The War Against False Entitlement – Second in a Series on Predatory Behavior
“We’re not here to point fingers. We’re here to provide a safe space. We’re here to make the community a better safer space by promoting open discussion rather than sweeping these issues, and everyone’s feelings, under the rug.”
My journey into the world of SM has been …’eventful’ to say the least. I’ve learned more about myself, my body, my emotions, my boundaries, my expectations, my partners, my friends, human nature, human kindness and on and on infinitum. It’s been one hell of a ride and one I hope ends no time soon. There has been so much goodness, but as with anything balance will make itself known. SM is no exception. Thankfully there has been blessed few truly ‘negative’ aspects to this whole shebang, but there has been one that seems to keep rearing its pervy head.
For lack of a better term, that issue is ‘Predatory Behavior’.
Early in this year there was an ‘incident’ at a local munch. A well known Dom played grab ass with a sub and long story short, there were ripples. There were tidal waves. And almost a year out there are wakes which are still being navigated. It wasn’t exactly because of this one incident, but rather an identified trend this event illustrated that has led to movements, actions, and discussions. There are now discussion groups, submissive targeted munches, websites, and other means of activism in the works to address the issue of predatory behavior. Some of which I helped kick into gear, some not.
There is lots of movement, but to someone on the outside, someone new to this scene, someone who’s never heard of any of the people, events or behaviors involved what exactly is it we are talking about here?
To illustrate I will give an example of what it is I am addressing, bereft of any gender or power roles for now so as to not include or alienate a reader based on any presuppositions in those areas (bear in mind this is a definition of the more negative type of interaction, plenty of folks never have anything but a good experience):
A person, often new to the scene, comes to an event (a munch, a party, a workshop, etc..) and they are, for lack of a better term, ‘descended upon’. Generally it takes the form of a person or persons with some experience in the scene coming over to talk to them to be welcoming and about their interests and desires. In a very short amount of time (sometimes in under an hour) the more experienced person is pushing the new person to play, manipulating words and power roles to push beyond comfortable boundaries, using ‘influence’ to sway the new person to do things they may not have even heard of much less had time to contemplate their feelings on, and even acting ‘territorial’ over the new one so as to keep other potential partners at bay. And sometimes unwanted physical interaction even occurs. The result is one where the newbie is left feeling alternately exhilarated, excited, confused, intimidated, preyed upon or overloaded. Sometimes they ‘consent’ to engage in the proposed activities and wind up feeling victimized, taken advantage of or worse. Sometimes they just dont ever come back.
or, as a crazy smart friend of mine described it ‘… the real issue here is that we’re worried about “newbies” (regardless of experience level) being assaulted (from a hand up the skirt to nonconsentual assault in play) or abused by assholes (of a variety of genders and identities), or that they will consider the assholes’ behaviour representative of the community’s mores in general and either reluctantly submit to it, or flee.’
Or as she put it even more succinctly ‘the real core of the issue is actually a war against false entitlement.’
Now I’ve had to water this ‘description’ down to the point of almost banality just to prevent any rebuttal that might get the discussion off track based on nothing more than semantics. But this stuff DOES happen, at almost every event, constantly. Seeing this scenario in real time is nothing short of infuriating, nauseating, and cringe inducing. Why? you ask.. well for many reasons in my opinion..
First off, we claim to be a community that embraces etiquette, protocol, and welcomes newcomers in such a way as to give them avenues of exploration free from the judgement or stigma they may face from society at large. This type of behavior smacks in the face of all of that.
Etiquette and protocol dictate that you do not physically touch something that does not belong to you. Period. I really see no way around this one. Possession is 9/10ths of the law and even more in SM. Collars anyone? So until that person or that person’s owner gives you permission (this would include permission that is given on a friendly, non SM, non sexual basis) you just do not touch .
Welcoming newcomers means just that, you welcome them. Make them feel as if they belong. Introduce them to people. Asking questions to facilitate their exploration is a wonderful thing, asking it whilst making bedroom eyes and using suggestive body language is not. If we are going to keep espousing words like etiquette, protocol, respect and SSC we should bloody well live up to them. If we arent going to actually practice what we preach then we all need to stop evangelizing these nice sounding words as the things we live by.
Second, behavior like this in any bar, pub, resturant, what have you.. will either get you laughed out of the joint, your face slapped by the one you are hitting on or thrown out on your ass by the bouncer. Why on earth would a BDSM event be any different? If anything our standards shoud be that much higher based on the intensity at which we claim to operate.
Third, sadly this is not a new phenomenon. Its been going on for decades. So many folks claim to be so incensed about it so why is it still occurring? Because it has no consequences. There is nothing negative that will occur if these behaviors are engaged in, so why NOT engage in them (basic human decency notwithstanding)? Also, because it isnt as widely known about as it is practiced. More about that in a moment.
Keep your hands to yourself. Play nice. Be respectful. It all seems so common sense like. But alas, common sense is never common. Therefore it falls into the realm of ‘problem and solution’. The problem is predatory behavior. Now what’s the solution?
In my estimation its a three fold plan with objectives for the community at large, the Predators and the preyed upon.
The Community – BDSMers are notorious for wanting other folks to stay out of our bedrooms. And my voice is right there in the midst of that sentiment. We don’t want lawmakers, preachers, neighbors or anyone else telling us how we should do things or to whom. But to make an effort to ensure that noone is actually being hacked to little pieces in basements and dungeons everywhere we claim to have a ‘self policing’ community.
Sounds fabulous in theory, but I call bullshit. Yes there are waivers and rules at every event. Paperwork, red tape, the stuff of Washington politicians. All decent ideas but a piece of paper never kept anyone safe. Ask any woman who has had to take out a restraining order on an abusive husband or boyfriend how safe that paper kept her when he showed back up again. Its awareness and a commitment to action and consequence that is needed.
I am incredibly lucky to know a number of very wise women, One of them said recently, ‘We have to raise the bar of acceptable behaviour by raising the consciousness of an entire community. That is the only way collective enforcement of standards can be improved.”
No, I do not believe newbies are helpless little lambs who are being held captive against their will nor are they airheads who cant think for themselves. But could a few more watchful eyes and a willingness to step in when a person appears uncomfortable really be such a bad thing? What are we so afraid of?
All we are doing is saying ‘oh hey Bob, i dont think lil Susie there has really had time to process what flesh hook suspension is, i find it helpful to wait till someone has been tied to a head board with a scarf before seeing if they wants to hang from their skin?’ Or ‘Excuse me Mistress Domina, subbie bill seemed kind of uncomfortable when you tweaked his nipples here at his first munch, did you notice that?’ Well golly gee, that’s rather tame now isn’t it? But sometimes that’s all it takes. Activism doesn’t always have to include riots in the streets.
And sometimes people just don’t take the hint. For those, the ones who have been gently reminded, strategically educated, and flat out warned and continue to keep doing the same things over and over? They have no place in this community until such time as they can prove themselves capable of self control. Flat out.
I don’t care if you are an old timer with 20 years under your belt or a newbie still feeling your way around (literally), if you cant respect others’ physical and emotional space just to satisfy your own urges and wants then you don’t need to be here until you can.
Community members should make this clear in their verbal and body language and organizers should make this clear by not allowing known offenders to continue to frequent their events. We are all human and falliable, if an offender shows themselves reformed they should be welcomed back probationary style. But until such a sincere change of heart is evidenced by actions and apologies I see no benefit to a predatory type person in the community.
Be willing to step up for someone, put them ‘under protection’ if they so choose it. Sometimes all a person needs is a buffer to stop a very bad situation from ever happening. Step up to the plate and be willing to be that person. That same wise woman also said ‘competent caring members of the community should be publicly available to advocate for people who have trouble speaking out. If something happens at a munch or party and a person is too intimidated to go to an organizer by themselves, they should know that (sic) whoever will go with them and make the case. The point isn’t actually whether they receive justice … the point is telling the story, over and over and over until the shift happens. After all if victims of child sexual abuse didn’t start to speak up 30 years ago, we still wouldn’t believe it happens much would we.’ (paraphrased)
There is an argument to be made for people ‘under protection’ only signal predatory types that these folks are weaker in some way, or are in some way more ripe for the plucking. That’s where education and empowerment come into play. These concepts are fleshed out in more detail below. But just because it ‘may have a possible ambiguous effect’ is no reason to not at least make an attempt. For any solution there are hundreds of reasons for and against it. So far not much else has worked, I see no reason not to at least try this before we condemn it as ineffective. And in point of fact I have seen it be effective in my own personal life. I’ve done this very thing for not a few folks and I’ve had one ‘thanks but no thanks’ and near a dozen ‘oh THANK YOU’s’. Anecdotal perhaps, but in the absence of scientific data and analytical information I’ll take it.
Or, as the always wonderful Sex Geek said ‘Admit that we simply cannot make it go away. It will always exist. There is no perfect solution. I’m not being a pessimist – at all in fact – just a realist. So let’s stop looking for a solution that will always work; they will all have their flaws. This should not discourage us, it should make us think more realistically and take more concrete action instead of finding hopeless plans and then abandoning them.’
The Predators. The group that most needs to hear these words and the group the least likely to hear them.
‘I think a lot of the resistance from the (non-asshole) community as a whole is a worry that a “no means no … ask first” movement might “take all the fun and spontenaiety out of it”.
I would agree. I think that IS the concern, and I think its unfounded on their part. Just because we resolve to be respectful to everyone is no reason we cant have our kink and enjoy it too. There are ways to do it so that you are not preying on someone but are still enjoying all the things we got into SM for in the first place. And it all starts with one word.. consent.
Where is the allure in coercing an unsure person into something? A friend of mine once wrote ‘I’d rather have her begging me for more rather than screaming for me to stop’. A truly novel concept. Yes the fantasy of being taken, wooed, swept off one’s feet and being the one doing the taking and sweeping is a powerful one to be sure. But there are times and places for things and like it or not we don’t live in Roissy, we live in the real world. And here in reality land things like respect, boundaries, common decency and keeping one’s hands to oneself take precedence over fantasies and desires. At least until such time as these things can be explored more in depth so that INFORMED consent can be given. Once you have that? Knock yourself right on out, literally if thats what you are into, but not until you have consent on all sides.
I see this as stupidly simple – knock it off.
Don’t touch people who you don’t have an understanding that’s its ok to do so with. Stop trying to manipulate and intimidate. If you cant get a partner by anything other than nefarious means then I think you need to rethink your life strategies and what it is YOU have to offer THEM.
Stop swooping in. We aren’t big cats who need pissing contests to mark our territories. We are adults, and as such should be perfectly capable of choosing who we do what with. If that happens to not include you, then you need to understand that not everyone is compatible with everyone else and its not always about you.
Stop the competitions. No one cares if you have had 2 partners or 202 or if you had em first or after 10 others. No one but you that is, in which case reprioritizing what you place importance on is not such a bad idea.
In short, be human. The most attractive and generally relationship succesful men I’ve seen often say the same thing: ‘Treat every woman the way you would want your mother treated’ (assuming of course you love your mom). Take out the genders in this paragraph and there ya go. Just be decent to people.
The preyed upon. I really dislike that term, but not as much as I dislike victim, the assaulted, the accosted or variations thereof. So until I find another word I guess this will have to suffice. ‘Anytime the idea of “protecting the poor helpless submissives / newbies” comes up, it makes my skin crawl. ‘ Me too, I’m a big believer in personal responsibility and self sustainability and the general compentness of people to embody these ideals. But the fact is they do get in over their heads sometimes, despite best efforts. What can they do?
Education, education, education.
Educate yourself on BDSM and the scene. On what specific events are and how folks are generally expected to behave at them. Both yourself and others. KNOW what is allowed and what isnt.
Define your boundaries, define what you are into, what you are not and what you are curious about. Decide how far you will go and at what point you will stop for each activity. Find your voice, practice saying no, say it a thousand different ways, ‘No, no thank you, i’m flattered but no, not really into that, fuck no, hell no, ‘ find whatever works best for you and hold yourself accountable for following through.
as my sage friend said ‘KNOW that you don’t have to put up with this shit. KNOW that (in spite of how their friends treat them) they do not have the support of the community at large. KNOW that YOU have the right to say no, that you will be supported if you speak out, or if you don’t feel comfortable speaking out, to turn to this informal network to share your experiences, positive or negative. KNOW to elicit and LISTEN to others’ experiences, but then MAKE YOUR OWN CHOICES about who you engage with or play with.‘
If a situation goes farther than you are comfortable with tell someone. Tell a friend, tell the organizer, tell anyone. Just tell your story. Again i defer to wiser words, ‘If you don’t feel comfortable speaking up at the time (that’s okay!) to engage our help in facilitating a discussion with the perpetrator and with the community about the perp. Sometimes they just don’t realize their behaviour was unwelcome. Sometimes they’re assholes.’
Process it out. Ask for resolution and learn from mistakes made.
In closing, more words and reaction to the wonderful Sex Geek:
I wouldnt exactly classify what I have been discussing as ‘abuse’, I see it more as ongoing predatory/manipulative behaviors but her words here (the bolded ones) seem to sum up alot of what I see at many events (i am not trying to take her words out of context as she is making a somewhat related but rather different point but the words I bolded seem to me to be descriptive of what we are dealing with):
“Abuse is a pattern of behavior where one person tries to control the thoughts, beliefs, or actions of a partner, friend, or any other person close to them. Abuse is sometimes also referred to as domestic violence, battering, and intimate partner abuse. Abusers may use a number of ways to control their partner, none of which are acceptable in the context of a consensual, negotiated S/M relationship. These actions cannot be stopped with a safeword and can include physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, economic abuse, outing, and defending any of these nonconsensual actions as the way “real” S/M works.
Abuse is an ongoing non-consensual / coercive power dynamic between partners that plays out in all kinds of insidious ways, not all of which even look abusive on the outside. Let’s call a spade a spade, and let’s not confuse or dilute it with related (or unrelated) issues.’
She’s said it so well, there isn’t much more for me to add there. So, continuing on. She goes on to say:
Ask the question: What can I do that will help prevent abuse? NOT What can I do that will make me feel like a hero? Then stop, and ask it again. And again. And again until you get as deep inside your motivations as possible and away from anything that looks like the desire for revenge, self-important heroism, grandiose visions of saving the world and so forth. Once you get there, keep asking it until you come up with a list of at least eight or ten answers. You’ll know you’ve arrived when you start groaning and saying, “Man, that would be a lot of work / that would be personally challenging for me.” Then make it your business to pick at least two or three of them, and actually take some concrete action.
I love the way she says this and this is precisely what I have done. This has been one of my pet causes for close to a year now and not a few times have I sincerely and with a brutal emotional hammer have I chipped away at WHY I am doing this. Its not for self importance, I have my own issues to be sure but to be seen as some kind of hero is just not something I find at all interesting. Nor do I desire revenge. I have no interest in seeing people humiliated, blacklisted, publicly punished or anything in between. I know good and darn well I wont ‘save’ anyone. Noone can save anyone but themselves, nothing new there. So why am I doing this?
Because I want it to stop. Period. That’s it. That’s the sum total of my ‘agenda’.
The day no one else has any more bad predatory stories or feelings of intimidation I’ll shut my mouth, take down all of my writings, close up websites and carry on surfing Stumble Upon and cuddling my kitties. And be quite happy to do just that.
And I’ve gotten to that point she speaks of. That ‘oh good gods this is a hell of a thing to tackle! is it REALLY worth my energy and time and frustration?’ I can say that at this point in time, that for me, for right now, Yes, yes it is. It IS a fuck of alot of work and energy. But I also wholeheartedly believe that should we, against so many odds, succeed that it will be worth it many times over.
“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” - Howard Thurman
Kink In Motion