Anti-BDSM Anarchist Dogma

For someone who’s chosen to stamp “anarchist” on the banner of her blog, I’ve said suspiciously little here about the intersection of my politics and my sexuality. In part, that’s because I’m sort of at a loss for what I would say.

But now, I’ve been talking to Submissive Boi about her workshop/panel on BDSM for an upcoming anarchist conference, and it’s probably about damn time that I start reflecting a bit on this topic.

I think I should start with the reason why this workshop is even going to be included at this conference, which has the theme, this year, of “dogma and religion.” When Boi proposed this to the conference organizers, the first question they had was, naturally, “so how does that relate to dogma?” She responded that she felt it was important to question sexual dogmas within the anarchist scene, specifically the notion that one’s sexuality should look like one’s politics, i.e. egalitarian, non-hierarchical, etc.

At times, I’ve wondered about how widespread this is: anarchists feeling that BDSM is “problematic” because it looks authoritarian (=wrong). But then, I’ve thought, “Come on. Are there really that many anarchists out there who think BDSM is a problem, or who judge kinky folk for playing with power? In the mainstream feminist scene, sure. But among anarchists?”

Recently, Boi wrote about an experience with a potential lover, another anarchist and a big fan of de Sade. Naturally she expected that he was a sadist as well as a Sadean — but when pressed on the issue, it turned out that not only was he not inclined toward sexual sadism, he actually had some degree of contempt for submissives and bottoms, saying that he thought they could be pathetic. He explained to her that he wouldn’t want to be in a D/s relationship, because, as she recalls, “if he was someone’s top there would be no line drawn for him and that his dom personality would carry in the rest of the relationship.”

This came as something of a shock to me. I realized that the only conversations around BDSM that I’ve had, of late, have either been with my partner or the smart and politically-savvy kinky bloggers I’ve found online, and that this has encased me in a sort of bubble. I’ve come to expect that BDSM is something largely accepted as not being in conflict with one’s politics — accepted as play, not reality — and that while people may be squicked by some of it, or make jokes about it, it wasn’t really a big issue.

But it is. There are still intelligent people in my extended community who think it’s okay to speak derisively of women and men who are sexually submissive, or who assume that BDSM play in the bedroom will result in a normalized, consistent streak of patriarchal or authoritarian dominance in their everyday lives. And it’s really difficult for me to respond to that with anything but, “No, you’re just wrong!”

So hopefully, over the next few weeks, I’ll be writing a more articulate response than that. I’ll be talking about political correctness and its history in the radical feminist movement, reviewing the few materials already in existence on BDSM and anarchism, and considering just how much my sexuality affects my everyday life, my behavior and personality, and how I relate to non-sexual power dynamics. The big question, for me, is: if BDSM is “just sex,” a form of play unrelated to my “normal” life (if I separate my sexual identity as a submissive from my political identity as an anarchist), then how can I explain something like this?

If you have anything to contribute to a discussion of BDSM and anarchism, have ideas for the panel, or would like to attend the conference (March 23 in Berkeley), you should hit up Boi at submissiveboi.blogspot.com or write to me at subversivesub [at] gmail [dot] com.

3 comments so far

  1. janeyruth on

    “…one’s sexuality should look like one’s politics…” Now that is scary.

    http://janeyruthsscreenplays.blogspot.com/

  2. BBW Switch on

    Just another point of view…
    I am a feminist. The type that actively participate in politics that support the feminist cause as well as actively participate against politicis which exclude the feminist cause.
    As a feminist I wrote a thesis for my psychology class in college titled: “Feminism; The Psychological Enpowerment of Women Thru BDSM”.
    My argument, supported by my feminist rhetoric, was highly critized by my staunchly religious female professor who refused to except my argument as valid. To receive credit for my thesis I had to take it to the Board at my college.
    I am interested to have you expound on your statement regarding BDSM being “a problem” in the mainstream feminist culture. Maybe we could debate (in fun) and inspire each other? 🙂
    I do enjoy your perspectives and look forward to reading more.

  3. subversive_sub on

    Hi BBW Switch. I’m speaking here of my own experiences with mainstream feminists, and the historical backlash against BDSM (esp. within the lesbian community) from radical, second-wave feminists. I think a lot of feminists who don’t have much understanding of what BDSM actually is have the knee-jerk reaction of domination play = patriarchy, and that any woman participating in such games of power is not only hindering her own freedom, but the freedom of all women.

    I have no idea what percentage of self-identified feminists are anti-BDSM on these or similar grounds; hopefully it’s a lot smaller than I think. I also know quite a few pro-BDSM feminists (whether they actively engage in BDSM play or not), but then, these are the people that I choose to be my friends! I would love to hear your perspective on BDSM’s place in the modern feminist movement (and read your thesis?) — write me at subversivesub [at] gmail [dot] com.


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