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Our Public Perception

May 30th, 2011

We get a bad rap, you know that, don’t you?  The vanilla world, as much as they might like to pretend that they’re accepting of those of us in the BDSM world, would be appalled at some of the things we do, or worse, allow to be done to us.  I’m sure there are plenty of couples that experiment with a bit of bondage (that’s what the four post bed was invented for, right).  There may even be some that engage in a bit of slap and tickle.  But, every vanilla person I’ve ever seen come face to face with hard core, intense, BDSM reacts the same way, in display, if not in words.  “Ew, that’s sick.”

We don’t help things either.  We gleefully refer to ourselves as, ’sickos’ and ‘freaks.’  The presentation of the lifestyle in fiction that vanillas read seems to always display BDSM as just another evidence of mental illness of abuse.  Look at the popular literature that includes BDSM; Laurell Hamilton’s Anita Blake series—the wereleopard submissives are first encountered as victims of an abusive alpha female, with the strong hint that they wouldn’t be into the lifestyle otherwise; In Basic Instinct, Michael Douglas’ character can’t do his job properly because of his obsession with having kinky sex with the prime suspect; Every episode of Law and Order, I’ve seen that includes BDSM elements in the plot have those involved either mentally ill or the criminal.  And don’t even get me started on the so called classics in the BDSM fiction world—The Story of O, 9 ½ Weeks, The Secretary, The Pet, each and every one portrays those in the BDSM world as either sick or criminal.  If it weren’t for Lady Heather in CSI, there wouldn’t be any positive portrayals (and even then, she’s a pro-dom, in many minds, barely one step up from sick or criminal).

The result of all this is that you have so many of us who simply can’t afford to be open about who we are.  My identifying picture on FetLife is of a small plaque I have at home that reads, “Pretending to be a normal person day after day is exhausting.”  That is so true.  I am constantly self-censoring myself in my speech because I can’t afford to have if come out that I enjoy being locked to a St. Andrew’s Cross and have the living daylights whipped and beaten out of me; if it did become public knowledge, I could well lose not just my current job, but the ability to get a teaching job anywhere, ever again. It’s all the more frustrating for me now, as I’m in a new town, in a new country, and I have no one to play with; hell, I don’t even have anyone I can bitch about not having anyone to play with.

The only way this will ever change is if the vanilla world gets an honest look at what BDSM is all about.  I just don’t know how to do that.  It seems like a catch 22 situation.  To see us as we really are, there have to be those in the lifestyle willing to be extremely public about themselves, which, for many, would spell the end of their careers—in some cases, the end of their families.  I suppose one could write a piece of mainstream fiction that showed us in a positive light, but to have a BDSM positive work of fiction, set in the real world (as opposed to a fantasy world, such as Kushiel’s Dart), would take already being well established enough to write your own ticket—someone like Laurell Hamilton, who’s apparently chosen not to do that.

Maybe I just hang around with the wrong people, read the wrong books and watch the wrong movies.  Maybe the change in public attitudes is already happening.  If it is, however, I’m not seeing it and that’s pretty damn depressing.  If anyone has any ideas, I’m all ears.  I do know that the first thing that has to happen is that we in the BDSM world have to stop labeling each other as sick or mental cases.  I’ve seen it all too often, especially on the public comment boards, this or that kink will be labeled as sick and perverted; being beyond the pale and the limits of acceptable behavior.  I’ll be the first to admit that there are such things (pedophilia, for example), but the simple fact that I don’t like a kink (water sports, in my case, for one), doesn’t make that kink wrong.  Until we accept our lifestyle, in its entirety, the outside world has no reason to accept any of it.

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