Too Good to Leave, Too Bad to Stay?

Is your partner too good to leave in some way, but also too bad to stay with?  Too Good to Leave, Too Bad to Stay by Mira Kirschenbaum can help you make this decision with clarity, and find peace of mind with your choice.

If you have ever found yourself trying to decide whether to remain in a problematic (or even just boring) relationship and continue to try to work things out, or to just get out, you have probably really struggled with making that decision, and probably all the more so if abuse has been involved.

Few relationships (or people) are entirely bad with absolutely zero redeeming qualities, and even some of the very most abusive often still have plenty of good left in them – or at least the abused partner may still have a number of entirely valid reasons for staying.

It can be crazy-making for anyone in any relationship to try to make this decision with all of the conflicting information, needs, and priorities that must often be considered, but people who have been abused are often even more confused than the average bear as a result of the mind-games that abusers tend to play.  Too often, we make lists of pros and cons to try to help us decide, and find them equal in length, or a particular advantage appears to vastly outweigh a long list of real problems, thereby perpetuating the whole dilemma.  Add in the issues inherent in kinky relationships, and it can be particularly difficult to decide what to do in all too many cases – or to actually do it even if you already know.

A couple of years ago, I came across this really superb book that can help you make more sense of this decision, and to make it in a rational and reasoned manner, although I’m only now getting around to writing about it.  If you’re still in the relationship, this book can help you decide whether or not to stay in it.  If you are already out, you may find that reading it will help validate why you are better off without the jerk, especially if you still have any remaining doubts.  It will help you cut through all of the mental ping pong of “yes, buts” and “if onlys” and get right to the bottom line.

Too Good to Leave, Too Bad to Stay is unquestionably the very best book I’ve ever found about how to make the decision to leave or stay and try to work things out when a relationship is troubled in some way but may still have good in it, there is still love, etc. It’s an absolute gem for those who are on the fence regardless of the reasons you may be straddling it.

Through exploration of a number of specific questions, and analysis of the long-term happiness of many people she has studied or counseled who chose to either stay or go under the particular circumstances of each section, Kirschenbaum helps walk the reader through essentially a decision tree, starting with the parameters she has found to be most predictive of long term success or failure of trying to salvage things and working her way down to the smaller issues. Even if you find your answer in the early sections, I encourage reading the whole thing, as some of the later ones may provide additional validation.

She also makes some incredibly important and surprising points about the value of love in a relationship, including why that actually should not be the primary determinant of a decision like this in many cases – and indeed examines what love actually is and how various behaviors do or do not demonstrate it.

Even if, like me, you don’t find this while you’re still trying to make a decision but only after the fact, it will likely help you better understand why things didn’t work out if you do make the split, or help confirm why you may be better off having made the decision to stay together.

As I worked my way through the book, the points against staying kept adding up more and more.  It really helped put any final doubts I may have still harbored at that point to rest for good, helped completely end the cycle of “If only…” that had continued to torture me for a good while after the end.  “If only” is a pipe dream.  It wasn’t, and never actually could have been, given so many things about the person I was with.  “If only” is probably *always* a pipe dream, for everyone.

One note – Kirschenbaum talks about hitting you as perhaps the most important predictor of failure of trying to reconcile, the one real absolute she lays out as an imperative for leaving. Obviously most of us can’t take that at full face value in the kink world. Just mentally add in the word “consensual” where she mentions physical violence of any sort, and that will help separate things out in a relevant-to-kink way.  If your partner has ever hit you in a nonconsensual way, violated limits, etc., I think this section will apply.

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Thanks to @freewine on FetLife for the prodding that got me to sit down and finally write about this book.

Fifty Shades of Abuse Romanticized

 

Yeah, at it’s core, Fifty Shades of Gray has a very strong vein of pure abuse running right through it.  And I’ve been trying really hard to ignore that.

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while, but haven’t gotten around to it, but finding this image on a Facebook group called “The Reality of Domestic Violence” gives me a perfect launching pad.

I know, I know; a while back, I wrote about all the good things in the Fifty Shades series as far as kink is concerned in a post called Fifty Shades of Consent.  Most of what I wrote does apply, but the part where I talked about Christian being in control of himself and a  model of eliciting consent?  Eh, not so much.

In fact, I found myself thinking, “Who the hell do you think you’re kidding?” not long after I wrote it upon rereading it.  Heck, I was thinking that even as I wrote the post, and kept telling myself to shut up and look at the positives.

The fact of the matter is that Christian is one controlling mofo, exactly as detailed in the image above that lists the hallmark signs of an abusive partner.  The fact that things turn out OK in the end really doesn’t excuse any of this.

He’s also a stalker, which the image leaves out.  I mean, honestly, following Anna around, showing up at her workplace in another town, following her out on the town at night with her friends, etc.?  Running a formal background check on her down to what she’s got in her checking account before even doing that?  Scary shit…

I was looking for the good parts, and trying to minimize the bad.

Then it hit me – this is just like we so often do when we find ourselves in abusive relationships.

Exactly what I did as I fell down the rabbit hole with his Ex-ness. I knew it was a bad idea to get back together when he begged me, and I even told him why, which he blew off – and then I bought his own reasons, which I even knew made no sense.  I knew that he wasn’t seeing it clearly and that I ought to be the one to walk away.  But, man, I had so many good reasons to move ahead despite knowing I shouldn’t, so many reasons I so wanted it to work and to be shown that my instincts were wrong, so very many reasons to believe that maybe I was entirely wrong, and not wanting to miss out on all the good stuff I knew was there also…  I was hope, hope, hoping…

And I wrote an entire post that exactly mirrors this process that we who end up in abusive relationships go through of seeing what we need to see and then pushing it aside, out of sight, out of mind.  A post that is full of denial and ignoring the bad parts in our desperate reach for the good, our strong desire that people actually be good and interested in our best interests, just as our heads in the clouds and our eyes blinded when we are in the throes of new romances.  A post that reflected the thought process of denying our own instincts in the glow of attraction, flattering attention – and super hot sex.

So often we see the red flags clearly but we ignore them, or something niggles that we can’t quite identify and so we push it out of our consciousness.

Like Anna, we find it flattering that this hot guy (or gal) finds us appealing, and our pink parts get all tingly, so we ignore the real danger signals that we see coming at us like how annoying it is to have this guy just show up on our doorstep without asking and interfere in our plans.  We don’t want to be alone, or we maybe we don’t even know how to be on our own to start with.  Our self esteem isn’t at its peak for any number of possible reasons, so we’re especially vulnerable even if we aren’t as young and innocent as Anna was.

So often we see the train wreck coming and watch in helpless, frozen fascination as it careens down the track right at us and derails in our front rooms in a screaming, smoking, twisted heap of shorn and molten metal, running over everything and everyone in its path, leaving a trail of bloody bodies and broken hearts, destroying us as well in the process, not having the sense to get off the damn tracks while there’s still time to avoid the disaster, or knowing we should, but then engaging in magical thinking that somehow we will be saved at the last minute even if we stay firmly rooted to the spot directly in front of the oncoming locomotive and its load.

Christian does indeed do all the right things as far as the BDSM is concerned – requiring consent, not violating limits, etc.  His play actions are well within the bounds of consensuality, and are criticized in the kink world as “BDSM lite”, so because this is a kink-related site, I’m not going to get into healthy-BDSM-as-sexual-violence, although of course we know that it can be used in an abusive, nonconsensually violent manner.

But then in the rest of their every day life, he keeps stalking Anna, ignores her pleas to do as she wishes vs what he mandates.  He dictates her wardrobe, brings in a doctor to insert the type of birth control that he wants her to be on without so much as consulting her, and even goes so far as to purchase the company she works for so he can fire her even more predatorial boss ostensibly in order to protect her – but also clearly to keep an eye on her every move.  He is mercurial, spinning from high spirits to rage in an instant. All kinds of fancy gifts follow on his less than stellar moments – the apology and honeymoon phase of a classic abusive cycle.

Oh, he’s got good reasons for wanting to protect her, it eventually turns out, but he does it with a very heavy hand, without fully informing her of his reasoning, and utterly denying her a say in the matter.  Which fortunately turns out OK in the end – but then again, this is fiction, not real life, and the whole series takes place over a matter of just a few months, so we never see how Anna ends up feeling as she gets older and undoubtedly eventually grows tired of all this controlling behavior and begins to see it for the sickness it really is.  And to find out that all the love in the world isn’t going to change it, because the sickness is in his core.

As the series progresses, Christian does tone some of this down as they both kind of grow up together – but in real life, these kinds of negative behaviors usually do not go away so easily, even if the person wants to change.

 

So what’s the lesson for people facing abusive partners, or potentially getting involved with someone who is showing signs of being an abuser?

At the core, it’s about trusting your instincts – and acting on them even if it brings short term pain of loss.

If you don’t like some of the things your date or play partner is doing early on, like Anna didn’t like being followed and made to give up her friends, etc., pay attention.

Don’t try to minimize the lies you find out about or the evidence of broken agreements with past partners.  Don’t let the bad behavior slide.  Don’t ignore and try to pacify the early hissy fits, thinking they’ll subside, because they won’t.  Don’t try to make excuses for why he did this or that, even with previous partners.

Remember that what you see at the outset of a relationship is the very best things will ever be because they are on their best behavior trying to win you; it’s all downhill from there.

In a good relationship with a reasonably healthy partner, everyone will have their ups and downs, and certainly everyone relaxes as they get to know their partner and lets out their less stellar traits, but on balance, you’ll still be dealing with the same basically kind, decent human being you started out with.

Not so with an abuser; that good stuff is an illusion, or a veneer over the real core, the public side, not the private one.  They can’t keep up the facade for long, which is why you’ll catch them in early lies, find yourself feeling uncomfortable in the pit of your stomach (one writer said this is what the “butterflies” in the stomach we feel are really about), etc.  It’s like trying to keep all the steam inside a pressure cooker once you’ve started to loosen the lid.  Hints will sneak out until the whole top finally blows.

And at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if the dominant is good about consent and limits when playing if he’s still an abusive asshole in enough other ways in the rest of day-to-day life.  Not only does the one not make up for the absence of the other, in the end, a dominant (or indeed any other person) who will violate your consent in one arena in life and be abusive will end up violating it and being abusive in others as well.  Yes, there are occasional exceptions – but it is deluding ourselves to believe that we might be the ones lucky enough to find them.  The odds just don’t favor it.

The danger of this story is it romanticizes these abusive aspects – and then shows things working out fine in the end, which perpetuates the myths that abusers (or kinky people in general) just need the right partner to set them straight, and then somehow they will live happily ever after.  It feeds the fear we all have at the beginning when the doubts begin to surface of what we might lose out on if we pay attention to those instincts and run instead of shoving the concerns down and staying.

If you do read Fifty Shades, by all means enjoy the escapism fantasy and hot (if repetitive) sex scenes, but for heaven’s sake, don’t base a real relationship – or your own persona – on this trainwreck of a man’s portrayal.

 

 

“We Need to Talk” – or Is It Off the Table?

Once again, Mo has managed to articulate so much of how I feel about yet another topic – the dreaded “We need to talk“.

I’m so right there with you on the urgency of discussing issues as they come up, but sometimes still needing processing time before raising the questions, along with the abject terror and complete panic that any version of “We need to talk”, or “I want to go over X with you” brings up. Once I’m ready to deal with something, though, I really need to handle it right then and there, with no further delay.

The one thing that really is absolutely clear to me is that it is absolute death to a relationship to ever table things when issues do arise, pretty much no matter what else is going on in either person’s life or the relationship. All they do is pile up and fester, and build up a backlog and logjam until they totally drown out everything else, and reach a point where it becomes absolutely impossible to unravel the mess because you end up not even knowing where to start any more, and the resentments have built to an impossible level.

If you take too much time to process before bringing the issue up and working through it together, the moment is past. Life moves on to the next thing. It gets shoved down where it begins building up and festering, and isn’t resolved by the time the next thing comes up.

In her brilliant book Too Good to Leave, Too Bad to Stay, Mira Kirshenbaum says that she has never in her entire career seen a relationship survive when “off-the-table-itis” is in play. When people refuse to talk about an issue, and keep on not wanting to talk about it (or more than one issue), relationships die. Period. If your partner “consistently blocks your attempts to bring up topics or raise questions, particularly about things you care about”, off-the-table-itis is at play. It doesn’t matter whether the topic is, whether it relates directly to the relationship or not. Blocking discussion of any sort blocks communications altogether.

Off-the-table-itis is dismissive. It’s inherently belittling and minimizing. It is neglectful and uncaring. It is cruel and unkind. It tells your partner that you really don’t give a shit about them or what they have to say, and speaks far more loudly than anything else you might do or say to the contrary.

Off-the-table-itis is in play when your partner expects you to listen endlessly to his litany of repeated woes (especially when he does nothing to change them), yet shuts you up when you bring up issues of your own that he doesn’t want to hear. When it’s OK for him to drone on and on about the same problems day after day for years, but the second or third time you bring up one of your own, somehow you are just adding to his own load intolerably and he shuts you up. When he acts as if his troubles are more important than yours and should take priority.

And as such, off-the-table-itis is a particularly insidious form of abuse that is not well-recognized for what it is, especially since it may well be couched in such drama as the perpetrator painting himself as the victim, often of issues entirely outside the relationship such as at work or with his family, depicting himself as one who needs to be taken care of more than you do. He then turns you into the bad guy if you want to still sort things out, or protest something he does, thereby only adding to his woes.

When I get hit with that “We have to talk” thing, it sometimes sends me into a blind panic, particularly if the relationship is on shaky grounds and he’s been engaging in clear off-the-table-itis. I may start looping and freaking out, may even run away initially, maybe even screaming. That’s rare, but it has happened to me. But given half a chance, I will calm down quickly and come right back to the table, as long as the other party doesn’t end up going off looping away on his own, freaking out at my own freak out.

And I will usually come back within minutes, perhaps an hour or two at most. Given the chance. None of this days to weeks later after the rest of life and endless stresses calm down stuff.

Actually, I’ll come back pretty much immediately anyways, no matter what he does. But his reaction at that point will determine whether or not the conversation actually ends up taking place. If he’s still there, it will. If he’s flipped out and thought I was blocking things, it may not.

But I will be there, and I will discuss it.

I need to be able to come back to the table quickly to ensure that we both keep the conversation open, no matter what, and to not table things. When issues arise, I also really badly need to be able to address them right then, when they are particularly urgent, and not put them off until later.

If life events are such that a complete discussion is not possible at that moment, at minimum I need reassurance that things are OK – and that my concerns are both legitimate and being taken seriously. Attempts to dismiss my concerns will only make my need to talk about it RIGHT NOW escalate.

Because life and its stresses don’t stop just because they’re piling up, God knows, and putting off discussions until even later in the week (never mind indefinitely) can lead to a total logjam and turn weekends and other time together into things to dread when a pile of crap has built up, especially when you’re with someone who is masterfully capable of twisting everything you both say to the point that you can no longer keep your own thoughts straight on one issue, never mind a logjam that have now all collided together and become hopelessly intertwined.

My father taught me to never go to bed angry at my partner. It’s not always completely possible in busy lives, but it’s a goal I have always worked towards. It’s mostly doable if the communications are open enough, but is completely impossible if they are not, and if one person keeps blocking the discussion. Or has had a history of blocking other issues that have ended up festering, even if they are not related. It is the blocking of communication of any sort that stops it all dead in its tracks.

I’d give my eye teeth and maybe even my right arm to find someone who could handle this the way Mo’s The Dominant Guy does. Who is secure enough to contain my fears and hold me until they abate, and can carry on with the conversation when either of us needs to. Who is both willing and able to meet me at the table like an adult instead of a petulant two year old.
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April 30, 2011

Pushing Past Hard Limits

From The Mistress Manual, in a post decrying Mo’s rape:

A Dominant pushing past hard limits, ignoring the sub’s refusal, has just crossed over from BDSM into the very different, very ugly world of rape and sexual abuse.

Dom/mes need to hear this too, need to hear that pushing someone past their stated limits is not being one badass hawt tough Master or Mistress, it’s being a fucking asshole rapist. Your honor as a trustworthy, skillful Dominant is on the line. You deliberately violate a sub’s consent, you’ve lost that honor. You’ve joined the ranks of leering, pawing sexual abusers. Don’t do that.

Because Lorelei is right, and this needs to be repeated everywhere.

And because someone in particular who also badly needs to hear it, from someone else other than me, is still reading this blog for reasons I know not, and won’t find this on his own otherwise.

I’d add that pushing too much past soft limits is in the same category.

Parameters of Consent – Part 1

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and speaking with others about the issue of abuse within the kink community, and how best to identify it, deal with it, and prevent it.  This post is the first in what I expect to be a series on the topic of consent and how that ties in with abuse, identifying it, and helping prevent it.  Many others, including the NCSF (National Coalition for Sexual Freedom), Midori, Thorne, and many more, are also looking in much greater depth at questions pertaining to abuse and consent than we have done before.  This is an idea whose time has come, and is gaining ground quickly.

We must get a better grip on the problem of abuse in our subculture, because it is at an all-time high, and part of that is examining consent much more deeply.  If we want to remain safe ourselves, much less expect to find acceptance by the mainstream, we’ve got to name the beast that lives within our walls in order to rout it out and put our energies more into how to solve the problem rather than continue to try to delude ourselves that there isn’t one.  There is – and it’s huge – and until we accept that, and examine what we do in much greater detail, and look at how we can improve on that, we will never be able to resolve the abuse problem.

Many of the concepts I will discuss here are actually equally applicable in vanilla relationships as in kinky ones.  Healthy relationships of any sort share most of the same qualities, and consent is equally necessary in all, although it is rarely articulated in the same way in vanilla contexts as we do in the kink world.

For many years, we have identified the difference between WIITWD (what it is that we do) and abuse as being about consent, or lack thereof.

And that’s true – always was, still is.  At the most fundamental, basic level, that is what it ultimately comes down to.

If you honestly agree to X, enjoy it, get off on it, etc. – great!  If not, you’re in abuse territory if your partner continues it despite your objections – or if you are the dominant continuing what your submissive objects to.

However, years of reading and hearing about literally thousands of people’s commentaries on and complaints about their relationships and what differentiates kink from abuse (not to mention my own experiences) has left me feeling like this is far too simplistic a way of looking at things, and that it’s time that we take a much deeper and more nuanced look at exactly what consent is, and learn some new ways of eliciting it, ensuring it, and otherwise working with it.

It is no longer enough to say “She consented” or “He did not consent”.  It is no longer a simple “yes/no” question.  Relationships of all sorts – and particularly BDSM relationships – are far too complex to leave such a critically important notion dangling by such a thin thread.  Even the most detailed of negotiations need to look at consent with new eyes.

Consensual Non-consent

The most obvious place where this simplistic definition of the difference between BDSM and abuse breaks down is with the concept of consensual non-consent.  That works when both players really trust one another, and no one crosses boundaries the other objects to enough.

By definition, however, such scenes often do cross them into territory that is truly nonconsensual.  What makes it OK (when it is), and allows it to work, is a whole constellation of considerations, not the least of which is prior agreement that that is OK and desirable, lots of negotiation, knowing each other really well, etc.  I don’t want to go too deeply into this particular question at the moment, but this is one of those most infamous “grey areas” in WIITWD in which the lines between true consent and abuse can be very blurry indeed.

Playing with consensual nonconsent, while an important and often critical part of many people’s dynamics, is basically edge play at its very edgiest, and there are tremendous risks involved.

Contrary to popular belief, too, consent can still be withdrawn during a consensual non-consent scene.

I think we can also place many of the stricter master/slave, 24/7, TPE (call it what you will) relationships in this category.  Many of these relationships operate under an agreement that the slave/submissive is not allowed to leave, and has to do everything the master/dominant requires, whether she likes it or not.  For many, there is the notion that she cannot leave, and many go so far as to turn over control of literally every area of their lives to their partners, and many will speak in terms of being physically “unable” to leave – as if she is somehow permanently chained.  For some, this works great.

At the end of the day, though, this is still a relationship construct that requires a suspension of disbelief, and is unenforceable in most of the world, since slavery is illegal almost everywhere, and even the contracts that people in relationships of this nature often draw up are legally unenforceable.  People do build their lives around these notions, but they are still fundamentally fantasies, and consent is still absolutely essential from the get-go, and on an ongoing basis.  Because slavery is actually illegal, consent can also still be withdrawn in these relationships at any time, regardless of the prior agreements, even though you will hear loud screams of outrage and disagreement at the very suggestion from many quarters.

What does consent really mean, and consist of?

One of the major issues I keep coming back to, and finding new angles to think about, though, is the question of exactly what “consent” means, even beyond the boundaries of consensual nonconsent, and I’ve come to realize that there are many different parameters involved in creating consent that is truly meaningful and useful.

There are a number of these – far more than most people realize – and I will address them a couple at a time so as to not make any individual post too long.

Informed Consent

The first issue we really need to look is at informed consent.  There is far too little of this going on in our little corner of the world, and that really needs to change.

It is not enough to discuss a scene, for example, and say you want to do some flogging, some needle play, some humiliation play, breath play, etc.  An eager bottom may agree to these things without even fully understanding what is involved – and what the real risks are.  Unless the pros and cons, accurate information regarding the anatomical and physiological issues involved in the activity, and real, concrete information as to what the risks and dangers are are fully communicated, then even an eager “Yes, I want to do that!” has no real meaning.

You also need clear definitions, as far as such things are possible.  “Humiliation”, for example, means a lot of different things to a lot of different people, and you cannot assume that the person you are speaking with has the same understanding of it as you do.  Until and unless the specific kinds of actions, language, etc. are discussed in detail, and agreed upon, you do not have consent to proceed with that sort of play.

Negotiation

You most assuredly do not have consent if you just start playing with someone without explicit negotiation, or at least there is a serious risk that you don’t, or that it’s not clear cut – and a good case could certainly be made to that effect. This is obviously closely tied to informed consent.

In order to have a valid negotiation and agreement, you need two adults who are of sound mind to basically sit down ahead of time and discuss exactly what will and will not occur and be permitted in that scene or relationship.

The old hand in the submissive’s hair and calling her “slut” as you bring her to her knees is fine, and hot, and all well and good – but only if it’s been negotiated.  If you’re doing even something this simple on the fly, by the seat of your pants, as far too many people do, you are asking for trouble.  So far, most people have been OK – but we are moving in the US in this day and age into an era of far greater litigiousness than we have ever known before, and particularly as kink goes more mainstream, we are going to see more and more lawsuits, arrests, and problems resulting from lack of adequate negotiation of even matters this simple.

Paradoxically enough, too, as we see more and more newbies flooding in our doors from the Internet, and we are less and less able to adequately educate them, we need all the better emphasis on how to effectively negotiate scenes and relationships and to elicit consent properly.

With respect to definitions, likewise, with relationship labels such as “dominant” and “submissive”, “master/slave”, etc., explicit negotiation as to what these means is essential.  No two people mean the same things by any of these terms; the best they are good for is shorthand for starting a conversation.  You must get into much more detailed discussion as to what each term means to each party, and what their expectations are of themselves and each other before you can say that a given relationship (or scene) involves real consent as to the nature of the relationship and interactions.

Absent such detailed discussions, informed consent does not exist, and thus, arguably, no consent at all is present.  The more that is left open to interpretation, the more slippery the slope.

These are the issues that most people think of most readily when the question of consent vs the lack thereof comes up.  There is much more, though, and I will cover those elements in later posts.

What are your thoughts on these issues?

Recognition of the Problem of Abuse in the Kink Community, and RACK vs SSC

There are many signs that recognition of the problem that abuse in kinky relationships is growing, along with concern and action to try to stop it. It is clear that abuse in our ranks is at an all-time high, and I’m delighted to see increasing discussion of it in our community.

Over the past several months, there have been at least two classes given on the topic at the SF Citadel in San Francisco, and on Tuesday March 22, from 8-10:30pm, there will be a panel discussion there entitled “RACK: A Discussion About Risk, Awareness, and Consent” that promises to be a powerhouse exploration of the role of RACK in our community, including how it interrelates with abuse.

One of the major questions that will be addressed is whether this concept is a “shelter for predators or a sophisticated philosophy”.

Admission is $20, and this event is a fund-raising benefit for Community United Against Violence www.cuav.org.  Please attend and support this worthy organization.

Personally, I think that RACK is both a “shelter for predators” as well as a sophisticated philosophy.

It’s a great idea when it’s used judiciously, but is so often turned around and perverted for the benefit of the dominant, to the detriment of the submissive.  Of course this happens in reverse at times as well, but much more abuse – and much more harm – seems to come from abuse of submissives by dominants.

What makes both RACK and SSC so problematic from an abuse point of view is that all of the concepts inherent in both acronyms can be so nebulous that interpreting them can be quite difficult.  SSC is more problematic because it’s even more vague, and leaves out the notion of awareness of risk, but when dealing with RACK, we then get into the question of what, in fact, the parties were actually aware of, what really constitutes awareness of risk, etc.  The very concept of consent is multifactorial.  Both acronyms are also great ideas and buzzwords that anyone can bandy about to look good, even while not walking their own walk behind the scenes.  But they sound good, and seem to know what they’re talking about, so many people get sucked in by just the words.

A surprising number of people seem to think that just because someone speaks apparently intelligently about these topics means that they are inherently safe to play with – but nothing could be further from the truth.

This idea dovetails well with other issues I’ve discussed here, including how just being a community “leader” confers zero special status in terms of how safe or reputable one is.  When you add in those people also speaking the party line, which these concepts are, that only adds to the potentially false impression that people may come away with about such people.

What’s more, oftentimes it’s the quietest ones who are the most dangerous, because they may simply not give enough external clues to arouse suspicion before it’s too late.  The louder they are, the easier they are to spot.

The concepts involved in both SSC and RACK are excellent, and both acronyms came into existence as honest, good faith efforts to try to a) communicate to the vanillas why what we do is not abuse, and b) to help verbalize a set of highly laudable community standards and goals to which many of us actually aspire.  I think both have done much to help us, both inside the community as well as in presenting ourselves to the outside world.  Both are a reflection of concerned, sincere efforts to make our world a better and safer place to play in.

The very notion of considering elements of safety, sanity, risk awareness, and indeed even making consent explicit is, in fact, quite sophisticated.  Verbalizing these things and actively, explicitly negotiating our contacts and relationships is not something most people do, and is certainly not taught as we’re growing up.  Regardless of the degree of individual successes or failures with these techniques and approaches, it is clear that they do very much help in many cases.

Unfortunately, it’s equally evident that they are widely used as a cover for dangerous, unscrupulous tops to hide behind, knowing full well that community ethos as it stands today will support them if they talk a good line, and that the standards that prevent submissives from widely sharing information about dangerous tops, and ending up demonized ourselves when we try to, and shunned by the community.  As long as the top keeps on chanting SSC and RACK, and related verbiage, it is astonishing how many more people will support him rather than his victims.

This is why these mantras are problematic.  I think we have also come to rely far too much on chanting them over and over again without fully examining what exactly goes into each part of each concept, and what really differentiates WIITWD from abuse.

Hint: it’s not just consent.

Or at least consent is far from being as simple a concept as we’d like to think it is.

Risk awareness attempts to get at the need for the element of informed consent, which is lacking in the SSC model, and all too often in actual interactions, but it still falls short of what we need, in large part because it fails to consider long term relationships as thoroughly as single scenes, or completely play-based relationships.  Both concepts – and everything we teach newbies and continue to talk about and run classes about – tends to focus around what my esteemed friend Teramis has described as “scene-delimited” D/s interactions vs those that are more relationship-focussed.

Not only is adequate risk awareness a major component of consent, but so are many other elements, including intent, length and nature of the relationship, duration, effect, presence or lack of coercion vs freely given consent, whether the behavior in question happens in a single scene or more frequently in an ongoing relationship, when in the course of a scene or relationship it occurs, the dominant’s responses to the submissive’s reactions, and much more.

What I think is on the table at this point in time for our community is a need to look much more deeply at all of this, and to realize that consent is a much more multi-factorial concept than a simple yes or no.

How we go about teasing out all of these disparate elements, and then finding some hopefully cohesive way of both quantifying them, describing the different parameters involved, and then finding a way to use that information to help protect people is one of the central issues facing our community these days.  How we address them as a group, and face the problems we have, will have a huge impact on not only how our subculture functions in the future, but how we are perceived in the world at large.

I don’t claim to have all the answers, although I’m researching this and exploring on an ongoing basis.  I am very gratified that other people are also clearly starting to ask a lot of the same questions, and to recognize that we simply must look a lot deeper into the things we do and say about it than we have been.  Kink has come of age, so to speak, as Midori put it, and now it’s time to move past the simplistic stories we have told ourselves for years into looking more carefully at all of the individual elements that make them up.

I also don’t claim that this is an easy task – or one that is widely embraced in our circles.  It’s not either one.  To speak out openly on the problem of abuse in the kink world these days is to invite a firestorm of extremely vocal public opposition, which itself often turns quite abusive.

That alone tells me we are really getting close to the heart of the matter.  If people are treating their partners well, then why would they object to pointing out how others are not?

The answer is that in many cases, those who shout the loudest that we don’t have a problem in this community, and object the most to having the differences between healthy kink and abuse dissected and pointed out, are almost invariably among the people who are themselves the most abusive – or their brainwashed victims.

Others worry that if we admit to the extent of the problem in our ranks that this will somehow turn the vanillas further against us.

Nevertheless, this is an issue that absolutely must come out of the closet – and amongst ourselves first of all.  Until and unless we are willing to face reality, we will never be able to fully identify the problem or its root causes – or solutions.  And until we are able to fully tell the truth about what we do to our own selves, the harder it will remain to ever convince anyone else that what we do is even remotely justifiable.

RACK is a great step in the right direction, going beyond SSC, but it’s time that we move on further still.

Related posts:

It’s the Internet, Stupid!  How the Online World Encourages Abuse in the BDSM Subculture

What to Do About a Dangerous Top if They Are a Community Leader

The Problem of Abuse in the BDSM Subculture

Abuse in the BDSM World Class

What To Do About a Dangerous Top? What If They Are a Community Leader?

Recently I bottomed to a well-known, fairly high-profile member of the Bay Area’s leather community, and I was very upset to find that in real play this person did not live up to the high standards of safety and consensuality I had been led to believe would be all but automatic by the person’s public statements. I am unhappy and disappointed for myself, but I am also worried for the fates of less resilient bottoms than I am. Under the guise of being my Top this individual tried to play in a way I said I didn’t want to, and pushed very hard to persuade me to change my mind even though I stated clearly that I felt doing so could jeopardize both my physical and my psychological safety. Apart from my anger and frustration, which I know how to handle, I wonder what to do with my information about this person in terms of community safety: do I accuse? do I hide what I know? How can I behave most responsibly? [italics added]

In an article entitled “Ask the Therapist: What Do I Do About a Dangerous Top?” that starts off with the above query, distinguished therapist William Henkin, PhD very ably and comprehensively addresses the question of what to do after the fact.

What I want to talk about here is the fact that such people exist, whether or not they are leaders of the community, and the trap that “saying all the right things” can lead to in general, but also particularly when they are well-known, or otherwise part of the leadership of a community – and how to avoid getting into exactly the kinds of situations described in the above quote in the first place.

It is an unfortunate fact that tops not walking their talk is not an isolated occurrence.  It is even more unfortunate when they hold positions of leadership because newbies in particular have a tendency to view such people as being the arbiters of what is right and good, and make all kinds of dangerous assumptions about how safe these people are to play with that may or may not have anything to do with reality.

What you must understand is that there is nothing about the structure of the BDSM subculture or any of our organizations that in any way vets presenters, owners of community spaces, members of the elected board of organizations or its appointees, or anyone else as safe players. No one is responsible to check any of these people out.  No one makes any guarantees about anything.  There are no tests of competence, no checklists to ensure they actually comply with what they say, no one watching over their shoulders to be sure they do it right before they are turned loose on the public.

Nothing.  Zip. Nada.

You are 100% on your own to sort how who is safe and who isn’t, exactly the same as in the vanilla world, although we do have some accepted conventions in this one that can help, if used judiciously.

People who become the community leaders have one or two qualities in common, often only that they are simply the only ones willing to step up to do the volunteer tasks involved.  When an organization is run by volunteers, they take anyone they can get to do the tasks involved, to the point that often even known problem people are allowed to participate, simply because there is no one else to do the job.  

(This is by no means true in all cases, and there are a lot of very dedicated, very safe people involved at all levels, but it comes into play often enough that you really need to not assume anything about anyone involved in the leadership of the community just because they’re there, and to check out each individual yourself, as your personal needs arise.) Continue reading

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A Field Guide to Creepy Dom

ByGaystapo, aka Asher Bauer, reposted with permission:

1. Introduction

This is a public service announcement for the BDSM and kink community. It is especially directed at anyone relatively new, and extra especially at anyone who ever bottoms. For the benefit of everyone’s mental health and safety, I would like to discuss the widespread phenomenon known as Creepy Dom.

Creepy Dom has many faces. He is almost always male, although I have encountered his rarer cousin, Creepy Domme, from time to time. Sometimes he seems only mildly annoying, at other times outright dangerous, but in general, he just gets scarier as you spend more time around him.

You all know this guy, or have at least heard of him. He’s the one who got banned from the local S&M club. He’s the asshole who just sent you a rude “Submit to me now” message on Bondage.com— even though you’re listed as a femdom. He’s the guy who seriously abused your friend under the guise of “D/s.” He might’ve even made the national news, but more likely, his victims have never reported him to the police. Continue reading