BDSM and The Faulty Personality Presumption

I know I’ve posted about similar things in the past, but I feel that what I’m going to say bears repeating lately as it seems to perpetually crop up. I was watching last week’s episode of CSI, a show I usually love, when I was wacked across the face with a similar storyline to what I’ve often seen before – BDSM portrayed in a negative light.

The quick and dirty synopsis of the episode is that a basketball coach is found murdered and the investigation uncovers that is “having an affair” with a professional domme after a large number of rather delicious (in my mind) BDSM toys are found at his house. The investigators jump to the quick conclusion that this domme is the prime suspect in his murder. It’s a story line I’ve seen played out time and time again. CSI itself has used this premise multiple times previous, famously when Lady Heather was introduced in the second season. Back then, I was pleased when this character was used as a way of explaining BDSM. She put a rather positive face on kink in primetime television, something so rarely seen. All too often it’s the Law & Orders of the world that jump to the conclusion that because someone practices BDSM, they are automatically guilty of whatever crime was perpetrated.

I would like to state on the record at this point that just because someone enjoys BDSM, it does not mean automatically they are a criminal or have criminal tendencies. There has been no conclusive evidence to support this claim to my knowledge. If anybody has any links to studies that make this claim, please send them my way because I want to know about them.

As human beings we are quick to label and judge as abhorrent that which we do not understand, something I try to fight against in my own life both in the way people act towards me and in my own judgments of people. We act out of fear when we call people names, slut shame, and label.  Militant feminists label male dominant, female submissive relationships as “degrading.” Religious people label most anything sexual as “immoral.” Even now the American Psychiatric Association still considers sadism and masochism (both consenting and non-consenting) to be a paraphilia, meaning that they consider the activities abnormal. Thankfully revision work seems to be happening with the latest release of the DSM-IV-TR to say that “paraphilias are not ipso facto psychiatric disorders” and clearly defining paraphilic disorders as “paraphilia that causes distress or impairment to the individual or harm to others.” That gives me hope that when the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders version four comes out in 2013 that BDSM will finally receive the psychological distinction it deserves from non-consenting violence.

BDSM falls in a legal grey zone nowadays. Consent is a tricky issue, with some jurisdictions not allowing anybody to consent to anything more than minor injuries to themselves. Kinky conventions such as Bound in Boston operate in a major middle zone because it is held in a jurisdiction that has previously stated in legal cases that even if a bottom consents to the physical infliction of pain by the top, it does not absolve the perpetrator of a crime.

I have found myself too often reading cases in the news such as the 2011 case of lawyer Alisha Smith who was suspended from the New York State Attorney General’s Office after it was discovered she had a side job as a professional dominatrix. The attorney general’s office made the excuse that she was suspended due to an office policy that employees are prohibited from engaging in activities that earn them in excess of $1000 without consent from supervisors. My gut tells me though that while that may have been a by-the-book answer, higher ups were embarrassed that an upstanding pillar of the New York legal community, one that assisted in a $5 billion settlement against Bank of America, could engage in such activities.

Few people know exactly why I have chosen to stay “undercover” other than to protect my identity. It is because in my profession, I can be disciplined by the governing professional body for if I were to “commit a criminal act that reflects adversely on the [professional]’s honesty, trustworthiness, or fitness as a [professional] in other respects” or were to “engage in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation.” There have been past limits on that authority, but to me that is a pretty broad basis to professional discipline someone. Thankfully there are many kink aware and supportive professionals that are willing to make themselves known through the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom’s list of kink aware professionals.

Here we are in almost 2013, roughly 40 years after the start of the modern LGBT rights movement and BDSM practitioners are still fighting for their rights. I am an upstanding, law abiding citizen. I pay taxes and vote and have assisted in the prosecution of domestic violence in the past. I am not a criminal, but that is the way I feel sometimes when I see the media portrayal of BDSM. Whether it comes from a sense of wonder or “cultural curiosity with S/M [that] stems not from social acceptability, but a desire to ogle what is perceived as aberrant sexual conduct” (a quote from an awesome law review article titled “Beyond the Pleasure Principle: The Criminalization of Consensual Sadomasochistic Sex” by Monica Pa in the Texas Journal of Women and Law. 

We live in a culture absolutely obsessed with sex. We use it to sell everything from toothpaste to vibrators. We exploit the innate interest we have in it, but are ashamed of it at the same time. In the interest of fitting in, we shame those who have the guts to explore desires that are perfectly normal among consenting adults. Because that’s what ultimately counts here – consent. Why should the consent of rational, sane, informed adults be so carelessly discarded and made insignificant? The same goes for the interplay between female submission and feminism. The root goal of feminism isn’t the promotion of one gender over others. It is the equality of all genders. As a woman I should have the absolute right to freely give my submission. Taking submission without it being freely given isn’t BDSM; it’s abuse. That is the finite point here. 

This is a fight that all BDSM practitioners must be willing to engage in. It’s not something we can ignore. It is about the existence of a lifestyle and a way of life, both different means to an end. The only way this almost morbid curiosity and exploitation of our practices will ever be cured is if we stop putting up with it, if we stop staying silent to save face and save our anonymity. Be brave. Be willing to stand up and say “Yes, I practice BDSM and it doesn’t make me any less of a person.” One voice is quiet, but many voices cannot be ignored.

2 thoughts on “BDSM and The Faulty Personality Presumption

  1. Remittance Girl

    I’m slightly torn on the issue you brought up at the beginning of your post. Is it never acceptable to portray a member of that group as a villain in fiction?

    Are black villains okay? Asian villains? Gay villains? Female villains?

    I think there is a difference between being portrayed as an antagonist and being portrayed inaccurately. As a writer and a kinky person, I feel it is important to write minority characters with as much individuality and as little stereotyping as is humanly possible, but I don’t agree that it is out of bounds for any movie, television show or novel to have a kinky villain. I just would like to see that character written into context.

    Reply

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