An antidote to 50 Shades of Grey

In a fit of what I can only describe as the purest form of masochism, I acquired and read the 50 Shades of Grey trilogy. I wanted to know how bad it could be. Answer: it is a steaming, festering turd of a book. Its plot is clunky, its prose pedestrian at best and embarrassing at worst, its sex scenes about as sexy as falling into stinging nettles from a great height, and its narrative downright harmful to the BDSM community at large.

I had originally intended to post a hilarious snarky review of the trilogy, but frankly, it’s been done. Not only that, but it’s been done very well. Here’s a list of pretty awesome articles and blog posts about how awful 50 Shades of Grey is:

Fifty Heaves of Puke (Bizzybiz)
Pamela Stephenson-Connolly on why Fifty Shades is bad bondage
Fifty Shades of F*cked Up (Elephant Journal) (links to other good articles)
Fifty Shades of Suck (warning: this one is not kink-positive, but does give some pretty amazing examples of how awful the actual writing is.)

Instead, I thought I’d address how it could be done better. I want to take down this narrative where BDSM is practiced only by people who are fundamentally emotionally damaged, on people who are too naïve to protest. I want to dissociate consensual, risk-aware BDSM from abuse. I want to spread the word that we’re not all like that.

So let’s change the story. Let’s get rid of the completely ridiculous premise that a student journalist would ever get anywhere near the desk of a corporate giant, unless they had an internship with a major publication of some kind. Let’s get rid of the even more ridiculous premise that someone who’s never written an article or given an interview in their life would be sent to replace them without doing any research. And let’s get rid of the idea that the corporate giant in question would just go along with it because it’s a spiffing wheeze, what.

Let’s say, instead, this is a professional (if small-scale) local newspaper. Its writers get paid – not much, admittedly, but it’s a job. They’ve landed an interview with a local-boy-done-good. I’ll keep the sustainability thing, because I like it – he’s secured a contract to build a major development of affordable, eco-friendly, sustainably built housing using methods and technologies developed in-house and tested on private land. The project stands to benefit local people on low income, who are the target market for this housing, and contribute significantly to the regeneration of a deprived area.

She’s one of their best writers. Her boss, who was originally scheduled to do this interview but has unexpectedly been given that date for a major operation, has handed it to her. This is a controversial decision, because she likes to play hardball with her interview style – kind of like an amateur Jeremy Paxman – but the editor is confident that it will pay off.

And it does, in more ways than one. The interview is difficult for both of them, but a huge success – it goes viral among online communities, generating a ton of good press for his company and leaving her wading through offers of employment with the major broadsheets and some well-known left-wing online publications. He is dazzled by her wit, struck by her courage in asking some difficult questions, and grateful for the positive exposure; she’s impressed by his grace under pressure and professional integrity. Both detect a certain compatibility that they can’t quite put their finger on.

He gets back in touch when the interview goes viral to say thank you. On learning that she’s moving to London to start writing for a broadsheet, he invites her out for dinner as a token of his gratitude. They hit it off, and things move on from there.

I have been to the States a grand total of twice, so I’m not going to set it there. I’ll stick with what I know. She starts out in Guilford and moves to the City of London, where his offices are also based; he lives in Docklands and is regenerating Tower Hamlets.

In the interests of diversity, I’m going to make her Hispanic and queer. She’s bi and moved to the UK from Venezuela with her family at the age of six. I’ll call her Marta Alvarez. He’s Anglo-Irish, born and raised in Guilford; he moved to London for university and developed an interest in its more deprived areas over the course of his studies. I’ll call him Michael Donohue. I’ll make her a bit older – 27 – and keep him at 28, because the much-older-Dom-with-much-younger-sub narrative really gets on my nerves.

What do you think? Would you read this? If so, I’ll write it.

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Power

I’ve gone a bit quiet, haven’t I?

I think most bloggers hit a brick wall after a while. Mine came a few weeks ago. I was running out of firsts to blog about. I was also running out of anything positive to say, and for some time I have had an insecurity about expressing negative emotion online beyond a certain point.

Being between jobs, I have more than the usual amount of time to examine the ways in which I interact with people. There are things I have known about myself for a while: I trust easily, become attached easily, and I’m fiercely loyal to people even when they prove they don’t deserve it. I tend to blame myself for elements of a friendship or relationship that go wrong.

This creates a certain amount of difficulty in just about any kind of relationship, but it’s particularly harmful in a BDSM-flavoured one.

Recently, I’ve been realising a truth of the mantra that the power in any BDSM relationship should lie with the submissive. I’m not a submissive, of course – that ground’s been covered here before – but I am very frequently a bottom and a passive/receptive party in relationships. I take my cues from the people around me, and am often reluctant to take the initiative myself in case I hurt someone or make a fool of myself. And I’m horrifically insecure. I rarely believe that I have a great deal of power, which often means that I don’t.

And when I don’t know that I have power, my partners don’t either, and that’s where things start to go wrong.

If I’d known when I started what the power dynamic of a rope scene can be like, I don’t think I’d be sitting here typing this now. I am naturally risk averse, and being tied up leaves you exposed in more than just the literal sense. The transaction between a top and a bottom is often unseen and unspoken, but sometimes all the more powerful for it. And I wasn’t ready for that, and I wasn’t ready for what comes afterwards, when you realise that you can have the most powerful emotional connection possible when there’s rope between you and yet, in real terms, that could mean absolutely nothing.

I didn’t know. That left me powerless.

I think part of what drives me to learn to tie is to try to develop a greater understanding of how that connection develops on both sides, in the hope of shielding myself from that kind of exposure. I have no idea if it’s going to work. Luckily, I enjoy tying as an end in itself – it appeals to my creativity – so I stand only to gain from learning. But I’m approaching everything with more caution now, because I’m definitely not ready to be hurt like that again. No more can I bear the idea of doing it to someone else.

I think it’s time for me to learn, so that as many of my experiences as possible are informed.

All the fun of the FetLife

Dearest little quin

My meatspace friends will attest to what would have happened if someone I didn’t know had said anything like this to my face. Clue: carnage would ensue. Even my kitten persona is a vicious fucker. “Little”, indeed. Small in stature I may be, but I am not little.

I see that you are looking for some assistance with your personal development in the form of an (initially online) Master.

Where’d you read that? It sure as hell wasn’t my profile. Yeah, I’m looking to meet a dominant. I think I’m doing a pretty good job of managing my “personal development” on my own, thanks. And I cannot possibly verbalise how much I am over that whole “initially online” thing. My relationships will be in meatspace, or they will not be.

A lady Domme and I have just decided to recruit a young, local subgirl as a joint project and wondered if you may like to apply for the position?

Things I am: Young. (Fun fact – our correspondent is 43, according to his profile. Bet you’d never have guessed!)

Things I may be: Local.

Things I am not: A submissive; a girl (even if I was cis, I would be a grown-ass woman); a “project”; interested in undergoing a “recruitment” process (I’m having quite enough, ah, fun with recruitment in my vanilla professional life as it is).

Please respond immedaitely, outlining any experience you may have to date in the field together with your location. Our intention is to begin with remote-control (online/ phone/ etc) and move into real world if the right candidate should shine for us!

Experience in the field, huh? You want to know about the abusive fuckwads I’ve dated who talked just the same way you do? Sure, go ahead. How do you like that for a covering letter? I bet you work in HR.

Things I am also not: a robot, a toy car, a television, or any other kind of automaton that can be activated by remote control. I am a person, with flesh and bones and lungs and feelings and far too many books.

Please respond now.

No. Fuck off. And learn to spell.

Why “they never said no” is not a defence (Trigger Warning: Rape)

I’m going to take a deep breath and elaborate on something I’ve alluded to in a previous post: the short-lived liaison with a dominant (whom I will name Decepticon) on my arrival back on the London kink scene. “Decepticon” and “D.” are not the same person.

I first encountered Decepticon on a vanilla dating site. I thought he was cute, so I messaged him. His proclivities were pretty obvious from his username, and since I was only really looking for something casual, this was fine by me. After a little back and forth, he convinced me to go to one of the larger London club nights, which he would also be attending.

Being a cautious sort, and suffering from chronic social anxiety, I decided to go with my dear friend A. Together we took in the atmosphere of the event, had a bit of a dance, checked out some of the equipment, and eventually I got the text saying Decepticon wanted to try and meet up. As event photographer, he was having a busy night, but he’d finally managed to find some time to try and get together.

I found him. He smiled, kissed me, and immediately stuck his fingers in my cunt. I’d been half-expecting this. I was a little surprised that there was no negotiation, or any conversation to speak of, before things started, but I felt OK at the time.

I felt less OK when the fingers started probing neighbouring orefices. I froze. A was poised to intervene, but I didn’t say anything. Decepticon had to leave moments later, camera in hand, and I was left with A to nervously sip my beer and figure out what had just happened.

That beer, I hasten to add, was the one and only alcoholic beverage I consumed that evening. Not so for Decepticon, who told me a few days later that he had been off his face and could barely remember any of our encounter.

We ran into each other again about 40 minutes later. I passed on a message from his play partner, who was waiting for him in another room. He beckoned me away to somewhere more secluded, where he pinned me to a wall and his hands started roaming again. So far, this was consensual – if I hadn’t been interested, I would have stayed in the other room with A.

Decepticon appears to have something of a breast torture kink. I have very sensitive breasts, but a generally very high pain tolerance. It was a while before I realised that I’d reached my limit (and that I was bleeding profusely), and used my safeword.

“What was that?” he said.
“My safeword,” I replied.
“Oh,” he said. And carried on.

This conversation is burned into my brain. I am fairly certain that I have reproduced it verbatim.

By this point, it was abundantly clear that my “no” wasn’t worth a damn. So I did what a lot of people do in this situation, and what I’ve been doing as a response to unwanted sexual contact since I was 15 years old: I dissociated. I left my body there to be handled like the meat puppet it was. It was like watching myself on a TV screen. What happened to me at that time, at his hands, stopped mattering because I wasn’t really there.

Eventually, his play partner caught up with him. He straightened himself up, gave me an apologetic nod, and went away after her. I shakily got myself together and went to find A, who gave me hugs and aftercare and let me use his first aid kit to patch myself up. I couldn’t wear a bra for several days afterwards, and some of the scars are still there.

So, to recap: a drunk man started a scene with me without prior negotiation, ignored my safeword, and left me to fend for myself when he was finished.

Dissociation doesn’t remove the pain or trauma from an encounter. It only delays it a while. In this case, the trauma was delayed for long enough for me to see Decepticon a couple more times. He apologised for leaving scars (though not for anything he’d actually done to put them there in the first place). We arranged to meet again and sleep together. He asked me to call him Master, though he’d done nothing to earn my submission or even to indicate that he particularly wanted it. Eventually, after mildly embarrassing myself for a while, I realised that he wasn’t interested in me. I also realised that what he had done that evening wasn’t OK, and that I deserved a hell of a lot better.

If I were to go out into the scene with this story and his real name, I would fully expect to be blamed, shamed and silenced in approximately that order. After all, what was I expecting from an encounter arranged on a dating site? Why didn’t I make a scene? Why didn’t I try harder?

I was expecting that, this being BDSM, he might have made some efforts at negotiation. I didn’t make a scene because I’ve been in that situation enough times to be convinced that it wouldn’t have made a difference if I had. I didn’t try harder because, when you’re bleeding and shaking and pinned against a wall by someone twice your size, and when something you were enjoying has just turned unpleasant, and your safeword has been acknowledged and roundly ignored, all you can really do is absent yourself.

And I’ve had a lot of fucking practice at absenting myself. My first boyfriend would wake me in the night and wouldn’t let me sleep because he wanted sex. So he got however many long, often uncomfortable hours it took for him to be satisfied. I was 17. I knew nothing about sex, or consent. I wanted to please him, and I wasn’t sure if it would matter whether I wanted sex or not. So he got sex, and I learned to dissociate.

And after a while, when it happens that often, dissociation practically becomes routine. When my third boyfriend wheedled and cajoled me into having sex with him because nothing else would convince him that I still loved him, I dissociated. When a partner in a group scene crossed a hard limit twice and neither he nor any of the three others present acted or even noticed, I dissociated. In some cases, I stopped even bothering to try and say no, because what was the point? Half the time I was only a vagina to these people anyway.

I’m not a unique or special case here, guys. I’m not writing this because I want your pity. I’m not writing it to get back at Decepticon, because I could just as easily post his full name and a link to his website here if I wanted to. I’m writing it because this pattern – unwanted sexual contact, ignored attempts at withdrawing consent, dissociation, lather, rinse, repeat – is all too fucking common. I’m writing it because you can’t just say that what you did to a person is OK because they didn’t say no while it was happening. They almost certainly did say no – if not in words, then with their eyes, their body language. You just weren’t fucking listening. You didn’t want to hear it.

Listen to your partner. Know them. Know what you’re doing. And, if you or your partner is not 100% OK with what is happening, then stop doing it. Take 5. If you’re not sure, ask, and listen. Sure, it’s disappointing not to have sex, or get a blowjob, or use that new toy you just bought, or whatever else. But it’s nothing compared to the the damage you can deal by crossing a line.

Why my BDSM is not a form of self-harm (trigger warning)

Disclaimer: There is no such thing as a universal experience of mental illness. The content of this post refers specifically to me, and should not be held as representative of everyone with clinical depression.

A lot of perverts of around my generation had some kind of awakening upon watching the film Secretary. For those who don’t know, a potted summary: Lee (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a chronic self-harmer, finds a new kind of release in BDSM.

Secretary helped me to identify my sexual preferences (in more ways than one – Maggie Gyllenhaal was the first female celebrity I openly admitted I was attracted to). However, its depiction of the intersection between BDSM and self-harm is hella problematic.

I am a depressive and a recovering self-harmer. I have not self-injured in 4 months to the day. As I type this, my arms are covered in bruises and rope-marks from a tricky suspension and a fairly vicious hojojutsu session. These two things are not related.

For me, self-harm is one of two things: an act of self-hatred, or externalising emotional pain. Wounds are reassuring, because they heal, and if the wounds on the outside can heal, maybe the ones on the inside can too. Pain can help to make the noise in my head subside during a particularly bad episode. Sometimes I just want to hurt myself because that’s all I deserve.

Fundamentally, I do not self-injure because I enjoy pain. That’s the realm of SM. If I am tempted to engage in SM as a replacement for self harm, I am doing it for the wrong reasons, and I am self-aware enough to isolate myself if I have to.

SM can be a tool to manage the urge to self-harm. It is not, and should never be, a substitute for self-harm. If you wield SM against yourself as a tool of self-hatred, you are almost certainly doing it with the wrong person and for the wrong reasons.

Being Genderqueer

I was a pretty ordinary cis girl up until the age of about 14.

Lots of things changed around then. I hit puberty. I found metal. I stopped dressing the way my mother wanted me to and started wearing baggy skater jeans, chains and hooded tops. I wrote dreadful poetry. And I had this feeling – this creeping sensation, right at the back of my head – that I wasn’t sure the word “girl” applied to me.

At university, I started having words with myself. Most of those words were about my sexuality – at 19, I finally acknowledged that I was attracted to female-bodied people as well as male-bodied ones, and started to work towards being less scared of it – but there was an increasing awareness of something askew with my gender identity. I couldn’t put my finger on what it was, aside from this nagging feeling. I don’t feel like a woman.

To an extent, it was what most people call tomboyishness. I hate wearing skirts. I tend to be blunt. I like contact sports. I swear a lot. I prefer action films to rom-coms and beer to cocktails. None of this would make me any less of a woman, of course. It’s just social convention that people with vaginas aren’t meant to like these things, when plenty of them actually do. More than that, there was this feeling that something fundamental about the way I function is Not Woman.

This all sounds incredibly nebulous. My gender identity is nebulous. Asking someone what being genderqueer means is kind of like asking what it feels like to be in love: no two people will give you the same answer, and it’s extraordinarily difficult to explain to someone who’s never felt it themselves.

At 22, I was first introduced to the concept of gender variance. Even then, I couldn’t have explained to you what precisely it was that made me feel like I was gender variant. I still can’t. I can’t give any response that’s more specific than “I just am”. I came out to my boyfriend of the time, who told me I couldn’t be genderqueer because I was clearly female

To other people, I guess I am clearly female. I have well-defined breasts and hips, long hair, a feminine face, a high voice. And those who get to that stage of intimacy will hardly fail to notice that I have a vagina. I’m not planning to have surgery. Even if I identified as a trans man (which is up for debate), I couldn’t transition if I wanted to carry on singing. I like my hair the way it is. I quite like my breasts, some of the time. Mostly, I wish I could shed my gender periodically, the way snakes shed their skin, and grow a different one that suited me better for the season.

Review: BOUND 8/04/2012

“You’re going to BOUND?” My interlocutor makes a face over his pint. “I dunno. Bruce is a stand-up guy, but I wouldn’t pay £15 for something like that where I have no idea what it’s like.”

He has a point. £15 is peanuts for the astronomically priced London fetish scene, but the event’s publicity hasn’t exactly been consistent, and no-one I’ve spoken to is really sure what it’s about. No-one knows whether to expect play, whether the dungeon of the Flying Dutchman will be open, or even what sort of performance is likely to be happening. But my friend S and I shrug our shoulders. We’ve never seen performance shibari before, we’re curious, and frankly, we’re hardly likely to see it for cheaper than £15, so we figure we’ll chance it.

We arrive some time after the proposed social between 8 and 10, but well in time to catch the first of the performances. I am amused to note that this takes a very similar form to an open mic night – people can ask to perform, and are called up to the stage by an MC when their turn arrives.

The few people who actually read this thing will know that rope is a relatively new thing on me. This being the case, I don’t really feel qualified to comment much on the actual rigging. Aside from one – a straightforward, traditional shibari display with no narrative to speak of, nor even a great deal of visible connection between the rigger and his bunny – the performances I saw all spoke to me a great deal. There was the raw brutality of Jackwhipper and Zahara, the fun playfulness of Will Hunt and Emily, the artful sadism of Hedwig and Aurelie, and the darkly stylish Jenis and Andy. A rigger friend was able to point out some of the flaws in the rope-work, but, novice that I am, the technical details all passed me by.

BOUND is a great place to see experienced and established rope couples strut their stuff. It’s also a really useful benchmark for aspiring riggers and rope performers. Peer rope events are great for learning new skills and socialising with other shibari enthusiasts, but it’s rare to have the opportunity to actually watch other riggers in action. In some ways, this is the most exciting thing about the event. I’ve found it inspiring, and will certainly work towards having one or two performances of my own worthy of the event. It’s also a great place to road test new ideas. I really hope that BOUND can become an established forum for this sort of work, and I think it has a great deal of potential.

Due to personal issues, I was forced to leave the event early. However, what I did see was well worth the ticket price. Regardless of the standard of rigging, performance shibari is a deeply moving thing to see, and the riggers and bunnies showed levels of creativity and affection for each other that astonished and delighted me. I’m very happy that there’s an event like this in London, now, and I sincerely hope that Esinem has the energy and resources to keep up the good work.

I have only a couple of gripes with the set-up. The first is the location. The Flying Dutchman is a great venue for an event like BOUND, with a stage and plenty of places to put suspension points. I’ve heard reasonably favourable reports of the dungeon areas, too, though I can’t comment on them myself. It is, however, in the middle of sodding nowhere – it’s at least 15 minutes’ walk from the nearest tube station, and whilst it is reasonably well served by buses, it’s not exactly the easiest place to find.

The second – and I hope my readers will indulge me on this point – was the music. Where the riggers had choreographed their work and brought their own music, this wasn’t a problem, but not everyone had put their scenes together with music in mind. From a distance, it was difficult to tell what exactly the set-up for playing music was, but it looked for all the world like one of the bar staff with a laptop and Grooveshark. Occasionally there would be gaps in the playlist, or songs that were inappropriate to the scene in question, and this was pretty jarring. I would quite like to see a proper DJ and/or a well thought out playlist at the next event.

The third – excusable, given that this was the first BOUND – was the flow between acts. I like the open mic-style conceit of the evening, but there were a couple of instances where the MC jumped the gun and started to announce the next act before the people on stage had finished. There was also a palpable lack of awareness as to how the technology works, with microphones feeding back all over the place. I’m sure this issue will iron itself out with further iterations, but it’s something that perhaps the organisers would like to bear in mind.

Overall though, I am glad I went, I’m sorry I couldn’t stay longer, and I’m rather looking forward to the next one.