Saturday, 24 April 2010

The Nature of Abuse

There's a very, very old thread over at Nine Deuce's on BDSM that has recently been revived. I had been studiously ignoring it, as it pretty much repeated the same claims we've already talked about many times before. And as I've mentioned here, I'm not really as invested as I once was in coming up with detailed arguments defending BDSM from its detractors. I've pretty much settled on the point of view That those who try to lump all power dynamics into the same analysis are simply lazy, and don't really warrant the kind of argument I used to try to make in reply to them.

However, one comment that arrived in my inbox struck me both as particularly illuminating and as particularly -- dare I say horrifyingly? -- unfortunate.

I really liked your post, and while I found most of the comments too triggering to read, what little I picked up is that some folks are ignoring your stance of “intertwining sex and power has never led to any good” for “stop trying to tell me what to do in my sexy times!”

Doesn’t the harm of sexual abuse come from tightly knitting together power and sex to the point where the victim can’t even tell if they are consenting or if they are enjoying what’s happening? A sexual practice that seems built on pinning power to sex just reeks of abuse. I’m not an expert by any means, but I don’t think that normalizing bondage, sadism, and or masochism helps anyone. I guess it must be addicting though, like self harm.

It's the bolded sentence that deeply alarms me. I've not spoken very much in online forums about some really creepy things I experienced in a relationship, in part because I'd rather that person not discover me talking about it.

However, I will say in the strongest language possible that the control that person tried to maintain over me had nothing to do with making me confused about whether I wanted something or not, much less convincing me that I liked being cut down. This person was very, very clear about wanting what they wanted. I was expected to provide it, like it or not. It wasn't about some nefarious plot to re-wire how I derived pleasure such that I found myself desperate for ill-treatment. My pleasure was beside the point, my lack of enthusiastic consent an impediment to someone else's wants that was annoying, not to be taken seriously. The ill-treatment was going to happen anyway.

Yes, most abusers do cycle between wooing their victims, lavishing attention (perhaps including pleasant, seemingly caring sex) and praise on them to maintain control, and cutting them down, whether verbally, physically, or sexually. But that does not mean that one comes to love being harmed, being degraded, being cut down, or being violated.

It may mean that one comes to feel one must endure those things, must "weather the storm" until one's "tempermental" or "stormy" partner "cools down," but that isn't about re-wiring how someone gets pleasure. That's about convincing her that those arguments or fights or beatings or rapes are "no big deal," are just disagreements that "get out of hand." Or that they are just punishments; if you can make a person believe she deserves to pay for her "mistakes," she will not rebel.

I will say that I have heard of situations where some people did have ambivalent reactions to sexual violence because it meant getting attention from someone they thought they "loved" (if anyone remembers Biting Beaver's anti-BDSM essay, there was some of this in that.) So I can't say it never happens. But there, it was because her partner pressured her into BDSM (unless I misremember; please correct if I do) and she was trying to be as sexually pleasing to her partner as she could. I don't think trying to please a partner with a kink is solely the province of those who identify as submissive, though these folks might not agree.

This "analysis" whereby people are made into abuse-receptacles because kinky sex exists is woeful. I can see, however, why it's appealing. It's easier to say "if only society were different" than it is to recognize the subtle cruelty of cycles of violence.