Saturday, April 23, 2011

"Come Follow the One True _________."

Blame my parents for my raging skeptical streak. My father the physicist insisted that my brother and I learn all we could about science, while my mother took a more Socratic approach to cultivate both critical thinking and a respect for clarity of language.

And the one thing they succeeded in teaching us? Be wary of anyone offering the "one true way" of doing something.

From college to adult life, whenever I encountered "one-true-wayers" of any kind -- fundamentalists, Trotskyists, Ayn Rand devotees -- I quickly became the bane of their existence. My parents trained me to openly question their claims, and often they were not prepared for those questions. Pretty soon they would lose their cool and attach some conveniently dismissive label on me. And with that, the so-called discussion ended.

When I came into the BDSM Scene, I quickly learned that we had our own category of "one-true-wayers," mostly supposed dominants who prescribe a narrow idea of being a "real dom" or "true Master." Uh huh. And I suppose there's an infallible scripture to go along with that?

It doesn't stop there, however. Here in Boston, there appears to be a class of people who believe a particular organization is the "one true way." Their answer to every question regarding kink and our community is to come to the group's board meetings, or attend one of the group's classes, or help the group raise money for some cause (usually the same one every time). But I also notice another similarity with other "true believers": A lack of imagination and creativity, and a blindness -- sometimes even hostility -- to any other approach.

This group, under the direction of an unelected board which fills vacancies by a mysterious process of appointment, just seems to do the same things over and over again. Their "open board meetings" have strict rules about who can speak, and about what. And just how is this board held accountable? Well, don't you dare raise such questions, or you'll be branded as a troublemaker who is "hurting the community."

Perhaps my parents trained me too well, because I really don't see the attraction of belonging to such a closed group. When you have no elections, no accountability, and very little transparency, how can you be sure the leaders do their jobs? And without open and honest discussion, how do you come up with the creative solutions needed for the group to adapt to change?

Whether it's personality, ideology or loyalty, I've come to see overzealous belief in a "one true way" as a form of idolatry. The traditional definition of idolatry is "worshipping a creation as the Creator." I would rephrase it as transposing means and ends. It means that the original vision and core values of the community are subsumed into glorifying a leader, upholding a dogma, or simply defending the group itself for its own sake.

Worst of all, it means that the real needs of real people must take a backseat to the demands of blind faith. And whether those needs are the basics of food and shelter, the comforts of companionship, the fruits of freedom, or the ability to imagine a better future for ourselves and bring that vision to reality, I'd rather be branded a troublemaker for keeping those goals in sight.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Is Being Kinky a Sexual Orientation?

During the recent Board meeting for the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom, someone proposed a way to deal with discrimination against members of the BDSM community: Claim kink as a sexual orientation.

Problem, of course, is that even within our community, there’s no real consensus on that. Not surprising, as a similar debate occurred within the GLBTQ community earlier on. And given the potential consequences – good and bad – it’s a question which deserves attention.

First off – What do we mean by “sexual orientation”? Most people define it very simply as which sex or gender someone is attracted to. More importantly, it is seen as an inborn and enduring aspect of who we are. This is what distinguishes it in many people’s eyes from a simple “preference” for hair color, behavioral traits, and so forth. But is it really that simple? Many of our preferences, tastes and habits seem to be rooted in factors over which we have little control: genetics, neurology, psychosocial influences. This is not to say we don’t have control over our lives, but it does speak to so many questions about ourselves. Why do some folks crave novelty, while others gravitate to the comfortable familiar? How is one meal delicious to some, disgusting to others, and bland to a few more? Perhaps we should therefore consider that sexual orientation is more complex than whether one likes boys or girls, but also about how one prefers to interact with a prospective partner, what particular forms of expression speak to us, and so forth.

Second – Does being kinky qualify? While few reliable studies have been done on BDSM folk, the ones which have been done indicate that, like being hetero or homo or bi, no single factor seems to correlate with what it is we are drawn to. That jibes with what many kinksters say when asked to explain why we do what we do. Some will attempt to explain, others don’t even bother, but ultimately it boils down to what speaks to us at a deeper level. In response, many will remark that there’s a difference between being attracted to someone and wanting to do a certain set of activities. But is there? Desire is desire, whether for particular personal attributes, or for a particular mode of expression and sensation.

Of course, none of this is conclusive, and it’s sure to provoke other questions as well. But it would suggest that what we find erotic defies simple answers, and is as much about identity as it is about choice. Likewise it affirms the place of community not only in developing one’s sense of identity, but in cultivating ethical means of expressing that identity and the desires in which they are rooted.

Will any of this lead to understanding kink better, or establishing ways of dealing with discrimination? The only way we’ll know is by continuing the discussion – both speaking and listening.