I don't often take time to comment on the news, but the recent spate of articles and reports over the past few weeks on rape have created a lot of upset (to put it mildly) for many of my friends, both in the BDSM and vanilla world. Those who have had experiences of sexual assault have - through the almost unavoidable screaming headlines - been confronted with those memories, with those emotions. There's been a lot going on. Public figures have weighed in all over the place. Idiot politicians have confused sexual assault with rudeness. More idiotic politicians have demonstrated basic scientific failings. There has been a lot of commentary, online and in the papers, and a lot of personal confessions, of all kinds.
It has been, even for someone like me who is fortunate to have never experienced rape or sexual assault, overwhelming. The amount of my friends who have spoken of their own experiences has been overwhelming. Men and women, people who have been assaulted and have been accused of it. I can more easily count the number of people who have not been touched by this, than those who have. It is like a cancer. I have been upset on their behalf, almost to the point of panic at my inability to do anything, so I can barely imagine how they feel.
There have also been a lot of arguments. Some heated, some whispered hushed and low, some online, some in person.And a lot of fear, on all sides. Fear about what has happened, what might happen, about what it all means. There have been arguments about the definition of rape, about the law surrounding it, about rape culture, about rape "jokes". And above all there's been a lot written about the stereotyped imagery around rape which just makes the whole thing worse than it already is. And it's pretty bad. When the media parses things in black and white when reality is never quite like that. When all rape is seen as stranger rape, when we are all victims or victim blamers, sluts or slut-shamers. When we asked for it, or we knew they wanted it really. When we're nice guys that rape or girls who cry rape. We're not any of those things. We could be all of those things. We don't live in a world of these stereotypes. Each experience is different. Each recollection of that experience is different.
It's not about who "wins" in a court of law ('m not going to touch on the legal side of it, though I'm hoping someone does), assuming it even comes to that, which more often than not it doesn't. Fighting a legal battle does not change anyone's experience or memory of what happened. I can't make the past experiences of my friends go away. I can't go back in time and fix all that hurt. I can't change the memory, or the reality of what happened to them. What I can do, is talk about what we can do about it and talk about consent. Which I have done, at length. There's an extremely good article, and links to other good articles, here on safewords, consent and BDSM culture here - I would urge you to read it.
What I can also do is talk about my own fears and concerns, and examine my own attitudes. So that's what I'm going to try and do with the remainder of this post.
I like kinky sex, so I live in a world of complications. I like having sex that shuts down people's ability to move, to speak, to hear. I like gags and mitts. I like having sex with pain. I like seeing people cry. I like having hard sex, violent sex, sex that mimics rape. I like playing with people's emotions, with their perceptions, with their fears. I like games of power and powerlessness. I go to parties or trawl the internet and (attempt to) have sex with people I have only just met. I also like loud music, alcohol, recreational drugs and staying up really, really late.
All of these things put together mean that I, and those who also enjoy these things, am at risk. I'm at risk of sexual assault, perhaps, but as a top and a dominant I'm also at risk of sexually assaulting someone. And being honest: that's the thing I worry about more. That I'm genuinely scared of. For myself, and for my partners. I cannot control what someone else might do to me, but I like to think I have control over myself. But I don't, not entirely, not in this situation. I can control what happens to an extent, but I can't control someone's response to what I do, and I can't control their impression of it.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not worried I'm going to "accidently" trip and fuck someone without their consent. That's the myth of stranger rape, writ small. I'm worried I'm going to push someone too far and that they aren't going to tell me. Or that I'm going to leave a party thinking everyone has had a great night and someone is going to be hurt and upset over what I've done.
I can do my best, and I like to think I do. I have discussions over coffee. I negotiate and set out limits. I plan and prepare scenes. I have contracts. I try to listen to people when they talk about their desires rather than superimposing mine over the top. I try to balance that delicate knife edge of giving someone what they want when they don't want to have to ask for it. When having to ask for it makes it less fun, less sexy, less interesting, less good. When I need to be just violent enough without being too violent. Violent in the right way. At the right time. In the right places.
But still, and especially when you mix in all the factors that someone else brings to the table - whether they know it or not - there are a hundred and one "what ifs" that I cannot possibly plan for. I cannot know if someone is really enjoying themselves, or if they are just telling me they are enjoying themselves. When it's something new for the first time I cannot predict how someone will react. I cannot make someone safeword if the pain is too much.
I've been in the position where this has happened, and I've felt incredibly guilty. I've also been deeply relieved that in the aftermath we were able to talk through what happened, jointly accept responsibility and still remain friends and sometime play partners. I still, however, feel guilty. I will never stop feeling guilty about that moment. And just as I will never stop feeling guilty, I will never stop worrying. Because even though logically I know that there was no way around it, and I had done everything I could to prevent it, it still happened. I still pushed someone too far and broke their trust and hurt them. I've done it before and I might do it again.
At a very basic level a lot of what I enjoy doing, particularly the heavy scenes, could land me in court for assault (sexual or otherwise) if someone were to chose to do so. But that's not the real issue. The thing that really worries me is what it means, for both of us. For them, I will be that person who hurt them, who assaulted them. Nothing will change that in their memory. And nothing will change mine. The only way to prevent the possibility is to never do anything at all or to accept your chances and work to stack the deck.
I'm not fatalistic about probability: I don't want to say that because something might happen again, I can't be blamed when it does. That's ridiculous. I don't want to abdicate responsibility for my actions nor do I want to stop living the life I want. So I live with the chance. My partners live with that chance. We all do. We try, if we are responsible perverts, to minimise the risk. But we can never take it away.
So we also have to live with assumptions. And live in trust. We have to assume that everyone I play with is on the level, that they will talk to us honestly and openly and that if we have issues that they will tell us first and we will deal with them together. We have to trust that yes means yes. That they will tell us when it becomes a no, if we do not recognise this, which we may not. It is a very subjective and fragile thing, this trust, and like many fragile things, it is precious. So we should look after it.