Okay, so the other day I said I wasn’t going to blog at length about BDSM here. JUST KIDDING!
In working on Suzy & Pilar, I’ve been thinking a lot about how I want their relationship to come across to a reader who knows nothing about the kinky lifestyle. I want to tell an honest story that balances the joys of expressing ones sexuality and the challenges one might face when that sexual life clashes with your real/professional life. I’m also tackling Suzy’s struggle to balance the joys of being with Pilar and keeping her own well-being at the forefront of her priorities.
But that’s only part of the reason I’m talking about it here and yes it has to do with writing about race. In a way. See, I love to read BDSM novels. I have nearly worn the covers of my Sleeping Beauty series, but a lot of the stories I’ve read leave me scratching my head. I find characters doing things that I honestly find unsafe and a little nuts. Not in a “oh I would never let someone hang me from the rafters by my nipples” sort of way, but in a “wait don’t you worry about your actual safety, your actual mental health?” kind of way.
I’ve read about a lot of Doms, male and female, who are just assholes. Not dominant lovers, but pure assholes that use intimidation and circumstance to get their partners to submit. Most of these pairings have involved white couples. A few have involved mixed races couples, but the Dom is always white. I don’t do assholes. These issues have been rolling around in my head for some time, in fiction and in real life as I’ve heard horror stories about such Doms, but yesterday writer Mikki Kendall, who you should follow really just cause, started a discussion on women of color (WOC) and BDSM kink. (women of color includes all non-white women). The discussion does appear to be centering around WOC as submissives at this point, though there are many non-white Dommes in the community as well. In Blacker Than Blue I write a black Mistress in control of a white submissive. It’s a very loving relationship, I promise. I try not to apply my own experiences and thoughts to others. Everyone’s sex life is different, but what Mikki and the others who responded to her post, had to say really struck a cord with me. Here is Mikki’s original post and my response.
I’ve been reading all of the talk around 50 Shades of Grey, & noting how often developing a BDSM relationshionship in romantica/erotica is written as though sex comes before trust & then running into convos on & offline that center around the idea that kink is something white women do. That being sex positive is a movement that requires you to discuss your sex life with all & sundry & be white to boot or you’re a problem & not a person.
Somehow the fact that WOC not only have kinky sex, but enjoy it is a hard concept for some folks to grasp. And things get more complicated when you factor in our high rates of sexual assault, violence, & cultural norms that mean our sexuality is often something we share with partners but not with the public for our own safety. WOC can figure as props in the sexual fantasies of others, but people seem to think that we don’t deserve any agency over ourselves for our own pleasure. And that makes conversations about sex in general & kink in specific really hard to have, especially when it comes to kink, how WOC may choose to engage in it & whether or not we utilize the same spaces for connections as white people.
Our voices are erased from so many media outlets (see the casual moments of racism in 50 Shades of Grey and how little has been said about that), and what we speak of when we do speak to each other is often not for public consumption. But not talking to or for outsiders isn’t the same as not talking at all.
So, let’s talk about what it means to stand at the corner of Madonna/Whore as Mammy/Jezebel & how that impacts our expressions of our sexuality. Let’s talk about why sites like Fetlife being underpopulated with WOC doesn’t mean WOC aren’t interested in kink. And let’s talk about what a cultural history of being unrapeable legally might do to the idea of sexual freedom. If we’re seen as whores from birth regardless, what do we do to own our sexuality? How do we navigate kink in our minds & with our bodies? How do we find partners & what do we disclose & when? For those of us in kinky relationships, what does it mean to play? Do we attend munches/classes/parties? Are those environments safe for us? And what about things like race play, how do we reconcile ourselves to that if it is or isn’t part of our kink?
ive given this issue a lot of thought recently. my kink life started with a connection with one person, not through a munch, or a play party, or an online link up on a kink website. ive since attended play parties and munches and joined kink websites and i have to say not many of these places are spaces that make WOC feel safe and this is a problem. a KEY element of the BDSM lifestyle is trust. ive been approached by many white men because of their attraction to my picture. these are the same white men who chose to ignore that fact i am already taken. this information is right next to that picture. these are the same white men who collect black female submissives on fetlife and the same men who think that my fantasies involve being treated like the “black beast that i am”. its crazy. its backward, and for me, it’s not safe.
as i read more erotic fiction, fiction that starts with intense bondage scenes after a two second conversation between strangers im left thinking, who the hell is conducting their sex life like this. i know its fantasy. i know its fiction, but what message is it sending to people outside of the lifestyle. there’s a different between getting off on pain and putting your life in danger. if you met a guy in a bar would you really just go home with him and let him tie you up? no? then would you do it just because he says he’s a Dom? or because he’s rich? or because he seems to know what’s best for you? that’s crazy. that’s not BDSM. that’s abuse.
here’s the thing about submission, if im going to give my mind AND my body to you, i have to know that you are interested in me as a person. i have to know that you are looking for the signs that i am being pushed too far and not because you don’t want to be accused of rape or that you might literally break me. i need to know what you are respecting me, loving me and doing everything you can to help us both express our sexual needs. and you need to know that simply saying “you look so sexy dear” wont make my legs fall open.
this is nearly impossible if you make it known before i have even given you that trust that your only desire is procuring a WOC for your stock. that shit is not gonna fly. i live my life
with my safety at the forefront of my day to day. i don’t trust strangers. i face enough danger as is. do you know how afraid i am to get pulled over by LAPD? i don’t need to be bound and naked when that danger makes itself evident.
i’ve been pretty open about my kink life online, but the details aren’t for anyone but me and my partner. does that mean im not a legit member of the community? no. its just means i don’t want to talk to strangers about what exactly i do in my private time. you know why? because strangers like to take the little bits of information they do know about you, like the size of your cleavage or the color your skin, and use it to make judgements and further assumptions. they use that information to create their own fantasy with your image at the center (or most likely at the periphery) and that’s the wrong foot to start on.
so for me it’s definitely relationship first, kink second. i can put the kink on hold if my partner isn’t into it, but i can’t put my well-being on hold just to get off. i say this because there are people in the lifestyle and people interested in the lifestyle who take the approach the other way around.
There was further discussion by other readers about the politics of being a WOC and being whipped by a white Dom in public forum, being paraded around as black chattel, etc, things that would test me far beyond my mental comfort zone. I must note that I have been in interracial relationships my whole romantic life and I guess technically I’m in one now. I don’t think that all non-POC are looking to degrade WOC like it’s their job. I’m saying it the actions of few that are ruining it for many.
Obviously my life is something I take seriously, but when I write I take my characters and their experiences seriously too. If other WOC don’t approach BDSM in a way that the larger collection of BDSM fiction is portraying then there is a disconnect, one that I can’t ignore. I’m still thinking this through. I’m wondering how and if the community will evolve, but I’m sharing this as food thought, for characters, and audience, and the people around you.