Monday, 28 January 2008

Things I no longer understand

Things I not longer understand #1:

Kinky people judging one another for their kinks. I used to do this myself, so I look at it now and I'm puzzled at my own puzzlement. I remember being utterly opposed to D/s dynamics, terrified they were harmful in general. Now I identify as a Master.

Now I'm just, well... not. At all. Even my visceral OH MY GODS disgust at cuckoldry is pretty much gone. Still not my bag, to the point I'd send anyone who suggested it packing. But I'm no longer... bothered.

(Warning: I mention kinks in here that really bug some people. Specifically, Nazi play. Skip to the next set of bolded parens if such things trigger or upset you, please.)

I was discussing Nazi role-playing with my dissertation committee today, because I talked about it in one section as the quintessential Baaaaaaaaaad BDSM If Anything Is. (I'm probably taking that part out of the diss.) I was basically saying that people who have the intuition that role-playing that consensually and privately is bad might have different intuitions if they changed it, putting at more and more of a remove from mimicking Nazis (say, wearing outfits like this -- clearly neither of those is a Nazi uniform, but Red Armband With White Circle comes from somewhere, kiddies...)

And so I'm sitting there and my chair is going "Well, tell us: is this play morally permissible? Or is it, which I would say and makes more sense, always morally impermissible?"

And I just gawked at him, because...

I can parse the intuition that such play is sometimes morally impermissible. Those symbols are symbols of something very horrible and very, very real. Exposing people to it who are upset by it is wrong, as is pressuring people into it or mentioning it to them specifically after they've said not to do so.

I can even parse the intuition that such play is usually morally impermissible. I don't share that intuition, but I'm also not Jewish, so I'm speaking and thinking and living from a place of privilege, a place disconnected from that history.

But I just can't even get my brain around the idea that there are some fantasies that consenting people, in private, who are never going to mention it to anyone ever, just morally ought never act out. Fantasy just doesn't work that way in my head. It parses to me like asking someone not to think about something, which...

...well, ever had any bratty friends pull the "Don't laugh!" trick on you? Like as not, you wind up laughing, whether you were actually going to laugh or not.

And yeah: actually role-playing as Nazi and captive is different than confessing that you thought about it last night, which in turn is different from masturbating and no one ever knowing what images played in your head as you stroked your dick/clit.

(Okay, you can all come back now. WB!)

And actually living in a relationship that has a steady power relation in it is different than fantasizing about surrendering or even of serving.

I get all that. I get that we can come up with thoughtful defenses or criticisms of various BDSM practices, and that once we do that we can, say, come up with

"Whipping is perfectly acceptable, and race play is not"


"Submission in a scene is great and dandy, consensual slavery is not"

But I no longer have any of those gut reactions that inform so many of us about sex and what we get to do and not do, sexually. I consider this a good thing, honestly, but there are a lot of people that would call what happened to me an elaborate form of desensitization.

Is it? I don't know. My sense is that that word gets highly overused, and used for forms of "getting used to" that aren't actually morally problematic (which "desensitization" implies; "desensitization to violence," in particular, usually means the person is beginning to fail to experience degrees of empathy she ought to experience.) I do think I've gotten used to kinks and fetishes and needs that were strange to me. But I think that just comes with experience and thinking.

Sunday, 27 January 2008

Not your usual BDSM and abuse story

[ Posted here and at World on a Slant ]

I have this friend.

When I met her, she was in a marriage with a lot of partially hidden problems; those problems started coming out more blatantly as things started to fall out, through the separation, through the divorce: the extensive emotional abuse, the 'I got over my situational depression just fine, you should just cheer up out of your clinical depression and stop being such a whiner', the waving his penis in her face to demand oral sex. When they separated, he resented any suggestion that he take responsibility for her, because hey, they were broken up, that gets him out of any obligation to his wife, even though divorce paperwork wasn't even being negotiated yet, even though he wound up shacking up with "a hot redhead" and blowing vast amounts of recreational money while his wife was struggling to make rent in part because he insisted on moving to an area of the country with rampant unemployment where, furthermore, she's miserable.

I helped talk this friend through the breakup and the divorce, pointed out things that she was missing like, "Your asshat ex is really treating you very badly" and "You are being taken advantage of here". Supported her through a bad time and helped her out of the abusive situation.

And one might think that would be the end of it.

Of course, like many people who have been in abusive situations, she has done a lot of thinking about how she got into that place, what patterns there were in her life, and how she needs to change to not go there again. Which includes talking that over with a variety of her friends to try to pick things out.

And at some point, one of the people she was talking about her relationship history with, asshat ex and before, said, "You know what you sound like to me?" And said she sounded like someone who was wired up like a submissive, but who hadn't the experience or knowledge to figure out how to deal with that without turning into a doormat, and who had had partners who were willing to take advantage of that set of psychological hooks.

So she came to me, as the out submissive she knew, to talk to about this. And we talked. And after a bit of thinking, she took this fellow up on his offer to give her a grounding in managing her own submissiveness to see if she felt better for it. I got tapped, sort of, as her spotter, as someone she could talk to about the experience of being a sub, as someone to give her advice and resources, as someone who would understand things.

I watched her flower.

The joy she took in the early parts of that relationship was amazing. The way she took to the discipline of the d/s and the focus it provided her got her stable and secure in a way I had never seen her. He took care of her in quiet, straightforward ways; she commented more than once, in stunned tones, that she did things with him that the asshat ex had tried to coax and berate out of her for years.

Even the difficult times -- and there have been more than a few of those -- she has tackled with dedication and devotion, with the support of the commitments she's made and the simple not wanting to disappoint him. She's given up smoking, she's learning to draw boundaries to keep her family from taking as much advantage of her as they have in the past, she looks at the terror of having all of her emotional issues in relationships coming up faster and hitting harder than they have in the past and says, "This time, I'm going to work through this shit."

And she has patterns to work through and break, and is utterly frustrated by them at times, and is working on building up the capacity to choose, to act freely rather than constrained by fears and phobias and the scars of past damage. She talks at times about feeling like she's in a cage with the door open, and is trying to work up the guts to escape so she can be with him.

And so when I see people going on about the abuses of BDSM, I find myself thinking of her, and the way she's been building herself away from being readily abuseable by dealing with someone who respects who she is and how she responds.

(This post was written with her permission, her dom's okay, and her pre-posting approval.)

Friday, 25 January 2008

Persephone's Box: In Praise of Degradation

Persephone's Box: In Praise of Degradation

I've written before on how objectification has a place in society, that it's not necessarily sexist or offensive. As I reiterated at a recent post, I hate when sexual gets confused with sexist. But today I want to get right into degradation.

Significant ancient rites of passage almost always have a place for degradation, destruction, and/or humiliation. In moving from one type of person to another, the old self must be destroyed. Neophytes are made to destroy their old clothes and give up their names. Then, after challenges have been completed, in rising up into a more exalted status, the new self must be brought back down to earth with the others. A tame example of this profaning is the tradition of "roasting" the bride and groom at the reception party with embarrassing pictures from childhood for all to see.

We tend to look at life in dichotomies: creation is good, destruction is bad; life is good, death is bad. Ritual is useful to remind us of the Truth that both creation and destruction are necessary for life to flourish, and therefore, both are good. Imagine if nothing ever died or was destroyed, only created. Life would be like a perpetual mosh pit, jostling our way to the bathroom or kitchen. Ritual reminds us that there's beauty in death, and there's growth to be had from destruction. Some forests can't maintain themselves without an occasional burning down and renewal. When people close to us die, we're saddened partly because we're used to looking at life in a linear path instead of cyclically.

....I used to be a serious disciple of Eisler's, and I still use sections of her works in my classes. But in the past few years I've been reconsidering some premises of her arguments.

In a nutshell, she insists that the fact that people in this society actually find violence arousing indicates that our society is sick and in need of healing. I personally find violence arousing, so I was all over this, reading all her books in hopes to change the world and thus save my own damaged self in the process. But then I started reading Jung and Hillman and Moore (whom hooks also references) and Nietzsche (whom she doesn't). And I've come to believe that the mix of pleasure with pain (viewed or experienced) isn't necessarily disturbed, but is instead a connection to basic archetypal experiences.

Life is all about living and dying and pain and joy and suffering and mind-blowing orgasms. The connection to the destruction and desecration of life is within us all no matter how much we fight to repress it. Jung suggested that the less we acknowledge this consciously, the darker is our sub-conscious world. We need to synthesize our shadowy hidden bits typically in the recesses of our mind with our consciousness instead of continuing to repress what we perceive as evil within ourselves.

So, when I think of that hideous rape scene from A Clockwork Orange, it hits me on a gut level of disgust and aversion, but it's also mesmerizing as my thighs begin to get warm. Like a traffic accident, it can suck us in even as it's turning us away. I used to reject these feelings and refuse to tend to them, thinking of myself as one sick puppy, but I've come to accept it as just the way I work.



Wednesday, 23 January 2008

and now...

...for something that's just plain fun: Ask Golden Age Wonder Woman!

If anyone cares to do some serious feminist exegesis of those panels or of Wonder Woman comics, please go ahead in the comments. For now poor T's mind is too busy coming up with Kant lectures.

Tuesday, 15 January 2008


I am in South East London, underslept, a little hungover. I've been to a lecture, seminar and spent a couple of hours in the library.

I'm at the bus stop, waiting to make my journey into the West End and smoking a roll up, when a man jumps off a bus and demands, not asks, to be given one. He is 6 foot + and beefy, and looks me directly in the eye. There is something confrontational about his gaze. Usually, if someone asks me nicely, I happily share my tobacco, but he is trying to get me to give in by intimidating me. There is no-one else around. I have two paths of choice, and perhaps rather rashly choose the riskier one.

I say 'no, sorry' politely. Usually most people would shrug and wander off.

But he is clearly not in the mood to be refused.

"Why the fuck not, bitch?" he spits in my face.

I look straight back at him, fighting to stay calm. "I don't want to give you one", I say.

He begins shouting in my face.

"Give me a fucking cigarette."

I ignore him. I look the other way. I stay calm and attempt to look bored.

"Take that look off your face and give me a fucking fag or I'll fucking steal your bag and stick my dick in your dirty fucking mouth, you stupid piece of gash." he yells.

He comes over and leers over me, putting his hands above my head. But I have decided I will not give in.

"Fucking cunt! You look like a fucking dirty slag." he yells. But still he does not lay a finger on me.

I look up, and summoning every ounce of courage stare him straight in the eye.

"Leave me alone," I say, quietly and calmly. "And stop threatening me, please.

He steps away. He runs off.

It is not about the cigarette. Let it be known that I couldn't give a damn who I share my tobacco with, if they ask politely. This is about not allowing a man to dominate me because he is male, and I am female. And he is using my femaleness to show me that I am somehow weaker, that I am in some way there for his use - whether it's about cigarettes, my bag, or his cock. I won't let him dominate me. And he is clearly shocked by my refusal.

Bizarrely, perhaps, the more I delve into submission, the more I make sense of my taste for psychological masochism and degradation, the less shit I take in situations where I would usually be subordinate. I can imagine playing a scene of this kind - taking pleasure in it. Still playing myself at my most stubborn and insolent, still not giving way. Being forced, assaulted, taken. But my ability to consent to play of that kind only makes me stronger in situations where there is no consent, where my submission is expected, even at the expense of the certainty of my safety. It is the principle of the thing, and I have lived up, for once, to my own principles.

My bus arrives. I board, elated.

Wednesday, 2 January 2008

Anti-SM views shaping modern SM?

Figleaf has an interesting post up at his blog on whether and how SM has evolved in reaction to anti-SM feminisms:
I've been reading a ton of old-school radical feminists lately (Shulamith Firestone, Kate Millett, Andrea Dworkin, Germaine Greer) and... This could be a possible total brain fart here but I think one of the problems with trying to match theory of 40 years ago with BDSM as practiced today is that when they were writing there was no legal or philosophical basis for sexual consent. When those authors were writing their classics there was, for the most part, no such thing as dominance or submission. There was just "the way it is in heterosexual relationships."

Now I happen to think that the work those early writers did, particularly the extraordinarily brusque (and possibly sexually submissive) Dworkin, to make "no means no" real (against resistance that still, unbelievably, has life in it) created the safe spaces for the total explosion of conscious BDSM and other forms of kink we're able to practice today. (Consent lies at the basis of almost all BDSM today.)
After this a commenter mentions SSC, specifically:
Peter Tupper said

Interesting thought, that it took the anti-BDSM feminists to motivate the pro-BDSM culture to create the SSC/RACK ethos.

IIRC, the first edition of "Our Bodies, Ourselves" included a tentative endorsement of consensual S/M.

I can't comment there due to a server error, so I'll just post my thoughts here, for now:


"Safe sane consensual" was actually coined by a gay leatherman in a gay leather context:

It seems obvious to me now that "safe" and "sane" derived from the good old American practice of urging people to have a "safe and sane" 4th of July celebration. i heard that exhortation every year while growing up, and it stuck. It stuck with Tony DeBlase, too, and appears in an unsigned essay he wrote for the Chicago Hellfire Club’s Inferno 10 (1981) run book: "In 1980 the following was adopted as the club’s statment of purpose: ‘. . . to provide education and opportunities for participation in S&M sex among consenting adult men and to foster communication among such individuals.’ Responsible S&M has become more popular and less feared in the gay community and Chicago Hellfire Club continues to serve its community — striving always to educate and promote safe and sane enjoyment of men by men." Since Inferno 10 was the first Inferno i attended, and it made a big impression on me, Tony’s words may have reminded me of "safe and sane," and even suggested the association with "consensual." But the GMSMA statement was the first place the three terms were actually conjoined.

As a kid, what i took "Have a safe and sane 4th" to mean was something like, "Have a good time, but don’t be stupid and burn down the house or blow your hand off." A couple of decades later, that seemed to fit S/M just fine. What we meant by "safe and sane S/M" in 1983, and what i believe GMSMA and most other organizations still mean by it today, is something like, "Have a good time, but keep your head and understand what you’re doing so you don’t end up dead or in the hospital — or send someone else there." Possibly the echo of a familiar phrase explains why so many other kinky Americans have also felt immediately comfortable with "safe, sane, and consensual S/M," which still isn’t nearly as popular in Europe or elsewhere as it is in the U.S. even aside from the issue of language.
I'm not unsympathetic to the view that anti-SM feminist criticisms had an influence on various SM communities that was ultimately positive, but I think we need to be careful about what comes from where, and look up and be thoughtful about actual documented history where we can. It doesn't look *to me* like the feminist debates had much to do with SSC.

Scarlet Women, Feminism, and Aleister Crowley

For reasons even I don't know (that probably include surfing Wikipedia a little too much) I found myself reading a book on thelema last night. As far as I can tell, it's your usual mishmash of Nietzsche and occultism and plenty of taboo sex.

Not particularly interesting, considering one could just read Nietzsche or Sade and it would be better written and easier to understand. But I happened to notice a comment on women that got me thinking about the ways in which even traditions and groups that encouraged women to explore sexuality often did so on men's terms. The book I read, Liber AL vel Legis, is no exception:
III.43. Let the Scarlet Woman beware! If pity and compassion and tenderness visit her heart; if she leave my work to toy with old sweetnesses; then shall my vengeance be known. I will slay me her child: I will alienate her heart: I will cast her out from men: as a shrinking and despised harlot shall she crawl through dusk wet streets, and die cold and an-hungered.

44. But let her raise herself in pride! Let her follow me in my way! Let her work the work of wickedness! Let her kill her heart! Let her be loud and adulterous! Let her be covered with jewels, and rich garments, and let her be shameless before all men!

45. Then will I lift her to pinnacles of power: then will I breed from her a child mightier than all the kings of the earth. I will fill her with joy: with my force shall she see & strike at the worship of Nu: she shall achieve Hadit.
Here women are not just told to be sexual and shameless, but told that if they're not they will be punished with a bad reputation, cast out from everything. They're not encouraged to be libertines, they're ordered to be. It's presumed that they will have great difficulty letting go of old modesty, and they're castigated for it. I don't see such attitudes towards men. To the men I just see exhortations to be libertine and wanton.

This reminds me of two things. First, I think of certain feminist critiques of "sexual liberation" or "the sexual revolution". These critiques say that encouragement for women to be sexual rather than to be gatekeepers still happens on men's terms. The idea is that providing women with sexual freedom is really providing men with sexual freedom to use women's bodies. And that is what I see here.

But the thing that fascinates me about that is that many feminists who notice this don't actually divorce themselves from this context at all. Instead of answering the critique with a thoughtful exploration of what it would mean to be a sexual woman on your own terms, they simply leave it at this idea that sexual desire drives men. They leave it at the idea that the libertine woman is a man's creation, so there is no way for a woman to be sexual on her own terms.

And that worries me, because that's the same exact thinking as the men they criticize. That's not replacing a masculinist idea of the scarlet woman with a woman-centered idea of desire and need. And unless we have that, I don't see how we have a feminist environment that's truly safe for women. I suppose we could have one is truly safe for celibate women, or asexual women, but I don't think that's most women.

And I suppose it could be said that such a world would be truly safe for lesbians, if by the word lesbians we mean a certain kind of political lesbian. But that kind of lesbian is only one small subset of lesbians, and some lesbians who are not political lesbians think political lesbians are appropriating their experience anyway.

So while I don't think we get far at all if we just take on images of female libertines that were created without women in mind, I don't think we get much further if we don't then work to transform the meaning and understanding of what a sexual woman is. I think that's an integral part of the work we have to do, and we neglect to do it at our own peril.