Search This Blog

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Abuse? Abuse!

At some point, I should actually talk about abuse, if I'm going to bitch about people not talking about abuse. Ugh, responsibility.

Okay. Abuse.

Like I've said, I was involved in an abusive D/s relationship. I'm going to call the abusive fellow Arthur, because when you want a name for an abuser, just ask a Bronte. (Gals, which one are you? I'm an Anne.) My abuse narrative will sound familiar to anyone who's spent time in Fetlife's groups for submissive women. In fact, after typing the whole thing up, I've opted not to include it here, because I think that anyone who actually knows me will be a lot happier if I omit the details. In very brief, the relationship (not a romantic one) was abusive because Arthur was into maintaining control over me by pushing my hard limits and by guilt tripping me if I used a safeword. I walked around feeling completely fucked up for way too long, and when it hit the point that I was sobbing about it every day, I got enough objectivity to realize, "Wait, this is not how this should go. I don't feel good about this at all." Finally, all of the Are You In an Abusive Relationship? pamphlets that had been stored up in my brain since high school got to have their say. "Holy shit," I thought. "This relationship is textbook abusive."

Now, I do not think that Arthur is a bad guy. I think that he was young and troubled, and completely unprepared for the responsibility of having someone give so much control over to him. I think also that he really believed himself to be acting in my best interest. I think this in part because I've heard some of the views that he espoused from other sources as well, all around the kink community here. They go like this:

- What every sub really wants is to be good. If she isn't striving for this, then she isn't a real sub. [Oh, yeah, I'm going to use female pronouns to talk about subs and male pronouns to talk about doms, because that's what I'm talking about right now.]

- "Being good" means having no boundaries whatsoever, so as to be most available to your dom.

- It is the duty of the dom to help his sub achieve ultimate goodness by breaking down her boundaries.

This is the Father Knows Best model of D/s relationships. I know a lot of people who subscribe to it. Shockingly enough, I think it's extremely dangerous. This philosophy of D/s did a great disservice both to Arthur and to me. (Fucking people up isn't one of his kinks.) Like I've said - or at least implied - before, I think that it's important to maintain a clear boundary between what we actually want and believe and what we pretend to want and believe. I wanted to pretend to believe that Arthur knew what was best for me, and I ended up relinquishing so much control to him that I had to behave as if he actually did know what was best for me.

Here's the thing that separates D/s relationships from vanilla ones: one person is explicitly relinquishing power to another person. That makes abuse all the easier to perpetrate and all the harder to identify. That said, why don't we warn people about this as soon as we find out that they are new to the scene? Why is this topic so taboo? I guess it goes back to this fear that if we tell anyone that anything is wrong with BDSM, that he will pull off his fake mustache and reveal himself to be a secret member of the Vanilla Police, here to take us away (haha hoho) for indecent acts. To which I say, grow up. You are not Oscar Wilde. The worse persecution you will probably ever experience because of your naughty proclivities will be at the hands of a partner who thinks that your sadism/masochism/dominance/submissiveness/balloon fetish is kind of icky. Oh please. You have so little to lose from warning people about abuse and so little to gain from shaming me for warning them.

If I had been told that what I was experiencing was abuse, and not just par for the course, I might have gotten out of that situation a lot sooner. I want to tell everyone that, but I don't, for fear of losing the community that I have. Because, like, this shit is heavy. It's not fun to hear about. It's terrible PR. And now I'm a little ashamed for posting this for the benefit of a few people, instead of saying it really publicly, because it should be heard. I don't know. Maybe it's best not to drop the "a-bomb" because that's, like, totally humorless. Maybe it's better just to point out that not everyone that can tie a knot or wield a knife deserves your trust. Maybe you're better off being hyper-vigilant about safewords until you know for sure. Maybe we bottoms have to look out for each other. Just a thought.


  1. I feel so fortunate to have come into my sub identity with the help of a top who I trust and who wants me to be a self-empowered individual and sub... (and actually gets very upset at me when I relinquish too much power) because I could have (and still could) very easily fall into that type of abusive cycle. Actually, abusive cycles have emerged in my [sex] life, and they are so hard to navigate!

    On one hand, I read all these books on how to be an empowered sub, I have all these conversations on feeling and asserting my equality, and fabulous friends who help me work things out...

    And then on the other hand... I still don't know how to navigate the slippery slope from *wanting* humiliation and such mind-games, and recognizing when it's no longer rewarding, and knowing how to stop it. One of my hottest hook-ups was with someone who I was/am actually afraid of. Red flag there--but also, the reason I was so drawn to him was that fear/distrust... We want to put ourselves through these emotional journeys, and yet there's not much of a road map to sort out all the feelings we end up with.

    I definitely appreciate being told (repetitively) that "not everyone that can tie a knot or wield a knife deserves your trust." Because when I want someone, I want to trust them. And it's really easy for me to just hand over power to someone I want, when I should *probably* be checking their references.

    We do have to look out for each other!

    <3 [a]

  2. As you know, I also have an abusive dom in my past. A few things jump out at me when I start to make comparisons.

    In my case, the relationship wasn't 24/7--but it wasn't strictly-in-the-bedroom, either. And it was mostly me (the sub) that wanted to take things further. I also had significantly more contact with the kink community--and hence its ideas--than my partner did. The circle of friends we met through included a number of out kinksters besides us, but they were pretty much the limit of my partner's experience--whereas I'd known a group of openly kinky people for years, was familiar with a variety of kinds of practices, etc. My partner was still discovering their sexual identity to a much greater extent than I was. (I basically knew what I wanted at that point and I pretty much just wanted to actually get some.)

    And yet the D/s component of the relationship still became an enabling factor for abuse. Now, I'm fairly certain that the relationship would have been abusive anyway (a point I'll return to). But the very presence of the D/s element still created a venue for abuse. It provided excuses. My partner could claim to have said something genuinely to me because they though it would turn me on. They could claim not to have heard safewords because safewords were the only precaution we had.

  3. That said, I certainly don't think that D/s was the cause of the abuse. After all, given that I was the one who really pushed the D/s dimension of the relationship and my partner was the abuser, that would be pretty tricky. And I don't think the problem was that my partner absorbed some wrongheaded ideas about how to be a good dom, because a) I don't know where my partner would have encountered such ideas and b) either way, accepting them or not was a choice--you and me both made the opposite choice at some point.

    Another reason I don't think the D/s element caused it was that my partner's basic selfishness (however disguised) cropped up in other areas. We were poly, which they took as an excuse to constantly talk about another potential partner they were interested in (because of course polyamory means no jealousy ever, right?); we were both in high school and looking at colleges, which meant that I of course should go to a school near where she wanted to go; etc.

  4. As for solutions ... hmmmm. I like the idea of there being more bottom/sub/etc. solidarity. Looking at existing submissive groups that I've been involved with, the consensus on doms seems to be that they're amazing, especially the amazing ones who are so amazing. It would be nice to get away from the pervasive quasi-libertarian attitude that we should all just play a lot and do whatever and then everyone will be happy.

    And individual-level activity is very difficult. You can't just up and tell someone that their partner is abusing them. I mean, you physically can, but generally what happens is that that person gets pissy and defensive and stops talking to you about their sex life. Because You Don't Understand. So you can be there for your friend, but ultimately there's a fine line between supporting your friend and helping to enable and drag out the relationship.

    So what's left? There are sexual abuse educators out there. How much do they know about BDSM? How can the kink community be changed to accommodate more self-monitoring? I think this could be very difficult. The kink community, as currently understood, is mostly devoted to physical sexual gratification, with not much more concern for the emotional consequences (or even the basics of consent) than is required by law. I think it would take a serious redefinition of "the community" to do that. Who knows? It might even start to embrace a representative sample of actually kinky people.

  5. bracketabracket: You make the really good point that one of the best things we can do to prevent ourselves from falling back into the abuse-machine is to surround ourselves with people who can recognize it when it happens.

    Which actually relates to what you said, weserai, since it's true that it's usually a bad idea to confront someone about a particular partner. I mean, I merrily ignored someone saying, "I am worried because at one point this particular person was abusive to me." And I think that often there is no way to prevent someone (or yourself) from ending up in an abusive relationship; the best that you can expect in educating people is that they will eventually recognize the signs and realize that it is time to extricate themselves. I do know, though, that it helped me to have smart, savvy friends who cared about me, and whose opinions I valued, since I couldn't help but imagine what they (you) were thinking when I did something particularly doormat-ish in service of my relationship. Even when they don't say anything, it helps to have wise friends.

    As to what we can do, or what the kink community can do... God, I don't know. I loved the idea that we were talking about before, about a website that could be a kind of Scarleteen for kinky teenagers - a primer on different kinks, and on safety and consent. It's hard to see what else would be do-able. Ironically enough, the kink community in general is pretty non-hierarchical, so it's not like there's one organization (or two or three) that can change its mission statement and then - bam! - we are educating people. I suppose that the best we can do is to be the uncool kids at TNG munches who talk about consent and abuse, especially when there are newbies around. Get 'em while they're young! Before they buy into the party line that All Doms go to Heaven! (A man's best friend is his dom!)