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.

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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