Not as transgressive as you think
There’s a fascinating article in today’s Salon Magazine about the new book by anthropologist Margot Weiss: “Techniques of Pleasure.” It’s an insightful look at the BDSM scene in San Francisco, and how in her perception, the scene has lost (or perhaps never had) the aura of being an edgy, taboo-breaking culture.
From the article BDSM: It’s not as transgressive as you think:
“The fantasy of the scene as a safe space of private desire justifies and reinforces certain social inequalities,” she argues. The truth, she says, is that S/M “depends for its erotic power on precisely these real-world relations, within which it is given form and content.”
This is something that I rarely see discussed anymore. Is the BDSM scene simply just one more way that “privileged” people play? Perhaps. Weiss states:
“On the one hand, SM is figured as outlaw: as transgressive of normative sexual values,” Weiss writes. “On the other hand, SM is dependent on social norms: practitioners draw on social hierarchies to produce SM scenes.” The mostly-white, mostly-middle-class community is itself an example of real-world social inequality: ”These [sexual] experiments are more possible and more accessible to those with class, race and gender privilege: heterosexual men playing with sexism, white bodies at a charity slave auction, professional information technology (IT) workers with several rooms filled with custom-made bondage toys.”
And speaking of toys:
Not everyone in the S/M scene can afford to buy all this stuff. In the same way that whiteness is normative, it’s in the center, there is this normative professional-class person who has the money and leisure time to devote to S/M practice, and that is the ideal for consumer capitalism.
S/M is not alone in this. This is just a way that communities based around sexualities work in the U.S. today. But S/M is also a really great example of this, and you can see what that does to the community. People have debates about toys: Are they destroying social connections, did it used to be more authentic? And how now you can just buy your S/M identity, and that creates a lot of anxiety for people.
Much more at the Salon article, and for those interested, here’s a link to the book “Techniques of Pleasure.”
A quick synopsis:
[Weiss] describes a scene devoted to a form of erotic play organized around technique, rules and regulations, consumerism, and self-mastery. Challenging the notion that SM is inherently transgressive, Weiss links the development of commodity-oriented sexual communities and the expanding market for sex toys to the eroticization of gendered, racialized, and national inequalities. She analyzes the politics of BDSM’s spectacular performances, including those that dramatize heterosexual male dominance, slave auctions, and US imperialism, and contends that the SM scene is not a “safe space” separate from real-world inequality. It depends, like all sexual desire, on social hierarchies.
And if you stop by the Salon article, take some time to read the lengthy list of comments.