Tuesday, 2 June 2009

More on feministing

I'm noticing that on this Feministing thread, a lot of people are bringing up how they experience kink as orientational. Basically they're saying "Hey, this isn't some random thing I decided was fun, and I can't sit here and talk myself into doing something else on Saturday because the feminists were meen bulliez."

I agree with that myself, and that is how I experienced my kinky attractions from the beginning.

But right now, honestly, for myself I've stopped caring about that almost entirely. What bugs me now is not so much that people don't get that this is not the sort of thing I can change at will, but that the way my activities should be understood seems, on that analysis, to change wildly depending on what I happen to do.

If I go to a BDSM club and play and find it dull, and then go home and have very, very hot sex that doesn't involve pain and only involves power insofar as I happen to be in a D/s relationship, do I get a pass for examining that day? If the week after that we're more interested in knives and face-slapping than genital canoodling, do I have to take my timeout to think first?

That's the big thing that I really don't get about all this. It all centers around acts but pretends not to. "I want to know why you submit" but that gets parsed, most of the time, as "I want to know why you (would ever want to) let him do that."

Which creates this really odd thing where, well, everything we do sexually gets reduced to BDSM, and gets reduced to the kinds of BDSM or the reasons for BDSM that its opponents are most worried about. Our sexualities and our sexual practices don't get discussed as wholes often at all. Kink is simply something that consumes us.

Yeah, kink is important in my life... but lately I'm really wondering what makes it so Important with a big I. It's something I happen to do. Something a little more controversial than most things I do, but why does that matter so much, exactly?

Basically, I'm at the equivalent of "Yeah, I'm gay... why'd you care again exactly?"

36 comments:

Dw3t-Hthr said...

And the whole innate thing does leave open the denigration of choice - that maybe if it's intrinsic it might be okay (though that's not a given), but that still means that people who can choose otherwise should.

Trinity said...

Yeah, exactly.

EthylBenzene said...

Because ~they aren't arguing in good faith.~ We know this, they probably know it. They ~don't~ really care about what they say they care about, they only want you to come to the "right" conclusion. It's one big giant code phrase for "you're wrong and you better figure out why you're wrong or I won't let you in the Sooper Seekrit Club." Which, you know, I'm ok with. Fuck them, fuck their disingenuous bullshit, and fuck the new boss, same as the old boss.

Seriously, to me, lately, the only way any of what "they" (sorry to be so othering but for shorthand you know what I mean) say is to understand what they're ~really~ saying. Maybe I'm just bitter and cynical, or maybe this has been a particularly bad month, but I just do not have the patience to try to engage them on their pretend concern troll terms. Fuckit.

EthylBenzene said...

"And the whole innate thing does leave open the denigration of choice - that maybe if it's intrinsic it might be okay (though that's not a given), but that still means that people who can choose otherwise should."

Right, just like the whole homosexual is innate/a choice argument. It's an argument that only works in their terms, on their turf, you know? If something is not a choice you can take them down on that point, but the larger point of "hey we really shouldn't be discriminating against anyone, really" gets lost.


Ye gods but I am rambly tonight. Thanks, benadryl!

Trinity said...

Yeah, pretty much.

Maybe if we ignore them, they'll go away.

Eh. Probably not.

Hope said...

Interesting points all around.

I do think there is entirely too much focus on specific acts, a sort of "if you do x, y, and z well that's reasonable I suppose - but a, b, and c that's disgusting!"

The idea that "people who can choose otherwise should" is definitely problematic. The thing is I don't know that most of the more adamant anti-BDSM types would see it as anything other than an issue of degree. Even if they were willing to recognize that my kink is innate but my partner's is chosen, I think they would still insist that we are both just as bad. I mean, maybe he'd be considered a little worse because he could choose not to do it, but I'm just as harmful to society (or whatever) and I'm fundamentally broken. It really seems to me that they aren't any more likely to accept innate=okay than the Christian fundamentalists are with regards to homosexuality.

I don't really know if I'm being clear or at all on topic. I'm really just sort of thinking "out loud" here, but that's what I've got for now.

Trinity said...

@ethylbenzene

BUT IT'S NOT DISCRIMINATION! HOW DARE YOU?!?!?

Because of course only oppression matters.

SnowdropExplodes said...

I'm pretty much where you are - "what does it have to do with you, or anyone else, what I and my loving partner(s) get up to in private?"

To some extent, I agree that that the "innate" or "orientational" path is a bit of a red herring - it's interesting from the point of view of "what makes some people different from other people?" angle, but in terms of "is it okay?" it's not really an answer (for instance, what if paedophilia turned out to be an innate orientation - it wouldn't make the behaviour any more okay in that case).

It makes far more sense to me to talk about how the actual relationships work rather than where they come from: the whole SSC/RACK, informed consent, negotiated roles, power exchange, limits, safewords, etc.

Orlando C. said...

Agree on all points, especially Dw3t-Hthr's notion about the denigation of choice. And to me, that's where the big-I important arrives. The details of what I do in my life are probably trivial from any social persepective; what I do in my bedroom is definitely trivial. But freedom doesn't exist as an ambient abstraction, it exists as the sum of my ability to do each of these various trivial things I do. If the man tries to take away my freedom to snort paprika, I am being oppressed, even though snorting paprika is trivial and perhaps, in some objective sense, foolish.

That is the level at which I think defending BDSM is important. The only thing I think makes my sex life socially relevant is that it falls into the supercategory of consensual human activity, and I don't want to see anything in that category be prohibited without some stellar rationale such as we are certainly not seeing here.

belledame222 said...


Basically, I'm at the equivalent of "Yeah, I'm gay... why'd you care again exactly?"


Yup. Aka "please stop pawing my panty drawer now kthxbai."

EthylBenzene said...

"BUT IT'S NOT DISCRIMINATION! HOW DARE YOU?!?!?

Because of course only oppression matters."

Of course :) How silly of me!

Hope said:
"It really seems to me that they aren't any more likely to accept innate=okay than the Christian fundamentalists are with regards to homosexuality."

Well and that's the thing, right? So you can come back to them and say hey, here's some evidence and it looks like it's not a choice, but then all they do is shift goalposts and say well then you can FEEL that way but not ACT on it, etc etc ad infinitum. Because again, they are not arguing with us in good faith. They want one answer -- any answer we come up with that is not in line, they will find another reason for it to be "wrong."

So then we get into this whole problem where we keep having the same exact arguments over and over, just like, well, like every other thing I tend to argue on the internets about -- abortion, creationism, oppressions of various kinds... There's like this neverending supply of freshly-minted culture warriors who think they've come up with something new, trotting in and spewing the same old bullshit over and over, not listening when we say "hey, yanno, I totes heard this last week."

I haven't got any answers, that's for sure...

Alexandra Erin said...

Yeah, all very good points.

I usually end up arguing on the terms that are presented because I have an ingrained feeling that if I can get somebody to see where one of their assumptions doesn't hold up, they'll start examining their entire position... of course that must be an innate characteristic because life certainly hasn't taught me the world works that way. :P So I try to answer arguments that begin with the idea that I've chosen to be kinky or that society has shaped me into being kinky in some straightforward and explicable way by pointing out the ways in which these things can be shown to be untrue, but ultimately the "okayness" of my kink does not come down to "but I can't help it!"

Renegade Evolution said...

Meh, face it, with some people, who generally hate it when a person (esp a women) is reduced to her BODY and what can go on with it....

You are your sexuality. That's it.

People are morons.

sera said...

Right, well, the question of whether something is innate is a direct descendant of liberal theories on race and gender--the problem with racism and sexism on this analysis is that you are discriminating against somebody for things they can't change, rather than behavior, which they can. (As SnowdropExplodes says, this is collapsing analysis because what if pedophilia is shown to be innate, etc. In that case, we'd say, well, it's the type of harm that we care about, or perhaps the type of _improper_ power differential (whites > blacks, men > women, adults > children) that is the issue.)

I agree with you that your comments pretty much exactly track the debate about homosexuality.

"Which creates this really odd thing where, well, everything we do sexually gets reduced to BDSM. . . . Our sexualities and our sexual practices don't get discussed as wholes often at all. Kink is simply something that consumes us."

This is what the gay community encountered, obviously--the obsessive focus on sex as the defining aspect of homosexuality, rather than same-sex love and attraction. When the gay community changed the terms of the debate from sex to love, they salvaged their rights. As Justice Kennedy said in 2003 in Lawrence v. Texas, the case that declared anti-sodomy statutes unconstitutional: "When sexuality finds overt expression in intimate conduct with another person, the conduct can be but one element in a personal bond that is more enduring." This is powerful. On the other hand, treating sex like an annex to or a appendage to relationships seems to me problematic. I don't exactly like the answer "yeah, I'm gay/kinky/masochistic, why do you care?" because that makes the behavior invisible and limited in a way--that kind of impulse that says, "Oh yeah, if you want to wear cuffs in the bedroom, that's YOUR business--but there's no reason you need to have a legal public play space." So, I dunno.

Not trying to argue with you, just trying to figure out how I feel about people's obsession with my bedroom activities.

ggg_girl said...

I agree with Dw3t, choice vs. orientation shouldn't be an issue... it's just another way of criticizing bdsm by saying that those who can change should.

@OrlandoC
It is strange how those who are into bdsm often see discussions of their sexuality reduced completely to bdsm. I enjoy bdsm but in the large scheme of things it is a relatively small but important part of my life and sexuality.

This is one of the reasons I don't like the phrase "bdsm lifestyle" to refer me. bdsm is not my lifestyle; it's something I enjoy and like to do sometimes or often. But it is not really an integral part of my identity and I don't think about it everyday. Don't get me wrong, I love it, but it's not nearly the same as sexual orientation (I think about men I'm attracted to or my boyfriend all the time) or other core identities. Hope that makes sense.

antiprincess said...

"what does it have to do with you, or anyone else, what I and my loving partner(s) get up to in private?"

because it's catching. there is this idea that kinky sex, even in its mildest, dare I say even cheesiest forms, is a contagion that spreads to the unwary and induces them to commit heinous acts of nonconsensual violence on their virtuous partners, and also infects other, non-sexual human interactions, to wit, from the facebook anti-bdsm thingy:

12. BDSM roles can leak into “real life” interactions (i.e. act dominantly or submissively towards one’s partner outside the bedroom, and towards others in general). There is a private sphere / public sphere connection.

SnowdropExplodes said...

ggg_girl:

The tricky thing is that for some people it is an orientation, while for others it's not. I am orientationally Sadist/Dom/Top, but I also am a masochist, and enjoy playing the sub/bottom role. So I see the distinction very clearly between "lifestyle" versus "something fun I like to do".

But on equal opportunities forms, there is never a slot to say "I don't care that much about the genitalia of my partner as long as I get to tie them up, whip them and spank them!"

Clarisse Thorn said...

Wow. I just wrote a post about this yesterday. That's weird.

http://clarissethorn.wordpress.com/2009/06/03/bdsm-as-a-sexual-orientation-and-complications-of-the-orientation-model/

For me, the most interesting question is: Given all the issues calling BDSM an orientation, it seems silly to keep using that language. It's high time to think about it in other ways. But if our best path to legal protection means calling it an orientation, then do we do that even though we've got issues with the model? Or is the orientation model too problematic for us to support that approach?

ggg_girl said...

@Snowdrop

This is what I meant:

I realize that some people identify bdsm as their orientation/one of their orientations. I didn't mean to deny or detract from that. I just wanted to point out that not everyone identifies that way. It shouldn't matter if someone considers bdsm their orientation or not; it shouldn't change somehow whether bdsm is "right" or "wrong" or how other people treat us. No one should have to say bdsm is their orientation to be taken seriously or legitimize their sex life.

Trinity said...

GGG: Yeah, I totally agree with you. I don't think we should discard the idea that BDSM is orientational for some people (just like I don't think we should discard the idea that gayness is.) I think that matches the facts.

What I am more dubious about lately is the idea that "I can't help it!" is the appropriate response to our detractors. Because that might mean "If I could help it I should, but I can't, so give me a pass." Which is pretty much what some of our enemies say. You know, the whole "well, I believe that you can't change, but wow, I feel so sorry for you."

Clarisse Thorn said...

@Trinity -- Right, exactly! But if that's not what we say to our detractors, then what is?

Usually we fall back on the consent argument, and understandably so, because it's the best argument.

But that, too, isn't quite working. I've been trying to refine my understanding of their argument. I think it has something to do with the fact that these themes, these tropes, are not okay no matter what -- consensual or not, orientation or not. And once we get to that place, I don't know how to argue with them. Because I'm not sure how to argue about whether a theme or a trope is okay ... except maybe to invoke free speech.

Trinity said...

Yeah that's the thing. They think consent is an illusion, or at least, a problem, because we don't realize that what we want has been shaped for us before we ever say "Oh yes!"

And there just isn't arguing with that. I can't really prove that my choices are mine.

ggg_girl said...

@Trinity & @Thorn

I guess some other points I would bring up to talk about besides consent:

what makes bdsm so different from other sexual practices? is there some magic point where "rough sex" becomes bdsm? when you scratch into your partner's back? when they hold the hair tightly at the nape of your neck? there are power differentials in all types of sex - bdsm openly acknowledges them instead of pretending they don't exist as this thread points out so well.

why do people debate over if there is real consent in bdsm over and over again without asking how consent is determined in vanilla relationships? because as far as I can tell, most people don't agonize over consent with regard to every kiss, lick and touch when having sex with their partners. it seems like many vanilla people have sex all the time without talking about it at all. obviously I don't think it is or should be the same way for bdsm, but questioning the consent of someone who has repeatedly told you that they're into it strikes me as the pot calling the kettle black.

ggg_girl said...

@Snowdrop

I'm trying to think of a good way to explain what BDSM means, since it isn't an orientation for me.

Heterosexual: Orientation for me. I think about attractive men all the time. It one of the cores of my sexual identity. If I could never be sexual with men again, I would feel like most of my sexuality was gone and disappeared. My sexuality would be extremely limited.

BDSM: I really freakin' love it. Although it is not one of the cores of my sexual identity, I would sorely miss it and be sad to see it go and my orgasms wouldn't be nearly as fantastic. The closest thing I can think of is my favorite sport. Yeah, I could give it up and be miserable. I could always pick up some different sport that I don't enjoy nearly as much or excel at or have an intense passion for like the sport I play now. Would not having that sport in my life fundamentally alter my life and who I am as a person? I would say no, I would just be depressed for a good long while that I could never do it again.

Hope that explains some of my thoughts on the BDSM as an identity vs. not

SnowdropExplodes said...

Yeah that's the thing. They think consent is an illusion, or at least, a problem, because we don't realize that what we want has been shaped for us before we ever say "Oh yes!"



I think the thing is, the detractors say that it is shaped for us by society, so sometimes the natural reaction is to say, "Hah! I can prove you wrong on THAT score, because look - my BDSM orientation is shaped by (pre-natal?) pre-socialisation factors instead!" Which is where the "BDSM as an orientation" defence comes in.

The anti-BDSM feminists' claim appears to be that BDSM is at once symptomatic and causative of patriarchal modes of thinking. The "causation" element of this claim is where the "why do you care what I do in the bedroom?" defence comes in - because if its private between two or more individuals, how can it affect society as a whole? It's also the level on which we discuss the ways in which BDSM theory can help dismantle patriarchal preconceptions - this study actually helps counter both the "causative" and the "symptomatic" elements of the criticism.

The whole "examine!" demand is about "revealing" to us that it really is symptomatic; it annoys the critics so much when we examine and conclude that it isn't, that it comes from somewhere else.

Trinity said...

"why do people debate over if there is real consent in bdsm over and over again without asking how consent is determined in vanilla relationships?"

I think some of them do, though by "vanilla relationships" they mean straight ones. I've actually seen a minority of them write some very either nasty or self-pitying screeds about how straight vanilla sex is harmful, so they either 1) agonize over it or 2) no longer have it rah rah sisterhood.

But

1) No, that isn't most of them
2) Even those who do that seem to do it episodically when prompted
3) Many of those who do it seem to me to be asexual (or close to it) or lesbian, so it seems less like examining their actual desires as it is examining the weird gals who like dick, or examining why they feel stuck doing things to dicks even though they hate them ew ew cooties ew funk filled bratwurst (actual quote, that) ew.

As much as I know they hate being called "anti-sex," I really do think some of them, like Twisty who I quoted there, are not really big fans of it. I think that subgroup of them is not so much anti-sex as "what is all this fuss you're making, just for sex? Sex is kind of gross. Why are you making a big fuss about a little bit of physical pleasure and calling that FEMINISM?!?!?!?"

EthylBenzene said...

"What I am more dubious about lately is the idea that "I can't help it!" is the appropriate response to our detractors. Because that might mean "If I could help it I should, but I can't, so give me a pass." Which is pretty much what some of our enemies say. You know, the whole "well, I believe that you can't change, but wow, I feel so sorry for you.""

Exactly! It seems to tacitly agree with the underlying premise, which is BDSM = bad, you should change if you can.

And.... Why ~don't~ people in vanilla relationships have to examine? It's a rhetorical question, of course, but really, it seems like people who don't give much thought at all to sex and how it's done and what it means would benefit from whatever idealized "examination" the anti-BDSMers are promoting. I know lots of people in unsatisfying, unfulfilling vanilla relationships that are rife with questionable and unexamined gender roles, power dynamics, and generally a serious lack of communication about sex at all. Just saying. Anecdote isn't data etc., but come on.

"And there just isn't arguing with that. I can't really prove that my choices are mine."

Yeah, this. It's like, once you get through all the seemingly rational arguments you're left with their core of True Belief and, well. Yeah.

Dw3t-Hthr said...

On kink-as-orientation for me ....

I do not have to have a kinked relationship.

I do have to have a relationship in which some kink interaction is okay, and in which I do not feel shamed, sidelined, or that I need to repress my kinkiness, because as I've commented, this is a part of who I am.

So it's not an orientation for me, but it's nonetheless a fundamental part of a healthy relationship.

ggg_girl said...

I second Dw3t, well said.

belledame222 said...

btw, have people seen this piece by Claudia Card? one of the few that specifically addresses non-M/f BDSM. still radfem, still...well, you can see for yourself:

http://www.feminist-reprise.org/docs/card.htm

Trinity said...

@belle:

There's actually a later essay by Card on this, in which she reconsiders some of the positions she holds there, in response to an essay by Jacob Hale in which he proposes some fascinating possible explanations for the "but why do you DO THAT, dammit?" question.

As I dimly recall, Card's response wasn't stellar either, but I was impressed by her ability to go "Oh, hmm. I still don't think so, but HMM."

shiva said...

I am very much in the camp of "ALL sexual relationships should be examined". But, from observation of all the people i have known in BDSM relationships, *all* of those relationships *have* been examined - thoroughly - and explicitly negotiated, right from the beginning - as have most of the queer relationships i have known that have not necessarily involved BDSM.

Whereas the thing that squicks me the fuck out about pretty much *all* the straight vanilla relationships i have ever observed is how unexamined they are - to the point that i would say that, at least by my standards of consent (which i do accept are a lot stricter than most people's, but for me they have to be, for impairment/disability reasons), over half of the sexual acts that happen in them are nonconsensual.

I'd actually prefer to break down the dichotomy between "BDSM" and "vanilla" altogether - there are quite a few things that, for me at least, don't fit into either category, and, really, i'd like to see a dialogue about sex where liking PIV sex in the missionary position is seen as just as much a "fetish" (using that term without normative judgement) as bondage or whipping or cutting or whatever. But if anything i would like to see the level of examination and negotiation that typically seems to go on in relationships currently defined as "BDSM" be extended to all sexual relationships, rather than vice versa - so when those type of radfems say "BDSMers need to [implication: don't] examine", i just really Don't Get It...

Cereus Sphinx said...

For me, my masochism seems to be just as much an orientation as anything else.

I agree that there needs to be a model that says that orientation doesn't matter, though.

I recently read a book that puts forward the most elegant argument I've heard so far. It's also the only one that makes me feel like we're not settling for the "I can't help it" defense.
It's called "Identity and the Case For Gay rights" by David A. J. Richards.

These kinds of discrimination abridge people's rights to choice in their intimate life and freedom of conscience. The same as restrictions on religious freedom do. Not being a Christian or a Jew or a Pagan won't KILL you but it's NOT RIGHT to deny you that right either.

It pretty much sums up my thoughts much better than I ever could.

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Anonymous said...

I want to know why you'd let him do that indeed...

Honestly half the things I ever had done to me I asked for :P

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