You Must be This Tall, Part 2 – Own Yourself
Good evening and thank you for scheduling an address in the evening and not ten am in the morning after two nights of dungeon play. I often wonder why people ask to have me speak at these things, anyone who has heard or read my speeches should know I am not a cheerleader for unity in the community or other such nonsense. But part of me suspects the reason for this is since my speeches often wind up being given at brunch, most of the people listening are too hung over or blissed out or exhausted and crashing to parse anything more complex than "scrambled eggs or waffles?" They hear some other people laughing, hear me say "fuck a lot" and assume it was a great time. Oh, that Laura! She's so funny.
It might come as a surprise to you to know that I actually consider this my profession. Yes, I am still trying to make a living by writing, speaking and teaching. A benefit of this is I get to travel a lot, sometimes to places considered exotic by this native New Yorker – for example, last year I got to go to Australia. Last weekend, I was in Phoenix, where, thanks to the woo-woo atmosphere I decided my Native American name is Kvetches to Perverts. And now here I am in beautiful...um..Worthington. Believe it or not, this is also exotic to me. For example, I understand jello is considered a salad ingredient here. I actually learned this from my wife, who is from Holland, Michigan, and my Daddy, who comes from this great state. How I wound up with two Midwestern ladies is a mystery. You betcha.
A drawback of all this travel and socializing is that I am exposed to and hear more about my fellow perverts than I really want to be. Because I only teach classes about relationships and other thought topics, people often tell me stories about what's going on in their lives – sometimes in person, sometimes after the event is long over, via e-mail. And of course, I am frequently pointed to discussions on Fetlife, often by people who seem to think I am going to get involved in online drama. (And no, I am not. I did that 10, 15 years ago, I'm over it.)
Speaking of 15 years ago.
In 1995, I wrote Unsafe at Any Speed, or Safe, Sane and Consensual, My Fanny. It was my brief manifesto about how boring and safe and over negotiated the scene was becoming. Since that time, many people have come to me to say it describes exactly how they felt, blah, blah, blah.
Two years ago, I gave another speech called You Must be This Tall to Ride This Ride, where I noted that DS-ers – the master slave people – were feeling put out by the fact that literature in the scene was being produced that seemed to suggest some of what they did might look like abuse when seen out of context. My response to this was to tell them to quit whining about how mean the other kinky people are and stand tall enough to take the consequences of their choices.
Well, now I am going to be a little more direct.
I'm turning 48 this year. That means sometime in September or October of this year will mark the 30th anniversary of my going into Manhattan and stepping into an SM club for the first time.
Thirty fucking years.
I know I've grown up. Now, I am going to ask when the scene will do the same.
It's long past time for the scene to acknowledge the simple fact that a lot of what we teach, support and submit for public consumption is in fact pediatric sadomasochism. And while that's fine for the sex shop dilatants and the easily titillated and the once-a-year fetish crowd, and it's perfectly appropriate for the novices and the shy and the socially awkward, at a certain stage in development, you have to take the training wheels off.
And, much more importantly, you have to know that by taking those wheels off, you run a greater risk of falling; but falling is part of the process. Mama ain't gonna run out with bandaids all your life. You crash, you get up and apply your own fucking bandaid. Eventually, even though you will grow more skilled and crash less often, you will always know, as you pull out onto life's road, that there are dangers around you and you might fall again, even risk serious injury. But the benefits of riding that bike outweigh the risks. The freedom over-rides the fear.
For example, let's stop pretending that safewords are necessary or even useful. And on the flip side, let's stop pretending that playing without a safeword is somehow more dangerous than having one, or the mark of a more real or absolute or total or whatever the fuck you want to call it relationship.
The original intention of having a safeword was so a roleplaying bottom could enjoy screaming "no, stop," and other things like that yet also be able to inform the top that something was wrong, or they were nearing or at their limit. In other words, it stopped the scene ONLY because the use of plain English was considered potentially confusing.
Let me tell you – "untie me or I will call the cops, my lawyer, or your mom" is plain speech that will usually kill a scene dead. So will thinks like "I withdraw my consent." But hey, if saying "red" cuts through the role playing that much faster, more power to ya.
But if a bottom has the ability to express themselves in a language a top understands – and usually, I insist on at least that much with someone new to me – they should be able to say something like, oh, "Ouch, I think I just sprained my shoulder." Or, "I need to pee." A bottom who does not use a special word to indicate a distraction or challenge still has the responsibility it communicating it! And a top who does not expect to hear that special word must instead take on the responsibility of hearing a genuine issue instead of first accepting the code word.
But instead, safewords seem to have become some sort of talisman, either proof of the greatest good – the responsible SMer – or of the greatest evil, the not-real DSer. Guess what, folks? It's neither. It's a fucking tool, designed to let people experiment and play and find out what real limits are and how to communicate and how to find out about each other. Just because at a certain point you find you find yourself not using them doesn't mean that you are either 1) unsafe or 2) better than people who do. It just means you have found different ways to communicate.
But safewords and the myths around them are just a symptom of the greater illness that has afflicted the scene. When I came out, there were damn few resources for information, networking, socializing. And the ability to spread this information and connect these people was extremely limited.
Now, we have 700,000 perverts on Fetlife, eager to share details about their habits, tastes and experiences, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
On one hand, that's a good thing. The more out there, the easier it is to connect and play safely and well.
On the other hand, it has encouraged some of the most pediatric behavior of all – the lack of personal responsibility.
Folks. What we do isn't rocket science, but neither is it gymboree. If you can't negotiate safe sex, you really have no business negotiating sadomasochism. If you are disturbed by the consensual behavior of other adults because you find it triggers something in you, you shouldn't go to places where you can see them act out their play. If you put your body in the hands of someone else and don't take care of your needs, whether it's by negotiation, communication, or any other adult responsibility, you need to accept the consequences. If you can't manage your own life, you should not be trying to manage someone else's. If you don't own your own shit, you should not be trying to be owned by someone else.
Harsh words! But I said I was going to be direct and there it is.
Some of you cheered or nodded along with that list like these were truths that should be self evident. But the fact is, after every event I go to, I can tell stories of what I witnessed, or heard about afterwards or read about – on Fetlife – where people refuse to take responsibility for their own choices and actions.
The submissive didn't use her Safeword because she was too deep in subspace. Oh, really? Then she has no business using a Safeword. Obviously, that person needs a different way to communicate, needs to play a lot lighter, or needs a new top. And that top? Needs to stop relying on a magic word. We're not in kindergarten any more.
But my, do people whine! They don't get what they want from Friday to Sunday and on Monday morning they're typing away about everything that went wrong and why none of it is their fault, it's that other person, that other group, that other event, that social more.
Grow the fuck up. We are all responsible first and always for ourselves and our decisions. Stop hiding behind a role or identity to shield yourself from consequences. "But he consented to be my 24/7 total gorean olde guard lifestyle slave," is whining. If on day two after you signed that lifetime contract, said slave is already packing to go, guess what? The fault gets applied to both of you. Now pick up your toys, fix what was broken and try not to involve the entire freaking community in your drama.
Take responsibility for your feelings, your choices, your risks. Learn to say things like "I'm not ready for that," AND "I'm ready for that," and know that regardless, you have made the right choice for that place and time.
This doesn't excuse anyone from acting responsibly – in fact, this is a philosophy that insists that we can and must be MORE responsible. Just be responsible to yourself first – which will free you to take risks that might seem greater to an outsider, but are in fact simply your next step in what should be an exciting journey.