This is our truth, tell us yours
Once again, it seems reasonable and appropriate to update and re-post this response to te original debate around Fifty Shades, which will hopefully be re-ignited by the film.
In one of the many Guardian articles about Fifty Sheds of Gary* Zoe Williams claims that S&M is mainly written about by the S’s.
Bluntly, she hasn’t a clue what she’s on about, and obviously hasn’t read the Story of O, but the fact that such a perception persists is telling. It points to the way in which even some otherwise intelligent practitioners of BDSM lapse into assumptions about the lives and personalities of practitioners outside the perimeters of their sex lives. If I encounter one more Dom who proclaims himself an ‘alpha male’ I will be unsurprised, and amused, as usual. However, the problem is not really about the way those who do BDSM see themselves; it’s about how others see us.
When Story of O first emerged, there was a strong current of argument that it was written by a man. Apparently a woman could not imagine such things. Some feminists, opposed to the idea of BDSM, also argued that it ‘must’ have been written by a man, pretending to be a woman, A good example of the wrong headedness that can arise from stereotyping people’s behaviour can be seen here. Apparently a police officer who, within the perimeters of his sex life, acts out his fantasies, cannot be trusted to investigate crimes in ‘real life’. It’s nonsense, of course, without further evidence that he actually hasn’t investigated crimes in an efficient and professional manner, but no evidence of that is ever offered. Incidentally, it’s probably arguable that given the ow conviction rates and the poor service given to many victims of sex crimes, that most police officers on sex crime units aren’t very good at their jobs, irrespective of their sexual tastes and orientation. To return to the main point though, the real complexity of the people who have an interest in BDSM within the perimeters of their sex lives is all too often elided from a debate about sexuality and gender where most of the protagonists appear to have started from fixed positions. It may be a clumsy metaphor to use in such a debate, but it seems as if, in the process, a lot of square pegs were and are rammed into round holes.
Each submissive is different. So is each dominant, and I can only speak from my experience. My experience is that there is a degree of self sufficiency demanded of submissives that is the equal of any such demand upon the dominant. The cognitive dissonance that can arise from trying to comply with a role that is not congruent with one’s own personality is at the heart, in my opinion, of much of the drama that routinely features in the online BDSM community. The self sufficient submissive understands their desire, and their capacity to submit. In the process they enable the relationship with their dominant and reduce the capacity for drama.
Of course, we live in a society where sexual labels are still used pejoratively. According to more than one of my friends, David Cameron is a wanker. It would be more remarkable if he were not, since even the most emotionally limited men, or those completely lacking in insight, manage to work out how to have a quick one off the wrist. To be a pervert may be a badge of honour for some of us, but it’s still not a good first line for a job hunting CV. Zoe Williams appears to belong to that generation of people who think the submissive surrenders control of their lives, emotions and personality to the dominant. Amongst first and second wave feminists, such a role was anathema, and that should still be the case today. My view remains that, of you want someone else to run your life for you, a closed religious order or prison is a better place for you than a BDSM relationship.
A sub who understands the perimeters of their sexuality, and its impact upon them, is more likely to have an external life that enables them to exist in more than two dimensions. I like my people three dimensional, and, I suspect, so do most people. It may be that 24/7 relationships involving total power exchange are less common place than the online community would have us believe; Zoe Williams appears to believe they are the standard template, with disempwoered submissives left voiceless in the corner by their dominants.
In the BDSM relationship that gives me so much pleasure we have a running joke; that the Union of Dominants will expel me as soon as they discover I’m doing it wrong, by demanding self sufficiency, insight and a clear voice of her own from my submissive. Like Groucho Marx, I’m not sure I’d want to join such a union if they would have me, but I sometimes tire of having to explain to the Zoe Williams’ of this world that some of us who are the S’s view our role as being dominant enablers, creating spaces where self sufficient masochists and submissives can flourish.
So if I were to want to form such a body, the Union of Self Sufficient Submisisves and Enabling Dominants (or USED – to its friends) would demand conclusive proof that its SSS members had a mind of their own, and that the ED’s were capable of detecting and engaging such a mind.
Is that so difficult? If the personal really is political (and like a good Marxist, i think history places huge limits on the extent to which the personal can control and define the politics we live, experience and practice) then the least we should ask of those who judge what we do is that they look beyond stereotypes to see what we actually do, to see the relationships, thought and practices that underpin our desires.
*The full plot of Fifty Sheds of Gary, the story of a young man who assembles outdoor buildings and is irresistible to women, may appear here shortly, or not, depending on how much I can be bothered. It will not feature an Audi convertible, except ironically, or gliders. It may feature a chance meeting between Gary and Abigail, a naive, foolish and unbearably self absorbed young lady who does not realise that the summerhouse her sister is having built in the garden is designed for formal BDSM play. Her consternation at Gary’s remark that ‘there will be ‘ plenty of room to swing a cat, phnarr phnarr’ will take up much of the first chapter as her inner goddess wrestles with the fact that Gary is physically gorgeous but a bit of a chav and thick as the thickest thing Abigail can think of, without subconsciously thinking about a thick male appendage removing her inconvenient but entirely understandable virginity. (Yes, yes I know her virginity may not be a physical obstacle that needs to be removed, but I’m setting the scene for another metaphor or three involving Gary tackling dead wood with his chopper, or a brick wall with his two handed hammer drill, and so on. It may be unsubtle, but compared to Fifty Shades it’s high art.)
The opening line ‘It was that rarest of things, a bright and sunny day in a leafy garden in Jesmond, Newcastle’s most desirable up and coming suburb’ has been pre-entered for the 2013 ‘Truly dreadful opening lines of bad erotic novels’ awards. ‘