A pile of good things and a pile of bad things: partitioning terminology

{Originally posted on my tumblr on Thurs Feb 6 2014}

In our world, there are a lot of very broad terms that, in what they are used to label, involve both awesome ideas, helpful things, and good people – and also abuses, problems, and horrible and harmful things. As far as I’ve been able to tell, people who use these terms but are at least to some extent aware of this situation tend to take one of three approaches for dealing with this.

1) Use the term exclusively for the bad things, and separate out the good things.
As an example, I read a story by an author who does this for therapy. She thinks therapy is useless and generally problematic. However, in the same story, the people trying to help the main character talk about how it is important for him to have someone to talk to who will value him, and also take him to a person who can teach him techniques for emotional regulation (like meditation). These things are explicitly said to be not therapy.

2) Use the term exclusively for the good things, and separate out the bad things.
This is the approach people with a ‘if it wasn’t consensual, it wasn’t sex, it was rape’ conceptualization are taking.

3) Use the term for both the good things and the bad things.
So, therapy can be abusive, but doesn’t have to be, it can be unhelpful and it can be helpful. Consensual sex and sex that is rape can both be called sex. Etc.

Personally, approach 3 is the one I usually take. I find it more useful in letting me talk about both bad and good things that other people (or society) use the term for without getting into a terminology discussion or getting everyone confused because of it. I find it more useful in navigating things that aren’t black and white – maybe I went to see a therapist and it was both problematic and helpful. And I find it less of an issue of singling some things out – therapy is hardly the only relationship that can be abusive and can be positive. Kissing and other types of interactions can be consensual or not just as much as sex can. Etc.

But, regardless of which version someone prefers, the thing that it’s important to watch out for is when people end up talking past each other because they’re taking different approaches, and aren’t thinking about this difference.

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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).

Levels of Autonomy and Control

(Note: While I mention ‘the controller’ here as well as the subject, it is the subject’s mind, and its levels of autonomy vs. control, that are the topic. Also, note that the controller does not have to be a person. The controller is who or whatever has produced this effect on the subject’s mind. It could be a drug, or wild magic, or nanites, or another part (not the consciousness part) of the subject’s own mind, etc).

Given a subject, a type of control, etc, the amount of control vs. autonomy in question has two axes. First, levels of control and autonomy, and second, extent and range of control.

 x-x-x

-First axis-

(I’m numbering levels of control and autonomy from 0-4 by increasing control.

4: Total control, no autonomy:

  • The controller has taken over the subject completely. They manipulate their body as though it were their own. The subject could be aware, or unconscious, or anything else, but they might as well not be there at all. The controller can change anything in the subject’s mind at will. (Note: in fiction, the two parts of this tend to be separate powers and often don’t appear at the same time. However, if you’re controlling someone’s body and it’s not telekinesis, then you’re inside their brain, and if you’re inside someone’s brain, then the part that controls the muscles is there too, so while a particular character’s power might be limited in scope, this is still the same kind of thing).

3: Simon-says:

  • Obedience to specific orders. The order is processed by the subject’s existing ‘systems’ (knowledge, abilities, etc) and fulfilled accordingly, with no room for consideration or choice. If the order cannot be processed or fulfilled, it returns failure it one way or another (not doing anything, reporting the inability, etc). So, if the command is ‘turn into a bear’, and this is something the subject can do, they will. If it isn’t, they won’t. If the command is ‘принеси мне лопату’ and the subject understands Russian, they will bring a shovel. If they don’t understand, they won’t. The option to ask ‘will dressing up in a bear costume work’ or to decide they should go look for a Russian-English dictionary does not exist.

2: Goals:

  • Obedience to fulfilling provided goals. Here, the subject does have the autonomy to consciously consider the goal, decide how to best achieve it, seek out resources in fulfilling it, try multiple methods if the first one doesn’t work, etc. The subject could be told “I need my apartment cleaned by the time I get home” or “make sure everyone in this room is dead”, and could asses the situation and decide whether it would work best to clean the apartment themselves or call a service, or whether the current situation calls for releasing poison gas into the room, for an assault rifle, or for shutting off the lights and dropping through a vent with night vision goggles and a knife.

1: Drive:

  • The subject has a guiding objective, but this objective can be open to interpretation, and the subject has enough autonomy to do this interpretation in their own way. For instance, if the subject’s guiding drive is ‘do what is best for person X’, and this person is planning a murder, the subject might decide that it would be best to help them, since this is what they want, or that it would be best to prevent them so that they don’t risk getting caught and imprisoned. ‘Make the world a better place’ could similarly be interpreted as all sorts of things, from ‘try to live with kindness and love’ to ‘destroy humanity because they are bad for the environment’.

0: No control:

  • The subject has total autonomy, and their purposes, goals, actions, feelings, etc, are all completely their own.

Tracking it the other way, a person at 0 has autonomy over their ultimate purpose, their specific goals, their individual actions, and their physical selves. For a person at 1, their ultimate purpose comes from the controller, but they have autonomy over their specific goals, individual actions, and physical selves. For a person at 2, their specific goals come from the controller, but they have autonomy over their individual actions and physical selves. For a person at 3, their individual actions come from the controller, but they have autonomy over their physical selves. A person at 4 has no autonomy, and their physical self is also under the control of the controller.

 x-x-x

-Second axis-

This has to do with how much of the subject’s time is spend under the given level of control, and what if anything happens the rest of the time.

Sometimes, the subject is under the given level of control all the time. For 1, this means that they are constantly focused on their purpose. For 2, 3, and 4 this means that if no control/orders/goals are being provided, they are doing nothing.

Other times, the subject might instead sometimes move to one of the lower levels of control. This could be level zero – for instance, the subject might go about their normal lives at all times except when the controller gives them an order, at which point they carry it out. It could also be one of the other levels.

A fairly common thing in stories tends to be moving incrementally from 3 to 1 when each higher level of control is not active. So, for instance, the Sovereign of Mindlandia might have a servant. This servant obeys any order when they are given one (‘bring me my sword’). When there is no current order, they instead work on any tasks they have been given (‘find these people who have been plotting against me and have them arrested’). When they are not working on tasks, they have a general purpose (‘help the Sovereign achieve their aims and desires’).

x-x-x

So, there’s my organization for this. I’ve used it to analyze several stories and get a better idea of how some of my characters work.

Anyone have thoughts?

Conceptualizing Relationships

As someone for whom being able to conceptualize things is very important to thinking and feeling about them, and who also has both a practical and theoretical interest in relationships, including non-mainstream relationship structures, I spend a lot of time thinking about ways to conceptualize relationships. I also repeatedly run into issues that show me holes in various existing conceptualizations.

Zack was trying to explain to me that he likes one book series more than another because of the lack of friendships in the second, and we spent a bit of time with me arguing with him and him trying to explain because I couldn’t figure out what he was actually talking about. The moderator of a blog on alt relationships stated that they don’t understand the difference between a queerplatonic relationship and a very close friendship. I for at least the second time ran into the problem of not knowing how to refer to a significant-other relationship that is sexual but not romantic. Etc.

At the moment, the conceptualization of relationships that works best for me in terms of capturing everything I want to be able to capture is a combination of two axes and a tag system.

The two axes are used to plot two measures of significance: 1) How emotionally important a relationship is to you, and 2) how large of a role this person has in your life. Emotional importance runs from ‘complete strangers’ to ‘focus people’, with focus people being the term I’m using for ‘most important people’ – people who would be your ‘hostages’ for the second task of the Triwizard Tournament, who would be the best targets if someone wanted to blackmail you into something or haunt you with visions of horrors, for whom you would drop everything if they needed you or were in trouble. Role-in-your-life is about time and ‘utility’ – how much do you interact with this person, are they meeting some of your day-to-day physical and emotional needs, etc.

For some examples (note: I’m using some personal examples because I find this works best for me when thinking, but I’m basically making up the exact numbers here, and they should not be taken as any kind of declaration of who is how important to me and such):

  • My best friend is very emotionally important to me, however I see her about once a year and don’t talk to her much more often than that.
  • Some villains will abandon their right-hand minions in time of trouble, because while these people are practically useful for what they do, they’re not emotionally important to the villain at all.
  • Zack and I used to live closer to each other than we do now. This change decreased our presence in each other’s lives, but did not decrease his emotional importance to me.

RelationshipGraph1

The tag system covers everything else. Is this relationship sexual? Is it romantic? Is it a Relationship? (I’m using capital-R Relationship to mean the ‘we’re in a relationship’ kind of relationship, wherein this is how the people involved see it and think of it). Is there a legal bond involved? A biological connection? A financial connection? D/s? Is one person in authority over the other? Do they have shared responsibilities? Etc.

This allows me to answer the earlier questions. A queerplatonic relationship is distinguished from a close friendship by the ‘+Relationship’ tag. The thing Zack wants in books is relationships that are high up on both axes, but do not have ‘Relationship’ ‘romantic’ or ‘sexual’ tags (in other words, are –Relationship, -romantic, and –sexual).

It also allows me to talk about some other things I want to talk about. For instance, I’ve been struggling for a while on how to define ‘significant other’. This gives me a definition – ‘significant other’, to me, is the intersection of ‘very emotionally important’ and +Relationship. Likewise, I now have a definition for what ‘primary‘ means to me – it is the intersection of either-or-both ‘very emotionally important’ and ‘very large role in life’, and +Relationship. So, a life partner can be a primary partner without being emotionally important (as, say, for a sociopathic villain), and a significant other can be a primary partner without having the largest role-in-life (as, say, in a long-distance relationship).

Meanwhile, when I talk about culturally conceptualized ‘idealized monogamy’, I mean that in our culture it is considered the right way to do things to have a relationship that’s in the top right corner of the graph (very emotionally important and very large role in your life), that is +Relationship, +romantic, +sexual, and preferably +married, and additionally that no other relationships in your life should be that far in that corner, or have those tags.

So – possibly more adjustments to this system as I do more thinking, but meanwhile, this is what I have.

Guilt and Forgiveness

Guilt and forgiveness are two related words/concepts that are very powerful for me, both in a kink way (especially guilt, there), and in other ways. As such, I’ve spent some time thinking about what they mean to me.

Most fundamentally, guilt, to me is about separation and distance, and forgiveness is about bringing back and together again.

Beyond that, for me there are three kinds of guilt: fact-and-not-feeling guilt, from-inside guilt, and from-outside guilt. (They are not mutually exclusive, and more than one can be present in a situation at the same time).

Fact-and-not-feeling guilt is, as the name suggests, not about anyone’s emotions. It is about a situation where someone did something that they are now being considered guilty for. As such, they are seen as separated in this way from everyone else – they might be regarded differently, treated differently, etc. In some cases, there is then some condition that can be met for the person to be able to ‘return’/to be forgiven – maybe if they ‘pay for their crime’ with some punishment, or if they show themselves to be penitent, or if enough time passes. And in some cases this is a permanent condition – that person is considered separate for life, and even if some conditions are met, they can never fully ‘return’/be fully forgiven. As far as I can tell, Les Misérables, for instance, is about this kind of situation.

From-inside guilt is when a person considers themselves to have done something wrong. They feel guilt for this, and they feel like this makes them separated – they regard themselves differently, and may or may not feel that others should regard and/or treat them differently as well. There are then three subsequent options. Some feel that the separation can only be breached from the other side, by those on the other side deciding to forgive. This is then framed in terms of the grace/mercy of those others. Some feel that they need to span the separation through their own efforts. This is then framed as atonement – they want to contribute something, for instance effort or suffering, and it is through this that they can ‘return’. Therefore, the wider they see the separation as being, the more atonement they are likely to feel is needed. And some feel that they ought to stay separate, that there is no way to go back. For instance, a character of mine believes that after her execution she will end up in her faith’s version of Hell, and also believes that this is exactly the correct outcome.

From-outside guilt is when one person, usually the authority, creates a negative feeling of separation in another person. This usually happens between people who have some sort of bond, and the separation here is between the person being told they’re guilty, and the person doing the telling. It involves distance-feeling created by the first side – “you did this and it was wrong, I am disappointed”, and the second party very strongly feeling this distance as painful and wanting to bridge it. Here again there are three options, this time for the first party. They can grant their forgiveness (either explicitly or implicitly), therefore connecting back. There can be variety in time and intensity here – from something like waiting a moment, saying ‘I’m glad to see you’ll be taking this more seriously from now on’ and allowing the interaction to continue normally to remaining distant as the guilty part begs and cries and apologizes repeatedly before finally saying ‘very well, you’re forgiven’. Alternatively, they could impose some sort of punishment first. This one is common in corporal punishment stories, usually manifesting in a ‘lecture (seperation) – punishment – comfort and forgiveness’ sequence. Punishment in this scenario usually involves the party being punished thinking about how they’ve disappointed  the first party, as opposed to simply about what they did. Finally, they could completely refuse to forgive, and let the separation and its feeling remain.

Mono, Poly, Etc: a Spectrum

So, I’m currently visiting my best friend (who is also now getting added to the ‘people I am out to’ list), and we were talking about relationships, and this ended up giving me the thought that ‘monongamy’ is another word that actually has multiple meanings. So I ended up thinking of this spectrum. It’s probably missing things, and has other such problems, but it helped me think through this particular thing, and having it out there might also help me think of the other things.

[Note that it is also in no way a value judgment. Different things work for different people, and as long as there is open communication, consent, etc, whatever works for whoever is totally fine.]

  • Absolute monogamy: a person has one significant-other relationship in their entire life. They only have sex and similar intimacy with this person, they and this person build their life together, etc. They and this person dedicate their lives to each other, and that’s it. (Some religious fundamentalists will advocate this one.)
  • Serial monogamy: a person has only one significant-other relationship at a time. While in such a relationship, they only have sex and similar intimacy with this person, they and this person build their life together. However, such a relationship can end, and if it does, the resulting single people may form another such relationship with someone else.
    (Note: this option actually spans a whole part of the spectrum, relating to what an ‘OK ending’ is. So, the most restrictive is ‘if one of the people dies’, and from there it basically goes through the same spectrum as divorce laws, from ‘if one person does something accepted as sufficiently terrible’ to ‘if the people/one of the people just want it to end, for any reason whatsoever’.)
  • Relationships are monogamous: If a person has a significant-other relationship, they only have one at a time, and while in such a relationship, they only have sex and similar intimacy with this person, they and this person build their life together. However, if a person is not in a significant-other relationship, they can have non-significant-other relationships with multiple people, and have sex and similar intimacy with these multiple people. (This is where the ‘we are getting serious, let’s be exclusive’ trope comes from).
  • Open relationships: A person has one significant-other relationship at a time, and they and this person build their life together. However, they can also have other non-significant-other relationships at the same time, and have sex and similar intimacy in all of these relationships.
  • Polyamory: A person can have multiple separate significant-other relationships at the same time.

Additionally, there’s a perpendicular axis for polyfidelitous relationships – moving along that axis, the word ‘monogamy’ in each point is replaced by ‘polyfidelity’, and a significant-other relationship functions the same way as noted in whichever point it fits under, but includes multiple people.

Myself and Derogatives

(aka, wheeee, more thing I can organize!)

[Beginning note: I’m not sure if this needs saying, but just in case it does: In this post, I will be talking about derogatives and insults as used in fictional stories and consensual scenes. This should in no way be equated to verbally abusing non-consenting real people, which is completely wrong and unacceptable.]

Anyway, I’ve been thinking about various parts of this topic for a while, and was recently reminded of it. So, here are the categories of derogatives I’ve identified (if anyone can think of other ones, I’d love their input), and how I feel about them both actionably and narratively. (Note: ‘Actionably’ here always applies to a roleplay scene in which I play a character who is the one the insults are targeting. I am not interested in derogatives as applied to my real self).

Body/Appearance: (Examples: fat, ugly)

  • Actionably: Hard limit. I spend, and have spent, quite enough time in a world full of these messages. I am grateful as anything that my body is one area where I don’t have intrusive anxiety. Everything related to this can stay the hell out of my bedroom.
  • Narratively: Never done, have no interest. Never even occurred to me, to the point that this is the category of derogatives that I only recently thought of as such. As a general rule, outside of some kind of devotional power dynamics, my power dynamic characters don’t comment on each other’s appearance at all. No draw for me at all.

Sexual: (Examples: slut, whore, fucktoy, cumdolly)

  • Actionably: Not my thing. It’s an interesting one in that my reaction to these isn’t so much positive or negative as it is “…?”. I think this is because of my background – I spent most of my adolescence knowing and seeing my peers’ interest in things sexual, with my lack therof being a major thing contributing to my ‘I am alien and don’t belong’ feelings. Since finding out my orientation exists (this is one of the ‘most important events in my life’ to me, incidentally), I’ve been able to think about this area of things, and my feelings about it, in much greater nuance and detail. But, I continue to experience no feelings I feel are sexual, I never think of my body as sexual, etc. So, to me, these insults basically just have a very serious feeling of not fitting. Possible analogy would be someone telling me they hate me because I’m French (I’m not, at all). The mental reaction isn’t any kind of upsetness (or pride) – it’s basically ‘um, what are you talking about?’
  • Narratively: Also not my thing. Sexualness being uninteresting to me, I don’t really tend to put it in stories much (including the ones where I do put sex). I run across some amount of these in reading – they don’t bother me, but don’t tend to interest me either. I do have a character where I think some other characters might call her a whore, but thinking about it, the way it would be used, this would be a worth insult (see below), not a sexual one.

Intelligence and other capability: (Examples: stupid, fool, can’t get anything right)

  • Narratively: [note: notice that these two are in a different order for this category]. I don’t generally have these used as general insults on their own. However, I do often have them used as specific insults – in other words, not ‘you are stupid’, but ‘doing thing X was really stupid of you!’ – and combined with other (generally worth, (see below)) types of insults – ‘stupid thing!’, ‘you’re worthless and you can’t get anything right!’.
  • Actionably: I need more data and/or thoughts on this one. At the moment, I would say that it’s not really my thing, for somewhat similar emotional reasons as the body/appearance, in that I have negative emotional associations. I also know (this is a fairly recent realization) that I don’t want to repeat these about myself. But I don’t seem to mind them being used here and there. I had a segment of a scene focused around one of these (‘fool’, specifically’) that I enjoyed very much. And, the same distinction as in the narrative section applies – ‘that was/would be really stupid of you’ appeals to me in a way that ‘you’re stupid’ does not, as do these insults when combined with worth (see below) insults.

Worth: (useless, worthless, waste of space, trash, filth, scum)

  • Actionably: Yes, please! (In case anyone was reading this post going ‘well, is there anything you do like?’, well, yes, this!). These, I like. I like them being used at me, I get kink-satisfaction out of having to repeat them, etc. As noted above, they also allow for the use of ‘stupid’ type insults, when mixed in with them.
  • Narratively: Likewise. These are the insults that tend to show up in my stories. I also have a habit of making made-up-language insults of this type, and putting those in my stories too. Again, they also allow for mixing in ‘stupid’ type insults.