I talked a bit about my experiences at University of Birmingham, and their weekend about consent, in this post, focusing on explaining my presentation’s first two parts (on mainstream depictions of kink, as well as the construct of “drama” and how it gets in the way of consent culture in these spaces). Here I’ll finish the job by discussing desire, both within kink and in culture at large.
One thing that stands in the way of good communication is the way our culture idealizes desire. We’re taught via Disney movies that we’ll “just know” when we meet someone compatible, that we won’t need to talk about anything or negotiate, we’ll just read each other’s minds. That’s very romantic, but also a fairy tale. Understanding someone’s cues and body language comes, not through magic, but through knowing that person, their likes and dislikes. It also comes with a lot of mistakes, and hopefully a willingness to admit you’re wrong when you misjudge. These practicalities, however, don’t tend to weigh into the actual heartfelt desire to find someone with whom you have that mystical “chemistry” that just can’t be put into words.
Because of this longing, I suspect the whole fantasy of moving “beyond safewords”, beyond negotiation, and/or beyond a contract, is fairly prominent within the BDSM community. I hear a lot doing Consent Culture work (and on the radio, as you can hear on this show “Edge of Insanity” I did this weekend with Betty Blac) the declaration “we don’t need safewords!” and “safewords aren’t sexy!” I feel that when erotica, movies, porn and even our own dungeon behaviour look on the safeword as something that “ruins” a scene, we’re creating a dangerous dynamic where people won’t say “stop” or “no” when they want to, because that’s not part of their fantasy. It may not be part of your wet dreams, but then, neither is a court case, is my opinion on the topic. We need to have methods to stop BDSM behaviour when it crosses the line, while also acknowledging that people may struggle to safeword when there’s so much pressure to be a “good” submissive or a “tough” dominant… often which involves this “no limits” construct.
Now, this isn’t something that’s just an issue among kinky communities. I’ve noticed this with people I’ve dated, too. As someone who isn’t a touchy-feely person, I tend to need someone to let me know through flirting and physical touch that they’re interested in sexytimes. If that doesn’t happen, I tend to assume we’re still at the casually flirting stage. One ex partner would become furious that I didn’t know when she wanted us to sleep together, while I was trying to take a step back and leave space for her personal needs, expecting (and asking) her to communicate what she was interested in and when. Instead, she wanted me to read her mind, and, I guess, try to initiate sex at random, taking the responsibility if I was wrong for her being upset. Talking to other people, this doesn’t seem to be all that rare, but it’s incredibly frustrating.
Even though this is common in vanilla couples, there is a certain concern for BDSM couples. I’ve noticed that bottoms/submissives who make themselves available for the most varied amount of play have more social currency and get more attention. Therefore, there’s a reward for saying you have “no limits”. On the opposite side, Dominants who communicate that they “take what they want” are seemingly desirable, with some profiles coming across as downright sociopathic… and yet they seemingly are actively engaged in local communities and no one looks askance at this behaviour. I do notice male Doms get away with this significantly more- unless you’re a professional, female Dommes are expected to be caring with their submissives at a much higher standard. Now, I’m all about fantasy (I have some seriously dark ones myself), but I feel it’s important to critique the ways in which these social norms end up being formed, how that impacts on kink in the media, and how it creates an ideal of what a “valuable” Dom or sub is and how they behave that might actually be damaging in the real world.
I don’t really have answers for all of this except more honesty in blogs and profiles, and rewarding that honesty. I think it’s important to deconstruct how gender norms impact our sexual spaces. I think it’s important to examine the impact of racism, ableism and classism in our spaces, as well.
I also said to the room that I felt we in the BDSM community need to really work out what we’re going to do in terms of addressing assault and domestic violence among ourselves if the police are not an option. I really want to see us figuring out some standards of accountability that would make us a cohesive community. I’d like for us to decide what sort of responses we’d support seeing from someone who has crossed boundaries for us to feel like they understood what damage they had caused, and what support we, as a community, should have for that boundary-crosser and the person/people whose boundaries had been crossed. I suspect that until we do this work, our use of the term “community” will be casual, not uniting.
I want to close with a bit from a piece Mollena Williams wrote on community, leadership, and trust. I recommend you read the whole thing, because it’s right on.
I have seen, over the years, people take “reputation” and “community standing” as carte blanche to entrust themselves into the hands of those who are not worthy of trust.
I have questioned friends who work with those who have questionable histories, who have shadowy pasts, who have seen others stand up to say “That person violated me and my trust.” and had those friends shrug and say “Well, it isn’t my job to police the community.”
I have seen people endorse, by word and deed, people they KNOW to have problematic histories and shrug it off with “Well, I have never had a problem with them, so it isn’t my problem.”
I have seen people who are “leaders” in the community duped, swindled, ripped-off by people who, after the shallowest of digging, were revealed to be liars and thieves.
I have been sexually harassed and treated dismissively by men entrusted with instructing people about BDSM.
I’ve watched people who are bullies and liars intimidate and swindle their way into positions of (relative) power and trust, and surround themselves with the weak-minded who thoughtlessly protect and bleat the chant they’ve been taught in order to support those unworthy of their trust.
I have had handshake promises breached by people who will then turn around and evoke “Leather Values” and “community pride.”
I have been lied to by people who smile in my face and in the same breath trash talk and belittle me to others.
I have had people to whom I appealed for help in taking a public stand against injustices instead opt to remain silent against racism, against rape, against consent violations.
And ALL of these examples involve The People You…We…embrace as “Leaders.”
I just got home from a weekend of discussions and critiques of “consent” as a construct out at University of Birmingham. It was a fascinating selection of topics, from rape culture in humour, to teaching consent to sex offenders, to queering concepts of consent, to questions about vulnerability. There were practitioners and academics from the US, the UK and Europe represented, so some array of approaches.
I was asked to speak on consent in BDSM, and focused my discussion on three particular areas: mainstream depictions of kink and nonconsent (and the gendering of that), the construct of “drama” and how that is used to shame and silence, and desire, the strain between contracts and negotiation and the heartfelt lust for someone who “can just read your mind”. I’ve talked about all these things at least in brief before, but figured I could take another shot at them now. Keep in mind, these were more meant as beginning talking places rather than definitive answers. I’m going to have a part one covering media and drama, and then another part addressing desire and the complications with that, so bear with me!
Mainstream Depictions of Kink
I find that many depictions of kink in the media fall into two main camps. If you’re a woman with a man (9 1/2 Weeks, Secretary, 50 Shades) your submission is assumed, and boundary pushing/nonconsent is eroticized, the danger being part of the thrill. However, if you’re a man submitting to a woman (Eurotrip, Whitest Kids You Know) two things will happen. A) the Domme will be a professional, rather than doing this for her own desires, and B) boundary pushing or nonconsent will be portrayed as hilarious. I questioned if perhaps this kind of depiction being the dominant (har de har) one might add to difficulty identifying what is nonconsent and what is sexy BDSM practice.
For example, I didn’t identify some of the things that happened to me as sexual assault , because in my mind they were just miscommunications, or something gone wrong. I wasn’t traumatized, which was, in my mind, the difference between a mistake and an assault, even though the same behaviours outside of the kink community would have felt very different. I asked if this created a cultural standard where boundaries being crossed is seen, particularly for submissive women, as simply “part of the experience”. If that’s the case, then how do we begin to address these issues and create, consciously, new cultural norms?
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again (I’m saying it again now)- drama is a term often used to invalidate other people’s feelings and experiences. I mostly hear it used for situations that the person using it are not personally affected by. I have many critiques of Jezebel, but they go into some of my complaints about the term here, and as I deleted my Fetlife account wherein I wrote on deconstructing “drama” as a term, that’ll have to do.
Within kink, there’s an idea that you need to do certain things in order to be deemed “safe” by the community. Now, I disagree that what’s called “the kinky/BDSM community” is, in fact, a community, as there’s no sense of standards that are reinforced, and no overarching accountability or responsibility to each other which is part of what makes a community- but I digress.
One of the things you “should” do is ask for references before you play with someone. We don’t do this, mind, for other kinds of sex (can you imagine? actually that might not be a terrible idea) except for in sex work. However, if you don’t ask for references, you can automatically get blamed for not taking enough care in BDSM play. This expectation, however, ignores that even if you *do* ask for references, people will vouch for others- until *after* an assault, when you become safe to talk to more honestly. Why do they do this? Because if you warn someone against another kinkster for being abusive, you can be and often are labelled as a creator of drama. That can lead to victim blaming, retraumatizing community discussion/debate, up to community expulsion. How, then, can you trust a recommendation when there’s a fear of saying anything but complimentary things?
There’s also of course these gendered concepts of what’s appropriate behaviour for kinky people. I notice that some dominant men proudly declare themselves as doing whatever they want to their partner, not feeling empathy, really underlining these sociopathic behaviours as being desirable. And they seem to be, these men aren’t exactly outliers but active in their local groups. Women don’t seem to feel like they can embody this without critique, however, unless they’re pro-dommes. This suggests how performative these roles are, and how much social worth each type of archetype seems to command. Embodying your BDSM role in a way deemed “appropriate” is important if you want to have power among your kinky peers. The less social currency someone had coming forward about abuse, the more they would be ridiculed, so this had real life effects.
Ok, that’s part one- what do you think? What have you experienced?
The UK government recently voted not to reform sex and relationship education in our country, notably leaving “same-sex relationships, sexual violence, domestic violence and sexual consent” out of the curriculum.
This absolutely horrified me: talking to my brother (who left high school last summer) it strikes me that virtually nothing has changed about sex education since I was at school ten years ago, despite the astounding developments we’ve made since then.
A legal partnership has been recognised between two men and two women in this country for more than half a decade – and yet we don’t teach our children about homophobia, biphobia and same-sex relationships – why? Isn’t that just asking for our more progressive laws to be trampled all over by the MPs of the future?
Public Health England reported earlier this month that half a million new sexually transmitted infections were diagnosed in 2012, which is a 5% rise and telling of how urgently we need to review what we’re telling young people about sex and staying safe. We have to be sure that we’re getting the message out effectively – and quickly, before teenagers start to experiment on their own and find themselves potentially saddled with infections that could leave them infertile.
I generally consider myself a sex-positive person, and although I generally try to avoid picking up an infection myself, I won’t judge people who do have diagnoses – but even I think it’s wrong that a child could end up with an infection that could render them infertile because the Government decided they didn’t need to know how to protect themselves.
And that’s just safer sex – the areas specifically mentioned by New Clause 20 are almost more important: in not passing this clause for further reading, our MPs essentially decided that we don’t need to explain to children the complicated mess that is consent and domestic and sexual violence. Just how are we going to make a dent in those rape and DV figures, which (whilst above zero) are far too high?
We don’t have to promote sex and relationships – we simply need to prepare children and young people, so that when they are ready to engage in relationships of their own, they have the knowledge they need to go about it safely and with respect for other people.
Children and young people themselves have said that they want more information about sex and relationships, and in rejecting NC20, the government is actively flying in the face of that. Well, they aren’t of voting age, so their thoughts don’t matter, right?
The good news is that the shadow leader of the House of Lords has taken the decision to raise the question of sex and relationship education again. There’s still an opportunity to make noise about it, and hopefully, this time, ensure that mandatory SRE makes it into schools someday soon. Brook has more information and we need to be pushing to make sure politicians understand the views of UK citizens.
I’ve been following a lot of the conversations in various circles about creeps, both online and in various communities I move through, and I’m really glad that this topic is getting more traction. I know that it’s a tough thing to bring up, for a variety of reasons, but until something gets brought into the light, it’s not going to change. Creepiness ends up affecting all of us, regardless of gender or sexual orientation, and it’s especially challenging for male-female interactions. Plenty of women have articulately described how annoying it is for them, though so far, I’ve seen far fewer men talk about how it affects us.
It’s important for guys to be talking about this, too. Given the very scary possible consequences for women when men approach them, I think it’s entirely reasonable for someone to assume that a random guy hitting on her is a possible predator until he demonstrates otherwise. I understand that that creates a frustrating situation- after all, who likes to have to prove their good intentions? And it’s also one of the many ways in which sexism and misogyny make things harder for men. If you want that to change, work to change things. Don’t complain that women don’t assume you’re a good guy. Their reasons for not doing so are useful protective measures in a world that sets them up as targets to be harassed, groped, and assaulted while simultaneously blaming them for it. You’d do the same thing in their shoes.
Go read his tips and become a better person. This is how we change a culture. This is how YOU change a culture.
Jezebel posts an article about a woman who posted on Fetlife about her Halloween experience where she was sexually assaulted, supposedly “for not wearing a costume”, and how many of the comments on her experience shamed and victim blamed her for being on her own and for smiling at them (and i’ll tell you, many women smile in those situations, hoping that they’ll seem unthreatening then and de-escalate the situation so they can get away- it’s not an invitation, it’s a fear response):
Chalk off FetLife, a members-only social network run by and for fetish enthusiasts, as yet another purportedly non-judgmental, welcoming online community that hosts a shocking number of slut-shaming misogynist assholes.
This election was excellent for consent culture, with rape apologists being defeated left and right, making me pretty happy. GlobalGrind has a brief rundown of this “victory for vaginas” though I’d argue it’s also a victory for pretty much anyone against rape/entitlement culture:
We heard it all from Todd Akin’s “legitimate rape” comment and inference that “the female body” can prevent pregnancies during rapes, to Richard Mourdock’s statement that rape pregnancies are what “God intended,” to Joe Walsh who declared that “the life of the woman is not an exception” for a woman to have an abortion.
Though most people were angered, or perhaps in awe by these ignorant remarks, it was even more nauseating to think that not only did these men believe their flawed theories, but they were close to actually enforcing them.
But women struck back! Through voter awareness and campaigns, we stopped these men from taking office and taking control of our anatomy.
On Tuesday, it was declared that Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock lost their run in the Senate and Roger Rivard, who’s infamous for saying “some girls rape so easy,” lost his re-election bid in the Wisconsin State Assembly.
In addition, Joe Walsh lost his congressional race in Illinois and John Kosher, a GOP candidate who was recorded dismissing the idea that women should decide what to do with their bodies when “the rape thing” happens, was defeated in Illinois.
For personal reasons, I’ve just ordered “The Revolution Starts at Home: Confronting Intimate Violence In Activist Communities“, co-edited by Ching-In Chen, Jai Dulani and Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha. I’m really looking forward to checking it out, especially as I’ve been having frustrating experiences with “activist” men in my own life/experience who have a particular set of stated politics and then behave in a way completely contradictory to those values. Plus, it sounds awfully familiar to what’s going on around the silence within the kinky/altsex communities.
The extent of the violence affecting our communities is staggering. Nearly one in three women in the United States will experience intimate violence in her lifetime. And while intimate violence affects relationships across the sexuality and gender spectrums, the likelihood of isolation and irreparable harm, including death, is even greater within LGBTQI communities. To effectively resist violence out there—in the prison system, on militarized borders, or during other clear encounters with “the system”—we must challenge how it is reproduced right where we live. It’s one thing when the perpetrator is the police, the state, or someone we don’t know. It’s quite another when that person is someone we call friend, lover, mentor, trusted ally. Based on the popular zine that had reviewers and fans alike demanding more, The Revolution Starts at Home finally breaks the dangerous silence surrounding the “open secret” of intimate violence—by and toward caretakers, in romantic partnerships, and in friendships—within social justice movements. This watershed collection compiles stories and strategies from survivors and their allies, documenting a decade of community accountability work and delving into the nitty-gritty of creating safety from abuse without relying on the prison industrial complex.
On that basic thread, I had a bit of a rant on Fetlife that I’ll share here for those who aren’t on there:
I know I said I wasn’t going to get into this on here but something maymay said on Twitter made me so fucking angry I had to rant. So here we go.@maymaym: “Process #SexWorkers use to screen clients is great success case replication model for “consent culture” folks to stop #abuse in #BDSM Scene. I posit “#consent culture” people don’t know or don’t care how to stop #abuse in #BDSM Scene, cuz nobody knows what consent even feels like. I also posit “#consent culture” people are basically unwilling to work on modeling a safety process cuz abuse culture makes them rock stars. So in other words, there are two main groups who benefit from the #BDSM Scene’s rampant #consent violations: predators and consent warriors.” I want to punch him in the face.
So maymay is bashing my consent culture work while ignoring most of what I’ve actually been doing, ignoring the fact that I’m a fucking sex worker and part of my whole fucking reason for suggesting a blacklist in the first place came from being one. The irony of the situation of course is that his tweets on the topic are fairly emotionally abusive, if indirect. So, erm… yeah.
Meanwhile, he’s suggesting people like me don’t actually want to fight abuse in kink cause we want to be rock stars. I live for the day when calling out rape apologism makes me a fucking rock star-plz let me know when I get to have my special parking space. In the meantime, I’ll just continue to field getting told I deserve to be raped for calling this shit out. You know, like a rock star.
As someone who not that long ago (had an emotional breakdown) because in part at least this activism was so thankless and I was so fucking tired, maymay, you’re a dick. An abusive, part of the problem dick. And I’m calling you the fuck out.
Let’s reflect a bit on the idea of teaching teens about enthusiastic consent as part of their sex education, which we HAVE to do if we want to fight rape culture, says Nerdy Feminist:
When you are inexperienced–not just sexually, but just in life in general, it can be really hard to parse apart feelings of excitement, worry, nervousness, fear, giddiness, and/or arousal. I mean, if you really think about it the physical response to those things are all similar, but there is clearly a big difference between feeling fearful and feeling excitement. If we are not talking with teens about how their body might respond and how that varies from listening to what you really want, we are doing them a big disservice. If someone never tells you that it’s ok to be excited and nervous during a sexual experience, but never afraid or dreadful, then how can you know? These are nuanced distinctions, and if you aren’t properly educated and don’t think about these things before you encounter a sexual experience, how can you possibly communicate what you are feeling in the moment? And when we don’t teach teens that talking about sex in society or our schools is ok, how can we expect them to communicate within their own intimate relationships?
So Amanda F*cking Palmer has gotten herself in the middle of a shitstorm, again. Not surprising, as she likes controversy (like many artists). This time it’s about her request for volunteer “professional-ish” musicians from each town she tours in to be part of her show, in exchange for beer, high fives, hugs and merch.
I think that it’s bad form for the most part to not pay musicians for their work when you’re doing a paying gig.
Just as I think it’s not cool to have interns you don’t pay when you’re using them as free labour vs actually inconveniencing yourself to teach them the trade, which is what an internship technically is (otherwise believe me I’d have an indentured servant-I-mean-intern).
Just as I think it’s unfair to expect sex educators to put themselves in debt in travel/housing so they can lecture/teach for free.
Just as I think it’s unfair to expect that people will fix your computer, or design your logo, or give you rides for free.
It’s awesome if people volunteer, or they offer, when you say “this would be super helpful, if you can maybe do this” and then you are really grateful, offer a trade of services, make sure you’re available when they next move house or need a babysitter. That’s community, and that’s rad.
It’s less awesome when you become yet another cog in a machine that acts like you should be the grateful one for the opportunity, esp when EVERYONE acts that way. It burns out the generous. And if you’re making money at a show/gig/conference/etc, then you really owe the people who help make it happen some cold hard cash, or at the *very least* travel expenses to get to/from that gig. Actually, it’s an expression of class privilege to expect that people have the time/energy/resources to do things for free, particularly if that involves things like gas money or multiple meetups. As Amy Vaillancourt-Sals, a manager of her local branch of Classical Revolution, says here:
We have unions that stand for us, but they can only do so much. Artists are feeling desperate. I confess, I have found myself giving free performances in order to get ahead and perhaps have something notable to put on my resume. You’d think that this would help, but it doesn’t and in fact it’s made my position worse. Volunteer opportunities have effectively lead to more volunteer opportunities. Very very seldom have I found it leading to compensating gigs. As a result, my desire to share my craft and my feeling of self-worth have waned, while people around me are mocking, saying “yes, but aren’t you happy you get to create music?” Not while I’m starving, stressed and frantic… no! I can only imagine the clever and snarky retorts that you would tell those (insert expletive and plural nouns here) that approached you with that sort of BS. In fact, it makes me blush just thinking about it!
My friends and I are looking to bring back the respect that musicians deserve. As a personnel manager for my branch at Classical Revolution, I’ve been working towards assuring that my musicians are compensated for their talents and hard work. So, looking back at your ultra successful kickstarter and your request… Here you are, and you’ve raised over $1 million for your tour and album release. Here we are as musicians on foodstamps, maxing out their credit cards to keep the lights on, are hoping that we have enough money to pay next months rent, and have instruments that are in need of repair, need to be replaced, and even need to be insured. We are looking at you now and your request for musicians to come play with you for free, and most of us have even fallen in love with you and your music, and how do you think we’ll respond? We’re f*&king perplexed, agitated and disheartened, to put it mildly! What would you say to you if you were in our shoes? I have a pretty good guess.
People need to eat. Many, many people are struggling to make ends meet, are in crippling debt, and are working themselves to the bone. Creative folk in particular struggle, because often they have a crap job they hate to barely stay above water, AND the desire to create in a country that doesn’t care to support artists. $50 even would be something to many people. People *like* to help each other out, especially artists, but they will end up unable to make rent because no one ever wants to pay them for their work. “You get to be in my presence/you get exposure” is not really good enough and does not get groceries at the store. Additionally, Amanda Palmer did just raise a shitton of money in a kickstarter so this looks kinda bad (here’s the breakdown of where the money goes, and frankly, looks like she could still afford to offer $50 to each performer). I mean, *she’s* not playing for free, is she? And particularly ironic is that she had her own blog entry about how people ought to pay the artists- but perhaps it’s somehow different asking the fans to pay directly vs paying collaborating artists..?
Had she said “I really want to highlight local talent!” or “I’m eager to collaborate with my fans!” I expect the response would’ve been kinder. But she didn’t. She said she couldn’t afford to pay these people, which left a sour taste in the mouth of many artists. Worse was her response on Twitter, something along the lines of “People just love to hate me!” No, it’s really not that. Most of the people I saw commenting were the musicians she was looking for, and they’re HURT. They love her, and they feel betrayed by her entitlement, not just as fans but as fellow artists. It’s also frustrating that a lot of really excellent critique is getting lost among the sexist “bitch” and “cunt” comments. Really guys? There’s no need to stoop to that when you have such a good platform for commentary based on behaviour.
But she’s not the only person who has ever done this. This is not, in my opinion, just a backlash against Amanda Palmer, but against a whole cultural phenomenon. In fact, we live in a culture of entitlement where people are expected to work for free and be grateful for the potential “opportunity” all the time. I rarely get paid to go speak at a conference about sexuality, for example- many presenters go at their own expense for years to “make their names” before they get fed up. It’s become an expectation. I’ve had to check my own entitlement when planning events, and make sure to budget in paying for things, particularly things I want done by a specific time or in a certain way, and definitely if making money that will line my pocket. It’s so common to be expected to do things for free, that you’ll be desperate for the exposure, that many people feel ashamed to ask for compensation.
”They want everything for nothing! They wouldn’t go for 5 seconds without being paid, and they’ll bitch about how much they’re paid and want more. I should do a freebie for Warner Brothers? What, is Warner Brothers out there in an eyepatch with a tin cup out on the street? Fuck no!” -Harlan Ellison
It’s not just within the alternative communities, either. Many of my friends have done unpaid internships that are, in fact, illegal. An internship should really be a pain in the ass for the hiring company, not free labour, and yet so often the unpaid interns are the ones sorting mail, answering emails, and doing other menial admin work. No one tells them that they are actually being used. Here’s a quote from a legal company warning employers how they should work interns into their workplace:
First, employers should attempt to maximize classroom and/or training experiences rather than simply assigning more traditional “work” projects to interns. Second, employers should attempt to provide interns with experience practicing more “general” skills rather than assignments or duties specific to that employer’s operations. Additionally, in order to ensure that an intern is not viewed as “displacing” regular employees, the internship should be designed to minimize independent work by the intern and should instead revolve around close supervision and “shadowing” of other employees. Employers should also take great care to ensure that interns are not performing more “menial” tasks such as filing, clerical work, data entry, or other tasks that might indicate they are displacing other employees or are working merely for the advantage of the employer. Further, employers offering fixed “stipends” should take great care in determining the amount of any stipend so as to reasonably approximate the intern’s expenses rather than giving the appearance that the payment simply an attempt to pay less than the minimum wage. Finally, employers should ensure that internships are not used as simply a “trial period” for regular employment, and thus should always have a definite beginning and ending date.
If it is determined that an employer improperly classified an internship as “unpaid,” the employer could be liable for violations of federal and state labor laws for failing to pay at least the minimum wage, failure to properly provide wage statements, and meal and rest period violations, among others. Accordingly, it is vital for all employers, large and small, to design any unpaid internship program with these factors in mind and in close partnership with human resources and legal counsel to ensure that the employer is avoiding potential legal liability.
In the United Kingdom there were accounts of jobseekers being told to work for free for up to 30 hours a week at various businesses or lose their jobseekers allowance. To give you an idea, jobseekers allowance is about 56 pounds a week, not enough to survive on as is- 30 hours a week for a total of 56 pounds certainly is less than minimum wage. Again, these are not jobs requiring training, or offering these workers valuable skills or even a job- the companies involved only had to promise an interview, not paid work.
Cait Reilly, 22, is completing three weeks at Poundland, working five hours a day. Reilly, who graduated last year with a BSc in geology from Birmingham University, found herself with five other JSA claimants last week stacking and cleaning shelves at Poundland in south Birmingham.
She says there are about 15 other staff at the store but, unlike them, she will receive no remuneration for her work. “It seems we’re being used as some free labour, especially in the runup to Christmas.”
Reilly says she told her local jobcentre in King’s Heath, Birmingham, that she did not need the experience in the store as she had already done plenty of retail work.
Despite DWP rules, Reilly says she was told by the jobcentre that she would lose her benefits if she did not take the Poundland placement. The DWP says jobseekers should be told about the cooling-off period but was unable to comment on individual cases without being given personal details.”I was told [the work experience placement] was mandatory after I’d attended the [retail] open day,” she said.
And of course there’s the issue with large distribution centres, many stories of which have come out and horrified readers like this one from Mother Jones. Mac McClelland gets informed that emotional abuse is pretty much expected, but don’t protest or you won’t have a job at all:
“DON’T TAKE ANYTHING that happens to you there personally,” the woman at the local chamber of commerce says when I tell her that tomorrow I start working at Amalgamated Product Giant Shipping Worldwide Inc. She winks at me. I stare at her for a second.
“What?” I ask. “Why, is somebody going to be mean to me or something?”
She smiles. “Oh, yeah.” This town somewhere west of the Mississippi is not big; everyone knows someone or is someone who’s worked for Amalgamated. “But look at it from their perspective. They need you to work as fast as possible to push out as much as they can as fast as they can. So they’re gonna give you goals, and then you know what? If you make those goals, they’re gonna increase the goals. But they’ll be yelling at you all the time. It’s like the military. They have to break you down so they can turn you into what they want you to be. So they’re going to tell you, ‘You’re not good enough, you’re not good enough, you’re not good enough,’ to make you work harder. Don’t say, ‘This is the best I can do.’ Say, ‘I’ll try,’ even if you know you can’t do it. Because if you say, ‘This is the best I can do,’ they’ll let you go. They hire and fire constantly, every day. You’ll see people dropping all around you. But don’t take it personally and break down or start crying when they yell at you.”
Yet we still buy our stuff from Amazon and similar places. We’ve grown to expect free shipping. It’s just another cog in the machine.
This is part of consent culture too, and why I use the term “entitlement culture”. People who end up fucked over by these schemes or crappy job situations tend to be people without a lot of power, without the ability to fight back legally or refuse the job. And it starts small. It starts with a person on a tour asking for musicians to play for free, and trickles all the way down to big corporations violating the rights of marginalized people. We need to be a community, and remember that it’s a give and take, that no one owes us, and to be incredibly grateful and gracious to volunteers. We need to break this entitlement for all of our sakes.
Originally posted Feb. 8, 2011, and now posted here as I feel it’s important to reflect on how issues of consent and accountability can also be used to marginalize people with disabilities. I still have no easy answers for this, and am open to hearing what others have to say on this topic.
I know it’s complicated. There’s been a lot of papers written on the subject, and what is consent if not informed consent. I’ve also always been a proponent that age doesn’t necessarily mean you’re better or worse at communicating and negotiating (thus creating informed consent), and that informed consent also is dependent on agency- for example, an issue with incest between people who are over 18 revolves around whether the relationship is still a financially and emotionally dependent one, in my opinion (if we’re moving out of the realm of blind morality).
Can someone with an intellectual disability give consent to sexual activity? Does someone with such a disability have the agency needed to say no, thus making their yes mean something? And does society/government have the right to tell them that they can’t have a sexual life? What about reproductive rights? Can a carer consent for them, as they do for many other activities, like medical ones?
The whole conversation around sex and mental retardation is touchy. This tends to taint the discourse quite a bit, as people are obviously uncomfortable with it. To deal with this, people make fun of the idea often, as shown by this, which is just an example:
The first type of role playing you may want to try is “Mentally/Physically Handicapped Sex.” I’m not making fun of retarded people. Actually, in this respect they have a pretty good thing going for them. Imagine being with your partner and not being able to use anything but your mouth or genitals. Pretty hot, right? Pretending you’re handicapped makes you worse than a virgin. -http://www.ubersite.com/m/67145
Additionally, sex assaults where the assaulter is intellectually disabled still land with them in jail, which brings up an additional issue for me- are we arguing, then, that people with these disabilities are aware enough to rape, but not to have consensual sexual experiences? That seems problematic to me.
One of the things brought up in this discussion is the worry that people might take advantage- if consent is uncertain, then ability to report assault is also uncertain. I agree, that’s a possibility (though as one friend pointed out around the article mentioned in the beginning- would it be seen differently if the man with the disability was in a heteronormative relationship..? And wait a minute- carers take advantage in nonsexual ways all the time, yet we don’t propose to ban carers. Is this yet another example of sex negativity?
There’s a lot of papers covering the idea of facilitated sex for people with disabilities- in the US for example, it’s legal to facilitate sex and be paid for it, but not to pay a sex worker. In the UK wheelchair access issues can make it next to impossible for people with disabilities to get out and meet anyone, so thank goodness for things like Outsiders that do what they can to help! But people with a developmental disorder have a different set of needs when it comes to sexuality… how do we deal with that?
One of the other things I was annoyed at in the article was this bit:
One psychiatrist said that he would be confused if sex education was given to him.
Did they even try..? I mean, ok, let’s say you want to ban intellectually disabled people from having sexual expression. Let’s say you do that. If you haven’t offered the person any sort of sex education, then how would they know if they’ve been sexually assaulted by, say, a carer? Same with kids, in my opinion. If you give your kids a basic idea about things like masturbation, sexual touch, and boundaries/saying no, they’ll have an easier time telling you if an adult tries to take advantage- and be better equipped to deal with it in the moment. Sex education is important for everyone- here’s an example of something I had as a kid, and here’s something resource-wise for sex ed with people dealing with developmental disabilities. It can be done. It NEEDS to be done.
By refusing to try multiple methods of communicating these ideas for people all over the developmental spectrum, you’re basically denying them the tools they need to consent in the first place.
So in the case of creating a standard, what would someone with a developmental disability need to be able to understand? I liked this definition of informed consent:
Informed consent means that the person is aware not just of their rights but also their responsibilities. Both parties are expected to fully understand how women get pregnant, methods of birth control, sexually transmitted diseases, how to use acondom, be able to define sexual abuse, and can say “No appropriately and effectively. -From Intimate Relations (sex) and the Developmentally Disabled
I think that’s a really good way to define this, especially a bit about understanding not only the rights but the responsibilities of sexual behavior.
So then what do I propose?
Why not do what some councils in the UK and have councils pay for prostitution services for the disabled? I’m listed on the TLC Trust, a great charity that connects comfortable sex workers with disabled clients- what if they had a program where you could get a certificate after attending training courses, say, to create a sense of standards? You’d have to be willing to put in the work in order to get the certificate, and it’d be a way to teach sex workers various methods of working with and communicating with people who have various disabilities.
This post is by ethical spanking porn producer and performer Pandora Blake, who is incredibly fucking rad and apparently can read my mind. I totally needed a piece that spoke on playing with non-consent while also addressing negotiation, and she does it really well here! It’s a repost with permission from her blog Pandora Blake: Spanked Not Silenced. You should also check out and support her spanking smut site Dreams of Spanking, which treats and pays male and female performers equally and seeks to address some of the issues with mainstream spanking porn- she reflects a variety of content and focuses the camera on the male body as well as the female. Yay ethical porn!
Consent is complicated, and playing with non-consent can be really difficult to do in a way that feels reassuring and secure for all concerned. This short film, found via Kitty Stryker, offers an awesome introduction to the complexities of non-consent play:
The “obvious answer” to the problem posed by this film is to use a safeword, but safewords can also be pretty complex. There’s a lot to say about safewords, but right now I want to focus on the negotiation part of non-consent play.
Holly wrote an excellent post recently called Rescripting Sex, which proposed an alternative script for communicative sex. This was very clearly put forward as one possible example of a consensual script, which wouldn’t necessarily work for everyone, but which hopefully shows a way in which negotiating during sex can be sexy rather than mood-killing.
Script: Communicative Sex That Doesn’t Suck
Partners A and B are alone together. A detects (or wishful-thinks) the whiff of romance/lust in the air. A says to B, “You are so goddamn cute, you know that? I’d really like to make out with you.” B answers by leaning in and passionately kissing him.
B puts a finger on A’s top button and asks “may I?” with a wicked grin and a raised eyebrow. He nods and she opens his shirt, touching and kissing down his chest. “Shall we take this to the bedroom?” she asks, looking up at him, her lips brushing his skin just above the line of his jeans. A responds by taking her hand and leading her there. B sits on the bed and starts undoing her clothes. She pulls A into the bed with her.
“Do you want to have sex?” A asks.
“Oh hell yes,” B says, and starts kissing A again. She brings her hand down to the level of his zipper but hesitates, making eye contact before going further. “Hang on,” A says, “just so you know, I really don’t like having my balls touched.”
“Okay,” B says, “but can I play with your cock?”
“Please,” A replies, and she slips her hand into his pants, his answer turning to a groan as she wraps her hand around his cock and begins to stroke.
And you know, so forth. I’m not trying to make this particular scenario a prescriptive thing. People communicate in different ways. What really matters is that you know rather than hope that whatever your communication style is, it’s in sync–that the other person is intentionally sending all the signals that you’re receiving, and vice versa. It’s also nice to get in a little more specificity, both physically and emotionally, than “sex or not sex.” Also, when you’re used to this degree of extremely engaged back-and-forth, it’s really obvious when something’s wrong or the other person isn’t really into it.
When your sex includes non-consent play, this sort of negotiation necessarily looks a bit different. In the past, I’ve mostly gone for the pre-negotiation method: talking beforehand about what you’d like, how you think it might work, what you think your boundaries will be, and then just going for it and seeing what happens – with essential debriefing and discussion afterwards. I like planning and post-morteming scenes and analysing my responses, so that’s always worked pretty well for me. But I’ve also started branching out into the sort of on-the-fly negotiation that Holly is talking about.
I recently played a hot, edgy anal scene which pushed some boundaries and tried some new things. Quite a lot of negotiation went into it, but it didn’t all happen at once.
Tom usually reads me quite well, but when things are unclear we back that up with verbal communication. For instance, if I’m finding a spanking really hard to take and am struggling and yelling more than usual, he’ll check in with me. “You seem to be struggling with this today,” he might say, stroking my back. I might say, “yeah, I guess so. Sorry, I think I need you to go easy on me today.” Or I might say, “Actually, I think what I need right now is to make a big fuss, but I don’t want you to hold back – is that okay?”
We do have a safeword, too: his real name. I very rarely use that one, though. If I need him to back off a bit, but don’t want the scene to end, I’ll say, “I’m struggling” or “shit, argh, give me a minute,” or “ow ow ow please, please, I’m finding this really hard”. If I need the scene to stop I’ll say “I don’t think this is working” or “hang on, I just need to [go to the loo/take a breather/uncrick my neck]” or “sorry, can we pause for a bit”. Mostly, our zone is one where he’s being encouraging and I’m being obedient, so none of these comments are invitations to override me.
The first scene we played that day, the one that didn’t work, ended when I safeworded. At the time, I didn’t realise that was what I was doing; but he stopped, which was the right thing to do. He’d given me three cane strokes, not hard, but cold, and I wasn’t really in the right mood to take them yet. He switched to the other side and gave me another one. I reared up and said “Ow – no – fuck – okay, that’s too much.” He said, “okay, I’m going to leave it there.” Everything up to the fuck wouldn’t have been a safeword, if I’d left it at that. In fact the whole thing might not have been, except my tone of voice made it clear that it needed to be. We cuddled and talked about it, and yes, I felt bad for not being able to cope, but stopping was the right thing to do, and we played a good scene once we’d recovered.
2. Establishing a code
In our dynamic, it’s the times that I want my consent to be overridden which are explicitly encoded. Rather than having an “I need to stop” safeword, we have clear signals for “I don’t REALLY want to stop”. These have been agreed when we’re talking after a scene in which we needed clearer communication; or talking about things we’d like to do and how we might approach them. They are:
“No, please / Please, no”. This means Please, yes; please let me resist you; please, don’t stop. I’m very careful not to say “please, no” or “please don’t” if I actually want him to stop.
“Please don’t do X, sir.” This means Please do X, please make me take it. I’m going to beg you not to but please do it anyway. The “sir” makes it extra clear that I’m consenting to stay in scene.
In general, if I say “Sir”, I am signalling my desire to continue the scene. “Please, sir, this isn’t good for my back” expresses my need for a different position while making it clear that I want to continue playing.
On my previous visit, he gave my thighs a couple of smacks while I was over the knee. This was horribly painful, and it struck me that it would be the hottest thing ever if he held me down and did it some more. So I said, “Please, sir, not my thighs.” He picked up on the cue, and growled to me that he would spank my thighs if he so wished, and that he wanted to train me to be able to take it for him. I communicated my assent by saying, “Please, no, not there, sir, please, that would be horrible.”
When he did so, I went quiet. He needed to check in on my reactions, so he stopped spanking me and drew me into his arms. He stroked my hair and seemed prepared to stop if I needed him to. I realised I needed to make my consent more explicit. Nervously, urgently, I said “Please don’t spank my thighs, sir. Please don’t hold me down. I would hate that.”
I love anal play, but thanks to the embarrassing, unglamorous reality of haemorrhoids I’ve not been able to indulge that kink much in the last few years. Visiting the bathroom on my most recent visit, I realised that things in that area weren’t as bad as usual. I did a little investigation on my own without ill effect, and came to the conclusion that play might finally be possible.
Coming back to bed, I whispered this discovery to Tom. He loves anal sex, but I admitted that actual fucking might not be possible on a first try. “If I were you,” I said, “I’d start with a vibrator and lots of lube – I find those much better than a finger for relaxing me – and play with that for a while, and see where it goes.”
He nodded. “That sounds like lots of fun.”
“That might be as far as we get the first time, but practice makes perfect.” I grinned. “And you did mention you liked the idea of buttplugs, if you wanted to train me to get used to it again…”
We enjoyed ourselves for a while talking about the possibilities and practicalities of plugs. I thought of something else: “Oh, and the other thing you could do – I love this but it’s totally embarrassing -”
“- is … oh god, I can’t believe I’m saying this … like, inspecting me. Um. Like, pulling my cheeks apart. And having a look. I find that REALLY hot, in a horrible humiliating sort of way.”
“I imagine I can probably work with that,” he smiled.
4. Communication in action
I’m sitting in his lap and he’s roughly fondling my breasts. I squirm and writhe in his lap, and our body language establishes a power shift: when he does the things I like best, I yelp and look down, bashfully, as if embarrassed to meet his eyes. I put my wrists submissively behind my back, making my breasts more vulnerable. He responds by doing more of the things I like.
When he takes my throat in one hand, I whimper “no sir, please” because having my neck gripped is really fucking hot. That gives him permission to grip more roughly, to throw me backwards onto the bed, to pull my head back by the hair. Despite my protests, I signal my assent to all of this by making free with the sexy noises and meeting his eye with a gleeful grin whenever I get the chance. All this gives me the space to say “please” and “no” as much as I like while he hauls me up against the wall and shoves his cock in my mouth. My cunt backs up the yes half of my communication by getting ridiculously wet, as he quickly discovers.
On his instruction, I kneel up to arrange pillows in the middle of the bed for me to bend over. Cheeks flushed, eyes sparkling, I realise there’s something I desperately want him to do, which I couldn’t expect him to know about. I don’t even know if he’d want to do it.
“I’ve had a filthy idea,” I admit, blushing.
“It’s a fantasy I’ve had for ages…”
“What is it?”
“You know I was saying about, um, inspecting me…”
“Well, I’d quite like you to … ohh, I don’t even know if I can say it. Oh, god.” I hide my head in my hands. He waits, patiently. “I’d like you to, um, get a cane, and…” It’s no use: I can’t say it.
He thinks. “Huh. Really? I’m not sure that would work.” He fetches a cane, showing me the end, and I realise he thinks I’m talking about penetration.
“No – no. I mean, a much thinner one. And… um… whip me there. Very lightly, I mean.”
He looks at me, smiling. “Would you really?”
“Um. It’s more about the humiliation than the impact. Not very hard, of course. I’ve never done it before. I just, it’s something I’ve thought about…”
His smile is broader now. “I’ll bear that in mind.”
After whipping me with the riding crop, he picks up on my earlier idea and plays with my arse cheeks, pulling them apart, trailing a finger between. I hide my blushing face in the pillow and beg him not to, all while not moving a muscle to stop him and lifting my hips as high as they’ll go.
When he picks up a cane and begins to tap me there, firstly I think I might actually die from arousal and embarrassment, and then I communicate my consent by moaning and sobbing no no no, oh god, no, please, I can’t bear it. I trust that he won’t actually stop unless I cut the whimpering and ask him to stop in a normal voice.
I honestly didn’t expect us to have anal sex this time, but after giving me an anal orgasm with his dildo, and fucking my cunt for a while, we both wanted to try. I can’t remember what we said to make this clear to each other, but I definitely agreed before he began. And it hurt – it always hurts – and I rubbed my clit and rested my forehead on the pillows and probably said “please, no” quite a lot as well. Had I withdrawn my consent, I would have stopped rubbing my clit, and said something other than “please, no”, like “hang on, that’s a bit too painful actually,” or “sorry, I think we might need to stop”. But I didn’t, and begging him to stop definitely made it sexier for me, and easier to get through the painful bit and into the bit that was so horny it felt fucking fantastic.
After the scene, I showed him a blogpost which had recently got me craving anal sex again, in which she also finds it horny and helpful to beg him to stop and have her “no” ignored. We ended up talking quite a lot about consent and negotiation, and when no is no and when it’s yes, and how you tell. We agreed that it can be problematic and dangerous to tell non-consent stories out of context. In fact, Girl on the Net wrote a follow-up post about Consent and the meaning of ‘no’ which added some context, and expressed the complexity of consent and non-consent play.
I haven’t always felt comfortable or confident asking for what I want in scene, or indeed saying “no” when actually I mean “yes”. It’s taken a lot of conversations, experiments and post-mortems to develop a language we’re both comfortable with.
It’s also involved a lot of porny clichés, hammy tone of voice and body language, because sometimes over-acting how turned on you are is the clearest signal you can give that you want to carry on while your mouth is saying “no, please stop”.
After reading Holly’s proposed script for communicative, enthusiastic consensual sex, I thought people might be interested in hearing one script for communicative non-consensual sex. This isn’t the only way of doing it, and you’ll probably have your own codes and signals and ideas. I feel like our mechanisms for playing at “please, no” are still fairly simplistic. But if you’re new to this sort of thing, I don’t think simple is a bad place to start. And hopefully, the above examples show that communicative play can be hot, even if you’re playing with non-consent.
Yesterday (Sunday 2 February) I went to the London Alternative Market workshop on “Due Diligence for Deviants” being run by Master Cosmic. I’m going to talk a little about that.
(For people following breadcrumbs, I’m not doing the 101 on Consent Culture here. A good start is Kitty Stryker on Safe/Ward; if you’re strapped for time you could do far worse than starting half-way down at the paragraph beginning “Again, there’s this expectation that if you do enough work…” and just reading the next four or five paragraphs.)
Trigger warning: this post contains discussion of rape and assault, victim blaming, rape apologism and normalization, and casual transphobia. It includes second-hand anecdotes of assault and abuse.
I had hoped for a talk on useful things to do before playing; establishing safewords, discussing health concerns, agreeing limits. That’s not quite what we got.
The talk started with a explanation of the term “due diligence”. I’ll not go into the details here, but in short, the aim is to reduce the legal ramifications of playing with someone, minimize the chances of being accused of assault, and to ensure that if you are accused of violating someone’s consent you have a community around you who’ll stand behind you and believe you over the accuser.
One of the most important things to do before playing with somebody is to get references. Talk to folk before you play with your potential play partner, particularly if you’re planning on playing privately, and find out about their history and past partners. Reasonable advice, were it not for the following kicker, repeated a few times throughout the talk: “I have no sympathy for you if you don’t.”
Everyone who’s been on the kink scene (possibly this only applied to people who top) more than a year (apparently I’m the sole exception to this rule) will have stories of being accused of violating consent. It’s normal, and something you just learn to live with. Everyone who’s been on the scene a while knows who to avoid, but we’re not going to do anything about them because it’s safer to keep them where we can see them and warn people about them (provided they come to us and ask) and because they’ll just create a new identity and prey on people elsewhere.
If you’re having a relationship online, you should still be getting references, or at least being far more careful. Anyone who’s been on the scene for long enough can tell you about spending time and considerable amounts of money on online partners who’ve turned out to be trannies ripping people off. (And, again, while Cosmic has some sympathy the first time it happens, the second or third it’s your own fault.) (Yes, he did say trannies. I almost walked out at that point.)
And we had some anecdotes. The one that stands out in my memory is the fetish model friend, who did all the reasonable due diligence she could be expected to, but went to a photo shoot and ended up tied up in the photographer’s basement for a number of days. She now has triggers around just going to visit the relevant area of the country where she was abused. It’s terrible, but that’s part of the acceptable risk of being a fetish model, so it’s okay.
I’ll admit I didn’t engage with any of the issues at the talk. I talked a little bit about the legal status of SM under UK law when it came up as a tangential question, but I didn’t talk about victim blaming or consent culture. Frankly, I didn’t trust myself to without it turning into a (IMO justified but nonetheless unconstructive) rant. When I came out of the talk I was quite literally shaking with rage.
For context, Master Cosmic isn’t just some random person. He’s the guy who owns and runs the LAM. He’s a trustee of the Spanner Trust. At least in the London fetish scene, he’s a fairly well known name.
Don’t get me wrong, there were useful bits in the talk, particularly around good questions to ask when getting references, about attempting to avoid personal biases, and about setting up safe calls. But. But this sort of victim blaming is why we need Consent Culture, is why I want to get involved with this effort.
It’s worth reading through the commentary for the responsesfromCosmic, as well as from otherlocalsin thecommunity. As to be expected, there’s some logical fallacy and some derailing for dummies. What I keep finding interesting is the request from event organizers that the discussion “be taken privately”. BAGG’s event organizer did something very similar, asked why I didn’t go to him personally first. Well, frankly, when you’re not as well known, it’s very easy for the things you say to be dismissed- additionally, in “private”, it’s very hard to hold people accountable. They get defensive, they say they didn’t say things they did in fact say, it’s easier to make it messy.
Plus, and perhaps this is coincidence- it’s easier to manipulate someone one on one than it is to do it publicly. This is why abusers like to isolate their victims, after all. Not to say that either of these fellows are abusive, but it may be worth them reflecting how “let’s meet up and chat about this, you and me” can be perceived as somewhat uncomfortable if the other person is less privileged and ESPECIALLY if that person is trying to hold a “leader” accountable for their actions.
After all, these are ultimately conversations best held publicly, because they affect everyone. They’re community issues. Why are we a community until we’re addressing problems, and then it’s all individual? And since usually the people requesting one on one interactions often seem concerned about their words being taken out of context, wouldn’t such a public discussion benefit them, too?