Saturday, December 1, 2012

Harvard Rocks...and MSNBC Gives an Important Article the Dumbest Title Ever

So Harvard’s started a BDSM club. And they’re not the first school to do it. Columbia's has actually been around since 1994. But people are making big news out of this one, and as expected, it’s stirring up some controversy. "Harvard sex club" is trending on Yahoo, and in fact, several news outlets are using the phrase “sex club” in their headlines (except for MSNBC, which went with “50 Grades of Grey.” Really?)--as opposed to calling the organization what it really is: a place for people with alternative lifestyles to meet, share ideas and resources, and learn about safety. Which admittedly doesn’t have the same ring.

So we’ve got the media throwing around the phrase “sex club,” we’ve got affronted parents saying this isn’t why they pay for their kids to go to college, and we’ve got some oh so mature kinksters firing back: “You’re boring in bed!”

Sigh. But for all that, the presence of groups like this on campuses is a huge step forward. And I feel a “back in my day” story coming on…

When I was an adolescent kinkster in the making, I had the internet. Which was great because it meant I knew from an early age I wasn’t alone in my interests. I might have been a freak, but I was one of many. But it also meant that the first BDSM images I ever saw were porn. Pictures of (almost always) women tied in weird positions while some burly dude whipped them. Dialogueless video clips of people in hoods swinging floggers and canes.

That's what you are, I thought. I knew I wanted the whips, but I didn't know if I was ready to be what I was seeing--if I'd ever want to be that. I got this idea of BDSM as something separate from “regular” sex, separate from romance, and separate from the idea of a caring relationship between equals.

When I read my first kinky stories online, they were usually discipline stories—often not explicitly sexual, but written for fetishistic purposes. “A Spanking from Aunt Jane”—which kind of confused and disturbed me, because I didn’t know whether it was okay to feel turned on by a story about someone getting spanked by a blood relative. I remember one story involving two teen boys, a security guard, and a hairbrush named Harold. One boy broke down in the middle of a session with Harold and started yelling “Please, Daddy, I’ll be good.” I’ve got more of a perspective on stories like that now. At the time it was a little terrifying.

Again: That’s what you are. You’re reading it, and you’re not turning away. That means you like it, and that means there’s something wrong with you.

Just about everything I saw or read until I was probably sixteen or seventeen did something to cement for me the negative stereotypes our culture has long saddled BDSM with—when it talks about BDSM at all: freakish, dangerous, degrading, and loveless. The province of people who don’t value themselves or each other enough to have “normal” relationships. A resurrection and perpetuation of childhood traumas. It was really hard, when I was younger, to find the human side of BDSM.

That’s one of many things that delight me about the modern world of erotic romance: here, finally, is the human side. Not just the dungeons and the darkness, but the moments of humor, tenderness, and domesticity that exist any relationship—even the whippy kind. Here are the caring relationships between equals. One of the most rewarding things about writing Calling the Show was getting to work with two young characters who were figuring out their needs together. Who could look at some of those stereotypes and say, “Okay, but maybe that's not what we are. We’re just ourselves, doing what we need to do to make each other happy.”

It makes me so, so happy that younger kinksters have unprecedented access to BDSM resources—through college groups, through the much broader range of information now available on the internet, through romance novels. They’re gonna be able to learn about BDSM, not just through porn and perusing profiles on, but through open dialogue with experienced community members and with each other. This is a huge freaking deal.

So congrats, Harvard, and all the other schools who’ve taken this step. You rule. Even if you insist you don’t endorse the practices and the only reason these clubs exist is they don’t directly violate anything in the student handbook.*Wink.* Your secret's safe with me.

And I think a Calling the Show sequel just landed in my lap, right? Hollander College starts a BDSM club. A certain theater minor who loves social justice is on that bandwagon before you can say “hula hoop,” while a certain neurotic stage manager is sooo not ready to be outed as a kinkster at school. Especially now that he’s a teacher…