Brainstorming: ‘non mainstream’ and ‘connected-to-bad-things’ are not equivalent categories.

{Originally posted on my tumblr on Sun Jan 5 2014}

Subtitle: this asexual masochist would like to have a word on some anti-asexual attitudes in kink-shaming.

[My last brainstorming post kind of turned out to be a proper post instead. This one, I think, is closer to brainstorming, which is to say, I think I know what I’m trying to say, but I don’t think I’m yet at the ‘saying it very well’ point].

In both of my previous posts about kinks-connected-to-real-world-bad-things, I’ve been specifying before I start that I’m using the ‘I have a thing for this’ meaning of ‘kink’. In the same post where I talked about that definition, I also talked about another one – “Often, kink doesn’t just refer to having specialfeelings for anything, it refers to having specialfeelings for things outside the mainstream”. Now, as far as I’ve seen, in a lot of anti-kink circles, it is common to see that definition of kink and the connected-to-real-world-bad-things category of kinks as one and the same.

I strongly disagree with this. First, there are absolutely kinks-connected-to-real-world-bad-things that are perfectly mainstream – virginity is a big one there. However, more to the point of this post, there is a whole subset of non-mainstream things that I would say are not connected-to-bad-things. This would include the subset of things that people like on a purely physical-action level. Which, in my opinion, includes some forms of pain things.

One of the things that tends to severely put me off the radfem type of anti-kink people is that they have a tendency to put all pain things in with the connected-to-bad-things category. Which, as far as I can tell, tends to look rather like ‘well, I (and people I know) find this unpleasant, so therefore it’s bad’.

Now, to clarify. Lots of pain kinks are absolutely in the connected-to-badthings category. Example: kinking on enduring pain that you hate but are being forced to keep taking, or on the idea that you’re being punished with pain for being a bad person, or on pain in the context of roleplaying torture. However, lots of sex kinks are also in the connected-to-badthings category (example: being used), for pretty much any sex act one can name, but these physical sex acts themselves tend to be much more positively regarded. I am talking here exclusively about the ‘I like it because I/my partner finds it physically/mentally pleasurable’ type of pain kink (‘mentally pleasurable’ here means ‘my brain just likes and desires this’). (Note: a lot of my own pain kinks are the connected-to-badthings type. I’m talking here about the ones that aren’t).

The reason, I think that this is such an issue for me is that the things that it is most common/accepted for people to find physically/mentally pleasurable don’t really work that way for me. As a major example of this: I don’t like open-mouthed kissing. In fact, while I’m not particularly sex-repulsed, I am much closer to kissing-repulsed. It feels wet and squishy, it sets off my hygiene issues and meanwhile it causes me no physical and mental pleasure whatsoever. Most sex acts, for me, are incredibly emotionally complicated and not particularly physically pleasurable. Being hit with things, on the other hand, is something I desire, it gives me physical and mental pleasure, it’s what can get me happy and euphoric and after-glowy.

But the thing is, I know my feelings are not universal. If I did – if say I thought that everyone experienced kissing physically the way I do – it would make perfect sense to me to go around to people who talk about liking kissing telling them how awful they are for inflicting such an unpleasant sensation on their partner, and don’t they know it’s dangerous and can transmit diseases, and they’re not even using a dental damn. It would make sense for me to tell them that there must be something really terrible making them think they like it, and I feel really bad for them and hope that someday they’ll be able to heal and get past it and start experiencing a healthy sexuality by liking the things I like instead. But because I’m a minority, I know that my feelings are not universal. I know that when people say they like kissing, they’re saying this because to them it feels good and is awesome and desired and endorphin-making. But also because I’m a minority, people tend not to realize this about the things I like.

Anti-kink people of the type I’m talking about will tend to hide behind the idea that causing pain to someone who doesn’t like it is violence. Which, yes, it is, and that’s horrible. But kissing someone who doesn’t like it is sexual assault, so that’s making the wrong comparison entirely.

This also connects to the reason why I feel asexuality ties into this. Because, for any physical interaction, there are going to be people who experience it negatively. Any physical interaction, when done without consent, is a violation. So saying that some physical interactions are uniquely and always bad, while others aren’t, means the distinction has be made based on some intrinsic assignment of value: ‘these are the bad things and these ones aren’t because that’s just the way it is’. And, pretty much invariably, the things put in the ‘not bad’ category, the good category, the healthy category, the category being privileged, are the very things that are likely to be unpleasant or not positive for me and people like me, and the things we are likely to be pressured into doing and abused for not liking.

So I guess to come to a conclusion: I get my physical and mental pleasure off of different physical actions than is standard in our society. It bothers me when people treat the things I enjoy as things no one could ever actually enjoy and if they think they do it must come from something terrible. It bothers me even more that this seems to come with its own form of compulsory sexuality, where a particular set of intimate physical actions (a lot of which are not particularly positive and even negative for me) gets held up as what should be the healthy, pleasurable, positive intimacy that is the ideal for everyone. And what this comes down to all together is: if you tell me that my preferences in physical enjoyment are wrong, then either you are being a part of compulsory sexuality (whether in a ‘you should do this’ or ‘hopefully, if you get the healing [‘fixing’] you need, you can do this’, or ‘this is just better and healthier’ way). Or you are telling me ‘well, you’re so broken, you just shouldn’t get to experience this kind of pleasure at all’. I don’t think it’s very hard to see why this upsets me.

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Brainstorm: Categories of kinks connected-to-real-world-bad-things

[Brainstorm posts are about things that I am still thinking about, want to think about further, etc. I want to try to write about how my thoughts are at the moment, to get them down and possibly to get feedback and other people’s thoughts]

So, I’m trying to think in more detail, and more organized detail, about kinks that connect-to-real-world-bad-things. (I’m using ‘kink’ here in the ‘have a thing for this’ meaning).

Sidenote: 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.

Other sidenote: I also need a better word than ‘badthings’, and am very open to suggestions. In case it is unclear, I use that term to mean something like ‘ideas, paradigms, and systems in the world that are both wrong and harmful’.

But anyway, for me a big part of thinking about things tends to be organizational, so here, as I have seen and thought of them so far, are my categories for these kinks.

1. Result from conflict due to internalized badthings:
The major example of this I’ve seen is rape fantasies originating from internalized sex-shaming. So, people internalize the idea that wanting and enjoying sex is bad, but still have sexual desire, so they fantasize about a scenario where they could have sex without being ‘guilty’ of it.

2. Reactions against constant stress of badthings:
This is when the everpresence of some hurt leads to fantasies or desires of its complete absence and opposite. As a personal example, I’m pretty sure my kink/grey kink for particular kinds of F/m power dynamics (for instance, the book A Brother’s Price hits this for me) is a reaction against constantly living with the oppression of sexism.

3. Depend on bad paradigms:
This is when a kink depends on taking some such paradigms as true. The most common example where I see this talked about is forced feminization – since the kink there tends to be for the shame/degradation, it depends on a worldview where femininity is degrading. A very pervasive example of this is the whole set of kinks related to sexual degradation: good-girl/slut dichotomies, sexual derogatives (slut, whore…), etc, which all depend on the paradigm where liking/wanting sex is deviant.

4. Romanticized badthings:
This is kinks that are directly for some badthing, but focus on the aspects of it that the person is interested in while leaving out the unpleasant aspects of the reality. Most roleplay falls into this category – kinks like sexual slavery or teacher/student focus on the sexual aspects and exclude the trauma, psychological harm, etc.

5. Remaking the pathways:
This is kinks that are directly for some badthing, but actually seek to play out the trauma, with the idea that replicating it in a safe and negotiated environment can be a help in dealing with the real world version. There are multiple ways this can happen: for instance, playing out a fear can take it from a Nothing is Scarier horror to something concrete and combatable. I’ve also seen it talked about how, on a psychological level, a major part of trauma is not being able to leave it behind because the brain keeps going down the same pathways, and recreating a similar situation on your own terms can rewrite over those pathways.

Thoughts on critical examination and ethical practices

First, as noted, basically everything starts being problematic when it crosses the line into violating other people. So, for any kink as for anything else, ethical practices involve not doing that – playing consensually only, content warning erotica, etc.

Aside from that:

1, 2, and 5 share the common trait of being coping mechanisms. Coping mechanisms become problematic when people don’t realize that they are coping mechanisms. Critical examination and ethical practice with these kinks therefore means knowing that they are coping mechanisms, knowing what they are coping mechanisms for, and making the conscious decision as to whether or not to continue to use them as such.

4 is where most of my own kinks are (though the aspect I’m interested in is usually something like melodramatic nobility and not sexualness). Since this is my main area of experience, I want to do a separate writing on the value I see in this category of kinks. Critical examination and ethical practice with these kinks means noticing the romanticizing, noticing the aspects that are being left out, not confusing the romanticized version and the real version, and being committed and making an absolute effort not to let the romanticized version lead you to contributing more harm to the real version.

3 is the one I struggle with the most (I was going to write about that here, but it turned too long and also is its own topic, so I’m going to give it its own post instead). At the moment, where this puts me is: Critical examination and ethical practice with these kinks means noticing the bad paradigms they are dependent on, and being committed and making an absolute effort to reject these paradigms in real life.

When people have ethical objections to 3 and 4, it’s often with the idea that the fully ethical practice is impossible: it’s impossible to practice romanticized kinks and not have this be part of contributing more harm to the real version, and/or it’s impossible to reject a bad paradigm while practicing kinks that depend on it.

I’m not going to address the impossibility question, because to me it misses the point. Short of living in a utopia and seeing what happens then, there is no way to figure this out. In the world as it is, everyone contributes to the harm of real world badthings, everyone retains and perpetuates aspects of bad paradigms, and there’s no way to trace that back to a particular source with any kind of certainty.

As such, dealing with this to me is no different from dealing with living in such a world in general.

It means, for any area where I might contribute to harm, consciously answering the question, “remaining in congruence with my own morality and integrity, what can I and can’t I do?”. And it means addressing any specific harm I’m doing that I become aware of (whether myself or through someone else pointing it out).