July 2012

As I have already discussed in a previous post, Meghan Murphy had an article published on rabble.ca discussing the case of the RCMP officer currently under a ‘code of conduct’ investigation by the force, sparked by the appearance of photographs on a fetish social web site known as fetlife.com. I was extremely critical of the article, for a number of reasons. Certainly I was not alone, and there were a number of other comments posted on the original article, as well as extensive discussions on Twitter, some about her article and some actually involving her.

Yesterday, a follow-up post appeared on her blog that, in an extraordinarily derisive manner, told us that “it’s not about you,” suggesting that those in the BDSM community that got a little put out by her comments needed to, in her words, “get some perspective.”

Alright, let’s do that, shall we? At least, allow me to offer my perspective. Which actually leads into the first part of the problem… In her latest post, Ms. Murphy is incredibly critical of all of the people who discussed their personal perspectives, preferences and beliefs. She goes on to state the fact that she gets exactly the same response every time she critiques porn, prostitution or the burlesque industry. Now, when the same thing happens over and over again, there is always a possibility that you are contributing to problem, and possibly you might want to consider how and why that occurs.

So let me start with why, in my post, I discussed my experience. Firstly, and fundamentally, it’s the only thing I can speak about that is truth. Reality is a social construction, and the only person we have control of in that exercise is ourselves. There is already a lot of information out there (in the news, on blogs and on Twitter) offering takes on what the investigation of Jim Brown is about, what he is claimed to have done (or not done) and how bad (or good) a person he is supposed to be. I cannot speak to any of that, in that I don’t know him, the details of the investigation have not been published, and I am not responsible for the investigation. Different people have different perspectives on this. The one thing I do know is that there will never be one, single, cohesive objective ‘truth’ about this situation; there will be multiple perspectives, fuelled by multiple agendas, and driven differing views of whether what emerges from the RCMP investigation, the independent review of that investigation, or any newspaper reporting of it, are (or even can be) reasonable representations of the truth.

There is another, much larger issue at play here, however. If you are going to adopt critical theory as a stance (and if you choose to explore power structures and dynamics, as Ms. Murphy claims, that is exactly what you are doing) then one of the first things you must address is your own biases; how do you, as an analyst, narrator or commentator, introduce bias into your interpretation of what you are discussing? My identifying as being kinky, and specifically, being a male who enjoys submitting to a female, was not desperate pleading of, “but I like it,” as Ms. Murphy suggests. It was not about defending my personal interests, or even the larger community. I declare my biases, because they influence my perspective. Certainly there are those that will as a result dismiss that perspective, but that isn’t something that I can control.

Do I even pretend that everyone else was doing the same, and in so doing adopting an appropriate critical stance? Not a chance; I don’t pretend that we live in that self-aware a world. In that respect, however, Ms. Murphy gets a free pass right to the head of the line (for I’m nothing if not generous). In her first post, Ms. Murphy did not declare her bias, although it has certainly emerged through her subsequent comments. Some of the more polite characterizations in her most recent post were, “I really don’t care about ‘kink’ or about ‘kinky people’. It just doesn’t interest me.” And in a Twitter post over the weekend to the world at large, “In other news, I really don’t care about your SECRETNAUGHTYOHSOBADANDWRONGANDREBELLIOUSKINKY sex life.” There were other comments, but I don’t use those words on this blog.

And that’s just fine, if you don’t want to discuss BDSM, what it means, how it is practiced and the many protocols that those who subscribe to a philosophy of ‘safe, sane and consensual’ actually adopt. The challenge is, she does want to do that. But she wants to discuss BDSM, only she wants to do so in the very narrow confines of the boundaries she sets. Specifically, in her words, “…the phenomenon of sexualizing male violence against women and male dominance is of interest to me. And it is that, and only that, which I was addressing in my previous post.” If she wants to define her arguments on the head of a pin, she is more than welcome to do so. Putting sharp boundaries on a conversation, however, doesn’t give you the right to make blanket, bald-faced assertions in whatever tone of voice you want, and not leave yourself open to challenge.

So let’s explore what some of my issues are with her original article, shall we? For they are numerous. For starters, she continues to perpetuate the on-going fallacious assumption that all BDSM and kink are about is a male dominant and a female submissive. She makes the assertion that there is no boundary between private fantasy and public responsibility, and that it is impossible to establish or maintain these boundaries. She conflates BDSM with misogyny. And, without explicitly saying so, she strongly implies that those who have fantasies involving kink, involving power relationships, involving BDSM, should not be in positions of power.

All of those assertions are problematic, not just for me, but for a much larger community of people. They are a community in whom many, if not most, are not violent and are not misogynistic, are happily and gainfully employed in various positions of power, and who — exactly because of articles like these — fear for their livelihoods if their interests and preferences were exposed. Who fear, for we have a word for such things, discrimination.

In saying that, I’m not trying to say that no one is violent, no one is a product of abuse, or that no one engages in misogyny (or misanthropy, for that matter). But the BDSM community is in fact cited as one of the few who openly, rationally negotiate about sex and how it will be engaged in (something that most of us we would much rather not do; and, by not doing so, perpetuate so many of those cultural stereotypes that Ms. Murphy is railing against).

Ms. Murphy says that her concern is context, and that is what she is trying to explore. My basic issue with her first article, and most particularly with her second, is that there is little to no exploring going on. In my view, she wants to define her context, and impose it on others like a bludgeon. She has a position she is advancing, and she has no interest in anyone with an alternative perspective. On her Twitter feed, she is wholly grateful for positive messages of support, and wholly combative with those who have a different view.

And so, at this point, my issues are way beyond content, and take a whole lot of exception to style. Which is unfortunate, because in her second post, Ms. Murphy actually makes some good (and more nuanced) arguments. In fact, arguably, it would have been far better for her to make the points in her second article first. Except that they are completely overshadowed by rhetoric and tone that, quite frankly, leaves no room for intelligent or reasoned discussion.

Of course, you might ask at this point, “Why bother? What’s the point in responding when, in her words, in her tone, in her over-the-top derision, she makes it all too clear that she is only interested in debating the topic she chooses, within the boundaries she sets? Why bother even trying to challenge that?” And those are fair questions to ask. It’s her blog, after all. Except for this. When something gets passed off as ‘journalism’ (as her post was in being re-posted on rabble.ca, and as she self-describes herself in her Twitter profile) then there is a standard of integrity that is implied. And if something doesn’t meet that standard, it needs to be challenged.

An early tweet about this episode highlighted the problem quite profoundly: “Main media issue with the RCMP case? People who judge his proclivities are free to come forward, and those who don’t have to stay closeted.” There is a reason I write under a pseudonym; I have to, and Ms. Murphy has done me the courtesy of proving why several times over. But, while we hopefully live in a society that is accepting that silence does not equal consent in the bedroom, it seemingly does on the internet. And so, in the face of fallacious information and derisive dismissal, I choose not to be silent.

I am a feminist polar bear.

There are some complications with that statement. For starters, I am male; I was born with a penis, and I am rather quite attached to it. Apart from being male, I am also, through the privilege of birth, white and tall (as polar bears often are; well, the white and tall bit, anyway – the male part is still pretty much a 50/50 shot).

I am also a kinky, feminist polar bear. Or – fully qualified – I am a kinky, feminist polar bear in a loving relationship with a woman who enjoys tying me to the bed and spanking me on occasions. And I fully support her right to do so, notwithstanding the benefits that I also happen to derive from that arrangement.

I wouldn’t have thought that I needed to make this statement. I would have thought (or hoped), 50 years on, that feminism was alive and well and making perfectly good progress, thank you very much. Until I came across a comment on Twitter that said, “For the record, I have not felt safe being a feminist. Not ever.” Which pretty much floored me.

Not that I live under a rock. I recognize that the glass ceiling still exists, that there is still income disparity, that currently women are proportionally under-represented as heads of state, heads of corporations and members of boards of directors. I also recognize that there are many men in the world that view women’s role as being barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen (and that this could be considered the polite form of expressing this sentiment). Misogyny still exists, and there are those that are – or choose to be – wilfully ignorant. Or just ignorant.

At the same time, the cultural attitudes toward women – their role, their potential and their inherent, awesome value – has also evolved enormously in five decades. It still has room to go, no question. But big changes have also been made, and I hope to see – and continue to support – this continuing. I would have thought, entering as we are the second decade of the twenty-first century, that feminism was a given, and I’m saddened to see that I’m wrong in that regard.

Another comment also floored me yesterday (and normally I don’t floor that easily). Meghan Murphy, the blogger whose posting I in part critiqued over the weekend, retorted in response to a criticism of her post “Since when are feminists supposed to be into BDSM and pro porn?” (private conversation, publicly visible on Twitter). Really? Why can’t they be? They don’t have to be, certainly. But by the same token, since when were feminists supposed to be anti-BDSM and anti-porn?

One argument, and it is, I suspect, the one that Murphy was trying to make in her original post, is that BDSM, and porn, are additional tools by which men assert their power and control over women. In that regard, so is the missionary position. Pushing further, there are feminists that will argue that the existence of BDSM and porn (and the missionary position?) are contextually embedded constructs that subconsciously reinforce the misogynistic, patriarchal nature of our society. And I am quite sure that there are any number of examples that can be lined up and trotted out to illustrate that point. At the same time, all of this presumes the man in the dominant role and the woman in the submissive one. It also presumes that a woman cannot choose to be submissive of her own free will, in the context of a sexual relationship, and still be a strong, confident, capable woman in her own right.

Speaking personally, I am a submissive(ish) male who has – in fantasy and reality – enjoyed the prospect of a woman in the dominant position. I am in a loving relationship (and have been for nearly twenty years) with a woman who is (much) more than happy to tie me up and spank me, and have her way with me in whatever other way she might fancy. That doesn’t mean that I am her inferior, or that out of the bedroom she is in control of my actions or my behaviour. Even in the bedroom we negotiate and discuss our wants and our preferences, what works and what does not. In the rest of our lives we are also equals, and we share our lives, our dreams and our passions. What we do, and how we do it, is not exclusively about what I want, or about what she wants – it is a growing, evolving dialogue of what we both collectively choose.

As someone that is kinky, I am also engaged with a larger community of people who have embraced their kink in the many and varied forms in which it exists, and in which they define it. I know submissive men, and dominant ones; I know submissive and dominant women, also. I know people that embrace those labels, and also those who struggle with them as not really capturing the dynamic that they embody. The vast majority enjoy porn, some written and some visual. Many produce porn as well, whether as author, photographer or video producer (or performer). In doing so, they do not view this as compromising their identify, giving up their power or compromising their position in society. In fact, for many it is quite the opposite.

The vast majority of kinky women that I know (submissive or other) identify themselves as feminist, and the vast majority of kinky men that I know are sensitive, considerate, respectful and altogether appreciative of the women in their lives. They are intelligent, they are engaged and they are considerate. While knowing their own preferences, they are the people I know that are most likely to respect and tolerate the preferences of others. They are, to a person, able to separate the fantasy of their sexuality from the reality of their own lives; for some, their sexuality is front and centre; for others, and I number myself amongst them, their sexuality is only one aspect of a larger identity. I am kinky, and embrace the fact that I am; the fact that I am kinky does not define me, nor does it define (or limit) the activities and ambitions I hold, or the career I pursue.

I believe that it is a woman’s right to choose what to do with her body, her mind and her emotions. If she chooses to engage in kinky activiites, and submit to another person (man, woman or polar bear) then that is her right. If she chooses to dominate another, that, too, is her right. If she likes to switch it up on different days or with different partners, then that is her right as well. Provided that all partners consent to the relationship and to the actions within that relationship, and assuming that all partners are finding pleasure and satisfaction, then there is – and should be – nothing wrong with this choice.

Moreover, it is also a woman’s choice NOT to engage in BDSM, in kink, or in anything else that might come under the umbrella of ‘alternative sexual choices’. There is nothing any more wrong with straight-up missionary position sex than there is with full-on kink. Whatever provides two (or more) partners pleasure, expressed with affection and love (if not good, old fashioned lust), then that is their choice, and I support them in doing it.

My point is that a woman should have the right to choose whatever relationship, orientation or activity (sexual or otherwise) she wishes, without that choice being viewed as political; or worse, without that choice being viewed as antithetical to someone else’s political agenda. What we do in our own bedrooms – provided that it is consensual, and preferably that it is safe and sane as well – should be our own business.

It has been nearly 45 years since Pierre Trudeau said that, “the state has no business in the bedrooms of the nation.” If the can state accept that, perhaps everyone else should as well.

It has been awhile since I have posted on this blog. There have been a number of personal reasons for that, largely related to my working through how I feel about — and how I express to others — my sexual preferences, and particularly those that venture into the kinky realm. I’m breaking that silence today to express something I feel needs to be said.

Apparently, being kinky in this world runs a few dangers. Arguably, it always has. People  whose sexual preferences stray away from the domain of ‘vanilla’, missionary-position heterosexual sex have often struggled with the acceptance (by themselves first, by their partners and by society in general) of their sexual preferences.

Last week, an RCMP officer was identified in a CBC news article as being under investigation for violating the RCMP’s code of conduct. The subsequent rush to judgement has been nothing short of overwhelming.

The specific issue is that an RCMP officer posted (or allowed to be posted) pictures on the internet (specifically, on a kinky social networking site known as Fetlife) in which he was identifiably engaged in BDSM activities. The matter was initially dismissed by the RCMP as not in violation of the code of conduct, in that it was a private matter in which the person in question did not identify themselves as an RCMP officer, and was therefore not in conflict with the code of conduct. ‘Additional information’ (which is not disclosed) led to a code of conduct investigation being ordered. In the same article, a pscychologist (whose practice focusses on working with police officers) suggests that the officer’s behaviour is, “way up the scale in the abnormal range.” He further suggests that it is “conduct unbecoming” and that the RCMP was wrong to have minimized this.

Now, some context is possibly helpful here, for those not in Canada. The RCMP as a police force has an image problem, and has had for some time. They have been accused of arrogance, of attempting to minimize wrongdoing of their members (including the wrongful death of a Polish man who was tasered at Vancouver airport), of a culture of sexual harrassment (including harrassment of women on the force, sexual misconduct and extensive and widespread mistreatment of women within the RCMP).

The RCMP is very much trying to make sure that they are visibly ‘doing the right thing’ in terms of dealing with these challenges. Their existence going forward has been called into question. So to say that this particularly issue doesn’t come at a good time would be a significant understatement. I am quite sure that there are those that would like to make it simply go away. In that they cannot, clearly the alternative tack of vigorous, public and puritanical pursuit seemed like a good ‘Plan B’.

What I have not yet seen is anyone actually parse out and be specific about the offense that is being viewed as ‘way up the scale of abnormal’. Is it being kinky? Taking pictures of it? Posting those pictures? Posting those pictures when one is identifiable? Posting those pictures when one is identifiable and in a position of responsibility? Posting those pictures when one is identifiable and in a position of responsibility as a police officer?

Distinction aside, what this has led to, by both bloggers and the mainstream media, is a question of whether someone who engages in S&M practices can be a member of the police force. The larger question appears to be whether someone in a position of any authority can engage in kinky behaviour. Clearly from the perspective of Murphy (the blogger post first referenced in this paragraph) it cannot.

In a breathtaking piece of sophistry, she marshals a number of arguments, assertions and assumptions to make her point. She damns all views that suggest that private behaviour should be private, that kinky sex might actually be acceptable or that people can in fact make the separation between sexual fantasy (and consensual behaviour) and their public responsibilities. I don’t know what her personal experience is. She does not discuss that in any way. What she does do is engage in a sweeping damnation of kinky practices as abusive, those who engage in them as misogynistic (for they are, according to this post, all men dominating women) and an absolute dismissal that there should be (or can be) and separation of what happens in public and what happens in private. There are no facts supporting her argument. There is no research. There is only assertion, opinion and semantic device.

Articles like this are entirely unhelpful (unless one is trying to illustrate how reactionary people can be breathtakingly righteous when they have an issue that they believe they hold the sole, true, morally correct opinion about). I am kinky, and have been my whole life. And I have struggled with that identity, for fear that I would be considered weird, abnormal or sick. Posts like the one above go a long way to justifying that view. Except… I am not alone. Sexuality comes in many forms and flavours. People are gay. People cross-dress. People wear leather, latex or underwear of the opposite sex. People like to be spanked. Or flogged. Or whipped. Or caned. People like to be tied up. To feel helpless. To be infantilized. People fetishize balloons. The panoply of sexual preferences is enormous.

My fetishes are my fetishes. I am coming to terms with owning them. I am blessed with a supportive partner who enjoys and is willing to share them. And whose preferences in return I also share, and respect and enjoy. And even then, I have struggled at times to be truly honest about what I do want, for fear that she will judge me, or mock me, or find me wanting. And yet, what we do in the privacy of our own bedroom is… what we do in the privacy of our own bedroom. I’ve been tied up, spanked and teased, and loved every minute of it. And then I’ve lovingly cuddled my wife and gone to sleep. The next day, when I get up, shower, dress and go to work, my kink stays in the bedroom. I do, in fact, separate my personal and private sphere, thank you very much. And my submissive tendencies in the bedroom in no way colour my ability to be a successful executive in the boardroom. They do not influence how I negotiate a deal with a customer. They do not change how I interact with my employees.

I am still acutely conscious, however, that not everyone shares my fetishes. And that people (at least, some) probably would judge me were they to be common knowledge. I am concerned about how it would affect my career, my job and my standing in the community. It is that fear, more than anything, that has been the basis of my struggle with myself – because I cannot completely own and be up-front about who I am, because there are scenarios where that is hidden. So my friends do not know. My family does not know. My wife’s family do not know. My colleagues and customers certainly remain ignorant. Being comfortable with me, and being comfortable with the boundaries I set about who I am, and who knows that, is a difficult balance I am still struggling to get right. Posts like the one above are singularly unhelpful in helping to navigate that journey. And a younger me probably would have been once again shamed into quiet admonishment of my preferences as being disgusting and wrong.

I am equally sure that has been a challenge for the RCMP officer at the heart of this, and I can’t imagine how difficult the last week has been (or how difficult the coming weeks are going to be). I know many people who are on Fetlife, and who have until now viewed it as a community where such behaviour was accepted, where they didn’t have to worry about who might be looking over their shoulders. Clearly, that was a misjudgement. When you put something out on the internet, anywhere on the internet, you lose control over how that will be used. While I choose not to do so, it is up to others to make their own choices – and I will not judge them one way or another. This is, however, where the private and public spheres do intersect. What we put on the internet becomes public domain, no matter how secure we think it is, or how trustworthy we think our immediate social network might be. So we need to be clear about where our private acts stop, and where public visibility begins – and that is alot closer than many have considered.

The media coverage has made this a much larger issue, however, calling into question whether someone can and should be in a position of responsibility if they are kinky. Can someone be a police officer? Or a teacher? Or a member of the military? Or a politician? I can guarantee you that they are, and anyone not believing that is deluded. Statistics suggest that one in ten people are kinky (although recent studies hypothesize the number is even higher than that) . That suggests that one in ten police officers, and one in ten teachers, and one in ten corporate executives are kinky.

Is a tenth of the workforce wrongly employed? Are we going to preclude people from occupations because of their sexual preferences? Is that a more acceptable form of discrimination than any other form that has been, in the face of bigotry and hatred, fought down? I certainly hope not.

More importantly, does that mean that they are compromised in their ability to do their jobs? I believe that it does not. But, given the events of the last week, does that mean that they are needing to be more watchful of how they present themselves and what they reveal? Clearly, I believe the answer to be yes.

It is sad, on the weekend that gay pride is being celebrated in England – when a group who has been marginalized for so long for their sexual preferences is finally able to now celebrate them openly – that another group has needed to once again start looking over their shoulders.