Fifty Shades of Fucked Up

The movie adaptation of E L James’s book, 50 Shades of Grey starts tonight at midnight in most parts of this country.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past couple of weeks, you almost certainly already knew that.

For those that know me, it’s no big surprise that I’m not much of a fan of the series.  I don’t really know anyone who thinks that it an accurate representation of anything, but because it is meant to be entertainment, it does not have to be.

I would like to make it clear, however, that I respect and admire Ms. James despite my opinion on the accuracy or quality of her writing.

I’d like to think that I’m a good writer, but objectively, I’m forced to admit that Ms. James is light years ahead of me in terms of success.  She is a millionaire many times over and I’m, well, not.  She has millions of readers, many of whom are die-hard fans, and I have a few hundred people who read this blog.  She’s a woman with wealth and power.  For those things and others, I actually have a great deal of respect for her.  She has a feel for the pulse of the populace at large, and I’m afraid I’ve become rather specialized.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some serious problems with her books.  I don’t think she did much fact checking, and it’s pretty clear that her understanding of the BDSM world comes from the point of view of an outsider.  I doubt very much that she had any exposure to a real BDSM community before she wrote her first book.  I would hope that she has by now, but since I have seen no evidence of it, I cannot remark on that.

Ms. James – if you are reading this, get in touch, I’d be more than happy to give you a true introduction.

But – that aside.. there is really one thing about her books that bothers me more than the niggling factual problems, internal inconsistencies, or use of repetitive plot devices and word choices.. and that is the underlying premise that the reason Christian Grey is a Dominant is because he is compensating for some psychological trauma.  He actually describes himself as ‘fifty shades of fucked up’ which is clearly the basis for the name of the entire series and a recurring theme throughout.

The implications are broad and rather harsh.  BDSM is a proxy for the world of darkness, of course, and a crutch for those that are not yet able to let go of their sordid pasts and wake up to join the real world.  It could almost have been anything – she needed a hidden and secret world for the protagonist to get caught up in, and since the vampire genre was already saturated she made a rather brilliant leap to pull in something that actually does  exist and make use of that instead.  It was genius on her part, really, but it paints those of us who actually are part of that world in a bad light.

She implies that anyone who would willingly make that a part of his life is somehow damaged.  The anti-hero in Christian Grey is a foil to the perfect innocence of the protagonist Anastasia.  He is dark and mysterious and larger than life and pulls her perfect innocent virginal person into his life of darkness and self loathing.

Now.. I can be aloof and mysterious at times.  I can be brooding and difficult.  I am the victim of several terrible things that happened to me when I was younger, but my role in the BDSM world does not mask anything and is not a foil for some true image of a more mainstream me that is waiting to be released.  This is who I am and I am unashamed.  Self loathing is rarely a part of my expression.  I have issues with physical pain and they can be frustrating but the vast majority of the time I feel happy and well adjusted.

I will admit, there are things that I do like about some of the interactions that the characters have in her books.  If I were a billionaire with very few actual job responsibilities I think that I might do many of the things that Christian does and act in many ways like he does, but certainly not in every way.  Perhaps part of that is because I’m older and wiser than Christian is meant to be.

I like the protective and overbearing nature that Christian takes towards Ana.  This actually did mirror many of the D/s aspects that my ex and I had as part of our relationship.

One of my strongest kinks is exposing the people that I love to new things, and that is certainly something the Christian does with a flare that exceeds my resources, but if I were to become an overnight billionaire you can bet that I’d be doing a lot of very similar things.

But I am not 50 shades of fucked up and I somewhat resent the image that she has created for those like me.

I doubt she wrote the novels with the intention of inviting these types of comparisons, and she likely could not have predicted the impact that her portrayal of the lifestyle would have on those of us who are in it, so I do not hold her personally accountable, but the fact remains that these comparisons are being made, and for most of the mainstream community, this is their first inkling of what BDSM is and they’re getting the wrong ideas.

The fact that this has started a dialog is a wonderful thing, but the fact that she, armed with too little information, has created a meme to describe BDSM participants.  This has enflamed the passions of many, interested many more in learning and exploring BDSM, and given some few just enough information to be dangerous to those that don’t know better.

BDSM can be a very dangerous thing to become involved in, and I am concerned that by bringing this into the mainstream she has helped to create an imbalance in the state of affairs.  The vast majority of her readers are female, and the interest that she has sparked for things kinky has created whole new streams of products and expanded some that were there before.  The number of proto-submissives is on the rise and only likely to become more so with the release of the movie.

As a Dominant, I should regard this a good thing, and I do, but sexual predation has long been a part of the BDSM community, which largely polices itself for such things, and has been largely effective to date in so doing because our numbers are relatively small and within the community, people become known for their behavior.  If a person is a predator, the word tends to spread.

Now – we’re beginning to see a rise in those interested, and they tend to be turning to online resources to satiate their newly found tastes for kink.

There are a couple of problems with this.

The BDSM community has been able to rely on self policing largely due to the fact that meetings are most often done in meatspace and where there are more than few practitioners in one place.  Sketchy things are noticed and corrected.  This does not, and perhaps cannot, happen in virtual space.

There is no formal process for induction into the BDSM community.  While there are leather groups with formal practices and some of us maintain a higher level of protocol than others, in general, any person can step forward at any time and declare himself a Dominant and claim at any background that he wishes.  There is very little that one can do to validate or refute such claims.  Sure, there are a few of use with specialized skills that can track people online and through public records, and sometimes it’s possible to refute ridiculous claims without the need to really do any research, but sometimes you simply cannot tell.

If you meet someone online you cannot know how much of their projected persona is real and how much is a fabrication.

This is true of online dating in general and certainly not limited to BDSM endeavors, but whereas social dating is often limited in scope, there are those that, under the guise of BDSM, are actually meeting a complete stranger for the first time and allowing this person to blindfold them, tie them up, and hit them with things.

This can and will lead to tragedy, I’m sure of it.

So – for those of you who are reading this and new to the concepts of BDSM, I urge you, go to a much.  Meet people who are in the community in person – in a public place – several at a time.  Talk to them in person, learn from them, ask questions.  The BDSM community locally has proven to be one of the most inclusive communities that I have ever seen or heard about.  Everyone is extremely approachable, and while there are always personality conflicts and differences of opinion, people are rarely, if ever, mean.  Well, until you ask them to be. that is…

If you meet someone online and really are drawn to meet them rather than first exposing yourself to a munch or three, follow safe dating practices!

Meet somewhere public.  Have a contact person who knows where you are and have a check in time.  Have an extraction plan.  And most importantly, don’t do anything dangerous on your first meeting.

What is dangerous, you ask?

If you really have to ask that, I suspect that you’re not listening to any of this anyway.

Be safe.

Be bold, be strong, be alive, satisfy your curiosity, satisfy your cravings, but be safe.

The Importance of the Collar

Collars can carry as many meanings as there are people to share them, but generally they are a few well accepted archetypes within the greater BDSM community.  However, even these can be somewhat confusing and entirely open to interpretation.

From my perspective, in my experience, and in my opinion, the three major archetypes are the Slave Collar, the Play Collar, and the Training Collar.

The Slave Collar is the most common within the BDSM community, and in fact, in most cases when a person is talking about having a collar, being collared, or collaring someone, this is what they are talking about.  Symbolically, this is intended to denote ownership.

Generally the person wearing the collar symbolically become the property of the person who placed the collar around the slave’s neck.  If I were to collar you with a slave collar, I would refer to the collar as ‘my collar’ and I might tell others that you wear my collar when defining our relationship.

While wearing my collar, you are my property, and the moment I take it off of you or permit you to remove it, that relationship ceases to exist.

For this reason, a slave collar generally never comes off except to be momentarily replaced with another collar.  There may be more than one collar to fill this role… for instance, one might have a collar that is worn only in private or around other kinky folks but is a bit too obvious for daily outside wear – this is generally referred to as the ‘slave collar’, ‘private collar,’ or even simply ‘His collar.’  Additionally, one might have a necklace with a lock pendant or some other indicator of its true purpose but that is less obvious to the uninitiated.  This is typically referred to as a ‘day collar,’ or ‘public collar.’

The term ‘Play Collar’ can have a couple of different meanings.  Generally this is used to either mean a collar that is used for a short duration – usually only the length of a single scene.  This can either be because the collared person is not actually your property – you are assuming that set of roles for the scene only – or because that person has a regular slave collar and the play collar is different in some way that facilitates your play.

For instance, I once had a rather chunky leather posture collar with three rings on it.  It would not make sense as a regular wear collar because it forces my property to keep her chin up at all times, which would make negotiating the world somewhat difficult, but sometimes that is exactly what I want.  It also has more attachment points on it, and sometimes you just need to shackle your property’s ankles to her neck, you know?

The Training Collar is a bit more uncommon and bit more nebulously defined.  It sits somewhere between the two listed above.

Where the Slave Collar is meant to be eternal and the Play Collar is meant to be used only for a short time, the Training Collar is meant to be used until the subject under consideration is either accepted or rejected.

The Training Collar is usually replaced with a Slave Collar or discarded entirely, depending upon the results of the training in question.

During a training period, there may be an equivalent ‘private collar’ and ‘day collar’ pair, but usually at least one of the two is intended to be replaced once the training is completed.

The training collar comes off and on a lot more frequently than the slave collar, and indeed, the right to wear the collar might be considered as part of the rewards to the sub during training.

For these reasons, Slave Collars (and their corresponding ‘day collars’) are generally well made, expensive, eternal sorts of items.  I’ve purchased and used Slave Collars made from leather, stainless steel, even titanium and day collars made from silver or gold.  Though of course, they can be made from anything at all.

Training collars are generally intended to be rugged enough to wear for a long time, but will eventually be replaced and are generally good quality but not jewelry level pieces.  I’ve used leather for these most commonly, but rubber, vinyl, or neoprene are also quite common.

Play collars really run the gamut, are often more interesting or gaudy than their longer wear counterparts, might often be used by more than one person, and can be anything from a piece of string or a ribbon to a dog collar made from nylon or fake leather, or even heavy pieces of wrought iron and chain.

It is important to note, however, that nothing about the materials that are used to make the collar can be inferred to denote the type of collar that it represents.  That is entirely up to the participants and their own particular aesthetic.

The most important thing though, and the thing that brings all of this together, is that all of these collars (and possibly others of which I am completely unaware) are intended to be powerful symbols that establish Dominance.

The collar is meant to be owned by the Dominant partner, and whether it is purchased by him or not before the power exchange takes place, it is understood that he is the Owner and Controller of the collar.

When he puts it on the submissive partner, he is symbolically establishing his Dominance, and the collar itself is intended to serve as a reminder to the submissive partner of his submission.  While the collar is in place, this is intended to be an absolute (subject to negotiated parameters) transfer of power.

I used to be what one might consider a ‘High Protocol Dom.’  By this, I mean that I used to establish a set of rules and expectations that I had for my property.  While you were wearing my collar, you would be expected to carry out my instructions exactly, you would be expected to anticipate my desires and fulfill them prior to being asked, you would be expected to understand what I mean when I call, “Front!” and to comply immediately.

The days of High Protocol seem to be waning, and I am not so strict any longer.  Hierarchy and order are important, but I find that as I grow older, these things are less and less compatible with my worldview.

In fact, I’m coming to believe that Hierarchy may be harmful…  But this is not an article on Protocol or Hierarchy.

Today, for myself and most of the others that I’ve had the opportunity to witness lately, the collar is more an expression of partnering and position than anything else.  It can be used as a reminder to fulfill a role, but it’s not typically used in the way that I was originally taught, and even my own use of collars has recently been much more lax than it used to be, but the collar is still a useful reminder and tool.

As with everything in BDSM, these things are evolving.  As a former High Protocol Dom, some of these new, more relaxed ways of handling things chafe a bit.

I see something that would have been corrected in my past life and I let it pass because the current paradigm does not place the same level of importance on these things, and there are a great many things about the current paradigm that I find myself enjoying lately.

BDSM is making it’s way into the mainstream, and things like this must happen for that transition to take place.

Where once power transfer and authority were the forces that drove me, now I find that inclusion and compassion are the things that I crave most.  Devotion remains my main kink, but I am learning that it may take more forms than that to which I was most accustomed.

Still though, if you’re wearing my collar, you can expect me to point out that fact every once in awhile, and to urge you to think about what it represents or even use it for corrective action when required.

I may be taking a trip down the path of Hedonism lately, but I don’t see those things as wrong or incompatible.   BDSM is evolving, and so am I.