“BDSM” is Kinky Sex for Rape Apologists

Posted: May 25, 2013 in Uncategorized

“BDSM” is to kinky sex and play as “polyamory” is to negotiatied non-monogamy.

Which is to say: It’s a small, narrow, rigidly defined subset of a much larger and more diverse set of activities, yet its related identity-community considers the term to be all-encompassing. The “community” internally maintains an image of itself as “diverse” by hyperfocusing on small differences within a fairly homogenous population rather than noticing larger ways that their group, as a whole, differs from others who engage in similar activities.

One of the classic indicators of this kind of perceptual distortion is what I’ll call “The 99% Fallacy.” It’s the notion that the issues being worked on by a particular privileged subset of a population are issues universal to all members of that population — and people who lack interest in the community or movement because it is addressing issues irrelevant to them are invited to “come on down” and join up, in order better understand how the dominant group’s issues should, in fact, be a priority for everybody.

I used to be very involved in a well-attended, popular polyamory discussion group that met once a week. At some point, I remember asking some of my lesbian friends who were in non-monogamous relationships why they never came to the group. The response I got was essentially, “Polyamory is for straight people.” I remember being shocked at this, “No, it’s not! I’m not straight and I’m polyamorous! Queer folks are totally welcome in the group!” What my friends told me is that they just weren’t interested in attending, not because they felt unwelcome in the group (“everyone seems very nice”) but because it just had nothing to do with them. The topics that were most frequently discussed had little relevance to their relationships or their lives. The people there didn’t move like them.

At the time, I didn’t understand. I believed that ANYBODY doing negotiated non-monogamy was “polyamorous” and could of course benefit from having conversations about jealousy, and veto power, and whether or not to be out at your kids’ school. In retrospect I realize that my friends already had plenty of community. They didn’t need this group, or the “polyamorous” identity structure, to build relationships that worked for them. They were doing fine on their own. Their showing up, and even encouraging us to talk about queer-specific issues, would be nothing more than a favor to us, an effort to make the group feel more inclusive and diverse. What defined the group as “polyamorous” was not simply that we were doing non-monogamy and other people weren’t. It was also that we were overwhelmingly hetero-centric and other non-monogamous people weren’t.

Similarly, I find the BDSM scene’s insistence that they are “not a monolith” — that they are simply a loose collection of diverse “kinksters” with only their “kinkiness” in common — particularly galling, because lumping a bunch of disparate and largely unrelated intimate/erotic practices into one monolithic identity is BDSM’s entire modus operandi. Pony play, and casual-sexy scarf bondage, and serious mathematically-oriented nautical rope bondage, and authority-fetishization, and bloodying someone’s back with a single-tail are all fairly unrelated activities unless you choose to do some of them simultaneously. The claim that what these activities have in common is that they’re all “kinky” is a circular argument. That’s not what “kinky” means.

I have a serious mind-control fetish. I like to tie people up and be tied up. Spanking turns me on. So does blood. I’m into super-intellectual experimental rolequeer authority play. Doing these things doesn’t mean I’m “doing BDSM” any more than having multiple simultaneous intimate relationships means I’m “polyamorous.” Because what actually distinguishes “BDSM” as an identity structure is not simply that it means enjoying kinky sex/play when others don’t. It also means being overwhelmingly invested in rape culture when other kinky people aren’t.

“Polyamory” is negotiated non-monogamy for straight people, and “BDSM” is kinky sex for rape apologists.

(This, incidentally, is why BDSM is evil while polyamory is just kind of inane.)

The effective response to rape culture in the BDSM scene isn’t to try and reform the scene. “BDSM” isn’t even a thing without rape culture — getting rid of rape culture is tantamount to getting rid of the scene itself. Why not save yourself the headache and just stop “doing BDSM” right now? This doesn’t mean stop having kinky sex. It means stop buying into a monolithic identity-based framework that claims that rape-based kinky sex is the only kind of kinky sex there is.

Comments
  1. Ms Mahler says:

    I’ve only recently begun to recognize these issues, largely thanks to maymay, but also from seeing first hand some of the craziness in polyamory. The responses from polyamorous activists has been downright scary when I try to discuss it with them.

    I don’t actually know enough about BDSM to agree or disagree about rape culture being its defining facet. I also don’t care, because I’ve seen enough to recognize how broken the whole thing is and know I want nothing to do with it.

    The kind of scary thing is the way BDSM has been positioned, so that it feels like its the only way to meet other kinky people. Walking away from BDSM feels like walking away from the only way to find the relationship I crave.

    • thirdxlucky says:

      “The responses from polyamorous activists has been downright scary when I try to discuss it with them.”

      Yeah… Poly folks aren’t bad people, really, they just have kind of goofy half-baked ideas about relationships and they’re INCREDIBLY defensive of their goofy ideas. At least based on my own experience with poly, my sense is that defensiveness comes from a mismatch between the community’s stated values and its participants’ actual values. They really want to believe they’re doing X (a very uncomfortable thing) while still actually doing Y (a relatively comfortable thing) — and they’ll go through all kinds of confusing emotional and intellectual paroxysms trying to explain how Y is really X when you point that discrepancy out to them.

      My hope is that, as more people come to realize that it is actually just okay to build relationships that work for you and that we don’t have to police anybody else’s bodies or behavior in order to do that, “polyamory” will just sort of fade into obscurity. There are lots of communities already, mainly involving queer folks and younger folks, where various kinds of non-monogamy are the norm and nobody feels the need to identify as “polyamorous” in order to justify that.

      “The kind of scary thing is the way BDSM has been positioned, so that it feels like its the only way to meet other kinky people. Walking away from BDSM feels like walking away from the only way to find the relationship I crave.”

      Ohh, man. Yeah. First of all, hugs, if you’d like them. Secondly, that is a totally normal way to feel and it’s the BDSM scene’s own PR machine that exacerbates that feeling in people. You might want to read https://thirdxlucky.wordpress.com/2012/02/08/a-coming-out-story-of-sorts/.

      And, depending on what kind of relationship you crave, this pair of articles questioning assumptions about what “submissives” and “dominants” need in relationships might be helpful: https://thirdxlucky.wordpress.com/2012/05/23/how-not-to-get-fooled-by-a-sad-story-about-yourself/ [deconstructs dominance] and http://maybemaimed.com/2012/12/08/submissive-people-dont-need-dominants-period/ [deconstructs submission].

      Thank you for your great comments on this and the Choking post! :)

  2. Rohan says:

    umm what according to you is BDSM (but not kink) ? In your idea of ‘BDSM is kinky sex for rape apologists’ do you see femdom, the BDSM kind not the non BDSM kinky kind (whatever the hell that means), as male rape ?

  3. Mistabear says:

    Greetings, I’m quite happy to consider your thoughts around bdsm being a place for rape apologists however id like to hear your evidence for that. It seems like you’re assuming that all bdsm play involves sex and that simply isn’t the case.
    I’m a transgender guy and I’ve retained a staunch feminist stance, and I’ve been involved in bdsm for over a decade so I’ve seen a fair bit in this time.
    I am however, midway through thinking it all through so if you have something to back up what you’re saying id like to read it
    Thanks
    Mistabear

  4. thirdxlucky says:

    Hi Mistabear,

    Honestly, I’m not really sure where to start with your question…

    You identify yourself as a staunch feminist, and so it’s a little weird that you’re responding to descriptions of my personal experience by asking for “evidence.” What kind of evidence would you find convincing, exactly, if peoples’ first-hand descriptions of their personal experience with rape apologism in BDSM culture aren’t enough for you?

    I also find it a little weird that you responded to a post including the lines:

    “Pony play, and casual-sexy scarf bondage, and serious mathematically-oriented nautical rope bondage, and authority-fetishization, and bloodying someone’s back with a single-tail are all fairly unrelated activities unless you choose to do some of them simultaneously.”

    and

    “I have a serious mind-control fetish. I like to tie people up and be tied up. Spanking turns me on. So does blood. I’m into super-intellectual experimental rolequeer authority play.”

    with, “It seems like you’re assuming that all bdsm play involves sex [...]”

    I think it’s *very obvious* from what I wrote above that I am not assuming that, so either you didn’t actually read the thoughts that you claim to be “quite happy to consider” or you have a very different understanding of “sex” than I do.

    You say that you’ve been involved in BDSM for over a decade and while, as you say, this means you’ve “seen a fair bit,” it also suggests that you have a deep personal investment in BDSM culture — and maintaining a deep personal investment like that often necessitates being selective about what you see and don’t see.

    I apologize for tearing apart your comment if your sincere intention was to come to a more informed understanding about whether or not the BDSM scene is a safe place for people who are vulnerable to being raped. But, despite your protestations to the contrary, the impression I got from your comment is that you’ve already made up your mind.

  5. […] poor understanding of consent, terrified self-image, and weak personal ethics, combine to make them massively practiced at and invested in the perpetuation of rape apologia on an overwhelming scale. Each of these three faults is designed into many “Dominant” people by their […]

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