Last week’s series of posts starting with “Dominants are rapistssparked a lot of conversation in the blogosphere. Most of that discussion has been happening on other people’s blogs, amongst themselves, and as a result it has mostly been full of utterly ignorant misunderstandings at best, and terrified pre-emptive defenses of personal reputations at worst. But a few threads on Tumblr offer a glimpse into some of the more self-aware and self-reflective thoughts less cowardly human beings than most of the BDSM’ers are working through.

For posterity, this post collates the most useful of these threads, in more-or-less chronological order.

Saying that I’m “abusive” for writing “Dominants are rapists” proves my point.

cool-yubari:

leighsand:
Maybe Days: Saying that I’m “abusive” for writing “Dominants are rapists” proves my point.

maymay:

anotherlgbttumblr:

maymay:

Here’s a prototypical response to my series of posts “Dominants are rapists,” “Prologue to Consent Is Not Enough,” and “More on ‘Dominants are rapists’” that I think is worth calling out explicitly. The author, Samael Howard, left a comment that I did not approve, and is now writing almost identical comments on other blogs reacting to my posts:

Rape isn’t a weapon you use to emotionally abuse everyone into agreeing with you. Neither is accusing others of gaslighting license to commit it yourself.

[…]

When you humor the kind of abuse MayMay offers, when you engage it, as if it deserved a place at the marketplace of ideas, it’s allowing the kind of sexual abuse to occur, that many of us came to the BDSM community to escape in the first place. The kind where we’re told what turns us on is evil, and we are all sick. The kind where we are controlled by the desires of those who erase our thoughts, and substitute their own. The kind where we are silenced by shame.

Look, Sam (and everyone else), the fact that you experience my words as an attempt to “emotionally abuse you” when it was you who engaged me and not the other way around, is very telling.

So, firstly, check yourself.

The fact that my words—written on a blog, with zero knowledge of your existence, not directed at you in any way—has such a powerful emotional effect on you when you choose to read them is a measure of those words’ truth. Consider interrogating why you feel so uncomfortable at the mere prospect of trying to think through these things.

Or, y’know, don’t. But either way, own your shit. If you can’t or won’t, calling me abusive for this reason means you’re just a bullying coward. And I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s all you are, since your responses to my words shows your ideological orientation encourages that kind of cowardly, bullying behavior.

On that note, you may also find “BDSM: Why it’s important to the Revolution and how we’re doing it wrong” useful. Relevant excerpts for you to ponder:

BDSM is the fetishization of oppression culture. It’s the explicit eroticization of violence. (As opposed to the implicit eroticization of violence that pervades our entire culture.)

Why is that awesome? Well, let’s look at what it means to fetishize something:

According to The Free Dictionary, to fetishize is “to be excessively or irrationally devoted to” something. When we devote ourselves irrationally and excessively to something, we decontextualize it. Decontextualization strips something of its support structures and makes it easy to manipulate. By erotically glorifying violence, we also trivialize it. We take it away from its massive structural foundation and imbue it with a devotional excess of ourselves. We reduce it to a skeleton of itself. We weaken it.

BDSM takes every kind of sociocultural deprivation and interpersonal destruction you can imagine, and plenty that you can’t, and turns them into “play”. By transmuting violence into intimacy, BDSM can weaken oppression culture. But only if it’s done with that intention. Otherwise, it’s especially good at re-inscribing oppression culture. BDSM play is big deal technomagic. It is scary. It can hurt you — actually hurt you — and the people you love.

[…]

Here’s the part that I expect to upset people most, and I don’t even know for sure that it’s true, but it’s at least an idea worth exploring: If I play with oppression in my sex, if I consciously learn what it feels like in my body, then it becomes easier for me to see and feel oppression working surreptitiously in the world. If I fetishize authority, actual authorities become less intimidating. (Huh. No wonder that one of the most submissively-identified people I know is also one of the most hardcore anti-authoritarians I’ve ever met.) If I empower myself to choose non-consent, the possibility of actual rape — which is something that has happened to me and very well might happen to me again because that’s the world that we live in — becomes a less powerful epistemic threat. BDSM helps us learn how to distinguish between discomfort and danger.

That is, unless we pretend that’s not what’s happening. Unless we pretend that, when we engage in BDSM play, we’re not hurting each other.

Either we acknowledge that, when we fetishize oppression culture, we’re actually doing something pretty fucked up as a way to resist/survive/understand something even more fucked up that’s being done to us against our will — and we choose to do that INTENTIONALLY and WORK with it — or we lose all the revolutionary value that BDSM might otherwise give us to hack our own subconscious programming in ways that help us fight the System’s hold over us. Then it becomes just another fun thing to do on a Saturday night in the kyriarchy. “Fun”, as long as we keep our eyes squeezed shut tight and avoid ever actually seeing each others’ pain.

[…I]f BDSM doesn’t feel inherently complicated or violent to you, we won’t play well together. And, more generally speaking, people like me and people like you probably shouldn’t ever play together. Because, for you, sex with me is going to feel like work; and, for me, sex with you is going to feel like war.

[…M]ost people don’t understand what maymay’s trying to do. Which is totally fair. It took me a huge investment of time, energy, and emotional resources to do the research required to get my head around his theory and methodology. His work pushed all kinds of uncomfortable emotional buttons for me. I only took the trouble it because his work was directly relevant to my life.

[…] Why does maymay’s work matter to me so much? So much that I’ve been willing to put my reputation, my “radical politics”, and the respect of my community on the line to support it? Because the work he’s doing makes space for people like me to survive. Maymay’s not trying to get rid of BDSM; he’s trying to make it complicated. And here’s the thing: It doesn’t matter whether people understand how he’s doing that; it still works. […] And that makes people like me — for whom BDSM is motherfucking complicated whether I like it or not — feel like maybe we’re not crazy. Like maybe we’re not damaged. Like maybe we shouldn’t feel so bad about what does or doesn’t turn us on.

[…] Because, again, I’m not the only one who’s felt shamed into years [of] silent self-hatred by the BDSM Scene’s obfuscatory “Nothing To See Here” rhetoric compounded on oppressive mainstream cultural norms. Mine is just one story. If you’ve never heard from any others (and there are others who are talking about it in various ways), that might tell you something about who our communities are actually silencing.

Finally, Sam, this is your (and all other readers’, generally) reminder that if what you feel you need to do in response to reading something I wrote is send me hate mail, or make threats, you are, of course, free to do that.

But I am also free to make sure you are unable to continue to do it to me or mine safely. And I will.

That’s not a threat. It’s a promise. I bash back.

Do. Not. Fuck. With. Me.

I may be stating the obvious or saying something you already know, but I’m starting to see a pattern here:
action: call out rape culture and create tools to fight rape culture
result: people say your public blog posts that target no individual person are ‘abusive’ and that you quoting from their public twitter account is ‘unconsentual’ and ‘crossing personal boundaries’. They then use those statements out of context, like “Oh Maymay is abusive”, “Oh Maymay crossed my personal boundaries”, knowing this will imply that you did something very different from writing a blog.

Wanna know what I think? These people are purposely trying to smear you by blurring the meaning of words usually used to describe rape.

They’re like the people who say “George Lucas raped their childhood”, only more malicious because they’re consciously blurring the lines, making it unclear what kind of ‘violation’ they are speaking about. As a result, whether they intend to or not, these people are weakening the words usually used to describe rape. They broaden the definition of abuse and unconsentualness until it could mean writing a blog post they disagreed with and by doing so, they are robbing rape victims of the words they need so badly. They silence rape victims by broadening-into-nothingness the definition of words they’re likely to use.

This. Makes. Me. Sick.

Sure, yes, I think it’s pretty obvious, because it’s happened to me literally dozens upon dozens of times now. It’s probably not that obvious to the people who are doing it, though. Still, I’m glad it’s obvious to some people who care enough to look, like you, though.

I mean, this ain’t my first rodeo. I can understand people feeling triggered by words I write; that’s a totally legit reaction to extremely harsh realities. What I think is really abhorrent, though, is that what these people choose to do in response to their triggers is exactly the same thing as they claim to unequivocally denounce.

It is very, very telling that sex-positive third-wave feminists, pro-BDSM Scene’sters, and “social justice” rockstars each now use the exact same tactics of broadening into meaninglessness the words they use, and of intentionally obfuscating my work through both decontextualization and consistent refusal to link to it out of obvious spite that the overzealous religious right used when they tried (and failed) to claim that my work producing free sexuality education conferences open to the public was “sex trafficking.”

Feminist BDSM’ers to one side of me, religious right’s anti-porn zealots on another.

When someone like me comes along and says stuff that doesn’t fit neatly into their sad, shallow, binarist worldview, both those demographics have more in common than they’ll ever admit.

I’m surrounded by idiots.

I think this happens down a very tidy line that is pretty easy to spot in other social justice areas — some people ‘talk activist’ because they are engaging in what I term “personality manicuring” — their internal sense of what constitutes a good identity to have drives their politics, while other people are grappling with the weight of fixing problems, regardless of what “sort of a person” that makes them. When the former come across a scratchy truth, they’re obviously going to freak because what they’ve gained isn’t “insight” but an obstacle to their goal of achieving their idealized personal brand. Put shortly: some people will only work to the arbitrary line where they feel they are “safely marked as good people.”

This was blisteringly succinct, but I think it’s accurate. If the whole point of someone’s activism is reassuring themselves at all times that they’re a on the right side, they’re not going to respond well to information that doesn’t support their biases. And they’re not going to make very good allies, because helping you is actually about projecting the wholesome image they want to have.

Fucking this. Also, this.

“Personality manicuring” seems very related to what I’ve been calling “pop social justice” for a while.

BDSM’ers definitions of Submission are core reasons why “Dominants are rapists”

vdsdisc:

maymay:

vdsdisc:

maymay:

A couple days ago I shared my series of posts starting with “Dominants are rapists” on a few different subreddits to see what the reactions would be like in each of them. (Spoiler alert: /r/BDSMcommunity was, characteristically, mostly full of shit, and it sailed over the heads…

[…TRIMMED FOR LENGTH…]

This discussion is one that I’ve been chewing over since I first came across it. I think I’ve figured out why I was so damn confused when I did. Sort of defensive, sure, because of identity garbage that I didn’t realize I had (and I had to process through that), but also seriously confused.

Because, for me, I have a conceptualization of the dominant’s role as:

1) Respect and possibly assist in the establishment a submissive individual’s boundaries.

2) Facilitate/guide/control play and/or other interaction as part of a power exchange

3) Accept responsibility for happiness and safety of submissive if offered

And, specifically for me:

4) Be as informed, sensitive, and aware/attentive/perceptive as humanly possible because I am goddamned dangerous when I’m careless. Ignorance quit being an excuse for failure when ignorance became actively harmful.

Flipside of that means that I am a COMPLETE FAILURE in a dominant role when: the submissive personality in question is not happy, doesn’t feel safe, isn’t receiving anything from the exchange, or is not having their boundaries respected.

When the submissive comes away as ‘unsafe, hurt, and violated’ as per the above discussion, I was educated in BDSM that that was called ‘hitting a landmine’ and seriously bad news because it meant a breakdown of the exchange. After that, a submissive has every right to never even talk to or see the offending (violating?) dom again, even if some sort of reconciliation is made. Like, you don’t just get forgiven for that bullshit, even if it was part of a ‘contractually consensual’ scene (again, using terminology as I understand it from the above discussion.)

The ultimate goal, then, is pleasure/safety on all sides. That’s kind of always why I assumed people called it a power exchange, because it was a thing that people went into as eyes-open as humanly possible and everyone involved got something satisfying out of it.

Like… this is very much on the ‘consenting adult’ thing, where the dominant role ends up having a great deal of responsibility for general awareness and self-education. My experience has been that people I know who are submissive-identified or even just with submissive tendencies tend to throw power at me without a negotiated exchange. Which… sort of highlights how everything is oriented toward the wrong focal point.

Hence the whole thing about boundaries. Other people’s apparent happiness and apparent security are something that my actions are absolutely not allowed to damage/threaten. That’s my personal conviction. I think that I, perhaps, was caught so off-guard because I did not understand that it wasn’t a universal goal. (I can be as egocentric as anyone, I’m well aware.) And I fuck up. I also accept those fuck ups and do what I can to make sure they will never, ever happen again. I’m not immune to my surroundings, and taking responsibility for that effect and my own internalizations of some seriously bad garbage is part and parcel of living in the culture I do.

I have the potential to be seriously damaging because I often take a dominant role. Accepted. Trying to dispute that makes me look fucking horribly naive. Also, most of my relationships have a minor element of d/s to them (which actually is a bit scary now that I’m unpacking things). It is, however, this sort of everyday d/s that I’ve established my role guidelines above for. The way I end up relating to dominance is predicated on the whole overarching life philosophy of always leaving people in better shape than you meet them. (I think shorthand for it is the Campsite Philosophy, which I encountered as part of BDSM. The idea of short-term, mutually beneficial relationships that do NOT have to cleave to fairytale structure or dominant culture ideologies. Rules: Don’t leave mental garbage behind and don’t be an asshat. Respect the relationship, the person, and the experience. Leave when it’s time.)

How else can I /ethically/ have friends if me being who I am can be actively harmful? And I have been damaging before, since my own careless cruelty and obliviousness (why I think that being a dom requires awareness, and not having it is a failure) has caused problems because I approach situations often from a position of power and both lines of communication and the other person’s security has broken down. No good. Lots of failure on my part. Knowing where boundaries are and what another person actually wants my role to be with respect to them is crucial to not waffle-stomping every meaningful relationship I might have in my life.

… I guess that’s part of why I pretty much boomeranged straight through the BDSM scene and culture? It gave me this whole campsite philosophy, the knowledge that I’m being given a real sort of power over people and thus have a responsibility and need to be aware, and an understanding of how my relationships already work and what I can do to improve them for mutual benefit.

These are things I never saw in the wild, and also why I was so thrown by the original premise of dominants as rapists. Not that the premise is incorrect entirely, as I’m kind of unpacking now, but because didn’t even occur to me that other people might not have the same ideal goals with respect to interpersonal relationships. Like, everyone wants everyone else to be happy and safe, right? Right?? Especially if they’re your friends and lovers and you’re a person with the culturally-sanctioned power in the relationship to make things one-sidedly horrible?? No?!? Why not?!

So, there’s that.

Things new to me: the concept of ‘predatory’ vs predatory that I already hold also applying to entering into a power exchange as opposed to being domineering/abusive (‘dominant’ vs dominant). It’s the idea that one is /play/, sexy and – I am intrigued by this concept – decontextualized, and the other is something I fantasize about dropkicking someone in the face for.

*ruminates*

Lots of new ideas to think on, especially the dismantling of ‘domism’ and my stupid ego and acknowledging that I am literally compensating when I’m trying not to be an asshat.

Aw, fuck. Back to the mental salt mines.

Hey, it’s really encouraging to read that some folks are taking these ideas to heart and working through them. Thanks for sharing your process.

I wanted to add a few (possibly boring) points to this that I’m still seeing a lot of other people totally miss, in a way that makes me want to headdesk every time I read it. You did a really good job not fucking it up, so if you’re willing to accept it, I’d like to offer you (and anyone else reading who happens to be in a similar place to you) some unsolicited guidance to help you focus your work.

Here’s the very simple thing: “vanilla” and “kinky” is a false dichotomy. “Vanilla” doesn’t exist and insofar as the definition of being “kinky” means to be “not-vanilla,” then “kinky” doesn’t exist, either.

Even though you’ll hear this a lot from BDSM’ers, you won’t hear it in that way. What they’ll say is, “there are D/s dynamics in all relationships,” but their intent when they say that is more like, “Our identities are more authentic because they acknowledge The Truth of the D/s power exchange relationship being a universal aspect in all relationships.” Most of the time, especially in colloquial and online discourse, this is evidenced by the phrase “everyday BDSM.” It’s the predicate for phrases such as “everyday collar,” used to denote jewelry that can be worn “every day” with specific D/s resonance for the participants.

You touched on this:

I have the potential to be seriously damaging because I often take a dominant role. Accepted. Trying to dispute that makes me look fucking horribly naive. Also, most of my relationships have a minor element of d/s to them (which actually is a bit scary now that I’m unpacking things). It is, however, this sort of everyday d/s that I’ve established my role guidelines above for. The way I end up relating to dominance is predicated on the whole overarching life philosophy of always leaving people in better shape than you meet them.

Right fucking on. Especially where you acknowledge that “most of my relationships have a minor element of d/s to them” and that this is scaring you. (It should.)

Now, let’s contrast how you approached this with what a lot of other people are saying that makes me want to effin’ headdesk:

If a sub only ever serves when they feel like it, then what exactly makes a D/s relationship different from a vanilla one?

[…]

The crux of submission is to give up control to someone else; to put another’s needs before one’s own. If a sub only does what’s fun for them, and only when they feel like it, there is no power being exchanged and therefore [no] D/s relationship.

What this person so obviously doesn’t understand is that there is no fundamental difference between a “D/s relationship” and any other relationship human beings can have with one another in the context of an oppressive society. They are making so many arbitrary and unfounded leaps of logic that trying to unpack what they’re doing is almost overwhelming, and would frustratingly take me more time and space than I have available for this in my life right now.

But what I will say, is this: their definition of submission is dehumanizing, appalling, and the core excuse dominants use when they are interested in raping people who they can bully into “contractually-consenting” to undesirable violations—i.e., rape.

Submission is not “giving up control to someone else.” It’s not even always about “giving up control” at all. Taken in isolation, or even with every single totally-missing-the-point caveat this headdesk-inducing commenter later used to disclaim their statement, it is not an ethical thing to do, not to mention extremely fucking dangerous.

“Giving up control to someone else,” by the way, is also one of the ways submissive people can violate others. You touch on this, too, when you write, “My experience has been that people I know who are submissive-identified or even just with submissive tendencies tend to throw power at me without a negotiated exchange. Which…sort of highlights how everything is oriented toward the wrong focal point.” Another angle from which to examine why this is so is to unpack what’s really going on when dominants (and, specifically, usually dominant women) rightfully complain about submissives who continually say they’ll “do anything you want.”

So, again, nothing I’ve been saying is actually new, or complicated, or even all that interesting. All I’m saying is: what BDSM’ers call “D/s dynamics” is just one manifestation of how people relate to each other.

Sometimes, that relating happens in a very narrow cultural context that’s informed by a social institution called “the BDSM Scene.” Power dynamics aren’t present only in that context; they’re present everywhere. Like, duh, “vanilla relationships” have power dynamics, too.

It’s often really empowering to acknowledge systemic patterns and to apply what you learn from one experience, in one context, to another experience, in another context. Those things are called “practice” and “growing,” respectively. But to decontextualize the experiences you’re having and replace (override) those contexts with the context from some other, different experience is neither ethical nor nurturing.

Insofar as Submission means “giving up control,” the only ethical way to do it is as practice for not putting others’ needs before our own—and certainly not the needs of “Dominants,” the literal embodiment of rape culture itself—but rather withstanding the many consent violations we are forced to endure by virtue of living in an oppression culture in which we are violently threatened to put others’ needs before our own, or forced to participate in an array of evils—or forced to choose “the lesser” of many evils—that fuck over different people in different ways, every damned day. And when “giving up control” factors into it in the first place, it’s much more about “giving up control with others,” than “giving up control to others.” The latter is not Submission, it is at best ”contractually-consented” coercion.

Also, that’s what “play” means: playing is how we practice things that are important for us to know in ways that, if we hurt ourselves, we’ll be okay, in order to grow and become autonomous beings. BDSM is “just” a sandbox in which we can play with oppression. If that’s not what you’re doing, you’re just giving “BDSM” to people who want to use it—and are using it—as a way to justify rape.

And people who are okay doing that will rot in hell.

To be perfectly honest, I was hoping you’d weigh in. :)

One of your links a few days back, I think, linked to a blogpost that made the point that it’s our response to scars that affects how we negotiate the power differentials inherent in our culture. The more I think about that, the more I think it’s an extremely accurate take on things, because of how I deal with other types of damage that I know from the outset are damage.

I thought this was an interesting point of yours:

“Giving up control to someone else,” by the way, is also one of the ways submissive people can violate others. You touch on this, too, when you write, “My experience has been that people I know who are submissive-identified or even just with submissive tendencies tend to throw power at me without a negotiated exchange. Which…sort of highlights how everything is oriented toward the wrong focal point.” Another angle from which to examine why this is so is to unpack what’s really going on when dominants (and, specifically, usually dominant women) rightfully complain about submissives who continually say they’ll “do anything you want.”

To clarify a bit, part of the reason I wrote the submissive-throwing-power thing the way I did was because I was specifically thinking of how boundaries are often a later-life skill learned far past when they might have been actually needed in the first place, which is something I attribute firmly to rape culture. If a person is taught early that their boundaries don’t matter and that it’s their fault when they’re violated, then it’s damn well my responsibility to understand how and why that was taught in the first place because I don’t want to keep visiting the same violations upon people. How I was thinking originally, though, it hadn’t occurred to me that submissives do the ‘giving up power’ without a negotiation intentionally, though I did have some very brief experiences with that on fetlife before I bailed..

I definitely agree with the no-such-thing as truly ‘vanilla’ relationships and one of my long-standing peeves is that guidance as to how to deal with the kind of d/s that I was playacting as early as I can remember is just so rare. To even get to my current state of duct-tape-and-chewing-gum functional has required years of trial and error and damage dealt that could have been avoided. Hindsight, blah blah, etc. Where on earth can you even find information on how to be a young dominant woman trying to deal with a submissive young man, especially in a platonic relationship, no fetishes attached? I still don’t know, though not for lack of investigation. There is just no information I can find for ‘vanilla d/s’ sorts of interactions (or whatever the hell it’s called). The best I can find is advice about setting and respecting boundaries, which helps but doesn’t quite acknowledge that part of the problem is a busted power dynamic.

My biggest question/concern/thought at the moment though, is… I like how I play, and the role I take on. However, it is by far and away my biggest goal to NOT hurt anyone. The prospect of people being damaged or feeling violated even in my ‘everyday d/s’ context has me re-examining a lot of attitudes and assumptions. There’s honestly not a lot of point in me being defensive about it. It’s a thing that needs to be addressed if I’m to have any claim to being self-aware, especially as someone who considers herself generally dominant.

Anyways, thanks for responding! It’s really kind of relieving to be able to have a dialogue about this sort of thing, especially since I’m wandering in the dark towards any sort of conclusion.

On ethics as explored through capitalism and sex work

cool-yubari:

maymay:

Male Submission Art: Consent Is Not Enough

I’ve been highlighting some pretty shitty responses to my “Prologue to Consent Is Not Enough” post (because, hello, my name is maymay and I’m awesome at pointing out shitty things, and less good at pointing out awesome things), but this professional dominatrix’s reflections are pretty interesting. I find myself agreeing with a lot of what they write, save a couple notable exceptions, which I’ll share after you check this out:

leighsand:

This is something I think about, more as a professional practitioner than as a lone player (because I really don’t get involved in the kink “scene” anymore, and my personal taste in play has gotten more physical and technical and less psychological/power driven in the last couple of years, which may or may not be a phase) — what are my best-practice obligations to my clients? (I say best practice to address the fact that not all clients meet me in a place of equity, and I’m not too concerned with the personal development of people who actively attempt to abuse or assault me.)

One of the reasons that I love my job, and consider myself to be a long term or “career” worker is that I believe really seriously in the idea that what I do makes people happy. It may make them “better” or more at peace with themselves, or more able to be good partners or good people, it may give them understandings of their desires that lead them to live more fulfilledly, but that’s icing on the cake. That’s an awesome day, not a good enough day. A good enough day is simpler than that for me — I want my client to be happier than they were before they saw me. I probably can’t fix the big, overarching problems in their lives (remind me to tell y’all about my days as a baby domme, where I thought I was going to get all of my clients to come out to their spouses and everyone would all go to big kinky orgies together. Just call me Mistress Save-A-Bitch, I guess.) but I can make at least an hour of one of their days better than the hours that came before it. And so far, that’s been enough for me (although one time, I did diagnose a dude’s clubbing and convinced him to see a doctor, which led to him getting life saving double bypass surgery, so that was pretty fucking cool. For the record, dude never tipped.)

So MayMay’s words make me think — should that be enough? I have clients who I have been seeing for as long as three years, and I have clients who I see on a weekly basis, like clockwork. Should I be crafting a long term goal for these people to eventually “graduate” from my care? Certainly, it would be unethical to enhance situations that keep my clients dependent on me (case in point: a terribly problematic regular of mine has many times asked me for help crafting his okcupid profile, and while I’ve always given him honest advice, I’d be a complete liar if the thought hadn’t occurred to me to give him booby trapped recommendations that would keep him single. Fortunately, despite my best efforts, dude remains an irredeemable assface, so my income from him is reasonably secure.), but does it go beyond that in any way?

For me, at least, the answer has got to be on a case by case basis, and there are some big factors that make it a very different relationship from the ones MayMay talks about in his essay. First and foremost, professional dominatrix is a service industry job, so the way in which I might have power over “my submissives” is at best, extremely nuanced, and more frequently, ime, nonexistent. If I whip a client, I might enjoy it, sexually and/or intellectually, but I’m not facilitating my kink in any way (I know some dominatrixes operate this way, or claim to operate this way, but that’s a discussion for another day) — my pleasure, rather than my professional satisfaction and payment, is a bonus. If I make the focus on facilitating my personal kinks, then in many ways, I’m doing an irresponsible thing (not to mention, probably not a very lucrative one). So I guess in that sense, dominatrixes start from the position that MayMay thinks that scene dominants should aim towards — the focus is already on facilitating the submissive’s desire to submit, and inherently removed from the “True Submission Means Doing What I Say, Even If You Hate It” trope.

Certainly, I have had clients who I have seen for a limited period of time, who have had specific goals around their kinks — to experience and explore certain things, and ultimately to move on to seek out new things with me or with different people. Or to use kink to process particular feelings or traumas, rather than as an ongoing part of their sexual orientation. And those clients have unfailingly been some of the most pleasant, easy to work with, and rewarding clients I’ve had. The baby domme that remains lodged in my brain absolutely appreciates the opportunity to achieve something “big” that way. But if you universally apply the “obsoletism” goal to a sex work relationship, you run smack in to the assumption that sex work clients seek out providers because they can’t source unpaid relationships, and that the paid relationships they build are by nature lesser or less real and satisfying for them. And in my experience, that is not the way it works. When I do have clients who are seeing me because they’d rather have an “amateur,” those are inevitably experiences that are pretty shit for all parties concerned. These people are more likely to push my boundaries, more likely to take the “No’s” I give them with bad grace, and rather than graduate, they are usually expelled after a period of time. My best clients are the ones who specifically have a place in their life that I fit — for whom the professional and strictly boundaried relationship is as much of plus as my technical skill or (admittedly fabulous) ass. And with clients like these, I don’t feel that I’m serving their interests well by making the goal to move them along a pathway where they don’t need my services anymore. BDSM as a source of personal growth is a beautiful and electrifying thing. It has been, at some points, a wonderful experience of just that for me. But a comfortable plateau is not necessarily a negative thing either — for people who have come to a point where they are happy with the place that submission has in their lives, I think that looking “ever upward” can be every bit as damaging as your typical Gor-ean scenester.

So, thanks for sharing that, and it’s a pretty cool perspective. It just has this glaring problem:

But if you universally apply the “obsoletism” goal to a sex work relationship, you run smack in to the assumption that sex work clients seek out providers because they can’t source unpaid relationships, and that the paid relationships they build are by nature lesser or less real and satisfying for them.

This is wrong. Or rather, it’s implicitly assuming that “universally applying the ‘obsoletism’ goal to a sex work relationship” also causally implies an assumption that the only reason clients seek sexual labor service providers is because “they can’t source unpaid relationships” of a sexual kind. This is just not true.

As I’m sure you know, there are many, different, legitimate reasons why a client might hire a sex worker than only their lack of access to partnered sex, just as there are many, different, legitimate reasons why someone might want to have partnered sex in the first place. If (and maybe only if) one assumes that the only reason to hire sex workers is lack of access, then it makes sense one would also naturally consider sex with someone who didn’t want financial compensation to be “better” and “more satisfying.” But this makes as much sense as saying people eat at restaurants because they can’t cook at home.

From listening to what the sex workers in my life have told me, and from reading what others have written, I know that’s not how it works.

The reason I bring this up is because I reject the idea that the “goal of obsoletism” is not applicable to “a sex work relationship.” It very much is, just as it is for every other job-relationship. I can flag my political activist cred with the best of ‘em (“sex work is work,” and all that), but the crux of this issue is that it is immoral for a society to require anyone to work in order to have access to basic needs such as food and shelter, and that means working for money is, at its core, complicity with the abuses of capitalism. Sex is irrelevant.

Does that mean you should not do sex work (or any other job)? No, of course not. You’re being threatened with starvation unless you do your job, and this is certainly a threat you should take seriously. But it does mean that if you can replace money in as many ways as possible in your life, then you should do that. Do that not only because it is more ethical, but because it is safer; every time you work to take down a system of oppression, you take down a threat against yourself.

The point of working to “obsolete” yourself in a job is therefore two fold. First it is the only ethical way to accomplish “a good job.” And second, it is the only ethical way to exist in capitalism while working to end your complicity with capitalism.

With respect to power, there are two relationships worth considering independently:

  1. employer-employee and,
  2. employee-client.

Employers obviously have more power than their employees but the scales are not so clearly weighted in the case of employees and clients. That’s why, in my Prologue, I only spoke of employers. And although I agree with you when you say “professional dominatrix is a service industry job, so the way in which I might have power over ‘my submissives’ is at best, extremely nuanced,” I find it impossible to believe that it is ever “nonexistent.”

For one thing, consider the situation where some clients seek your services because it is their only available opportunity for some experience. Capitalist jobs—including sex work—are premised on the scarcity of a thing. The thing that’s scarce for your particular clients might be “access to partnered sex,” or something else, but regardless of what it is, if the thing they lack is a thing they want that you have, you have a power over them.

For another thing, you’re a professional dominatrix—that means in sessions with your clients, dominant, right? So you do have a power over your clients. The influences of domism do not vanish in a puff of smoke just because you were paid after the scene.

Systemic powers are not like sound waves or differently signed numbers; structural influences don’t cancel each other out. A systemic power of one kind (like dominance, or whiteness) does not void power of different kinds (like maleness, or financial wealth).

Caring about ethics means having to account for each structural influence; all of them, all the time, all at once. It’s not a zero-sum game. And if you’re evaluating “who has more power” by assigning weightiness to influences themselves instead of in the context in which they exert force, you’re doing it wrong.

So, is having some specific power creating a situation in which you ethically should and can safely work to “facilitate [your client’s] growth so as to make yourself obsolete”? I don’t know. That depends on the powers at play, on you, your client, the circumstances of your lives, and how all those things interact together at a certain place, in a certain time.

But don’t model yourself after throngs of others who are so quick to dismiss the importance of actually assessing this in the situations they find themselves just because those situations involve sex work. That’s not ethical. That’s lazy.

There are so many things that I could highlight about this, but for now instead of letting it sit in my drafts, I’m going to underscore what Maymay said about ending complicity with capitalism in every way possible. Every time that I use something that someone gave away for free, every time I put my skills out there in the world without charging, I’m adding to the space that capitalism doesn’t control. Value the things you get for nothing. Put as much of yourself into that space as you can. And fight privatization tooth and nail, everywhere it rears its ugly head. People have been risking their lives all over the world to fight for the right to exist, without being exploited every day more for the privilege. Look at the fight against water privatization. Look at the fight against GMO seeds. The money being funneled into large corporations and governments is literally responsible for genocide. And what starts abroad, being done to other people, ends up being aimed at Americans.

(Source: unquietpirate)

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