Archive for February, 2009

beat that meat*
February 12, 2009

I’m writing this from the lovely (though currently chilly and rather soggy) town of Halifax, where I’m teaching a series of workshops at the ever-wonderful Venus Envy. I’m fresh home from a bathhouse event (attended by 90 women and trans people!) during which a most accommodating demo bottom was so kind as to allow me to fist her in front of a very large audience, having met me barely twenty minutes prior. I’m telling you, this town rocks.

Even more exciting, this Sunday I’ll be attending the inaugural meeting of AWOL, or Atlantic Women of Leather – how cool is it that the Maritime ladies are starting to get a group going? I’m thrilled that I’ll be in town to witness its birth!

Anyway, what with teaching and related adventures, I am not in a position to write a new post this week, but I hope to do so once I’m all finished here. In the meantime, I give you a re-post of something I wrote on a completely unrelated topic. Nope, I can’t come up with a clever segue… sorry. *I originally posted this on January 6, 2007.

Oh, and if you’re in Halifax and you might be interested in the remaining two workshops, check out the registration information on my Workshops tab.



Way back in Women’s Studies, I got my first taste of ecofeminism – basically, a political position that involves the marriage of environmentalism and feminism. I’m a feminist, a vegetarian (17 years and counting) and I’ve got pretty strong views and practices around respecting the environment and animal rights, so it just made sense to me that they’d go together to some extent. I never really questioned the link.

But I just read an article in Bitch mag (yes, my eternal fave) by Aimée Dowl, entitled “Friend or Food: Raising the Flag for Feminist Vegetarianism,” which in fact has clarified several reasons, for me, as to why I don’t believe they go together after all. I’m going to focus on what the article says, which is specific to vegetarianism and not to ecofeminism as a whole, but a lot of it can be extrapolated.

It’s not so much that I think the causes of feminism and vegetarianism are totally incompatible. It’s just that some of the reasons that are often cited as common ground strike me as a bit of a stretch in some cases and downright sex-phobic in others. Some of course still make sense to me, but they tend to be the reasons that make sense independently of each other, each part of the tapestry of progressive politics but not fundamentally related.

The article explains: “Leading proponents of the feminist-vegetarian connection generally argue along three, often interwoven, ideological threads corresponding to culture, labor issues, and the environment.” It also brings up health issues. (The “culture” thread seems to cover sexuality-related stuff.) Oddly, it barely mentions animal rights in their own right at all.

Going into labour

Let’s start with labour issues. If, as the article states, slaughterhouses often exploit women in their labour practices, well, that’s a bad thing. Who’d argue any different? And of course, when women are being exploited, there is a feminist issue at hand. But while this is a labour issue and a feminist issue, I’m not sure why it should become a reason to link vegetarianism and feminism. Because if more people were vegetarians there would be fewer slaughterhouses out there exploiting women? Dubious logic at best.

Really, labour practices should be fair to women regardless of what kind of labour we’re talking about. There’s no reason a slaughterhouse should be any more or less of a good employer than any other place, and there’s no reason why anyone should have to espouse vegetarian politics (or even feminist ones for that matter) to enjoy fair labour conditions. The idea makes even less sense when you acknowledge that a woman working in a slaughterhouse probably doesn’t have strong vegetarian politics herself – because if she did she’d probably be working elsewhere. Seems almost like a subtle way to play the blame-the-victim game, much like saying the military is anti-feminist in principle and treats women badly so therefore shouldn’t exist, instead of actually addressing the problems women face in its ranks. So why is the maltreatment of women in the workplace a reason to go politically vegetarian? I’d rather see activists, feminist and otherwise, targeting the real issue at hand, which is unfair labour practice.

(Yes, I’m going to get to the sex part.)

Hey, is that sandwich feminist?

Now let’s take health issues. Fact: meat is the primary source of most saturated fat; saturated fat is the kind of fat that leads to heart disease and other health problems. It’s pretty clear-cut. If you want a fast and simple way to reduce your risk of heart attack, drop meat out of your diet and replace it with plant-based sources of protein.

Why is this a feminist issue? Because, as the article states, heart disease is the number-one killer of women in the US? Because “Breast and some other cancers have been shown to be more common in countries where animal protein consumption is higher”? Both are strong reasons to go veg, but how is that feminist? Seems to me it’s more about taking care of our health, regardless of gender. If women have added incentives to change their diets because of vulnerabilities specific to the fact of being biologically female, fair enough… but I don’t think a health choice specific to women is necessarily a feminist choice, any more than getting a prostate exam is anti-feminist because it has to do with the health of the male body.

I’m a woman, so I’ve got women’s health needs to consider; I’m a feminist; and I’m a vegetarian. But this doesn’t all combine to make eating tofu and salad a feminist act. Perhaps educating women about our specific health needs could be considered feminist… but from there to labelling our lunches feminist or no depending on their content? Hm. Not so sure. Feminism, to me, is about choice, so if a person makes an educated choice to eat meat, should that disqualify them from supporting or benefiting from women’s rights? … And yes, the key word is educated, but men need good nutrition education too, and have specific nutritional needs and risks.

Feminism has to mean more than “related to being female” or it’s kinda meaningless. I think feminism, in its many (and sometimes contradictory) facets, needs to be about women’s rights and gender equality – not reduced to hot dogs vs. bean burgers. Admittedly the territory of “women’s rights and gender equality” is pretty vast, but I don’t think we do ourselves any favours by presuming connections that require a logical leap.

(The sex part is on the way, I promise.)

But not a real green dress, that’s cruel

As for the environment – well, despite bringing it up as a central tenet of the veg/fem argument, the article doesn’t really say much about the environmental impacts of meat consumption. Which is unfortunate because they’re pretty significant – deforestation to create pasture; excessive resources used in processing, shipping and storing meat (compared to the resources for, say, grain); generally appalling levels of waste in the industry; the not fully known (but generally understood to be bad) human and environmental health impacts of excess antibiotic and hormone use in factory-farmed meat; etc., etc.

All of this is bad. Choosing to ditch meat is most definitely a good move towards helping reduce our impact on the environment. But again… why is this about feminism? Our zany weather and the rising number of endangered species should be enough to convince the entire planet that the environment is in dire need of our attention… men and women alike. If our consumer and waste production habits don’t shape up, freak storms in Vancouver and ten-degree January weeks in Montreal will be the least of our concerns in the next few generations. I’m not sure how any of these things affect women more than or differently from men. Environmental issues are everyone’s concern.

The article does bring up the existence of ecofeminism, which in addition to focusing on the environmental issues I just mentioned “also emphasize(s) spiritual connections between women and the earth, most prominently in discussions of goddess worship and pagan spirituality, or the ethic of ‘sympathy’ or ‘care’ hypothesized as elementally female.”

Well, that would be my problem with ecofeminism right there. What, because I have a uterus I’m closer to god? I’m responsible for being more sympathetic and caring because I’m equipped with a cunt? Fuck you. That kind of viewpoint serves only to reinforce the idea that men are naturally none of these things, which feeds right into the view that men are brutish, uncaring, unspiritual and generally evil, so of course they must rape and abuse we poor innocent spiritually connected gals.

I don’t buy it. Genitals are a shoddy excuse for poor behaviour and a stupid reason for good behaviour. How ’bout we all just try not to be assholes to each other, ya? If our culture can get rid of this fucked-up habit of socializing men to be particularly jerky, all the better, but don’t turn around and blame their penises for it. Not a great way to get any social change happening.

The article does say, “the essentialist tendencies of ecofeminism have turned many away; (…) the idea that women are nurturing and pro-nature and men are destructive and anti-nature is troubling to folks who reject biological essentialism.” Yes indeed. So… again, why are we still trying to make vegetarianism a feminist issue?

Great legs! Firm breasts!

Aright aright aright. Let’s talk about culture. Yes, the sex part comes up here.

For starters the article mentions the idea that advertising for the meat industry is often very sexist. Comparisons of women to cuts of meat, or vice versa; the equation of meat with manliness and vegetables with femininity, implying that the latter is shamefully wimpy; and so on and so forth. Finally! A feminist issue: sexism in advertising! I’m all for eradicating it. Let’s change culture at the level of its producers. Yee-haw. I’m on the bandwagon.

But… what does this have to do with meat and vegetarianism? There are sexist ads out there for everything under the sun, from clothing to makeup to beer to cars to sports gear to vacation packages. I might argue that sexism is a somewhat less frequently employed strategy nowadays than, say, twenty years ago – or maybe just in less blatantly offensive ways – but nonetheless it’s out there, and it’s far from being specific to the meat industry. So I should go vegetarian to protest sexism in advertising? I don’t get it. Why not protest sexism in advertising by boycotting companies, writing letters of complaint and buying from small, local women-owned or politically clued-in businesses? Vegetarianism is more than a little roundabout as a means to combat this particular issue.

And now we get to the sex part.

“(…) the cultural issues (…) connect patriarchal values with both meat consumption and exploitation of women, exploring how the latter two are linked through advertising, domestic violence, hunting and gun culture, pornography, and other forms of entertainment.”

Huh? They brought the porn argument into play to justify vegetarianism? Oh, gawd.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m no fan of meat consumption, the exploitation of women, or patriarchal values. But… how, exactly, are women exploited by hunting? Does shooting ducks on the weekend really make a guy more likely to beat his wife – and if so, couldn’t he stop beating his wife without sacrificing his interest in eating freshly shot bird? Is there something inherently sexist about hunting culture? And if so, why don’t we attack that sexism on its own? Conversely, if we want to discourage people from hunting, surely we can talk about animal rights as a reason – where’s the logic of bringing women’s rights into it?

And what does meat consumption have to do with pornography? It’s pretty telling that the only example of the latter that actually shows up in the article hearkens back to 1978 – almost 30 years ago now. Specifically, it’s a famous Hustler cover featuring a woman’s legs sticking out the top of a meat grinder, with a plate of ground meat next to it. Yes, it’s really quite disgusting. But come on, people! I’ve seen that thing in a dozen women’s studies textbooks produced in the ’80s. Is there no more fodder for your argument than that?

Forget pigs in space… try chickens in handcuffs

Dowl writes, “contemporary porn of all flavors continues to play with images of caged and bound women.” Sure, OK. But when was the last time you saw a cow in rope bondage being dragged off to the slaughterhouse? What does bondage have to do with meat production? Ever stop to think that some people like being tied up? I mean, you know your argument’s getting weak when you have to bitch about needing to renounce Japanese bondage in favour of vegetarianism. Um… apples and oranges, anyone? Same goes for cages – I’ve seen plenty of bondage cages, and trust me, they look nothing at all like chicken coops or pig corrals, and are most definitely not used for the same purposes.

If you’re going to argue that pornography is inherently exploitative of women, we’ve got a whole other discussion on our hands. With that logic, of course you could liken one form of exploitation (women) with another (animals). But that’s simplistic at best, and insulting to women at worst. Not to mention inaccurate.

You don’t really have to look very far to see examples of porn that are women-owned, women-produced, activist-oriented and politically progressive. Also, in a line that runs directly counter to the porn = meat = abuse equation, there are a fair number of explicitly vegan and vegetarian porn producers out there. Just for starters, we’ve got VegPorn, billed as “sex-positive indie porn made by vegans and vegetarians”; we’ve got the lovely local amateur porn star Seska, who details her vegan politics in her site bio; and if you check out NoFauxxx, Zenporn and even the Suicide Girls, you’ll find plenty of vegetarians among the porn-hottie profiles – tellingly, the latter specifically provides a space for each girls to mention her diet.
Beyond this particular point, there are other relationships between meat and porn. In fact I can think of several recent examples of meat- or animal-related eroticism, but none of them are mentioned in this article. Perhaps it’s because they’d cause the argument to fall apart?

One is the anthology entitled The Best of the Best Meat Erotica. Now, the concept grosses me the hell out so I haven’t bought it, but the book contains pansexual, pan-orientation erotica on a variety of meat-related themes, none of which seem to have anything to do with the gratuitous abuse of women.

Another is a recent performance by Midori at some fetish event – the details escape me, but I saw some photos and a write-up on her e-list. Apparently she trussed someone up like a turkey (bondage) and then “stuffed” her (fisting). Evidently I’m not into turkey dinners, but the idea’s pretty damned funny – and please don’t try to tell me anyone was being exploited. I get the sense the turkey was mighty happy with her stuffing.

Last but not least, I know that some BDSM players are really into animal role-play. For example, I know a woman who has the submissive personae of a kitten. She has a food bowl, a water bowl, a cute little tagged collar, and a charmingly feline meow. I also know a guy who’s really into puppy play – dog collar, leash, discipline via rolled-up newspaper, the works. There was a great documentary at Image+Nation a couple of years back dealing with puppy play enthusiasts, conventions and so forth. And I recently read a fascinating (and sometimes frankly revolting) erotic novel entitled Leash, by Jane Delynn, about a dyke who enters the realm of puppy play with a female dominant. Oh, and who could forget pony play?

Animal play really isn’t my bag; I fail to see the excitement, but maybe I’m the boring one, ’cause the people who like it like it a lot. Yup. I’m just way into actual people doing actual people-like things. But I hardly see animal play as exploitative – anyone who spends that much money on gear and that much time on behaviour training is hardly going to do so because they’re being duped by the patriarchy. They really must be getting something out of it. And unless the supermarket has recently started stocking kitten steak or dog chops, I don’t think it’s much related to the meat industry, either.

The article quotes vegan punk musician Dan Yemin as saying, in Herbivore magazine, “We reduce the animal to a piece of meat packaged in the supermarket. And it’s the same psychological objectification that results in sexism and rape.”

Honestly, a quote like that makes me ill. It’s fine to want to fight sexism and rape, and fine to adhere to progressive food politics and practices. But when you start equating meat-packing with sexism and rape, I must disagree. This kind of blanket statement serves only to obscure both issues. Slaughtering an animal is not the same thing as abusing your wife – both bad, but very different kinds of bad. Eating a steak for dinner is not the same thing as committing rape. It’s insulting enough when the ad industry reduces women to the status of meat, but it makes me livid when a supposedly progressive vegan does the same thing – or was he elevating the status of a steak to that of a woman? Either way – fuck you, dude. That kind of help I can do without.

Ultimately, the only way I think feminism and vegetarianism are ideologically related is if you approach the two issues – and many others as well – from the standpoint that no creature, human or otherwise, deserves to suffer. From that stance, you’d probably be against (for starters) sweatshop labour, environmental pollution, homophobia, child abuse, the unequal treatment of women, transphobia, racism, poverty, elder abuse, abuse of the dis/abled, the withholding of HIV treatments in poorer countries, and the exploitation of animals – whether, for you, the latter means going vegetarian, going vegan, or simply buying meat from ethical producers. But despite those fundamental links, I still think it’s essential to recognize that holding to a basic ethics of respect and care is not the same thing as conflating all the issues into one. In doing that we only hamper our ability to weigh the complexities and make informed choices about all of them – from what we wear to what we eat to how we go about standing up for our rights.

the mirror of sadomasochism
February 4, 2009

I’m pushing on with my project of reviewing all the essays in the Kleinplatz and Moser anthology Sadomasochism: Powerful Pleasures. That said, I’ve actually decided to skip a couple of them—specifically, two informative essays about the legal status of SM in the UK (“The Spanner Trials and the Changing Law on Sadomasochism in the UK” by Chris White) and in the US (“Negotiating Limits: The Legal Status of SM in the United States” by Robert B. Ridinger). This isn’t because I find these essays to be in any way irrelevant; in fact if you can get your hands on them I strongly encourage you to read them. They provide an excellent overall picture of how these two legal systems deal with the question of SM. No, it’s simply that I can’t think of much to say about these essays aside from, yep, that sure is interesting stuff to learn. If I were more of a legal historian, I might have more critique, but as it stands, I can simply read and appreciate. So yeah. Check ‘em out.

Today my focus is on the essay “Discrimination of SM-Identified Individuals” by Susan Wright. Wright coordinated the NOW (the US’s National Organization for Women) SM Policy Reform Project beginning in 1996, and is currently the Spokesperson for the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom (NCSF), which has carried out survey studies about discrimination against SM practitioners, most particularly, the Violence & Discrimination Survey, which “was distributed electronically and in paper form from April 1998 to February 1999 to SM-identified individuals who were members of an SM roup or attending a large SM conference or contest.” The NCSF also makes public position statements and provides legal aid services to people who are being legally challenged due to their SM practices. So Wright is definitely well placed to give a status update on such things.

For starters, she quotes some interesting statistics. I was surprised to learn that “70% of the respondents reported they were at least partially closeted.” The number was apparently included in the essay to demonstrate how large a section of SMers are still in the closet, but I saw it the other way around: should we assume that means that nearly 30% of those respondents are not at all closeted? I find that number to be shockingly high! Perhaps my perceptions of such things are off, but the idea that nearly a third of BDSMers are completely out of the closet is a bit mind-blowing. I mean, I’m about as out of the closet as I can get short of appearing in leather on the cover of Time magazine, and I still haven’t actually told my grandmother I’m a sadomasochist, so I suppose I’m technically still “partially closeted.” And I don’t live in the country presided over by Bush and his cronies for the last eight years. Perhaps we should instead interpret that these results actually mean that the 30% who are not “at least partially” closeted are either all the way out or completely closeted (though I realize the latter does fit under “at least partially”), which might reduce that to a figure substantially smaller than 30%. If my first idea is accurate though, then hey, props to the 30%!

Wright spends a chunk of her essay discussing the politics of SM within the feminist movement. She explains that in 1980, “Members of NOW pased a conference resolution entitled The 1980 Delineation of Lesbian Rights Issues,” which “stated that NOW rejected sadomasochism along with pornography, public sex, and pederasty, because these issues ‘violate the feminist priniciples upon which NOW was founded.’”

She then quotes a survey initiated at the 1993 March on Washington by Female Trouble, a women’s SM group based in Philadelphia. The results of that survey are equally intriguing:

“Of the 539 SM-identified women who took part in the survey, over half reported they had experienced some form of physical assault or discrimination within the lesbian community because of their SM practices (Keres, 1994, p. 23). The surveys found twenty-five percent had suffered physical assault, including being hit, shoved, jabbed, chased, spat upon or objects thrown at them by women in the lesbian community. Another thirty percent were refused admittance or ejected form social, recreational, political, educational and spiritual groups within the lesbian community (Keres, 1994, p. 8).”

And she quotes Vivienne Walker-Crawford’s essay in the 1982 anthology Against Sadomasochism:

“Sadomasochism is a cancerous growth that has taken firm root in most wimmin [sic]. Sexual sadomasochism is exposure of that growth on very intimate terms. The proponents of sexual sadomasochism have turned themselves inside out to mirror our disesase. This disease is frightening in its enormity. We immediately recoil, not wanting to recognize its vileness. Here we “beat the messenger with the bad news.” We beat and badger these wimmin, throwing our internal fear and confusion onto them.”

Now here’s where it starts to emerge, for me, that we’re dealing with a type of feeling—an emotional reaction to SM—that generalizes far beyond the inner workings of the lesbian community. I obviously don’t buy into the idea that SM is a “cancerous growth” or a “disease,” but I do think that the deep connection between sexual arousal, power relations, and intense physical experience (which some might call “violence”) is wired into all of us to varying degrees. It comes out in all sorts of ways through our society’s institutions and constructions. Some of those manifestations are vile and disastrous—torture in prisons, rape, sexual assault—and most certainly deserve to be denounced. It comes out in far more common manifestations that are also problematic, but in very mundane ways—sexualized violence in movies (and no, I’m not talking about porn) and television shows, rigid and heterosexist ideas about how courtship is to be conducted (powerful male “pursuit” and sneaky female “hard-to-get” dynamics), socially sanctioned power dynamics in sex and marriage, the hush-hush eroticism and condoned violence of sports and athletic culture, and so forth. And, big surprise, it also comes out in ways that are not so problematic—such as in certain forms of spiritual practice (the more I read about Zen Buddhism, the more parallels I see!), intense but controlled physical pursuits (martial arts, say), and in consensual and mutually desired sexual and relational practice.

It comes as no surprise that some people would get upset about those who embark on a journey to explore these tendencies, which are quintessentially human, within their intimate relationships. Walker-Crawford hits the nail on the head: this innate human propensity to associate the intense experiences and ideas of eroticism and violence is “frightening in its enormity,” and people do “immediately recoil, not wanting to recognize its vileness”—but that fear and that recoiling cause people to reject what may actually be one of the very few potentially healthy and nourishing methods of engaging with these fearsome, and universal, realities. They aren’t vile, unless a given individual makes choices that render them such.

A feminist project to neuter and equalize all human relations, in bed and otherwise, is not only outrageously unrealistic, but speaking for myself, it’s not desirable either. Power is not a bad thing, any more than forks are bad things. Just as a fork can be used to eat with or to poke someone’s eye out, power can be used to move communities and people in progressive directions just as it can be used to beat down and oppress. If we run away from any expression of power because we associate it with vileness, we’re necessarily running away from our own capacity to weild it for positive purposes. A feminist project to empower people (women and otherwise) to engage in experiences and relations in ways that are healthy and consensual, that allow people to grow and learn and explore—now that’s a project I can understand. And by no means am I only talking about sexual or sadomasochistic relations—I’m talking about the meat of everyday living in society.

In an interesting related event, I just got off the phone with a most interesting individual who’s doing research on leatherdyke history in the States, and she pointed out that feminism still hasn’t resolved the question of SM. She feels, from her research, that in fact it’s been de-prioritized rather than actually settled, and I totally get what she means. It’s reflected in Wright’s essay, too. Following the work of the SM Policy Reform Project, which she headed up within NOW…

“[Elizabeth] Toledo[, Action Vice-President of NOW,] proposed a compromise that the original 1980 Delineation of Lesbian Rights be replaced with a statement of rights which would no longer oppose SM practices, nor would it openly support SM practices. (…) With the support of NOW delegates and members at the July 1999 National Conference, NOW’s official policy against SM was removed. The 1999 Delineation of Lesbian Rights replaced The 1980 Delineation of Lesbian Rights Issues that contained NOW’s anti-SM policy. (…) [It] is straightforward and neither condemns nor supports any specific form of lesbian sexuality. (…) Though still not openly supportive of SM practitioners, the feminist community is backing away from intolerance and antipathy.”

In my opinion, this in-between position is likely due to some combination of the advent of the Internet’s effects on interpersonal communication and SM community-building, the proliferation of titillating but “comfortable” SM imagery in pop culture and advertising, a general turn toward sex-positivity among third-wave feminists as manifested in feminist cultural production (books, magazines, art, etc.) and businesses (witness the blossoming of women-friendly sex toy stores), the general sense of needing to rally against the rabid forces of right-wing sexual repression (certainly in the States, though much less so in Canada) and various other factors. Nonetheless, it is true that the question isn’t resolved, and that makes me wonder how the future will play out.

Now, this brings us to the issue of SM politics. Once again, as I have written about before, I take issue with some pro-SM advocates’ oversimplification of the issues and realities of SM. Wright does make room for bad apples: “Abusive individuals can be found in all groups, but SM itself is not inherently abusive.” Fair enough, and very true. But she also frames a definition of SM that functions only in very particular conditions: “The participants consent freely to a power exchange, and can withdraw that consent and stop the interaction at any time (Houlberg, 1993). Limits and the level of desired stimulation are discussed, and communication takes place before, during, and after SM activities.”

In other words, while her position that SM is not inherently abusive is very accurate and very much needs to be insisted on in today’s political context as much as in the one that was operational in the early 90s, it is tricky to define “good” SM in such a narrow framework, because people who may operate outside it—and nonetheless are not abusive—may then be undeservingly tarred with the brush of violence and coercion. Of course participants consent freely to power exchange, but in 24/7 dynamics, a withdrawal of consent is not taken nearly as lightly as during a scene; “stopping the interaction at any time” might mean calling red on an entire relationship. Yes, that brings more risk with it than scene-based play; accordingly, such dynamics require that much more work and trust-building. Of course limits and desires are discussed, but sometimes they’re discussed at the beginning of a long-term contract that lasts for months or years or perpetually, not every time play occurs the way SM appears to be framed here. And of course communication takes place all the time, but the kind of extremely subtle non-verbal or formally phrased verbal communication that might take place in a Master/slave relationship might easily be judged as non-existent or invalid by an outside observer who doesn’t have a personal understanding of deep power dynamics. In the same way as I take issue (here) with The Network/La Red’s position that all SM is done with a safeword, I take issue with an NCSF position that excludes alternate ways of exploring SM dynamics and experience.

The problem is illustrated in a keynote address to the 2008 Master/slave Conference, “The Rise and Fall of the M/s Community (A Cautionary Observation),” given by Skip Chasey. He writes:

“Don’t think for a moment that the larger kink community has got our backs. We’re the outsiders among the outsiders, and the reality is that those of us whose D/s proclivities extend beyond the dungeon are more often than not considered suspect by our leather brothers and sisters, who view us as a threat to their social acceptance.

“I can tell you from first-hand experience that while our legal system is sometimes willing to turn a blind eye with respect to one’s SM activities in connection with family law and guardianship matters—after all, everyone knows that SM is just “kinky sex,” right?—that’s unfortunately not the case when it comes to evaluating the qualifications of persons who participate in Master/slave relationships. M/s is still virtually always a disqualifying taboo. Because of the heightened scrutiny we receive from the powers that be, many in the leather community would like nothing better than to sever the link between them and us. If you think I’m simply paranoid, then perhaps you’re unaware that at the 1998 Leather Leadership Conference, a policy statement on the issue of “SM vs. Abuse” was drafted containing some imprecise verbiage that could be interpreted as a condemnation of the dynamic that underlies virtually every Master/slave relationship. And when a few years later that problem was brought to the attention of the kink community’s leading national advocacy organization, who at the time was widely promoting that policy statement, their leadership responded by saying, and I quote, “Those people”—meaning us—“are on the fringe. We don’t care about them.””

The policy statement he refers to is exactly the one quoted by Wright in her essay. And if Wright’s statistics show that your average kinkster faces problems…

“The 1998 Violence & Discrimination Survey by the NCSF documented a pattern of discrimination against SM practitioners. Of the 1017 SM-identified individuals surveyed, thirty-six percent had suffered some kind of violence or harassment because of their SM practices, while thirty percent had been victims of job discrimination.”

… then surely, if the NCSF itself potentially discriminates, whether by default or by design, against those of us who operate outside the dungeon, then we too face at least that much risk, and possibly more.

Wright concludes her essay by writing, “Groups and individuals are afraid to ‘come out’ and make their presence known because of the pervasive legal and social discrimination that can ensue. Yet the best way to change the social perception of SM is for SM-identified individuals and SM groups to become more visible. Therefore the negative cycle is perpetuated.”

So here we are, back at the questions of closeting and of discrimination and rejection. SM dykes have historically been pushed out of feminist groups; 24/7 M/s leatherfolk are allegedly being pushed out of SM groups; and all of this, because some people have a really hard time gazing upon certain outward manifestations that reflect a human condition that’s common to all of us—the fundamental and varied connections we make between arousal, power and pain. Kinksters themselves aren’t immune to that fear, but I certainly hope that with a bit of effort and courage, more of us can find it in ourselves to look in that mirror and see who we are.


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