There’s A War On Part 1: Trouble’s Been Brewing
b. Arming Sequence. First remove the safety clip, then the safety pin, from the fuze by pulling the pull ring. Be sure to maintain pressure on the safety lever: it springs free once the safety clip and the safety pin assembly are removed.
c. Release Pressure on Lever. Once the grenade is thrown, the pressure on the safety lever is released, and the striker is forced to rotate on its axis by the striker spring, throwing the safety lever off. The striker then detonates the primer, and the primer explodes and ignites the delay element. The delay element burns for the prescribed amount of time then activates either the detonator or the igniter.
-from US Army Field Manual 3-23.30, instructions on use of hand grenades
[Trigger Warning. The whole thing is about rape, abuse, and apologist tactics. There are descriptions of rape, abuse, and apologist tactics.]
It’s invisible to the mainstream. There’s a war on within the BDSM community about whether to face up to abuse within. There are a lot of dynamics overlapping here, and it’s hard to see the whole picture even for those of us who keep up with these things.
There is so much that I want to say, so much ground to cover, that I don’t know where to start. I’ll start here: I have certain advantages. I can speak about BDSM as a kinkster; my critique is an internal critique. At the same time, I have little to lose by pissing all over other people’s opinions. I don’t currently belong to any formal organizations, and I don’t play in public. I engage with other kinksters socially and politically, mostly politically. I don’t need to stay in anyone’s good graces to have a place to play or people to play with.
I say this because one sex educator I know said to me privately that they will take no part in this dialogue, because of the reaction they got years ago trying to have the same conversation: vicious personal attacks. It’s easy to be against rape and abuse, you see, as long as it’s in the abstract, as long as the abusers are some nebulous other, as long as the proposed solution does not require any tough choices to be made, expose anyone with important friends to actual accountability or threaten to actually change the way things are. Everybody’s against rape as long as we’re not proposing to do anything about it.
Do rape and abuse happen in kink communities? Yes. Yes they do. In any forum where people have the space to talk about it, stories come out. For most of my adult life (and I’ve engaged with other kinky people in some forum or other for just about my entire adult life) the only forums where those stories were welcome were small conversations among friends. Recently, that has started to change, and there is a new paradigm of open discussion which threatens to upend the applecart and actually change the way things operate.
I’m going to go ahead and credit two people with finally breaking through and making this conversation unavoidable, but they are not alone. Those two people are Kitty Stryker and Maggie Mayhem. In July of last year, Kitty posted I Never Called It Rape, about her own experiences of rape and assault:
When I start to think of the number of times I have been cajoled, pressured, or forced into sex that I did not want when I came into “the BDSM community”, I can’t actually count them. And I never came out about it before, not publicly, for a variety of reasons- I blamed myself for not negotiating enough, or clearly, or for not sticking to my guns, or I didn’t want to be seen as being a drama queen or kicking up a fuss. Plus, the fact is, these things didn’t traumatize me, and I didn’t call it sexual assault or rape, because I felt ok afterwards. There was no trauma, no processing that I needed.That makes me really angry, because I realized I didn’t feel traumatized because it happened so bloody often that it was just a fact of being a submissive female. WTF, right? I used to see on Alt.com and Bondage.com female submissives talking about predatory behaviour in the BDSM community, and I still see it on CollarMe and Fetlife. I remember being given the stage whisper not to play with this person or that one because they had a history of going too far, something that was often dismissed as “gossip” and kept on the DL to avoid that accusatory label of being overly dramatic. Being in the scene meant learning how to play politics- how to be polite, even good-natured, to people that you kept an eye on.As I reflected on the number of times I’ve had fingers in my cunt that I hadn’t consented to, or been pressured into a situation where saying “no” was either not respected or not an option, or said that I did not want a certain kind of toy used on me which was then used, I’m kind of horrified.
This turned into the kickoff of a project, and with Maggie Mayhem, Stryker is now leading the Consent Culture project. Their work hit the mainstream when Salon’s Tracy Clark-Flory wrote this article in January.
But Stryker isn’t the first or the only person to try to address abuse within BDSM communities.
Kinkylittlegirl’s blog has been addressing abuse since late 2009.
Mollena Williams, probably the most visible African-American in BDSM, has written about when her consent was violated:
And maybe you are thinking
Oh but how could that happen?! You’re an expert! You TEACH other perverts how to do the perverted shit? How could ANYONE take advantage of you without your consent?
I asked myself that after this encounter.
I blamed myself.
I thought “Well, I didn’t say “No.” forcefully enough. I didn’t insist. I didn’t hit him, push him away. It must be my fault.”
I sat in a narcotized place of self-blame and self-hatred for months around something for which I claimed100% responsibility.
I blamed myself for “letting” someone violate one of my strongest boundaries. And I sat on this alone and in reflexive revulsion, because clearly I was too stupid, weak and foolish to handle myself like a responsible adult.
And because I had so much shame around this, because I was so afraid that others would look at me and think “What a fucking idiot. What kind of dummy lets something like them happen to them?” I didn’t tell anyone for months. Then it began to eat me alive, woke me up at night, freaked me out.
I finally told several people close to me, And then a few more. And no one told me I was stupid.
In fact, to my dismay, my story was common. Standard. Typical.
And that is horrifying. THAT is shameful.
[Plain bold Williams’s original, except the final bolded portion, which is my emphasis.]
There may be no name in BDSM more widely known to the public than Jay Wiseman, and here’s what he has to say back in 2008 in Are We Men A Bunch Of Lying Pricks?:
One of the things she *wasn’t* interested in was that the play be sexual. Given that “sexual” is a somewhat vague term, I proceeded to ask her if several different acts would or would not be OK. All of them were not. OK. Candidly, I don’t much like doing nonsexual scenes but I figured what the hey. I find her attractive, we seem to have a certain rapport, the scene will probably be “adequately” fun anyway, and who knows what the future might bring, right? So we do the scene, and it’s actually not half bad. (For a non-sexual scene, anyway.) Oh, and no, she couldn’t get loose. <G>
So the scene is finished and she’s getting dressed when I hear her quietly say, almost more to herself than me, “You actually kept the agreement to not be sexual. That was interesting.”
I turn to look at her, my jaw hanging open.
“What do you mean?” I ask her.
“You’re the first one who ever did that,” she replies.
“Yeah,” she continues, “All of the other men have just gone ahead and had sex with me anyway.”
I cannot believe what I’m hearing.
“What do they say afterwards?”
“Usually something like, Oh, it just happened.”
Asher Bauer’s story is here (my post, with link to the original); it has the added complexity that it happened pre-transition and he has a hard time finding a place to talk about his experience where his gender isn’t ignored or misused:
That night, he raped me again. This time there was no “ambiguity” about it, nothing “gray area” about the twelve hours that went black, permanently lost to my memory, after I accepted a drink from him.
And it didn’t stop there. For two more days it went on and on: the repeated failure to stop when I said stop, the refusal to use contraception or even let me buy a morning after pill. For a week after we parted ways I was in and out of the doctor’s office with mysterious bleeding, various infections, and finally, an STD. So much for “clean.”
I didn’t have a baby, no thanks to him. I did finally get hold of the pill on my own. Perhaps part of the motivation for his actions can be found in what I had thought was a sick joke. Once, when I’d told him I never wanted children, he’d threatened, “Don’t make me tie you down and breed you.” Only maybe it wasn’t a joke after all, since that is more or less what he did.
In the BDSM community, victim-blaming can be more subtle and more insidious. I’ve heard folks say “Well, everyone knows how so-and-so likes to play. She should have known what she was getting into when she agreed to play with him.” I’ve heard folks say “Well, she should have checked his references (or established a safe call or not played with him in private or any of a dozen other things) and this wouldn’t have happened.”
These “she should have” games play out after the fact, too. I’ve heard folks, including one person I know who I consider to be basically a decent guy, say “She should have done thus-and-such after the assault happened.” Usually it’s “She should have reported it” or “She should have confronted the perpetrator directly” or “She should have gone to a community leader and let him know that there was a problem”.
To me, all these “she should have” statements are a little fucked up. See, here’s the thing: Often, the folks in the BDSM community who end up assaulting someone are well-respected leaders in the community, with impeccable references and strong community support.
I could point to several more, but there are a lot of things I don’t have the right to write about. There have been scandals where members of BDSM communities have been accused of sexual assault and intimate partner violence. I have seen only one that was handled in anything like a way that gave me comfort.
Much of this discussion, for the last few years, takes place primarily on Fetlife. Fetlife requires a login, but more importantly, two things really limit the visibility of these discussions on Fetlife. The first is the structure of Fetlife: it is a series of walled gardens without any search functionality for text or discussion topics. Whoever is talking about, say, the Salon article or Mollena’s post, you can’t find it. You’d have to look in every group and check the discussion topics. You can’t pull up old discussions even if you know the date, there’s no chronological archive, and the default setting is that the order changes to move topics with current comments to the top. This structure has led multidimentsional activist and queer kinkster Maymay to conclude that Fetlife is harmful. Since on Fetlife your friends can see your activity, people’s workaround is to comment on a discussion and say, “breadcrumbs,” so that their friends will know to follow the discussion.
I’ve spoken up before on abuse in BDSM communities, FWIW. If you want to read what I’ve written in the past, here are the links:
Tracking Shit On The Carpets (sadly, Halo P. Jones’s original post is gone, and that’s not an aside. You can’t find her anymore unless you know her well because she was stalked and harassed by a nasty piece of shit, and now she keeps a very low profile.)
Not What We Do was my first post about the Bagley abuse case, winding its way through federal court in Missouri now. I have posted several more, all with Bagley in the title, for those who wish to follow the case; everyone except Bagley and his wife, charged in March 2011, has pleaded guilty and the Bagleys face a phalanx of cooperating witnesses.
Breaking the Silence, my response to Kitty’s landmark post, with a short reading list.
And more generally, I’ve written (making extensive use of ethnographic dissertations by two academics who immersed themselves in major city BDSM communities) about Domism as a dynamic. Reactions to this piece have been decidedly mixed: lots of folks say they see the same things, lots of folks say this doesn’t reflect their communities, and some folks have started discussions about to what extent these dynamics play out in their communities, which is the most productive reaction.
I’m usually a fan of long posts. I’m okay with four to five thousand words, and I’ve never written something long and said to myself, “I’d better make this a series.” But I have to make this a series. There’s too much to talk about: the cops and the criminal justice system and how they interact with BDSM, self-policing in formal and informal ways and how it has failed, abuse situations at the fringes and at the center of communities and how communities react to protect themselves like institutions, how what we know about predator theory and mythcommunication apply to rape and abuse in BDSM, why people are resistant to actually making change … it’s a lot to cover. There are seven parts to the series, and it comes within shouting distance of twenty thousand words in all.
 What community? It’s a very loose term. I’ll be more specific in other places. Maybe.
 That’s not how they’d characterize their views. That is the conclusion I have drawn from watching how the TOU are and are not enforced in certain particular instances, and from Fet’s resolute silence in response to repeated requests by many of us for an explanation of the TOU and the intent behind a certain provision. If they don’t mean to stifle discussion of rape — in reality, not in the abstract — then they should stop acting like it and engage in a dialogue. More on this in a later part.