Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Confession

I'd really like to talk to an ex-sadomasochist for real.

I mean sit her down and talk to her. About everything. About her bad experiences. About what the community was like for her. About who her friends were, who she had as a support system. Who she looked up to. Who she got advice from. Where she or her top or her bottom or whatever got their safety info, physical and emotional.

I read things like this and I just wonder if we even mean the same thing when we say BDSM. In that comment, miss_andrist says ". I was a BDSM sub for 17 years, passed off from one "owner" to another."

I have never seen such "passing off" myself. I've heard of consensual "loaning," but the only times it's ever been mentioned to me it's been by submissive folks themselves: "Sir, I have this fantasy of you loaning me out/offering me to a room of your friends to use/etc." I've never seen the idea that people actually "transfer property" as she mentions.

So I'd actually really like to sit down with someone like this and talk about the community she was part of. I get the strong feeling that the communities I'm a part of have norms of behavior that the community she talks about actually lacked. I wonder whether any of her opinions might be different if I'm right on this. If those who dominated her saw themselves as involved not just in consensual objectification for fun but in doing what every good partner should: being a positive, loving force in her life.

I wonder what having that conversation would do. Part of me thinks of ex-SMers as I think of ex-gays: just sad and lonely and self-hating. But ex-gays, it strikes me, don't have histories of abuse and of gayness being used as an excuse to abuse, where several ex-BDSMers have those stories.

So my question is, really: How can we stand up for ourselves as worthy people making a worthy and personal choice to do SM, D/s, B&D, whatever -- while still honoring those abuse stories and the fear they speak to?

28 comments:

devastatingyet said...

It's so weird and angering and alienating, I really don't know how to cope with it. I'm sure there are women who go along with their partners' BDSM fantasies even though they aren't really oriented that way, and end up regretting it. And some of those partners are really unethical and others might just be clueless.

God, I have no idea. I feel a need to respond but I don't know how.

Dan Holzman-Tweed said...

I have talked to ex-sadomasochists. I'd like to talk to one with whom there's a point to talking. (If the name Even Steven means anything to you, he was my first encounter with the anti-BDSM crowd.)

We honor their abuse stories the same way we honor anyone else's abuse stories: by believing them unless presented with a strong reason not to, by empathizing with their pain and fear, by supporting their choice to stop doing BDSM.

We also honor their abuse stories by maintaining healthy boundaries and calling foul when they claim that they can generalize from their history of abuse within a BDSM context to all of BDSM. We respect them enough to expect them to understand that difference and to call them on it when they do not.

It's really no different from how we honor the abuse stories of those who are abused in a vanilla context and go on to believe that all vanilla sex is abusive. When setting their own boundaries, that's fine. When presuming to tell other people's stories, not so much.

emarkienna said...

When I've seen evidence of bad/abusive BDSM, or things like loaning (I wish! - Usually the surplus of subs means that it's one dom to many subs rather than the other way round...), the BDSM community condemns it. Often examples of this sort of bad behaviour is on the LiveJournal community dot_bdsm_snark where the behaviour is ridiculed. And whenever a sub asks a question on places like Informed Consent that seems dubious, people are quick to remind him or her that they don't have to do anything they don't want.

I'll have sympathy for them in that things have gone wrong, and they have been misled, but it's not fair for them to condemn the entire BDSM scene just because they made a choice to enter a relationship and it all went wrong. It's also curious how she was caught up in this for 17 years (I mean, I can understand if you're living together, situations like domestic abuse and so on, but this sounds like she got sucked into some sort of cult rather than the BDSM scene I know). I see this sort of reaction with vanilla relationships too - someone who spends years in a relationship, then decides it was bad, but instead of condemning their partner, they condemn all men or all women whom them have no experience of. My BDSM experience has gone fine thankyouverymuch, and it's not the place of others to judge it, when they haven't any experience of me or the other people I've been with.

And the "nice guy" that she mentions sounds like most BDSM people I meet. And you could replace spanking with any sexual activity there - whilst most vanilla guys might not be into spanking, they'd mostly not make a second thought if offered anything sexual. The level of negotiation and communication that takes place in BDSM far exceeds that of vanilla relationships, in my experience. It makes a change though, it's usually "nice guys" who get condemned the worst in these sorts of "All relationships are bad" rants.

The response by captainvanille makes little sense either, bearing no relevance to the issue of BDSM: since most guys _aren't_ into BDSM, I don't see how this is related to giving men what they want - that'd be more like blow jobs! I don't know who says relationships are boring without kinkiness - BSDM people might think that for themselves, but this is hardly the prevailing view! Kinkiness is viewed usually as something depraved and immoral. Again, these people seem to be living in a world where BDSM is in the mainstream, and people who like just sex are viewed as warped and deviant! It seems to be the issue where the flaws and issues with sexuality in the mainstream are instead used to criticise a sexual minority who are assumed to be worse, ignoring how very different they may be (much like when anti-porn feminists have been supporting the extreme porn law, often on the basis of problems with mainstream porn, and assuming that anything to do with BSDM must be the same but worse).

Trinity said...

"We honor their abuse stories the same way we honor anyone else's abuse stories: by believing them unless presented with a strong reason not to, by empathizing with their pain and fear, by supporting their choice to stop doing BDSM.

We also honor their abuse stories by maintaining healthy boundaries and calling foul when they claim that they can generalize from their history of abuse within a BDSM context to all of BDSM. We respect them enough to expect them to understand that difference and to call them on it when they do not."

Dan: I agree wholeheartedly with the first paragraph, but not entirely with the second. While I agree totally with the sentiment that it is the only way for *us* to have healthy boundaries to refuse to be covered by the blanket of their fear, I'm not sure that that "respects" them.

I don't think it disrespects them, and I do think it would disrespect them to pretend to agree so as to make them feel better (aww aww the survivor, poor thing can't handle my REAL feelings!)

But I don't think expecting them to understand is respect for them. It's respect for US.

Trinity said...

"It's also curious how she was caught up in this for 17 years (I mean, I can understand if you're living together, situations like domestic abuse and so on, but this sounds like she got sucked into some sort of cult rather than the BDSM scene I know)."

Yeah, me too. I hear a lot of stories like that, where it seems the person got into BDSM really, really young. And I wonder who allowed that, and how. I got into it at 21 myself, so I can't point fingers, but I know that when I did there was a fair amount of caretaking from the community -- understanding that I might be vulnerable, be targeted by people who weren't the usual trustworthy brother/sisterhood of regulars, etc.

(I wasn't much, most likely because I was always a top. People ribbed me about this unceasingly until I established a repute as a top, but they never took my statement of preference as a lie or an invitation to pressure me to actually switch.)

I did know one young woman who was being browbeaten by a local "dominant" (someone who had long lurked on the outskirts of the community, but who we all mostly ignored and wished would Just Go Away) who wanted her to be more interested in him than she was, would IM her "orders", etc. Which from what I gather she never followed, but felt bad about not following because "he was a dominant" and it felt "wrong" not to.

I and two friends, a straight female top and a straight male one, made it our personal mission to try and convince this girl that she was not required to give this guy what he wanted, and to strongly suggest she shop around for better tops if she wanted one (and also stressed that WE DID NOT. MEAN. US.) We drove out to the middle of Podunk to have dinner with her and try to help her deal with her mosquito-dom problem.

We didn't manage to convince her to get involved in the larger community and meet others, but as far as I knew she left the scene entirely. As far as I'm concerned this was probably for the best -- she seemed not to understand that she could say no, negotiate, etc. So her avoiding BDSM circles entirely seemed to me like a good compromise.

Alon Levy said...

I've seen people passed off at one point. It didn't seem particularly intense: the dom passed off one of his subs to another dom for some low-level sensation play at a very low-key party. When I got curious about it, he explained that to him, being able to give his subs away was the highest form of possession.

I have no idea to what extent this resembles miss_andrist's experience at all, and I don't know the people in question well enough to know their relationship's internal consent dynamics. I do know the dom the sub was passed to, however, and he's a) a very gentle, professional, and respectful man and b) well-respected in the community.

Mighty Fast Pig said...

Just as I suspect a lot of "ex-gays" were actually struggling with sexual compulsion, I suspect a lot of "ex-kinky" people were actually dealing with the wrong kind of masochism, the truly self-destructive kind. If they hadn't wandered into the fringe of the BDSM culture, they'd get vanilla abuse anyway.

Trinity said...

"I've seen people passed off at one point. It didn't seem particularly intense: the dom passed off one of his subs to another dom for some low-level sensation play at a very low-key party. When I got curious about it, he explained that to him, being able to give his subs away was the highest form of possession."

I've heard of that but not seen it, if by that you mean the dom decided without any input from the sub "You're going to play with Xxxxx now." I have definitely seen people play with people who aren't their primary partners.

So... I dunno. I read "passed around" there as "my dominant got tired of me and gave me to his buddy," since she says "from owner to owner" rather than something like "anyone could play with me who wanted to."

But who knows? I definitely have not seen that, but there are some pretty weird people (like Jon Jacobs) in isolated enclaves. And online.

Trinity said...

"I suspect a lot of "ex-kinky" people were actually dealing with the wrong kind of masochism, the truly self-destructive kind."

YEAH, THAT. Some of these anti-SM folks who are now very strict radical feminists... well, when I listen to their SM fantasies I hear a fair amount a fair amount of "looking for Daddy" in ways that... well, don't sound entirely like well-thought-out ageplay to me, let's say.

Trinity said...

And speaking of weird people, I just found this:

creepy!

1. In case this person finds the trackback: that doesn't sound good to me. Yes, miscommunications can and do happen. But if someone takes on the mantle of domination, that just plain MEANS that person has to understand that real force (rather than play force that EVERYONE UNDERSTANDS IS FOR FUN) is violent and destroys trust. If he doesn't understand that, he has no business using his rank to get you to do anything.

2. While I do think SM and feminism can coexist, and I also think feminism can coexist with relationships that look "traditional" and tie into traditional gender roles, when you get to the part where someone like me isn't a top because men and women have different energies, I fail to see the feminism.

Feminism allows for me, too.

ellefromtheeast said...

Ooh, trinity, you're right. That is creepy. And it's *not* feminist. Nor is it BDSM. It's just gussied-up abuse.

And I feel really sorry for her, because she sounds like what she wants is BDSM, but she thinks that she can't get what she wants without getting the abuse, too. ("I can't help but wonder if the price I pay for having the kind of man I want in my life -- someone who is deeply in touch with his primitive instincts and his raw sexuality, someone with an innate "alpha" ability to command others, someone who triggers all my archetypal female desires and instincts -- is that that same man hovers more closely on the knife's edge of real violence") No! You can have your hot dom cake and eat your pro-sm feminist safe spaces too!

But back to the original post...

I know a lot of people who drop out of the scene. They just sort of burn out of the drama, or they get bored, and they move on. I think a bunch of them take a breather between relationships, and some of them come back. Clearly, though, that's not what you're talking about.

It's this kind of stuff - the obvious effects of abuse, and all the negative impacts that has not only on the victims but on the rest of the community - that I get all rah-rah for the Old Guard. Kink is serious stuff, and I think the system of earning leathers, having a family to whom you're accountable, a way for subs to know who's trustworthy and who's clueless - we can do that as a community. People just have to be willing to participate.

Alon Levy said...

I've heard of that but not seen it, if by that you mean the dom decided without any input from the sub "You're going to play with Xxxxx now."

I'm not entirely sure, because I obviously don't know what the dom and the subs agreed to beforehand. It could be that the sub in question said, "I'm really anxious to play with ____." But the way the dom phrased it, it was his decision, not hers.

I read her experience as something like this. The vanilla equivalent of that might've been, "I've been passed from man to man," meaning that her husband entered a wife-swapping ring without her consent, rather than literally gave her away to be someone else's wife permanently.

Trinity said...

"And I feel really sorry for her, because she sounds like what she wants is BDSM, but she thinks that she can't get what she wants without getting the abuse, too."

Yeah. If there's one myth I want stomped into the ground about eroticizing dominance and submission, it's this idea that for someone to truly be hot, s/he has to be volatile and controlling to the point of violence. No, no. no.

Just look at Cesar Millan, for pete's sake. (Yeah, I know there are criticisms of his methods, and I don't know enough to be sure about those criticisms. (Other than to say I don't think rollovers ever make sense.) But the picture he's selling is calm, collected dominance.)

Trinity said...

"The vanilla equivalent of that might've been, "I've been passed from man to man," meaning that her husband entered a wife-swapping ring without her consent, rather than literally gave her away to be someone else's wife permanently."

Okay. To me "Owner" means something really serious. It means that that person is something like your husband or wife. So "passed from owner to owner" to me would mean not just wife-swapped where that means given sexually, but literally forced into another serious committed relationship by some sort of rules of property transfer.

Which is one of the things I really don't like about fringey versions of BDSM, which it really sounds like this was to me. Words suddenly mean these weird funhouse mirror things that leave me unable to even determine what people are saying is going on at all.

indigo said...

Warning: long winded

Hi - although I'm not an "ex" sadomasochist I most certainly am in self-imposed exile after serious abuse within a bdsm relationship.

A little background: I'm 49 y.o. and started to explore the scene out of my own curiosity and volition about 6 years ago. The only partner I've been with in a bdsm context was a person who abused and skewed the power dynamic within that relationship. I made a lot of mistakes. Overestimated my ability to intellectually sort out what was happening despite my lack of experience; underestimated the emotionally erosive force of the subtle daily mindfuck that constitutes the emotional/psychological breakdown of another human being. Then add on the additional layer of power dynamic that is D/s and I was overwhelmed. I finally extricated myself.

Thats the half of it in a nutshell version. As is usually the case, there's a lot more crap in there of a severely disturbing nature: was violently sexually assaulted, developed ptsd, lost my job and consequently my home. Enough crap to overload a city sewage system.

This then is the aftermath for me. Was this the true nature of bdsm? Abso-fuckin-lutely not! This is not what piqued my curiosity and made me "so horny the crack of dawn had to watch out around me" (thank you to Tom Waits for that expression). So we do not all end up at that place of blaming, as with any stereotyping or full-blown "ism", an entire group for the behaviours of a few.

I have learned that the public mask of an abusive dyad can be strikingly opposite of the personal dynamic that is the private truth. For example, my ex refused to agree to any boundaries whatsoever no matter how I tried to establish at least a few in which to feel safe. Until I was blue in the face I couldn't get him to understand an exchange of power vs just taking what he wanted because he thought that was the role. When I told him at home that engaging in any group play was far too much of a trigger for me (only six months since I'd been assaulted) he lovingly responded that I'd better fucking get over it soon. Then we'd go to a public play party and he'd simply physically push me (trigger!) toward a couple I had never met and had no attraction or desire to play with (in fact made my skin crawl) in the hopes that the public embarrassment of saying no would force me into saying yes just to be seen as "playing nice." Instead I'd flatly refuse with an obvious scowl on my face for being cruelly manipulated/coerced into this position. Then, being the jerks that they typically were - his group - they'd usually try to make me feel bad with some arsewipe cliche like "I'm an alpha male and if my sub ever..." And I'd have to let them know that my personal choices went far beyond the role of submissive and I'd never let them touch me with a barge-pole anyway so it was a moot point. The ex would look exasperated but loving. Yes, it happens.

What was the public appearance of this? Who looked like the arse on the surface of things? This is just one tiny little example. The really ugly stuff just runs too deep and long to get into here. Suffice to say that I looked like a really fucked up non-submissive who really got off on being beaten or hit with stuff and had a poor, long-suffering Dom who must've really loved me to put up with it.

I am in silent exile and since I left the only version of the truth that the community hears is the story he wishes to tell. For now.

I had truly almost completely lost my personal integrity and identity, not to mention my sanity, by the time I was able to vanish to a women's shelter. It is a struggle to continue to peel it all away to get at the core inside and rebuild. But I'm looking at some of the examples of the women you cite and thinking "damn!" you just can't do that if you're still unsafe. You simply cannot risk tearing down the barriers of self-protection/deception and artifice when the threat still looms large over your head.

Way far beyond the local community that was *his* I found safety, a sense of relative community and a place of potential philosophical convergence from many different sources. It may interest you to know that in my desperate search for this I simply googled "bdsm abuse" and found your blog, a post about a friend of yours who had experienced abuse within a D/s relationship. I cried. Thanks, by the way :)

The fluidity of gender, feminist, Dominant/submissive, and other identity roles expressed here and many of the others in your blog community continually impresses and encourages me. Thanks for that too. Its out there - there can be a place within the bdsm community in which I might find comfort and solidarity and still get beaten so bad my pants fly off occasionally!

Perhaps I've just rambled on about my shite without illuminating a single damned thing about how you might perceive then stand up for people like/kinda like me. I think that you can believe in their truth and validate their experience while continuing to express and offer your own position as a caring alternative. In other words, what you're already doing. What s/he said!

peace,
jill

Trinity said...

indigo,

Thank you for being brave enough to share this here.

I have more to say, but right now I just want to thank you for your honesty and for sharing this.

I don't think any progress can be made in the theory unless we all hear and honor all the relevant stories. And I think sometimes people on both sides have a vested interest in hearing only the stories that make sense to them.

So thank you, again. :)

indigo said...

You're quite welcome. I'm still not sure whether I've said anything at all.
But thanks for being here, that is clear.

jill

indigo said...

I hope that my awful candor didn't silence you all. I had hoped to participate in a discussion:

"sit her down and talk to her. About everything. About her bad experiences. About what the community was like for her. About who her friends were, who she had as a support system. Who she..."

Please don't be afraid to challenge me with regard to my experiences. I would not have written if I was too afraid of the consequences.

I wanted to participate in this discussion, not silence it.

peace,
jill

Alon Levy said...

Let's start with, which local community are you talking about? It's a commonplace in the community I'm most familiar with (CV) that online BDSM groups tend to have abuse, as well as insistences that the writer's relationship's protocol is the only way. The mainstream BDSM view seems to be that the only places where there's abuse are the internet and the fringes of the major communities. Is that true in your case?

Trinity said...

Jill,

My questions to begin with would be the same as Alon's. What sort of SM community were you a part of, if any? How active were you in the community? Did the community often discuss SM and abuse and the difference between them?

If you were involved in a subcommunity dedicated to TPE or Master/slave dynamics or the like, what sort of community was that? I ask because most of the M/s stuff I've run into offline has been very influenced by queer communities, and that to me has a very different flavor than the hetero stuff I've seen primarily online.

I have met a gay man whose current slave was heavily abused in a previous D/s relationship, though, so I don't want to make sweeping assumptions about which dynamics are more dangerous.

ellefromtheeast said...

Jill, thank you so much for sharing. I am really, really sorry for what you've gone through.

Most of all, I'm really impressed by how you're able to hold people accountable for their evil actions (both your ex and the "community"), without making generalizations or being bitter or sounding angry in a stuck way (as opposed to angry in a galvanizing, constructive way). You must have done a ton of work, either on your own or with a therapist, to come to where you are, and I admire that really, really deeply.

If you haven't wandered off because we've taken too long to ask questions, mine is, "What should the BDSM community look out for?" If someone in the community had wanted to watch out for abusers, to offer support for abused submissives and warn off abusive tops, what would be the signals about that type of relationship to someone on the outside?

Nix said...

I would say we honor it by acknowledging it as abuse, not BDSM.

Thank you for this post.. It sparked something for me as well.

lotto said...

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