Liberating Ourselves in the Boudoir

I’ve been struggling with a few long pieces that I’ve been writing. One of them is a response to a new zine called “Liberating Ourselves in the Boudoir: An Anarchist-Feminist Perspective against BDSM.” The author of this zine is an anti-civ anarchist, and his zine is just…well, I suppose you can read it.

Almost all of this zine simply rehashes the same old radfem arguments against BDSM that we’ve been hearing since the 80s, and it props up the same old straw man of the kinky person who loudly and constantly proclaims how liberatingBDSM is, how radical and world-changing. Where the radfems use “patriarchy” in their arguments, insert “civilization” instead. It’s really nothing new, and yet I feel compelled to challenge it, more so than if it were simply something posted on an anarchist website or in a comment on someone’s blog. This is someone who put a lot of time and effort into creating a finished work, edited and designed. This is a zine that might be picked up and carried by zine distros. This is a zine that a friend might find and read and consider a legitimate viewpoint.

To me, Usul’s arguments are completely specious and delusional — the entire thing is based on the faulty notion that BDSM is the norm among anarchists and radicals, and that we currently “[accept] BDSM as an inseparable aspect of human sexuality, as a universal presence in social spaces, as a given interest we all must have.” He writes about BDSM as if everyone in the anarchist scene thinks it’s totally cool, and he’s one of the very few people speaking out against it. I read this, and I think, “Really? Where do you live? Sounds like that’s where I should be…”

But then I start to wonder. I wonder if there are others who are disturbed by BDSM who don’t ever speak up because they’re afraid of coming off as oppressive or judgmental. I wonder how many people in my social circle would say the same thing — that they feel that acceptance of BDSM is the norm, and they feel uncomfortable about that. I wonder.

At any rate, I’ve talked to someone in Chicago who’s putting together an actual zine in response to this one, and I’m working on an essay that she might include in it. I’ll post it here when it’s done. In the meantime, I’d love to hear what other folks think of this zine, especially other kinky anarchists.

11 comments so far

  1. geopunk on

    Hello, kinky anarchist here. 🙂

    Read through the zine. Same old bullshit arguments I’ve heard before, and he doesn’t back up or cite any of the “history” he recounts. I mean, is he seriously arguing that vanilla sex is always less oppressive than BDSM sex? That kinky lesbians are.. somehow… part of the patriarchy? I sure love that a cis man is there to tell us all what is and is not feminist.

  2. […] in the Boudoir, An Anarchist-Feminist Perspective Against BDSM” (brought to my attention via Subversive Sub) who feels that BDSM is categorically unhealthy, I had reached the conclusion ‘The damage is […]

  3. Anonymous on

    Hi! I had some thoughts on that zine that I thought I could share.

    Well first – I don’t care for it. Not just because I disagree, which I do, but because what the hell does civilization have to do with BDSM.. really? Seems like he’s stretching his anti-civ philosophy to try to give credit to his arguments…. anyhow I quoted a few things I found interesting (as in poorly argued points) and my thoughts.

    *”I wonder if these people know the horrifying and vomit- inducing story of Armin Meiwes and his victim Bernd Brandes, who consented to being fucked, and killed, and eaten. Good job, civilization; well done, patriarchy.” – It’s ridiculous to blame this behavior on BDSM. Those two people (although to be fair I am not familiar with the case) were obviously disturbed folks and it’s sad, but it is anachronistic to place BDSM at the route of the problem. The same argument is made about teenagers who cut themselves and shoot people being victims of too much rock music. People participate in BDSM because they have urges, they do not have urges because they participate in BDSM. This should be especially clear when involving physical pain.

    Also, if he’s going to connect that act to civilization he should actually argue that. I think most radicals could divine a connection to patriarchy with out much help, but it appears as though he is applying his anti-civ framework to this issue, which if nothing else warrants some explanation.

    Later in the zine he connects BDSM to civilization. I’ll give him that on the surface there are overlaps – domination for example. However, I think that this is undermined by two things; one the issue of consent; two, the question- what if I’m not anti-civ? If a person consents to having a partner dominate them in whatever way they see fit, is that not different than forced submission, regardless of the influences of patriarchy. I’m not trying to dismiss the influence of patriarchy on people’s desires; I’m just trying to point out that even taking that in, there is a difference. To address the second point, his argument is resting on the fact that the reader believes that civilization is inherently dominating. If a reader, for example me, doesn’t necessarily believe that then what the hell does it even matter. Not all anarchists are anti-civ and good luck making that argument to anyone outside of the anarchist movement. I understand that that’s just where he’s coming from, but it’s not an effective attack at all.

    *”how is BDSM stopping or even challenging the social and political institutions that keep us all imprisoned? ” – Maybe it isn’t. It probably isn’t. It might be liberating for individuals and narrow BDSm oriented communities, but it probably isn’t going to be the thing that brings down capitalism, patriarchy, or even civilization. If only we could all fuck our way to the revolution right? My point is, so what. Is smoking cigarettes, eating burritos, drinking PBR, and not showering revolutionary? Does everything we do have to be revolutionary, especially if it is not counter to our ideals?

    *”All of the friends and acquaintances I’ve known who are into BDSM are victims of one or more of the previously listed symptoms of civilized life/patriarchy/oppression, &c.. ” — Implying that people who are not into BDSM are less affected by these things? Is anyone outside the scope of these influences; I believe that to be pretty impossible. Because they are victims of these things does it make their urges less legitimate?

    I totally agree with you in that he is making BDSm sound like it has some sort of huge influence on the anarchist community. I know that most of the anarchists I know completely look down on BDSM culture and activity. I’m not saying he’s full of shit, but it sort of sounds like it doesn’t it?

    Also that whole paragraph about what his kinky friends like to do is just an emotional appeal to choke the reader up if they have a queasy mind. It’s a basic logical fallacy. Describing things in a way that illicits an emotional response is not sufficient basis for those things being bad.

    On page 12 he says “And those who consent to slavery, domination, and patriarchy are
    helping these things thrive just as much as the slavers, dominators, and patriarchs. ” – — what happens in a person(s) bedroom is really no indication as to what they really believe. It’s here that I find evidence of him not being very aware of the BDSm scene. Sure there are people who are patriarchal ass holes, who are domineering, who are unsafe, but those people exist everywhere, not exclusively within the BDSM scene. Also, just because a couple decides to tie each other up sometimes does not mean that one of them is subservient to the other in any other way. I don’t know if you’ve had similar experiences, but many of the serious BDSM couples I know – the safe, sane, and consensual ones – are some of the most equal and aware partners… and they’re not even anarchists.

    Sorry this went on for so long. I hope you don’t mind – I just kind of got going and couldn’t stop. Anyhow, I hope this is helpful in some way. Thanks for posting the zine – I’m glad that someone is talking about this stuff.

    In love and struggle,

  4. ranat on

    I am really not buying the ‘Radicals and queers and especially radical queers are more oppressed so they have more fucked up sex’ argument Usul makes. Wouldn’t the people who are doing the oppressing have more fucked up sex (the kind that doesn’t acknowledge real desire)? Also, where are these kinky anarchists he speaks of? Where can I find them?

    I find it interesting that he uses the same concept brought to light by Derrick Jensen about toxic mimics as I did in my comments here on rape play. Usul sees BDSM as a toxic mimic of sex, whereas I saw BDSM as a parody of a toxic mimic of sex. My perception has changed to I see BDSM tropes as parodies of toxic mimics of sex. I’m just now beginning to free myself from those tropes. They are like gruel, enough to keep me alive but not enough to live.

    Also, like many arguments of this sort, Usul only addresses dominant women as sex-workers, and he only addresses submissive men as perverted rich white men. Cuz no woman actually wants to be dominant except for money, and no man is submissive who isn’t a privileged oppressor creep. Obviously. Oh my God, I’m turning into Jones.

  5. d on

    Here is a sample paragraph:
    “And I don’t think BDSM is good and wonderful and liberating,
    no matter how many people insist that it is. I also don’t think for half a second that just because it’s consensual, it’s good and healthy. Pretty much every time I’ve had a discussion about this topic in person, people are quick to dismiss any rejection or questioning of BDSM with, “It’s consensual!” I wonder if these people know the horrifying and vomitinducing story of Armin Meiwes and his victim Bernd Brandes, who consented to being fucked, and killed, and eaten. Good job, civilization; well done, patriarchy.”

    This is horribly written and not a real argument. It doesn’t really get better from there. I’m actually surprised a Derrick Jensenian moralist hadn’t wed his ideas to radical feminism sooner. If you fall for one stupid moral ideology, why not tack on another?

    Libelous hate speech diatribes against sexual minorities have no place in anarchist discourse, but it’s impossible to dialogue with it. It ought to be treated in the same way as a treatise about why homosexuality is oppressive (I mean, the Greeks and Romans did it!! ego!! civilization!! it’s oppressive!!). Bash back, as they say.

  6. […] the Subversive Submissive linked to a new anti-kink zine (you can download a pdf of the zine online for free, I promise […]

  7. d on

    Also, is it not hilarious that the pamphlet was written by a dude?

  8. subversive_sub on

    @geopunk — Yes, it pretty much seems to be a recycling of 80s-era radfem stuff, just inserting a few new keywords like “civilization.”

    @Alyse — Oh, there are *so* many logical fallacies in this piece! As for the anti-civ stuff, I agree that he never really makes a good case for why BDSM is the product of civilization, except for his vague (unsubstantiated) reference to BDSM not existing in hunter-gatherer societies. Of course BDSM as we know it today didn’t exist…but the idea that NOBODY liked to play with pain or power before civilization is pretty absurd. Part of BDSM is the enjoyment of pain as a method of altering consciousness and/or as a personal trial, which is not totally unknown in indigenous cultures…

    @Ranat — Well, of course, you don’t really exist, so.

    @D — Yeah, that particular passage wowed me. Consensual BDSM is the same as cannibalism, which is the same as patriarchy, which is the same as civilization. Huh?

    It does seem impossible to dialogue with it, mostly because, well, the arguments just don’t make sense.

  9. Ranat on

    “Part of BDSM is the enjoyment of pain as a method of altering consciousness and/or as a personal trial, which is not totally unknown in indigenous cultures…”

    I’ve had it in my head for a while to do (hopefully several) posts on the exchange of pain and control in indigenous and/or hunter-gatherer cultures. The only ones I can think of off the top of my head who use pain for other than cosmetic reasons are several North American plains peoples in the Sun Dance; the nations of the Iroquois Confederacy, where people might ask friends to torture them if they kept having dreams about being captured in battle and tortured; and the Cherokee, where women (and I believe children) would make a gauntlet of whips for captured men who had to make it to the house still standing in order to be adopted rather than killed (which is, honestly, kind of awesome).

    I have only found one source for the latter two, in “This Land Was Theirs” by Wendell H. Oswalt.

    Need to do more research.

  10. Magpie on

    I want to point out that this zine is in no way supported, endorsed, published, or anything by Strangers In A Tangled Wilderness. We’ve published one of Usul’s other zines (before this one came out), and that’s all. I feel very strongly about disassociating this from us: we wouldn’t publish this. We don’t agree with it, and personally I consider it quite detrimental.

  11. subversive_sub on

    @Magpie: Hey, thanks — that’s a real relief to hear. I’ll edit my post to reflect this.

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