How You Can Help Combat the Abuse Problem

A newbie I met the other day told a tale of being abused or having her limits violated when playing with someone she said is well known at the Citadel, our local community playspace.  She said she’d like to get involved to help combat this problem, and asked how to go about it.  Here is my response to her.

I’d also add that it’s important to bring the issue to the attention of the dungeon owners if the problem occurs in their playspace, and frankly, even if it doesn’t.  No one will know that someone in an inner circle is a problem child if no one reports it.

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At this point, it’s pretty much a free for all.  People are writing in their blogs and getting interviewed for other publications, doing various classes, etc. I’ve got links to many of them on my blog, so you might want to take a look.

And then there’s my nascent BDSM Abuse Survivors’ Network that one day I’ll set up a separate website for, which is currently housed on the front page of my blog.  It’s purely volunteer, just allowing me to post whichever contact information you prefer that people use so that others who have been through this or are going through it now can find someone to talk to on a peer level.  I have no idea if anyone thus far has actually contacted anyone on the list, and I don’t monitor it in any way.  I get pretty good SEO rankings, though, and am getting more and more hits as time goes by, so eventually something should happen.

And then there’s just speaking out, telling others about your experiences, encouraging still others to speak up.  It very well may cost you something in terms of popularity, I can’t lie, but I’ve come to realize that the people who are ready to pooh-pooh me, particularly because they don’t see my ex doing what he did themselves, or who believe his crap, are people I don’t need in my life.  As some “friends” started dropping away, I found new ones who have a lot more sense coming into my life.

I’ll tell you this, too.  If the person you had a problem with is indeed popular at the Citadel, or in any other way a “leader” in the community, it is *highly* likely that you are far from the only one with a negative experience of him.  The same is true of many others as well, but it’s a near certainty with these most visible people.

One of the hardest things to communicate to newbies is that just because someone is well known and popular around the scene, or even a well-known presenter or group leader, or member of a board of any of the kinky groups, that in no way should serve as an endorsement.  Many such community leaders are just fine – but there is a frightening number who are quite dangerous to one extent or another.

As to what you said about blaming yourself, I do think it’s important that we all look at whatever our own contribution to a problem situation may have been, if any, and there are in fact times when we need to take that sort of responsibility for what has transpired, but when you say “Stop”, and someone doesn’t, or they just flat out violate limits you’ve already set, then hon, I’m sorry, but it is often entirely on them.

This game we play of “the dom is the boss” is a game, although many people do take it seriously.  There is nothing wrong with any level of that as long as both parties are consenting, and in agreement as to the parameters of the dynamic, but at the end of the day, no means no, no matter what, and you are entirely within your rights to object and pin the blame on them if someone violates those agreements with you.

The hard part is that it *is* hard sometimes to know how far is OK to go in any given encounter, but this is one reason we have things like safewords and promote the idea of thorough negotiation.  Pay attention to your gut.  If you don’t like what’s happening, and you do not end up feeling as good or better overall when all is said and done, and especially if the top involved responds poorly to your objections and even continues what he is doing if that is not your agreed-upon dynamic, then there’s an issue that needs attention, even if it’s just finetuning the negotiations next time.

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

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.

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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

Dealing With Anger While Playing, and By Playing

How do you deal with anger when it comes up in a scene?  Or when wanting to find a way to release it to start with?

My friend DaddyDarin weighed in the subject in a thread entitled How to release anger? It started as a question about how a sub can release that anger, perhaps in  a cathartic scene, but it also raises the questions of how a dominant should deal with his own anger, and indeed the fundamental importance of his ability to control his own self.

This is a relatively long post, with my comments interspersed, but the most important questions of how the dominant should address his own anger are towards the very end. Continue reading

On the Use of Labels in the BDSM World

This has become more and more of a pet peeve for me over the past several years.

No one fits neatly into any of these little boxes, in my experience. Even those who most seem to always have elements that don’t fit what someone else sees as “the definition”, once you get right down to it.

The older I get, the more I realize this – and the crankier it makes me to see everyone else and their cousin still wanting to stuff everyone into the same little boxes, and to make those boxes and labels mean the same thing to everyone – or more precisely, the same as it means to them. I’ve ranted about this publically for years in a variety of locations, but I’m crankier than ever about it.

We are much too complex to be reduced to one or two word definitions as labels to fully describe who we are, whatever those labels may be – at least any of us with more than a few functioning neurons who aren’t so completely damaged that we let anyone kick us around any way they want. The more neurons, the more complex, and the less well these labels generally function as definitions or descriptions.

Even doormats have limits and issues that may often belie whatever simple label anyone might hang on them. And God knows that even the most fully M/s-identified people certainly do. It’s never, ever as simple or clear-cut as it may look from the outside.

These labels are, at best, starting points for a discussion. Shorthand, if you will. Continue reading

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Alternative Sexual Practices – Kent State article response

first posted 9/17/06 @ 5:34 PM EST; updated 12/17/09

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In response to the 9/14/06 article in the Kent State “Stater Online” entitled “Alternative sexual practices abound among college students“, I would like to offer these remarks.

While it is true that sadism and masochism are still listed in the DSM-IV, and that there *are* some people who enjoy these practices when they are nonconsensual, when you start to speak of *most* practicing sadomasochists, consensuality is a *very* important part of what we do.

As a community, the kink community decries people who inflict pain on others without their consent as much as any other normal people do. Those nonconsensual practices are *not* part of what we do. Such people are *not* welcome in our midst any more than they are welcome anywhere else.

I also concur with Susan Wright‘s comment that the DSM-IV is quite clear that as long as these practices do not interfere with a person’s daily functioning, they are not considered mental illnesses – although that clearly only applies to people who are practicing these things consensually in the first place, not to the rapists and torturers of the world. Ms. Wright it quite correct, but I don’t think that her comment fully addresses the actual issue raised by Laurie Wagner’s comments, and how they are reported in the article, and that is the distinction between consensual and nonconsensual behavior.

It is exceedingly unfortunate when people in positions of authority and in a position to educate young minds such as Ms. Wagner don’t even have their information straight, because it is uninformed attitudes such as this that perpetuate this myth that what we do is somehow evil and dangerous.

The distinction between S&M and dominance and submission is also *not* as Ms. Wagner has stated it, and I concur with Ms. Wright’s assertion that she clearly has no idea what she is talking about, either on the psychological diagnosis side, or especially on the side of referring to the most common practices that typically carry these terms. Continue reading