Yesterday night as every Tuesday I attended a meeting of my university’s Queers and Allies group. Being guest at a Christian university I knew that some things will be different and not nearly as progressive as at my German university’s gay interest group being one of the oldest ones in Germany. So I was more than surprised when the topic of this year’s Queer Fest, a week of informing people about non-heterosexual sexuality, came on the agenda. Because this group prides itself of trying to not exclude any form of sexual orientation (the current target group is LGBTQQAAP: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning, Asexual, Ally, Pansexual) and tries to promote diversity and acceptance on campus I offered my BDSM 101 speech when they called for educational event suggestions. What followed afterwards first shocked and later on outraged me. I heard things like “What is BDSM?”, “BDSM is rape porn!” or “BDSM degrades women!”
I was shocked by the ignorance because in my opinion in the year 2013 a person who is exposed to the internet and other sources of media should have at least have a rough concept of what BDSM is. Of cause I can understand how someone can come to the conclusion that BDSM is mostly rape porn or degrades women because of the way most commercial porn works (over dramatization of the acts in order to generate faster and more intensive stimulation) (1). But taking a niche of the porn industry to judge about an entire field of sexual interests is like saying the US society promotes child labor because girl scouts sell cookies. Induction from an extreme manifestation taken out of context must lead to the wrong impression of the whole picture. What really got me going was that they were reluctant to enlightenment but quickly move on the agenda in order to leave this unpleasant topic behind.
Back in my dorm I thought about this incident: Discrimination always originates from fear of the unknown mostly facilitated by twisted or misinterpreted messages. From the way BDSM is portrait in the main stream media I can to a certain extend understand that vanilla people think that we are (a bit) weird. But settling with the image can’t be the right answer because constantly fighting or hiding takes up way too much energy better invested in personal or professional development or hot scenes. So the solution is to educate, to be out, to be proud. Not like we currently are as gay men because a too offensive approach will just make matters worse by evoking reactance. But the question is: How? I could think of small steps to be taken like wearing a black leather or rubber wrist band and not making up some excuse when asked what it stands for. Like coming out to close friends in a careful and empathetic manner. Like inviting friends to come and join you when you visit a BDSM exhibition or when a sex educator holds a speech in your community. We have all these great resource to promote and educate about our lifestyle but mostly it is just a closed system serving just the members in our community. But sadly with the current Christian influenced sexual moral there is a high risk of putting people further off. Ideally opening up step by step will not only slowly wear down bad stereotypes and thus improve the life for all members of the BDSM community, you might also be pleasantly surprised who is interested in some deeper “conversations”. Sadly most of the time things don’t develop as ideally as hoped. As a small community we don’t have the resources and can’t create the lobby like the gay liberation movement did in the 60s and 70s. And despite that resignation is the wrong answer because there is a great reward waiting for us.
Like the issue of gay marriage it is a struggle of equality and freedom. Nobody will be forced to be open about his sexuality like no gay couple will be forced to marry. Quite the opposite: It is the struggle of keeping my sexuality as private and casual as I want it. If I get a new whip for Valentine ’s Day I don’t want to have to lie about it, I want the same superficial shared joy like a colleague who got new pair of cufflinks. And if I come back to work a bit exhausted after a weekend full of scenes I want the same right to be a bit off track like the guy who spent the last two days running a marathon. For me freedom is being able to do what I want with whom I want without having to fear bad consequences as long as I do not harm others. I don’t want praise or recognition outside my peer group, I want indifference. In my opinion that is not too much to ask for in a democratic society of the 21st century.
Of cause, a lot of people will now argue that this kind of fight and level of freedom doesn’t affect them. It is only a problem for the hard core player who is in agony after a weekend because his starched shirt is irritating his sore nipples and bruised back or who can’t think straight because after a week of chastity and edging his horniness is driving him crazy. Let me tell you: It is your issue. How quickly do rumors come up like “I have heard he likes so lick sneakers, isn’t that perverted?” or “I have been told he submits to his boyfriend, I always knew he didn’t have the guts for the managing position.”
So sadly sooner or later every person into BDSM will run into some kind of discrimination. Because of that it is important to start the education, liberation and finally indiffereation better sooner than later. Not only to improve the quality of life for the people who suffer from discrimination at the moment but to maybe keep yourself from experiencing them yourself in the future!
(1) For some weird reason a quick and superficial research on the major porn sites I know showed that there are more straight male dom than fem dom videos out there even though the ratio of doms to subs should be the same as in the gay BDSM scene thus the market for both scene should be equally large. I recall Gaddam and Ogas discussing this matter in their research but sadly my copy is in Germany; I am grateful for any input clarifying the matter.