(xposted from my personal blog)
What I'm working on right now has to do with traditional defenses of SM as play. One of them is the idea that we can understand (some, at least; 24/7 isn't going to fit this model at all) SM in terms of drama. People are setting up scenes, creating roles, and acting them out. While they may be mimicking things that it would be bad to actually do, the pleasure they get out of it is some sort of pleasure intrinsic to simulation, not a pleasure that somehow flows from the reality of the action being mimicked.
So I can want to, for example, play the role of a kidnapper and rapist, but at the same time have no interest whatsoever in actually doing either of those things. If I did them, I would hate them, because I'm not actually interested in committing the violation. I'm interested in some sort of scripted dominance game that makes use of rape as a symbol.
Of course, I do think this is true. A lot of what SM people do is the fun of playing with being bad, being extremely powerful, being in subjection, being at the whim of the capricious and cruel authority.
But I also think there's something missing when we just talk about the pleasure of simulation. Whenever we simulate something, we choose what to simulate. If I'm going to play make-believe now, I can pretend to be the rapist, or I can pretend to be some gentle, skilled master of sexual technique who would never hurt anyone. There must be some reason that I choose the first (if I do.)
And I think we're frightened of allowing that to be the case. If that is the case, the people who don't like us have an opening. They can ask very real questions about why we choose to mimic what we choose to mimic. They can say that there's potentially something wrong with someone who chooses this role rather than that other, more innocuous one.
And I do think that we open ourselves to a vulnerability if we don't just say that what we're doing is getting some sort of freestanding "Pleasure in make-believe." But I think that we're selling ourselves short if we don't allow for sinister motivations, and actually argue that we can use those sinister motivations in the service of something good.
Let me now tell a personal story. Those of you who've read my personal blog know that I experienced some abusive treatment at the hands of a physical therapist when I was very young. You also might know that my parents didn't believe anything untoward was happening. I myself had been told so many times that it was for my own good and I should trust the adults around me that I didn't understand that I could stop it, or that she was not actually giving me the proper treatment anyway.
So, I was very angry at the abuse, but I didn't realize that I had reason to be angry. So far as I knew, someone was helping me out of the goodness of her own heart, and it happened to be painful, and my foolish brain was getting mad at the pain and taking it out on this angelic wonderful person who just happened to do things that I, because of emotional weakness, couldn't be strong enough to not experience as hurting me, humiliating me, and treating me badly.
So like many survivors, I had strong anger but felt my anger was inappropriate. Because I held it in and no one really understood that seriously bad things were happening to me, my temper seemed explosive sometimes. I never let myself rebel against her, because to do that would mean to stand up for myself, and I knew that I wasn't supposed to do that. So I just found myself free-floatingly angry. I felt like I had a black pit of rage at the center of me, like I was some warped version of a human, seething, a time bomb at the center of me. I didn't know why it was there, and that frightened not only me, but others around me who couldn't understand why this generally friendly girl would sometimes explode. My own mother told me many times during my adolescence that she outright feared my anger, and had never seen anything like it. Of course not -- she hadn't been as close to any survivor as she was to me.
And I know, just from the way it feels, that some of my sadism is about that anger. Some of what I'm doing is letting that part of me, the part I kept inside because I thought it was wrong, out of me. I know the part of the thrill of doing SM for me is letting that rageful part of me interact with someone, and reveling in the fact that rather than running away from me in fear, they exult in it, enjoy it, get off on it, love it. It's a place to feel, for the first time in my life, that I can still be a good person, a lovable person, even a fun person, and have that part of me exist. It lets me feel like there wasn't anything wrong with me for getting angry with being abused. Like I don't have to feel guilty, like I don't have to feel like a bad woman, female, child for being justifiably angry.
(This is, not incidentally, why one of the most wonderful things Monkey's ever said to me was "You can be angry with me.")
And just to say that what I like is pretending to be aggressive, some sort of specific pleasure in the aggression simulation, is not accurate. Yes, I'm taking pleasure in simulating something I would never do if I'm playing the role of a torturer and rapist, for example. But part of what the pleasure is, part of the cleansing, part of the delight is about allowing myself to access aggression. And yes, that aggression is morally neutral. But that aggression is not a facsimile of aggression. If I'm doing drama, the drama is the structure in which I engage the aggressive feelings. The pleasure is not just the pleasure of make-believe, but the pleasure of discharging feelings that I've learned to distrust and keep inside. It's the pleasure of knowing that it's all right for me to express myself fully within the safe framework in which I'm not actually going to do real harm. It's also the pleasure of knowing that that expression is welcomed, rather than shunned.
So while I think the reason why do SM scenes is in fact morally justified, I don't think it's morally justified because my feelings are the feelings of pleasure in make-believe. While that is part of it, I'm not actually big on role-playing, and usually find it silly. A major source of pleasure for me is the ability to access and act on emotions that I would otherwise fear would terrify others.