As I was pondering what to write about today, I stumbled upon this post about a minor Canadian celebrity, Jian Ghomeshi, who claims that he was fired for being kinky. Turns out there are multiple allegations of consent violations against him. Andrea Zanin, Sex Geek blog author, sums up the issue pretty perfectly.
A danger inherent in this kind of media-message success is that the “don’t hate me for being kinky” defence will be used by people who perpetrate non-consensual violence, and that we, as a community, will stand by uncritically – or worse, cry out in support – as victims of violence are once again silenced. I don’t wish to be complicit in someone’s misappropriation of BDSM terminology and codes as a shield for rape and assault. So when this defence comes up, my immediate reaction is to listen very carefully, read everything I can find on a given instance, and hold back on my knee-jerk inclination to side with the “persecuted pervert.” Persecuted perverts do exist, absolutely. But we don’t know, until we hear the full story, whether that’s what’s really going on – or if we’re being thrown under the bus by someone who’s no friend to sadomasochism.
I share this sentiment when it comes to kink. To me, acceptance of kink does not imply uncritical and unexamined acceptance of all non-traditional sexualized behavior. This whole situation sends my brain in a few places. On the one hand I see why one would buy into Ghomeshi’s narrative of being persecuted by the Canadian media. If that is indeed the case, the implications are more than a little frightening. At the same time, whenever there is an allegation of sexual misconduct, it is important to err on the side of belief. On top of that, I’m also tempted to write this whole thing off as a creeper using kink to justify bad behavior. This last thought hits on just about all of my nerves. Seriously. All of them.
However, since whole point of this blog is to promote safety and transparency in kink communities (and everywhere else as well, quite frankly) I can’t just write this one incident off. I feel compelled to look more broadly at how this kind of situation, and accusations of abuse in general, relate to kinky communities. I’ve already discussed some of the complexities of abuse within kink, when I addressed the phenomenon of abuse from the bottom, and I’ve laid out my own working definition of consent. Assuming the worst case scenario, Mr. Ghomeshi’s preemptive “don’t hate me cause I’m kinky”/“I’m kinky, so it’s cool” defense is not exactly unheard of in kink circles. Such behaviors cannot be swept under the rug, and it is unacceptable for people to use any identity label to avoid accountability.
This sort of scapegoating triggers me more than your average bear.
The same thing happens in kink. The stakes are very different and no children are (hopefully) involved, but kinksters can also be adept at self-protective rationalization. It is incredibly seductive to minimize or disbelieve an accusation of abuse in the kink community. After all, the kink community is all about consent. Conversely, when we accept that someone within a kink community has transgressed the community’s stated values, it’s natural to want to create distance between that person and community at large (figuratively and literally). No one likes the thought that violence can happen to them or at the hands of people they know. However, if there’s one thing I have learned over the relatively short span of my career, it’s that if you think abuse isn’t happening in your back yard, think again. Abuse happens in the kink world not because kinksters are twisted perverts, but because they are, for all intents and purposes, painfully normal.
All of this brings up some very important questions: When someone in a BDSM community violates their stated values by another person’s boundaries, what does that mean for the community’s identity? Can we legitimately say “well Masoch McGee isn’t really kinky” or distance them from the rest of the scene?
I don’t think we can. I think this is one of those moments when embracing yes/and is both challenging and crucial. Yes, a pillar of kink/BDSM culture is the importance of informed consent, AND there are people within this culture whose actions will not align with their stated values, AND there are a lot of wonderful and conscientious people in those very communities whose actions are congruent with the community’s values.