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