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Archive for May 21st, 2009

I’ve been loving on Trinity’s blog enough that I’ve been reading the back issues. Yesterday I took a look at this post on the commonalities she draws between some radical feminist camps’ views on BDSM, and the rhetoric of ex-gay movements. In a nutshell: while both are careful to say up-front that they’re not interested in forcing anyone to not be gay or not be kinky, both are also sure to point out that if you are either of those things you are broken and need fixing, and even if you think you’re happy you can’t possibly really be, because it was your mother/your abuse history/the patriarchy that made you that way.

She goes on to quote a previous post of hers, citing her own experience, not with either of these groups, but with standard-issue mental health professionals:

The people I relied on for mental health care told me that my fantasies came from my trauma, and that once I’d really healed, I’d not have them any more.

I spent so much time worrying about my sexuality not changing…that I didn’t allow myself for years to take pride in the actual progress I was making toward healing. I became obsessed with the idea that my sexuality wasn’t changing and therefore there was something wrong with me, even as I slowly felt better about myself, less inclined to self-harming (again, maybe to you the desire to do SM and to self-harm are the same, but in my experience they are very different), etc.

I think promoting the idea that SM fantasies are *always* scars from trauma is harmful.

I have to agree with this, and I want to go it one better: I think that even if a desire for BDSM comes from trauma scars, that BDSM may be a path to healing.

I’m not even necessarily talking about the obvious one, where someone decides to ritually relive their trauma in the safe, sane and consensual setting of a BDSM scene in order to reclaim it and heal. I think there are subtler things at work, and I’ve seen examples of it.

Trinity’s own example, of being less inclined to self-harm over time while still wanting to do BDSM, strikes me as important: I don’t know if this has been her experience of it, but it seems like it could be an example of self-harming behavior being replaced with healthy behavior that fills some of the same needs for intensity and focus. The film Secretary provides an excellent example of this as well: when under stress, Maggie Gyllenhaal’s character is prone to cutting and sometimes burning herself. Once she finds a relationship in which she can safely experience intensity of sensation as a loving act, she is able to stop. The dominant character, too, has issues: he exercises compulsively whenever he has sexual thoughts, of which he is clearly ashamed. The relationships he does engage in are short, compartmentalized, and dysfunctional. Once he’s able to embrace his desires and take responsibility for the person he engages in those desires, he is able to live fully in himself.

I had a conversation with a friend yesterday who was reveling in the bruises on her upper arms for a few days after playing with someone who loves to bite. She went to her job wearing longer sleeves to hide the bruises, and was having fun secretly enjoying them beneath her clothes. Once they faded, she joked that she’d never been more disappointed to put on a tank top.

After reading some of the material I’ve been linking to lately, she and her equally super-smart husband decided to have some fun coming up with really good arguments against BDSM. During that game, she called up her own abuse history, and found herself going, “Oh, shit.”

The abuse she received was entirely mental, and when she was a kid she wished her abuser would hit her, so she would have something to show the authorities.

So there’s a link. And yeah, finding that can be disconcerting; I had a similar experience where I realized that the games I was playing with my top weren’t as innocent and without basis as I thought. And yet, I realized in myself at the time, and as I pointed out to my friend: these things that we’re doing now are healing us from those traumas. Even if that’s why we’re doing them. It’s not that we’re unable to have normal relationships because we’re damaged. It’s that we’re repairing the damage by re-writing our histories.

In her present, she’s experiencing the joy of having bruises that she doesn’t have to show anyone. They’re there for her enjoyment and remembrance of a fun time with someone who cares for her. If she shows them to people, it’s not because of her relief that she finally has evidence that someone is hurting her. It’s because she’s proud that now, someone cares for her the right way, and the bruises she carries are her choice.

In my present, I sometimes regress to being a little girl who is held and cared for by a loving Daddy. Maybe it’s because my dad was never there when I was young, and my mother didn’t know how to show affection. But is enacting this re-traumatizing me? No. It’s allowing me to write over the parts of my brain that tell me I’m not worthy of love.

It all goes back to Trinity’s question about “asking why.” I.e., is it ever a good idea to delve into the reasons why you like the things you like, sexually? Having thought about it a bit more, I think it’s still valuable to examine one’s own navel a bit on this one. But out of all the possible results of this venture, the results mostly seem anywhere from bleak to pointless. Here are the possibilities I see:

1. You question your kink, and discover a strong link to abuse or trauma in your past. You realize that you’re miserable in part because you keep re-enacting that abuse or trauma in your relationships, which are generally abusive and end badly. You get help, and either a) you find a way to fulfill your desires in a safe, sane and consensual manner with someone who loves you, b) you stop doing kink entirely and you’re miserable, or c) you stop doing kink entirely and you’re happy.

2. You question your kink, and discover a link to abuse or trauma in your past. But your present life is healthy and happy, and the kinky activities you do turn you on and fulfill you. But now you’re worried that your kink is not okay.

3. You question your kink, and can’t find anything from your past that links to it. But now you’re worried that maybe you have repressed memories from a childhood trauma and all your crazy kinks are about it.

4. You question your kink, and can’t come up with anything. You smile and go about your day.

In the first result, there are several possible outcomes, some good and some not. In the others, the question is either meaningless, or brings problematic meaning where previously there was none. I think it’s extremely valuable to question your patterns if you keep finding yourself in abusive relationships, not just kinky ones. Notice that even in that eventuality, a person might continue to enjoy BDSM activities (as Trinity does, as Lee in Secretary does) once they have dealt with their traumas. So in a sense, what that person is asking themselves is not “What draws me to kink” but “What draws me to people who want to harm me?”

I think it’s true that abuse can masquerade as BDSM. Just as abuse can masquerade as possessive love, just as alcoholism can masquerade as a simple fondness for drinking, just as a wolf can masquerade as a goddamn sheep. That doesn’t mean that a sheep is always a wolf.

There is value in searching for answers when your life seems out of control and you can’t figure out how to change it. There is very little value in seeking to pathologize behavior that fulfills you and others in your life.

Question yourselves, by all means, yes. But if you’re happy and not doing others true harm, stop trying to figure out what’s wrong with you that you like something that other people think is wrong. We are large. We contain multitudes, for the love of Bob. Go out there and grow.

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