The City Paper published an article on Kink. Here is my rebuttal.
Hey, City Paper, you recently wrote an article on a kinky party. Let’s get this out of the way up front – It was bad. Real bad. I was at a kink convention when word of its publication started to spread. I read it, and duly fired up, sent a couple of tweets about how myopic it was. However, I was not going to spend a lot of time on it as I was doing something I loved, and the piece was out there now. My response would have to wait until later. I am glad I did, because I have had a chance to order my thoughts and perhaps put them in a more gentle way that would not have been possible had I tried to write this earlier, when those incensed emotions were still present. Here is what I have decided to tell you.
First, we have to talk about sexual minorities and their place in our culture. Gay, trans, kink, bisexual, to name just a few, are consistently pushed to the edges of society. Even as the gay community has made great gains, other communities still suffer from prejudice and threats of violence. All of these communities have their own dynamics and issues, but one unifying concern is that even as they are ingrained into the larger culture participants still face harmful prejudice. Even while gay people secure rights they are still subject to discrimination. It may no longer be legal, but a gay person can still lose a job, and legally it’s difficult to prove. A transwoman can appear in Time magazine while transpeople are subject to violence. I guess what I am saying is that these days life might be better if you are gay, but the rest of the communities still have a long way to go.
That brings us to point number two, it can be career and personal relationship suicide to come out as kinky. Having your picture or name out as someone who likes to wield whips and fire can brand you a freak, a person not to be trusted, a deviant. People start talking about removing you from your job or your children from your care. It’s serious and scary stuff. We hide by necessity. Yes, there is a little thrill in hiding, it’s part of the mystique – but, make no mistake, the danger is real. Trans people often talking about ‘passing’ not only because it makes them feel better, but also because they are scared of the violence that can be visited on them if they give away their birth assigned gender. We shun the spotlight as a rule, even those of us that are at less of a risk, so we can protect everyone who wants to participate.
That brings us to the third problem. The phenomenon that is ‘50 Shades of Grey’. Where do you start with this? The core problem is what it was a fanfiction of Twilight’s Edward and Bella. At its core the relationship between these protagonists was icky and cringey, and borderline abusive. Erika James then brought in BDSM. Now, Ms James doesn’t have any personal experience with BDSM, she was just writing her Bella and Edward fantasy with some bondage and spanking involved. She wrote for her own edification, and no one thought it would be as popular as it is. Certainly no one thought it would become a worldwide phenomenon and a modern representation of BDSM. For us, 50 Shades is bad. It is real bad. There are lots of problems and lots of things that would never be allowed in a kink community. Those have been well-documented elsewhere, so I won’t go into it now, but just know that this book has now made us akin to zoo animals. Everyone wants to look, perhaps sneer at the people involved (and their less than movie star good looks, and pocket books worth far less than a billion dollars), and oogle our play. It’s insulting and gross.
Now combine these three things and add in your article. Hopefully, you start to see our issues.
It’s clear you know little to nothing of the scene culture, or the people involved. You seem like one of those visitors at our zoo. First, the talk of past abuse. Wow. Where did that come from? I am glad that people can talk about subjects openly, but in the milieu of a play party, it simply didn’t belong. Now, you will say that the blurb that you put in about the therapist should diffuse this criticism. It doesn’t. Not by a long shot. If you want to do an in-depth piece on the correlation or causation of abuse as it applies to BDSM, fetishes, and kink – please do so. But do it well. Don’t mention it casually when you are a guest at a party. You implied either correlation or causation (you left it to the reader to pick one) and that is insulting. If someone is living out their BDSM life because of sexual abuse as you (and Eirka James in 50 Shades) implied, chances are they will be frustrated and abusive. They will not last in a social scene that places emphasis on safety, relationships, and comfort of all involved.
Now, onto the party itself. Parties at private homes are always a little risky – people have events in their homes for a variety of reasons: they can pick and choose the crowd, they can allow things that may not be allowed in the more public spaces (for instance, play with a bullwhip; while a popular activity, it requires a lot of space for safety and many places do not allow it for that reason.), and it can be cheaper. But private parties may allow drugs and alcohol, and rarely screen or vet people like some of the bigger venues. Let us be clear, I am not implying, in any way, that the party you attended allowed any of those negative things. In fact, just the opposite, they seemed well organized and orderly. For that, the party and you deserve kudos.
Next, you jumped right into the party without any of the lead in that would be associated with being part of the scene. You didn’t mention the munches (a meeting of kinky people in a vanilla environment, usually a restaurant), happy hours, and meet and greets that take place around the area. These are the gateway to kink events. It’s a chance for you to prove that you are a rational and sane person, that you are more interested in forming friendships than beating up some young girl (or guy), and that you are willing to be part of a community at a time when your clothes are on. Yes, one of your article subjects mentions it, but the article does not describe what they are or why they are in place.
Then you totally didn’t even mention the wealth of learning that these people have to know to do this activity. Getting out a whip and a crop and going to town on someone is dangerous, and in some states, illegal – not to mention playing with needles, fire, and rope. All of these take time and dedication to learn. Instead of talking about blow jobs (though that was hot, good job there) why not talk about safe sex, safe impact play, consent, RACK (Risk-Aware Consensual Kink), or any of the other things our community has in place to make sure that everyone playing at a party gets enjoyment and not an injury or emotional scar?
In short, you wrote about the part that was titillating, that sells papers, that makes us sound weirder than we are – and ignored the other 95%. You ignored the way the community polices itself, you ignored talking about other venues for this sort of play, you ignored the watch-word of ‘consent’ – our core value – and you ignored us. In your goal to write an article about the flavor of the month subject – BDSM – you threw real kinky people under the bus. You captured a small, and somewhat seedy, part of our culture and left out the wealth of people who work hard to put forward education and events to make BDSM in Baltimore the rich tapestry of kink that it is.
You lack the one thing you really needed to make this a good article – context. The term BDSM doesn’t even appear until the 12th paragraph. Other terms like polyamory and even kinkster are used without definition or context. Most of the information in the article is conjecture or opinion, and that makes sense, because you lacked the information to do anything but draw conclusions on the meager amount of time you spent in one place with one set of kinksters.. Matters such as consent violations are basically glossed over – something that is dealt with harshly within our community. Context is vital to understanding. Why is a consent violation serious? We know. Do you? What constitutes a consent violation? Do you know? Most of us do. It’s not as murky as the woman in the article led you to believe. What are some of the safe-guards that exist? I know, and knowing is vital to my safety and anonymity. Worst of all, a victim of consent violations and a man with abuse convictions was given but a few words in this article. You went to one party, spoke to a few people and one former community leader. The kink community isn’t monolithic, one group’s activity isn’t indicative of kink as a whole. There may be some valid concerns about a specific party and some of its patrons – concerns we will share within the community – but specific concerns aren’t indicative of a fundamental problem. In short you presented the Baltimore/DC Kink scene (these two cities have close ties in the Kink community and often work together and play together) in a light that is offensive to those that work within it.
Before I close, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out some specific ways you fell short. One, subspace. Subspace can be reached for many subs without that intense trust mentioned, and tops can have a similar high as well. Why is the young woman that uses knife-play as a de facto therapy for self cutting not getting help from a therapist? Use knife-play for fun, for endorphins, for a thrill – not because you need to work through issues. Next you assert that BDSM is illegal. Is every sex shop selling illegal products? No. But why not? Is every spanker committing assault? Maybe. The law can be unclear and murky in this area. Last, you associate BDSM with actual sex. You do it over and over again. Let me tell you a story that I have permission to repeat. I know a domme who loves everything about the kink scene. She is enthusiastic, intelligent, outfitted with corsets and stockings, and attends a variety of events. She hasn’t had sex in three years. When I asked her why she merely shrugged and said, “It’s never been the right time, I’m just having fun.” This story is more common than you know. Sex and BDSM can go together, but they dont always. Just because kinksters identify as a sexual minority does not mean they are bed-hopping. Doesn’t mean they aren’t either – this community is about doing what feels good to you.
You fell short. The people at the party fell short. Both of you brought us in the kink scene more of the kind of attention that is not needed – and did not give the reader any resources if they wanted to learn more. Probably because the party had few kink leaders and educators at it. You angered so many who read the article, and caused a rift between more than a few people. You did that by not being a good reporter. And for that you owe many people an apology. The City Paper deserves better. The Kinky community deserves better. I deserve better.