Menu

Queering Power: BDSM and Radical Consent

Rek Kwawer Feb 10

By Rek Kwawer

Radicals like to dissociate themselves from power. From socialistic models to consensus method, groups often claim to be non-hierarchical, to have moved beyond the need for leadership, that power is bad. But power is sexy. Queering the idea of power is even sexier. Why is it, then, that despite the presence of self-identified kinky people in progressive groups, we rarely acknowledge that kinky sex exists, much less think about the ways in which it overlaps with and might influence the work we do? Radical activism is about dismantling unaccountable structures of power and authority. BDSM – a triple acronym standing for bondage/discipline, domination/submission and sadism/masochism – plays with those structures and places the ideas of power into a consensual context.

How can someone enjoy pain? Can a person really want to be tied up? What about rape fantasy? These questions miss the point. There are many theories about what makes something sexually appealing, from brain chemistry to socialization to the influence of mass media. What matters, though, is the way people act on those thoughts and fantasies.

From “safewords” that signal the end of play to explicit written negotiations, conscious practitioners of BDSM have created definitions of safety and promoted a culture of consent. They examine and play with power on an individual level, between two people and even on a societal level. Consent is something that needs to be negotiated on an on-going basis and can be influenced by a wide variety of things.

In a scenario, how can you tell who is actually the person with the power? Is it the person holding the flogger, or is it the one tied up and being beaten who can stop the scene with a simple safeword? The power dynamics in a scene can be very different than the power dynamics of day-to-day life, and in fact, often offer bold chances to see a different side of the power spectrum. The stereotype of the powerful, heterosexual, white businessman seeking a woman who will humiliate and tease him, force him into lingerie and make him “do whatever she wants” (with a safeword, of course) is not just a myth.

If we acknowledge that the problem with power isn’t its existence, but its misuse, a new world of possibilities opens for radical organizing and radical sex. And, to our communities become more welcoming places to the kinky in all of us.