's wrong with "radical feminist theory" about how abuse affects us. I quote from myself, elsewhere:
I don't in any way mean to suggest that I know better than that person [an ex-BDSMer who believed that her SM fantasies came from her abuse, and said that she replaced those fantasies with mental images of waterfalls] where her fantasies came from or how her healing should have gone. But I will say that personally, I found the assumption that healing from my trauma would involve no longer being a sadomasochist pretty harmful.

The people I relied on for mental health care told me that my fantasies came from my trauma, and that once I'd really healed, I'd not have them any more.

I spent so much time worrying about my sexuality not changing, of waterfalls or whatever else not replacing my self, that I didn't allow myself for years to take pride in the actual progress I was making toward healing. I became obsessed with the idea that my sexuality wasn't changing and therefore there was something wrong with me, even as I slowly felt better about myself, less inclined to self-harming (again, maybe to you the desire to do SM and to self-harm are the same, but in my experience they are very different), etc.

I think promoting the idea that SM fantasies are *always* scars from trauma is harmful.
In a nutshell, that's my major problem with both reparative therapy and anti-SM "radical feminism": this theory that you're broken, and if you just pray enough or "examine your desires" enough you'll heal, but that if you don't you must just be too hurt, too broken, too weak, or too easily seduced to get over it.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Ren's defense of BDSM

The inimitable Renegade Evolution, giving voice to something I've been thinking for a while:
Why do I defend and talk about BDSM fairly often? After all, I, personally, am not even into BDSM except for on very, very rare occasions and, why yes, for money. It’s not my thing…it has similarities to my thing, but the differences are vast and noticeable to anyone who actually knows anything about BDSM. I’m a crappy submissive because really, I don’t have the right attitude or wiring for it. I’m a crappy dominant because I am, sexually, a selfish and greedy asshole. The whole service aspect, or aftercare, or the endless and needed negotiation, the often seriousness required, and bonding, so on? Let’s put it this way: I totally fail. F – report to the first row of remedial education fail. I would probably be worse at being in a healthy and respectful and fulfilling BDSM relationship than I ever was at algebra, and that is saying something. And really, aside from some of the cool looking outfits, equipment, and dungeons, BDSM does not appeal to me. It’s too complicated, ordered, ritualized, and rules-laden for me. It is in no way unhinged and chaotic enough for my tastes. As I, and countless BDSM’ers have said before, there is a huge difference between what they do (BDSM) and what I’m into (rough/gonzo/porny sex).

But I still talk about it and defend it for a reason…a few really. One, I do not think what I do and enjoy sexually is better than what anyone else does, but people into BDSM, just like those into gonzo style sex, or swinger style sex, or countless other less than mainstream forms of sex and sexuality, are marginalized and stigmatized- rather heavily and relentlessly. Two, there is a tendency for people without in depth information, or without any consideration towards the words of those actually involved, to look at a brief snippet of what people into BDSM do an label it as abuse. There are too many ill-informed calls for them to examine (as if they have not), and sure enough, way too much speculation and usage of universals.

And yes, sure enough, I have read words out of people, women specifically, who say they were really into BDSM, loved it at the time, left it, and looking back, see how abusive and horrible it was. Okay. I’ll take them at their word…but just as folk question the kinky people endlessly, well, I have questions to ask as well, because sure enough, do some assholes use the cover of BDSM (or gonzo style, or swinging, or whatever) to be abusive fuckheads? Why yes, they sure do…are they the majority? I tend to think not…so, this is what I want to know:

1: Were you, as an ex BDSM’er (or whatever) engaged in full scene, part of a community, or is it something a lover, solo, worked you into? Did you go to clubs, or play parties, or was it something engaged in solely in their/your home?

2: Did you meet your D/s on line?

3: Were there negotiations, safe words, limits set?

4: Was your involvement in whatever kink then used by said partner to shame or isolate you from others?

5: Were you denied access to friends, family, or other people in the fetish community?

6: Were your boundaries and comfort levels ignored?

7: Did you endure the “kink” or “rough stuff” merely to get the attention, praise, or “love” from your partner?

8: Did you get into this life style because, for whatever reasons, you thought abuse and pain were the best you could do or all that you deserved? Did your partner make you feel that way?

9: Did your partner threaten you with telling the world about your involvement in kink, or posting photos of you, or whatever else to keep you where you were and doing what they wanted?

Guess what? In this case, I sort of feel like saying “Oh shit, you’re doing it wrong”. And I hate to say that. I do, I fucking loathe those words. Hate ‘em. But those sorts of experiences do not, to the best of my knowledge, at all capture the spirit and what is really intended in BDSM (or whatever other kinky stuff a lot of folk are into), and do sound like manipulation on the part of an abusive asshole…and sure enough, that sort of shit is never going to be loving or empowering or healthy. It is also in no way typical of what goes on with most kinksters. There are, you see, no universals.

And just for the record, if women are abused in droves in any sort of kinky scene, why is the protest of it by those women a virtual whisper? No, I am not questioning any ones experiences, but since women who are happily in the kink are forever and endlessly questioned, called out, taken to task, dismissed, and told to examine, I feel it is a fair question…after all, I do hate double standards in “feminism”.

And this is no way me trying to say “try it, you’ll like it”. Not in the least. If anything, I am all for women experiencing, doing, enjoying what they like, and not doing what they don’t like, on their own terms and via their own determination. Lord knows I’ve had more than one asshole Top type suggest that I, liking the gonzo sex, had truly not just evolved enough, or did not know what I really wanted, or liked, or needed, and sure enough, he could show me! Well, sorry, I ain’t into calling anyone master (unless the fee is damn fine) and my patience with people of those sorts (of either gender) is very, very thin. Sexual mercenaries make shitty subs, after all. So yes, I do know those types exist. But they are a rare breed, and to assume universals about all people into BDSM based on them, or the experiences of some women?

Ill advised and ill informed. Once again, I say such is shoddy schoolwork. But then again, happy BDSM’ers make not the impressive headline or study now, do they?

And now, herein this long and winding rant, is where the Renegade cringes and makes a confession/statement that she knows, one day, some how, some way, will come back to bite her in the ass. I’d even bet money on it, but I’m going to say it anyway:

Often, I see BDSM discussed in terms of rape, of sexual cruelty, of true psychopathic sadism, of true force, or true emotional abuse and humiliation, so on, so forth. If you’re looking for a true dark side of sex, well, you’re looking at the wrong kink. I see more of that in the swinger scene than I’ve ever seen in SSC BDSM communities. And (big cringe) as for as unhinged casual use of peoples bodies in the pursuit of sexual gratification…well, I think the gonzo style sorts make BDSM'ers look like virtual saints…I mean, they (BDSM'ers) tend to at least catch names of or like the people they are fucking…not always so in my social circles. But be that as it may:

There are no universals, and pretending that there are helps and empowers no one.
This, exactly. I don't doubt people who say they had bad experiences doing BDSM. I'm sure that some people are into it precisely because they see it as an excuse to be selfish, be cruel, be rapists and get away with it: "But you're my slave!"

But I find myself wondering why there are so few names. I know several people who are ex-radical feminists (including myself, though my "radical feminism" was a bit different from what generally passes for it in the blogoverse, and a lot of people would claim I was doing it wrong, I'm sure.) They talk fairly often about the things they used to do, think, and like.

I very rarely see the same thing out of ex-BDSMers. I've never seen any of them volunteer anything like "My scene name was Slaveslut Lily," much less "Here's my old slavejournal, wherein I argued that 24/7 submission to men was totally feminist. Here are the inbetween posts, where I started to change my mind. Here's me now."

And I just wonder why that's so rare. Not because I doubt anyone's particular personal story, or think that it's anyone's duty to provide it. Rather, because I hear a lot of vague stories out of anti-SM feminists who say "I know a lot of people who escaped, and are really emotionally scarred." But if this is common, if this goes on a lot, one would think there'd be message boards, be webpages offering support to former submissives, or at least "post-submissive" blogs, or... something.

One would think that someone, somewhere along the line, would be more public about this, like the ex-radfems I know have tended to be about what it was like to be part of that community.

Which is what leads me to wonder, like Ren, whether most of these ex-SMers were involved in the community as a whole, or whether they just met a man who suggested rope to a nervous girlfriend who wanted to be GGG. It's not that that's not BDSM, and it's not that that's not worrisome. It's just that when they then, as many do, start discussing the Scene, I start to get skeptical.

Particularly of the claims that everything in the world is M/f. Now, I do think that much of the time, heterosexual circles and gay and lesbian circles are cut off from one another. Gay leather and straight leather aren't all that connected.

But as a person who has mainly done F/m and some F/f, I can confidently say I've very rarely felt unwelcome anywhere. There was one party I went to, held by a small group I didn't usually attend, where I felt like F/m dynamics were unwelcome and felt uncomfortable. (I actually had people telling me my way of doing things weirded them out because submission was "womanly," etc.) But that was once!

So... yeah. I want more information from anyone who's *willing* to volunteer it about what their community was, what it was like, how large it was. Were they involved in major orgs, like Janus, TES, APEX, Black Rose, or were they at home with a Daddy they'd met on CollarMe last week? I really want to know, because without *anyone at all* volunteering such information... I remain skeptical. Not skeptical that any one person was abused, pressured, or hurt, but skeptical of the claims that a lot of submissive women get out and realize they were involved in something inherently damaging.

Which I see now and again from the ex-es.

Monday, 27 October 2008

Carnival of Feminist Sexual Freedom and Autonomy Deadline Extended

Belledame asked me to post this and see if any of you lovelies are interested:

The deadline for submissions to the latest Carnival of Feminist Sexual Freedom and Autonomy has been extended until the 30th:

So, yes, I'm [Belledame, that is] hosting this next edition. The scheduled date is for October 27. Because I suck and let time get away from me & forgot I have a paper due this week, I'd like to give a little more time for people to get their entries in; so unless Lina or anyone strenuously objects, I'm going to say: carnival goes up on Friday the 31st, deadline for submission midnight Oct. 30.

General guidelines for this carnival here.

Some thematic suggestions (suggestions only) for this edition:

-Halloween: "Trick or treat," or "come as you aren't." Costume, role-play, illusion, trickery, sugar: what roles do any of these play in sexuality? Make it personal or political or both.

-Day of the Dead: The veils are thin this time of year. Connections between sex and spirituality, and/or sex and the transcendent, if you prefer. (they call it "the little death" for a reason). Dark or light or anywhere in between.

-Election season in the U.S. Specific electoral battles such as Prop K in San Francisco, or more broad-ranging political pieces.

Also particularly interested in pieces exploring intersectionality with sexuality, including but not limited to: being of color, being queer, being genderqueer, having a trans body, having a disability, class issues, cultural issues, religion. Again, both personal and political.

Also, too, U.S. election notwithstanding, looking for pieces from folks outside the U.S. and particularly outside other Anglophone countries as well (U.K., Canada, Australia, New Zealand).

Feel free to nominate your own work or someone else's. Multiple submissions are fine.

Send to:

belledame222 AT gmail DOT com

by October 30.

Good luck! Happy writing/reading.

Submit stuff, folks. The last couple of incarnations of the Carnival have been a bit homogenous, IMO. I think it would be lovely for more weird people to send in more interesting things this time around.

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Tired Now
In the book the Courage to Heal, there was a woman who had been brutally sexually abused as a child and was into S/M. She then realized this was because of her abuse and was not healthy for her and actually managed to change her sexuality so that she could be aroused by something else (in her case, a fantasy of a healing waterfall). I wonder how many people who enjoy S/M really have similar issues to this woman?
"Wonder" all you want, but why does your "wondering" always seem to involve things like... generalizing from one case you read about in one book?

And why is it that because I am both into SM and a survivor, my own understanding of my sexuality is always in question? Why is it automatically assumed that I am reporting falsely on my own motivations? That I cannot know them and must be unaware of them?

Yes, trauma harmed me. But no, trauma did not make me magically confused and convinced that my partner loves me.

That's the thing that pisses me off the most. I mean, it would piss me off even if we were just casual buddies engaging in mutual OMG USING ONE ANOTHER for fun, too. But the fact that I am with someone who really loves me, and yet people who don't know us and are probably presuming all kinds of things about how we relate to one another can claim that what we do is all some unresolved issue... that pisses me off the most.

FFS, I don't know why I like it. But I am very tired of this idea that others know better than I do.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

The Price of Pleasure: Trinity's Take

xposted from my Livejournal

Well, I saw the SM bit of The Price of Pleasure.

I should probably be more pissed off than I am at it, but I'm really quite burnt out on other people's SM hate.

For those of you who don't know, the worst part of its depictions of SM: Images of dunking bound women in water, juxtaposed with images of torture from Pinochet's regime.

Time was, I'd be really angry at that.

Now, I'm just sad. If people want to think, and say, and profit on, the idea that I'm an inhuman monster, I can't stop them. The Goddess knows I've tried.

And I'm getting tired of it, and don't feel like engaging with anyone like that any more. If you presume I'm a bad person -- or hasten to tell me that you think I'm a lovely person but the Patriarchy made me get off on something that wasn't very nice, but you give me your holy permission to continue using whips -- I'm just done with you. Done until we meet and talk and you walk away shocked.

But I'm not throwing in any towels, here. I've got something to say. I've always got something to say.

And that is that I envy, with every fiber of my soul, people whose lives are so damn safe that they can actually, with a straight face, have the same terror of consensual sex that they have of actual torture.

Before I go on, I want to note that I do understand that some people have experienced intense violence and are triggered by SM. My beef isn't with them at all, as long as they understand that my triggers and their triggers may not be the same things. And that, hey, even if they are the same things, some people actually deal with things that are serious for them by working them out in controlled environments.

Risky? You bet.

Wrong and bad? Only if you think that you know better than some other individual person how she should deal with her trauma.

My beef? Is with whiny academics like Jensen and Dines and Whisnant and the makers of this film, for whom conflating these things is lucrative. People for whom pearl-clutching and sympathy are a profit machine: Money, attention, tenure when your arguments are shot full of holes.

My problem is them. Because they're as far removed from the reality of Pinochet's regime as they are from the reality of sadomasochists like me. Jensen doesn't know what torture is. Maybe he knows what guilt is. But all he knows is what it's like to feel bad about himself, and get attention as riveted and intense from his fans as a porn star gets from hers. And he profits from not knowing the difference.

My issue is not that he doesn't like SM. I don't give a fuck about that. My issue is that when he says shit like that, he trivializes torture.

He teaches people who have a visceral squick at SM -- and there are many such people, and I'm fine with them -- that that reaction, that revulsion, is just the same as what it means to recoil from the violent tactics of a State committing war crimes.

And young college girls -- who I again have nothing against, I was one myself ten years ago, and it feels like not so long ago at all -- eat it up. Because, with rare exceptions, they're not people with a passion for ending torture. They're nervous kids who don't want pressure from a boy. And they get to feel totally vindicated, because that's just like torture, OMG.

I envy people who know so little about real pain that they can make that parallel without retching. It's got to be nice to have lived such a safe little life that you have no idea what the difference is.