Archive for July, 2008|Monthly archive page

Leave the Analysis to Us, Thank You

I happened upon this thread on an anarchist message board,

It always makes me a little irritated when I see BDSM misrepresented in the mainstream media. It makes me sad to see feminists critiquing other women for their kinky sexual orientations/practices. But it breaks my fucking heart when I see anarchists doing it. Why? I suppose because “anarchist” is probably the closest I come to really embracing a label to define myself, and when I see people using that label as a justification to trash my sexuality, it hits pretty hard.

Granted: the thread starts out with a single uninformed dumbass making some inane comments that are very quickly shut down. But then we have this:

To be sure, the issue of BDSM is not without its problems for anarchism. For one, there is a definite strain of anti-feminist thinking in many parts of the subculture…. Consider, for example, the whole philosophy of Gor or the notion of Taken in Hand relationships. Consensual or not they certainly reflect the mindset and ideals of patriarchy rather well. [….] In addition, I’m not so sure I like the notion of dominance and submission, even if voluntary, being cast as normal and healthy ways of life. It lends them a kind of legitimacy that IMO runs counter to the spirit of anarchism. Of course I don’t think trying to outlaw BDSM as the poster of the thread suggests is necessarily the answer, or that it would be particularly practical.

Someone else responded:

….I think if they lose the taboo then they are no longer as exciting or enjoyable. Think of it this way. Do you think that an anarchist society that respects ones ability to be a drug user would result in everyone becoming drug addicts? Nah, we’d have in place mechanisms to deter it. People, friends, family, comrades, they would dissuade you from overly negative behaviors on the fact that come revolution there’d really be nothing else to do. No work means lots of play, and lots of involvement in the social environment. If you had a friend that was a drug addict I’m sure you’d try to help them out and get them off of their addiction, likewise if you had a friend who was in to sexual domination you might introduce them to more egalitarian forms of sexual partnerships.

The same person also writes:

From my perspective the greatest purveyors of sexual domination such as BSDM or prostitution are from the monetarily minded economic persuasion. That is, ancaps, mutualists, or others in this vein. There’s a reason for this, of course. That money creates “voluntarily” (coercive) relationships that otherwise wouldn’t exist. A beautiful woman isn’t going to slap a fat ugly guys celluite ass unless society gives her recompense for it. Destroy society, destroy monetarism, and I bet that situation would be very fucking rare.

And finally, a bunch of posts that expressed this sentiment:

…. Personally, I don’t have much of an opinion on the matter, and approach it as an intellectual curiosity… It might be really fun for all I know.

I thought about signing up on the message board in question in order to respond to some of this bullshit, but decided against it for now. Here are some of the things I’d address, were I to bite the bullet and get involved in the argument:

  1. Gor and Taken in Hand relationships are not uncontroversial in the kink world. Yes: these communities are decidedly patriarchal, and lots of people are critical of their gender essentialism. If you spent five minutes to see whether or not there were kinky people critical of and outspoken against sexism and patriarchy, you’d find a wealth of information on the subject. There is nothing that says a BDSM relationship, even a 24/7 relationship, has to be based on the notion that one gender is naturally superior to another. Yes, this notion does exist within the BDSM world, but please just recognize that this doesn’t mean all people playing with BDSM in their sex lives think this way, or are not similarly disturbed by such tendencies.
  2. Giving legitimacy to BDSM as a sexual practice is not the same as giving legitimacy to the idea of domination/submission as a model for human relationships. Period. Kinky people play with power and hierarchy. It’s like saying none of us should play Monopoly, because it imitates and thus legitimizes a capitalist economic system.
  3. The idea that in a perfect anarchist society, people would be better able to dissuade kinky people from engaging in such “negative” behaviors begs the question of BDSM being inherently “negative.” It isn’t.
  4. BDSM is not “attractive” to kinky people simply because it is taboo. Quite a lot of kinky people are drawn to it as strongly as they are drawn to the same or another sex; that is, it isn’t just a choice but a sexual identity. For many of us, it is something that we cannot fully experience sexual pleasure without.
  5. Playing with domination in a sexual relationship is not the same thing as an inegalitarian or hierarchical relationship. It is not inherently harmful or “addictive.”
  6. BDSM is not only performed as a paid service, nor is it necessarily linked to pornography or any other kind of sex work. The vast majority of people who practice BDSM are not sex workers.
  7. Finally: it’s not okay to treat another person’s sexuality or subculture as merely an “intellectual curiosity,” something to entertain you. If you’re curious about it, educate yourself, don’t simply start making ignorant comments on a message board.

Over at SM-Feminist, Trinity mentioned a thread on a the feminist Livejournal community, and excerpted the following quote:

Desire and arousal are complicated and very, very unconscious. It can all be deconstructed until the cows come home, but I think the people who need to deconstruct it are those who engage in it.

Yes. That. What always makes me feel the most uncomfortable about reading threads like this, or overhearing similar discussions, is this sensation of being talked about behind my back. It’s always just a lot of theorizing and postulating about “those people” and what they do, and whether or not any of it is cause for concern.

So how about this, folks: if you’re not a part of a particular community/group, and if you don’t at least have a good understanding of that group and the debates that already take place inside of it, then shut the fuck up and see what they have to say first. Instead of making broad, uninformed statements about that group, their relationships with each other, what they do and don’t do, what they like and don’t like, why don’t you ask them about it?

The Pressure of Dominance

Sometimes it’s easy for me to forget how stressful it can be to wield power over and take responsibility for another person.

Up until this last week or two, things had felt very different between me and my partner. We’ve been having sex much less frequently, and really playing even less. In part, this is due to conflicting and busy schedules, but can largely be chalked up to stress. There have been an increasing number of nights in which I expect we’re going to at least have sex, and he just wants to cuddle. He feels bad; I feel bad; we go to sleep feeling awkward and distant.

As is the case with most of these sort of problems, the only way to deal with it was to spend an entire evening just talking about it, crying, and talking some more.

While talking about it, I mentioned that all this seems to have started with a disappointing flogging workshop we attended at the Citadel a few months ago. In this workshop, attendees were expected to try out techniques on each other: to simply split up into pairs and practice, without hands-on teaching or any real supervision. He wasn’t able to do it. He felt so nervous and intimidated by the whole thing that we ended up leaving, which of course made him feel even worse — especially because I’d been feeling fine about the whole thing and had been feeling more and more interested in that sort of public play. It was an incredibly demoralizing experience for him, he told me, one that left him very shaken and insecure about his dominance.

Since then, it’s become an underlying issue affecting our play. It’s hard to be dominant when you can’t shake the feeling that your submissive wants more than what you can or want to deliver; it’s hard to top someone when you’re feeling pressured to do so more often and harder than you yourself are comfortable with. And recently, that’s been our dynamic: I ask for a scene, I talk to him about classes and workshops we might attend, new things we might try, and all of it just makes him shrink away. When I push, when I try to direct things, when I’m pursuing him, it’s difficult for him to not feel pressured — and pressure, of course, is always a great killer of sexual desire, but especially when you’re supposed to be the one in control.

Immediately after that conversation, a few weeks ago, I was at a complete loss. I knew the appropriate response from me was to just back the fuck off, to stop bringing it up, to stop pressuring him into playing, to put ideas of further workshops and public activities out of my head completely, to give him the time and space to feel confident in his dominance and to play with me because he wants to, not because he feels like he has to. And ultimately, that’s what I agreed to do. For two weeks, I wouldn’t say a word about sex or play, and would let him take his time and initiate it when he wanted.

I hated it. Every time I wanted to play and couldn’t ask for it, all I could really think is, “Why doesn’t he want this? We have time and privacy, why isn’t he just tearing off my clothes right this second? Is this losing its appeal? Am I losing my appeal?” on top of an underlying “Goddamn I want to be beaten and hurt and fucked right now.” And then, of course, I started thinking, “How long is this going to go on? Can I really be happy if this ends up being the norm in our relationship, with sex once or twice a week and a long play session maybe once a month? Can I be happy if those play sessions involve the same few activities over and over, if he’s not interested in ever learning new things or trying new toys, in inventing new games and tortures and ways to make me squirm? Can I be happy if he’s never as interested in this stuff as I am, if he never wants to prioritize it in the way that I do?”

And of course, that’s a lot of nonsense. I realize that now that a few weeks have passed, and our d/s seems to be back in full force. He was right — all it took was a little time in which I wasn’t putting on the pressure, and his dominance came right back out. The less I push to get what I want, the more I actually get what I want. All I needed to do was trust that he wants all of this as much as I do, and I very quickly was able to see the same desire reflected in his eyes. So many times I get to this point, this not really believing that he wants me in this way, and every time I realize it’s a silly and unfounded fear. (A fear legitimately rooted in bad past experiences, but nevertheless unfounded, at least with my current partner.)

Relationships are at once so complicated and so simple, whether kinky or vanilla. Everything I’ve written here, everything I’ve learned from this experience, all boils down to the same clichéd phrases: time; space; talking; listening; trust. How is it that such simple words describe the most difficult challenges?

Subtle Differences

A few years ago, I thought of my kink very, very differently than I do now. Back then, I thought of myself primarily as a “submissive,” and assumed that everything I was into could simply be classified under that one term.

Now, everything I do is in shades of gray. Sometimes, my desires are purely masochistic: I crave pain, regardless of whether or not it’s part of a scene, regardless of whether or not I’m bound or on my knees, whether or not I’m submitting. Sometimes, those desires come more from a sense of a challenge and self-testing, rather than strictly erotic desire; that is, sometimes I crave pain even when I know it’s going to be “bad” pain, while at other times I want only the “good,” high-inducing pain.

Sometimes, I like forced submission: struggling and being subdued, saying “no” and not having it respected, being seduced and persuaded, or just simply being forced down. I like the feeling of struggling against ropes, in particular, and feeling the confining tension of them, the sensation that I couldn’t resist even if I wanted to. When I get this way, I often feel like it’s a way of releasing tension and giving up responsibility, for a moment—I can be angry, I can curse and rage, and it’s met by his calm firmness, keeping me safe.

Sometimes, I drop into an intensely submissive headspace in which I simply want to give my body over to be played with and used; at these times, pain is not pleasurable, but is a means of remembering that my pain does not matter, that it is something I must endure in order to be of service. It’s both endurance-testing and a way of practicing patience, self-control, and humility. At times like these, the last thing I want is to feel resistance between me and my partner; I want to give up control, not have it taken from me.

…and then there are even smaller differences that I can tease out between different styles of submission. Generally, I’m not interested in service submission, or submission done in order to please. Instead, my kink tends to fall on the side of ownership — I do this not necessarily because I want to please him and be of use, but because I am his possession. (And then: am I a human slave, one who actively performs tasks for my master? Or am I a pet — something to be kept for amusement — or a toy, something to be used?)

It’s mind-boggling, when you stop to think about it, how complex this stuff can be…