A metatextual post on kink morality debates, in which I outline three primary approaches I’ve seen to the topic, and in which my primary purpose is to highlight a false dichotomy that eclipses the possibility of the third option.
Sorry in advance for being wordy. You can also just look at the graphs.
Here’s the mutually exclusive approach:
(depicted: BDSM/kink excludes abuse; they are separate categories)
The mutual-exclusion rhetoric of “BDSM vs. Abuse (and all kink is BDSM)” is the approach I’ve seen most often among libfems and conservative advocates invested in curating a positive community image and championing individual liberty. I won’t go into my criticisms of this approach here (but I have talked about it elsewhere, in my posts on “the difference between BDSM and abuse” and on “real doms”).
Here’s the mutually inclusive approach:
(depicted: BDSM/kink is a subtype of abuse; the BDSM category is entirely within the abuse category; circles not to scale)
Note that I’ve labeled this type of anti-kink rhetoric “politically-based” to differentiate it from anti-kink rhetoric on the basis of “ew, gross” (although there is often overlap). The mutual-inclusion rhetoric of “BDSM is abusive (and all kink is BDSM)” is the approach I’ve seen most often among radfems and non-kinky conservatives. I think this approach has several deficiencies that I won’t get into here.
Here’s an overlapping approach, the approach I take:
(depicted: Venn diagram of kink and abuse categories partly overlapping with each other; circles/overlap area not to scale)
Summarizing the distribution of this approach is tricky, because I’ve seen some strange waffling between this and mutual exclusion as well as this and mutual inclusion. For instance, one individual may insist that “BDSM is not abuse” but also acknowledge that there are dangerous people in the Scene (and de-emphasize the fact with “true dom” rhetoric or imply we shouldn’t focus on that). Another individual might describe all kinks as abusive, but also make a note that some atypical interests (that others might classify as kinky) aren’t what they mean when they talk about kink, so that they can 100% disapprove of “BDSM/kink” while actually approving of some kinks.
In its “default” form (as in, the approach that people start with, rather than revert to when pressed only to snap back to their original a paragraph later) the overlapping approach is actually quite hard to find, in my experience. The main demographic which I’ve encountered it in is a small number of critical and/or disillusioned kinksters, who place various kinds of emphasis on and give various estimates of abuse within the community.
This is meant to be more of a metatextual post, so I won’t go into how I’d argue my particular stance.
Instead, for this post, I’m interested discussing what happens when I’ve tried to argue my particular stance. This’ll be describing a specific phenomenon that has happened, not an all-enveloping prediction (so, if what’s described here isn’t what you would do… congratulations, this post isn’t about you).
What I’ve experienced in conversation with practitioners of the mutual-exclusion approach, who may as well be thought of as kinky PR agents, is that when I’ve articulated an overlapping approach, I’ve been accused of taking the mutually inclusive approach (or something close enough for jazz).
This really doesn’t make much sense, so I’m trying to figure out why that is.
Here are a couple of things I’ve observed:
- Mutual-exclusion rhetoric typically presents itself in reaction to mutual-inclusion rhetoric & has that influence all over it.
- In kink morality arguments, mutual exclusion rhetoric (kinky PR) and mutual inclusion rhetoric (kinks are evil) are usually presented as an either-or binary, as if those are the only two ways of thinking about the topic.
So, here’s my speculation:
- If I don’t embrace/espouse kinky PR while talking about kink and abuse, these KPR agents are finding me guilty of not believing hard enough in KPR
- OR, while the KPR agent agrees (nominally) with an overlapping approach, talking about kinky abuse is a threat to KPR and therefore kinky abuse should not be discussed publicly (or not without copious disclaimers)
- OR, KPR agents believe that the overlapping approach should be reserved for people with enough community credentials, and that before I can openly discuss or learn about kinky relationships I need to have one first
- OR, the idea of overlapping categories is a rigorous and advanced mental concept beyond most mere mortals’ comprehension
- OR, something that hasn’t occurred to me yet!
What do you think it is?