Sometimes your kink is NOT okay

Originally posted on Tumblr

Sometimes I think a lot of kinksters just expect everyone to drop whatever critical lens they may have upon entering the public scene. “Your kink is okay” is drilled into people as a way of making room for the wide variety of things that fall under the kink/fetish/BDSM umbrella. It’s a useful thing to remember when you encounter things that squick you, or that just hold no appeal. Just because it’s not your kink doesn’t mean it’s bad.

But what about when you’re pretty sure that someone’s kink is *not* okay? Are we supposed to drop our ethics or our ideologies? Are we supposed to behave like once the leather and latex come out then we’ve entered a critique-free zone? Is BDSM the key to a mythical, objective, ideology-free world? That what some folks seem to think.

“If you don’t like it, then don’t participate,” they’ll say. “It’s not your place to judge.” As if scenes, fetishes, and relationships existed in a void, neither affected by nor affecting anything not directly connected to them.

But sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, patriarchy, misogyny and all the systems of oppression within which we live don’t miraculously disintegrate once you enter the dungeon. We can still engage in problematic behaviors under the guise of BDSM.

That race play scene may have been the best thing ever for the people involved, but it could still bring up very real memories and fears for the people who saw or heard it. And even if race play is your kink, that doesn’t mean that it’s not fair game for analysis, for wondering how actual racism interacts with it.

You may have a fetish for corrupting young girls, but your swooping down on every young woman who is a newcomer still reeks of rape culture.

“Forced bi” activities might get you hard as a rock, but they still interact with, and possibly reinforce, homophobia and biphobia.

Sissification may be where you feel most at peace, but it still plays off of misogyny, transphobia and transmisogyny.

You might buy into a kink fandom built on the idea that women should be submissive and men dominant, but the fact that it’s your kink doesn’t make it not sexist.

And you’re right. People who have problems with these things don’t have to play with those people. It’s true. But the effects of the prejudices that are interwoven with these kinks don’t dissipate just because they happen to turn someone on. They still work to create an environment that’s often not welcoming to the people most affected by types of oppressions that inform the kinks. And as long as that’s happening, then “Don’t judge. It’s just not your kink,” doesn’t cut it for me. I will critique. I will criticize. I will bring my full self, ethics, ideology, and all, to any situation. I may take my glasses off to fuck, but my critical lens stays in place.

And maybe you don’t like that. Maybe you think I’m harshing your mellow judgment free zone. And that’s fine. But critique is my kink. And my kink is okay, right?

“Green fields grow dead, white trees” Memorial Day 2013

cemetery

Green fields grow dead, white trees,
gleaming in the sun, pretending at life.
Fed on blood and manure,
the trees stand still.
Whitewashed tombs.

The beast devours children,
shits them out,
and we feed it more, and more, and more.

It keeps our fields green,
our memories cleaned.

Other fields,
other blood,
other excrement that once breathed,
moved,
loved,
lived…
they’re hidden from our eyes.
Rubble,
rock and dirt and sand.

Death hides behind platitudes,
valor, honor, heroism,
and we stare at the dead white trees,
the green fields,
the mimicry of life.

We feed the beast the hearts of our children,
build meaning from its shit,
and tell ourselves our hands are clean.

Why I can’t say I don’t contribute to another’s oppression

The other day on twitter I said:

A friend responded to that last tweet, asking if I could expand on that, perhaps in a blog post, so here I am trying to do that. Those few short sentences, though, reflect something that’s so fundamental to my understanding of, well, understanding itself that it may be tough.

Why can’t a white person (like, for example, me) say, “I’m not racist”?

Well, mainly because, as white people, we’re not on the receiving end of racism. We don’t experience its reality day in and day out. I’m not talking about individual prejudice here, either. Racism is much bigger than some yokel saying “I don’t like black people.” It’s an entire system that others, disparages, discards and devalues anyone who is not white. When you’re white, you don’t experience it in full. You may see instances of it. You may recognize its effects, but it’s not a force pointed at you, so you don’t really know it.

Moreover, it’s so interwoven in your entire society, in your upbringing, your history, your schooling, your media, your stories, that it’s right there in your head.

Racism isn’t about individual attitudes and actions. They’re just one part of it. Sure, we can all point at the KKK, at the horrible things that one coworker said, at obvious manifestations of prejudice, but if we limit our definition of racism to those sorts of things, then we’re refusing to see how deep racism really goes. Yeah, I’ll be repenting the rest of my life for helping my dad campaign for David Duke when I was a teenager, but that’s not what I was thinking about when I wrote My name is Gabe and… I’m racist.

See, our whole culture is shot through with racism. It was in the air I breathed as a child. It was in the stories I read, the shows I watched, the behaviors of those all around me, and now it’s in me. It’s one of my own little demons, one of my own original sins, inside me for as long as I’ve had consciousness.

I’m part of the system that creates and perpetuates white privilege and white supremacy, simply by virtue of being a white person in this world, and especially being a white person in the US. I don’t get to decide when I am not racist because I’m not the one that racism is pointed toward. If someone said “What you said/did was racist,” I don’t get to respond, “No it’s not, because I’m not prejudiced.” It’s not about me. It’s not about my intent. It’s about something I did that plays into, reinforces and upholds the racist forces that shape our society (societies?). I can’t even speak from a place of authority on this, because I’m white. Hell, by being a white person telling other white people about racism, I’m probably playing into that systemic racism, elevating my voice above the voices of people of color.

It’s similar to, but not the same as, when straight people say “I’m not homophobic.” Homophobia isn’t about some individual hating or fearing gay people. It’s about a systemic devaluing of non-straight people and sexualities. Just because a straight person doesn’t have any problems with gay people, just because they’re a professed ally, doesn’t mean that they don’t play into the systemic nature of homophobia.

When you’re not part of an oppressed class, you’re not an expert on their oppression. It’s like what Grace said about intersectionality:

To say, as a white person, “I’m not racist,” or as a straight person, “I’m not homophobic,” or as a cis person, “I’m not transphobic,” what you’re doing is privileging your own understanding of other people’s experience over their understanding of their own experience. You’re taking yourself out of the societal forces that shape you and everything around you, defining yourself in some mythical neutral space. Doing so is a refusal to recognize the agency of people to know and understand their own experience. It’s to put your voice above theirs.

So maybe we white folks oughta say, “I’m probably racist, but I’m trying to work against that.” Straight folks oughta say, “Homophobia is endemic to the culture in which I grew up, but I’m trying to lessen its presence around me.” Cis folks oughta say, “I was shaped by a world hostile to trans* people, but I’m trying to work against that hostility in my own life.”

But more than all of that, more than making it about us by saying “I’m not [insert form of societal prejudice here],” we oughta just be quiet and listen to the people who are experts on all of this, because it’s really not about the members of the privileged class. Racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, classism, all oppressions, they’re not about any individual’s intent. They’re about the impact those things have on the lives of those against whom they’re directed.

Stuck in Trafficking

For some time now I’ve been suspicious of the anti-trafficking movement, and especially that segment of it that’s specifically Christian. It’s long struck me as sensationalist, focusing on sex work to the exclusion of other forms of forced labor (Hi there, Nike and the US Agriculture industry!), as well as overly broad. It seemed there was a reluctance among anti-(sex-)trafficking groups to precisely define trafficking in a way that avoided lumping consensual sex work in with forced sex work. The idea that no one really wants to do sex work seems to run deep, with Slave Free Earth stating: “We have a broad definition of Sex Trafficking and will work from the philosophy that the vast majority of prostitutes are not there by choice.” (Side note: Homebrewed Christianity being sponsored by that organization is one of many things that put me off of that podcast and blog, despite its hosting so many interesting thinkers. But that could be a whole other blog post.)

The feminism I came into is one that is concerned with the rights, voices and safety of sex workers. That includes the right to and practice of self-determination. Yeah, a slave-owning pimp infringes upon those rights, silences those voice and provides no real safety. The idea that sex-workers need some sort of rescuing (almost always by affluent white folks) can do the same.

It was with great satisfaction that I saw some of my concerns being reflected and expanded in Are Evangelicals Monopolizing, Misleading US Anti-Trafficking Efforts?, an interview with professor of Christian Ethics, Yvonne Zimmerman, as well as in Chink in the Evangelical wall: Sex trafficking, colonialism and Christian ethics from “The Naked Anthropologist,” Dr. Laura Agustín. They are both worth your time, and deserve to be read widely in evangelical circles.