*****As I’ve gotten older, I’ve found myself voluntarily becoming part of quite a few minority groups. As an adult, I converted to Judaism and became part of the BDSM community, and found some of the joys and the challenges of living in insular communities like these. Since the age of the internet exploded and the world got smaller and people became easier to connect, some of these more insular groups have been facing major challenges to both our identities and how we are viewed by outsiders.
With small, insular groups, there is an element of exoticism to those standing in the mainstream. I’m pretty sure we’ve all heard a few of these: Why do “those people” do that? Why is that woman/man voluntarily submitting to abuse? You have to be sick to enjoy hurting someone. Isn’t that anti-feminist/emasculating? No woman/man with self-respect would ever choose that. I bet she/he has mommy/daddy issues. When seen through a “mainstream” lens, even the benign aspects of our lifestyles can seem strange and harmful to modern American society. We’ve been called backwards, sick, unenlightened, regressionist, and we’ve all heard “Well, if they just [understood/got therapy/had a real relationship, etc], then they would come around.”
When the mainstream, majority-controlled world (and media) so fundamentally misunderstands who you are, how much worse is it when abuse comes into the picture? All communities have their abusers, but there is an element of statistical inevitability when abuse happens in a majority community. Take, for instance, a domestic violence situation in a white, straight marriage. It’s easy to say “Well, sometimes it doesn’t work out. Sometimes people are abusive. That one person is a problem. It’s not about the whole institution of marriage/all straight people being abusive.” That abusive situation doesn’t get extrapolated to all white, straight marriages, because you have thousands of examples for which that isn’t the case. For the mainstream, who may only have one or two “out” kinksters to look at, what happens? This person’s failings become everything that is “wrong” about the BDSM lifestyle.
When we in insular communities see abuse, there is a tendency to circle the wagons against outsiders to protect ourselves from those generalizations. There is a tendency to hide, to sweep “unseemly” behavior under the rug, to not talk about the bad things for fear that they will become extrapolated to our entire community. Segments of Jewish groups do it, and through the past two weeks on FetLife, I’ve realized kinksters do it too.
The scary reality of the situation, though, is that to a victim in the kink community, even to bring an abuse case to the police, to the court systems, seems unreasonable. We are a minority group, and these judges and juries are not our peers, despite our bill of rights. These are people to whom we would have to explain the basics of consensual non-consent. We would have to try to put into words the difference between sadism and abuse, the power that comes from submission. These are people who will look at us and see someone damaged, unenlightened, regressionist, and we wonder why more minority victims don’t seek the help of the authorities?
So we victims go to our own group, and even there, we are told to hush up for fear that these small, tight-knit groups will unravel. For fear that leaders of the group whom we respect will be seen in a bad light. For fear that there are actually damaged, unenlightened, and regressionist people in our very midst. That maybe we are more like what the mainstream says, that they will be able to point to this person and say “See? This person is exactly what we said the group is. There is your proof.” We try to put a good face on everything, to be perfect minorities, despite the damage it does to the victims in our groups.
When you’re a victim and you know that the courts will misunderstand you, you go to your fellow kinksters for understanding and to help protect others. Then they tell you to stop creating drama, to be quiet, to get over it, that you don’t want to ruin someone. That maybe it was all just a misunderstanding and maybe it didn’t even happen. You have no protection, no recourse, and abusers keep on abusing because of the silence, and more victims keep piling up and becoming alienated until the group itself unravels because it is no longer enriching.
Is this really where we want to go? Is this really the community that we cherish so much?
This whole discussion needs to be reframed. When abuse happens in an insular community, when abuse is brought up on FetLife, we need to reframe the discussion from “don’t hurt this one man” and “don’t make a scene because you’re making us all look bad” to “what keeps this from happening again?” and “how do we protect our other community members from this?”
The reality of the situation is that if we in our insular communities don’t protect our own, nobody will. We cannot count on the court systems to understand us - that much is patently clear - so our victims, our friends, have nowhere to go except to us. We owe it to them to listen, to understand, and to address the underlying issues in our communities that allow this to happen. We need mechanisms within our community for making spaces safer for all of us. For making the word “consent” mean something beyond a philosophical guideline. We need to be the ones to shut down spaces where subs have to be chaperoned in order to be safe, where abusers can flourish because our silence works in their favor. We need to actively be doing things to ensure that victims have space and support to speak.
We need to look out for each other. Fundamentally, that is what makes us a community rather than a shared-interest group. We need to become an actual community and protect our people from becoming victims, or who else will?