Consent Culture in the Dungeon:
a “what you can do” guide for community members
The BDSM community has always put itself forward as at the forefront of consent education. “Safe Sane and Consensual”, we say. “Ask first!”
But the reality is that abuse and consent violations happen within this community, as it does with every community. Rape culture is a problem literally everywhere. In the 6 years I’ve been doing consent activist work, I’ve found that change is coming in addressing these issues… but it’s slow work.
Still, you don’t have to wait for community leaders to guide you — community members can take on that labor too!
These are some tips and ideas that I have personally for how I’d like to take personal responsibility myself, and hopefully, it’ll be helpful for other people.
Admit Abuse Happens
Look, people, maybe it hasn’t happened to you, but I would put down money that abuse has touched your kinky community at some point. And it probably didn’t go down that well. In fact, the victim, no matter how old, well-known, or savvy he or she was, probably blamed themselves- for not fighting back hard enough, for disassociating and struggling to safeword, for being there in the first place. Cause that’s part of trauma response. It’s only after you start to talk to others and realize how common it is that you get mad-
I finally told several people close to me, And then a few more. And no one told me I was stupid. In fact, to my dismay, my story was common. Standard. Typical.
And that is horrifying. THAT is shameful.
So I am taking a deep breath and telling you today. Because? Consent COUNTS. And anyone can be taken advantage of. Anyone. And you aren’t stupid, you aren’t helpless, if someone pushes through your boundaries.
-Consent [Violated] by Mollena
If you’re not admitting that this happens, if you’re putting your fingers in your ears and singing “lalalala”, you are enabling this abuse. I mean, hell, the Leather Leadership Conference seems to think it’s relevant. Communities like Kink Abuse exist. Resources like the National Leather Associations Domestic Violence Project seems to take it pretty seriously too. Did you know these things were even available? Do you think they’re making it up or “just being dramatic”?
Be Aware of Creepiness
First of all, let’s talk a bit about not being creepy. Cause one thing we definitely have control over is our own behavior and trying not to add to the problem, right? Being creepy, while often characterized by what Maggie Mayhem once called the Creepy Naked Guy, is certainly not restricted to him- people of every gender can have that special, leer-y look that makes a shiver go down the spine.
Cliff over on Pervocracy has a great piece on how to not be creepy that everyone can learn a lot from:
I don’t agree with Clarisse Thorn that “creepy” is a meaningless or sexist term. I think it has a very clear meaning: someone who is creepy is someone who makes you feel unsafe and uncomfortable in a sexual way. And while you may be unfair in your discomfort — for example, if you feel uncomfortable around anyone who admits they’re into BDSM — it’s still real. When it’s realest are the times when you don’t know why you feel it. If someone strikes you as “creepy” and you can’t put your finger on it, you feel a little unfair applying the label because they’re clearly so nice but you just keep having this feeling — do not get alone with them. “Creepy” may be a pejorative sometimes; other times it’s the goddamn Gift Of Fear.
But what if people think you’re a creep, and you don’t deserve it? I don’t think the answer is to tell them that they’re being wrong and unfair — you can’t argue with a feeling, and trying to debate a person into not being afraid of you is kind of creepy in itself. Sometimes you may just need to move on to another social group. But sometimes there are things you can do to make people feel safer and more comfortable around you, even as you continue to pursue sex and romance. Take it from a recovering creep.
Seriously, read it. It’s the best first step you can take to help improve your local community. And learn how to ogle with awareness and tact.
But woe to the person who says “creepy folks are creepy”, because they’re judgmental and not respecting YKIOK. I was amazed that people (on Fetlife, for example, which the below comes from) had a response of “but, but, think of the wankers!”:
The idea of empowerment and responsibility for one’s own actions deeply resonates with me, and I would prefer that our community, which often speaks of embracing all of the various perverts that mainstream society castigates, should suit its actions to its words. In this instance, to embrace the wankers for what they contribute to the dungeon. Yes, they’re unsanitary, but as it’s already been pointed out, poor sanitary habits are not their personal onus to bear. We all need to be cleaner in the dungeon. What wankers contribute are twofold that I can easily determine: they offer themselves as an audience, and they offer pheromones to heighten the mood of any sex-play in progress. As long as they’re not invading someone’s space or getting their mess on equipment, food, or other people, I think they should be as accepted as the couple doing fire-play, the people in a race-play scene, or whatever else we might encounter in a dungeon.
Really? REALLY? I’ve never been to a dungeon party in person where people were delighted to see the Wankyman Express. I’ve never heard him referred to as an asset before. I have heard people leave because he’s there and refuse to come back because he weirds them out.
Interestingly, many dungeons have rules against the things CWG does- cruising aggressively, masturbating outside of a scene, being there in a dungeon space exclusively for sex. Though it’s hard to know that, considering a lot of dungeons and sex spaces don’t actually post their rules online- posting what you can’t do in these spaces suggests what you *can* do, which can be a liability. So everyone learns the rules when they get to the space, and are already hyped up and wanting to get in as quickly as possible. Not the best for retaining information… or managing expectations. And then when you’re in the party, CWG isn’t often called out for his behaviour, because yeah, he’s creepy, but is he hurting anyone..?
The answer? Indirectly, yes, yes he is. And I like this response from the now-defunct Informed Consent BDSM board:
With YKIOK (your kink is ok) I think its about people engaging in things that you may not be interested in and don’t have to get involved in. Wanky men don’t give you a choice. Also YKIOK can be used as a blanket statement that doesn’t always apply, for example, if someone is being unsafe/threatening whatever in a club, someone will step in.
So thing you can do #2? Don’t be creepy.
Note: Not every creepy person realizes they’re coming off as creepy. This can be due to a lack of experience, general social awkwardness/anxiety, gendered training and being on the autism spectrum, among other things. So try to be gentle but clear when letting someone know they’re coming off that way, and try to give an example of what they could be doing instead.
If someone comes up to you and says they’ve been assaulted, your jobs, in order, are to listen, ask them what they need, and to reference them to some help for then to take up or not as they so choose.
As far as I’m aware, DMs and party hosts are not required to have even read a pamphlet on how to be a first responder for sexual or physical assault. They have no idea how to deal with a victim’s responses… or even an understanding of what they might be and why. This is a serious problem that leads to victims feeling uncomfortable speaking up… understandable, when the likelihood is that they’ll be told it’s their fault anyway.
It’s not your job to play therapist. But you can listen. And you can say “that sounds like it was a really scary experience” and ask what they need from you. If you can offer it, you can offer it. If not you can help them to the best of your ability. You should have some resources displayed with all the party fliers by the door so you can give them to people as needed. And you can understand that someone who has just suffered trauma may be struggling to put all the pieces together.
Negotiate… and Stick To It
We talk a lot about negotiation and consent. Yet one of the things that really concerns me is the often spoken “no means no”… because people tend to take that as “everything is ok until they say no/safeword”. There’s that joke, right, about Jesus- why did he die on the cross? He forgot his safeword. Hah! But when you think about it there’s an undercurrent that’s kind of creepy- that, because he didn’t safeword, everything else was ok. Sure, it’s a joke, but it reflects an attitude that ignores that people dealing with trauma may struggle to say “no”, or struggle to safeword, and that isn’t a free pass.
And if you want to have sex with someone, for God’s sake don’t be this guy. In every case, just freaking ask. The point of asking someone is not to get a “yes” by any means necessary; it’s to find out how they feel about you.
Realize that, post-high-school, most people are not cruel in saying no. Rejection is awkward and painful for the rejector too, and anyone worthy of your affection is going to be gentle about it. If you know each other at all as people (and sometimes even if you don’t), they’re not going to laugh or insult you or tell all their friends how gross you are. They’re just going to tell you that you won’t be dating them, which is a situation you were already living with.
If someone says no, that means no. Don’t keep asking and don’t ask “why not?” The answer to “why not” is never something you want to hear, and forcing it out of someone will never change their mind; it’ll just be excruciating for both of you.
-How Not to be Creepy, Pervocracy
Which is why I’d like to hear more “yes means yes”. Because yes is sexy, and negotiation can be hot- it doesn’t have to be a mood-killer.
I had a partner tell me about a scene he did where he told his play partner that he wasn’t going to take his clothes off- he wanted them to do it. A simple power thing, right? But that allowed the play partner to decide how much should come off, and when- it was a sexy way to suss out how far to go. That’s pretty hot. Or my play partner last night who winked at me, cock in harness, and said “well, if you want to be fucked, you should roll over on your back”… thus allowing me to make that decision. Being able to say no (without passive aggressive sulking for hearing that no) makes your yes mean something, and that’s hot for everyone.
Jay Wiseman had a blog post on how unfortunate it is when someone sticking to the negotiations made is revolutionary, rather than the norm:
So the scene is finished and she’s getting dressed when I hear her quietly say, almost more to herself than me, “You actually kept the agreement to not be sexual. That was interesting.”
I turn to look at her, my jaw hanging open.
“What do you mean?” I ask her.
“You’re the first one who ever did that,” she replies.
“Yeah,” she continues, “All of the other men have just gone ahead and had sex with me anyway.”
I cannot believe what I’m hearing.
“What do they say afterwards?”
“Usually something like, Oh, it just happened.”
I just stare at her, stunned into speechlessness. Then it dawns on me that she was likely thinking that I would break the agreement as well. She went into the scene anticipating that that would happen. All throughout the scene a part of her brain was waiting for that to “just happen.” She was expecting that I would break my word.
He goes on to discuss how that related to his feelings when he read the manuscript for a kinky dating guide for women:
What particularly bothered me about the manuscript was that the author wasn’t talking about newbie men. She was talking about established, well-known guys. Guys seen at places like local munches with some frequency. Guys (supposedly!) well educated about basic SM principles such as consent, respecting limits, and so forth. Guys who *knew better* than to pull crap like that. This bothered me, rather a lot, particularly the implications.
So what I basically have here is at least three women, all of whom seem fairly rational and emotionally stable with no anti-male axe to grind, and all of whom are separately affirming that being lied to by men — in particular, being lied to by local, known, supposedly educated men — in order to get sex/play/etc. is a *common* experience for them. In particular, incidents involving men lying or breaking agreements in order to “get” sex and/or to avoid using condoms seem to be extremely common.
Please let’s move away from this rape culture and consciously towards a consent culture. That’s a lot more of a turn-on.
Be Heard Calling “Bullshit”
Another part of effectively fighting against rape culture and abuse in your local community is understanding why people defend rape culture so you can better aim when you smack them with a clue-by-four. Particularly useful is understanding the Male Gaze defensiveness from that article on Pervocracy:
This is the way our society tends to lock us into seeing things from the point of view of a heterosexual male. It’s sort of assumed that you’ll find “sexy” women appealing and “sexy” men funny or gross, that anyone will want to follow male role models but female ones are only for girls, and that the public discourse in general is aimed at straight men unless specified otherwise. And of course all this is tremendously magnified if youare a heterosexual man; with an effort a woman can find female perspectives, but men are almost never forced to take on a female viewpoint. Marie Curie and Amelia Earhart are never held up as heroes for little boys.
The relevant end result of this is that when someone — particularly straight men, but not only them — sees a story about a woman accusing a man of rape, they put themselves in the place of the man. They don’t think “wow, what would it be like if I were raped?”, but “wow, what would it be like if I were accused of rape?”
Well, I certainly wouldn’t commit rape! So if I assume that this person I’m empathizing with acts the same way I would have, he must be innocent, and dealing with this false accusation must be tremendously frightening and frustrating for him. As long as you see the alleged rapist as the protagonist, the “you” of the story, the furthest you’re able to stretch is “maybe he raped her for a really good reason?”
You know what happens when someone who has been abused overhears the victim-blaming, slut-shaming, apologist vitriol that gets spewed out when a victim comes out? They leave the community. And they don’t come back. And that abuser gets to continue to teach classes, harass n00bs, and be a predator, without ever worrying that they’ll be told off.
I mean, FFS, stop patting yourselves on the back, kink community. Even the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom and Tristan Taoromino get the difference, and it’s not just “they didn’t safeword” or “they didn’t say no”. As Tristan said, “Once you have gotten into the realm of holding someone down, being forceful with them, doing something that could leave a mark on their body, you better hear a loud, enthusiastic and sober ‘yes.’”
More to the point? Hold these asshats accountable. Encourage communication. Don’t let predatory Doms (and, additionally, abusive subs) attack over and over again.
Keep an eye open for the next post on this, which will explain techniques I’ve discovered for community leaders on additional ways to address abuse in the community.
Other Links of Note: