Leave the Analysis to Us, Thank You

I happened upon this thread on an anarchist message board, flag.blackened.net.

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?

12 comments so far

  1. Meer on

    If you feel yourself outnumbered or without sufficient sympathizers, then be a guerrilla fighter.

    If possible, privately contact folks expressing intellectual curiosity. They’ll probably be the ones most receptive to discourse without prejudice, and political conversion usually works better through personal correspondence. Who knows, they might even surprise you with experiences or ideas of their own.

    Nobody can talk behind your back if you’ve folks to make your arguments by proxy. 😉

  2. Blue Linchpin/Yvette/Selkie on

    Hear hear!

    *claps wildly*

    It was depressing being outnumbered on that thread while I tried to defend BDSM against the countless idiots. It’s sad that those who call themselves anarchists think they can tell someone how to live their lives…it’s horribly hypocritical.

    Glad to see there are more sane people out there.

  3. Berior on

    In my sense, any true anarchist with an ounce of brain matter would realise the following point.

    True BDSM involve a huge amount of discussion and respect and I’d say that true BDSM can only take place because our society tried to make woman equal to men. As such, dominant or submissive woman and men shouldn’t be seen as a perversion, but applauded for having the courage and opportunity to claim this is who I am. I submit or command because it is what I enjoy, not because it’s what society expect of me.

  4. d on

    I think it’s indicative of the general lack of a real categorical critique of capitalism that the anarchist milieu engages in a neverending series of moral denunciations rather than actual analysis (today we denounce the sadists! tomorrow we’ll denounce the government for lying!). This discussion of BDSM is particularly stupid and bigoted, but considering how weak (most) anarchists’ understanding of anything is, it is not surprising this ignorance would carry over to their discourse on kink.

    Another deeper issue might be that anarchist critique of present conditions is focused on vaguely defined ‘bad things’ like “hierarchy” and “authoritarianism” rather than value and wage labor.

  5. d on

    “If you are opposed to wage labor or “wage slavery” then you would logically be opposed to BDSM slavery. Both are voluntary but hierarchial, and since one is opposed, the other must be opposed for consistancy. Thus, the dominatrix/gorean/etc. is just as much a foe as the capitalist.”

    It is insane that the first poster tries to situate their rejection of BDSM in a critique of wage labor. Their thesis is not logical, even if one accepts the fucked up notion that BDSM = (non-consensual) slavery.

    Mystified understandings of the economy lead to all kinds of absurd positions. That people are having a discussion about ‘what’s the difference between bdsm and capitalism?’ means that they do not know what either are. That anarchists do not know anything about the former is annoying – that they know nothing about the latter is embarrassing.

    (also should be worth noting that most of the posters on that thread are moreorless ‘pro-s/m’, though even a number of those voices were fairly stupid)

  6. Fluence on

    Good post, I agree with a lot of your comments, I think point 4 is something that a lot of people don’t realise, they treat BDSM as an ‘add on’ to sex, rather than a fundamental part of some people’s sexuality. Many anti-BDSM arguments can be shown to be ridiculous if you just replacing the term with gay.

  7. Natty on

    The part about having “comrades dissuade you from overly negative behaviors” *really* creeped me out. First off, it shows remarkable ignorance about addiction. And, of course, it shows remarkable ignorance about BDSM. Sure, BDSM borrows from patriarchy but the very fact that choice is at the center of it immediately takes it out of the realm of true patriarchy.

    Besides, “egalitarian” sex sounds boring as hell.

    This whole thing reminded me of an old tongue-in-cheek post of Trinity’s about turning the tables on vanilla sex and calling it and the people who practice messed up.

    http://trinityva.livejournal.com/718012.html?view=3958460

  8. subversive_sub on

    d — yeah, I did notice that there were quite a few posters on that thread who were pro-s/m, or perhaps more accurately not anti-s/m. (I felt like most of them were in the “none of my business” camp, which is cool, but not very useful in confronting the anti-s/m stuff being posted.)

    The attempt to connect a critique of capitalism and wage labor with BDSM is just embarrassingly stupid. I think a lot of these people think that “capitalism” is the only exploitative economic system that has ever existed, and that it’s the same as authoritarianism, patriarchy, empire, hierarchy, and whatever other catchphrases are en vogue right now…and, similarly, BDSM is the same as male dominance, female submissiveness, sex work, and pornography. If people could learn to distinguish between these things better, I think it would be a lot easier to have conversations about this stuff — and a lot fewer of them would cling to their anti-s/m stance.

  9. d on

    And if I were able to accumulate capital with d/s, I wouldn’t have to work anymore!

  10. Yvette on

    Hey, guys, not all anarchists are stupid as you claim. There are idiots in every camp. >_<

  11. Speak Sexy on

    Very very good post! It’s nice to see a really intelligent discussion about BDSM for once! – I whole heartedly agree with your points. 🙂

  12. somewhat.alejo on

    Eww. Not to mention the sexism and fatphobia:

    A beautiful woman isn’t going to slap a fat ugly guys celluite ass unless society gives her recompense for it.

    Obviously. Because fat guys’ bodies aren’t really deserving of sexual attention, especially not from a beautiful woman. Who is probably way too oppressed by the patriarchy to consent to eroticism with gross fatboy bodies, anyway, and almost certainly doesn’t have desires of her own, for cellulite ass or otherwise.


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