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Thoughts on BDSM?

+2 votes

So, BDSM is generally defined as Bondage & Discipline, Dominance & Submission, and Sadism & Masochism. If anarchists are anti-hierarchical, can they be in or support relationships that are at the root hierarchical in nature, like a Top & Bottom* relationship? Like is there somewhere where the line is drawn as too excessive or something, or is there like no line whatsoever because it turns on the participants? Is it just reinforcing power relations and roles within a relationship, unintentionally or not? Assume consent is given without being coerced into it.

*Top - is the dominant partner that controls the relationship and/or activity.
Bottom - is the submissive partner that is controlled and obeys.

I'm just curious and it hasn't been asked on here as far as I can tell. Thanks

asked Jan 11 by Zubaz (3,970 points)

I am not particularly versed in BDSM personally, but know many who are, and an interesting thing that I didn't realize until talking to folks who play is that a lot of power is actually held by the bottom, so in a way that at least has the potential to be an interesting way of playing with power relations.

There was a really good talk at the BASTARD Conference in 2015 regarding this concept and related to the writing of Samuel Delany, who is a queer black sci-fi/fantasy author. The write up of the talk (Attached to Happiness with a Chain: slavery and BDSM in the works of Delany is in the 2015 BASTARD Chronicles: Utopia & Other Science Fiction. I tried to find the write up online, but couldn't. You can find the Journal here: http://littleblackcart.com/journals/the-bastard-chronicles-2015/.

Yeah, the dom/owner/top is obeying and serving the slave/sub in ways dependent on whatever it is they're doing and  stuff, like for entertainment purposes while others it is more than just play. A former acquaintance of mine was interested in the born slavery stuff believing it could grant her pure freedom if she was one. I read a little bit about it and thought it was an interesting. Anyways, I was just curious.

What does queer mean these days? I've seen it used in ways that doesn't seem to mean gay.

At least as I use queer, I mean it as a catch-all for sexual and gender identities that don't fit in to the dominant cis- and hetero- boxes. That could be gender queer folks who reject binaries, trans-folk who identify with a different gender than they were assigned at birth, boys who fuck boys, girls who fuck girls, boys who fuck or get fucked by girls and/or boys (and vice versa). Sometimes not fitting in the boxes is obvious, but sometimes it is less discernable, like cis- or passing queer folks in relations with folks of the opposite binary gender. I am probably butchering this. I know how I mean it, but how I mean it might be more opaque than I would like.

@ingrate The writer was Rydra Wrong of Free Radical Radio -a name adapted from one of Sam Delaney's characters, I believe-, so I'll search on their website for it 

or link directly to the pdf

I haven't read it or anything, I just knew where to find it.  I really don't read very much, I tend to just do most of my own thinking in my ample down time.  I listen to podcasts whilst doing chores or walking/running, I guess, but thanks to the internet I barely have the patience for written non-fiction.

edit: read, was really good. I already knew I liked Rydra, but that was excellent.  Thanks for the recommendation @ingrate

2 Answers

+5 votes
consent by definition cannot be coerced.

bdsm can be good or bad (bad would mean that the participants haven't figured out or aren't following good practices, etc). this is like any sex practices, and in fact like any relationship dynamics, sexual or not.

if one accepts that power play (whether sexual or not) is a human game, then anarchists have a lot to learn from good bdsm practice and practitioners about negotiation, clarity, boundaries, etc.
answered Jan 11 by dot (51,520 points)
i particularly like your last paragraph, dot. well said.
@dot, Is that the legal definition of consent? I broke out the OED, my monocle and put on my top hat, so I would look like a stereotypical, late 19th century capitalist in front of my dogs while browsing the dictionary. My dogs both did a dog paw face palm. Anyways, in the OED consent was defined as voluntarily or passively. Thus the sentence above.

I'm not sure what you mean by game? Power play is a D/s thing. The dynamics of power are easily observable within one's own thoughts and daily interactions, with mundane acts...etc which the D/s couple/group/friends can incorporate into their play time via discussion. Off the top of my head, a good example of D/s would be when a male sub, who may or may not dress up in female clothing (feminization/sissification (like when the woman is the dom)), does stereotypical acts that were and still kinda are viewed as traditional woman jobs at home, like chores, cooking, and cleaning. Like basically changing the gender roles among a bunch of other stuff that can be extremely minute. There are typically "protocols" and long discussions concerning D/s if it's a group or couple that are interested in engaging in these D/s activities, all participants in D/s are considered equals within and have long meetings discussing it.

I don't understand your last sentence dot? Are you saying something along the lines that anarchists aren't that great at clear communications among themselves when meeting with each other in the same room? Or something entirely different? I also don't know what you meant by "bad would mean the participants haven't figured out or aren't following good practices?" BDSM is more of sensual practice than sexual

Did someone add more tags to my post or was that me? I don't think I would've added "anarchist-practice" because it's doesn't seem like it would be a useful tag, but a redundant

/wall-o-text
if someone is coerced, they're not consenting. if someone is being forced to do something, then they're not consenting to do it.

aside from that, i think i've been clear. power play is everywhere, people who know how to negotiate clearly for what they want--and don't run from the idea of power as a concept that we engage with daily--have things to teach people who do not do those things.
has to do with power vs authority?
DD, without you fleshing that out, it's just semantics to me. people use both those words in wildly different ways (including as synonyms)... so your comment isn't clarifying anything for me.
0 votes
crimethinc said something about this, "we are so obsessed with authority we cant even have sex without thinking about dominance and submission". I think this is an oversimplification and an assumption (that authority is the sole reason people want those things) that ignores all of the complexities of human sexuality.

first of all I want to say, that actually by definition bdsm is practiced between two EQUAL partners. it is just like how if someone slaps their girls butt and says you've been a bad girl during sex knowing that she would be okay with it, that is different from that person slapping their ass as hard as possible as an actual punishment for an action outside of sex/game playing. this is why I say BDSM is actually rooted in equal distribution of power, and respect for each other, consent and boundaries. in fact, some people say it is therapeutic to them because they can reenact traumatic experiences, but be in full control of how far it goes or when it stops.

as for "the line" BDSM by definition, or maybe what is considered good practice, includes a line. novices and abusers may practice without a line. I think the idea of no limits is a turn on to some and thus they use the phrase, and every human has a limit, when you cross the limit intentionally it is no long BDSM but abuse, when you cross the limit due to miscommunication or lack of voice/clarity, you are both bad at BDSM.

does it reinforce power relations or roles? I think not but it can. see above demonstration about the spanking. bdsm is the same thing as liking spanking or your hands held behind ur back, only taken to a physical extreme. the key word there is physical not mental. nothing changes about the actual power dynamics between the people. the way that it can do this is when abusive people are involved in it. for example, a person I recently had a relationship with was previously in a daddy dom little girl role playing relationship. she said that he would hit her too hard despite her expression of this. they had a game common to DDLG where he would add a hit to her spanking if she did something to be punished, like in general walking around doing whatever. games like this that extend to a 24/7 role playing game aren't uncommon or inherently hierarchical. to elaborate, picture two people playing this game and they do it for things that are basically a joke, they hit the person only as hard as they want to be hit, they can opt out, and maybe they discuss what they can and cant assign punishment for, basically just generally respecting autonomy and treating it as a game. now picture two people playing this game and the dom slowly escalates it to where it is a literal way to control and manipulate the other person. then yes there is a problem. but to answer your question as stated, I do not think bdsm reinforces negative patterns in relationships because it isn't causing people to abuse others, savvy abusers just happen to be drawn to it.

the only other issue I can think of is contracts. as someone else mentioned there are sometimes long detailed signed contracts, especially for the 24/7 type things. this makes me have a negative knee jerk reaction for obvious reasons. I watched a youtube video on whether the contract in 50 shades of gray were enforceable. much of it wasn't but some of it was which is why in todays world I would stay the hell away, but if there was no government to enforce contracts it would just be a game prop. this is not the same as signing yourself into slavery, because it isn't real (unless the person is an abuser then ur in some shit)
answered Feb 10 by DonnieDarko (890 points)
edited Feb 10 by DonnieDarko
Power is never equal.  Ever.
DD, why do you say savvy abusers are drawn to BDSM? that is, do you have any evidence of that at all? (it might be true, but it doesn't sound likely to me.)

Shinmin, are you saying that equal is different from equivalent? say more! :)
Okidoki,

I reject the idea that power can ever equal.  Power is the consequence of the totality of the aspects of an individual; as such for it to be 'equal', you would have to be the same person, as everything is identical only to itself.  This is from my resistance to the mathematical notion of 'equal' or 'equivalence'; for instance the idea that two differently shaped containers can have mathematical 'equal' volume.  I don't think it is useful, let alone possible, to try and do 'reality mathematics', to try and find mathematical equivalence in people's power.  However, if by equivalent you mean roughly the same, comparable, similar, I think that is definitely a useful idea.
dot I didn't mean BDSM in general I just meant of the type of games I was speaking of in that paragraph, ie, 24/7 role playing.

now, I think without knowing for fact, as I stated I think, this because:

I think someone that has a desire to abuse someone could see these types of games as a way to get someone started with them w/ grooming, and escalate it into a real abusive relationship.

and also because I had a lengthy discussion of this matter with my ex and we just agreed after a lot of reading about "daddy dom little girl" BDSM and her experiences with the ones she knew, that this is the case, as it happened to her.

obviously this isn't all participants it just makes sense to me that someone would do that.

similar yes

edit added letter d to stated
shinmin: i believe i have argued very similar things to what you say here. i use equivalency to mean similar, comparable, yea.

mostly i have a knee jerk reaction to "equal," as i'm beginning to have one to "freedom."

anarchistnews.org last week had a piece called "how to change history" that brought up the fight against inequality in an interesting way, btw. i really liked that article for a few reasons...

@dot a really interesting article, thanks! 

I'll let my brain marinade in that for a bit

DD, i will of course accept that this is true in your experience, but i'm suspicious it's true in general.

i think that abusive people come in all shapes and sizes (and also most of us can be abusive)... i don't know. i guess i'm saying that it's easy to see more meanness where we're vulnerable, and people are frequently vulnerable around sex (inevitably? maybe)... so to make that a thing about a particular sex practice (especially one that's vilified in most of the culture) rings warning bells for me.

most of us being capable of abuse was a powerful realization for me some time ago. controlling it feels similarly to controlling bits of racism and sexism learned from my environment.

to be clear saying "savvy abusers are drawn to BDSM" isn't a means for me to "make a thing" out of the sex practice of BDSM. Rather I was pointing out that some people are just look for and think of ways to exploit people, and some of them may be smart and of like imagination to me.. combined with my experience.. leads me personally to believe my statements.

but as you can see my "evidence" forces me to word it weakly.

ya know what? its kinda like how lots of people grew up in the south and are privy to the history, lingo etc... but believe race is irrelevant to anything but working to end racism, or grew up with a macho sexist role model, but eschew sexism themselves, and some people are Nazis and misogynists

and

you could say most‚Äč people are capable of abuse, but only some of us actively look for every possible way to exploit rape or hurt.

edit: to add to the thought about everyones capability and the analogy at the end

...