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Guest Blog: Darkness

on Wednesday, 17 January 2018. Posted in Front Page Headline, NCSF News

by Russell J. Stambaugh, PhD, DST, CSSP

Back in April, the New York Times printed a review of Mary Gaitskill’s new book, “Somebody with a Little Hammer: Essays”. Those of you who have been paying close attention know that Gaitskill is the gifted author of the short story that became an iconic 2002 movie about kink, The Secretary. In this review are included some remarks which serve as an excellent jumping off point for our exploration of a heretofore neglected discussion about kink that emphasizes its dark side. Trite as it is to say, if you have been reading this blog closely, you may well fail to know the power of the dark side.

Despite the extreme good fortune of inspiring a commercially successful movie of our chosen subject, and there is only a handful of such films, Ms Gaitskill was not altogether satisfied with the transition of her oeuvre to the screen. Here I shall quote directly from the Dwight Garner’s review.

“She was displeased with that movie, [Gaitskill] writes. It was breezy and upbeat, absent the darker shading. The takeaway, she writes, ‘is that S/M is not only painless; its therapeutic: It has made both characters more confident, better looking, happier, freer, and self-actualized. Best of all, it has led them straight to marriage!’” How kinky is that?

It would be easy to dismiss this as the conventional culture and its agents; director Steven Shainberg; or the movie’s producers, cleaning up BDSM for mass market consumption. For her part, screen writer of record, Erin Cressida Wilson, won a Sundance Festival Award for this work, her very first screenplay. At least that awards committee didn’t see her work in such a critical light. But if you have both read the short story and seen the film, there is no debating that Gaitskill’s original is truer, grittier, and the more sadomasochistic of the two works. And in the rest of Garner’s review, it Is made clear that Gaitskill has enough sadism to recognize it for what it is in others and that she sees herself as the wielder of those little hammers, a characteristically kinky position. In her own way, she is a social critic.

Kink and the problem of idealization:

One might be tempted to accept the ‘cleaning up’ of Gaitskill’s story as evidence of the intrusion of ever present fetish elements into kink. And it is true that the movie settings are lovely, Maggie Gyllenhaal’s blouses exquisitely pressed and silky as any fetishist might crave, but hardly consistent with her role as a down and out woman for whom a job as a secretary constitutes social advancement. And kink itself has a somewhat convoluted relationship to erotic idealization. Fetish itself represents the triumph of fantasy over utilitarianism, just as Krafft-Ebing warned us long ago. For those not so inspired, it is difficult to imagine a brassiere, an opera-length glove or a well-turned boot could provoke more passion than a human body expressly designed by eons of evolution to stimulate procreative desire. But fetishism is not simple idealization, as anyone who has encountered its intense specificity can attest. As a teen, I remember reading those letters to Dear Playboy and Penthouse Variations in which fetishists would go on and on about how only barefoot hogtied cheerleaders would do, tennis shoes were completely outré! There is something going on in fetishism beyond simple idealization. But it also takes a certain optimism to believe that, with billions of people engaging in various forms of sexual intercourse around the planet, a specific regime as stigmatized, awkward, often alienating, and sometimes downright dangerous form of human expression could be transformative. Good psychotherapy doesn’t routinely leave bruises except perhaps to the ego. But there is a serious discourse about kink that it isn’t genuine if it isn’t dirty, doesn’t leave bruises, isn’t dark enough, and doesn’t break the rules.

As a therapist, I have encountered any number of people who earnestly represented to me how kink is therapeutic. I believe them, as far as it goes, but I also take such declaration with a large grain of salt. As beneficial as it can be to get what you want, so much human behavior is difficult to explain in terms of simple drive satiation. If it was, millionaires would quit work when their earnings exceeded their initial ideas about how much money they need to spend, rock climbers would quit climbing El Capitan’s sheer face after a single success, and no one would go back to the exact same kind of lover who left them broken-hearted the conclusion of their last affair. Often, exactly the opposite is observed.

People do accomplish therapeutic achievements sometimes in kink, but when it comes to shadow play, that process of knowing our dark sides, Freud and Jung, its original proponents, were frighteningly pessimistic about the possibilities. In Analysis, Terminable and Interminable (1937), Freud wrestled directly with the observation that no amount of good psychoanalysis ever made the unconscious go away altogether even though therapy was the process of making the unconscious conscious. For Freud, the process of confronting repression was valuable, but one could never know all of one’s dark side, and there were some impulses it would never be OK to enact no matter how insightful one became about them. Jung was more optimistic, but, looking at the broad cultural sweep of symbols, he was the first to admit that darkness never really goes away. So, what does it mean to ‘play’ with it? It is a pathway with no clear destination.

Organized BDSM tries to create space for darkness to be expressed ‘safely’, and as might be expected, such safety is always a little bit relative. Certainly, it is safer to lie at home in bed masturbating to fantasies of whipping someone and imagine they are loving it than it is to go out and find such a person, acquire the whipping skills to do this safely, get to know the partner well enough that you serve Goldilocks her porridge up at just the right temperature, and suffer the possibility that your partner will flee in terror somewhere in the middle of the process before you learn enough to make the enactment satisfying enough to both of you become sustainable. For all of kink’s confrontation with conventional romantic idealization, there is a genuine dollop of optimism, if not wild-eyed idealization, in such attempts to find kinky liaisons. Yet this was even more true in the past, before the internet, use groups, self-help references and FetLife, and people still attempted kink and succeeded in establishing relationships based upon conducting it.

Likewise, is it rather optimistic to imagine that one’s life will be greatly improved if someone knows about your kink and accepts it. Surely this achievement would be balm to life-long fantasies and case histories of actual rejection, but it won’t cure your herpes, fill your bank account, or stop your excess drinking. People in BDSM all face stigma over their behavior, and this is a powerful leverage to create community, although kink was stigmatized for years before such communities became common and above ground. And just when it appears that kink is making genuine headway to social acceptance, out comes evidence of the Ashley-Madison hack, or content changes at Fetlife due to credit card billing restrictions, or Russian kompromat trying to out the President of the United States for urophilia, to rub our noses in the fact that doing kink still carries substantial social vulnerability even for out practitioners who have taken reasonable steps to protect themselves from the consequences of the judgments of others. If kink still carries risk, so too is idealization a potential motive to undertake risks in hopes that getting what one wishes for will be as good in reality as one has long imagined only in erotic daydreams. And before we mistakenly attribute this kind of thinking exclusively to kink, please note how similar this kind of idealization is to conventional heteronormativity.

Despite the idealization surrounding fetish, and the optimism that facing risk will bring delights far beyond mundane sexuality, kink is rather contemptuous of conventional idealization. Some of this goes back to de Sade’s confrontation with Rousseau and The Church, but modern kink is dismissive of conventional relationship structures, often surprisingly disparaging of conventional sex behaviors even though conventional folk (and kinksters) pursue them with durable enthusiasm, and kink is often strongly anti-romantic. This is not to say that great loves are not built among kinksters, but many kinks can’t be pursued without eschewing romanticism. While many new submissives dream of finding and all-knowing top, part of a good top’s role description is keeping submissives from over-whelming themselves and that involves denying them some of what the submissives imagine they desire. Tops want to frustrate sometimes, and bottoms desire to be frustrated and give consent to exactly that treatment.

Perhaps stigma can be blamed for this variant of MKIBTYC (My Kink is Better than Your Kink) is an occasional form of socially divisive behavior within the organized kink community, where it is actively discouraged. Here I have creatively perverted the term to apply to kinksters’ occasional tendency to assume superiority over ‘Conventionality’ and use the term ‘vanilla’ as a put down for those who just aren’t hip enough to recognize that kink is ‘superior’.) Cognitive dissonance alone might be sufficient to explain anyone preferring their chosen forms of sexual expression: having paid the costs of such ‘choices’, we are vulnerable to becoming wedded to their benefits. Alfred Adler would have no trouble explaining the shaming of conventionals as a turning passive into active after enduring lifelong shaming of one’s kink, and seeking mastery over the very tools of one’s historically experienced vulnerability.

Like other areas of human striving, BDSM is sometimes a great deal of work to get to the fun. Dolling up for those sexy fetish pin ups can take many hours of perspiring in latex under klieg lights. Good suspension rigs can take hours to do aesthetically. Playing so quietly that you don’t wake the kids is mostly a turn off that needs to be overcome rather than central to the fun, just as it is for conventional folk. And rough play requires days of self-care long after the endorphins have worn off. For many sensation players, that discomfort is a source of pride, but it still hurts, too.

Similar routine inconveniences plague other forms of what DJ Williams refers to as ‘serious leisure’, and conventional sexuality, too. Serious snow board enthusiasts just as regularly cope with the dangers of taking a spill, or from triggering avalanches. In kink, it is not always sufficient to overcome routine negative emotions, but to court and intensify them to the limit of personal endurance. Kinksters don’t just crave intense orgasms, but intense theater that evokes the darker emotions. Transvestism, cuckolding, and other erotic role play are often shame-based even as participants complain about the social stigmatization of their kinks. People who crave acceptance do so acting on impulses to do the unacceptable. All the conventional fears and disgusts: rejection, abandonment, loss of control, loss of autonomy, loss of freedom, loss of identity, injury and loss of bodily integrity, racism, sexism, infantilization, even evil itself are sometimes directly courted.

Dom/mes and tops, and even submissives deliberately dress to look scary. They play in ways that routinely exceed any hope of plausible deniability. Often, they appear to be showing off. Edge play may be in the eye of the beholder, but being edgy is often seen as a source of status in the communities. While many try to conceal their kinks, there is considerable pride and public esteem to be had in the community for being out about them; often, the edgier the better. This is not a new development, back in the forties and fifties, this was a characteristic of the S/M outlaw motorcycle cultures only a few of whom may have been presumed to have ever read de Sade or Genet. There are many in kink who are openly contemptuous of being normalized, suburbanized, or commodified for mass market consumption. There is a thrill to be enjoyed scaring children, and furry little animals. It is not just sensation-seeking that keeps emergency room staffs telling tall tales of removing gerbils from the occasional rectum. An otherwise respectable kink research organization nicknamed their survey of the health needs of the BDSM communities “The Gerbil Survey” in jest, but playing on precisely this dynamic. An anonymous wag suggested to me that the survey needed a trigger warning!

Kink often embraces things that are despised, dirty and disgusting, from the scut work of polishing boots, to playing with urine and feces, to giving up power and social status, to eroticizing performing the dusting. The problem of idealization is again illustrated by kink eroticism, which tends to veneer over the unpleasant implications of all this. While cinematic depictions of Pauline Reage’s perverse training at Chateau Roissy are invariably clean stylish and resplendent with fetish appeal, cleaning up must be a fulltime job with all the blood, saliva and feces involved in all that slave training. Laundry must be a constant preoccupation despite the scanty attire. And the Marquis de Sade’s writings would have required an army of hired help he could never afford (He may have been an aristocrat, but the Divine Marquis was chronically short of money!) just to clean up after his literary parties, and that is before we get to the problem of disposing of the dead bodies. In reality, the Divine Marquis got into plenty of legal difficulty precisely because, once the judgments made at the height of concupiscence were made, he was unable to clean up after their messy interpersonal consequences. While many of these literary exploits are ‘only’ fantasies, they are willfully messy ones. No one gets pregnant or an STI unless it serves a dark story line. It should be noted that most kinky play does not require unwanted contact with dirt and disgust, but the critical term is ‘unwanted.’ What is the point of having a slave if they cannot be forced to sleep in the wet spot? And how do you know you have surrendered any power unless you have to do things that are genuinely unpleasant?

Jack Morin, reworking John Money’s theory of love maps--or personal erotic templates--could not escape a conclusion that would have nonplussed the late 19th century learning theorists: rather than mainly stemming from early but repressed positive experiences, eroticism in Morin’s view was equally likely to be erected on earlier experiences of fear, loss and emotional travail. Robert Stoller for a time considered that kinks might be caused by childhood medical ordeals. Von Sacher-Masoch believed his love of being beaten by imperious women and his erotic fixation on fur stemmed from a preadolescent experience of being whipped for disrespecting his haughty aunt. Suffice it to say, she had not specifically intended to awaken his eroticism, but to punish him into submission. In this way, turning an oppressor’s intended punishment into a source of lust constitutes a kind of mastery. It restores some personal agency to a story in which the victim rescues something symbolic from maltreatment. These examples illustrate Morin’s idea that sexual excitements come as frequently from ‘troubling’ experiences as they do from routine drive expression or the desire to repeat good times.

In conventional media, kink is just emerging from a period in which sadomasochistic attire is used to denote villainy. Only in the last few years have immaculately suited villains in haute couture duds been opposed by good guys who look like they emerged from the fringes of punk rock (for example, The Matrix)! Ordinarily, a kinky costume is an unsubtle device to spare us the trouble of character development. Kink is bad, and everyone knows it. But not only is it sometimes highly erotic to be bad, it can be socially productive and necessary.

 

Guest Blog: Trans for the Holidays

on Friday, 22 December 2017. Posted in Front Page Headline, NCSF News

By Lucia Caltabiano

The holidays are a unique for many folks. It’s time for families, friends, gifts, and parties. For trans folk this can be the case or it can be complicated, bitter sweet, or entirely the opposite. Trans folk have a vast continuum of experiences and views. Just like cisgender men and women being trans is not a monolithic experience. I’m writing this piece halfway through the holidays and a week before my birthday to help folks realize what being trans can look like for the holidays. 

It looks like…

Going to your partner’s company holiday party and not correcting the people around you, because you’re not sure if they’ll retaliate against you, or even worse against him. Not to mention explaining one’s self is exhausting. 

It looks like…

Dinner at your mother’s. She’s planned for your favorite foods, the house smells like home and you get to help cook in the kitchen. But it’s also saddening when she says ‘daughter’ and ‘feminine’ and ‘this is your stocking, because you’re a girl’ and then surprises you with a new blouse she’s bought for you. 

It look like…

Parties with friends where you can truly relax, because even if they slip up and accidentally misgender you, you can expect an apology. You can gently correct them, and not expect retaliation for doing so. Yet at parties where people may not know you’re trans and it is safe, it can mean an exhaustive explanation period that draws more attention than you care for. 

It looks like…

A homeless trans youth that stopped by the soup kitchen where you’re volunteering, whose family has rejected them and who is trafficking themself just for a couch to sleep on and a hot meal half of the time.

It looks like…

Your little girl (assigned male at birth) getting to open her presents to find the tutu she wants or the doll she asked for, a soccer ball, or a new craft kit about dinosaurs. Seeing that smiles makes you feel better than anything else in the world. You may also feel a little guilt for the twinge of sadness that crosses your mind too; still be mourning the loss of the son you thought you had. The grieving process is a common experience for parents of trans kids so they can move on and appreciate their son or daughter that they have instead. 

It looks like…

An awkward silence when your transfeminine friend opens a white elephant gift to find The Man Apron. Then your other friend swaps with them so she can have something that is not assigned male. 

It looks like…

Almost crying when a friend on social media posts about how being trans or non binary or gender non conforming is valid. No one tagged you, no one mentioned you, but that post still speaks to you while you wonder when it will be the right time to come out or if you should just put on the pants instead of the dress you bought for holiday parties. 

It looks like…

Your partner asking if you’d like to go to Thanksgiving dinner which you didn’t know would be an option. He’s perfectly insistent that his parents use the correct pronouns and has advocated for you for months so that when you do meet, it’s in a comfortable and validating atmosphere.  

Some of these are my experiences. Some of the experiences of those around me that they’ve been kind enough to share. The point is, if you are trans and you decide that hormones or surgery are right for you, or you want to wear that special outfit, WONDERFUL! Do it!! And if you can’t afford hormones, because you don’t have health insurance, or your doctor is concerned it will exacerbate a health condition, you are still valid. If you decide you don’t want to rock the boat by advocating for your correct pronouns, you’re still valid. If you simply decide (like me) that hormones and surgery aren’t right for you, then you are also valid. 

We don’t need to look or act a certain way to know exactly who and how we are. Hormones and surgery don’t make us anymore trans, and neither do our acts of self advocacy or lack thereof. And I also want you to know that you are not alone. 

To the cis folk who are reading this article: please be aware of how vastly our experiences vary. Yes, some of us have accepting and validating families. Our holidays are full of reasons to celebrate and be happy, even if the happiness is dotted with sadness. 

The best thing you can do is to use gender affirming language, pronouns, and adjectives. Never say how well someone ‘passes’, but say how lovely she looks with her hair done special for the holiday party or how much you like his ugly sweater. If someone is struggling, don’t make excuses for cis folk. We already know you struggle at times with our pronouns or how we present. We know because we experience that confusion every day, along with misgendering (intentional and unintentional) as well as all the other micro aggressions. 

And lastly, just listen; that’s all you have to do. Validate what your trans friend or partner says they’re experiencing and support your friends if they have a trans kid. Talk with your trans students if they come to you and listen to their experience; better yet educate yourself with resources like local PFLAG groups, GLSEN, and whatever LGBTQ+ group may be in your school or local community.

 

Support the NCSF Foundation through Amazon SMILE donations

on Thursday, 30 November 2017. Posted in Front Page Headline, NCSF News

We are thankful for everyone who supports NCSF's work to fight discrimination against kinky and non-monogamous people. On Black Friday, go to smile.amazon.com/ch/54-2010299 and Amazon will donate to the NCSF Foundation; Institute for 21st Century Relationships Inc.

November 23rd is National Polyamory Day in Canada

on Thursday, 30 November 2017. Posted in Front Page Headline, NCSF News

November 23rd is National Polyamory Day in Canada. On that day in 2011, BC’s Supreme Court ruled that Canada’s so called “anti-polygamy law” does not apply to unformalized polyamorous households -- clarifying that polyamory, as it is typically practiced in Canada, is legal and not a criminal act.

Prior to November, 23, 2011, it was questionable if polyamory was legal in Canada.

If you agree that people who are polyamorous are entitled to the same same rights, privileges, and governmental accommodation that others have, please circulate this image to others on your blogs, in email, and on social media such as Facebook and Twitter.

Polyamory is the practice, desire, or acceptance of having more than one intimate relationship at a time with the knowledge and consent of everyone involved.

Thank you from the CPAA (Canadian Polyamory Advocacy Association) - https://www.facebook.com/PolyAdvocacy/

Guest Blog: Protecting Your Privacy

on Tuesday, 14 November 2017. Posted in Front Page Headline, NCSF News

By Benjamin Schenker

When using dating apps, I’ve often seen a question to the effect of “Would other people be shocked by something you own?” Personally, I don’t know, but I am sure that I have some things that I’d rather people not see that I own.  In general, my friends are not rooting through my cupboards and closets.  However, there are situations where they could be!

One thing that people, especially younger people, might not consider is the possibility of an accident. Something bad could happen and you could wind up in the emergency room. Do you remember your mother chiding “Make sure that you wear clean underwear in case you get into an accident”?  Whether it be a car crash or an accident on the job, accidents happen.

The question is what would happen if you were in an accident and were incapacitated for a substantial period of time? Someone would have to make arrangements for bills to be paid while you’re out of commission, and while it’s possible that friends could be understanding about you not being able to pay, professional landlords, utility companies, student loan lenders, and credit card companies are unlikely to be forgiving.

When a person becomes incapacitated, people close to her might be able to file for “guardianship” during the incapacity. This means that someone closely related to you would petition the court to allow her or him to be the guardian over your person and/or your property. (See Md. Estates and Trusts Section sections 13-102 et seq; D.C. Code 21-2001 et. seq.) That would mean that they would have the power to pay your bills and handle your affairs; it also means that they would have significant access into your personal affairs.

A similar situation happens when a person dies without a will. A family member would petition to be the personal representative of the estate, and then would have access to personal accounts and personal property. (Md. Rule 6-101 et seq.; D.C. SCR-PD Rule 403 et seq.).

However, by acting ahead, you can control who these people will be.  Who do YOU want looking through your cupboards and bank accounts (and browser history!)?  The equivalent of clean underwear in an accident is to prepare in advance a durable power of attorney and a will (which, by the way, is a good idea to do for a variety of other reasons!).  You cannot plan to avoid accidents, but you can plan to ensure that your very religious aunt is not the one sorting through those battery-operated devices in your nightstand!

Addendum: These documents are not just important for protecting privacy, but they can be helpful for a variety of reasons. One of them could be to help same-sex couples. Even married couples can be subject to people who don't want to recognize their marriage (Kim Davis is a famous example of this). Maybe "religious freedom" laws can protect people who discriminate because people are married, but having these documents can prevent the discrimination. A power of attorney can be granted to anyone, so even if someone wants to discriminate because you are in a same-sex marriage, they won't be able to do so if you have a power of attorney (or, at least it would be more difficult).

 

Disclaimer: Nothing in this post is intended as legal advice or to create an attorney-client relationship. If you have any legal concerns, please contact an attorney qualified to practice law in your state or district.

 

Addiction to Sex and/or Pornography

on Wednesday, 08 November 2017. Posted in NCSF News

A Position Statement from the Center for Positive Sexuality (CPS), The Alternative Sexualities Health Research Alliance (TASHRA), and the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom (NCSF)

Approximately a year after the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists’ (AASECT) position statement on sex addiction was published, three more professional organizations have joined the discussion regarding this topic. This is interesting timing, given the recent high-profile cases in the media.

 

These organizations: Center for Positive Sexuality (CPS), National Coalition for Sexual Freedom (NCSF), and The Alternative Sexualities Health Research Alliance (TASHRA) recently published a group position statement opposing the addiction model in relation to frequent sexual behavior and pornography viewing. These organizations cite AASECT’s statement as one of the reasons for their joint statement, as well as citing many scientific studies that reject the addiction model in relation to these sexual behaviors. The American Psychiatric Association does not recognize sex or porn addiction as a diagnosis, and these organizations have followed up with their own statements on the issue.

 

There are many factors that could lead someone to engage in various sexual practices and or pornography viewing, and current assessments for the concepts of sex and porn addiction lack scientific rigor and validity. Furthermore, important cultural factors are not considered within a sex/porn addiction model.

 

This position statement also reports that the addiction model assumes that using sex or pornography as a coping mechanism is necessarily problematic, and maybe this is due to an overly conservative or religious view of sexuality, rather than a recognition that this may actually be maladaptive. In fact, as pointed out, studies show that diverse sexuality may actually be considered a positive means of coping.

 

To read the complete position statement, please go to the Journal of Positive Sexuality 

 

 

At the oral argument in the 9th Circuit on Oct. 19, Judge Carlos Bea asked a key question: “Why is it illegal to sell something that it’s legal to give away?”

on Saturday, 04 November 2017. Posted in NCSF News, Media Updates

Allure

And while being kinky still comes with social stigmas, Stephanie*, a 25-year-old woman involved in the New York City kink scene, says kinks are increasingly viewed as mainstream. “I always thought you couldn’t have an unconventional lifestyle and fall into success. Now I know you can live a kinky lifestyle and still be successful,” Stephanie says.

Consent Month Photo Winners

on Wednesday, 11 October 2017. Posted in Front Page Headline, NCSF News

NCSF is very proud to partner with Arizona Power Exchange (APEX) in sponsoring Consent Month every September! APEX provides the consent bracelets and maintains the ConsentMonth.com website, updating the calendar and helping to spread the word about consent.

This year, 21 consent-themed events took place in September, with almost 1,600 people visiting the ConsentMonth.com website. Over 800 of our distinctive “Got Consent? / ConsentMonth.com” bracelets were distributed at these events.

We had a great showing this year with 9 photographs submitted for the Consent Month Photo contest. NCSF and APEX are thrilled to announce the winner is slave pattie’s photo entitled “Consent Brainstorm”. 

slave pattie describes her winning photo: 

"Three main words/statements that come to mind when I think of consent are: peace of mind, commitment from both parties to follow through on negotiations and clarity of what each other wants or allows."

CM 2017 Win 

 

The runner up photograph is “Together” by Archer who photographed APEX members wearing Got Consent? Bracelets.

 CM 2017 Run

 

See all of the photos that were submitted at http://consentmonth.com/consent-event-photo-contest/

 

NCSF and APEX thank all of the photography entrants, and will be using some of the photos that were submitted on promotional material for Consent Month and NCSF Consent Summits.

 

Participate in Consent Month next year, September 2018, by holding a consent event or submitting a consent-themed photograph for our contest.

 

 

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