No, Using ‘Daddy’ In Bed Is Not Appropriation

By Mara Jacqueline Willaford

I thought I had seen the height of internet ridiculousness with the longstanding sugar grits vs. salt grits Twitter war. But then, out of some terrifying corner of White Feminist™ Twitter, came #daddygate.

#Daddygate went viral after media figure Shanley Kane — in response to vanilla girls posting on social media that “Justin Bieber is Daddy” — started ranting about how straight/vanilla/mainstream folks using the term “daddy” was “appropriation” of queer leather BDSM culture. The accusation led to a wave of anger, shock, indignation, and mockery that took over social media.

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When I first read Shanley’s tweets, I straight-up thought they were satirical. My instant reaction was: What is fucking wrong with White people and why are they always reaching all the way out their lane and making up problems?

Then I thought about the hypocrisy of #daddygate — a point also illustrated in the Twittersphere.

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As far as positioning myself in relation to the conversation, I’m Black, Femme, genderqueer, and actively engage in, facilitate, and teach about sexuality and kink. I take issue with Shanley’s analysis in that it attempts to police who is or isn’t queer or kink, shames those whose sexuality or sexual practices are different from hers, discourages folks from exploring and experimenting, makes kink inaccessible, and ignores the fact that gender and sexuality are fluid.

On top of all of that, it’s yet another example of a privileged white person stealing language, history, experiences, scholarship, and theory from sex workers, queer trans people of color (QTPOC), and Black culture — and presenting it as their own. This skinny, cis, bisexual, class-privileged white woman uses African American Vernacular English (AAVE), but says that folks who aren’t queer or kink enough to use daddy are engaging in “appropriation”?

Nope.

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Let’s establish this right away: What Shanley’s referring to is not appropriation. It’s cooptation — and the difference between these terms is crucial. Cultural appropriation is when aspects of an oppressed culture are stolen and exploited. Cooptation is when your favorite band or whatever goes mainstream, gets watered down and commercialized, and loses its depth.

You can definitely make an argument that kink has become mainstream. But kink cannot be culturally appropriated because it cannot be stolen; it belongs to no one, and as such, to potentially everyone.

The history of “daddy” further complicates notions of its “appropriation.” How could anyone talk about the origins of the word without also paying homage to Black culture through jazz and hip hop? For that matter, what about cishet white sex workers calling their benefactors “daddy” throughout American history? Or Spanish-speakers of all genders and sexualities using “papi” since forever?

But it’s not just Shanley’s ignorance regarding the word “appropriation” that bothered me about her statements; it’s the implication that kink should be off-limits to cis, heterosexual (cishet) folks. As a queer person, the last thing I want is to encourage society to remain repressed and closeted (sexually or otherwise), and shaming folks’ sexuality is a guaranteed way to hinder their exploration. A lot of people, especially women, go through life thinking that they’re vanilla, only to realize they’re super into kink by playing around casually with terms like “daddy.”

In response to #daddygate, I had a queer, trans, POC friend mockingly post on Facebook asking, “what’s next? str8 ppl appropriating anal?” So what if cishet men enjoy prostate play just as much as anyone else with a prostate? This isn’t appropriation of queer culture. It’s just having fun.

No one comes out of the womb with a load of expensive play equipment and deep psychological play skills; these things evolve, and they evolve only when people feel free to explore their sexuality. The claim that in order to use specific terms in the bedroom, you need to do it all at once or in a certain way is a dangerous myth with potentially far-reaching repercussions.

Moreover, saying “that’s not daddy” as if there’s one definition is wack (though another friend did point out that walking around in public yelling “THAT’S NOT DADDY!” sounds pretty fun).

Even in queer and kink spaces, “daddy” has countless meanings and usages. Like any other word, it depends on how it’s being applied. When I say I love my mom, it means something different than when I say I love my partner, which is different than saying I love cats. Similarly, the meaning of the word daddy has different meanings: in DD/lg, in ageplay, in leather culture, among family members, among certain racial/ethnic groups, or among various types of sex workers.

Your Daddy might be someone who supports you mentally, emotionally, and/or financially. Maybe Daddy is someone who takes care of you. Who holds it down for you. If Daddy’s really got it, maybe he’s Zaddy. Maybe Daddy is your girlfriend or wife. Maybe your Daddy has no gender, or several.

This is all so fucking valid. As one of my friends put it, “when someone refers to another person as their daddy, I know nothing about what that entails other than that it’s intentional.”

The furor has also deflected attention from the fact that, of all the things cishet people do, cooptation is not nearly as harmful as, ya know, killing trans women of color. It’s 2016 and mainstream cishet folks are still utterly and tragically clueless and repressed when it comes to their bodies, gender, and sexuality. By adding unnecessary and misguided shame and guilt onto their psyche, #daddygate is doing nothing to combat the violence that cishet folks enact upon queer, trans, and non-binary people, particularly people of color. It actually just pushes cishet folks to be more ashamed and antagonistic.

All because some white woman got annoyed with vanilla girls posting some dumb Justin Bieber comment on social media?

Nope.

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Lead image: Wikimedia Commons

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