Why the “Choking Question” is a Litmus Test for Domism

Posted: April 15, 2013 in Uncategorized

From: Why the “Choking Question” is a Litmus Test for Domism

The recently released Predator Alert Tool for OkCupid is an add-on for OkCupid that highlights Match Questions related to sexual consent and/or violence and flags users whose public answers to those questions might be cause for concern. Although the tool could be modified to use any number of “red flag” criteria, the current iteration uses a default set of questions from David Lisak and Paul M. Miller’s 2002 study “Repeat Rape and Multiple Offending Among Undetected Rapists.”

One of those questions is: “Have you ever choked someone who you were in some kind of intimate relationship with (e.g., you wrapped your hands or some object around their throat)?

Although PAT-OKC has gotten a HUGE positive response from OkCupid users, a small but vocal subset has expressed concern about the choking question and another similar Lisak and Miller question: “Have you ever punched or kicked or repeatedly slapped with an open hand (e.g., two or more times in a single incident) someone who you were in some kind of intimate relationship with?” Their critique is that these activities — choking, punching, and kicking a partner — can be done consensually and that it is therefore unfair of the PAT-OKC code to tar consensual chokers, punchers and kickers with the same brush as people who commit domestic violence.

The conclusion some of these concerned users seem to draw is that PAT-OKC’s author, Maymay, “appears not to be very friendly towards the BDSM community.” Those making this critique seem to be missing some important context. (At least, some of them do. Others are very familiar with Maymay’s position within BDSM culture and appear to be simply concern-trolling.) Of course, there is a long history of consensual BDSM being conflated with abuse by antagonistic outsidersMaymay, however, is themself a long-time practitioner of BDSM and, most importantly, a radical supporter of the rights of submissive-identified people. Within BDSM, submissives and many others are harmed by a cultural hierarchy that privileges dominant identities and dominant behaviors above all others. In other words, Maymay is not a BDSM outsider who’s attacking “kink“; they are an insider who’s fighting domism.

PAT-OKC is, first and foremost, a tool for fighting rape culture. Forced to choose, then, it makes sense for PAT-OKC to prioritize getting as much information as possible to potential rape victims over potentially mislabeling some dominants as “predators.” Especially given that the answers to any red-flag questions are displayed prominently at the top of a user’s profile where that user can address them.

This tool is an early contribution to the ongoing project of building feminist and anti-rape culture initiatives into the architecture of the Internet, rather than simply using the Internet as an additional platform for awareness-raising. Maymay has asked very widely for help and feedback with improving the tool. Having experimented with it quite a bit (and having been “red flagged” myself on the basis of the choking question), I think there is a lot of room for improvement. Which is to say that there are a ton of cool and exciting new ways technologies like this might be built-out to better fight oppression culture online. Better protecting the reputations of dominants on OkCupid is not one of them.

I could get into a contentious conversation here about the politics inherent to power play and the responsibilities that I believe come along with topping re: owning one’s shit, but that’s not actually germane to the point: Even if YKINMKBYKIOK, so what? PAT-OKC’s purpose isn’t to educate the OkCupid using populace about the difference between BDSM and abuse, nor is that Maymay’s or any other BDSMer’s job. (Unless that BDSM’er happens to be, say, a dominant-identified OkCupider who wants to choke a partner and isn’t sure how they’d feel about that. Then they can have a conversation about it with that person, perhaps instigated by the red flag that popped up on that dominant user’s profile!)

What’s important about PAT-OKC is that it’s trying to fight rape culture. Not just the sub-culturally specific microcosm of rape culture that takes advantage how it’s tricky to negotiate consensual non-con, but the BIG UMBRELLA of rape culture that says if you buy a girl dinner she owes you sex. To do that well, it needs your assistance, suggestions, testing, and feedback to improve. It needs you to talk about it to your friends, share it with your networks, and simply use it. When the thing that blocks you from doing that when you otherwise would is, essentially, a concern about potential “false accusations” of dominants, you’re putting the needs of dominants above the needs of potential rape victims.

Whoa. Seriously?

Many, many people have expressed concern to Maymay about the choking question and Maymay has taken the time to respond in several places. I’m not surprised by the fact that their responses are getting more and more terse with repeated asking. I know that I, personally, as an avowed and red-flagged consensual choker, am sick of hearing about it. Prioritizing that issue is inherently domist. And taking a person who’s working hard to fight rape culture to task — especially if you know them to be a submissive-identified person — because they’re working in a way that isn’t attentive enough to the needs of dominants is, well, insulting.

So, if your first response to PAT-OKC has been a critique of the choking question, even a very politely phrased critique, you may have received a rather terse reply. Rather than wondering why Maymay is being so mean to you, your time might be better spent asking yourself: Why did the choking question feel like such a big deal to you in the first place?

If you’re involved with the BDSM scene, regardless of your role orientation, chances are that you’ve internalized some domist beliefs about the ego-needs of dominants being more important than the safety of submissives. You might not even be aware of them. You might believe that this hierarchy the only way to think about BDSM.

It’s not.

  1. Ms Mahler says:

    I recently added the PAT tool to OKC. I’m not in breath play, but I did answer yes to the question about slapping someone multiple times. I not only don’t care that I will be highlighted to other people as a potential predator, I think it is a good thing. From a self interested point of view, anyone who sees my note on the question that said slapping was part of consensual kinky sex and still sees me as a predator would not be a good match for me in the first place. From a broader perspective – other people’s safety is more important than my ability to get dates. And anyone who can’t recognize that simple fact is not someone I want anything to do with.

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