abuse among the kinky, part 1: 6 ways to think about abuse*

It’s a snowy, sunny Thursday and life is good.

I have two notices for you today.

First, for those in Toronto, there’s a panel about gender inequities in health care taking place next Tuesday night (November 25) at the Gladstone. All details are posted below. I find it quite interesting that the description of the event mentions differences between health care for men and for women, but says nothing about how things might be further differentiated for trans people – isn’t that part of gender inequity in health care? I’m always amazed at how “gender” means something completely different to people depending on their social and political location. For many second-wave feminists, it means “women are oppressed and men are oppressors.” For many third-wave(-plus) sex radicals, it means “let’s deconstruct gender entirely and then let’s talk about trans issues.” Personally, I’m all for bridging the gap and recognizing that both layers of the gender question, and many more, are still very much present and operational in our society, for all that they’re complex and ever-evolving. I’m aiming to attend the panel at least in some part to see if there’s any room for such gap-bridging.

Next, I wanted to point you to a recent article I wrote for the Toronto Xtra! entitled “Puppy Play Unleashed.” It was an absolute blast to write! If you think you might be interested in learning more, I encourage you to attend Dart’s workshop on the topic, “Puppy Love,” which he’ll be giving at MLT (Mr. Leather Toronto) next weekend (November 29-30).

And speaking of MLT, I’ll be giving two workshops there this year. The first will be “Lighting the Fire: BDSM and Abuse,” which I’m giving on Saturday afternoon with my colleague and friend Ariel from Boston, who works with The Network/La Red, a domestic violence organization that specializes in marginalized communities including queer, trans and kinky. The second will be “Take Five: The Pleasures of (Vaginal) Fisting)” on Sunday afternoon. Full details in my Workshops tab if you’re interested.

As a sort of lead-up to the abuse workshop, I decided to re-post two pieces I wrote a year ago, just before switching to WordPress, about BDSM and abuse. I’m posting one now, and I’ll post the second one on Thursday of next week. If they get your brain juices flowing, or if you’d like to discuss the issue for any other reason, by all means come to the workshop.

*I put this two-part post together in April 2007. Well, it was originally in three parts, but I’ve combined the last two into the second post this time around. Here’s the first one.

***

Recently on an international BDSM discussion group I’m part of, there was a thread on the topic of abuse within the SM community. Often, one of the ideas that comes up when this topic rises is that of creating some sort of online blacklist that would list “bad dominants” or dangerous players. The idea always leaves a sour taste in my mouth – for a number of reasons. One, because I don’t think it’s possible to avoid people simply using it as a way to bad-mouth each other or air out their differences. Two, because I don’t believe it would actually serve any purpose in protecting vulnerable people from abusive players. And three, because I don’t believe in dealing with community problems through a punishment / revenge / protection approach; I really think this kind of thing needs to be looked at from an education / empowerment / positive reinforcement standpoint.

With that in mind, I came up with two lists: first, a list of six ways we could THINK about the problem of abuse differently and possibly more effectively. Second, my personal list of ten specific things that each and every one of us could DO that would make abusive behaviour less likely within the S/M world. I figured I might as well post ‘em here too.

So… for starters…

6 Ways to Think About Abuse

1. Admit that we simply cannot make it go away. It will always exist. There is no perfect solution. I’m not being a pessimist – at all in fact – just a realist. So let’s stop looking for a solution that will always work; they will all have their flaws. This should not discourage us, it should make us think more realistically and take more concrete action instead of finding hopeless plans and then abandoning them.

2. Remember that submissives are not idiots. Anytime the idea of “protecting the poor helpless submissives / newbies” comes up, it makes my skin crawl. It is condescending and inaccurate to think that someone in the submissive or bottom role is any less likely to stand up for themselves than anyone else; any less likely to take proper precautions to protect themselves in the first place; and any less likely to know their limits, know how to defend themselves, and know how to make wise choices. They may be marginally more likely to find themselves in a vulnerable position within a scene, but this doesn’t make them airheads who can’t take a moment to think about relative risk and commonsense safety precautions.

3. Remember that not everyone is fucking heterosexual already. Remember that abuse exists between gay men and between lesbians and among trans people of any orientation. (In fact the only person I can think of whom I would blacklist, if I believed in blacklisting, which I don’t, is a lesbian.) Stop talking about abuse as though it were just for top men and bottom women who necessarily play with only each other. This limits the discussion and leaves out vulnerable people.

4. Take an approach that’s about an ethics of care and empowerment rather than an ethics of protection, defense or punishment. Ask the question: how can we best care for each other within our community? NOT how can we best defend ourselves and protect our own? There is a big difference.

Protection means that we assume someone is weak and they need stronger people to defend their interests. It creates a sense of dependence (on the “weak” person’s part) and righteous strength (on the “strong” person’s part) which in fact is suspiciously similar to the conditions that create and support abusive situations in the first place.

Care and empowerment means that we assume someone is strong and capable, and we want to give them all the resources they might want to nourish that strength, and provide support for them if they need it. It creates legions of strong people who have lots of backup if ever their own strength flags.

5. Ask the question: What can I do that will help prevent abuse? NOT What can I do that will make me feel like a hero? Then stop, and ask it again. And again. And again until you get as deep inside your motivations as possible and away from anything that looks like the desire for revenge, self-important heroism, grandiose visions of saving the world and so forth. Once you get there, keep asking it until you come up with a list of at least eight or ten answers. You’ll know you’ve arrived when you start groaning and saying, “Man, that would be a lot of work / that would be personally challenging for me.” Then make it your business to pick at least two or three of them, and actually take some concrete action. (I’m posting my own starter list next.)

The effective answers, for better or for worse, rarely involve revenge, blacklisting or other dramatic means of the sort. It’s really unfortunate that we seem to have this vision of community as though it were something that could be built and made strong through punishing those who do things we don’t like.

6. Remember that abuse is a really specific kind of bad situation. It always bothers me when people use the word “abuse” to mean “any kind of behaviour I don’t like.” According to a resource I often link to on the topic: “Abuse is a pattern of behavior where one person tries to control the thoughts, beliefs, or actions of a partner, friend, or any other person close to them. Abuse is sometimes also referred to as domestic violence, battering, and intimate partner abuse. Abusers may use a number of ways to control their partner, none of which are acceptable in the context of a consensual, negotiated S/M relationship. These actions cannot be stopped with a safeword and can include physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, economic abuse, outing, and defending any of these nonconsensual actions as the way “real” S/M works.”

In other words, forgetting to check someone’s circulation while they’re in bondage might be neglectful or stupid or unsafe, but it’s not abusive. Playing past someone’s limits by genuine accident, miscommunication, or whatever else may be awful, but it’s not abusive. Getting in a fight with your honey and yelling something mean at them is not nice, but it’s not abusive. (Though it might happen within an abuse situation of course.) Assaulting someone on the street is a criminal act, but even that is not abuse. Abuse is an ongoing non-consensual / coercive power dynamic between partners that plays out in all kinds of insidious ways, not all of which even look abusive on the outside. Let’s call a spade a spade, and let’s not confuse or dilute it with related (or unrelated) issues.

***

Tuesday, November 25 at 5:30pm
The Gladstone Hotel, 1214 Queen Street West
Refreshments. Free admission.
RSVP: j.kopelow@sympatico.ca

Gender Inequities in Health: What Can We Do to Close the Gaps?

Men and women have different needs and challenges in getting health care. Men and women are treated differently when they access care.

What causes inequities? Biology? Bias? Poverty? Health care delivery? How can scientific evidence inform practice and policy to help us close these gaps?

Join leading scientists for discussion and debate.

ARLENE BIERMAN MD, MS, Ontario Women’s Health Council Chair in Women’s Health, Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute of St. Michael’s Hospital & University of Toronto

CAROLYN CLANCY MD, Director, Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, US Department of Health and Human Services

GILLIAN HAWKER MD, MSc, Chief of Medicine, Women’s College Hospital, Professor of Medicine, University of Toronto

MODERATED BY ANDREAS LAUPACIS MD, MSc Executive Director, Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute of St. Michael’s Hospital

Co-Sponsored by CIHR’s Institute of Gender and Health & Institute for Health Services and Policy Research

3 Responses

  1. […] as the always wonderful Sex Geek said ‘Admit that we simply cannot make it go away. It will always exist. There is no perfect […]

  2. […] http://sexgeek.wordpress.com/2… […]

  3. […] The second part of taking away the predator/abuser’s playground is the obligation of the community. This is the area that seems to create the biggest problems within our community. As with any issue which needs addressing, people will range in reaction from “I’m staying out of it” to “let’s report the fucker to the police, immediately”..and everywhere in between. But if we, as event organizers, munch facilitators, presenters, party hosts and dungeon operators provide this playground for abusers because we are afraid to act or because we “don’t want to get involved in other’s problems”, then we are providing exactly the kind of playground in which predators and abusers thrive. (with a nod here to a very cool blog: SexGeek) […]

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