There’s an interesting discussion happening over on the rolequeer blog called “Decolonizing Kink?” in which a few folks who are sick and tired of the overt racism and other bigotry teeming from within the rotten core of the BDSM and fetish “community” are talking about what, if anything, can be done about it.

Regular readers of this blog will no doubt recall that this isn’t actually a new topic of conversation at all. For those of us whose eyes, ears, and other senses are attuned to this sort of thing, there are reports of utterly grotesque, racist, sexist, homophobic, rape apologist, and ableist behaviors—to name just a few systemic issues—emanating from the very heart of the so-called “Safe, Sane, and Consensual” BDSM Scene. Off the top of my head alone, I can recall:

Now, if you’re surprised by how many incidents I’ve just listed (and I didn’t even try to name any of the recent FetLife-involved murders!), there are two likely explanations. First, you’re not really paying attention, and you probably should be. But second, even if you are paying attention, it’s not actually easy to find out about these incidents, much less to actually remember all of them, even if you’ve been around as long as I have. And that’s no accident: the bad publicity incidents like these generate (and these incidents happen so routinely, and have been happening for so long, they’re like clockwork—here’s another example from 2009) are actively suppressed and spin-controlled by both BDSM public relations/lobbying groups like the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom (aka. the NCSF, whose executive director was once employed by FetLife.com as their Community Manager) as well as BDSM Scene organizations and institutions themselves. This includes FetLife.

In fact, the design of FetLife.com is itself built from the ground-up to be a form of damage control for bad PR. FetLife’s interface makes it very hard to search for historical information on the site, and this is intentional. FetLife also effectively repels the web indexing robots of Google and other search engines, making it difficult to retrieve or archive information from within FetLife’s walls, and this is intentional. When information about activities that happen inside FetLife are exposed to the outside world, FetLife’s army of volunteers strictly police external websites with illegal Digital Millennium Copyright Act takedown notices (I know—I’ve personally fought almost a dozen of these legal threats from FetLife’s “carebears”), and this is intentional. (Need some examples? Try here, here, or here, again, just off the top of my head.)

Why would FetLife be so committed to quashing discussion about these incidents? Because without evidence of a pattern, the white supremacist narrative of “isolated incidents” is plausible. You can’t say that “the BDSM Scene has a racism problem” with much conviction unless you can also see the discrete instances in which racism or another form of bigotry was institutionally, even violently protected time after time after time, year after year after year, again and again and again.

You need a pattern. To establish a pattern. You need data. If FetLife can prevent historical data from being widely available, no one can establish a pattern of bad behavior. And, of course, this kind of “forced forgetfulness” is intentional. As I wrote the other day, “the right to be forgotten” is abusive:

The erasure of history is a defining element of oppressive practices on the macro-scale of history, but also on the micro-scale of interpersonal interaction. Men who beat their wives rely on the fact that their ex-wives do not warn their new brides that they are abusive assholes. Serial rapists rely on the fact that their victims will not have the benefit of communication with their former victims in order to perpetrate multiple assaults. The idea that we should give anyone the power to enforce a kind of “forgetting” on other people is such a terrible idea that the only reason it gains favor is either the shortsightedness or the intentional sociopathy of its proponents.

Quite a few years ago, when I was much younger and still naively believed the BDSM subculture deserved any respect, I saw the writing on the wall and wrote an essay titled “FetLife Considered Harmful,” in which I argued that this subculture’s digital poster boy, FetLife.com, was “the worst of both worlds” with respect to both online and face-to-face community. Working with some collaborators, I developed a number of software tools to help people use FetLife in a safer and more personally empowered way, perhaps the most famous of which is the Predator Alert Tool for FetLife. But another tool was called FetLife Export, and it makes a wholesale copy of a FetLife account’s activity.

Using FetLife Export, you can make a complete, searchable snapshot of your own or any other FetLife user’s entire account activity with just a few clicks. The tool is very similar to wget in that it makes an archive of web pages, but in this case the archive is specific to a given FetLife user’s postings, “likes/loves,” comments in group discussions, wall-to-wall conversations, and other FetLife-specific features. This is handy because it means that when you see someone make a racist or sexist remark on a FetLife thread, you can download a copy of their entire FetLife history in one fell swoop—everything they’ve ever said in public view on FetLife—and then retroactively search their past postings for other, similar or related remarks.

What they might once claim is an “isolated incident” will seem very, very different in the light of a complete historical log of their behavior on FetLife.

I’ve been using this tool regularly since it was first released. If you wonder how I can be so “plugged in” to what’s going on in the BDSM Scene, how I can so quickly connect the dots between who-knows-who, it’s partially because I make and use these archives to find patterns that you can only see when you surveil the entire BDSM Scene in near-real time. It’s an invaluable tool for anyone doing systemic analysis, muckraking, or investigative reporting about the BDSM Scene.

If you’d like to learn more about how to use the FetLife Exporter yourself, read my short tutorial guide, “HowTo: Download a complete copy of any FetLife user’s posts, pictures, comments, and other activity using the FetLife Export wizard,” which explains how to use and how to install the tool on your own computer. If you have trouble getting it working and would like to, feel free to contact me directly (whether publicly, privately, or however you prefer) and I’ll be happy to walk you through it.

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