Monday, January 26, 2015

A Car Wreck Waiting to Happen: My Problem With Problematic Domism

So, in keeping with the sort-of Back to Basics theme I find myself in, I thought I would re-post this old Tumblr reblog from a while back. 

I hadn’t posted it anywhere else at the time because I had more to say on the topic and didn’t have the time to really delve into it as much as I would have liked to. 

But, at the moment, I find myself in a bit of a writer’s slump, story-wise, so it appears I have the time.

As a concept, I actually do think that Domism is a problem that plagues the BDSM scene and kinksters’ place in the wider vanilla world as well. And that’s something that I want to explore in a separate piece that I’ll save for later.

But before I talk about my actual take on Domism, I want to talk about my problem with some people’s idea of problematic Domism. My problem with Domism—much like my problem with feminism and political correctness, all ideas that I agree wholeheartedly with as concepts, even if I’m less on-board with many of individual viewpoints that are too often shared—is less about the idea and truth behind the concept and has much more to do with how people perceive and present the idea. The way we within the community perceive Dominance and submission and, in a broader sense, the way those things are perceived outside the community is a troubling issue—particularly for those of us who play outside those perceptions.

However, what I find troubling as well is that, in an effort to address the issue and find ways to fix it, we too often have too many people taking things in troubling directions. Too often, we get too many people who insist that the problem is imagined or insignificant.

But, you also get people…whose intentions are good, but who end up playing into the very problem they’re trying to fix.

Let me give you my example:

About a year ago, beyondthevalleyofthefemdoms (which, in so far as I know, no longer exists) had posted their take on Domism, and how the systemic problem of inequality in the BDSM scene extended to the entirety of BDSM as a whole:

[…] I’d like to address an important point that came up during discussion of my previous post: The kink I am talking about is not some obscure and terrible kink that few people have. I’m talking about power exchange. Run of the mill power exchange that everyone in the BDSM scene seems to fetishize. The D and S in BDSM.
Power exchange is, at [its] root, deeply problematic. I don’t mean that in the Tumblr kind of way. Problematic doesn’t mean “unspeakably evil and must be destroyed.” Problematic means that something upholds systemic inequalities. There are a lot of things that are problematic that can be perfectly fine- heterosexuality, for example. There’s a systemic inequality between men and women that most heterosexual relationships do nothing to challenge. That doesn’t mean that heterosexual relationships are bad or should not exist, only that they usually reinforce/do not challenge the status quo.
D/s upholds systemic inequalities in the kink scene. It is a constructed systemic inequality (although to be fair, basically all systems of inequality are constructed. This one is just a little more obvious.). Domism, the privileging of dominant people over submissive people, is not possible without power exchange. Dominants and submissives only exist within a limited cultural context- Outside of kink spaces, they are identities with little relevance. Submissives aren’t banned from getting married, or receiving federal benefits, or access to adequate schooling. Dominants are not conferred any special advantages, because in the rest of the world, nobody knows or cares that you’re dominant, or even knows what a dominant is. But within kink contexts, there is a serious power inequality between dominants and submissives, regardless of anything that has been negotiated. I encourage you to read the link about domism for more information.
Power inequalities make real, meaningful consent much more difficult, because there is always the risk of coercion. When the people with extra power find having and exercising that extra power erotic, the difficulty level increases even more. Fetishizing unfairness and inequality does not challenge unfairness and inequality. It reinforces it.
When I talk about monsters, I am talking about dominants. That means me. That also means you, the person reading this, if you identify as a dominant. This isn’t just about douchebag cis male doms in utilikilts, or about that guy who’s a rapist in your community (although it is also about them). This is about problems with the entire concept of dominance. This is about how the way the scene teaches us to do things now is totally fucked. This is about whether we can do better, or whether it’s even possible to do better. Is it possible to enact dominance without being coercive? Is it possible to make real decisions when there is a power inequality? How can we do better? Can we make dominance less oppressive? Is it even worth saving?

I do think it’s admirable that this person is concerned about this. I know many tops for whom this is a troubling idea they wrestle with—and, let’s be honest, that’s better than the alternative.

But, as a bottom—if not a submissive—I appreciate the concern, but take issue with sentiment. The whole premise of “Domism” is that the automatic assumption that “Dominants are powerful” and “submissives are weak” is logically flawed, right? 

So their worry that every act of Dominance is coercive is essentially the worry that every act of submission is, at least potentially, an act of violation. That every submissive is always and already a victim. That every submissive is weak at the hands of a more powerful Dominant.

Their worry about Domism is a textbook example of Domism in action and one I don’t agree with that. At all.

The act of submission takes great strength, intelligence, and savvy. It means that, hopefully—if you’re doing it well—that you’ve done your research and you know what acts you enjoy, how much your body can take, and who you can play with to ensure that your play plays within those bounds. 

And, if you don’t, you shouldn’t be playing. 

At all. 

With anyone. 

And, if you do, the likelihood of your play venturing into that coercive territory is pretty low. And, the likelihood of you being able to deal with it, if it should—by adjusting your expectations, if you realize in-scene that your capacity for submission is greater than you thought, or safewording out or doing whatever necessary in the moment if you need to—is much higher. 

Because you’re prepared. 

Because you—as the bottom—decide what happens to you. Because you have the strength of will—no matter the roles or scenes or games—to decide that.

And, for tops and Dominants, if you can’t trust that your bottom or submissive can do that, you shouldn’t be playing with them. If you can’t trust them, the way they trust you, what are you doing together at all, much less in a very involved and complex relationship like BDSM? Where the consequences of that lack of trust are staggering?

It’s a trite analogy, (and definitely breaks down, if looked at too hard—since both people ought to be doing some amount of the other and, speaking as a high-tolerance kinkster who tends to top from the bottom and bottom from the top…yeah, not all of us follow the pattern) but, in these types of relationships, the top serves most often as the gas pedal and the bottom most often as the breaks. You shouldn’t be driving the car at all, if you can’t trust both parts to do their jobs.

The fact of the matter is, while being kinky—being turned on by what turns you on—may not be a choice, acting on it is. If someone chooses to act on their submissive desires, they know—or really ought to know—what they’re getting into. As a submissive, it is their responsibility to know the risks they’re undertaking before they go out in the wider, wilder, wilier BDSM world, to ensure that they don’t get harmed and that they don’t harm their tops by causing the very psychic dilemma the poster is talking about. 

Erasing that responsibility—taking that burden and shifting it to the backs of Dominants—may seem like a noble gesture, but it’s ensuring the Domism perception that a submissive’s place is inevitably that of a perpetual victim. It’s taking away our ability to decide, to choose, to act on our own. It’s essentially saying that the big, bad Dom will protect you, even if it means denying us both what we want. It’s saying that you don’t trust us enough—don’t think us capable or strong or smart enough—to do our jobs.

And then all we’re left with is a bunch of unhappy, unfulfilled people in a broken-down car.

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