Okay, so Iâ€™m going to dissect this piece by piece. Because we are going to be seeing a lot of this and I am not going to let this shit remain unchallenged. Here goes.
So I was reading a post on Ozyâ€™s blog (great blog btw) [link removed by maymay because Ozy is an intentionally malicious saboteur]. One of the comments was of unquietpirate, who put their response to said post on Tumblr. Which led me to trying to figure out exactly what body of work the â€œconsent as a felt senseâ€ post was in. Apparently rolequeerness.
Actually, no, youâ€™re wrong. Rolequeerness is work that came out of and is inside the work unquietpirateâ€‹ and I have been doing around Consent as a Felt Sense, not the other way around. This post explicitly mentions that, and I quote, â€œ[here is a quote from] ‘Submissive people donâ€™t need dominants. Period.’, an early, protozoan post from 2012 that would later inform the two most prominent pillars of #rolequeer discussions, â€˜Consent as a Felt Sense‘ and ‘Dominants are rapists.â€™â€
So, right off the bat, you are literally approaching this work backwards.
Unfortunately I started running into problems when I couldnâ€™t find a definition of rolequeer that wasnâ€™t embroiled in a massive amount of drama.
Thatâ€™s an incredibly revealing statement about where or why youâ€™re approaching this work, because when I Google â€œrolequeerâ€ the very first post I get is â€œRolequeer: Defining Our Terms.â€ Hereâ€™s a screenshot:
Did you just, I donâ€™t know, not find that central, top-ranked post that is literally linked from almost every blog about rolequeerness? I must assume you have either not actually tried “finding a definition of rolequeer” seriously or that you have been extraordinarily selective about what you consider “drama” and thus what you choose to discard. So that’s telling.
So hereâ€™s, as best I can tell, a brief, mostly sane definition (LWrationalist folk would call it a â€˜steelmanningâ€™) of what I think they were getting at:
- There are some people that get off on subverting hierarchy, rather than having it as is traditional in BDSM. In BDSM traditional the urge to subvert hierarchy is sometimes called disparaging things like â€œtopping from the bottomâ€ (although properly speaking that phrase refers to something else entirely), and most people who identify with BDSM are not willing to participate in this kind of play.
So, even though I literally just said this, even going so far as lamenting how often I’m going to have to do this, I’m going to say it again: Rolequeerness is not a kind of kink. It is a kind of queerness. Here’s an excerpt in case you need a reminder and are too lazy (or invested in your cherry-picking bullshit) to click the link:
I want to point out yet again that rolequeerness is not about â€œmoving away from BDSM,â€ it is about describing relationships to power. Consider reading (or re-reading) the â€œRolequeer ALL the things” post, which includes examples using everything from dance to psychotherapy, to get a better handle on this. The only similarity between rolequeerness and BDSM, and the only reason the two are ever really relevant to each other, is when it comes to explicit power play in sex, at which point the one highlights the other because they are antithetical to each other. For more on the distinctions there, refer to “Sensation, Story, and Felt Sense: Rolequeer and BDSM do not mix.â€
So again, to be clear, you are not wrong when you describe rolequeer acts as being ones that intentionally subvert power hierarchies. You are wrong when you frame the act of subverting power hierarchies as a kink under the all-encompassing umbrella of BDSM. We have seen this kind of appropriative reframing before, in what idlnmclean eloquently calls “blunting the tip.”
You are wrongâ€”and you are being (intentionally?) offensiveâ€”in framing rolequeerness as an approach to BDSM power play. We have said this so. Many. Times. and yet you shitstains from Ozy’s readership continue to selectively discard the actual descriptions of rolequeerness from self-identified rolequeers.
So I am going to repeat myself again in yet more new words. “Rolequeer” describes the way in which some people orient themselves towards the influences of power in their relationships. It is not a kink. It is not a way of doing BDSM. It is not an identity. It is not limited to the bedroom. It is a method of approaching, understanding, andÂ relating to power equity and disparity.
In case you haven’t noticed this, power disparities exist in many parts of life. They exist outside the bedroom as much as they exist inside of it. You cannot divorce an analysis of power away from sex any more than you can divorce an analysis of sex away from art history. Or, well, you can, but if you do that your analysis will be full of (sh)it.
What rolequeerness and BDSM have an in common is that both ideas describe ways some people approach the eroticization of power disparity. Rolequeer sex involves eroticizing disobedience, a rejection of authority, while BDSM is entirely about fetishizing dominance, sexualizing obedience to authoritarian control. That is literally the only thing BDSM and rolequeerness have in common and, as you can see, not only is it a tiny subsection of what rolequeerness describes, it is wholly antithetical to what BDSM describes.
You can not put rolequeerness “under the umbrella of” BDSM any more than you can put queerness “under the umbrella of” heterosexism. Likewise, framing rolequeerness wholly and only as a rejection of traditional BDSM is equally as inaccurate as framing queer theory wholly and only as a rejection of patriarchy; rolequeerness does reject BDSM and queer theory does reject patriarchy, but rolequeerness also describes an enormous range of activities and orientations that BDSM can not contain without first appropriating, assimilating, and de-fanging them, much as queer theory points at behaviors and identities that can not possibly be contained by heteropatriarchal norms without first erasing the history of their origins.
I mean, you can describe both those things that way, but then you are at best hopelessly wrong and at worst actively supporting abusive status quos. So fuck that.
- Â So rolequeer is when people donâ€™t want to accept these kinds of disparagement and just want to have subversion of hierarchy in the bedroom. Furthermore, they feel that BDSM does not accommodate them so they have made their own community. I am fine with this. People are free to make their own communities.
I already address how wrong the assertion that we “just want to have subversion of hierarchy in the bedroom is,” but I only addressed one part of why that was wrong: that it’s just relevant to the bedroom.
Here’s the other problem with your framing: that we want to subvert hierarchy. This is actually not true, either. While hierarchy is often used in the service of abusive norms, hierarchy itself is no more “the enemy” than any other tool for organizing things. Hierarchy is not bad. It is also not good. Hierarchy is simply a way of categorizing or organizing or thinking about things.
When I talk and write about rolequeerness, I talk about it as “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.) [of “who,” demographically, and “how,” through their actions people are privileged or marginalized] in order to help us focus on actions whose impacts actually undermine power.” It would be just as stupid to reject hierarchy as it would be to reject violence on the basis of the fact that it is an idea, rather than on the basis of what impacts that idea has in what contexts; I support both hierarchy and violence, much as I support their kindred opposites non-hierarchy and non-violence, as tactics, not as principles.
Likewise, rolequeers have focused so. Much. Effort. on descriptions of hierarchyâ€”in sex, evenâ€”as tools that can be useful for exploring the somatic experience of violative, violent, and harmful behavior. Here’s a particularly relevant excerpt that you may have selectively excluded from your readings on rolequeerness, titled “The Theory of BDSM as Pardody: Where it’s Flawed and Where It’s Not,” that begins:
[We do not] mean that kinky sex is necessarily BDSM, nor should we think that having kinky sex can not be a parody of oppression. This is because â€œkinky sexâ€ is actually a larger umbrella than BDSM, rather than the other way around. In other words, â€œBDSMâ€ is kinky sex for rape apologists.
In her own earlier and equally key essay, â€œThis Oneâ€™s For The Invisible Girl,â€ unquietpirate described how and why fetishizing oppression, thereby turning it into a parody of itself, can have liberatory results, but only if thatâ€™s the actâ€™s actual intent. I quote:
to fetishize is â€œto be excessively or irrationally devoted toâ€ 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 canâ€™t, and turns them into â€œplayâ€. By transmuting violence into intimacy, BDSM can weaken oppression culture. But only if itâ€™s done with that intention. Otherwise, itâ€™s especially good at re-inscribing oppression culture. BDSM play is big deal technomagic. It is scary. It can hurt you â€” actually hurt you â€” and the people you love.
But take note that what she termed â€œBDSMâ€ in some but not all instances here is what we now more precisely term the BDSM Scene-State. This idea of a â€œScene-Stateâ€ encompassesÂ both the idea of BDSM-as-subcultural-institution (the subculture for whom perhaps Christian Grey is the most famous pop culture coverboy du jour), as well as the larger interplay of power roles handed down to individuals in the inherently coercive contexts of employment, forced gendering, compulsory monogamy, and upbringing in which non-consent is the defining element. In other words, what can weaken oppression culture is not something you can do merely by pledging allegiance to the flag of one subcultural institution or another.
But it seems this concept of a using tools like fetishization, hierarchy, or violence is too threatening to your shitty, simplistic, melodrama of a fairy tale in which you can eagerly cast yourself a hero in an oversimplified story of the ethics of your own worldview. That explains why you describe “the trouble” with rolequeerness as, y’know, the thing that makes it rolequeer.
- (mostly my opinion) The trouble comes when these people also value subversion of hierarchy outside the bedroom, and thus view rolequeering as a political act of â€œlook at us, we are subverting all the rolesâ€. These people then proceed to write posts doing things like equating BDSM to rape apology.
So your complaint about rolequeerness is that we have offered a description of how BDSM is, by definition, rape apologia? Well, that’s certainly telling. And definitely not an attempt to reassert rape apologetics. Nope. It’s definitely not that.
The very notion that you would view “valu[ing] subversion of hierarchy outside the bedroom” as “trouble” makes it pretty obvious that you are not actually steelmanning rolequeer at all. You are doing the exact opposite, strawmanning it, by again framing it as part-and-parcel of the thing it is not.
Look, you don’t have to value subverting rigid power hierarchies outside the bedroom. We’re not telling you that you have to. We’re telling you that’s what rolequeerness does. When you try to re-define rolequeerness as not that thing, you are either intentionally or ignorantly construing rolequeerness as non-threatening to the rigid power hierarchies we are intentionally trying to subvert. And in the very same way as the most vocal homophobes are in fact the most threatened by the destruction of a heterosexist stranglehold on all human thought, it is clear that you are very threatened by the destruction of D/s, or powerful/vulnerable, binarism.
And why might that threaten you? Let’s move on.
- (definitely my opinion) Honestly, I donâ€™t give a shit who is sticking what to whom if itâ€™s consensual. I think it is possible to play power exchange sex in the bedroom, but be entirely mindful of such power exchanges and actively want to dismantle them when not in the bedroom. I also think â€˜all BDSM is rape!â€™ comes from much the same place as â€˜all heterosexual sex is rape!â€™ (actual second wave feminist opinion).
Ahhh yes. “Because Consent.” How original! How novel! How sacred! How utterly impossible to refute!
So let me quote, again, just one place where I’ve already refuted it:
In case the [second-wave feminist] Dworkin misunderstanding is news to you, consider Dworkin in her own words:
My point was that as long as the law allows statutory exemption for a husband from rape charges, no married woman has legal protection from rape. I also argued, based on a reading of our laws, that marriage mandated intercourse â€” it was compulsory, part of the marriage contract. Under the circumstances, I said, it was impossible to view sexual intercourse in marriage as the free act of a free woman.
So, to paraphrase, Dworkin says â€œin a relationship where having sexual intercourse is required for that relationship to be recognized as legal and also does not provide legal protection from rape, that sex act can not be legally distinguished from rape,â€ and somehow this turns into â€œall sex is rape.â€ Who would play such a nasty game of telephone with Dworkinâ€™s meaning? Oh, Iâ€™m sure you can come up with a few likely suspects.
In our own works, â€œbreaking the abusive/consensual binaryâ€ is shorthand for â€œrecognizing that the reality (of rape culture, heterosexism, capitalism, and more such contexts) means that there are numerous overlapping and interlocking pressures of different kinds which place both direct and indirect coercive force on people who are likely to do things including have sex.â€ In such a realityâ€”which only the truly deluded are denying existsâ€”it is risky at best and predatory at worst to un-self-critically engage in what you know is both highly personal and often fraught activities.
What apparently threatens you is exactly the thing rolequeerness centers. Here’s what rolequeerness makes unapologetically, viscerally, terrifyingly obvious: complicating the abuser/abuse victim dichotomy. A rolequeer response to that complexity is something like, “in what ways am I abusive and in what ways have been abused?” Your response to that is, “Bullshit, Because Consent.”
Yours is the attitude of a coward. And that’s putting it somewhat generously.
Now, finally, you say:
Iâ€™m honestly kind of afraid to tag this because it might be that one of the tumblr tags is being closely tracked for doxxings, or whatever. But I had to get this out somewhere.
Newsflash, Sherlock, you don’t need to tag posts for them to become visible to the entire Internet. Publishing them in public view does that, tagged or not. Duh.