This is a guest post by SherynB. Please take the time to read the whole thing. It's an important issue that needs to be addressed.
Okay, there's a 600lb gorilla in the room, and I'm done pretending it's not there. What we do isn't pretty or politically correct, and frankly, it's dangerous if we can't get (and stay) honest about the reality of it. So here it is as raw and real and un-PC as it is:
There is a cult of victimhood building in the scene. It's being cultivated and nurtured in the name of something I don't believe the originators ever intended their catchy phrase to stand for. Its endgame is dangerous for everybody involved, physically, emotionally, socially, and legally...and it's going to harm us all if it isn't nipped in the bud, right fucking now.
For consent to count...ASSENT has to matter.
What we do is VOLUNTARY. It's not an assault, battery or rape in any moral sense of the word, regardless of what the laws that were meant to protect people against involuntary harm actually say. We have message boards, clubs, businesses, parties and social groups where people come and ask, sometimes beg and plead, for others to hit, kick, scratch, burn, shock, bleed, humiliate, degrade, subjugate, frighten, outrage, piss on, piss off, and/or make them cry. Not because they are helpless victims, but because it sexually gratifies them to participate in those things. And there are people who agree to do it...want to do it...love to do all of those Terrible Horrible Very Nasty Things. Not because they are predatory assholes, but because it sexually gratifies them, too. And every one of those reputable organizations, and the ones that exist to protect them insist on two things above all others: You must be an adult. You must be consenting.
And that applies to BOTH (or all) of you, dammit.
We can pretend whatever we want to in the confines of that emotional, theatrical, energetic bubble that is our "scene", whether it's for an hour or most of our 24/7 life. But the reality of the situation is that we are free, sentient, competent adults with a responsibility to take care of OURSELVES. If you're not, get out of the pool. Go home. You're not old enough or competent enough to play here. The roller coaster might look like fun, and it is, but if you aren't tall enough to ride this ride, nobody wants you on it...because when you fall out and get harmed, it not only hurts you, it closes down the ride for the rest of us.
I've been following an epic thread on consent for months now, watching sadly as many of the comments devolve into dangerously magical thinking and wishing somebody would speak up, and say "Whoa. There's a point in which personal responsibility comes into play here." It took far too long. I waited longer than I should have. I said nothing at first because I respected the poster. Then because it was Sexual Assault Awareness month. Then because I was busy. And finally realized, I just didn't really want to be the lightning rod for the reflexive push-back that would follow, when I called bullshit on the parts of it that were batshit Pollyanna craziness. But hey, there's more than one-way people can get hurt in this game, and somebody has to stand up. I've been on both sides of this ride, and I'm out of patience with the silence, so today, it's me:
Being a top in this game is dangerous. Publicly, privately, with new partners or old. Being the one who does the Terrible Horrible Very Bad Things puts you in an untenable position that you cannot defend legally or morally no matter how many times they asked you to do it. As soon as somebody says "Oh, I changed my mind, I didn't want that after all," you are the one facing accusations of rape, boundary violations, incompetence, or predatory behavior. And it doesn't matter how careful you were, or how ethical you were, or how well you think you negotiated. You stay in this game for more than a couple years, you're gonna live through it whether you want to or not. Ask the biggest, baddest, kindest, most skilled, reputable and ethical tops of either gender that you know. Every single one of them has a story. Or two or three.
There are predators and crazies of all genders and every BDSM persuasion in this game. And yes, those poor tender delicate flowers of submission, slavery, and pain-sluttery are more often than anybody talks about...dangerous, and occasionally, actually predatory. Some are crazy. Some are just uneducated or immature. But the thing the dangerous ones have in common sounds a lot like this:
"I didn't tell you, and you didn't know, and I didn't say anything while it was happening, but what you did I didn't want, and you should have known that, even though I was saying you could, because well...it's your responsibility to know better than I do what I want. And besides...I was in subspace/headspace/dissociated/whatever the fuck...and wasn't in my right mind when I said you could. So...I didn't really consent to that."
I can't say this clearly enough:
If you go to a place when you play that makes you incompetent to give or revoke consent, you have a disability that makes you a danger to yourself and to the people you play with. And if you're going to play this game AT ALL, you have a responsibility to choose your partners VERY carefully, disclose that problem UP FRONT, and negotiate truthfully, intelligently and with major self-awareness around it.
Because I've got news for those of you that think that "bottoms" can't do or consent to this or that or the other inside of a scene...a whole fucking bunch of us can. And do. And those of you that can't or won't, and still ask for pick-up play with people you barely know, is the worst nightmare of every top on the planet. Especially if your version of negotiation sounds a lot like "oh, um...you're hot...and I've heard good things about you...and oh, um...you know...whatever you want to do, I guess. I like ."
Whether or not you want to live in that fantasy for yourself...or yell at me for calling you on it...keep this in mind: If you sell the notion that bottoming takes everybody to a place where consent is impossible...then ALL the work being done to make what we do legal and defensible and give us CHOICE is for naught. If we aren't competent to consent or withdraw consent once play starts, then everything we do will always be criminal, for our own protection. You can't have it both ways.
I know a couple that speaks, teach and demonstrate some of the heaviest fear, humiliation & taboo play out there...they play deep in emotion all the time...and every time I've heard them speak or seen anything they've written for the last several years, I hear the bottom in that couple pleading for people to hear and understand: TOPS ARE NOT MIND READERS. Her husband nods. But she's so frustrated you can almost hear her scream. It's a cry in the darkness I hear over and over, from tops, and from their partners, of either persuasion and a whole bunch of bottoms who gag at being lumped in that "helpless subbie victim" category. Most of us are good with body language, with nuances of energy and emotion...some aren't. But NONE of us are mind-readers. And when you tell us things are good, when you ask for what you want, when you use words that are understandable and in plain English and then tell us later that's not what you MEANT and we were supposed to KNOW that...we are helpless to respond. Because it's NOT RATIONAL.
Physical and emotional landmines happen. Endorphins and adrenaline allow things that the rational mind isn't comfortable with. We ALL wake up the next day sometimes thinking "What the FUCK was I thinking when I did/allowed/asked for that??" Or with more marks or bruises or embarrassment or physical or emotional hurt than we wanted, for ourselves or our partners. Sometimes it takes months to untangle whatever knots we surfaced. Sometimes we trigger stuff that needs therapy, or even medical treatment. Sometimes we do it on purpose, sometimes we don't. Shit happens, and often it's nobody's fault...unless you knew that shit was there, and didn't disclose it.
But when you wake up the next day and think to yourself: "Wow. I'm not comfortable with how far that went." Ask yourself what you actually did or said. Ask your partner what you did or said. Ask bystanders what you did or said. And own your part in it. Because whatever you were thinking...if you actually held the conversation and all the responses entirely in your head...you can't hold someone else responsible for what you didn't say or do here on the planet where the rest of us are. And if you couldn't possibly have predicted the outcome, how rational is it for you to expect that your partner should have?
Safewords exist for a reason. Plain English exists for a reason. All those classes on negotiation exist for a reason. Read the book The Gift of Fear (Gavin de Becker) and learn not just what a real predator looks like...but where YOUR responsibility to recognize the obvious signs and protect yourself begins. Find your emotional power to recognize and say "no" to what you don't want BEFORE you get naked and tied up and give up your actual physical power to walk away to anybody. And if you find, after the fact, that you don't have a voice in that situation...get one. Therapy and education and finding your own power will serve you far better in this life than setting yourself up for perpetual victimhood again and again, and wondering why it keeps happening to YOU.
Because your consent DOES count. And when you give it...you have a responsibility to give it honestly and to expect to be taken at your word. And when you withdraw it, which you have a perfect right to do at any time, you have the responsibility to communicate it clearly, and to act on it. Anything else puts you and everybody you play with at risk. Once you've done THAT, there's no excuse and no apology for anybody violating it. But until you do...it's magical and dangerous thinking to believe that someone else is going to "know" what you want, and do it, despite what you say or don't say. In fact, somebody who would discount your communication that way is far more dangerous than someone who takes you at your word, as a competent, sentient adult, who has decided for yourself that you're big enough to be on this strange and wonderful ride.
Now somebody get that gorilla a banana. We've been ignoring it for far too long.
NOTE: There is a huge discussion about this post going on FetLife. The author requests that you head over there and continue the discussion if you can, as there is a lot of excellent added material in the comments.
SherynB is a poly-kinky-hedonist-sadomasochist-slut-pansexual-switch. She posted this article on FetLife and has graciously allowed me to post it here as well. You can find her on FetLife as SherynB.