Thursday, September 12, 2013

In the DC Area? Don't know what your're doing for Hallowe'en? Goblin & Gears

Team Wench is a good organization and some people I know have been working with it for years.  Their events are fun and well organized, and I can give a warm recommendation:

Oct 26th 8pm

Goblin & Gears - don't wait to buy tickets - prices go up in 5 days!

Team Wench, Inc. is proud to present Multiple Sclerosis Fantasy Ball 2013: Goblins & Gears III - Return of the Goblin!

Since the conclusion of last year's Steampunk Ball, rumors of odd, clockwork-like creatures and a new, sexy (and strangely blue) type of time machine have emerged. Professor Harmonious suspects the Goblin Queen is up to something. Are the Fae back? Are other factors at play? Why have Lightsabers suddenly come back in style? You'll have to join us to find out.

So grab your goggles and gloves, your mask and wings, your best evening-wear, or any other disguise, and make plans to attend the event of the season!

Tickets are on sale at 
A limited amount of table specials are available at an incredible savings - But when they're gone, they're gone, so don't wait!
Time: October 26, 2013 at 8pm to October 27, 2013 at 1am
Location: Michael's Eighth Avenue, Glen Burnie, MD
City/Town: Glen Burnie, MD
Website or Map:
Event Type: masqueradefundraisersteampunkfaeriecharityballmusic

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Existentialism and Emotional Misery

 Occasionally one of my friends writes something that I find truly interesting or outstanding.  This is a short essay written by a friend of mine and posted with her permission which I found provocative and interesting, particularly in the discussion of "hidden keys."  I think the essay speaks for itself, so I'll provide no further introduction.

Understanding who I am has always been almost instinctual for me. Not the understanding itself (certainly not!), but the drive to achieve it. In the past I have felt alone in my pursuit of conscious self awareness. The culture I spent my childhood immersed in certainly does not promote much introspection. My mother and father were rarely seen apart from the television set on the seldom occasion they were not dutifully acquiring currency through whatever means of employment. Why then do I continuously beat my head against the “hows” and “whys” of perception and my own existence when everyone around me seems perfectly content to float through life from one television screen to the next until their eventual demise? What sets me apart from the masses? I believe the answer to that is a tendency toward existential thought.

  For a long time I have felt tormented by the confusion of my childhood experiences. I have been a broken person. Early in my adolescence (and throughout my teen years) I employed heavy drug use and the application of agony through manipulated negative circumstances to block out or amplify the vestiges of a nightmarish upbringing. My need to completely shield myself from the intense pain was sometimes countered by an utterly baffling compulsion toward self harm or the affliction of self harm through carefully orchestrated circumstances (IE relationships with people who sought to do me harm, dangerous situations or situations which left me vulnerable, etc). As this compulsion toward self harm and negative interaction continued it became apparent that I'd developed what I call “an addiction to suffering.”

  As I entered young adulthood I abandoned drug use in favor of the active pursuit of emotional misery. Why? Well, partly because I'd found that torturing myself (or better...finding a skilled tormentor) produced a far greater high than any street drug could even come close to producing. But, more so, I quickly discovered that through my blinding agony and grief I was able to reach intellectual and emotional highs never before experienced. I was somehow allowed access to what I eventually defined as “hidden keys” within myself. As I gained access to these keys I was able to unlock aspects of myself previously unexplored,  unidentified or unknown to me. On the flip side..I felt a tendency toward emotional and intellectual stagnation in the absence of abuse (self inflicted or otherwise). It became an obsession to relentlessly pursue the greatest possible infliction of harm onto myself in spite of or perhaps BECAUSE of the potential risks involved.

   Ironically, the eventuality that came of my aggressive self punishment was a sense of well being and a rapidly growing and shifting sense of perception. I was gaining a profound sense of understanding through the experience of hardship and pain. I began to interpret my experiences with a clarity and transparency previously unavailable to me. It was incredibly liberating.

  As I made more connections through my heightened sense of understanding I became aware that others were defining their existences based almost entirely on the profundity of their individual human experience. Many of these people had outlined the importance of suffering in gaining access to the “hidden keys” within themselves that allowed them to unlock doors to their true identities. In addition to the importance of understanding I became familiar with a sentiment of responsibility or duty to pursuing meaning in ones individual existence.  This concept came as a revelation to me and I felt absolved of the oppressive guilt of my early shortcomings. I began to feel empowered by my experiences. Instead of pursuing emotional freedom and intellectual expansion under a stack of heavy masks or a black veil I felt I could begin to set those instruments of stagnation aside and finally explore all the exciting and terrifying possibilities of my future selves.

  I can only hope that going forward my knowledge of existentialism and other philosophies will expand as my understanding and experience also expands. The concept of existentialism and my awareness of  the existence of existential thinkers and their philosophy has brought a sense of clarity and eased the pain of isolation through uncommon thought. I've gained insight to many great minds through my discovery of existentialism as an existing concept and hope that their wisdom can help me to define my own existence.

                                                                                            - Helena Brevity

Saturday, December 29, 2012

What is Power Exchange, and "twoo" slavery....

This started out as a response to a question on Fetlife, but it's also my most compact, succinct and concise writing on the subject of modern power exchange to date, and I liked it enough I thought I'd repost it...

The idea of a "true" or "fake" slave has always been a terrible idea. It's also been often addressed, but I've been clarifying my thinking on it in the past few months. 

You can take it all the way back to the word "slave." It's a widely applied term in English for "unfree" but it's a medieval pejorative applied to unfree people generically because many unfree laborers were Slavic. In its day it had the same connotation as the casual use of "nigra" in the 19th century for unfree and free laborers of African descent.

Arguments about the "true" meaning of the word are little less than idiotic. We apply it to Roman slaves, though they used the word "servus" which is our "servant." Norse slaves, antebellum American slaves, and Barbary slaves have little in common. Which is the "true" source of slavery.

Does "true" slavery emanate from books published in the 1870s, from Weimar German culture of the 1920s (where the term was widely used for sex slavery...usually male submissive/female Mistress), from the culture of Gay Bikers returning from WWII (who may have been emulating Weimar culture to some extent), from a fantasy series made up by John Norman.

On the face of it the idea that there's any valid determiner of what constitutes "real" slavery is ridiculous. There's no litmus test of "slaves can't do x" because at many times slaves could do X. Slaves ran the greater part of the Byzantine Empire at times.

I tend to prefer to use the term "Power Exchange" in public writing, because it takes the ludicrous historical question of the word "slave" (which for most Americans is still most familiar from African-American Slavery in the 17th-19th century) out of the picture and puts the focus on the relationship.

A power exchange is a NEGOTIATED agreement between two people. It differs from some relationships in that the two parties do not end up with theoretically equal authority in the relationship. Typically one party gives up some degree of autonomy in return for getting other needs met (commonly safety, security, structure, self-control, or excitement). The underlying principle of modern Power Exchange is that we can CHOOSE how we want our relationships to be.

Most traditional relationships relegated some degree of control to either partner. The broad terms were set by culture or law (the Man controls the money, in many cases), and the details were set by individual negotiation or local tradition (the woman is the boss in the kitchen.) Often individuals negotiated exceptions or changes, but breaking the local "pattern" was often grounds for suspicion, and traditionally tended to disadvantage the female partner. Often this pattern was practical. It may not have been best for everyone, but in a subsistence agrarian society it was a formula that "worked" and tampering with it was dangerous. A month of lost productivity could place a Colonial farmstead at the brink of disaster.

Throughout the 20th century as Western society grew more affluent, the danger of experimenting and breaking from traditional relationships eroded, as did those models. There was no compelling reason not to experiment. So people did. And culturally because the previous models were often so apparently unfair to women, the push was to create equal responsibility. At the same time, relationships that were not between one man and one woman were becoming more common and acceptable, and it was often hard to apply the traditional norms to them.

The result was that by the time my parents were married it was considered a given that a woman would have equal control over household finances, and work outside the home, though often it was still seen as the norm she'd do more housework because she owned a lower wage. A move towards a "two career" family was well underway. A woman who wanted to be a homemaker was suspect. A man who wanted to do the same was also suspect despite the occasional "heartwarming" and saccharine movie or TV show. And because there was no actual cultural agreement on who controlled the finances, the popular formula was "Congratulations, you're married. You're both Captain of the ship, have a nice time fighting it out with no guidelines."

In short, there was no new formula to replace the old formula, just a vacuum. Since the 1970s many things have begun to fill this vacuum. In some places a return to a "traditional community" pushed by superchurches, where the arbitrary standards of the past century are applied with more zeal than they were in my parents day. Other counselors have written long and involved works on how to work out relationship dynamics.

Power exchange presents the novel idea that it's fine to have a relationship in which the partners do not have equal authority or responsibility PROVIDED THEY AGREE TO THAT. To engage in it requires a good bit of "knowing thyself" to know what you really do want, and to be a successful control partner (Master, Mistress, etc.) requires being able to evaluate the needs of others, know what you want, and work out a fit between those two that does not create resentment and unhappiness.

Complicating this is the fact that the fetish world is full of people with what I've termed "counter-intuitive needs." The need to be hurt in order to feel loved, the need to feel dominated or even abused in order to feel safe. Often these are legacies of dysfunctional households or systems, but we can't simply handwave and say "oh well your entire psyche and sexuality is wrong so you don't get to be happy and have to be miserable in a relationship that doesn't meet your needs because they aren't the needs you should have."

Primitive understandings of Power Exchange tend to revolve around meeting counter-intuitive needs. Often the core is built around discipline (Master provides discipline which the slave needs) while transparently masking a desire on the part of the Master to be sadistic, or the slave to be masochistic, with the resulting contradiction (punishment meets a need) swept under the carpet, or addressed in confusing tautologies that don't stand up to analysis.

Unfortunately, especially online, you're still going to meet a lot of people whose model of Power Exchange came out of a book, a movie, or a blog. They confuse the fantasy element of people getting what they need, with a rigid formula that should be applied to "all slaves" or "all Masters."

Power exchange is about getting what you need (even if it is not entirely what you want...for many people it's not), without the application of arbitrary rules or standards...from the church, from the previous era, from your parents, or from any self-appointed Master or Mistress who believes that "all slaves should be X."

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Amanda Todd and the wrong message about bullying and sexuality...

Over the next few months, society will report and debate the death of Amanda Todd, a teenager who committed suicide after posting a Youtube video about bullying. I truly mourn her loss. This is someone who was intelligent, creative, had some artistic capability and seemed to understand a great deal about what was happening to her. It's my nature that I feel a greater loss when we lose the self-aware.

The one garish detail that every news story will carry about her death is that an unknown older man persuaded her to flash her tits on camera and then sent the picture to her classmates or posted it where they could find it. There's a near one hundred percent certainty that if you know one detail about the story other than the video, that will be it. The police are searching for the online predator who bullied her. The one thing we know is that this simple sexualized act was a "big deal" to Amanda and that it indirectly controlled much of her life from that point on.

There are a lot of other details. The Huffington Post carries some of them: A key element is very simple. She flirted with a new boy who seemed to like her. His regular girlfriend enlisted friends to beat her up. Age old story.

She didn't die in some rural backwater where nobody knows about mental health or thinks that sexuality comes from Satan. She had counseling and anti-depressants. She lived in the Vancouver area which is markedly liberal.

I read a few good comments. Adam Page: "Guess the government will use this to try and force through more laws allowing them to spy on electronic communications, when really they should be trying to educate young people what to do in these kind of situations."

I'll go a step further. The Government will try to fix things by tracking down the online predator and declare victory. If we can only stop any sort of sexual access or knowledge to kids under 18, this sort of thing won't happen...

I don't think any adult male should really be flirting with 7th graders on webcam, and I certainly don't think they should be extorting them into flashing by threats, then humiliating them to their friends. That's not only a crime, it's a type of asshattery that makes you about the lowest form of life around. You have to be low and desperate to be an adult and enjoy the sort of power that goes with blackmailing a fourteen year old to show their tits.

That said, I would say that of the girls I know under thirty, an easy half of them began learning about sex by flirting on yahoo chat or some similar network when they were about thirteen or fourteen. It's how people learn about sex now, having replaced finding dad's Playboys. One thing different is that women have equal access, and can learn as much or more than boys about sex.

What nobody is going to say is that the root of the problem is not teenagers having access to sexual information and contact online before they are 18. What they are not going to say is that the problem is our entire societal attitude towards sex and shame that makes having pictures of your tits online something a girl can be bullied mercilessly over. To be fair, bullying will happen anyway, and having pictures of your tits online is also a source of popularity. Sexting is a big thing. But this situation reeks of our bizarre double standards over sexuality for both men and women, where the most popular of us are expected to be sexually demonstrative and promiscuous but promiscuity is also a basis for social attack and belittlement.

The Sorority Girl

A decade and a half ago I had a friend who came out of a Sorority background. She was from a small rather clannish town that served as commuter suburb for a Chicago, and attended a mid-sized western school, where her primary social circle was a sorority. She was great fun at parties. She was always there to encourage drinking. She was the first one to encourage shirts to come off, and to egg on sexual misbehavior. Totally fun.

Except...she didn't drink much herself. And the next morning she had just a few catty, shaming, comments for anyone who had gone a little too far and made a fool of themselves. I understood implicitly what she was doing. By pointing out her relative control and their lack of it, she made them feel ashamed, and shame is the primary emotion that tells us that we are inferiors in our tribe. There is chemistry behind shame that goes back well before h. sapiens, and it tells us to keep our heads down, defer to the dominants, and be grateful they feed us at all.

Bullies will use any sort of shame to get ahead, but they require leverage. I don't know for certain that bullying has become worse, because I am aware that the past was never as pretty as movies and television make it. People were savage and cruel. That said, I suspect that when our culture was more homogenous it was more difficult for bullies to get leverage and they had to do it over smaller things. Funny socks, or your dad's job.

I can't fix bullying, but I can say that there is one thing that makes it worse and one key to stopping it:

What makes it worse - Our attitudes toward sexuality, and our belief that we can put an artificial wall up about sexuality at 16 and 18 and have normally sexually developed adults

Sexuality has become a garish and principle tool of bullies because it's out in the open. Stories about suicides and even the suicides themselves often focus on one sexual incident.

It's not always clear if a somewhat more sexual and experimental teen is ruthlessly ostracized by her tribe for sexual experimentation in the tradition of Hester Prynne, or if teens who are already awkward and ostracized tend to be more willing to experiment sexually for the feeling of feeling desirable and being wanted. It's a chicken and egg question and it's probably a mixture of both.

What is clear is that our draconian efforts to block sexual access of any kind for people under 18, and our stigmatization of underage sexuality of any kind doesn't actually serve us, it serves the bullies.

It's not necessary. Other industrialized cultures, including Japan, take different approaches. Japan is an interesting model because it has the same first world and economic problems we do, but a very different culture relating to sexual shame. Perhaps not entirely healthy but less fucked up in regards to young people than our own It's worth noting that while Japan has a high suicide rate it's worst among unemployed middle-aged men and is largely driven among teens by a culture that glorifies academic achievement. Japan's rate of suicide among teen women is actually low compared to many western countries - 136 per 100k for Japan, as opposed to 274 per 100k for the US. It's only 47 per 100k for Canada, but Amanda Todd seems to have been in an area which was culturally rather American. (WHO, 2005 figures).

Yes it's terrible to extort a kid. But each time we print garish articles about how one 14 year old sexting to another may cause them Tess of the D'Urbervilles level shame and tragedy, we actually give ammunition to the bullies.

Our culture revolves around sex, and having tits someone would blackmail to see drives untold billions of dollars of advertising and media sales. Yet we create the bizarre conditions in which being outed for having actually "given over" a sexual favor...whether it's an on camera, or in the flesh, is worthy of bullying. By forwarding the victorian ideal that good girls are desired but don't give out their favors lightly even when they are young, desperate for attention, and experimenting, we make it something that the tribe does not condone.

Bullies need things to shame their victims, to rationalize ostracization. We give them that on a shining silver platter. Sexual experimentation is a convenient basis for shame, and it happens all the time. Remember that a bully usually doesn't care about who his or her victim is...he or she just needs one, like Hitler needed the Jews, to be a common enemy and an example of what will happen if you don't conform to the bully's tribal leadership.

The Key to Stopping it - stop approaching bullying as something to fight head on to the death and failing to admit to, discuss, teach, or admit the existence of dominance and submission in our culture.

A few months ago at the National Zoo, I watched a young male gorilla rush a silverback. I just happened to be standing right behind the silverback and I can tell you that having a mountain gorilla rushing directly at you with a look of ferocity is a little startling. What was most remarkable though is that for all of the misstep 12.5 million years ago that left the gorilla in a cage and me on the outside, it was quite recognizable at that moment as another man and I responded more or less as a man...surge of testosterone, but a very different feeling than being rushed by a large dog. It was a matter of social dominance, not physical force. The silverback felt the same way. No actual blows were struck and the young male backed down.

Is it possible that in our frenzy to remove all the "systems" by which bullies functioned in the past and impose ruthless democratization...hazing, sports cliques, etc...we've made the problem worse? Likely, just like an unstructured ghetto sees more raw and violent displays of power than organized society.

We're told bullying is wrong. So it is, in that the techniques of the common enemy, the example of what happens if you don't obey me, etc. are bad social institutions. But they exist in modern politics on both sides of the fence, and they exist in most clubs, groups and teams. We don't really want our young people growing up as compliant Deltas, Gammas, and Episons...the compliant underclasses from Aldous Huxley's Brave New World.

Our educational system and concept of childhood, even when I was involved, was about flattening. There was a push to stomp out individuality and push uniformity. Rocking the boat was undesirable. Nothing I have heard in the twenty five years since I left High School make me think that's gotten anything but worse. No Child Left Behind certainly pushed making cookie-cutter people, but there is more. Pushes to restrict driving and drinking...the real world adventures that did kill some young people but also gave them their first real challenges, have helped ensure they stay an "inside" society, fighting each other, not facing the world. Increasingly restrictive rules make me wonder if an alpha, locked up in our idea of youth, has much recourse other than to gather a gang. That's the natural path of human alphas (male or female) and when we don't have any other opportunities its the one way we exercise power. We seem increasingly committed to keeping our children in a sterile bubble where they cannot touch anything that's dangerous and it doesn't occur to us that in that cage, like the gorillas at the National Zoo, the thing that these doughty adolescent primates will become is dangerous themselves. To each other. Primates don't do well in cages.

Sometimes the situation seems hopeless.

On the left, there is hand wringing about bad things happening to children that seems bound to thrust them into adulthood at age 18 with as little real-world experience as possible, and fight bullying in a way that may amount to making sure that natural leaders and alphas are as frustrated, antisocial, and negative as possible. News flash. Primates boss each other around. The left feels that we should all be shiny happy democrats, and so doesn't want to teach about social dominance and submission, or allow those lessons to be learned through hard knocks. There are mothers against damn near everything, and there is a firm feeling that millions of years of heredity can be shed with a few brightly colored posters. There is no thought that in "leveling" teen society...a time when most cultures hold tribal and coming of age rituals...we may be creating a vicious open street culture that encourages those who are going to dominate and control to do so in the most brutal fashion.

On the right, there is a dedication to a morbid and victorian repression of sexuality, and because the one form that everyone across the aisle can agree on is keeping children safe, that focuses on an obsession with keeping kids away from learning about sexuality in a way that is almost macabre in itself. There is a firm denial of human nature and while the right is more than willing to allow the lessons of social dominance and submission to be learned through hard knocks, they'd fight to the last bullet to keep anyone from teaching about them in a structured way because on the right, the dynamics of dominance and submission are the man behind the curtain, the Wizard of Oz that makes a poor man in a Red State vote against his own best interests to enrich the already-wealthy.

But...the internet exists. Information exchange exists...and for all that it may sometimes seem a vast cesspool, ideas that have merit do rise extremely quickly. To me one of the most striking values that the fetish community has is that it recognizes the existence of dominance and submission and their power in our lives, but does not teach that they should govern our rights, control our choices, or how we value ourselves as people. We have some valuable learning, and in little ways it is seeping into the mainstream.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Execution of Childhood Sexual Abuse Victim

I receive dozens of political messages every day, and seldom forward any of them.  Usually they are either of such dramatic scope I assume everyone knows about them, or I feel they're a matter of personal preference and conscience.  But this is a little different. 

I'm passing along the ACLU post in this case whole cloth.  All that I can add is that I have a great deal of personal evidence indicating that childhood sexual abuse is more profoundly disturbing than it is possible for most people who have not experienced it to imagine.  Current findings indicate that the resulting trauma actually causes major changes in brain function, including extensive damage to the hippocampus, which can result in abberant and violent behavior seen in some war-trauma victims.  I do not think any rational, thinking, compassionate person can seriously feel that capital punishment is the correct choice in this case.

From the ACLU:

I am writing to respectfully request the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons review the case of Terry Williams, including new evidence submitted this week, and grant him clemency.

Mr. Williams -- who suffered years of physical and sexual abuse from older males, eventually killing two of his abusers while in his teens -- should be granted clemency because the original trial court never heard about the horrifying relationship between teen-aged Williams and the deceased, including evidence of repeated sexual assault of Williams. Five jurors have signed affidavits swearing knowledge of this information would have changed their vote to life in prison. Additionally, the judge and jury never learned about the prosecutor's agreement to assist the co-defendant's request for parole in exchange for his testimony against Williams.

Mr. Williams is deeply remorseful about his actions so long ago and the victim's widow agrees his life should be spared. I join 22 former prosecutors and judges, 34 law professors, 40 mental health professionals and over three dozen faith leaders from across Pennsylvania, among other advocates, to urge that you vote to grant clemency to Mr. Williams.

Friday, August 31, 2012

The GOP and Porn

I don't usually post on politics but there are a few stark facts I want to look at

I have to admit that I read the Master/slave forums on Fetlife and a few other sites and see people bashing the President, or voicing support for his opposition and I just say "WTF."

Look, I'm a moderate.  While my personal politics may be left-leaning, my idea of Socialism is Tony Blair or Alan Stockdale not some long haired bolshevik.  I identify with Labor in Britain and the Liberals in Australia.  These aren't countries that are particularly wildly liberal or badly governed.  They haven't had riots or bizarre corporative nanny states. 

And I don't neccessarily think that people with politics like me should govern.  I have the politics that I do because I feel there needs to be weight dragging things to the left so that the government ends up in the middle.

But I think that people on Fetlife and in the power exchange  and kink communities in general simply do not understand  what the current GOP means.  My fiscally conservative friends are telling me they are probably going to vote Democrat because the GOP no longer represents them.

I want to try to get one thing across...

They mean you.  There's no divorcing of social issues and fiscal issues.  There was a time when there was.  There was a time when I said "I don't support Bush but I don't think it will be a disaster if he is elected."

They mean you. 

Let's talk about porn.

"The Republican Party placed a strict anti-porn plank in its platform, at the request of Family Research Council head Tony Perkins, reports"

This isn't an exaggeration and bears out on a dozen other sites, just Google it, it's well documented.

"The anti-porn platform says, in part, that 'the Internet must be made safe for children' and ISPs must 'ensure that the Internet cannot become a safe haven for predators while respecting First Amendment rights. Current laws on all forms of pornography and obscenity need to be vigorously enforced.''

First of all maybe you know somebody who actually works in the porn industry?  Maybe you think you don't because you don't know any Hollywood porn stars.  Do you know anybody who works or worked for Kink.Com or Insex?  Friend of a Friend?

Let's understand.  The GOP isn't going to ask questions. They don't just mean Vivid.  They aren't going to say "oh you're just a rigger."  They aren't going to say "it's more about the power dynamic so it's okay that you tie girls up and beat them."

They mean you.  They mean the pictures that 90% of us on here watch. They mean the livelihood of people whose lives have been built around rope and bringing legitimate BDSM to a viewing audience.  They mean people who practice non-traditional lifestyles. People who are probably more responsible for the actual growth of BDSM...and in many cases showing people fairly legitimate views of it...than all the people who ever posted in a forum put together, including me.

And they don't mean to stop at pictures of naked girls.  They mean PORN.

They mean our communities.

If you aren't sure if they mean "Fetlife" they do.  I don't care if your fiscally conservative friend doesn't think Fet is porn.  Try getting it at any worksite that filters adult content.  The people who wrote this plank do.  They are not going to look at writing about slavery, and flogging, and sex and say "oh it's okay it's just personal growth."  Adult alt-sex communities are porn. 

Will they be able to shut down sites like Fetlife, or attack your local organization.  Maybe not.  They still have to act within the law.  But they were willing to use quasi legal maneuvering against entities like Insex, going well outside the written law to use the draconian powers allowed by National Security to combat terrorism in order to attack their payment mechanisms. Again, this is fairly well documented at this point.

Fetlife is based in Vancouver Canada, but the US has a long arm when it comes to money and even if it didn't do you want to live in a nation that represses your lifestyle?   Even if they can't hurt you directly, these people are not your friends.  They are poisonous to everything people here stand for. They will never be in your corner.  You are scum to them.  Get that straight.  You are the problem.

The people who worked in Attorney General John Ashcroft's Office carried out a personal vendetta against Insex, one of the pioneers in bringing actual legitimate BDSM to a video audience, a concern that launched some of the best known names out there today.  They badly damaged the business and drove much of its talent away.  And that was under a dramatically more liberal administration than the one we'd be getting.

You think SOPA was a bad idea?  The one thing that Chris Dodd's Democratic Film Mafia and Romney's zealots will agree on is choking down the internet.  They don't want to do it for the same reasons, but they'll happily agree it should be done. 

Fetlife is a sea of porn if you have this mindset.  These are not people who are going to cull through the pics and posts and say "but this person was getting something emotional out of their being beaten bloody."  They're going to scream in horror and make it a priority.
You are not safe.

They are not going to say "it's okay you have whips and chains because you're a macho good ole boy."  They are not going to say "it's okay to have sex outside your biblical marriage if it's for personal growth."

And because they are ever more in the driver's seat they are going to be able to push these agenda items.  In fact they'll need to as emotionally appealing smokescreens for their conservative fundraising base to mask the fact that they can't do anything more about the world economy than Obama can. 

They will hurt our lifestyle

They will hurt you

Yes they mean you

If you secretly feel guilty about the lifestyle, and on some level feel that you should support the grownups that oppose it because they must be the responsible ones...and I know people who have this perverse drive, think for a moment about what you are condemning your friends and partners to.  Surely somebody somewhere along the way has been good to you? 

I'm not saying Obama is any friend to porn or power exchange, and I wouldn't want to see former Democratic Legislator Chris Dodd in a public office either.  But by and large the Democrats currently sponsor individual freedom and personal choice and the GOP sponsors moving our country to be in lockstep with the agenda of the superchurches and combines that fund it.  You are what you eat and the GOP is gorged on money that comes from people who do not want you to fuck anyone you are not married to, let alone post pictures and talk about it on the interwebz.

I work in Washington.  I am not an alarmist.  I do not think these people will win. I think the reason their platform looks so desperate and radical is that the majority of moderate people just don't see them as representative and have deserted them, leaving the fanatics and true believers to set the rules.  I think they will go down in an epic rejection of their socially backwards agenda.

But there's a chance they can eke out a victory on electoral votes and state majorities. 

And people in the kink community need not to be neutral or indifferent about this.  You need to know which side your bread is buttered on.  These people will never be your friends.  They do not approve of your lifestyle.  The world they create will be a chilling place for us to exist.  Will we survive?  Certainly?  Is that something that you or I want.  No. 

This hits close to home.  It hits people you know.  It hits your lifestyle. 

I am not a campaign flunky and I am not going to go so far as to recommend a specific activity.   But I have three simple pieces of advice for anyone in a kink lifestyle looking at this election:

Think, Talk, Act.

Monday, August 6, 2012

The Thorny Issues of Consent

This was originally written as a continuation of the discussion of consent, however I think it stands alone as a basic outline of the issues with consent within our community. 

In many ways, I think you can boil the core issue in consent in BDSM down to the Foo Fighters.

"The only thing I'll ever ask of you - You've got to promise not to stop when I say when"

In the legal world, consent is viewed through the filter of contemporaneous consent.  Even though in practical terms we have to allow for second thoughts and misunderstandings, in legal terms we don't.
In the world of consensual non-consent, the building blocks of consent are different.  If I were going to take even a wild stab at laying a framework I would say:
  • An initial consent - prior consent
  • That prior consent is informed consent
  • That the partners involved honor whatever promises were made at the point of prior consent.  Being able and willing to carry through with threats of consequences or punishment is often core to the power dynamic.
  • Post/ongoing consent - the ability to check in and various points which do not involve major stressors and determine that there is a recognition of the prior consent and an intention to continue.
Within the c/nc community there are several points of debate

The validity of indefinite consent. 
Some years ago a couple of my friends signed a contract for their relationship.  While the contract appeared to be fair, both of the partners began to systematically subvert the rules attempting to coerce the other.  As their relationship moved along blatant coercion through withdrawal of sexual favors and public humiliation that made others in the community uncomfortable, became the norm.  Events they both attended were unpleasant. The only thing the two agreed on is that they could not break the contract.  The damage they did seemed went well beyond ego and sex into actual matters of money and property.  I remember friends trying to persuade the female partner to break the contract and the wide-eyed and very real fear in her eyes when she said that she could not break it.  It wasn't a was a deep visceral fear that had been coerced into over years.

Fortunately they were finally persuaded that despite her family's religious teachings and his conservative demeanor, divorce was a real option and both agreed they should never have gotten married in the first place. 

Proving that kinksters are not the only ones who face this problem...

It is often part of the mystique and energy of the relationship that submissive and Dominant partners agree that the submissive partner does not have the option of revoking consent. Certainly almost all the literature in this area focuses on indefinite consent.

People seek indefinite obligations for any number of reasons.  I find it odd that people may consider the idea of a lifelong obligation to a Master "sick" while finding nothing unusual about marital vows containing the phrase "till death do us part."  In both cases the core idea is that both partners can rely on the relationship without question and make an absolute commitment to make it work.

We know that in both cases this is completely impractical but the idea of being protected by someone/possessed by someone/possessing someone forever and without question is a human motivator that speaks to our desire for stability and safety on the deepest levels, and the myth that the submissive partner "cannot" leave is a core element of willing suspension of disbelief.
In the practical world of M/s on the East Coast, I have never heard anyone seriously maintain that someone should be kept in an M/s relationship after they have determined in a moment of sober post-stress thought that they don't wish to.  I've known dozens of M/s couples/households that broke up, and if anything I've observed that the community is usually highly supportive of the previously submissive partner.

In contrast, I often see individuals on Fetlife plausibly maintain that they have fairly healthy long term relationships where a very real absence of the ability to leave the relationship is a part of the dynamic.  In most cases I genuinely think that this is simply a case where both individuals engage heavily enough in the willing suspension of disbelief that the thing is true.

It is also arguable that the distaste and antipathy that one sees in more conservative Masters who post from locations far outside the urban centers of alternative sexuality, or declare themselves to be outside the community is because of a dynamic that is actually far more draconian than that of most community members and that they fear (they would not use the word fear of course) that contact with the community will contaminate the purity of that dynamic.  I imagine this must be true in some small number of cases, but reading between the lines makes me strongly feel that it is a vanishingly small minority of cases. 

I feel that as an observable rule of thumb, most members of established communities honor the concept of irrevocable consent as an ideal the same way many mainstream people honor the concept of "till death do us part."  In practice they are actively supportive of anyone who chooses to leave a relationship for any reason, just as the same people who stood in rapt attention and listened to a mainstream couple's wedding vows hear the news of impending divorce without batting an eyelash. 
But the intellectual debate continues, and it is confused by the degree to which some people buy into the willing suspension of disbelief and speak in defense of the ideal rather than the actuality, as well as people who may actually hold the point of view.

What constitutes coercion

In the 1950s, the Communist Chinese engaged in programs of cultural re-education that gained the name "brain washing" from those who opposed them.  Certainly their version of re-eduction involved physical coercion and punishment to force compliance with an arbitrary norm.  In practice most militaries and many other organizations do exactly the same things for the same reasons.
Born in 1921 Margaret Singer led a controversial life.  From an apparently stable and affluent middle class Denver family, she was a cellist and received degrees in speech pathology and in clinical psychology.  Through chance or interest she ended up working at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Washington, D.C. during the height and aftermath of the Korean War.  She met and interviewed soldiers who had been "brainwashed" and was startled by their antipathy towards America. The changes she saw were real and began a quest for a detailed explanation.

Moving to Berkeley in the 1960s, she was similarly alarmed.  Everyone who has had a friend who suddenly dropped their entire life for a new crowd, boy, or Jesus can understand her concerns...Berkeley was a hotbed of political activism and parents came to her describing complete personality changes where people simply disappeared. 

Singer's detractors felt she overstated a natural tendency of cultural change and teen/early adult rebellion to explode into rejection of an oppressive middle class American culture whose values we'd identify with Don Draper.  Her supporters pointed to the Charles Manson "Family" as the extreme end of a situation where normal people could become capable of behaving in monstrous ways.  Singer testified in relation to the trial of heiress Patty Hearst who is often discussed as a textbook case of "Stockholm Syndrome" after she became allied with her SLA kidnappers. 
Our question...if someone is consenting...are they really consenting of their own "free will" or have they been coerced into consenting "against their will."

In the 1980s the American Psychological Association...the professional organization which can be considered to represent some of the greatest authorities on human psychology and behavior in the US and probably the world, took on the question of unethically coercive persusasion.  One might imagine that after attempting to apply Occam's razor to the issue, we'd have a good statement on the subject.  In fact we don't and the spectacular debacle that followed is a good object lesson in the hazards of well meaning organizations like the NCSF trying to quantify what may not be readily quantifiable.

The APA constituted a group, called the Task Force on Deceptive and Indirect Techniques of Persuasion and Control, or DIMPAC.  They probably unwisely chose or allowed Margaret Singer to lead this task force.  Singer was an outspoken and opinionated critic of what she considered "coercive persuasion."  This resulted in a high profile debacle, starting with the Task Force submitting a friend of the Court brief in a California case involving cults.   The APA Board of Social and Ethical Responsibility for Psychology (BSERP) rejected the DIMPAC Report with some prejudice leading Singer to sue the APA for defamation.  (There's a pretty good writeup here

And the issue of coercion remains murky.

Our problem is simple. In many cases people who feel a lack of control in their lives are drawn to the lifestyle because it promises discipline which they feel is lacking. Others seek an emotionally or physically coercive situation because their sex drive is linked to anxiety or coercion and the need and desire to experience sexual release is important to them.

Most of us probably agree that there is some level at which discipline might be "too much" when we are making someone into a traumatized basket case rather than a more functional human being.  The question is when and where.  Most of us feel we would "know it when we see it," but so did Margaret Singer.

The problem is that there is no legitimate way to draw a line between what constitutes legitimate stress and coercion and what does not.  You cannot draw the line at whether or not it is "nice" or "constructive" because much of mainstream society forces compliance in ways that are neither.  It is unreasonable to draw the line at physical force because many ancient institutions and sports require strict physical discipline and mete out rather harsh physical punishments. 

Many mainstream people are vaguely horrified by the idea of a slave being bound and beaten with a cane for punishment.  However they would easily digest an inspiring movie where a harsh coach's insistence on laps or a stadium "grand tour" (with the implicit alternative of shaming and expulsion from "the program") results in a moving sports victory, even though the mechanism of shame may be more coercive than an agreed punishment by physical force.

Even my friends in very mainstream "vanilla" relationships often come out of bad breakups saying that their partner "fooled" or "coerced" them into staying in the relationship, though in many of these situations it's clear to me that the coercion was more in their sense of duty and pride versus guilt or inattention than in any actual force.  That happens in kinky relationships too, and when it does, there is often "more ammunition."  We don't have any objective ways to sort out what is and isn't fair and unfair.

My personal criteria is informed consent.  I need to feel that the person who asked for or received a certain degree of coercion understood what it was and understood as much as possible the ramifications.  But that's vanishingly hard to establish, since a change in point of view can change even the ramifications.

The Question of Competence:

As an afterthought, I'll add something which is related but peripheral to consent, which is a cyclic set of issues over competence.

Twenty two years ago, when the place to find alternative culture of all kinds, from music and video to BDSM, was at the strange mixed-interest events called "Science Fiction" conventions, I attended an event in the DC area.  Every event had different rules, but this event was noted for being particularly spastic about badges. The "Security" staff numbered at least a twentieth of the overall attendance, and were planted at every elevator.  Their capacity for making rude demands and managing to find the worst possible way to ask about badges was legendary. 

I've been to a few events in my lifetime where the DMs or Site Security seemed to be more about "Domming" the guests than actually providing safety, and if you get out much you probably have at least one similar experience.  As a fairly visible alpha-male I am often a target for this...people who would never confront me in normal life finding or even fabricating reasons for a confrontation because they feel in a temporary position of authority and want to exercise it in a way that makes them feel good.

Back 22 years ago, I got a good piece of advice for my own events.  "Anybody who strongly insists  they want to serve as security probably shouldn't."

There is an undercurrent of that concern in all discipline and in our community.  We are aware that often the people who want to serve as disciplinarians are interested in inflicting punishment as much because of their own needs as to actually create a program of discipline.  This isn't necessarily bad, but when people are delusive about it, or out of touch with the reality it can lead to statements about their values and relationships that are far out of sync with the actual realities. 

In practice I've seen this lead to all sorts of bizarre elitism in the M/s World, including calls for stratified programs of training, or self-delusive Dominants who were in denial about the fact that they got off on hurting people essentially trying to maintain that if you enjoyed it you shouldn't do it, so making the primary qualification for a Master being able to engage in doublethink.  Not a lot of people own whips or tasers if they don't get some enjoyment out of using them. 


I won't say this is a comprehensive review of the issues revolving around consent, but it is the beginning of an attempt to establish some sort of coherent framework for discussing it, and understanding the areas where, as Margaret Singer found, it is very resistant to analysis.