Report on RACK Panel

On March 22, SF Citadel hosted a RACK panel of leaders and educators from the BDSM community dedicated to discussing this question, including its relationship to abuse.

The evening’s discussion was terrific.  Panelists included Levi (who was previously employed by NCSF), Queen Cougar, Disciple, Asher Bauer (Gaystapo on Fetlife, and author of “A Field Guide to Creepy Dom”, which I reposted here), and Chey, who together represented an excellent cross section of various branches of the kink and leather communities, which tend to have some different opinions on a number of issues.  Thorne did a masterful job of moderating, and asked some very important questions.

In the first half of the program, issues such as participants’ preferences for RACK vs SSC, attitudes towards breath play, and a couple of other matters were discussed, with a pretty predictable range of thoughts and opinions, with no two people seeing any of it quite the same way.

Asher felt that RACK is an edgier concept than SSC, because it implies more edge play and Disciple sees the two as falling along a spectrum.  Queen Cougar gave a history of the evolution of both concepts, and pointed out that the entire goal is to keep people safe, which is best accomplished, in her estimation, by just using plain old common sense, and not by mindless adherence to any particular acronym.  Levi spoke eloquently about how both are about safety in overall communications, the value of safety education, etc., distinguishing WIITWD from abuse, both being a “social expression of unified purpose” – and how NCSF feels that identifying with and playing as RACK actually increases players’ legal liability vs SSC.

Someone described RACK as often being used as “a coverup and club” for abusers, which everyone else nodded in agreement with.  My personal feeling is that they are both used that way.

The second half, however, was fully devoted to the question of consent, what it means, and whether or not violations of it should be reported to the police and/or made known to the community at large.  Thorne and I have been discussing these issues together for a while, and a number of the questions she asked were born out of issues I raised and my thinking on the subject.

Levi commented that he felt that consent is a construct, and fantasy container, that responsible masters hold the container for it, and must also take legal, emotional, and physical responsibility for their actions, as well as for their limitations.  He commented about the frequent involvement of coercion in obtaining “consent”, and how consent is sometimes used as justification for abuse, which brought murmurs of agreement from all of the participants.

Queen Cougar spoke eloquently and powerfully about how you “retain your personhood” even in the most intense relationships, and have the right to step out of it and protect yourself no matter what, despite any peer pressure to retain the M/s kind of dynamic and the twisted thinking that comes out of all of that.  Thorne added that that self protection includes emotional safety, as well as physical.

Disciple said that there are many savvy predators out there for whom consent really means nothing and are able to hide behind all the right language, and when he said straight out that they need to be “brought to light”, it drew a gasp of shock from the audience – and vigorous assent from the other panelists.  It was almost like someone had finally given everyone else permission to say out loud, and in so many words, what they had all been thinking, but hadn’t quite had the guts to say in so many words, and a virtual torrent of agreement came out.  He recommended setting aside your pride for the sake of the relationship, and not to rush into anything, taking your time to learn how that prospective partner reacts and treats others when he is under duress before you get involved, because that is highly predictive of how he will treat you.

We often speak about red flags that may clue one in that a particular person is a predator and likely to be dangerous.  Chey mentioned out that it’s a red flag if they’re not willing to come out of role and speak with the sub as equals, and Asher pointed out that sometimes there really aren’t any red flags at all, and that it’s “important not to victim blame”, no matter what.

What really stood out in this portion was that without exception, every single one of these community leaders and educators all agreed as the discussion ensued, particularly once Disciple came out and stated it so clearly, was that not only are violations of consent completely unacceptable, but that they should be reported to the police, as well as publicized widely throughout the community – and with names named.

What’s more, they all agreed that this should apply to all violations, that it is no longer acceptable to sweep so much under the rug as we have been doing for so long.

When I came into the scene a decade ago, this sort of scenario would have been absolutely unimaginable. I can’t think of anyone back then who I ever heard say such a thing, and to even bring the idea up would get one looked at with all kinds of suspicion, and generate a lecture on the importance of confidentiality, policing our own ranks, not involving the police because it would only serve to prove to the vanillas that we were indeed abusers and undermine our attempts to communicate just the opposite, and more – all of which would generally ultimately serve to protect the perpetrator and further victimize the victim.

No one would have said that abuse or violations of consent were OK, but no one would have been willing to actually advocate taking this kind of action.

And a lot more protection was given to D-types who were in M/s relationships in particular, and blame heaped on the S-type, with the admonition that she had entered into this arrangement voluntarily, and that it was all about the dom so he could do no wrong and she had to obey, etc., etc.  Sadly, we still hear some of this claptrap, but on the whole, it thankfully seems to be diminishing.

I’ve written and spoken a lot about what I see as the issues with abuse of various sorts in our circles, and while virtually every individual I can think of with whom I’ve spoken privately has also expressed similar sentiments, there is something about it being said out loud by five separate people who are respected in the community, in front of an audience of probably somewhere around 50 people, that to me, really brings home what I’ve been saying all along for several years, that abuse and violations of consent are huge and growing problems in our ranks, that we absolutely must deal with very differently than we’ve been handling it in the past.

In the “old days”, when the scene was much smaller and more underground, self-policing was much more feasible, and much more essential.  Nowadays, though, attitudes are changing, the police and the rest of the vanilla world are increasingly aware of WIITWD as a fundamentally consensual activity, and as a result, it is less taboo to discuss openly, and in a number of jurisdictions, local law enforcement is actually quite enlightened, so reporting abuses to them, when indicated, is far less likely to have negative repercussions for others than it probably was in the past.  We still have a long ways to go to achieve full understanding and cooperation from law enforcement, but the road is better paved than it was before – and just by virtue of our sheer huge increase in numbers and accessibility, self-policing the way it was back then, especially as a sole solution, is truly no longer a viable solution to these problems.

Being An Asshole, or Topping From the Bottom?

Thank you to Devastating Yet Inconsequential for permission to repost this post.  My comments are below the double line.

topping from the bottom

Can we please, please retire this concept?

Listen, there is such a thing as being an asshole in bed, no matter what kind of sex you’re having.  These types of behavior might make you an asshole (depending on context):

  • constantly insisting on getting your own way
  • not letting your partner finish the sex equivalent of a thought before correcting them
  • trying to force your partner to do things they don’t like and don’t choose
  • pouting or whining that things aren’t exactly to your liking
  • giving your partner long lists of changes you’d like them to make
  • refusing to play along with any idea you haven’t thought of yourself

When bottoms do things like this, it’s sometimes called “topping from the bottom.”  But the behavior listed above is equally obnoxious from a top or dom.

Listen to your partner.  Give them space to try things.  Be “good, giving, and game” (as Dan Savage puts it).  Be willing to try things yourself.  Prioritize your constructive criticism and give it at a pace your partner can handle.  Recognize your partner as a fellow human being with their own needs and desires, which have an equal claim to be fulfilled.

And, whatever side you are on, don’t worry about “topping from the bottom.”  If you’re worried that you’re impossible for your top to satisfy, work on that.  If you’re distracted by your bottom’s constant comments, talk about that.  But let’s get rid of this concept that I’m pretty sure causes a lot more stress, grief, and reluctance to communicate than it could ever possibly be worth.

=========================================

First of all, I quite agree that the whole concept of topping from the bottom needs to go away, largely because of what Dev says, namely how badly it (and the fear of being accused of doing it) interferes with communication and the ability to resolve problems.  Even in a D/s relationship, you have a right to have your needs heard and respected, and that means you’ve got to be able to communicate them to your top without fear of this kind of nonsense.  Even in the most extreme M/s, TPE, etc. relationships, you ultimately still have those rights as a human being, even if you’ve negotiated them away.  A smart dominant will listen to them and take them into consideration no matter what the form of the relationship, just as any intelligent partner in a vanilla relationship will.

On the face of it, and without context, this list of behaviors can indeed be quite obnoxious.  I’d argue, actually, that many of them are considerably less appealing when a dominant does them than when a submissive does – and they are very much part of where BDSM may, and often does, cross the line right into abuse.

What the concept of topping from the bottom does is obscure this distinction, and that’s part of why it’s such a bad idea, because far too many people on both sides of the slash cannot tell the difference between topping from the bottom and protecting their own selves from abuse, between a healthy interchange of thoughts and respect for limits as well as attempts to accommodate a partner’s needs and desires, and outright abusiveness.

The notion of topping from the bottom is often pulled out by abusers to justify running roughshod over their submissives, and used as a bludgeon to shut them up and beat them into greater submission, even when so doing is clearly harmful to the sub.  It’s also used as a measuring device to compare one’s own submissiveness to that of other subs, by both subs and doms, when the reality is you simply cannot compare two people or situations, because of differences in individual needs.

Topping from the bottom is a concept that is not limited to what happens in bed, but is also often pulled out by dominants to justify all manner of abuses of their submissives in the rest of life as well, and to stop the sub from objecting.

If we remove the concept and term from our vocabularies altogether, the realities of what may be happening in a given situation are much easier to sort out.

Here are some examples of things that might look like TFTB, or being a jerk on the bottom, but aren’t – and are in fact much more abusive on the part of the top than anything else. Continue reading

Incompatibility vs Uncaring/Abusive?

Dominants, how would you handle a sub/slave who acts this way or in a way you don’t like when you play with him/her but is someone you want to keep on your chain?

@redcheeks, I’d start by making sure I fully understood what was driving it, both in himself and my own self.  A savvy dominant will start to assess behavior he doesn’t like by first looking inside himself to see what he himself may be doing to cause it.

Then you go from there.

I’m not sure why I get so angry at him.

Anger at someone who is not respecting your needs and desires like this is perfectly normal, especially when it happens repeatedly.

Why do you have to figure out who’s at fault? How about just figuring out what’s wrong at the core? Blaming people isn’t productive. It’s actually very damaging.

@_Aine_, if you don’t identify what part of the problem is in your own hands vs what is not, then it’s much harder to address issues effectively – or to do anything about whatever your own role may be.

While it is usually true that it takes two to tango, the reality is that sometimes problems are much more clearly the fault of one party or the other.

I’m not saying that’s the case here, but it’s true in general.

Even when it is clearly two-sided, it’s still important to know who owns what part of the problem – and for both parties to recognize this.

Blame in the sense of locating the responsibility where it rightly belongs and not taking on someone else’s bad behaviors as one’s own responsibility is important to maintaining good boundaries, in BDSM as well as in the rest of life.

You are not less submissive if you can’t give him what he needs; you’re just not a pain slut and unable to take the level at which he’s able to give.

I could not have said that better myself, @MistressOrlando.  And objecting when a dominant continues to try to administer a level of pain which one cannot take, particularly after communicating that to him repeatedly, is an entirely reasonable response.

It may also be a compatibility issue as others have already mentioned, but it’s definitely a violation of limits for that particular sub if that same behavior and level of pain administration continues after the submissive has made it clear that she cannot take it, and particularly if she also makes it a new hard limit.  At that point, and particularly if it continues, then it’s just abusive.

If it really is a compatibility issue, and it’s something that the dominant cannot live without, he should end the relationship if a mutually acceptable solution cannot be worked out.  If he continues in the relationship, though, he has an absolute obligation to respect those limits.

Continue reading

Domestic Violence and Abuse: Signs of Abuse and Abusive Relationships

One of the best and most comprehensive descriptions  I’ve seen of the problem of domestic abuse is at HelpGuide.org, and is entitled  Domestic Violence and Abuse: Signs of Abuse and Abusive Relationships. A couple of excerpts follow, but please read the whole page, as it is full of all kinds of excellent information and links.

Domestic abuse, also known as spousal abuse, occurs when one person in an intimate relationship or marriage tries to dominate and control the other person. Domestic abuse that includes physical violence is called domestic violence..

This statement is one of the main reasons that people in the BDSM world do not recognize abuse when they see it, because this is what we basically do – or at least it’s what it looks like.  It is the reason they don’t think the concept applies to them.

This is untrue, and does very much relate to wiittwd because, as the following paragraph states:

Domestic violence and abuse are used for one purpose and one purpose only: to gain and maintain total control over you. An abuser doesn’t “play fair.” Abusers use fear, guilt, shame, and intimidation to wear you down and keep you under their thumb. Your abuser may also threaten you, hurt you, or hurt those around you.

In a healthy D/s or even M/s relationship, the dom or master may want total control, and that may well be reasonable, once the relationship progresses to where both know what they’re getting into, but a mature dominant will definitely play fair, consider your limits, etc.

MsAuthoritarian concludes on Fetlife that, “It is not what we do within our relationships but ‘how we do it’ that creates the distinction between a healthy dynamic and an abusive dynamic no matter if it is within mainstream or what it is we do. If someone is using fear of harm, guilt, shame, intimidation or violence to gain and maintain dominance then it is domestic abuse plain and simple”.

This is extremely succinct and very well put.  A healthy D/s relationship – or any relationship, for that matter – should build the sub up, not tear her down (and ditto for the dom).  It should leave both parties feeling better about themselves overall, regardless of the nature of the relationship, and as if the relationship enhances their lives and brings out the best in them both.

To read more about abuse in the BDSM community, please visit the Abuse vs BDSM – An Uncomfortable Subject thread on Fetlife.

A Slave is Not A Submissive

By Deborah Teramis Christian

A submissive explores the piquant terrain of the surrendering of power. It is not surprising that folks engaged in D/s often spend a fair amount of energy determining what are the appropriate bounds of submission and control to incorporate into their play. For those for whom this kind of power exchange is a lifestyle expression, the scope of dominance and submission excercised may be quite extensive.

Into this mix then often comes the tricky word of “slave” – a concept which never fails to muddy the water, especially in discussions on the internet or among kinksters with limited D/s experience. While some people insist that the word “slave”, like the word “submissive”, can mean to the individual anything they want it to mean, it is nevertheless a fact of the established and more experienced leather community that slavery in an M/s sense of the word has specific connotations, and that slavery differs from submission in significant ways. I want to explore those differences here and illustrate why I believe that a submissive and a slave are two entirely different creatures, as unlike as apples and oranges.

Definitions

To start this conversation I will offer a definition of submissive and slave first put forth by Steven Davis on the old alt.sex.bondage newsgroup on Usenet in 1995, paraphrased here with permission. (Also, when speaking of D/s which is a gender-neutral endeavor, I tend to use the gender neutral pronouns of sie and hir in my discussion. I write for an audience that spans many orientations and I find it helps avoid the pattern of thinking of D/s as happening in any one set of gender configurations). That said:

A submissive renews the choice to submit every time a demand is levied upon hir. A slave makes a one-time choice to submit, up front, and thereafter it is incumbent upon hir to obey.

I am fond of this definition because it describes not only my personal experience of submission and slavery, but with some minimal qualification also applies to every submissive or slave relationship I have known of. To elaborate, then…. Continue reading

How I Would Explain My Role

First of all, I don’t fit in any neat little boxes. There’s no one word that describes how I identify, what my role is. I generally say “submissive” because that’s probably the closest of the options usually offered, but I am way too complex for any single label of this nature to even remotely begin to describe me – except maybe just “kinky”. And I am indeed kinked to the core, but in ways and combinations of ways that simply completely defy neat categorization. This drove my ex crazy, that I simply would not just say any more that I’m “submissive” or a “slave”, or any other single neat term. I’m an impossible crazy quilt of mixed up concepts, much too complicated to fully encapsulate in a single word.

Thus, the only thing that really makes any sense at all to me these days is to pretty much eliminate the labels completely, and just talk about what I like and don’t like, what works for me and what doesn’t, and to look for a partner who has a reasonably complementary list of needs and desires, no matter what he calls his own self.
That said, I’m going to throw a few out initially here anyways, to show how confusing it is to try to neatly label me.

In many ways, I am probably a bottom, in that I am not interested in having someone else run my life, unless it happens to be in ways I’d want it run and am already doing. If someone thinks he’s going to change me into something I’m not, or that I will try to become anything other than what I am, forget it. I’m an adult, and expect to be treated as one.

I also don’t want to be pushed in ways I don’t want in play, although I absolutely need that submissive headspace to be able to process the pain and other pushing that the masochist in me craves during play, to be able to go anywhere near the headspace I need, to be pushed to the places I can’t go by myself. It’s a deeply submissive headspace I seek and need, regardless of the mechanics and details of how I get there, or what happens outside the bedroom.

Because this is the core of what drew me to the kink world, I remain self-identifying as a submissive, although there are other reasons as well, as outlined below. So perhaps I should change that to a submissive with bottom leanings, or a bottom with submissive leanings. “Profoundly submissive” (a bizarre term I’ve seen surfacing lately on Fetlife) I am not, though. Somewhat masochistic also, definitely, although my limits have very much contracted in recent years for various reasons.

On the other hand, I am quite socially dominant (although not sexually so), and don’t put up with crap even in a D/s relationship. I insist on my limits and boundaries being respected, my needs dealt with appropriately, and enough of my desires satisfied to keep me interested. Step on my limits and I’ll end up fighting you about it if I don’t just leave, if reasonable discussion doesn’t resolve the issue, and I’ll push really hard for the discussion and resolution, which some people perceive as fighting. So perhaps I’m actually a dominant submissive with bottoming tendencies. Or a submissive bottom with dominant tendencies. Who knows what to call it?

From another angle, many slaves are not the least bit submissive, but are in fact quite dominant, a concept I learned from Master Skip Chasey. I’ll certainly be obedient to the right dominant who handles me right. So am I actually a slave? That’s not how I think of myself, or what I aspire to, but there are bits of that in there as well, especially because most of what I was taught as and think of as D/s is what most people think of more as M/s. And if you define it the way my ex, R, did, being a slave meant being owned by him, giving him my love and devotion, wearing his collar with pride, and that I definitely do identify with. But I’m decidedly not property.

I’m definitely sexually submissive, but not especially service oriented, at least not if we’re talking domestic service.

I do, however, very much enjoy pleasing my partner in many ways as well as helping and supporting him in all areas of life, and yes, even taking care of him in some limited and very specific ways (NOT financially). I live for much of that, in fact. A lot of people would consider this service, and I suppose it is. The language differential matters a lot to me, though, as I just don’t respond well to the word “service”. I live to help others, especially those I love. I die if it is rejected.

I need for my submission to be carefully seduced, for my dominant to inspire me to give it, on an ongoing basis. It simply won’t come out to play otherwise.

I need to be regularly told I’m a good girl when I please him. NEED. As in essential.

I don’t do the “on your knees, bitch” kind of submission, except perhaps in scene. And I don’t just give it unless it’s both seduced and earned. It also won’t come out in a vacuum where it’s expected to start the game itself, to be offered first, before the dominance happens, unless in the context of specific regular rituals that involve just that. And yet, I need for that to wait until I signal I’m ready. My submission plays and thrives best with active, overt, but still quiet domination asking for it, quietly but firmly insisting on it, and with clear and consistent expectations. And it absolutely requires a very high level of intelligence and creativity on the part of the dom as well.

The result of pushing me too hard and/or too soon, or without a very high level of trust (or worse, the breaking of that trust and violation of limits, especially repeatedly) will be resistance and near complete loss of ability to take any level of pain, and I’ll just eventually leave the relationship, one way or another. At this point in my life, that departure will be much sooner rather than later.

But when I am with someone who inspires me to submit to him and encourages and takes care of it successfully… wow.  Those are the dominants (and periods of time) who have always gotten the very best of me, to whom I happily give as much of what they want as I can, and whom I want to serve, obey, and please. When things are really clicking this way, I soar.

Once a very high level of trust is established (and it’s going to take one hell of a lot to get there these days), I have a very strong and deep-seated, nearly life-long need to be pushed in both play and sex, to be taken and forced to take more intense sensation than I think I can, all within my limits, of course. I need to be overpowered by someone I know there’s no way I can escape from.

I particularly live for forced orgasms to the point that I can’t take any more (and I am highly multiorgasmic), and scenes that involve the infliction of and determined gradual escalation of other intense sensations of varying sorts while in completely immobilizing bondage that is utterly inescapable, complete with sensory deprivation. Nothing else on earth will make me fly like that particular combination when skillfully executed by someone I trust implicitly with my life. Genital orgasms are sometimes mere icing and sometimes even distracting from the level of bliss, peace, and sometimes full body orgasm that scenes like this in which I have no control at all bring me. But of course this kind of scene requires a very high degree of trust.

With the right dominant, in the right circumstances, I am also submissive in a 24/7 sense, in certain ways. I function best on a long leash, with dominance actually exerted in only a few areas of life, and the rest of our lives being pretty much vanilla, with my having a lot of autonomy and the relationship being largely egalitarian. But I do definitely like to feel the leash and reminders of it enough to know it’s always there, and perhaps some small rituals together. That helps anchor me emotionally and gives me an amazing sense of security and belonging when the trust is high in all aspects of life together.

What I most seek is a strong leader who is basically in charge, not so much in control per se, some to follow whom I deeply admire. I will follow a strong, highly competent leader whose tastes, preferences, interests, and values align well with my own pretty much anywhere, at any time, without even asking questions or paying attention to where or how we get there most of the time. I’ll eat whatever he puts in front of me, go to whatever restaurants he takes me to, attend whatever events he wants to go to with him, follow him in travel to the ends of the earth without even looking at the tickets or flight numbers, baggage claim or car rental direction signs, etc. It is absolute bliss to be with someone I trust like that, and who takes care of me in that way, and I miss it terribly.

I am certainly more than competent to manage all of these kinds of things quite expertly on my own, of course, but the release and joy of being able to just not have to do it at all and to rely on someone else to take control of it all is absolute heaven…

I am also starting to explore the idea of being with someone with daddy-like qualities inclinations, and whatever that translates to on the right side of the slash. I’m definitely not a little, though. I find the idea of age play per se appalling, and am absolutely not interested in a daddy per se, let alone addressing anyone like that. It’s the loving, nurturing, care-taking, teaching, encouraging, supportive, take-charge, strong guy to lean on kinds of qualities that make me feel safe and secure that I’m drawn to.
I suppose one could also look at it like the qualities of a gracious gentleman in the most traditional, old-school sense, a man’s man who takes care of everything in our lives, and makes sure that I am always safely looked after – but who also definitely delights in torturing me in bed and in play and supports and encourages me completely in my own professional and avocational pursuits (as I also do with him). It’s kind of like the male counterpart to the madonna/whore notion for women, I suppose, a dichotomy with which I have most definitely always identified. I’ve recently seen some men defining themselves as “gentleman doms”. That would be about right for what I’m looking for.

This is not to say that he does everything. Au contraire. I have many talents and skills, and not only want for them to be utilized in the service of the relationship, but expect that.

I need nurturing, caring, loving, kindness, consistency, firmness and insistence when necessary, positive reinforcement, and to be contained safely within the aura and arms of a strong, protective, emotionally mature, self-assured, flexible, realistic, grounded man with high self esteem, who is utterly committed, as I am, to doing whatever it takes to work on ourselves as individuals as well as on the relationship. I also need attention paid to both my needs and my wants along with a definite level of sadism.

I absolutely do not do punishment. Funishment, sure. Anything with a real punitive intent is a very hard limit, though. See “I am an adult” and “I want to please my partner” above. I also experience it as abusive, and it is more likely to elicit complete opposition than anything else if anyone tries it with me, and digging in to repeat. When I know that I’ve disappointed my partner, that hurts enough. Attempts to punish me destroy me.

Any kind of harshness, displays of anger, what many doms call “strictness”, punishment, and much (although certainly not all) of what people mean by “humiliation” feel abusive to me, push triggers that I have little control over – and will utterly destroy trust and send me running, or at least bring me up fighting hard. For my life.

I respond best to loving kindness, being treated like a lady overall (but a whore in bed), and knowing and reassurances that I am the most extremely precious and valuable part of my partner’s life, to whom he dedicates his own total devotion. Treat me well, never overlook my safety, particularly in the pursuit of the satisfaction of your own desires, have a firm grasp on the difference between reality and fantasy, and what real people are capable of, and I’ll be eating out of your hand in no time.

Overall, I am open to whatever a relationship evolves into being. I do not aspire to be anything in particular, to have a relationship format of any particular sort, and I don’t care if what we end up with can be neatly labeled as anything in particular other than just “an incredibly wonderful relationship”. In fact, I’d just as soon entirely skip the labels altogether, and the false expectations they tend to bring with them. Wherever it goes, it goes. If we are both happy, and getting our needs met, that’s all that matters. And that requires a lot of ongoing negotiation and discussion throughout the course of the relationship.