Considering the popularity of this book, this kind of discution is not only relevant, but also essential
I’m not really sure if this is the best place to voice these opinions and concerns. And I’m not really sure if it’s my place to be voicing them at all. This whole topic isn’t easy for me to discuss (it’s very personal) but I’ve never been very good at keeping my mouth shut when I think I have a point to make.
So - I’ve found over recent weeks two different hot topics that I’ve been paying attention to have apparently dovetailed.
I’m talking about the Fifty Shades of Grey series, an adapted Twilight- fan fiction which has been published and hit the New York Times Bestsellers list, and what people in the BDSM community have been calling the “Philadelphia Incident”.
To briefly bring those not familiar with either topic up to date; Fifty Shades of Grey is a story that deals with a young, naive virgin who enters into a domination and submission relationship with an older, powerful, controlling man. Eventually she manages to bring out his softer side and the two fall in love.
The “Philadelphia Incident” concerns a younger, inexperienced female submissive who entered into a domination and submission relationship with an older dominant man. Her limits were violated and she was forced to enter into oral sex with the man against her will. Some people in the BDSM community are calling this rape. Some people have suggested that the submissive woman consented. Others have criticised the submissive woman for not fully understanding what she was getting herself into. The young woman has now been run out of her home due to the criticism, publicity and notoriety she has faced.
Hopefully my point is already becoming clear.
In her novels E L James romanticizes the BDSM community, takes elements of ‘play’ out of context and dramatises what many would consider to be extremely unsafe D/s practice. The female in the story enters into ‘scenes’ which she is unsure about, where limits have not been pre-discussed or agreed, and where she is abandoned post-scene on more than one occasion with no after care or conversation about what had happened during the session.
The novel completely ignores elements of safe play that those familiar with the BDSM community would immediately recognise. RACK stands for Risk Aware Consensual Kink. SSC stands for Safe, Sane and Consensual. (Note the repeated word in both anagrams). This topic is completely ignored or glossed over in James’ novels and, considering the reaction they have amassed, this is a concern.
Safe BDSM play can be amazing. I can say this as someone who has both dominated others and submitted to others in a range of situations. It is something that I rarely discuss other than with those in the community for fear of repercussions - BDSM is fairly misunderstood by the wider public. In the right circumstances, with the right forethought, planning, and discussion then there are still hundreds of ways a session can go wrong. I have been mid-session with someone who I love very much, in a safe place, when we were both fully aware of each other’s limits. And I panicked. And ended up vomiting into the toilet and crying into his chest. This was an isolated incident, and we weren’t doing anything particularly risky at the time. But I still panicked. Fortunately my partner was fantastic at releasing me quickly and soothing me afterwards. Even with the best of intentions things can still go very wrong.
Although I have not followed reaction to James’ novel closely, one article I recently read criticising the BDSM elements in the story was met with comments from a reader expressing that the story is fantasy, not unlike the Harry Potter stories or Twilight, and not as a how-to guide of BDSM.
Firstly, thank God this isn’t a how-to guide of BDSM because James clearly has little, if any experience of D/s relationships. Secondly, this point in particular scared me more than any other I read.
If one was to dress in a cloak and wand and pretend to be a wizard, short of poking an eye out there is a limited amount of danger that could occur.
If a young woman with no experience of BDSM was to make her way into the community and play with an older man when she herself was unaware of her own limits, very terrible things can happen, as demonstrated recently in Philadelphia. Comparing Fifty Shades to Harry Potter is simply ludicrous, on many levels. There are many different layers and elements to BDSM, starting at fluffy handcuffs and ending in blood, tears and rape. Someone pretending to be a wizard will not experience these things.
The second point made by the same commenter was that James never intended for the novel to be so popular, it was released for a very small audience only and she was surprised at the reaction it has received. I don’t think this argument holds much weight either. I’m writing this article for the consumption of a very small audience too. I do not expect many people to read or react to it. Does that excuse me from factual accuracy? Not at all. If my article goes viral and thousands of people read it then I am still responsible for the words that I have put out there.
Finally, I want to reiterate that a huge majority of people in the BDSM community recognise our vulnerability (BDSM is actually illegal in the United States - yes, illegal - I’m fortunate to live in the UK) and as such, instances such as the “Philadelphia Incident” are rare. Most people play by the rules of RACK. Most people are responsible for themselves, for their partners, and there is a strong sense of ‘mentoring’ to ensure that newbies to the community are watched and are able to learn from those with more experience. Despite all this, it’s too easy for things to be taken just that one step too far with disastrous results.
I feel like it is my responsibility as one of the people who bridges the gap between the BDSM community and the Fifty Shades readership to speak out against the practices shown in the series. Please, please - if you are a single woman who has read these stories and wants to explore the topics contained therein, do everything you can to not follow in the footsteps of both E L James’ characters and the young girl in Philadelphia. Take your time. Find someone you can trust. Be safe.
(Please feel free to re-blog, re-post, re-tweet, link, copy, plagiarize, do whatever the hell you want with the above. It would be nice if you credited it back to me but in truth, if you want to stick this somewhere else where it might be seen by more people, please, do it. I’m not precious. Spread the word.)