Some Thoughts and Questions About BDSM PR

In December while visiting his family for the holidays, Charles and I stopped by the Leather Archives and Museum in Chicago. The LA&M is a small, but scrupulously kept museum nestled in with a bunch of apartment complexes. The museum is identifiable by its sign bearing a gigantic boot, as well the resemblance of the “&M” in its name to the “&M” of “S&M.” It flags so subtly that I might actually be imagining it.

The man behind the counter let us both in at student price because I had my university ID. On a cold weekday afternoon days after Christmas, we pretty much had the museum to ourselves. We stayed until close. Their library has an encyclopedic selection of trashy, gay, BDSM-flavored porn novellas from the seventies. (Charles’s Note: Also, they had literally every notable nonfiction book on BDSM since ever. This fact is less important.)

While we were there, though, we realized something: the BDSM community hasn’t really found its rhetorical niche. We don’t yet know how to talk about ourselves in a way that makes us sound good to the rest of the world. I think that GLBT communities have found their niche in a focus on romantic love. Most people can identify with that, so it works.

Us, though? The best we have is “safe, sane, and consensual” and I think that sounds a bit like the lady protesting too much. We need something that makes us sound positive, not merely… um… not horrific.

The problem here is sadists and other d-types.[1]

The best idea I’ve come up with so far is basically an ad campaign. The premise would be “my kink makes me feel.” It wouldn’t be dissimilar from the “X is my anti-drug” campaign of the early ’00s in that it would focus on personal experiences, stories, and individuals. I think it would be easy for an s-type to talk about how peaceful, happy, satisfied, strong, or fulfilled zir participation in BDSM makes zir feel without too much trouble. The moment, though, that a d-type shows up to talk about how powerful, strong, or in control kink makes zir feel, it’s gonna get weird. The general public is gonna look at that and think it’s fucked up. It’s going to present a depiction of our real-life, probably-nice-people, consensual sadists as being in line with depictions of fictional monsters.

This is a rhetorical problem that I’ve been puzzling over for months, but don’t know how to solve. It’s especially difficult given how often I’ve heard avowed sadists talk about how they, personally, had to learn to indulge in sadism and learn to trust in their partner’s consent. If in a culture where someone can say “Yes, please do hit me, I’d really like it and it’d get me off,” it’s still necessary to learn how to comfortably say yes to that request, I’m not sure how we can get anyone else to accept that behavior.

I hate to make a post that just points out a problem without suggesting any solutions, especially when my thoughts fall so short of being satisfactory. I do think it’s an interesting problem, though. I’d like to talk much more about it. If you’ve got ideas about this, could you let me know?

[1] “D-type” is a genetic term for dominants, tops, sadists, mistresses, owners, etc. The person who, in general, is holding the flogger, or performing the actions. An “s-type” is the opposite. They’re the submissive, bottom, masochist, slave, property, etc. who, in general, are the people getting hit or being performed upon.

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