Wednesday, May 9, 2012

This is why being kinky is different from being LGBTQI: A response to Natalie Walschots' interview

I’ve been following the recent controversies surrounding Fifty Shades of Grey, as well as Katie Roiphe terrible Newsweek article about it. I have mostly been loving the coverage and the deeply thoughtful responses. Unfortunately, an argument I’d previously only heard by suggestion and in passing, one I find particularly unsettling, has started to gain some serious traction.

In an interview for Feministing Natalie Walschots talks about a bunch of awesome stuff (especially about sexuality being a spectrum and how using extreme examples is useful but not really representative). I was, however, disappointed to read about her view on this point (one she repeats a few times in the interview):

“For some people, just as being gay can be the cornerstone of their sexuality, so BDSM can be the cornerstone of sexuality for many others. Acknowledging kink as a full-fledged sexual orientation is the key to de-stigmatizing it, and writing from that perspective is the most useful, inclusive and healthy.”

So... I have a problem with the rhetorical habit certain kinky folks seem to have, of equating, with utmost certainty, that some kinky folks feel that their identity as submissive/kinkster/dominant is equal to that of those who identify as LGBTQI (believe me this is not the first time this has happened).

As someone who identifies as both queer and kinky, I feel the important need to say, that identifying as kinky is not as pivotal in my life as identifying as queer.  One of the reasons I chose the moniker of “queer” because of its vagueness. I choose it to recognize that my sexual identity is a living force that changes often and often radically. In some ways the label of kinky comfortably fits under the umbrella of “queer”. But this is not the only reason I feel uncomfortable when folks equate kink/BDSM to being LGBTQI.

I don’t believe that kink/BDSM can happen without an education in and preparations/space made for rock solid consent. If any kink/BDSM activities are attempted without these things they are unsafe non-consensual play. At worst such activities turn into assault/rape/violence.  I recognize that this is an optimistic and even exclusive definition of kink/BDSM but I can’t feel ethical extending my definition of kink/BDSM to situations/activities where consent is squishy. What’s important about this definition of kink/BDSM in the conversation of kinky/submissive/dominant as an identity, is that it comes from a place of privilege.

What I mean by “place of privilege” is that folks who engage in kink/BDSM tend to have a well-developed awareness and expression of their sexual preferences. Within the kink/BDSM community folks are generally (and by the intent of most kink) encouraged to be honest about their sexuality. Ideally kinky/BDSM communities offer both physical and social spaces to generate language to communicate about sexual wants/fears/triggers. This practice keeps consent and accountability alive and present in kinky interactions. This is awesome. I am proud to be part of a community where this occurs. However when kinky folks fight to be recognized as healthy, fun-loving folks (which, by majority, they totally are!), they need to remember that part of what they are defending is their incredible, wonderful privilege.

There are many people who are unable (whether it is from external or internalized oppression) to be honest in their sexual expressions & who don't have access to spaces where it is safe to do so. These are folks who, under above definition, are
unable to participate in kink/BDSM. Many of these folks come from traditionally oppressed populations; they are often queer, female, trans, genderqueer, people of color, trauma survivors etc... They might someday be into kinky things but at the moment lack the knowledge, safety, and space to choose to explore it. The inspiring thing about kink/BDSM is that, if it is done responsibility, it provides safe space for folks (including those oppressed) to express and explore their sexual identities.


I would love for it to be okay for kinky folks to talk about their preferences with folk in their greater communities; making these spaces more & more available to others. But equating kinky identity/orientation with LGBTQI identities/orientations is not the way to do it. It’s a lazy argument that oversimplifies the struggles of both parties. Sexual orientation exists in a person’s body mind and soul regardless of privilege (you are still gay even if you aren’t able to say it out loud yet!). Kink/BDSM cannot exist without an education and language about consent and safety, (which is a privilege I wish all were afforded). I recognize & respect that some folks do, as Natalie Walschots says, identify being kinky/submissive/dominant as “the absolute keystone of their sexuality and a crucial component of their health, happiness and self-actualization”. But you can’t be (responsibly) kinky without an education in consent and sexual safety. This is why being kinky is different from being LGBTQI, you can be LGBTQI all alone and without a language or freedom to act and speak, but kink needs dialogue at the least and community at best.

4 comments:

  1. Thank you for this. I hope this voice, your points, gain traction as well. I think you make an important distinction with great care. Thanks again.

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  2. i think that much like the way that sex can exist without good consent, kink/BDSM can still exist without good consent--but it's not being done responsibly.
    when i talk about the kink/BDSM communities being based in privilege, i mean the communities that are (sometimes) seemingly straight-up based on capitalism. like, hey Wet Spot, so cool that you have classes about rope bondage and orgies, but i can not afford to pay $75 a year plus $20-25 per event, and still live at the standard of living that, while opulent in comparison to some standards, is actually pretty spare in comparison to some "1st world" folxx. i am not a software dynamo (sorry software dynamos, some of you are very nice!), my work is not privileged in the same way that will earn me money to have recreationally sexy community--instead i have to work to create decentralized community (yay, i'm borrowing a word from Maymay, but fuck yeah decentralized is totally the word i was looking for). etc. dig it? i dunno. i need to write about this when i'm not exhausted/recovering from what will now be known as 'that infamous TBTN debacle that ended in really awesome time with Wendy'.

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  3. Before we had the words lesbian, gay and bisexual, did sexual orientation not exist? I'm not being glib, I think this is a worthwhile question.

    I am not sure whether kink/BDSM should be defined as a sexual orientation - for one, I think that drawing lines between kinky and not-kinky/vanilla is not all that accurate or helpful.

    But I really don't agree with the idea that kink/BDSM does not exist outside of dialogue or community. There are many people who report having sexual thoughts about D/s or getting off on pain as children. I think that someone can understand that they are a sadist, a masochist, dominant, a submissive, a switch, etc. without ever talking about it with another person, much less doing it. Indeed there are kinky asexuals and folks who do not desire to do kink with anyone else.

    Before there was this language around kink/BDSM, people were engaging in activities that we would probably call kink/BDSM. I don't think any kind of sex should happen without "an education and language about consent and safety" but it does, as rehearsalsdepartures pointed out. If a person in a kink/BDSM community rapes someone, does that mean they're not a kinkster/BDSMer?

    I think we need to make space for the possibility that people in oppressed populations may have their own ways of understanding kink, their own languages of consent and understand that "the" BDSM community may not be a safe space for many people to explore their sexuality.

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    Replies
    1. I am really glad that you brought this up! Thank you! The concepts of inherent proclivities toward S&M and power play definitely have been mulling around in my brain and in my discussions since I wrote this (some of them with rehearsalsdepartures. yay!).

      One of the concepts I've begun to explore is "kink/y" as an adjective and not an activity (or set of activities) (http://followsthesun.com/defining-kink-kinkforall-boston-and-beyond/)

      I definitely think a person who assaluts/rapes (as well as those who have been assaulted/raped) can identify as kinky but I would deeply disagree with the identification of that assault/rape as a kinky/BDSM activity. Nonconsensual activity should never be called anything other that that.

      I think people want what they want. And I agree that they want them whether they have a language for them or not. But for me personally, engaging in power plays (or any sexual with others without having or developing a language to talk and create a consciousness about what transpires is not what I would consider ethical. And I would discourage any BDSM/kinky community/person who neglects to do this.

      "I think we need to make space for the possibility that people in oppressed populations may have their own ways of understanding kink, their own languages of consent and understand that "the" BDSM community may not be a safe space for many people to explore their sexuality."

      I agree that it is totally important to open and maintain spaces for oppressed folks to explore their sexual preferences. Part of maintaining that space however is to ensure that a single person or group's preference to not oppress others. "Community" for me does not mean expressly identified BDSM centric communities, but it does expressly mean consent-respecting communities (which can be a group of friends). I wish I had been clearer about that in this post and am writing a bit more on this topic for future posts.

      Your input and attention to this is really helpful!

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