Praxis Journal’s “Mapping Sexual Assault” and Technology for Rape Survivor Support Networks

This is a long and highly technical paper written by someone who has been thinking about sexual assault survivor support along the same exact lines as unquietpirate and myself.

We began our work on Predator Alert Tool in early to mid-2012 and eventually released the first functional prototype on October 26, 2012. A little over a year later, on December 9, 2013, a technologist and social activist named Praxis published the first version of “Mapping Sexual Assault: Addressing Under-Reporting & Perpetrator Correlation Problems With Confidential, Double-Blind, & Anonymous Cryptographic Surveying Techniques” but it contains numerous serious security vulnerabilities, including ones that Predator Alert Tool for Facebook and some of the other Predator Alert Tools are also vulnerable to. But this week, Praxis published a revised proposal for a similar, fully decentralized system:

I’ve just reviewed the paper and, at first glance, I find much to like about it. My main initial frustration is mostly with what I still believe is an over-concern with mitigating harms from “false reports,” but in general Praxis’s approach to this problem and its related ones are survivor-centric and thorough, rightly surmising that the State-backed legal system is nothing but an obstruction to justice both for survivors and perpetrators. The conclusion of Praxis’s paper highlights the obvious overlap between their theoretical work on the problem of endemic serial rape and my own and my collaborator’s work on Predator Alert Tool:

Impunity is the key property that explains the widespread prevalence of sexual assault. Rapists are often able to remain anonymous to the next person they hurt, because most survivors do not report. Most survivors do not report because existing accountability mechanisms in society do not treat rape as a serious crime. Survivors who report are often subjected to blaming attacks by social peers and are ignored by those who are supposed to be responsible for investigation and accountability, whether that is the police and court system or a university administration. Lack of any real accountability for perpetrators who are reported and the low rate of reports overall are intrinsically linked; these two factors compose a mutually re-enforcing feedback loop that leads to greater impunity for rapists, who consequently enjoy relative anonymity when targeting people and little chance of facing serious consequences if they are reported.

One way to deal with the problem of impunity is to label people. The prison system does this all the time when it labels people as felons and sex offenders, labels that follow those people for the rest of their lives. This system relies on first demonstrating dispositively that the individual probably committed the act in question, and then publicizing a persistent label associated with their real name, or sometime even their biometric identity. This system has [many] flaws.

[…But t]here is a[nother] way: ignore existing accountability mechanisms, which are unreceptive to prosecuting rape, and focus on connecting survivors who share the same perpetrator, without centralizing any information about the perpetrators or survivors themselves. […]

Introducing survivors who share a common perpetrator to one another would likely have a disruptive effect oncampus wide conversations about sexual assault, and would introduce new deterrents for perpetrators who would be more vulnerable to exposure, prosecution, or independent retributive action taken by the survivors themselves. Unlike a “label and publicize” system, this model would not rely on flawed dispositive accountability systems, in fact this system would be utterly neutral as to the question of whether an assault had occurred or not, it would merely link people who claimed a common perpetrator. What they should do with that information from there is entirely up to them, the survivors.

(Emphasis mine.)

I’m very pleased to see that other people are finally beginning to do serious work on sexual assault in this way.

To the best of my knowledge, the only existing tool designed to introduce survivors who share a common perpetrator is Predator Alert Tool for Facebook. It is not a perfect tool by any means, but the project is a free software, open source, anti-copyright, legally unencumbered, public domain repository.

To thrive, it needs to be used. Here are two very good, simple and user friendly introductions to using Predator Alert Tool for Facebook (and its sister tool, the Predator Alert Tool for OkCupid). Please share this with your friends:

Learn more about how to help the Predator Alert Tool project. Pair with “Predator Alert Tool as a game theoretic simulation of countermeasures to rape culture” and “How would you design an online social network that was hostile to abusers?

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Allies Must Be Traitors: On Barnor Hesse’s “action-oriented identities”

The 8 White Identities by Barnor Hesse

The 8 White Identities

by [Associate Professor of African American Studies, Political Science, and Sociology] Barnor Hesse

There is a regime of whiteness, and there are action-oriented white identities. People who identify with whiteness are one of these. It’s about time we build an ethnography of whiteness, since white people have been the ones writing about governing Others.

  1. White Supremacist; Clearly marked white society that preserves, names, and values white superiority.
  2. White Voyeurism; Wouldn’t challenge a white supremacist; desires non-whiteness because it’s interesting, pleasurable; seeks to control the consumption and appropriation of non-whiteness; fascination with culture (ex: consuming Black culture without the burden of Blackness)
  3. White Privilege; May critique supremacy, but a deep investment in questions of fairness/equality under the normalization of whiteness and the white rule; sworn goal of ‘diversity’
  4. White Benefit; Sympathetic to a set of issues but only privately; won’t speak/act in solidarity publicly because benefiting through whiteness in public (some POC are in this category as well)
  5. White Confessional; Some exposure of whiteness takes place, but as a way of being accountable to POC after; seek validation from POC
  6. White Critical; Take on board critiques of whiteness and invest in exposing/marking the white regime; refuses to be complicit with the regime; whiteness speaking back to whiteness.
  7. White Traitor; Actively refuses complicity; names what’s going on; intention is to subvert white authority and tell the truth at whatever cost; need them to dismantle institutions.
  8. White Abolitionist; Changing institutions, dismantling whiteness, and not allowing whiteness to reassert itself.

I find a number of things in Barnor Hesse’s “The 8 White Identities” highly relevant and important.

First among them is Professor Hesse’s focus on “action-oriented identities.” This take on identity stands in remarkably sharp contrast to the typical (oxymoronic “white anti-racist”) understanding of identity politics. Hesse’s schema focuses almost exclusively on what people actually do, rather than on what people say they do, which should be, like, critical thinking 101 but isn’t because most people are intentionally (mis-)educated out of the ability to think critically by a white supremacist and actively genocidal system of forced schooling.

This point of “action-oriented identities” is actively relevant to rolequeer conversations right now, as this excerpt from Thinking Rolequeer: Stepping Outside the Charmed Circle makes clear:

[The concept of] kyriarchical positionality is about identity, whereas [Gayle Rubin’s] Charmed Circle is about actions. To think about and criticize power and powerful structures effectively, we must first deeply internalize the difference between these two things [identities and actions] and apply them both at the same time in any analysis of a given situation. This two-pronged approach is important because, for starters, “power” is not merely some abstract idea, but the application of force placed in time and space.

Most current discourse about sex and power has been totally overwhelmed by these ultimately unhelpful questions: Are you what you do? Are you only what you do? More crudely: Are you gay because you have gay sex? Or are you having gay sex because you are gay? Is it a choice? Or were you born that way? While politically expedient, I believe these questions dissecting the justifications for a given act are derailing distractions from the real issue: in what ways do our identities or actions threaten the ability of The Powers That Be to define our boundaries on our behalf?

Rolequeerness is a mental tool (that is, it is an idea) enabling us to more easily merge the two interrogatory approaches outlined in intersectional feminist analysis (kyriarchy, queer theory, etc.) described above in order to help us focus on actions whose impacts actually undermine power.

(Emphasis added.)

Another key point in Hesse’s schema is the way it implicit widens the scope of what is considered “complicity” with white supremacy by virtue of gradating such identities on a spectrum rather than a simple dichotomy of “racist” and “not racist.” Hesse makes this explicit in his description of “White Confessional” where he describes the point of action as one where “Some exposure of whiteness takes place, but as a way of being accountable to POC after,” which I read to mean after complicity in white supremacy has caused harm.

This point of placing complicit actions at a precise moment in time is something I heavily elaborated on in my essay, “Complicity in Abuse: 101-level information social justice hobbyists are dangerously ignorant of,” such as in this excerpt:

One way to understand awareness of complicity more fully is by contrasting it with a related and equally misunderstood idea: “being accountable.” Frustratingly, “accountability” has become an all but meaningless buzzword for social justice hobbyists (that is, people who engage in what I call “pop social justice”), such as those on Tumblr.

In the pitiable Internet social justice filter bubble where you may currently be having most of these conversations, “being accountable” means publicly accepting responsibility for some abusive or otherwise oppressive behavior. It’s also used to mean acknowledging a privilege (such as “male” or “white”) through a rigidly prescribed set of social rituals. Importantly, this “accepting accountability for” is definitionally something one does after one commits some abusive act or claims some oppressor identity. This is in sharp contrast to “awareness of complicity,” which is definitionally something we are trying to do to prevent abusive or oppressive behavior from existing in the first place as much as possible.

I also think that even the name of this category, “White Confessional,” is important to this point. It locates white guilt by metaphorical coordinates in the dominant moral belief system of religion by its name: Confession. Despite whatever honest intent may have birthed this peculiar social ritual, it has been undeniably perverted into an act of abusive complicity and is now used as a psychological bludgeon by the majority of “social justice activists.” In my “Complicity in Abuse” essay, I quote Andrea Smith on this point:

It’s also important to understand the purpose of these rigidly prescribed social rituals, because they are one way many people are complicit in abuse. The rituals that activism hobbyists perform together was perhaps best summarized by Andrea Smith in her essay, The Problem with Privilege:

In my experience working with a multitude of anti-racist organizing projects over the years, I frequently found myself participating in various workshops in which participants were asked to reflect on their gender/race/sexuality/class/etc. privilege.  These workshops had a bit of a self-help orientation to them: “I am so and so, and I have x privilege.”  It was never quite clear what the point of these confessions were.  It was not as if other participants did not know the confessor in question had her/his proclaimed privilege.   It did not appear that these individual confessions actually led to any political projects to dismantle the structures of domination that enabled their privilege.  Rather, the confessions became the political project themselves.    The benefits of these confessions seemed to be ephemeral.  For the instant the confession took place, those who do not have that privilege in daily life would have a temporary position of power as the hearer of the confession who could grant absolution and forgiveness.  The sayer of the confession could then be granted temporary forgiveness for her/his abuses of power and relief from white/male/heterosexual/etc guilt.   Because of the perceived benefits of this ritual, there was generally little critique of the fact that in the end, it primarily served to reinstantiate the structures of domination it was supposed to resist.

By performing the confession ritual Smith describes happening in these workshops, people who fancy themselves “social justice activists” engage in a transaction that temporarily trades whatever systemic power they may have had outside of the workshop’s context (such as the ability to command more cultural and social attention as a result of their whiteness, or to more forcefully direct community governance processes as a result of their maleness, etc.) in exchange for some social accolades (such as acceptance to the workshop space, friendships with the workshop participants, and public recognition from those who already command respect) within the workshop context.

This is a fundamentally corrupt, and corrupting, process.

(Emphasis in original.)

Last (for now) but not least, I also think Hesse’s naming of a category “White Traitor,” especially as it’s distinct from “White Abolitionist” but nevertheless paired with it (we “need them [traitors] to dismantle institutions”), is important. To be blunt, you can not be a traitor to a cause or institution that you have never supported. A traitor is a turncoat or, depending on your point of view, perhaps a whistleblower. These difficult identities is where acts of (social justice) “allyship” really take place; “allyship” is not present in the guilt-projecting “confessionals” of in-actionable social capitalism wrapped in the flag of identity politics.

This point of traitorous identities also inherently defines a certain relationship that crosses the line between the personal and the political, the individual and the institutional. That relationship is also inherently dangerous, because it actively threatens powerful people, institutions, and political forces. Tumblr user alexispointy succinctly described traitorous white race relations like this:

if you want to really be a useful white race traitor, you gotta refuse the privileges granted to you and interfere with the privileges granted to others for being white. at the very least, use your white privilege to help serve the immediate needs of poc if you can’t be assed to sacrifice the comforts of your white life.

In numerous essays, unquietpirate also discusses “traitorous” relationships in the contexts of both race and gender. In this post, she brings it back around to how (intentionally?) ineffective most of what’s called “social justice” really is, and why the idea of a “rolequeer politic of action” is both so useful and threatening, but is not actually new at all:

Arguably, the most effective thing that a person with privilege can do to dismantle oppression culture is to treat the marginalized people they love respectfully, put their needs first, and do everything possible to make their lives easier, so that those peoples’ intimate understanding of how oppression works and how to resist it can come to the fore — rather than be further buried under the crushing weight of just having to deal with oppression in every situation and relationship in their life every minute of every goddamn day.

This is ultimately the reason why rolequeerness is so important. The radical act I’m describing is basically “submission” — but the key is that it’s about submitting to someone who is less powerful than you. The traditionalist notion of power relations is that we submit to people because they are more powerful than us, but that’s backwards.

Radical people of color and other marginalized folks have been talking about this fairly common sense thing since the 60s and probably long before: the idea that “allies” exist to support a movement in the ways they are asked to, not to run it; that ”allyship” is about putting your privilege into the service of a movement that seeks to dismantle the institution that privileges you. That’s giving your power over to someone for the express purpose of empowering them to hurt you. That’s a submissive relationship to power.


One of the reasons that contemporary pop social justice folks are so bad at achieving their own stated goals is because they fail to understand that allyship is submission — and most of the entitled, domist folks in that scene couldn’t submit to save their lives, even the ones who identify as “submissive” in a BDSM context. See also: The number of people who got all excited about “rolequeer” as a cool, edgy new identity option — but wigged out about the part of my post that described rolequeers as “submissive as fuck.”

“I want to say I’m rolequeer, but I don’t want that to mean people think I’m submissive! Eew!” is what I heard when I read those posts. And, to me, it just smacked of some heterosexual hipster who’s taking a Gender Studies class and wants to identify as “queer” but not “get mistaken for a fag.”

Turns out that if you want to ally with people less powerful than you, then you might get “mistaken” for being one of them. And if that assumption that you’re a traitor to your privileged class is a mistake, you’re probably “being an ally” for the wrong reasons.

So, as we’ve said before, this is just some of what we’re trying to talk about when we say that “rolequeer means a traitorous relationship to one’s own placement in a privileged position.”

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A case study in how abusive shitstains strawman Consent as a Felt Sense [“On Ethical Domination”]

(Posting anew so this will show up in #rolequeer tagspace.)


Maymay is annoyed with recent rolequeer discussion of domination, so I have a few words to add on the topic.

Let’s say I have a friend and occasional lover; we’ll call him the Scotsman for reasons that may become apparent. One night I ask the Scotsman to fuck my mouth and call me his little slut, because I think that sounds super hot. We have sex in the manner I requested, I spend the night, and in the morning he makes me breakfast. Both of us are happy and feel well-treated.

If we have sex in similar fashion many times, so that it becomes the pattern of our relationship, I’d certainly characterize the Scotsman as dominant. By application of Maymay’s Syllogism, the Scotsman is thus also a rapist, and there is absolutely nothing I can say or feel to change this.

Discussion questions:

  1. “Can ‘dominants are rapists’ admit exceptions, in principle if not in practice?
  2. If you and I have a good-faith disagreement about whether I was raped, which of us can ultimately speak more authoritatively to that question?
  3. X’s are usually Y’s. Does it follow that all X’s are Y’s? Phrase your answer in the form of a consistent set of mathematical axioms.

Look, I know you’re just baiting me, because your blog makes it pretty clear that you’re actually one of Ozy’s shitstain scumbag friends, little more than a smug self-righteous dipshit who has no intention of engaging with any rolequeer ideas in even a remotely respectful way, but you’ve also got the brainpower equivalent of a cockroach when it comes to this stuff, and are unable to compose anything other than strawman arguments. To that end, observe.

The two obvious problems with your premise:

  • You are not capable of defining other people’s identities. If the Scotsman does not identify as dominant, you can not determine from your own experiences whether he is “a Dominant (person)” or not. You can only observe his actions and make a judgement about each of his acts regarding whether you believe they are acts of domination or not. Obviously.
  • If you do not feel raped, you were not raped. This is true regardless of what acts took place, because the defining element of rape is not an utterance but the felt sense of a sexual violation. That is, rape is the experience of sexual violation, not the lack of a “no” nor the presence of a “yes.” If you “feel well-treated” and you do not “feel raped” then you were not raped. Obviously.

That is to say, firstly, you are intentionally conflating identities with actions. We’ve been over this, but you don’t care, because you’re a shitstain. Secondly, you’re treating consent violations as a set of specific things one person can do to another, rather than an experience people can have about any given act with any number of people, including only themselves. We went over this many, many times, too, but you don’t care, because you’re a shitstain.

Now, the answers to the questions:

  1. No. There isn’t a need to “admit exceptions” because there are no exceptions. The logic holds; a Dominant (person) is not the same thing as a dominant act. People are not reducible to the acts they take. Doing that to people is called dehumanization, and it’s a shitty thing to do. Obviously.
  2. You. We are each the authority on our own lived experiences, because only I know whether I felt consenting, and only you know whether you felt consenting. Obviously.
  3. No. See also correlation is not causation. Obviously.

I already know you think you just checkmated the whole idea of rolequeerness and consent as a felt sense, “but, maymay, how can Dominants be rapists if, y’know, #NotAllDoms,” and I’ll just point you back to your first mistaken premise. But you won’t care, because you’re a shitstain.

You either know exactly what I am saying yet still can’t refrain from adding your unneeded two cents worth anyway, or you are so hopelessly stunted by your own emotional cowardice that you don’t actually want to have an honest look at yourself in the context of the world you live in. Because you’re a shitstain. And that’s fine, I’m not trying to convince you of anything; this isn’t even about you.

So why don’t we just cut to the chase, here, Mr. Grinch? Let me tell you what’s going to happen.

I’m going to ask you again to stop talking about or to me or to my friends, to go the fuck away, and get the fuck out of #rolequeer spaces. You are not welcome here, you are not useful here, you are by all my measures less valuable alive than you are dead. But you will not actually go away nor will you change your behavior or begin engaging respectfully or honestly with me or this work. You will instead continue to play games with euphemism and concealment, disingenuously making trite arguments with your smug, self-righteous attitude as you have always done rather than argue any of your points honestly, because you’re a shitstain. You just don’t want things to change.

Meanwhile, I will ignore you as best I can, trudging through all the shit you and your shitstain mob of bullies project everywhere you can, engaging directly only when you provoke people I care about into responding to you, and only long enough to demonstrate your worthlessness. I will continue to make compelling points and ask difficult questions that make many people including you uncomfortable, and you and your friends will continue weakly rebutting them with transparent strawmen and trite projections of your own bigotries stemming from a corrosive superiority complex (a little thing called “privilege”) that you have. Because you’re a shitstain, and shitstains like you don’t want to critically analyze, or change, or even have a conversation about those bigotries. You just want to flag the bare minimum level of polite self-awareness to avoid being punished or judged.

Over time, as has been the case for years now, more and more people will find what I am saying and doing persuasive and useful to integrate into their own lives and for their own purposes. Some of them will challenge me, and I will argue with them, but we will be having an actual conversation, a conversation that will not involve you. After you and I are both long gone, Mr. Ungrumpable Grinch, your contributions will amount to little else than failed attempts to retain the abusive parts of a status quo that no longer exists, and mine will have meaningfully informed a more compassionate reality.

So. I’ll knock over the first domino: Go away, Mr. Grinch. Stop talking about or to me. And stop provoking my friends with derails.

Now, I want to address other rolequeers and folks who are engaging with these ideas honestly: if you see people like Mr. Grinch here, or his ilk, talking about this work, probably best ignore them. If you see people like Mr. Grinch talking to or about me, personally, and you feel like you have the wherewithal to tell them how unwelcome and abusive they are being continually picking fights with me for so many years without end, please do so. (Here’s an effective example of how to do that.) I do very much appreciate this kind of humanizing, personal, and public support.

But, at the same time, please be aware that disingenuous scumbag shitstains like Mr. Grinch will ultimately use your response as a thinly-veiled attempt to drag you and your energy—and thus indirectly me and mine—into another repetitive, circular, draining conversation in which nothing of value is produced. Because that’s their intention; that is exactly what men and Dominants and rapists (and this Mr. The Ungrumpable Grinch) want.

If you have any questions or concerns or any trouble identifying who might be disingenous and who might not be, please feel free to bring your concerns to me privately. I generally have a very broad view of who people are, who they are socially connected to, what they have said in the past, and what their motives tend to be, because I generally collect and maintain quite a bit of information about people who choose to make themselves my work’s explicit adversaries.

Edited to add: Oh, and in case you had any doubts about any of the above, you no longer need to trust my take it. Take Mr. Grinch’s, who just broadcasted his intents to be exactly what I described. Shitstains: still predictable.

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On the Evolution of Slavery: Owning Property is a Relation, not a Right

So I want to share something I’m still working through. I tend not to share potentially inflammatory and early thoughts these days, mostly because of the spectre of the corrupt pop social justice mobsters who pounce on any chance they get to demonize me and my work. But I’m gonna share this anyway, this time, because I think I can meaningfully contribute something to this conversation and because I feel like I have enough support from rolequeers. Thank you. Y’all are awesome. Here goes.

At about 2 AM yesterday, I woke up in a fit. I didn’t feel very well-rested. I think I had some bad dreams, but I don’t remember them now. I checked Twitter and heard that Darren Wilson was not indicted for killing Mike Brown, and that Ferguson was burning.

So I re-read some of the discussions about race and its relationship to BDSM that recently took place here, much of which was curated and archived on rolequeer‘s blog. As I was thinking about it all I found myself needing help keeping the various different arguments in perspective with one another. So I grabbed a digital whiteboard and started making some charts.

At first I made a Venn diagram like the last one I made, but it seemed wrong. I threw that one out. Then I started writing a list of all the kinks that were mentioned in the discussion. That exercise produced the following list:

  • Race play
  • Master/slave relationships
  • Ageplay (Daddy/little girl, big/little, etc.)
  • Student/teacher (erotic “mentor”)
  • Eroticized workplace (boss/secretary)
  • Pet owners (pet play)
  • Ranchers (farm animal play)

Maybe there were some other things mentioned but these were the ones that seemed obviously central to the parts of the conversation I was privy to, to me.

Then I tried sorting this list along a number of different axes, namely “sensations,” “stories” and “felt senses,” as described in my other infographic post: Sensation, Story, and Felt Sense. Unfortunately, that didn’t seem to yield any meaningful results either. But then it occurred to me that the items in this list aren’t actually sensations, stories, or felt senses at all. These are just descriptors for different classes of things. That is to say, none of these labels describes a specific thing per se, but rather they are all pointers that point at numerous other specific things that all do relate to each other in a way the label describes.

And when I realized that these were all labels, rather than specific kinks, when I started looking at this list as a taxonomy for taxonomies, then suddenly it became very obvious what these all had in common: slavery.

It might be shocking or even offensive to some to think of classifying a white secretary in a modern day office in the same schema as a Black cotton-picker on a Southern plantation in the 1800’s, or to liken a human child to a household pet, but the fact of the matter is all of those roles share something very meaningful at their core. That is of course not to say that these very different things are in fact the same in every way, or even the same in degree across their similarities. But I am arguing that at least some aspect of the things that they are, despite differences in other qualities and in the degree of the same quality, are in fact the same kind of thing. As I’ve said before, the difference between the quality of a thing and the degree of that thing can be subtle, and this subtlety, when left unexamined, is dangerous.

So let’s examine this more closely. I made a diagram to help. Like all diagrams, this one is somewhat simplified. It’s also intended as a guide for this conversation, not as a bounds to it.


The diagram is a pyramid chart. It has five layers. Each layer of the pyramid except the fourth contains only one block. The fourth layer is split into two blocks. The first (earlier/lower) blocks are more foundational concepts that the latter (later/higher) blocks rely on for cultural legitimacy and erotic power.

Evolution of Slavery as observed through its manifestations in contemporary (erotic) contexts

Draft version 1, Nov. 26, 2014 originally from

  1. Objectification/Ownership
    • property rights, fantasizing about being someone’s “sex toy”
  2. Master/slave relationships
    • people-as-property; North-Atlantic slave trade, Chinese debt peons, early Roman law, and other enslavement of humans
    • use of animals as “beasts of burden”
  3. Ageism/Adultism
    • legal guardianship; children as property of parents,
    • student/teacher or parent/child (incest) play,
    • “committing” the elderly to institutional “homes”
  4. Racism / Speceisism

    • liberal human rights ideals, race play / human exceptionalism, pet play
  5. Employment
    • boss/secretary play,
    • “wage slavery,”
    • employee as “human resource”

Before I go into any depth, I want to point out two obvious “problems” with this diagram, and one arguable problem.

  1. First, this is not intended to be an exhaustive or all-encompassing survey. Obviously.
  2. Second, and more importantly, this is not intended to be about oppression olympics. I am not trying to point out that a given oppression, like ageism, is more or less “bad” than some other given oppression, like racism. Intersecting power relations don’t “cancel each other out,” obviously.
  3. Third, it is arguably politically risky at best and actively racist, speceisist, or both at worst to group racism and speceisism at the same “level” of a pyramid, which is a structure that itself has its own historical connotations of slavery, I should add. That is to say, it is classically racist to lump the enslavement of non-human animals and the enslavement of humans together as if they have the same level of significance; and it is classically speciesist to differentiate strictly between the enslavement of non-human animals and the enslavement of humans, as if they don’t have the same level of significance. Different people will of course prioritize, and thus spend more of their time and energy, focusing on anti-racism than anti-speciesism, or vice versa, at a given time and place. I am not trying to tell you what to do. I am trying to point out that I see a relationship between the dehumanization of humans and the way in which non-human animals are treated because “animals are not people.” Moreover, I observe that the dehumanization of humans and stripping personhood rights from non-human animals are used to justify each other. And, for now, I’m just saying that I think that’s worth examining more closely.

To summarize the above, the layers of the pyramid are intended to describe a given lens or way of thinking about where we learn and why we perpetuate abusive behaviors. To do this, I purposefully mixed institutional memories like anthropological records (such as “early Roman law”) with personal experiences (we were all treated differently because we were young before we were consciously aware that racism existed). This is an obvious flaw in the diagram. Oppression isn’t either/or, nor solely hierarchical. I know that. That’s not the point. Please don’t derail here.

Now, there are several arguments I’m trying to sort out in my own head with the aide of the graph. They are:

  1. Slavery is a relation of dominion; domination draws cultural legitimacy from the notion of property. That is, ownership exists because “property rights” are a privilege certain people have over certain things that other people do not. No matter how well-intentioned this may have once been or still is (see copyright, ala “intellectual property”), I argue that ownership—in all and every aspect of existence—is a fundamentally corrupt and corrupting idea. In fact, “ownership” is not a “right” people have at all. Rather, ownership is a way of (often but not always violently) enforcing a certain relationship that a given person or people has or have to something else, either another person or group of people or a literal object. In other words, “ownership” is actually a sociocultural technology that manages resource scarcity; in a theoretical universe of unlimited resources, ownership becomes meaningless except as a mechanism of social control.
  2. Where “ownership” exists, some variation of “slavery” is the inevitable outcome. The variation may not be what we’re used to thinking about when we hear the word “slavery,” but there is no fundamental difference between a “human resource” and a “slave” except the various referential euphemisms and the overtness of enslavement. A “wage slave” is not a “slave” in the same way that a minor is not a pet, yet the self-determination of both wage slaves and minors is obviously harshly constrained in some strikingly similar ways. In the same way that Dominants Are Rapists, this means that Governments (and Corporations) Are Slavers, and that Bosses (and Teachers and Parents) Are Taskmasters.
  3. With respect to “slavery” as we do often stereotype it today, this lens highlights the fact that many peoples have been enslaved in different circumstances throughout history. For example, in addition to the enslavement of African peoples, many Chinese people were enslaved in the Americas by genocidal whites, typically for railroad construction work.
  4. Slavery is not solely a historical phenomenon. It happens today, in “civilized,” contemporary, modern day societies. You can find it in places like Dubai, wherever political repression rips people from their homes and social relationships, and every time we look at our Apple computers and iPhones. In fact, slavery is even part-and-parcel of the food many of us eat. So there is no need to stereotype or embellish slavery with the trappings of a bygone era, nor to obsessively hyperfocus solely on some forms of slavery (like sex trafficking) to the exclusion of others in order to speak to the abusiveness of slavery in contemporary contexts. If you can only picture one ultra-specific historical period or only one ultra-specific form of coercion when you hear “slavery,” then you do not understand the breadth and scope of the issue and because of this ignorance you will inevitably fail to recognize the true extent of its impact today.

Now, once again, with respect to the third point, I want to be clear that I do not mean to downplay or minimize colorism. Instead, I want to point out that slavery is in fact distinct from racism, but that it is nonetheless deeply informed by and inextricably linked to it given our placement in time and space. At the same time, I am pointing out that ageism and racism are also inextricably linked; just recall slurs like “boy” sometimes still used to refer to Black men, or the reports of recent twelve year-old Tamir Rice’s death at the hands of a police killer being described by white media making him seem older than he is to strip him of his youthful innocence.

Likewise, employment is similarly implicated in all these -isms, too; employment is a form of abuse, and there is no such thing as “ethical employment.” What this means is that classism and slavery are also definitionally interrelated terms. Therefore, any discussion purporting to be “anti-racist” that nevertheless denies or downplays racism’s relationship to classism are themselves racist discussions supporting white supremacy.

The above thought process has brought me to three conclusions so far.

First, that people are almost surely invoking a racist history even when we eroticize ownership in what we think are racially neutral ways (such as pet play or age play) and that white people like me need to be especially mindful of this, and especially if our partners are people of color. This is because when we eroticize ownership we are also by definition eroticizing slavery, and when we are eroticizing slavery we are eroticizing something horrible that is happening all over the world right now, today. In other words, “D/s relationships” are Master/slave relationships.

Second, that people need to internalize why race is not the same thing as racism, and that the former does not exist but the latter is real. “Race” is a made-up thing in the same way that “gender” is a made-up thing. There is no such thing as “man” in the same way there is no such thing as “white.” That is to say, whiteness does not exist as a meaningful individual aspect of identity except insofar as it was created and continues to be used to dominate and oppress—to lord power over—people of “other colors.”

Third, I do not think people need to be people of color to relate to and find compassion for the psychosomatic damage slavery causes, because we do not need to be people of color to be or become slaves. That does not mean the experience of whites is equivalent to the experience of People of Color; slavery is not the same as racism. It means that there are many places we white folks can look towards to find ways that the system of white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy, to use the overwrought and flowery terms of the academe, enslaves everyone in various aspects of our own lives. We can and should use these experiences to divest from an identity that supports white supremacy, and to motivate ourselves to acts that undermine structural racism. But this also means that people of color, Black and Brown, African and South American and Asian and Indigenous peoples, are all obviously more keenly aware of how concepts like ownership and property relate to power, as well as what impacts emanate from those interconnections.

And that means “white people” like me should STFU and fucking listen to them when they talk about that. Because we’ve got a lot to learn. And I, for one, am interested in what they are willing to share.

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Some unsolicited advice to dominants [power can not exist in a vacuum]



I don’t believe ethical domination is possible. But if I had to give a dominant who absolutely refuses to quit the game one bit of advice about how to make domination less unethical, that one piece of advice would be:


Seriously, submissives are people who are willingly vulnerable, who face the world without armour and who have just been taught by the BDSM scene that:

  • their partners are supposed to push their boundaries
  • expressing their needs and desires during play is ‘topping from the bottom’ and therefore wrong.
  • submission is a package deal and enduring things they don’t like it part of being submissive
  • their every thought about being worthless needs to be allowed to be fed and grow stronger because it’s ‘only in the bedroom‘ and that’s totally hot.
  • more shit like this

And their ‘safety net in the scene’ is likely to consist of people who believe the same bullshit, who have a very narrow definition of what constitutes a consent violation and who are very unlikely to openly condemn a rapist.


You might as well embark on a journey to make less triggering horror movies and recruit your audience from a PTSD clinic. BAD IDEA.

So, ya know. Don’t date submissives.

If you simply must continue to play the game, date a dominant. You’ll still run into a world of trouble but at least you’re dating someone who is used to having power and agency in a relationship, who is likely to give and good and as bad as they get and who is more likely to be believed by their social scene if you do rape them. Not a perfect arrangement but a better one by far.

Sorry if that isn’t the answer you wanted to hear. Sorry if that isn’t going to help you get laid this weekend, but that’t what I’ve got.

maymay said: Have you been getting requests from Dominants who refuse to “quit the game” (who don’t want to drop the Dominant identifier or spend time questioning why they want to dominate people) about this issue? I’m so curious what those questions sound like….

I haven’t. 

I have had a surprising lot of ‘but is it okay if I dominate my partner if…’, questions which sounds a lot like people who really want to ask for permission to uncritically be a dominant. (I guess they know there’s something wrong with that, why else would they go looking for a strangers’ permission?) 

So this is a pattern worth calling out:

  • But is it okay to buy the plastic plates if I also buy the free-range eggs and use a paper shopping bag?
  • But is it okay to fill my car with gas if I also donate to the Wildlife Foundation?
  • But is it okay to eat meat if I also volunteer at a kitten shelter?

Or, closer to home, “is it okay to be a Dominant if I’m a woman, and he’s a man?” And so on.

What holds these beliefs together is the misunderstanding that oppression is a zero-sum game, that a “good” act will “cancel out” a bad act. Sorry, but that’s not how ethics, or power imbalances work. unquietpirate has a great quote about this:

This is the actual, meaningful reason for trying to avoid Oppression Olympics and “Highest Total Oppression Score” calculus. Not because the Arcane Rules of Pop-Social Justice Etiquette require it but because, often, we’re in situations where people have power over us in some ways and we have power over them in others. Those experiences of privilege and oppression interact in complex ways, but they don’t cancel each other out.

If you step on my foot, it is always appropriate for me to respond by saying, “OW. YOU’RE ON MY FOOT.” Especially if my foot has been getting stepped on all day! It’s appropriate for me to expect you to get off my foot and even to apologize. It’s not okay for me to respond by stomping on YOUR foot to make my point. In other words, if you do something misogynistic to me, it’s not cool for me to respond by doing something racist or ableist back.

One thing I’ve observed in the discussions around rolequeer kinks is that a lot of people who previously thought of themselves as Dominant have been rethinking their use of the label, and what all of them seem to have in common is a kind of reluctance in which taking on a Dominant role made them feel safe. As cool-yubari recently observed, abuse culture intentionally confuses people about the differences between things.

For a long time, I’ve asserted that the abuse inherent in BDSM intentionally confuses Submissives about the difference between gratitude and care; I felt grateful for being subjected to the abusive aspects of prior relationships, and I thought that this gratitude I felt towards my Dominant meant that I was being cared for by them. Moreover, if you look closely at the way many other Submissives speak about their Dominants, you’ll see this pattern there, too.

I interpreted Dominant acts as caring acts of a loving partner—it was called “aftercare” so how could it be anything harsh?—and I was grateful for the hurt and harm they caused. But that’s because I was taught, like rolequeer describes, that “submission is a package deal and enduring things they don’t like is part of being submissive,” among other things. That’s a big part of why Dominants Are Rapists.

Similarly, when you hear Dominants say things like “submission is a gift,” what they’re doing is setting people up to think that they (Doms) are grateful to us (Submissives) for allowing them to dominate us. They are creating a situation in which, later on, they literally say, “But you asked for it,” or “Why didn’t you use your safeword?” The framing of “gift” is also pernicious: it turns submission into a thing we’ve “given” to them, a thing that is now theirs, andthis feeds directly into the idea of submitting itself as the act of “consenting.” The idea that “submission is a gift,” one D-types are “grateful” to receive, is a literal metaphorical formalization of treating consent as a permission-acquisition scheme.

That’s messed up.

So here’s my attempt at a corollary for Dominants. But first I want to point out that this may be wrong, given I’ve never self-ID’d Dominant. It’s also not particularly interesting to me given I personally prioritize discussion for Submissives, but it may be helpful/useful/interesting to those of you who are having the “rolequeer topping” conversation, so I’ll toss it out here anyway.

The abuse inherent in BDSM intentionally confuses Dominants about the difference between safety and power. I’m guessing that D-types are taught to believe that having power over others is a way to make themselves feel safer in interactions with them. And I don’t doubt that there’s probably some tiny kernel of truth in that, somewhere. At the very least, it’s arguably “safer” to have sex in which you’re not physically bound than to have sex in which you are. But I think that’s a very narrow definition of “safety,” and I don’t think it’s one that’s particularly useful.

So, two conclusions.

First conclusion: power-over in narrow contexts hurts everyone who lacks power-over in institutional contexts.

What I mean here is that mixing institutional powerlessness with an individual situation of having power over someone is not an uncommon dynamic. In fact, that exact interplay of competing forces in crossed contexts is exactly what created the much-reviled “femdom” stereotype. I’ll quote Amanda Gannon quoting me in her 2011 article, “Femdom and Intimacy and Porn” to make this point:

MayMay’s post about “The BDSM community ghetto, and other cultural problems” is not a new post, but I love it.  Here’s why:

As a result of this cultural influence, most BDSM communities became ghettos for the small group of people who enjoyed the single, narrow interpretation of F/m relationships that are available there, drawing more of the same into the community, and repeating the cycle of exclusion. Meanwhile, dominant women who, for instance, prefer to play tenderly and in hoodies and submissive men who, for instance, enjoy feeling cared for instead of being called names, are left out in the cold.

While it may be reasonable to expect someone for whom most erotic imagery does not offer fulfillment to stop viewing it, it is downright cruel to expect that person to simply live unfulfilled. With few options for satisfying sexual expression, erotic art is a literal lifeline for many people, offering sexual fulfillment at least in fantasy for the things they can not, or feel they should not, actually have in reality.

Reading that makes me want to cry in gratitude and punch something.  I DO want to play tenderly and care for my partners.  Part of my desire to hurt someone is a desire to be close to them.  Part of my interest in inflicting pain is the contrast between pain and gentleness.  To me it’s even more intimate than pleasure.

There is very little pornographic or erotic imagery out there that speaks to that particular desire, that intimacy.  I have to make my own, by writing it for myself, by myself; or by roleplaying and hoping that the other person understands well enough to help me get it right.

I don’t get much real-life experience with it, which makes the lack of porn/erotica that is meaningful to me personally really, really agonizing.  People whose tastes are indulged by images of female dominance as opposed to male submission, or of male dominance, or of female submission, tend to have it easier.

Back on Tumblr, this spawned several relevant conversations.

The takeaway here is that this stereotype doesn’t serve many Dominant women, nor does it serve many Submissive men. The people it primarily serves are, surprise surprise, DOMINANT MEN. They’re the ones making the money off this stereotype. They’re the ones who see masculinity reflected in dominance. Again.

Second conclusion: individual situations of power, in the context of institutional powerlessness, can be more dangerous, not safer, for individuals lacking institutional power.

With respect to “definitions of safety,” I think it’s clear that if you’re having sex with someone you fear, you’re not actually that safe, really.

Sure, maybe you have one kind of power in one tiny, narrow, subsection of your interactions with them. But if the person you’re interacting with has a lot of institutional power over you in other areas—such as, for example, if you are a disabled POC queer trans young woman dominating an older able-bodied white cishet man, just to take this to a logical identity politic extreme—then the small sliver of explicitly sexualized interactions you have with someone like that does not make you safer. It makes you even more unsafe. And that’s even more obvious if you don’t actually know them, or if you don’t actually trust them, if you’re generally afraid of them to such an extent that the only way you can possibly imagine interacting with them sexually is in the bedroom, while they’re bound, without making yourself in any way vulnerable, with the door closed.

That doesn’t look like intimacy to me. That looks like terror. Perhaps the best example of this? Pro-dommes; BDSM sex workers.

This is what I think people are pointing to when they talk about Doms being abused by submissives, and it’s a conversation I’ve hesitated to get too far into because, lacking a whoooole bunch of context, it’s way too much like a conversation about women raping men. Does it happen? YES. But I’m not going to center that conversation unless that is what the conversation is explicitly and intentionally about. I do think that is an important conversation to have, so here’s a start. If anyone wants to spin this off into its own thread, I wanna have that conversation, too.

Anyway, back to the original point: if you’re asking “would it be okay to be dominant if,” and you’re trying to find a way to keep doing what you’re doing without being judged for it, then you’re not going to be welcomed here. Go away.

But if you’re asking things like, “what are some ways I can make use of a Dominant role to help myself understand my relationship to power, to get a grip on why I feel sexually drawn to exert control over people, and to more deeply explore the ways desiring control over people harms my relationships with the people I love?” then I think you will have a lot to talk about with rolequeers like me.

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