I’m behind on everything, and every time I manage to take a day where I swear I’ll catch up, I get sidetracked by some other huge thing. But this Thursday I’ll be presenting at a conference hosted by Chicago’s very own LGBT community center, Center on Halsted: “The 2009 Alternative Sexualities Conference: Cultural Competence and Clinical Issues”. I, and some other people in the community, will be speaking about the role of communities in the BDSM experience. I can’t possibly get sidetracked from that, and I’m pretty excited about it!
Now I’ve said before, and I say as often as I can, that BDSM communities are filled with many different voices — plus, there are many BDSM communities out there, not just one. I hope no one ever takes me as “speaking for BDSM” or accurately describing every possible BDSM community out there. But there are some elements common in the BDSM subculture, and some very general splits that I often find myself noticing within it. (I do welcome other voices, ideas, additions, or disagreements with what I’m about to say! Feel free to leave comments! Especially disagreements — I relish getting different perspectives on the BDSM scene and questioning my own assumptions. Absolutely relish it. Delicious.)
Right now I’m thinking about the split between people who are attracted (or partly attracted) to BDSM because it feels wicked and transgressive — and people who are attracted to BDSM entirely for other reasons. That is, some kinksters are really excited by the very fact that BDSM is illicit and hush-hush … while some aren’t.
On the face of it, I have no problem with this difference — I really don’t care what draws people to their sexuality, as long as they’re doing it consensually! But a consequence of the split is that it creates tension around the question of whether or not we should seek wider social acceptance for BDSM. Arrayed on one side of that tension are kinksters (such as myself) who think it would be totally awesome if BDSM were more widely socially acceptable, so that we wouldn’t have to worry about coming out (or involuntarily being outed) to our parents or friends or employers. We don’t want BDSM to be seen as illicit! But the divide’s other side includes kinksters who feel as though bringing BDSM into the light means disenfranchising their sexual needs, because they want BDSM to seem transgressive and scary …
… and I’m just not sure what to say to that. I had a conversation with a friend today in which he pointed out that for people who are attracted to certain forms of sexuality because they’re illicit, there will always be further horizons to explore. His argument is essentially, “Well, if someone wants illicit sexuality, they’ll always be able to find something that feels illicit. Society will simply never get over most of its boundaries around sexuality, at least not in our lifetimes; we can just move those boundaries around a little. But it’s not fair to expect BDSM-identified people who don’t want BDSM to be illicit to silence ourselves in order to preserve a transgressive quality that attracts others to BDSM.”
I think I agree with him. And more fundamentally, I really don’t like being unable to talk about BDSM with people I respect for fear of their reactions and judgments. I don’t like cloaking a large part of my life. I do not enjoy living with that stigma. And I’m not willing to compromise my efforts to work against that stigma for the sake of other kinksters who want BDSM to be stigmatized because that’s hot for them.
(As a side note: I do recognize that some kinksters feel nervous about BDSM advocacy, or oppose trying to make BDSM more socially acceptable, not because they’re actively attracted to the illicit image of BDSM but for other reasons — for instance, concerns about backlash against the community. I don’t mean to imply that everyone who resists the idea of raising the BDSM public profile is doing it because they really enjoy feeling transgressive and illicit. But I think a lot of kinksters do, and are.)