Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

WILL: Do you feel your sexual desires align with your politics/ethics?

YES – 60%
NO – 40%

FOX: Yes-ish — maybe 75 to 80% at this point? — but only because I’ve worked very hard for years to resolve that dissonance both by changing my desires (therapy) AND by changing my politics (I used to be sex-pozzie as hell and that kind of facile analysis actually doesn’t jive with an honest acknowledgment that I’m sometimes aroused by things that genuinely disgust me.) And also because, at this point, I’ve largely managed to No True Scotsman my most problematic fantasies out of the “desire” category and into the “intrusive thoughts” category; so I just tell myself it’s a coping mechanism. Not sure how true that is. But I still get off to fucked-up shit sometimes. And yeah, tbh, it’s mostly heteronorm shit taken to its most fetishy extreme.

WILL: One of the interesting things from my non-anon version of this poll is that all the cishet men felt dissonance. Many cis women felt dissonance. Every single trans woman said they felt zero dissonance. Interestingly the non-anon poll is the reverse of this with almost 2:1 reporting strong dissonance.

N1X: that’s basically what I’d expect from the non-anon poll. the less privilege, the less potential to be oppressive?

WILL: The reversal in percentages is weird tho, I expected the opposite, that few would admit to not having ethical desires.

FOX: It’s virtue signaling. Most politically-minded people will pay lipservice to having a critical analysis of their sex, even if that analysis just boils down (as it often does) to “I felt kinda weird about this but then I realized that feminism means CHOICE.”

But, privately, I think most people prefer to avoid considering their own desires politically and basically just tell themselves that everything’s probably fine. Because the alternative is too scary. The alternative is they might have to stop having the sex they like. Or, even scarier, that they might find they stop LIKING the sex they like — and then what?!

I think one of the strongest indications that someone has actually critically analyzed their own pattern of desire is they have a period, sometimes multiple periods, of intentional celibacy in their history — regardless of whether their desire pattern ultimately changed afterward or not. It often does, but not always. What’s relevant is that the person actually put their money where their junk is and TOOK TIME to figure their shit out, rather than just telling themself they’re woke while still in the thick of it.

Your gender breakdown doesn’t really surprise me because cishetero men are the least likely population, for a number of obvious reasons, to have critically analyzed their own sexual politics. Whereas many queer and trans people are forced into this kind of reflexive self-analysis from a young age. “Do I really want what I think I want? If I do, what does that mean about me?” is basically the outline of every teenage coming out narrative ever.

So it’s not that disalignment between desire and values is necessarily more inherent to heteros than queers. It’s just that most queer folks have often had lots time to think about (and resolve) their cognitive dissonances around it — whereas cishets are more often like, “Oh shit. Never REALLY thought about that before. Quick, someone throw me a theory so I don’t have to quit having sex! Umm, feminism means choice?”

WILL: What I’ve found anecdotally is cishets who have thought about it and given up on resolving dissonance.

FOX: I mean, I’ve given up on resolving dissonance, too — like, many times since I was 9. I keep coming back to it because my circumstances (internal & external) demand it of me. It’s not a linear process. *shrug*

FOX: I’ve actually been meaning to write something about this for a while — about how giving up “problematic” orgasms for me personally has been a bit like quitting smoking (or sugar.) Never achieved but asymptotic? I dunno. Also, like, it’s not a priority for everybody. Most smokers kinda want to quit, but some people just smoke.

FOX: I am smoking a cigarette right now, btw. And I’m probably gonna go masturbate to something horrible.

N1X: what i’m curious about is whether one can be a radical but also have desires that are technically oppressive

FOX: Yes. Because purity politics around who counts as “a radical” are bullshit. But it’s not radical behavior to be in denial about whether your desires are actually rooted in and/or perpetuating oppression. Like, for example, calling your desires “technically” oppressive instead of just, y’know, oppressive. Just bite the damn bullet.

WILL: Denial, no. But you can still have lower base desires that you suppress / don’t identify with.

FOX: That is a totally legit strategy. I mean, that’s my strategy for managing a lot of the white supremacy I’ve been inculcated with.

N1X: like could one be like “well, my desires are probably never going to change. may as well do my best to not be an oppressive rapist.” meaning: well, there’s flat-out ignoring consent, and then there’s the question of whether there can ever be consent in a hetero relationship.

FOX: Yup. And you’ve gotta decide where your own threshold is for continuously asking yourself that question.

N1X: i mean it’s not relevant to me, a non-cis non-het. But I think it’s an interesting question

FOX: Sure. The entire question of what consent is and whether it’s possible, period, is interesting. But like Will said, that’s a whole other can of worms.

FOX: P.S. Two cigarettes.

N1X: cigarettes are only harmful to you tho so it’s fine (unless secondhand smoke is a factor)

FOX: Internalized oppression is still oppression. 🙂 And now all my smokes are gone and I’ve got a date with some cartoon rape porn. Goodnight.

As long as I’m posting things, I’ve had this tiny, brilliant, little gem of an idea from Air on deck for ages. I keep wanting to write a longer post about it, but since it’s been literally more than a year now and I still haven’t, I’m just going to post what I’ve got.

Here are Air’s succinct and lovely original words:

BDSM is a plan to meet sexual needs.
A dom’s relation to my needs is different than my own.

For example, being held down or bondage lets me not worry about shaking/ kicking/ struggling. To be mentally present beyond just experiencing, and physically active.

In rolequeer this is just accessibility.

In BDSM this is a reason for someone else to use me for their story.

I know ASD people who do eye aversion because it doesn’t become a disability disappointment to the cultural narrative of gazing true love in the eye; it becomes something just as erotic with a different behavior.

I like to be spanked because I feel the sensation pleasurable.

In rolequeer this is just a fact.

In BDSM this is an excuse to tell me that I am essentially all these other things and that I need to team up with someone who enjoys controlling and giving pain. (I like neither.)

All BDSM is is convincing people that their needs are reasons for someone else to abuse them.

Kink used to be purely accessibility (other than abusive sadists.) Then we institutionalized it.

A lot of people who come to this blog ask about how rolequeers differentiate between “BDSM” and “kink.” Air does a fantastic job here of illustrating one way that kinky (or clinky) play can be used as a form of disability accomodation. Meredith touches on the same idea in her comment here: “As a personal example, there are some strong outlier characteristics about the way my body processes touch. Sometimes it gets stuck on ‘everything tactile is uncomfortable’ for days. And through negotiated, mutually intentional experimentation with trusted play partners, we’ve learned that flooding my sense of touch with sufficiently high-amplitude pain, broadly distributed (i.e., lots of body parts, not just one) can basically flip that circuit breaker.”

I believe Air’s key insight is that, regardless of whether or not we are disabled in the traditional sense of the word, our kinks are akin to accommodations for ways in which our needs and desires deviate from ableist heteropatriarchal intimacy norms. When we understand kinky play as the process of providing reasonable accommodations to a partner in an intimate situation, we totally eliminate the need for some complementary counterpart who gets off on the specifics of the “doing to” as much as their partner gets off on that which is being “done to” them.

“Dominating my partner helps them with [x, y, z problems]!” is an excuse often heard in the BDSM Scene; essentially that someone is being dominated “for their own good.” But within a disability framework, domination is not necessary for supporting someone’s unique needs, except in the extremely narrow (but occasionally present and legitimate) case where those needs are specifically to be dominated. Otherwise, to use a partner’s request for accommodations as an excuse to dominate, rather than support, them is predatory behavior.

In short, if you are my partner and you need some atypical type of assistance feeling safe, getting aroused, getting off, processing your feelings afterwards, or anything else, then I want to provide that assistance because I respect and care about your needs, not because your disability turns me on — or makes you easy to abuse.

I’ve noticed an interesting and (maaaybe) somewhat encouraging shift in my conversations about BDSM recently. (Not that I’ve been talking about BDSM very much lately, but when I do.) In the past, when I critiqued the BDSM scene’s politics around oppression, or terrible track record with consent despite all their PR to the contrary, I would get a lot of pushback and defensiveness. More often these days, what I’m hearing is something like, “I agree with a lot of what you said here. But I see similar trends in polyamory communities too. And sadly I think it’s a pattern of all alt-sex communities.

So here’s something I recently wrote in response to that:

I agree.

That being said, I suspect that this due at least in part to there being more and more overlap and blurring of lines between different “alt-sex” communities — and the fact that, in this big blurry blobby melting pot of alt-sexy identities, BDSM culture has been increasingly influencing the discourse because, to be blunt, they’re the richest. Of all the various alt-sex scenes, the population who participates in the public BDSM scene tends to skew the whitest and the wealthiest, which means they’re the ones who have the most access to things other communities need — like meeting space, play space, equipment, funding, PR budgets, lawyers, etc.

There was actually a somewhat contentious conversation that happened on the Poly Leadership Network mailing list recently, because Loving More (one of the oldest and most venerable poly organizations still active today) wanted to do a sort of nationwide poly census, and was considering teaming up with the NCSF (the major legal defense and PR organization for the BDSM scene) to do it.

There wasn’t much discussion about this at first, but then some concerns were mentioned about the PLN being publicly associated with the NCSF — due to some of the NCSF’s problematic history (embezzlement, conflict of interest stuff, some sketchy statements and questionable policies around consent issues) — and at that point a bunch of PLN leaders came out of the woodwork to voice concerns. About the NCSF specifically and, more generally, about the way that poly communities and kink communities are being increasingly conflated — that it’s hard to go to a poly event anymore without running into the the subtle (or forceful) expectation that you’ll also participate in the BDSM scene, join FetLife, etc.

That, even for some folks who are both poly and kinky, having these two parts of their identity treated as one thing was really disconcerting for them — and more importantly (to the PLN), that’s not an assumption we want the general public making about all poly people as we’re trying to raise awareness and educate about what polyamory actually is.

That internal conversation got sticky though, since one of the NCSF board members is also a founding member of the PLN. (Because there IS a lot of overlap between the two communities, regardless.) He and and a few other PLN members who are also big in the BDSM scene got real defensive, and nobody wanted to burn bridges or lose their material support (because one thing that’s definitely true about poly people is that they are pathologically conflict-avoidant.) So, Loving More was like, “No, no, no. We love the NCSF! Everything is going to be fine!” And, in the end, I don’t know if the survey is going forward or not. But my point is that what goes on in our little local poly and kink communities are also being influenced by conversations and cultural shifts at a more national level — and those conversations have as much to do with politics, privilege, and money as they do with how people actually feel about their sexuality.

Point the Second: I agree that there are problematic dynamics in all alt-sex communities. We live in a problematic culture, and that’s going to influence every subculture that exists within it.

That being said, it’s my (very unpopular*) opinion that BDSM — and not ALL kink, just BDSM specifically — is essentially an apologia for predatory behavior in oppression culture. There are predators in the Poly community and lots of other spaces, of course, because certain things about those spaces make them easy for predators to take advantage of. But Polyamory itself is basically just about people wanting to love (and maybe fuck) more people. That’s relatively uncomplicated. (I mean, it’s a relatively uncomplicated drive. Actually DOING it is pretty complicated cuz scheduling…)

BDSM, on the other hand, is largely about providing people with a complicated reassurance that predatory behaviors — rape, torture, sexual violence, physical violence, enslavement, gaslighting, objectification, fetishization, humiliation, dehumization, etc. — are okay things to enjoy, because some people LIKE having those things done to them. That it’s possible to rape, torture, enslave, objectify, gaslight, etc. someone for their own good.

It’s not super surprising, then, that BDSM appeals primarily to people with more privilege. Not only are people with privilege more able to afford the accoutrements required to play in the Scene, but privileged folks are also the ones who tend to be carrying around the most guilt about our history of/ability to abuse, rape, enslave, torture, objectify, fetishize, dehumanize, and otherwise prey on whole populations of people with less privilege. We know that hundreds of thousands of other humans’ lives have been (and are still being) destroyed in order to make ours more comfortable; the narrative underpinnings of BDSM provide us with a bizarre and comforting fantasy that those people might have gotten some kind of satisfaction, pleasure, or benefit out of being victimized by us.

BDSM operates like a weird sort of absolution for the guilt of the privileged in oppression culture. Powerful people get to confess their sins — like maybe that they don’t actually think slavery is that bad; or that they find rape kinda hot; or that abuse seems like a pretty effective tool for getting shit done — and then someone says, “It’s okay, my child. Some people ENJOY being slaves, being raped, being abused; and those who enslave, rape, and abuse them are truly providing a service! Here, try it yourself. See, it feels kind of fun. Just, like, get permission first…or something. But really, it’s fine.”

Other scenes do other weird and problematic shit, but no other scene does that. So, while most alt-sex communities will have predators (or just people who struggle with consent, etc.) IN them, more or less incidentally, BDSM’s function within our larger culture is actually to ATTRACT predatory people and tell them it’s okay to be predators; that their predatory/oppressive behavior doesn’t make them bad people.

I DO think it’s important to tell people they’re not “bad” for having been socialized into an oppressor role. They’re not. That’s not their fault. In fact, it sucks for them. But I don’t think the next step, after that, is to say, “So, do whatever you want, then, as long as you ask first.” I think what we want to do is encourage folks to take responsibility for, examine, and unlearn their impulses to prey on/take advantage of less powerful people.


BDSM (not all kink, BDSM specifically) is, at its core, an apologia for the predatory behavior of the powerful against the powerless in society at large.

This means that, on the ground, BDSM culture is shot through with apologism for the violent or predatory behavior that occurs among its members.

BDSM practitioners tend to be more resourced and privileged, as a population, than other alt-sex communities — which means BDSM culture has a disproportionate influence on alt-sex discourse in general.

Predatory and oppressive behaviors are a problem in every corner of oppression culture, but they are particularly bad the more closely your subculture is linked with the BDSM subculture.

I love poly people and the poly community, and I feel like we’d be better able to take care of ourselves and each other (and to address problematic behavior that does show up in our communities) if we weren’t so tangled up with the BDSM scene.

Even for those of us who are both poly and kinky, it’s important to keep some separation between those two spaces, because…tbh, BDSM is a cancer. Some of us have that cancer and we’ve developed coping mechanisms for living with it, but that doesn’t mean we have to give it to everybody else we know. 😦

* This opinion is very unpopular for obvious reasons, but I’m not the only one who has it — and it echoes conclusions that sociologists like Margot Weiss, and Staci Newmahr have come to after doing long-term embedded ethnographic research in the BDSM scene.


But I don’t have a “just plain anarchism” blog and I wanted to put it somewhere, so I’m putting it here. It seemed like the most appropriate spot. Perhaps rolequeer practice, insofar as it is anarchism applied to interpersonal power dynamics, is also a kind of Whack-a-Mole.

. . .

There seems to be a common confusion among people who argue “anarchism will never work” — because they can’t see how anarchism could functionally replace democracy, feudalism, military dictatorship, or whatever as a governmental system.

But the whole point is that anarchy is NOT a governmental system and therefore, obviously, could not replace any of those things. The point of anarchy is not to be a “better” government. We’re never going to “establish” anarchy and then we’re done, hooray. The point of anarchy is to prevent ANY government from coming to power — by continuing to be a vigilant and active force that resists the establishment of hierarchical authorities.

Anarchy is not a kind of government. Anarchy is not on the campaign trail looking for your vote. Anarchy doesn’t care if you think it’s working or not. Anarchy is not something that can ever be “established” because anarchism is inherently anti-establishment.

Yes, there are always going to be people trying to set up governments. Perhaps it is in the “human nature” (of at least some humans) to try to seize and hold onto institutional power. The job of anarchists is not to categorically prevent that from ever happening; the job of anarchists is to keep knocking them down when they do. Maybe if there are enough of us knocking them down fast enough, authoritarians will eventually get tired and give up and go farm alfalfa or something. Meanwhile, conscientiously protecting each other from power-hungry authoritarians creates more space for everyone else to work collaboratively on non-hierarchical solutions to our shared problems.

Call that a “transitional state” if you want. The ideal is simply that, as society gets better and better at doing anarchism, we will “transition” out of new authoritarian regimes faster and more easily, and maybe one day so fast that we’ll barely even notice the authoritarians were there.

But the point is that anarchism is not some pie-in-the-sky hypothetical future ideal. Anarchy is here and now. The struggle against tyranny is here and now, today. We don’t hope to replace the tyranny of tyrants with the tyranny of anarchists. We simply hope to keep knocking down tyranny whenever and wherever it pops up. Like we’ve been doing for a long time. Like we’ll keep doing for a long time. As long as we have to.

TL;DR: Anarchy is basically Whack-a-Mole.

Rolequeers Write Bad Books

Posted: July 10, 2015 in Uncategorized


I don’t think many people understand how much rolequeer theorizing is intentionally inchoate personal processing in public and just throwing ideas at the wall. Detractors have claimed that rolequeer theory is hypocritical, inconsistent, “an ideological trainwreck,” that we reference outside material that we have only a cursory understanding of, etc. There’s some truth to all of this. What these folks don’t seem to have picked up on — because they don’t understand rolequeerness and because, to a great degree, they don’t really understand the Internet — is that, in and of itself, this is a consciously rolequeer methodology.

All ideas, or at least all good ones, go through a kind of neonatal, bisociative, “see what sticks” stage in which the thinker is just lumping random shit together because it sounds good, or they’re curious what will happen if they try this chord instead of that one, or if they add cumin and bananas to this stir-fry. This is often thought of as a sort of drafting/note-taking/raw processing/experimental stage and it’s fine to do, and to do messily and poorly, as long as you mostly do it in private and don’t go serving your paying customers banana and cumin stir-fry.

What rolequeers do, however, is that we tend to “publish” our work (aka be like, “You have to try this thing I made!”) at a MUCH earlier stage of development than is generally considered “professional.” This is because we are not professionals. We’re not professional academics, not professional activists, not professional writers, nothing – nor do we aspire to any of those positions of authority. We are kids on the Internet trying to make the world better ASA fucking P. And this means getting our ideas out of our heads, and into the hands of more people who might be able to use and improve them, as fast as we can. Even if we don’t look good doing it. Our priority is to be memetic, not to be impressive. This is an explicitly rolequeer ethic.

Since I started writing about rolequeerness, I have attached an immense amount of awkward, fumbling, ill-conceived, incomplete, offensive, and just plain incorrect work to my name. Am I embarrassed about it? Absolutely. Hell, I’m embarrassed practically every time I post something. I’ll probably be embarrassed when I post this. I came up in an academic milieu where my intellect (and self-esteem) were defined by my ability to make a logically-sound philosophical argument, extra bonus points if it was painstakingly articulated and rhetorically elegant, even if that meant moving the conversation forward so fractionally as to be effectively meaningless, or even just reiterating stuff other people already said 300 years ago. It’s been HARD work for me to unlearn the deeply-internalized programming that tells me publishing ideas before they’re perfected makes me “intellectually lazy.” I’m still working on it.

But, as I said above, this is an explicitly rolequeer ethic. Behaving in a maximally transparent and generative way, if doing so has even the tiniest potential to shift our collective theoretical consciousness towards disrupting oppression, has a clear ethical priority over appearing smart, cool, consistent, or even correct. And even though I go back and read old Bandana Blog entries and facepalm the fuck out my rambling inarticulate language, my half-assed integration of other theorists, my mortifying tendency to center white experience constantly and unconsciously, etc., it feels so worth it to me every time I get an ask or comment from someone who says discovering rolequeer theory has made their intimate relationships concretely healthier and safer, or helped them feel more sane and at home in their own skin.

This is not to say that rolequeer thinkers never do any pre-processing. Maymay and I have hours of conversation that never make it to paper. We try out ideas, throw away bad ones, and even (gasp!) disagree. There are a handful of private threads and other little forums scattered about the Internet where various rolequeer folks are working through concepts that are still a bit too unarticulated (or incendiary) for public consumption…yet. But our threshold for releasing idea-seeds into the wild is FAR lower than almost any other strain of political theory I’m aware of. (Except maybe “GamerGate.” #selfdeprecatingjokeisselfdeprecating) And we do this on purpose, because we believe that the Internet as a collective effort is infinitely more intelligent, creative, and visionary than even the brightest individual one of us could possibly be.

Furthermore, there is some strategy around packaging these probably-mostly-wrong proto-ideas in rhetoric that invites people to really argue with us about them i.e. by stating them as if they are simply factual rather than just wrapping them in, “Oh, I’m just thinking aloud here. I’m probably wrong. Don’t mind me.” Because we tend to engage quite politely with ideas sandwiched between caveats but, ultimately, people who tell me I’m fucking wrong and then tell me exactly why are going to move my intellectual process forward much faster than people who give me polite “constructive criticism” or none at all — even though receiving the former genuinely hurts WAY worse than receiving the latter. (Part of what makes me, personally, so rolequeer is that I’m kind of an emotional masochist.)

And finally, the thing about being consistently, embarrassingly wrong in public is that it is fantastic insurance against becoming an authority figure. I never want people to consider me an authority on rolequeerness, because with authority comes the power to coercively impose your ideas on others’ minds. With that power comes the responsibility to slow way down and be much more careful about where, when, how, and with what degree of completeness you share your thoughts. And with that slowness comes the continued rape, violence, and oppression of vulnerable people who might’ve otherwise been protected from or avoided a dangerous situation if they’d only just seen the word “rolequeer” come across their dash a little earlier and had the opportunity to think for themselves about what it might mean.

TL;DR: I believe in the power of my own ideas and in the brilliance of others’ minds. Enough, apparently, that I’m willing to embarrass the crap out of myself and ruin my own reputation as an “intellectual” in order to messily offer up my thoughts qua tenderest seedlings, having faith that together we can grow them into much more beautiful vegetation than whatever might’ve flowered in the isolated hothouse of my individual mind, or even in the protected little walled garden of those with whom I already agree.

Also, this is scary and sometimes doing it makes me feel sick to my stomach. I’ve learned how (and am still learning) from watching other rolequeers who are braver and more confident and more vulnerable than I. So, like, thanks guys.

I just found the loveliest thing!

On Reddit, of all places. In a /r/Anarchism discussion of Liberating Ourselves in the Boudoir: An Anarcha-Feminist Perspective Against BDSM, user ErnieMaclan put together this fabulous overview of some key ideas in rolequeer theory, with excerpts and everything:

I want to (finally) introduce this sub to some work that’s been done – largely by anarchists – around the notion of consent as a felt sense, and rolequeerness.

Despite what you’ve been told, repressive puritanism is not the only alternative to supporting the actually existing BDSM scene. People can have years of experience in the SM scene, can revel in their submissive identity, and have no interest in using authoritarian structures to attack BDSM and still criticize this shit.

On Consent as Felt Sense

Your Kink Is Not My Kink But Would You Like Some Dorito’s?

But think about this: I’ve had my boundaries violated in the past. You probably have, too. If that experience was traumatic, where did the trauma come from? Did it come from the fact that someone broke a rule? (Maybe. A trust violation can be traumatizing even if no other harm occurred.) Or did it come from the fact that someone interacted with me in a way that made me feel unsafe, hurt, and violated? Have you ever said, “Yes” and still come away feeling unsafe, hurt, and violated? I have.

You Can Take It Back: Consent as a Felt Sense

There’s a better way to think and talk about consent, one that honors peoples’ entire experience of a situation—past, present, and future—not just the tiny time-slices of that experience during which they were asked, “Is this cool with you?” Instead of understanding consent as “giving someone permission to do a thing,” we can and should talk about it as “being okay with a thing happening.”

In this essay, we begin an exploration into how current mainstream and even progressive feminist discourses about (specifically) sexual consent fail to address the lived experience of navigating consent within rape culture. We point out that a legalistic framing of consent as expressed rather than experienced ultimately centers the needs of would-be rapists over the needs of rape survivors. We also consider how our relationship to consent changes when we acknowledge that whether a person actually feels violated is more important than whether they expected to feel violated.

I said yes, but I feel raped

You Can Take It Back: Consent as a Felt Sense makes a two pronged argument:

  1. Saying “yes” is necessary but not sufficient for consent.
  2. There is no expiration date on realizing that your consent was violated.

Neither one of these assertions seems controversial. Not unless you’re some kind of cartoonish MRA troll. But when we make them together — there’s no expiration date on realizing that your “yes” was not consent — we get a furor of backlash from all sides about how we’ve “gone too far.”

Is waking up my girlfriend with cunnilingus rape? What about her waking me up with fellatio?

If you fall into the “option a” category, and if you genuinely have your partner’s “felt sense” consent, then I don’t think the particulars of how you communicated consent are all that important. If your partner wants sex, and you are both on the same page about that, then I don’t really care whether you had an explicit “do you want sex? yes i want sex” conversation, or if you arrived at that understanding through a secret, intuitive language of eyebrow-wiggles which only the two of you understand. If you go by eyebrows alone, then you take a leap of faith in your nonverbal communication skills, and if that faith was misplaced, then that mistake is on you. But if afterwards, you both get out of bed feeling un-raped, neither of you wants to send the other to jail, so it doesn’t matter what the law has to say about it.

On Rolequeer Sex (aka, Anarchist ethics applied to kinky sex and power relationships generally)

Info dump:

Rolequeer: Defining Our Terms

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.

Reddit comments:

Finally, contrary to Redditors’ popular beliefs about Tumblr, nobody is arguing that everybody should play this way. 😉

In short, kinky rolequeer play is kind of a through-the-looking-glass analogue to BDSM where, instead of eroticizing experiences of oppression (like enslaving/being enslaved, raping/being raped, or objectifying/being objectified), players intentionally eroticize experiences of liberating themselves and each other from oppression (like resisting or ending slavery, recovering from sexual violence, viewing each other respectfully, etc.) This sounds super corny in theory, but it’s really fun and sexy and intimate in practice. And, for those of us who are into it, it can feel very healing and consciousness-raising in certain ways, too. 🙂

Responses to: ‘My Kinks Are BDSM’

Rolequeers never claimed they can fuck away rape culture or instantly become better people through rolequeer sex. What they have claimed is: the way you are having BDSM sex glorifies rape culture and the way you are organizing as a BDSM community creates a space where rapists can thrive and victims are silenced and gaslighted. And we’d like to not have that kind of sex and prefer sex that heals the scars left by rape culture. How revolutionary of us!”


Stop enabling sociopathic abusers. Your kinks are not “BDSM”.

And this is important: The BDSM subculture is defined and controlled by a tiny minority of sociopathic humans whose kink is acting out rape, torture, and abuse fantasies “for fun” i.e. without any meaningful consideration for what it means to enact those fantasies on human minds in the context of a world where rape, torture, and abuse are already broadly normalized.

In fact, the sheer blitheness with which BDSMers — both “tops” and “bottoms” — treat sexual violence as No Big Deal is part and parcel of their fetish. It’s not just that they find rape arousing. (Lots of people get turned on by thinking about rape. Truth.) It’s that they find it arousing that rape turns them on; instead of being turned on by rape and finding that, say, disturbing, or confusing, or at least worth asking questions about. Their kink is not for rape-play itself. Their kink is for rape apologism.

Should we try to unlearn our problematic kinks and, if so, how?

This shit is complicated. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with trying to get rid of your problematic kinks if you don’t want them. I also don’t think doing so is, like, necessary in order to be an ethical sexual person. Rolequeerness, or whatever you want to call it, isn’t about reprogramming ourselves to have a different set of non-problematic kinks; it’s about investigating and being curious about the kinks we do have, and looking the ways they are problematic in the face, and exploring them and understanding and unwinding and deconstructing them, and then seeing what’s left. That’s what I think, anyway. YMMV.

“BDSM” is Kinky Sex for Rape Apologists

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 One’s for the Invisible Girl (older post)

But what I know about my life [is] that, if BDSM doesn’t feel inherently complicated or violent to you, we won’t play well together. And, more generally speaking, people like me and people like you probably shouldn’t ever play together. Because, for you, sex with me is going to feel like work; and, for me, sex with you is going to feel like war.

I think this is going to become my Go To introduction link from now on. ErnieMaclan, I’ve no idea who you are but I appreciate the hell out of you. Thank you!

FetLife’s Best Customers

Posted: April 30, 2015 in Uncategorized

In May of 2013, feminist collective blog Disrupting Dinner Parties posted an in-depth five-part series called “Got Consent?” describing the epidemic of sexual violence and abuse taking place in the contemporary BDSM Scene. The centerpiece of this project, written in close collaboration with Maymay, was a nearly 6,000 word exposé of FetLife’s contribution to this culture of widespread consent violation: Got Consent? III: FetLife Doesn’t Get It.

In the linked piece, author M. Lunas speculates about FetLife’s (profit) motives for failing to provide users with privacy protections (not even so much as granulated privacy settings on their own posts) and for maintaining a corporate stranglehold on users’ personal data (making it effectively impossible to remove postings or photos from the site):

FetLife is a private For-Profit Canadian company. Among other sources, it receives funding from members who opt to pay a fee for added features–what is known in the tech world as a “freemium” model. What sort of features do these “supporters” get? Along with a number of pretty useless things, they get community status in the form of a badge on their profile, the ability to view over 5,000 of each day’s most popular pictures, videos, and writings, and the ability to upload and watch videos. There are over 80,000 such videos–mostly amateur porn–currently on the site. In other words, the benefit of paying is the ability to perv endlessly on other users’ amateur porn. And FetLife’s ability to provide the maximum amount of porn to paying members depends on other users not giving much thought to the security or privacy of what they’re uploading and sharing. And a rich database of amateur porn attracts more paying members. In other words, it is in FetLife’s direct financial interest not to provide security and privacy features.

In short, Lunas suggests that FetLife’s business model is, effectively, to be a porn site in “social network” clothing. Instead of hiring models and performers and charging for membership, the adult content is provided for free by some “community members” and consumed by others. (Ironically, because of FetLife’s shoddy security, the “premium” video content offered exclusively to paid members is actually available to anyone with the URL.)

It’s an oft-repeated truism in discussions of “free” social media: If you’re not the customer, you’re the product. We know who the “product” on FetLife is. Much has been written about how the “Kinky & Popular” feature primarily displays photos of young, conventionally attractive, scantily-clad, submissive women. Who is the customer? Clearly, those who support FetLife financially. In his post, Lunas muses about who this paying userbase might include, and the influence that vocal minority might have on FetLife’s notorious policy of siding with “community members” who are accused of rape and against survivors of sexual violence:

Screen Shot 2015-04-29 at 10.02.39 PM

[C]ould there be a profit motive here too? While disturbing, it makes sense. We know that predators (especially repeat abusers) are often community leaders, often older, and often male. Such people, I would hypothesize may be more likely than the average FetLife user to be a paying supporter of FetLife, either as a signifier of community status, or because they are better off financially (having had more time to rise in their careers and accumulate resources). […] In short, paying supporters are likely over-represented in the set of users who have allegations against them in [Predator Alert Tool for FetLife database]. Therefore, were FetLife to adopt a policy of removing members who were accused of consent violations, they would be targeting a group that disproportionately supports the site financially.

At the time, Lunas and Maymay were unable to test this hypothesis because, “Unfortunately, we can’t know for sure, since when I asked, FetLife told me that the total number of paying members is not publicly available.” However, since FetLife has no real privacy settings, technically all the information on the site is publicly available; it just took some time to get…

A few days ago, in response to the release of the FetLife “Meat List” (a database of female-identified FetLife users under 30), Maymay published the FetLife “Creep List” of 3,700+ male- and dominant-identified paid subscribers to FetLife, drawn from a dataset of 1.5 million FetLife user accounts. Further data analysis showed that “a total of 15,495 accounts were identified as having premium FetLife memberships” and that “Male doms make up far and away the largest proportion of FetLife’s [paying] customer base, accounting for 3,452 (22.28%) of the total customer accounts identified.” (Not to mention that 72.89% of FetLife’s total paying customer base identify themselves as male, further confirmation that FetLife is a porn site, not a social network — which research shows are almost universally dominated by women.)

Analysis of this huge dataset, which comprises demographic information for nearly half the total member accounts on the site, is ongoing. There is great potential for cross-reference with demographic information drawn from the PAT-FetLife database. It’s unknown yet what kind of questions we might now be well-placed to answer about the FetLife userbase and BDSM Scene membership in general. (FetLife offers a functional microcosm for suggesting broader research, since it makes a point of monopolizing online “social networking” space for the national and international “kink community.”)

One of the most striking early findings to come out of the data, however, is the correlation between FetLife users who pay for premium accounts and FetLife users who have been reported for violating a partner’s consent:

From a dataset of over 1.5 million FetLife accounts (1,517,103, to be precise), a total of 15,495 customers were identified, showing that FetLife’s customer base is approximately 1.02% of its total user base. In contrast, out of 652 unique users reported to the Predator Alert Tool for FetLife, 86 of those users are paying customers, which is a whopping 13.19%.

This indicates that paying FetLife customers are 13 times more likely to be sexual predators than the average FetLife user.

As Maymay says in their original Creep List post:

If you ever wanted a clear idea of why (BitLove, Inc.) continues to insist on the protection of rapists time and time and time again ad nauseum, here’s a big clue.

Within the realm of sexuality politics, where does the rolequeer perspective on sex lie with relation to other ideologies? I was thinking about this the other morning and, when I broke various common ideological frameworks down into component parts, I realized something interesting. In order to sketch it out quickly, I’m going to reference some extremely oversimplified binaries here (for example: the two strains of feminism I describe are largely a polarity within white feminism only; my sense is that there’s a much broader and more complex conversation going on among feminist Women of Color), so feel free to blur these categories as is appropriate to your experience and context. Obviously, this is only one narrow subset of the variables we can use to analyze the landscape of sexuality politics.

Since we started developing some nascent ideas around rolequeerness, consent as a felt sense, and other positions that fall under the umbrella of an emerging third-wave of queer theory, we’ve received flak from surprisingly diverse quarters. So-called “Men’s Rights Activists” hate our work because they view it as a threatening extension of feminism. Meanwhile, both sex-positive feminists and radical feminists also hate our work, in spite of its explicitly feminist roots and, most curiously, in spite of the fact that they typically hate each other.

In short: Nobody loves us, everybody hates us. But before I go eat worms, I wanted to think a little bit about why — and, more specifically, about who hates what.

What is it that a rolequeer sexual politic suggests? We argue that, regardless of their origins, our erotic desires and behaviors are inextricably intertwined with our complicity in oppression culture. That’s the descriptive aspect of our position. The prescriptive side of rolequeerness is an exhortation to engage that tangled relationship between oppression and eroticism in a deeply critical and fiercely compassionate way. In short, when it comes to sexuality, rolequeers want people to own their shit — in all its beautiful and challenging and liberating and disturbing complexity. This return to agency is a core component of rolequeer theory.

When I look at the landscape of sexual politics, two axes stand out to me. The first is the emotional axis: At one end, the idea that our erotic desires (whatever they might be) are shameful, ugly, dirty, wrong, and ought to be rejected or stuffed under the rug. At the other end, the belief that our erotic desires are nothing to be ashamed of and ought to be embraced, engaged with, and shared. The second axis is the political axis: One extreme of this axis says that what we do “in the bedroom” is inherently apolitical and that received wisdom about sexuality should be immune to political critique; on the other end, the argument that our sexual behavior is a subset of our behavior as political actors, and that we should be willing to analyze the ethics of what we do “in the bedroom” through whatever critical lens we also analyze our actions outside of it.

Rolequeer’s position on this graph is obvious: As I described above, we believe that we should be unashamed yet critically engaged with our erotic behavior. We are positive on critical engagement and negative on shame.

Radical feminism has a deep critical engagement with the politics of eroticism, and also a famously strident sex-negative moralism about what kinds of sex are “good” (lesbian, vanilla, not for profit, possibly no kinds of sex at all) and what kinds are “bad” (heterosexual, kinky, part of the sex industry, possibly any kind of sex that ever occurs in rape culture). They share one axis point with rolequeerness: Critical engagement with sexuality. But they are opposite us in their emotional response to politically problematic sex. They are positive for critical analysis and positive for shame.

Sex-positive aka liberal feminism, on the other hand, is a double negative: They advocate no shame about our sexual behaviors and desires and, also, no political analysis of them. Liberal feminism, with its shmoopy uncritical embracing of anything and everything you can slap a “sexy” label on, is summed up by the BDSM mantra “Your Kink Is Not My Kink But Your Kink Is Okay.” They share rolequeer’s compassionate embracing of complicated, messy, weird, inexplicable, unpredictable, diverse human sexual desire, but they oppose our willingness to look at that desire through a politically or ethically discriminating lens.

So, neither radical sex-negative nor liberal sex-positive feminism is the clear opposite of rolequeer theory. Instead, they are opposites of each other, but their opposition exists in a space between rolequeerness and its true cultural opposite. What sexual politic is negative on critical engagement and positive on shame? What sexual politic claims that you should feel bad about your sexuality but that you shouldn’t think too hard about it? Welp, stock-standard conservative religious puritanism comes to mind.


Rolequeers aren’t here to fight with sex-pozi’s or radfems. Each of those feminisms, along with its attendant strain of queer theory, was an attempt to reject religious puritanism around sexuality — and each, in taking one step out of that abusive relationship, rejected equally important but different aspects of it. Sex-positive feminism rejected the shame and closetedness of puritanical sexuality, while radical feminism kept the purity politics but rejected the claim women should just do what they’re told and not think too hard. Rolequeer theory has deep roots in both these resistance movements and we wouldn’t be where we are today, theoretically or personally, without them. But, while they will continue to fight each other into Tumblr oblivion, we have bigger fish to fry.

Rolequeer’s actual “enemy” in the sexuality culture war is a mindlessly moralizing sex-negative white conservative religious puritanism around sex. The kind of sexuality politics that, right now today, is still sending queer children to “conversion therapy” and telling young women that their “modesty” is their premier selling point on the marriage market. The same oppressive, rape-loving, life-destroying bullshit we’ve all been fighting all along, except that rolequeers are determined to work against it harder and better and with more strategic and embodied clarity than our queer and feminist predecessors have so far. And the rolequeer return to agency is a key component of our ability to dismantle a society whose sexuality, even edgy-feminist-variant sexuality, is still ultimately rooted in the cultural worship of a totalizing authoritarian God.

More on that to come…

FRIEND: Hey, can I bother you with personal shit? I feel like asking a smart kink critical person this and I’m reluctant to do it publically:

So, I’ve been spending a lot of time lately analysing the relationship between my submissiveness and the fetishization of oppression. Because I assumed that it would go like “realizing I get off from oppressive shit -> being horrified -> no longer finding that shit sexy and only getting off on non-problematic kinky shit”.

And well, the mind is a weird place and the result was the exact opposite. It went more like “realizing I get off from oppression -> getting off harder and getting of from kinds of oppression I never even found sexy before”. Which is not what I wanted. So now I’m kind of stuck. And I’m kind of embarrassed about it.

Any thoughts on how to sort that out? Or am I just missing the point by trying to get rid of my problematic kinks?

. . .

Hey there!

“Because I assumed that it would go like “realizing I get off from oppressive shit -> being horrified -> no longer finding that shit sexy and only getting off on non-problematic kinky shit”.”

Yeeeeeah…that is so not how it goes. :/

At least, not in my experience. What you’re describing about your kinks getting even weirder and more complicated sounds much more familiar to me. I really appreciate you sharing this with me, because it helps me to understand that my own experience isn’t abnormal, and also helps me think through it more consciously.

Hm. So, I’m gonna kinda ramble and think aloud here. I hope that’s ok. First of all, obviously, I don’t really have any answers to this. I feel like all of this kink critical, rolequeer, etc. stuff is such a new landscape that right now I’m just kinda stumbling around, exploring, and seeing what happens. It turns out that what happens is often not what we might’ve immediately expected. Well, that’s a useful thing to discover.

So, here’s one idea. When I read your message, oddly enough, the first image that came to mind  was fascia — the layer of thin, fibrous connective tissue that encloses your muscles (and almost every other structure in your body) and holds them in place. It’s kind of like plastic wrap, in that it can bunch up and wind up and get stuck to itself, and over time it will do this in ways that sort of limit your range of motion by restricting your muscles into only the movement patterns that are habitual for you. Often, these patterns are somewhat asymmetrical, because we’re humans and we don’t use our bodies in symmetrical ways all the time, or because we’ve suffered some injury or trauma that causes us to move in a weird way or compensate for an injured limb, etc. But having your muscles locked into an asymmetrical structure can eventually cause a lot of wear and tear on your skeleton and other problems over time. We call these “postural distortions.”

I’ve been thinking about fascia a lot recently because I’m learning a bodywork technique called myofascial release, which is all about correcting postural distortions by manually releasing fascial restrictions. (You do this with various stretching techniques, application of heat, etc.) Here’s what’s interesting about this: Sometimes, when you release the fascia that’s holding a postural distortion in place, the distortion actually becomes even *more* exaggerated for a time. So, to start with, someone might’ve had a right shoulder that was half an inch higher than the left shoulder. But when you release the fascia, the right shoulder ends up being two inches higher than the left, although you would’ve expected it to come down so the shoulders could equalize. The reason this happens, it turns out, is because the bunched up fascia doesn’t just automatically go straight back to neutral — it actually has to unwind slowly backwards through all the stages it went through in order to get into that distortion. (Think about pulling apart a piece of plastic wrap.)

Anyway, because we do weird shit with our bodies all the time, fascia gets wound up in all kinds of unexpected, complicated ways — and so the unwinding process is equally complex and unpredictable. Of course, I have no idea what’s going on with your brain, or anybody’s brain including my own, but I think it’s interesting that this image of fascia unwinding is what automatically came to me as an analogy. In other words, it’s possible that our erotic desires get kind of shaped and restricted and habituated in certain ways as a response to the environment we live in (and the traumas we experience in that environment)…but then, on some level, we notice that those erotic habits seem extreme or out of balance, so we try to compensate in some way, to “tone them down”, without actually exploring or resolving them. If, at some point, we then decide we are actually going to try and resolve the “knots” in our erotic psyche, it makes sense that the unwinding of those knots might not be quite as simple as them just “relaxing”…they might actually have to unwind backwards the same way that restrictions in our fascial tissue does.

That’s sort of a long-winded way of saying “it might get worse before it gets better” — but I think the specific analogy is apt because of the backwards unwinding concept, and also because of the fact that most fascial restrictions are ultimately the result of either chronic or acute trauma to the body. (Even though some of that trauma is just, like, the inevitable result of being a biped dealing with gravity.)

For what it’s worth, since I started analyzing the relationship between my kinks and oppression culture, there have only been two things that have meaningfully changed what I get off on:

1. Having a partner who gets off on stuff that it had never occurred to me to explore before because I was “submissive” and “submissive” people weren’t into that sort of stuff.

Getting together with Maymay caused me to really deeply re-evaluate and reconstruct the boundaries of what I was aroused by because, ultimately, I was aroused by *them* and in love with them and wanted to be with them and if, as two “submissives” we both continued to hew to the party line of what “submissives” liked we’d never be able to figure out how to have sex with each other. To be honest (although maybe this is obvious), a HUGE motivating factor for all the theorizing around rolequeerness etc. was the result of hours and hours of May and I sitting around, frustrated as all hell, trying desperately to figure out how to have sex with each other. (And, similarly, the “dominants are rapists” stuff came out of trying to work through the masses of sexual-violence induced trauma Maymay was dealing with that made them feel unsafe and scared about being intimate with anybody.)

Ultimately, however, the changes to my erotic sensibilities that have come from my relationship with May have still mostly been additive. I find stuff hot now that I didn’t before. But, honestly, I also still find almost all of the stuff from before hot, too. And even that additive process wasn’t as simple as us just reasoning our way through it. We did a lot of stuff in the effort to hack our D/s-programmed brains, including taking ecstasy and some other drugs together, allowing a beloved ex-partner of maymay’s guide and counsel us through some of our early sexual interactions, and so, so, so much trial and error and incredible frustration and breakdowns and breakthroughs and crying. Even with all of that, it probably took almost a year from when we first started trying to be intimate until we reached a point where it reliably felt like we knew how to safely have sex with each other in a way that honored both our “submissiveness” without requiring either one of us to play “dominant” — and, over the course of that year, there were a lot of moments where I almost gave up in total despair because it seemed impossible. So, y’know, it’s complicated.

And we’re not even close to done yet. Almost three years into our relationship, we still go through periods where one or both of us has a shift in perspective about what our kinks mean to us, what they’re rooted in, where they’re taking us. Something that felt really hot before suddenly feels scary, or gross, or just kinda boring and weird. Something that felt scary or unapproachable before begins to feel accessible, inspiring, sexy. Sometimes this happens simultaneously as part of our sex with each other, and sometimes it happens separately as part of our individual processes.

In either case our ability to be intimate sometimes breaks down. We have to start over again at square one and ask, “Okay, what does sex even mean? What feels safe right now? Maybe we should try this…oh, whoa. No. Holy shit, let’s NOT do that. Okay, how about…” Over time, a few things have gradually aggregated. At the beginning, when something shifted, we’d often lose the ability to be intimate at all. Like, we couldn’t even figure out how to physically touch each other in a non-sexual way. By now, I think we’ve gotten pretty reliably to the point where we can be like, “Okay, sex is obviously not working right now. Let’s cuddle and watch a movie. We can try and figure out sex again later.”

Incidentally, one of the tricks we used to use a lot when we were first figuring things out was just to name our problematic kinks as problematic, in the context of playing with them. “I’m having this super hot, really problematic fantasy. Can I tell you about it?” “Omg, that thing we did last night was SO hot and SOOO problematic.” It was almost a kind of inside joke, but in a certain way just acknowledging that our kinks were problematic — that, in fact, some of the hotness was *in* the problematicness — and not making too big a deal out of that sort of…took some of the erotic power out of the more problematic stuff. I’m not sure why. Maybe it removed the taboo in a way that helped those kinks…unwind.

2. Therapy.

There are a few things that I used to find really hot that I’m pretty sure would now turn me off — at least, in a partnered sex/play situation. They still sometimes turn me on in fantasy land. But these are things that I can directly relate to specific sexual traumas from my childhood, and I went to therapy to deal with them specifically, and did a bunch of somatic work and EMDR and, like, went to massage school. 😛 And the reason I did all of that wasn’t because I found those fantasies particularly wrong or more oppressive than other fantasies, but because I experienced them as viscerally disturbing, and they were fucking up my ability to be intimate with people I loved because I kept having panic attacks during sex etc.

And here’s the thing…resolving those fetishes did actually make me less “submissive” in a way that made it almost impossible to continue to be intimate with my D-type partner. In fact, even though it was the result of trauma resolution, my changing sexuality kinda totally freaked them out, and I suspect that was one of the factors that ultimately led to our breakup. So, that sucks.

Aaaaaaaaaaanyway, sorry, I’m totally rambling.

“Any thoughts on how to sort that out? Or am I just missing the point by trying to get rid of my problematic kinks?”

I mean, I guess, y’know…This shit is complicated. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with trying to get rid of your problematic kinks if you don’t want them. I also don’t think doing so is, like, necessary in order to be an ethical sexual person. Rolequeerness, or whatever you want to call it, isn’t about reprogramming ourselves to have a different set of non-problematic kinks; it’s about investigating and being curious about the kinks we do have, and looking the ways they are problematic in the face, and exploring them and understanding and unwinding and deconstructing them, and then seeing what’s left. That’s what I think, anyway. YMMV.

Maybe indulging in your oppressive kinks (or your kink for oppression) is a form of self-destructive behavior. Maybe it’s a form of self-liberatory unwinding. Maybe it’s a little of both. It’s worth thinking about, which is what it seems like you’re doing. It’s also important to acknowledge, while thinking about it, that you can’t reason your way out of trauma. Trauma resolution is a *lot* of work, and it’s complicated, and nobody should be expected to do it overnight or on their own.

I will say this: Probably 80 – 90% of the orgasms I currently have, I have while fantasizing about incredibly problematic shit. I don’t want this to be the case. I also like orgasms. And what excites me more than anything is that, now, maybe 10 – 20% of the orgasms I have are while fantasizing about stuff I *don’t* find incredibly problematic — and that is SO MANY MORE “non-problematic” orgasms than I was having five years ago. They’re still rare enough to make me sit up and take notice when they happen. But when they do happen, I feel *really* good about myself and try to take that as a moment to feel encouraged and celebrate.

TL;DR: I do think there’s merit in trying to resolve our problematic kinks. (Especially if they’re linked to personal trauma; because there’s just merit in trying to resolve our personal traumas, for our own sakes.) But rather than treating non-problematic kinks as the baseline and feeling bad about our lingering problematic ones, I think it makes more sense to treat problematic kinks as the baseline and feel good about ourselves for whatever progress, even if it’s “backwards” progress, we make towards unwinding them. Because that shit is not easy.

Anyway, that’s my 3c.

(Also, I don’t know if you saw this, but possibly relevant re: Maymay’s process: How to have hot, kinky sex with other Submissives without inviting a Dom)

About a week ago, I took a trip and had to go through airport security. When I fly, as long as I have the time, I always try to “opt out” of the backscatter x-ray and go for a manual pat-down instead. There’s no pressing reason why I can’t go through the backscatter, but I have the right not to, and so I exercise it. In part, this is because “the right to say no” is not a right if it only exists hypothetically; the right to say no becomes real if and only if there are examples of people actually saying no successfully. I “opt out” at TSA screenings so that if there is someone watching who does have a strong desire not to be x-rayed, their ability to say “no” is strengthened by watching me say “no” and come to no harm. I acquired this ability by watching friends of mine “opt out” in front of me numerous times for the same reason. And I was incredibly nervous the first few times I did it, especially considering some of the horror stories about abusive TSA agents. But I have never come to any harm.

The other reason I opt out is that, by and large, performing a pat-down makes TSA agents uncomfortable. I don’t really have a personal beef with TSA agents as individuals; they are like the mildest form of cops. Some are seriously abusive power-tripping assholes, but most of them are young working-class people, often people of color, just trying to pay their bills — and at least they decided to pay their bills by becoming airport security, not actual cops. I don’t enjoy their discomfort. I’m not trying to “stick it to the man” by requesting that some nervous 23 year old woman with a job she hates come stick her fingers in my waistband and touch my ass. But, compared to the alternative scenario — where I am herded into a giant metal tube and some bored 23 year old (usually a dude), fully clothed, hits a button and blithely gazes at my naked bod — it at least humanizes the experience when both people involved acknowledge that it’s fucking awkward for a stranger in uniform to be touching my ass.

I have never gone through an airport x-ray machine and felt that the person behind the x-ray screen thought twice about what they were doing. But in almost every case, even though they never verbalize the word “sorry”, I have had TSA agents apologize for having to pat me down. And that’s what I want to talk about today.

TSA screenings are non-consensual. Sure, I didn’t have to go to the airport; I could’ve driven halfway across the country instead of flying; I could’ve paid $100 for TSA Pre; blah blah blah. But I would hope anybody reading this has a nuanced enough sensibility about consent to understand that TSA screenings are non-consensual. And that TSA pat-downs are non-consensual touch.

The reason this is important, and super relevant to conversations about consent as a felt sense within a culture of compulsory sexuality, as well as conversations about complicating the victim/abuser binary, is because touching passengers non-consensually is part of a TSA agent’s job. And some people really need those jobs. Including people who really don’t like touching others non-consensually. So, paying attention to how TSA agents (particularly young women and other people who may have a somatic understanding of what it feels like to have their own boundaries violated) negotiate a situation in which they, themselves, are being non-consensually forced (by threat of starvation) to non-consensually touch another person’s body — and are not allowed to verbally acknowledge that’s what’s going on — is a powerful microcosm of understanding the mechanisms by which we somatically navigate consent.

When I went through the TSA checkpoint last Sunday, the agent assigned to pat me down was a young white woman, probably in her early to mid-twenties, with a friendly smile and a speech impediment that suggested a disability. Already, we have a complicated power dynamic here. Because of the ways that our overall positionalities and our specific institutional positions within this situation intersect, each of us is both powerful and vulnerable. As a TSA agent, she officially has the power to make me miss my plane and, in an extreme scenario, to accuse me of “terrorism” and possibly detain me. As a “customer” I have the power to get her in trouble with her supervisor and, in an extreme scenario, possibly get her fired if I claim that she touched or talked to me inappropriately. If she is a person with a disability, the threat of losing her job is likely even more dire than it would be for most young people trying to work in this economy. We are each entering this encounter in some ways afraid of the other. But bracketing off larger institutional and social contexts, for the purposes of the “scene” in which I am being patted down by a security guard, the security guard is the “top.”

There is a verbal script that agents have to follow when they pat you down, and she follows it meticulously. (Not all agents do.) The TSA knows very well that this interaction is non-consensual and has high potential to feel like an intimate violation, and so they cover their asses by requiring the passenger to give verbal permission twice for each touch. She begins by describing exactly where she’s going to touch me, in what order, and with her hands in what position. “When I touch your inner thigh, I will use the back of my hand. Okay?” I nod. She asks if I would prefer to be screened in a private room. I would not. “I’m going to touch your back now, ma’am.” “I’m going to put my fingers inside your waistband, ma’am.” “Ma’am, please spread your legs apart.” (How rolequeer is a scenario in which the person topping you repeatedly calls you “Ma’am”.) She uses clinical, distancing language to describe my body. “Touching your buttocks, ma’am.” Whatever she is doing, she is certainly not “putting her hand on my ass.”

This is extremely detailed, ongoing, verbal communication about consent. It is not exactly “enthusiastic,” but I’m pretty certain that if any point I said, “Stop. I’m just going to go through the x-ray machine,” she would withdraw her touch instantly. I’m sure that, legally, this script exists to keep the TSA from getting in trouble for making agents stick their hands in peoples’ crotches. But some agents also genuinely use it as a way to communicate with the person they’re touching; to check in, comfort them, share information with them, and give them space to ask questions or say “no.” Others do not. Some smile, and shrug, and make little jokes, and express co-conspiratorial amusement at the awkwardness of the situation, and gently convey apology through their body language and tone of voice; some try to make smalltalk in an effort to initiate a casual, friendly, normal, chatty, human-connection layer alongside the weird “I am wearing rubber gloves and rolling up your pants to look for a weapon” layer; some try to create a feeling of safety by taking on an extremely intentional, professional, detached, almost doctor-like persona that brooks no possibility of intimacy or innuendo; different people have different ways of trying to communicate non-verbally that they, too, feel it’s weird they’re having to do this to you and that they hope you’re okay. Others do not. Some act bored or irritated or distracted or pushy, like it’s “just their job” to violate my consent and that if I have any problems with that, I’m a nuisance, a troublemaker, an annoying customer who’s fucking up their day. And some, although I’ve fortunately never been a victim of this so far (in part, probably, because I have almost always been patted down by women) take advantage of the situation to make themselves feel powerful, and to intentionally touch passengers in ways that make them uncomfortable and violated and that they cannot reasonably say “no” to if they want to make their plane.

And this is my point. Even though every TSA agent uses the exact same words and touches the passenger in the exact same places, some of those encounters feel more consensual than others. According to a legalistic definition of consent as permission, every encounter I have had with the TSA pat-down has been identical in terms of consent. But there is absolutely no question in my mind that this is not the case. “Consent” is an experience much more nuanced and rich and complex than a simple question of whether I said “yes” or “no.”

So, what got me thinking about that on this trip was that the woman who patted me down last Sunday was so good at making the encounter feel consensual — or more consensual than usual, or perhaps “minimally non-consensual”, anyway. I can’t put my finger on exactly what it was she did, how she moved, how she inflected her voice and when and where she made eye-contact specifically, to inject a sense of non-violation into the situation. But it was something about her own gently expressed awkwardness in combination with her unquestionable competence and professionalism that did the trick. She made me feel like we were both humans stuck in a bad situation that neither one of us was happy about, but that it was also sort of funny in a sad way, and that it was a worse situation for me than it was for her, but we were agreed on the point that we mostly just both wanted to get it over with and get on with our lives without either one of us causing the other undue hardship. And my response to this, to my felt sense of consenting, was to be respectful of the fact that she was working and try and interact with her in ways that made her job easier, too. I smiled, and was friendly, and followed directions quickly without intentionally playing dumb (which I sometimes do), or asking annoying questions about the procedure that I already know the answers to (which I sometimes do), or exuding a petulant aura of pissed-off “this is some bullshit and I don’t want to be here and you should be ashamed of your participation in this security theater” (which, tbh, I sometimes do also). I anticipated her needs and moved my body in ways that would give her easier access, so that she wouldn’t have do more uncomfortable things like ask me to spread my legs further.

Basically, I was a hella good “bottom”, because she was a hella good “top”. What made her a good top was that she wasn’t trying to control me; she was just trying to get me through Security — in a situation where she’d been given control over me, and knew it, whether she wanted it or not. And the effort she put in to respect my consent actually made the encounter feel more consensual, which made me want to actively participate and collaborate with her.

Now, sure, we can have a whole ‘nother conversation about how it’s not actually a good thing for there to be nice, competent, professional cops (or TSA agents) out there, because that deludes people into believing that cops always have the capacity to respect peoples’ consent — and they don’t. Violating consent is a cop’s job. Cops don’t violate peoples’ consent because they could’ve been nice but the person did something wrong and deserved to get beaten up; cops violate peoples’ consent because that is their job. But, like I said, that’s a whole different essay.

I just wanted to use this one to talk about my experience with consent as a felt sense in a non-erotic touch context. Because I hoped it might resonate with others who have similar examples of having diverse experiences of embodied consensuality within a relatively narrow range of permission-states. (For example, with different medical professionals. Or maybe, for athletes, in different sporting or training scenarios.) And I feel like talking about those experiences in ways that don’t always involve sex is important. Because all of this can be extrapolated back to erotic intimacy. But the sex conversation is so complicated, and peoples’ relationships to their own sexualities are often so messy, it sometimes kind of obscures the felt part of the consent equation, because sex involves feeling so much other stuff besides just your own consent.

But, ultimately, the way this particular TSA agent touched me is the way I want people I play with to top me, or people with more institutional power than myself to fuck me, and the way I want to top and/or fuck people who are in more vulnerable positions than me: With an acknowledgement like, “It sucks that we can’t negotiate perfect consent because we’re trapped in a system that’s institutionally pressuring and threatening both of us in different ways right now, and that legitimately makes both of us a little scared of each other. But, on some meaningful level, we’re both choosing to be here anyway. I realize that what’s happening is complicated and I’d like to work together to get through that in the least traumatizing, most humanizing, most consensual way possible. And since you’re the more vulnerable party in this particular context, let’s focus on making sure you feel as okay as you can about what’s happening. But I want to feel okay about it, too.”