Archive for December, 2013

Rolequeer: Defining Our Terms

Posted: December 23, 2013 in Uncategorized

“Dominants play to win. Submissives play to lose. Rolequeers play to quit the game.”

The term “rolequeer” was coined by Relsqui in 2011, first popularized by maymay via Twitter, and has up to this point primarily been theorized by R. Foxtale, in conjunction with maymay and others. It was first explored publicly by Kristen Stubbs at Transcending Boundaries 2012 workshop entitled “Queering Role in BDSM Play.” Key discussions of the concept can be found at and

“Rolequeer” was initially conceived of as an identity within the context of the BDSM subculture, but it ultimately extends beyond that scene’s narrow bounds and describes the experience of many people who have little or no association with BDSM. At its most fundamental level rolequeerness is about “queering” — or disrupting binary notions of — human relationships to power.

There is a widely held belief in both BDSM and mainstream culture that the erotic is dependent on a power differential, on the tension between and ultimate overpowering of a “passive” participant by an “active” participant. Radical feminism rejects this notion of the erotic as fundamentally rooted in oppressive hierarchy. And rolequeerness begins by drawing on that rejection, but it goes further, theorizing possibilities for complex, agentic, and ultimately liberating erotic interface with various positional orientations towards power. (As opposed to the suggestion by contemporary radfems that we should simply somehow eliminate power dynamics from our play.)

In conjunction with troubling the “Dominant/Submissive” — or Powerful/Vulnerable — binary, rolequeerness also complicates binary opposition between “sex” vs. “violence” and the binary opposition between “abusive” vs. “consensual”, arguing that these can never be cleanly differentiated categories within a holistically coercive and violent oppression culture. It points out that, if we are truly concerned about respecting each others’ agency, we must insist on a higher bar for “obtaining consent” from our fellow humans than simply being granted permission to treat each other in violent and abusive ways.

As with other types of queerness, “rolequeer” does not simply refer to how we play in the bedroom or at the club; it describes our relationship to the world around us, to the roles that we have been handed via our positionalities within oppression culture.

Ultimately, rolequeerness centers acts of self-liberation and co-liberation by encouraging (and eroticizing) a traitorous relationship to our own power and a compassionate celebration of each others’ vulnerabilities. Rolequeerness provides a methodological framework for “downward mobility” inside the power gradient of oppression culture. As such, rolequeers refuse to accept cultural capital as a consolation prize for victimization. We maintain that, in a culture in which power corrupts, choosing vulnerability is a move toward freedom.

Rolequeers are submissive as fuck and cocky as hell about it. Break the cycle. Quit the game.

What is Rolequeer Play?

Posted: December 15, 2013 in Uncategorized

[Reblogged from Tumblr]

I’m a genderqueer identified male-bodied masochist and submissive who critically analyzes kinks. This blog originated as a critical kink blog, but has sort of morphed into my personal tumblr, so it also deals with my feminist politics, left market anarchism, and prison abolitionism.

Here’s why I reject the idea that one should never “kink shame” and that all fetishes are valid:

Subjects should not be off the table for critical analysis simply because they turn us on. Racism, sexism, authoritarianism, and emotional abuse do not magically become totally okay because of consent.

Opposing “kink shaming” is dangerous because it establishes a sphere of action and thought that is not subject to critique. Furthermore, the sphere it puts outside the realm of criticism is a very important sphere. Sexuality is a realm of human interaction where abuse and violence are rampant. It is a realm of human interaction that deals with our deepest emotions. It is, therefore, a realm that we should be able to think critically about.

Declaring that preferences in this sphere cannot be critiqued is a terrible idea.

This blog exists to analyze racism, sexism, transmisogyny, rape culture, pitfalls for abuse, and other dangers associated with various types of kinks.

I will not make my own fetishes exempt to criticism. Here’s hoping we can have good discourse.

– Kinky Kink Shamer

So, I just want to signalboost this person’s blog because, whoa, AWESOME.

And because I want to ask a question: Where is everybody else? Where are the other radical rolequeer folks who are engaged in exegetic critique of their own kinks and still playing with power in ways that feel both hot and liberatory? The kinksters who, without self-flagellating over it (except maybe literally), are working to be honest, transparent, and conscientious about the way their complicity with oppression culture manifests in their erotic lives? I know you’re out there. I want to know what you’re thinking. Even more importantly, I want to know how you’re playing.

See, I have this project. It’s to explicate the ways that “D/s” and other erotic power games can become a tool or training ground for resisting oppression culture:

My ideal model of BDSM is a bit like an erotic Theater of the Oppressed for two. (Or three or however many people you’re playing with.) BDSM is a sandbox in which to learn more about how oppression, discrimination, violence, violation, abuse, etc. feels – so that we can more easily recognize it when it happens to us, or when we are doing it to someone else, in the wider world.

– Bandana Blog: I want Submissives to Take Better Care of Themselves

This project involves three parts:

1. Deconstruct the binary opposition between “Dominant” and “Submissive“.

2. Deconstruct the binary opposition between “Consensual” and “Abusive.”

3. Build something new: Rolequeer Play.

If BDSM is the erotic fetishization of oppression culture, then rolequeer play is the erotic fetishization of liberation from oppression. And it should function in a very similar way to what I describe in The Invisible Girl:

If I play with oppression in my sex, if I consciously learn what it feels like in my body, then it becomes easier for me to see and feel oppression working surreptitiously in the world.

Except that, in rolequeer play, we’re not working on developing our somatic sense of what oppression feels like; we’re practicing resisting oppression and learning what that feels like. Rolequeer play is all about breaking power dymanics.

The erotic climax in a rolequeer scene is when someone safewords, when the bottom says “no” to the top and means it, when the top makes themself obsolete, when the bottom takes the top’s power away or the top freely gives it to them, if there’s even a “bottom” and “top” to begin with. Rolequeer play is two people submitting to each other simultaneously, Submissive solidarity within the context of a scene, Submissives retroactively withdrawing consent from Dominants they’ve played with and infiltrating Dominant headspace to become double-agents, and Dominants getting excited when that happens. You might be a rolequeer if: you think it’s incredibly hot to watch someone remove their own restraints.

Steps #1 and #2 of this project are well underway. Step #1 has mostly been an extension work maymay has been doing for years. (But one of the reasons I was first drawn so intensely to this part maymay’s work was because it put words to something I’d been living and thinking about for most of my life.) Step #2 is mostly still a big blob of inchoate thoughts, but they’re starting to get better articulated in some of mymore recent posts.

Step #3, I’ve been doing a lot of work on in private. In addition to writing a lot of rolequeer porn, maymay and I have spent the past year deconstructing and reconstructing our kinks together, asking questions about why we’re turned on by the things we’re turned on by, and then figuring out ways to reframe traditional D/s fetishes such as “orgasm denial,” “mind control,” “service,” “pet play,” etc. in ways that still get us both hot but don’t rely on hierarchy to function.

I don’t feel comfortable sharing many details about that publicly. Yet. But we are documenting the fuck out of our process. (By which I mean “sexting.”)

If you are doing the same, and you feel comfortable sharing what it looks like for you, I’d love to hear about yours.

[Reblogged from Tumblr]

thegreatgodum asked:

I liked that post, but don’t think the person u quoted was actually talking about victim blaming. got the impression they were still in a legalistic framework, thinking well we shd acknowledge a difference btwn someone who feels raped by a Bob who didn’t want to rape them & someone who feels raped by a Bob who did want to rape them, because we need to deal with those Bobs differently. not understanding that you agree and just want that difference separate from the consent/nonconsent query, yes?

That quote actually came from a much longer post, which I’d encourage you to read (follow the link after the quote), in which the author expresses in several different ways that she’s concerned consent-as-felt disempowers survivors (of which she is one) by giving us too much control over how we understand/describe/define our experiences. I do think that is victim-blaming.

In this case, perhaps, self-directed victim blaming. And she actually goes on to talk explicitly about how a felt-consent framework complicates her understanding of her own rape. I think that’s a pretty cool part of her post:


If rape is only a felt sense, what does someone who feels badly but can’t call what happened rape do? It took me six months to call what happened to me rape and abuse. I felt terrible but I couldn’t articulate what had happened to me. I couldn’t call it what it was. There was just so much shame. I was a feminist who did consent work, so shouldn’t I have known better? Maybe I imagined the whole thing. Maybe it wasn’t that bad. I’m a dom, and he’s a sub, so he couldn’t possibly rape me or abuse me. (note: I recognize all of the previous statements are complete bullshit, but it was how I thought at the time.) I wanted to pretend everything was fine. A rape still happened. Was I not raped during the time when I didn’t have the strength to address what had happened?

Of course, she’s asking this as a reductio-ad-absurdum sort of rhetorical question. But that’s actually a legitimate thing to explore. It took me a long time, also — about three months, in my case — to name what happened to me as “rape.” This “lag time” is pretty normal for people who are sexually assaulted by someone they have an existing relationship with. And, over the nine years since it happened, I’ve asked myself lots of times about whether what happened was “really” rape, or was I just “taken advantage of” and I’m making a big deal out of nothing, or maybe I “started it” and it was actually something I wanted, etc. etc.

I still don’t know if what happened to me was categorically, irrefutably “rape” according to some kind of objective standard. What I do know is that, at this point in my life, I mostly experience what happened to me as rape. And so that’s what it was. Does that mean that, during the time when I wasn’t able to address that with myself using that word, I wasn’t raped? No. It means that there was a time in my life when I was telling myself I hadn’t been raped even though I had been. I was wrong.

Is there a possibility, in the future, that my understanding of my experience might change again? That, when I’m 45, I’ll decide that I was just “taken advantage of” and believe that my 30 year old self’s description of the situation as “rape” was wrong. Yes. That might happen. I’ve been wrong before. I could be wrong again. I very well might be wrong right now.

What does that mean about the “reality” of whether I was raped? Well, why does that matter? Does that matter more than me getting the support that I need, right now?

Right now, I feel about 93% percent certain that what happened to me was rape. Because I was drunk, because the person who raped me was someone I found attractive, because I don’t know whether I explicitly said ‘no’ while it was happening, etc. I have some lingering doubts about whether my experience “counts”. But if the only way I could legitimately say, “I was raped” was if I could claim with 100% certainty beyond a shadow of a doubt that “rape” was the only accurate and appropriate word that could possibly describe what happened that night, I wouldn’t be able to. Neither would the majority of victims of sexual violence.

So, given that we’re stuck in a gaslighting culture that, as Crosswords says in her post, “twists things, especially for women, people socialized as women, and bottoms (because of how gender maps onto D/s roles). We’re trained not to think of our violations as rape,” I think we need a model of consent that makes space for our fluctuating and sometimes funhouse-mirror-like senses of our own experiences with sexual violence.

One that says, “If today, what happened to you feels like rape and you want to seek out the support that exists for rape survivors, do that. And if you didn’t call it rape right away because it took a while to really hit you, or if you wake up tomorrow or next year and realize it doesn’t feel like it was rape, and you just want people to leave you alone and accept that you’re fine, that’s okay too. That doesn’t mean you’re not entitled to seek support today.”

For what it’s worth, Crosswords, I do appreciate your effort to engage thoughtfully with this work. I disagree with most of your critiques, because I think they’re still coming from a standpoint that treats victim-blaming and rape apologism as a given, rather than acknowledging them as problems to be solved. I have some other thoughts in response to your post, that I may or may not get a chance to write up at some point. But I’m glad that other people are thinking about this stuff, and I’m glad you’re one of them, and I would just encourage you to think a little bigger.


we shd acknowledge a difference btwn someone who feels raped by a Bob who didn’t want to rape them & someone who feels raped by a Bob who did want to rape them, because we need to deal with those Bobs differently. not understanding that you agree and just want that difference separate from the consent/nonconsent query, yes?

Yes. What I wish people would understand is that I’m not really talking about how to deal with Bobs at all. The current consent conversation is so fixated on “What do we do about the Bobs?” I want to be talking about, “What can we do for the Andys?”

I mean, look, our society deals with pre-meditated murder differently than we deal with involuntary manslaughter, but we acknowledge both things as being on a continuum of killing people. Likewise, we should deal with people who intentionally violate consent differently from people who unknowingly violate consent, and still acknowledge that all of those people are on a continuum of rapists.

And I just don’t have a whole lot more to say about that — other than that, as a pretty strong believer in prison abolition, I don’t think the solution to any of those problems is non-consensually putting human beings in cages, much less continuing to support a system that exists for the express purpose of non-consensually putting lots of young, innocent, poor, black and brown humans in cages.

If other people want to spend time working on figuring out anti-racist, non-coercive, community-oriented ways to deal with various kinds of consent-violators, that’s fucking awesome and I’ll be super excited to signal boost their work. But that’s not what I’m doing right now. People constantly flailing about how a model of consent that centers survivor experiences is going to impact what happens to rapists is a total distraction.

In other words, exactly what you said: How we deal with rapists is a separate question from how we understand the consent/non-consent question. Right now, I think the second question is a lot more important for survivors than the first question. At least, it’s more important for me.


Who Controls Consent?

Posted: December 14, 2013 in Uncategorized

There’s been a lot of chatter over maymay’s and my recent essay You Can Take it Back: Consent as a Felt Sense which argues that “consenting” does not mean “giving permission” but rather “having an internal experience of okayness.” One of the concerns that’s come up over and over is the fear that this gives survivors of sexual violence too much control over determining whether or not we were raped; so much control, in fact, that it might be bad for us.

I’ve heard this very same concern expressed from everyone from your run-of-the-mill rape apologizing MRAs to progressive feminists with a background in survivor advocacy. Being a progressive feminist with a background in survivor advocacy myself, I understand how, at first blush, the ideas discussed in “Consent as a Felt Sense” might initially sound problematic for survivors. But the exact same fear is being expressed by people on opposite sides of the political spectrumg (if we can really call Survivor Advocacy vs Rape Apologism a “political spectrum”) and each of those sides attributes our ideas to the “other side” (rape apologists think we’re “radical feminists” and radical feminists think we’re rape apologists.) This cross-armed fingerpointing is generally a sign that the “problem” with an idea is not that the idea is inherently problematic but, rather, that it doesn’t fit easily into the current political binary around that topic. In other words, we’re saying something new.

New ideas take some time to understand and sometimes require painstaking explanation. Certainly, we wish that our ideas and other tools for fighting rape culture would just make sense off the bat and be widely incorporated right away. Because the sooner that happens, the better things get for survivors faster. Maymay has an observably visionary track record of instigating positive social change; I have a great deal of faith in my own intellectual clarity, political integrity, and interpersonal compassion; and peoples’ actual lives are at stake. But since that’s demonstrably not enough (and perhaps it shouldn’t be) to get most people to give a new idea the benefit of the doubt, to try building on it first rather than just trying to poke holes in it, I’ll give the painstaking explanation thing a shot. (Much thanks, as always, to maymay for being the world’s best sounding board and for thinking through these ideas with me.)

I want to address these two concerns — that consent-as-felt gives survivors too much power, and that the power it gives survivors could be harmful to us — separately, so let’s start with the first one. What kind of power does a consent-as-felt model gives survivors that we don’t already have? First, we need to understand what each of these two models is doing with consent.

“Non-Consensual Sex” vs. “Sex I Did Not Consent To”

A consent-as-permission model is using “consent” as criterion to assess sex. In a consent-as-permission model, sex is defined as “consensual” if all the people involved agreed that X would not happen and then X did not happened. It is “non-consensual” if people agreed that X would not happen, and then X happened. The focus is on whether or not the sex itself met the conditions of the contract.

A consent-as-felt model is using “consent” as a criterion to describe human experience. In a consent-as-felt model, our focus is on the experiences of the people having the sex, not on the sex itself as an abstract object. We want to stop arguing about whether a particular instance of sex between Bob and Andy was, itself, objectively “consensual” or “non-consensual” and instead concern ourselves with the questions, “Did Andy consent to the sex he had with Bob?” and “Did Bob consent to the sex he had with Andy?”

Here’s an analogy that might help clarify the distinction I’m making: Sometimes, people engage in an activity together and we ask if they “had a good time.” When I ask Bob and Andy, “Did y’all have a good time?” I’m not asking if the time they had was objectively good. I’m asking about how they each (and collectively) experienced their time together. If Bob had a good time, and Andy had a good time, then chances are they might say, “Yeah! We had a great time together!”

But maybe Bob had a great time and Andy had a terrible time. Maybe Andy had a bad time because of Bob, or maybe Bob knew Andy was having a bad time and didn’t care, or even wanted Andy to have a bad time. Or maybe Bob thought Andy was having a good time, maybe he even asked and Andy said he was having a good time, but he wasn’t. Maybe even Andy thought he was having a good time, at the time, and then later he looked back and thought, “Whoa, that actually wasn’t fun at all.” Or maybe Andy feels kinda mixed about the situation and isn’t really sure whether he enjoyed himself or not.

In all of these situations, what remains the same is that Bob’s (or anyone else’s) second-hand assessment of whether Andy had a good time doesn’t change whether Andy actually had a good time. So, it’s ridiculous for people who are not Andy to get into an argument about whether not Andy had a good time. And it’s even more ridiculous to argue about whether “the time Bob and Andy had together was good” based on whether Bob’s or Andy’s experience of that time is more valid.

Likewise, when we talk about consent, asking “Did Bob and Andy have consensual sex?” is akin to asking “Did Bob and Andy have a good time?” What matters is not the objective goodness or badness, the consensual or non-consensual quality, of the “time” itself. What matters is what Bob and Andy each experienced with regard to their time together.

Did Andy have an experience that felt like rape? If he did, he did. Period. Andy experienced rape. We don’t need to take our assessment any further. Andy had a bad time. We don’t need to start asking weird existential questions about whether that means, abstractly, that “the time Andy and Bob had was bad.” We need to start asking questions like, “How is Andy doing? What does he need right now? Why didn’t Bob notice or care that Andy was having a bad time? How should we let Bob’s other friends know about that? Who’s the best person to talk to Bob about this? Is this a worst-case scenario in which the only solution is to prevent Bob from spending any more time with people? If so, what’s the most ethical way we can ensure that happens?”

Notice that in the example above, punishing Bob is pretty low down on the To Do List compared to taking care of Andy, taking care of Bob and Andy’s community, and getting information about Andy’s experience to other people who might need it. Consent-as-felt still has space for strategizing around “deterrence”, but it’s not the be-all end-all of the consent conversation.

This focus on responding to survivors’ often fluid and complicated internal experiences first, rather than on determining the Objective Verifiable Consent Status of a Given Sexual Instance, is a problem for a consent-as-permission model, because consent-as-permission is first and foremost about putting people in jail. Instead of asking people who have sex, “Hey, how’d that go? Did you have a good time? Do you need anything?” it hangs a big glaring neon sign above our bedrooms blinking, “ALL TIMES MUST BE GOOD TIMES. BAD TIMES ARE PUNISHABLE BY LAW.” It’s no surprise that consent-as-permission then leads to some totally wacky, neurotic, self-destructive, and dangerous self-signaling and social-signaling around whether or not we’re actually consenting to stuff.

So, what is the power that consent-as-felt gives survivors that we don’t already have under consent-as-permission?

It doesn’t give us the power to redefine historical facts. But that’s because whether an instance of sex was “consensual” or “non-consensual” is not a factual descriptor of sex itself; it’s just a shorthand way of talking about whether the people involved felt okay about the sex they had. It gives us the power to reassess our own experience — and it claims that what we actually experienced matters more than what other people think we “should” have experienced based on “the facts” about what happened in the situation.

Consent-as-felt gives survivors the power to name our experience of a situation as consensual, or non-consensual, or “not exactly non-consensual but not the most consensual thing I’ve ever done,” or “I’m not really sure right now. It’s complicated. I feel sort of weird about it,” etc. in whatever way feels most true to us at the time. And it says that’s what matters most.

Consent-as-Felt in a Victim-Blaming Culture

Now I’ll go back and address the second part of the concern, which is that having this kind of power is dangerous for survivors in some way. Arguably, because if we give survivors total control over determining whether or not we were raped, then if we do decide to call our experience “rape”, that makes being raped our fault.

Or, as Crosswords puts it in this post:

If consent is a felt sense, then the onus of consent falls on the person whose consent has been violated. If someone feels that their consent has been violated, and consent is a felt sense, then it removes the fact that the person who violated consent purposefully did something wrong. In a sense, rapists are no longer responsible for rape in this model. People who feel raped are responsible for rape.

Suggesting that by describing my experience as rape and saying that matters more than anybody else’s description of my experience, I’m now “responsible for [my own] rape” is technically true in some kind of very esoteric linguistic sense; but in the real world, that’s a type of victim blaming. By choosing to call my experience “rape” based on feeling like I’ve been raped, I haven’t absolved the person who raped me of raping me. Quite the opposite. I’ve said that person who raped me did rape me no matter what anybody else says about it.

So, let’s take one more look at our analogy about having a good time. Let’s say I run into Andy somewhere and I say, “Hey! How’s it going? I heard you and Bob hung out! He said you two had a good time.”

And Andy says, “Seriously? He said we had a good time? I mean, we were supposed to get together and study for the test on Monday. But, first of all, he picked me up an hour and a half late. And then he had to run, like, seven errands, so that took another hour and a half. And probably half an hour of that was me sitting in the car idling outside of this super sketchy house on the edge of town while he was in there doing some kind of drug deal. When we finally got to the coffee shop where we were supposedly going to study, he spent the entire time talking my ear off about this girl he met at a party last week and how he’s ‘totally going to bang her’, and he was incredibly rude to the waitstaff, and knocked over an entire cup of coffee that drenched all my notes for the test. It was fucking stupid. At some point, he disappeared to the bathroom, probably to do whatever drugs he’d picked up at that house, and after that he was totally wound up and couldn’t sit still, and I just wanted to go home anyway, so we left. Out in the parking lot he got all hopped about doing some kind of Fight Club thing, and kept lunging at me and trying to get me to punch him, which I totally did not want to do, but I finally just agreed to punch him once so that he’d take me home, and then he HIT ME BACK! By the time I got home, I was just pissed off and exhausted and I didn’t get any studying done and I’m probably going to fail that test on Monday and now I have this fucking bruise on my shoulder. So, no, I would not say we had a good time.”

Yes, of course, there are going to be some assholes who hear this story and respond with, “Oh, come on Andy. That sounds like a good time to me. Bob’s a fun guy. You just have a bad attitude.” And, again, that’s victim-blaming.

Victim-blaming happens because we live in a culture of victim-blaming. Victim-blaming happens under consent-as-permission all the time. (“She said no.” “But she said no in her underwear.”) And no, consent-as-felt does not make the culture of victim-blaming go away. Victim-blaming is a problem, and it’s one that needs to be addressed. Since the way that society victim-blames survivors under consent-as-permission won’t work under consent-as-felt, it’s true that society will come up with new ways to victim-blame under a consent-as-felt model. And, yes, this might put survivors at risk — of more victim-blaming. Because, in a way, the devil you know is safer than the devil you don’t. But the fact that people who define consent as a felt sense will get victim-blamed, just like people who define consent as permission get victim blamed, is not an inherent problem with either one of those models; it’s a problem with victim-blaming culture.

Meanwhile, according to the consent-as-permission model, we should respond to Andy’s story with, “Whoa! That’s not studying! Bob said you’d be studying! Bob should never be allowed to study again!”

Whereas, in a consent-as-felt model, we start by saying, “Man, that sounds like it sucked. I’m so sorry Bob did that to you. Do you want some help studying for that test?”

This is not actually that different from the way survivor advocates, domestic violence shelters, rape crisis centers and, y’know, friends already respond to people who’ve experienced sexual violence. But because words define reality, we need our conceptual language to catch up to our compassion. Stat.