Tuesday, July 8, 2014

BDSM Blog Hop: Using Our Words

Hi, and welcome to the BDSM blog hop, running July 5-13! Visit the hop's main page to see what BDSM readers and writers have to say about the lifestyle. Today I'm talking about misusing the BDSM label in fiction. Krog! Bring me my soapbox!



We know BDSM encompasses a massive range of activities and identities. But what does an activity need to be in order to fall under the BDSM umbrella?

Say it with me: Safe. Sane. And consensual.

BDSM stands for bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, and sadomasochism. Individually, these terms aren’t defined by the presence of consent, or even sex. But when you’re using the letters together, you’re referring to a variety of consensual practices with protocols in place to ensure the safety of the participants.

Which is why it bothers me when publishers include rape, torture, abuse, and kidnapping books in their BDSM and/or kink categories.

I used to see it happen a lot. And I still see it happen some. It’s like if there’s a whip in the book, regardless of why it’s there, the book gets labeled BDSM. I read a story last year that featured zero consensual sexual activity and pretty much nonstop rape and torture, and was asked by my Kindle when I finished, “Want More Unconventional Kink?” This was followed by a list of recommended reads. An eyeball licking fetish might be an unconventional kink. Rape? Um, no.

One of the biggest misconceptions the BDSM community has struggled with over the years is the idea that what we do is abuse. That it is violent, damaging, and only practiced by people who have a screw or two loose.

I get that in romance, readers have certain “kinks” we enjoy reading about but know are not okay in real life. Capture. Forced sexual slavery. Getting busy with krakens. But there are a lot of romance and erotica books on the market that portray capture, rape, and abuse, not as an erotic fantasy, but as crimes. And still get shelved as BDSM.

So the deal is, if it’s a story where the relationship and/or the sex is nonconsensual, it’s not BDSM. In BDSM, there’s consensual nonconsent—pre-negotiated enactment of a nonconsensual fantasy—but rape, even the I-was-ravished-by-pirates-and-was-surprised-by-how-much-I-enjoyed-it kind, is not BDSM. If it’s a story featuring mental or physical abuse—non-negotiated, nonconsensual damage to a person’s body or psyche—it’s not BDSM.

I know there are some gray areas. Anne Rice’s Beauty trilogy isn’t consensual, but it is clearly a fantasy, taking place in an imaginary kingdom in a time that never was and with participants who become willing (not to imply that a participant becoming willing after the fact is EVER an excuse for rape IRL). Would I call it a BDSM story? Yes. Why? I don’t know. Probably the spicy buttplugs. I do think it’s necessary, in a genre that explores taboos the way erotic romance does, to draw some distinction between realistically portrayed rape and violence, and very obvious fantasy.

The BDSM label in fiction is perhaps more for the benefit of readers, and doesn’t necessarily refer to how the characters in the story define their relationship. But what does it do for the real world perception of BDSM to put a book about a consensual kinky relationship in the same category as the stuff Law and Order: SVU episodes are made of? I love reading the SVU stuff. But I don’t want to see it on a list of Kinky Recommendations.

It’s time for the writing world to use its words and make a distinction between BDSM and abuse.  

And I’ll bet making that distinction could give rise to some creative new marketing categories…

4 comments:

  1. I love this line: if it’s a story where the relationship and/or the sex is nonconsensual, it’s not BDSM.
    Thanks for being a part of the hop! Your wit is always a delight, but your information is very much needed.

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    1. Thanks, Vicktor! Enjoyed being a part of it, and enjoyed your hop posts--you make me feel like a slacker! :)

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  2. I am with you on portraying BDSM in fiction as SSC. I don't mind, however, if abuse is included in books as long as it is clearly obvious that the abuse is NOT considered abuse. A good example is Grace R. Duncan's Golden Collar series - there's some abuse in them that's hard to stomach, but it is clear that it is not okay.

    Thanks for your contribution to the hop! I actually wrote an entry on SSC and RACK, which you might be interested in reading, if you haven't already. I haven't read any of your books yet but do plan to, they look interesting! As for me, I haven't published anything original yet, but hopefully will have time to work on my originals soon...

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    1. Awesome post! The definition of "safe" absolutely is subjective (as is sane, perhaps :) so I've always interpreted it to mean basically what RACK means--that while the activity may carry an inherent risk, it's being conducted by people of sound mind in a way designed to prevent lasting harm to anyone involved. Sort of like driving a car--you buckle your seatbelt and come to a complete stop at stop signs and all that good stuff, and it's considered "safe" driving--even though driving is dangerous no matter what.

      I think it's great you brought up the subjectivity issue. It's easy enough to assure people with no BDSM interest or experience that BDSM is SSC, but harder to explain how drawing blood or electroshocking someone's genitals can be "safe."

      And yes! I love books that feature abuse--as long as the abuse is being presented as abuse.

      Good luck with your original stuff, and thanks for being part of the hop!

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