bad things are bad; consent-to-sex boundaries are absolute

Ok, let’s try extreme analogies.

Let’s say I am hanging around actively arranging plans to murder my neighbors for fun. In the middle of this, I decide I would like to have some sex. I find an amenable person and am talking to them as we walk to my home. However, during this conversation it happens to come up that they think murdering people for fun is bad. This makes me not want to have sex with them anymore, so I don’t.

I get to do that!

The thing I am doing wrong in this situation is ‘arranging plans to murder my neighbors’.  This is bad. I shouldn’t do that. I can in fact legitimately be arrested for it. (As far as I remember law things). It does not mean I should experience rape, because literally nothing of the sort means that.

I can be doing something bad, which I shouldn’t do, and decide not to have sex with someone for a reason entirely stemming from that fact, and I still get to not have sex with them, because I always get to not have sex with people for any or no reason.

The bad thing I am doing is bad, and I still get to not sleep with people when I don’t want to.

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Why I don’t believe in condemning feelings

{Originally posted on my tumblr on Thurs Dec 26 2013}

So, I said in my ‘Brainstorm: Categories of kinks connected-to-real-world-bad-things‘ post that

It would be helpful to have a more concise word for this, but I am deliberately not using ‘problematic kinks’ because a big part of my view of this is that that’s not correct. I believe in analyzing feelings and noticing connections to bad things in the world, and working with that. I believe in condemning violating actions. However, I don’t believe in condemning feelings on their own, and to me kinks fit into that.

and since that’s a pretty important part of how I approach all this, I wanted to elaborate on it.

Important definitions:
-I continue to use ‘kink’ here in the ‘have a thing for this’ meaning. If I want to talk about stuff people actually do instead, I will say ‘practicing a kink’.
-I use ‘feelings’ here to mean ‘mental experiences your brain gives you that you can’t directly consciously control’. So, jealousy is a feeling, ‘feeling good’ is a feeling, when I have to come back and make sure I’ve turned the stove off three times in a row because otherwise I can’t stop thinking that maybe it’s not off after all, that’s a feeling. And ‘this is hot to me’, ‘this gives me kinkfeelings’ etc are also feelings.
(sidenote: if you personally can directly consciously control these things, that’s excellent for you. I can’t, I know that plenty of other people can’t, and if you want to argue about this, then please go think about being self-centered and ableist, and how the only person who has first-hand experience of their mind is the person whose mind it is).
-I use ‘condemning’ to mean any form of ‘you are doing something wrong by doing this’.

So, all that out of the way, here’s why I don’t believe in condemning feelings, with the specific example of ‘here’s why I don’t believe in telling people they’re doing something wrong by having a kink’.

1. It does harm
Believing that you’re doing something wrong/are a bad person/etc for something you can’t actually do anything about is very psychologically harmful. It can also very directly lead to other kinds of harm. People stay in abusive relationships because who else could love someone like them, people don’t feel like they can expect to have their boundaries respected in play because ‘if only horrible people are into this, then how can I expect that’.

2. It isn’t useful
A very major purpose of telling people they’re doing something wrong is trying to bring about a situation where they’re not doing it anymore. But since in this case, there isn’t the option of ‘just stop doing it’, that purpose can’t be achieved this way.

3. It blurs the line around actually violating things
Condemning kink feelings along with actually problematic kink practices blurs the line between the two. It’s possible to have kinks connected-to-real-world-bad-things and practice them in a way that violates people, and it’s possible to have kinks connected-to-real-world-bad-things and value consent, respect boundaries, and treat people as people. This difference matters, and saying things like ‘you’re all the same, you’re all scum’ erases and minimizes that.

4. It makes it harder for people to deal with such feelings in good ways
What feelings they have isn’t something people can control. How they think about those feelings, what examiniation they give them, and what actions they make is something people can control. And recieving support instead of condemnation is integral to people being able to do this kind of examining work and take those actions that are congruous with their own well-being and with the world.

I have kinks connected-to-real-world-bad-things, and other feelings connected-to-real-world-bad-things. I want to examine them, and think about them, and decide what actions I want to take with that thinking in mind. And I want other people to be able to do this as well, and I want to live in a world that is welcoming to this.

On consent conversations and treating vulnerability as perjorative

[Originally written on Fetlife around three months ago]

Basically every time I see a writing/conversations/post about how ideas about consent can deal with situations where people are not consenting, but are not able to externally express this (for instance, they say yes, but only because they feel pressured, or they aren’t OK with continuing but don’t safeword because of fear or pressure or other such reasons), there is a particular thing that tends to come up in one way or another.

This thing is the idea that trying to acknowledge and deal with these situations is somehow saying bad things about submissive/bottoms/women/whoever is being assumed to be likely to be the victim of such a situation. That it’s infantalizing them or saying they’re all weak and can’t take care of themselves, etc, etc. I want to talk about two things that are incredibly wrong these statements.

1) Vulnerability is not and should not be treated as a pejorative or a moral failing.

There are many traits that a person might have that make it more likely that something bad might happen to them. For example, I have no idea how to collect edible things from outside. This makes it more likely that I will someday starve. Titling this post, I kept trying to think of the right word for these things, but if there is one, it seems that I don’t know it. But certainly there is a whole collection of terms we use to talk about this – I’m using vulnerability, but there’s also weakness, and lack of ability, and the aforementioned ‘can’t take care of yourself’, etc. And in our culture, we have a major problem where instead of treating this as something that might be very unpleasant and harmful to a person, we treat this as something bad about them. This is something that is bad and needs to get better.

Traits like having trouble asserting yourself, being easily pressured into things, freezing up when in a bad situation, believing you don’t have the right to say no, etc, are examples of such things. They might come from something like social anxiety, or from upbringing/past experiences, or from whatever other source. As someone who struggles with them myself, I can say that they’re not something I’d wish on anyone. But they don’t make the people who have them any less valid and full people with human rights like the right to be treated well and to have their consent respected. It means it might take more effort to make sure these rights are provided for – effort to help people get better, effort to make sure our ideas and practices of consent are inclusive of these problems. But that’s not an excuse – it’s a responsibility.

2) The fact that systems need to provide safety to more vulnerable people doesn’t mean that everyone is that vulnerable.

The entire point of dealing with these issues at all is that we don’t want bad things to happen to people. Ideally at all, more practically as little as possible, since the only way to achieve the ideal is to forbid all play and such entirely. That means that if we have a choice between a system that some people don’t need, but that protects the most people, and a system that fewer people find unneeded but more people get hurt in, we choose the former. In which case, obviously enough, there will be plenty of people for whom a less protective system would have been sufficient. But having a more protective system doesn’t mean that everyone needs it. It means it’s there for the people who do need it.

When I took a sewing class in school, our teacher started out by explaining how to avoid getting stabbed by the sewing machine needle. This doesn’t mean she thought that no one in the class knew this already. It means she thought that making it more likely that no one would get stabbed with a needle was more important that not subjecting a few people to an explanation they didn’t need.

It’s the same principle here. Yes, of course there are plenty of people who don’t need ‘it’s OK to say no’ to be part of a proposition. Of course there are plenty of people who have no trouble safewording if they realize they aren’t liking something after all. No one is saying that there aren’t. What we are saying is that there are also people it isn’t true of. And if people’s wellbeing is in fact a priority for us, it has to be inclusive of them, too.