Stop talking about “the difference between BDSM and abuse.”

You want to know how to get folks like me to trust you?  It’s not like this.

Although I was familiar with it already, I encountered this phrasing far too often while looking for suitable pieces for this linkspam on kink, and then having this conversation convinced me I might as well write a separate post about this.  So, here we go.

Stop going on and on about “the difference” between bondage, D/s, pain play, impact play, and abuse.

Notice I separated “BDSM” into several separate components that time.  That’s because, for one thing, they don’t all raise the same exact set of issues.  The subjects of “deliberate D/s and abuse” and “use of pain and abuse,” for example, are actually two very different conversations.  Trying to have them both at once is just muddling and confusing.  So trying to tackle “the difference between BDSM and abuse” without acknowledging that the umbrella term covers multiple tools and styles to each address means you’ve hobbled yourself from the start.

Secondly, the usage of the phrase “the difference between BDSM and abuse” is disingenuous about its purpose.  Do you think anyone is sitting around thinking “Hm, I wonder if my abusive relationship is kinky?”  Is that one of the questions you think you’re answering?  No.  Of course not.  The ensuing discussion following that phrase is always only about people in kinky relationships and what would or wouldn’t make those relationships abusive.  Which brings me to my third point.

Audience and priorities.

Sorting out “the difference between (things that get called) BDSM and abuse” is like trying to sort out “the difference between animals which are cats and animals which are the color white.”  There’s a fundamental flaw in the categorization system.  What do you do with the white cats?

Almost every time I’ve seen people talk about “the difference between BDSM and abuse,” which implies this diagram rather than this diagram, they’ve at some point conceded some sliver of overlap, briefly acknowledging abusers using BDSM as a “cover for” abuse or who are “pretending” to be doms (because “real doms” aren’t like that).

Keep your moralized-role essentialism then, if you must.  You know that abusers are taking advantage of the culture of the kink community.  So who are you writing that little essay on distinction for?

The people who need it most?  The people who are being preyed on?

Are you helping anyone figure out how to assess the trustworthiness of the people who call themselves “doms”?  How to know whether they’re “real doms”/good doms/safe doms?

Or are you just opining that they exist?

Have you sought or shared or debated opinions on what the red flags are?  Do you believe in scrutinizing other people’s attitudes and approaches toward kink at all?  Or do you handwave abuse as the distant collateral damage of the fun you want to have?

Are you doing anything within your community (which I feel too unsafe to really join, in part thanks to this) to undermine the subcultural cover that abusive doms use to their advantage?  Do you care at all about trying to hinder them?  Have you pondered what strategies you could use?

Have you realized that fanning the flames of “BDSM and abuse” as an all-or-nothing point of contention is a strategy they use?

Do you believe in countering victim-blaming?  Do you know how to identify it in its kink-flavored form?

Have you critiqued the specific manifestations of abuse within kink, like the specific manifestations of abuse against aces, and thought about the superficial differences between styles and modes and cultural locations of abuse?  Or do you treat the whole matter like a matching game?

Do you understand that abuse in the kink community isn’t as simple and inevitable as “there’s abusers in every community”?  Do you understand that some of the chief things that attract people to “BDSM” are what makes it dangerous?  Do you have any ideas for how to mitigate that?  Do you care?

I’d do it myself, but seeing as I’m not a member of the kink community by any definition, I know (from experience, now) that I can’t talk about kink & abuse without being shouted down for being critical as someone who’s not even a part of the kink community… because (despite interests in bondage and other weird stuff) I don’t want to join the kink community, because the kink community doesn’t want me, because I’m critical of the kink community (because the kink community, as it operates, doesn’t want me).  It’s a feedback loop.  An unfortunate one.

The best it seems I can do is highlight what I find by kinksters on the subject.  And that’s difficult to do because when I search and search and search, so much of the discussion consists of this myopic drivel on “the difference between BDSM and abuse” over and over again, and furious backlash whenever it’s questioned or pushed.  Which I know for a fact is alienating people besides myself.  Congratulations on making aces trust the kink community even less.

My first priority, if I were you, would be helping kinky people stay safe from abusers and apologist retaliation.

What’s yours?

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13 responses to “Stop talking about “the difference between BDSM and abuse.”

  • submissiveama

    First, I want to say that you and I are unlikely to agree on this point. You see every participant in BDSM as an abuser or victim, but I understand that BDSM is not inherently abusive. You try to make a complex, multi-faceted subculture into simple, and dangerous, black and white.
    Abuse happens. I know first hand. But I have been abused more–and worse–outside kink. The worst abuse comes from family, yet I do not propose that all family is evil. I realize that only some members are, and I work (still at it) to educate others about those people and to separate myself from them.

    While my posts are not on here, I have written about red flags. I have offered advice for discerning the true intent of a person, on the importance of establishing a firm basis of trust before end sing in any activity that has the potential for harm. I have written about how to know if your consent has been violated (because sometimes it isn’t so simple, especially in power-exchange). I have written where to go for help if it has. I do concede that there are people who use BDSM as a cover for abusing others. Been there, written all of that already. Since you are not on my Fet friends, you haven’t seen any of those posts or discussions with other kinksters.

    Of course I work to undermine abusers in my community (although I do not participate in my local kink community for personal reasons. See mention of abusive family above.) I advocate for the victims of any abuser, not just in BDSM. (I am a huge member and volunteer for a variety of animal rescues across the US as well. I have experience with domestic violence victims. I have seen and done far more than you seem to think.)

    I never said it was all or nothing when it came to abuse either; that is your phrasing. My entire point was that it is NOT that black and white. Not all are abusers, but some are. We have to have a safe place–where people stop slandering and shaming–so victims and advocates feel safe discussing what occurs. Only then can we go about building a safe society where abuse has nowhere to hide.

    As a victim (three previous relationships within kink as well as from relatives) of emotional abuse, I ABSOLUTELY know how to identify it. Within kink, without kink. I know the earmarks, I work with people who have been victims as well. (Yes, even from kink.) As a victim of physical abuse (again, relatives), I know those as well. Then there is my background in psychology. I KNOW. Ask me again if I care.

    I never said it was as simple as “there’s abusers in every community”; I pointed out that we cannot shame and slander an entire group (i.e., BDSM is bad, mmkay?) just as we cannot denounce organized religion for the priests who abused children. My ENTIRE point was that it exists and should be dealt with, but it is not the entirety. (It is wrong to convict a subculture as a whole based on the horrendous actions of a few.)

    I am not a part of any kink community either. I just refuse to allow my friends or my SO to be defamed and labeled as abusers for actions they did not commit nor condone. There are good people as well, but you don’t want to believe that. You would rather tar everyone with the same brush. Must be so much simpler for you that way.

    By all means, speak out. We need more people to stand up. (I have thanked a number of people–on here as well as on Fet–for writing articles about safety and abuse. Things that I wish I had known when I first discovered kink.) But do not be so quick to judge EVERYONE.

    Before you tell me what my first priority should be, find out what I have done for victims. Ask how I drug myself out of the hole of abuse, how I comforted others. Ask how I spoke out against not only my abusers, but those of people I knew. How I write and shared snd educated others on red flags, orange flags, and the like. Find out what awareness groups I am a member of. See what I do for the people around me. Then ask why I am so against false accusations. Ask why I feel the need to point out that abide exists everywhere, not just in kink, and we have to do more than point fingers to solve the problem. Ask -how- I feel we should address the issue, rather than put words in my mouth and alter what I said to suit your agenda.

    To get to know the kink community, go to a few munches. Meet people. Talk to them snot their experiences. Learn that we are human too, that we struggle to fight abuse in its many forms as well. See how many good people there are. You say you are concerned because of posts like mine, then go out and talk to people in real time.

    And I never said “the difference between BDSM and abuse.” I said it irks me when generalizations are used.

    • Silvermoon

      They’re not saying that BDSM=abuse though? They’re saying that BDSM and abuse are two overlapping circles in a Venn diagram where some people are both abusers AND involved in BDSM.

      But multiple people deny or misdirect the conversation that needs to happen about this with phrases such as “the difference between BDSM and abuse.”*
      And okay, right, I don’t have experience in the BDSM community but I feel it would be a little like if I went around saying “not all white people”. Even if I’m not directly involved in racist actions if I did that I would be shifting all responsibility (and responsibility to question the system) from myself and ignoring the systematic racism that automatically privileges me as part of that group.
      Or, in the case of the BDSM community, it means individuals don’t look at any structural problems that might benefit abusers in a manner that is different to how they exist in a non BDSM space.

      And with your religious analogy? Denouncement might be up to the individual, I’m not going to get into that, but I would DEFINITELY hold the church accountable for this system they’ve created where a: it happens and b: people get away with it.

      *I would guess that they used this phrase in general, as multiple people have created similar posts/articles/etc.

    • Coyote

      “You see every participant in BDSM as an abuser or victim”

      Huh? No I don’t.

      If what I wrote doesn’t apply to you, it doesn’t apply to you. This is a general post, not a letter to you personally.

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