BDSM is abuse LGBTQ kink Study

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Tumblr users claim ‘BDSM is abuse.’ But new study on LGBTQ kinksters says otherwise

The study reveals BDSM's healing capabilities.

 

Ana Valens

IRL

Published Nov 23, 2020   Updated Nov 24, 2020, 1:45 pm CST

The age-old claim that “BDSM is abuse!” has haunted online social media platforms like Tumblr and Twitter for years, much to kinksters’ dismay. But that argument now has one less leg to stand on. A new study reveals the myriad positive experiences LGBTQ people have within queer kink spaces and recommends therapists become more “kink-aware.”

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“Kinky & Queer: Exploring the Experiences of LGBTQ + Individuals who Practice BDSM” is a November 2020 study by Palo Alto University Professor Megan Speciale and therapist Dean Khambatta. In their work, Speciale and Khambatta examine LGBTQ experiences with kink to “gain insight on how heterosexism, racism, ableism, and other forms of oppression impact [queer] experiences of safety, inclusivity, and authenticity,” the study notes.

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The work’s findings rely on interpretative phenomenological analysis, a research approach that studies and examines “an individual’s personal perception or account of an event or state” instead of “attempting to produce an objective record of the event or state itself,” as the Birkbeck University of London notes.

The authors’ research pool consists of 12 queer participants, including queer people of color, people with disabilities, and transgender and nonconforming respondents. The interviewees reported that their involvement in kink and the LGBTQ community contributed “a source of great connectedness and solidarity in their lives,” serving as a “protective buffer against the discrimination they faced in other realms of their lives.”

“Participants viewed the kink community as a place where they were free to safely nurture and explore their desires without heteronormative judgment,” Speciale and Khambatta write. “Through the practice of open communication, consent, and negotiation, participants cited that kink helped to affirm their sexual identities and witness diverse forms of sexual expression.”

During the 2010s, Tumblr became a kinky safe haven for both straight and queer participants. With it came anti-kink communities sharing misinformation, such as the oft-repeated claim “BDSM is abuse.” For example, one anti-kink Tumblr poster argues sex-positivity is “just leftist rape culture.” Another Tumblr user says “consenting to being beaten and degraded by your boyfriend” is complying “with patriarchy.” Tags such as “anti-BDSM,” “kink culture,” and “kink critical” fostered a community for arguing “kink culture is rape culture,” as one anti-kink Tumblr user wrote in 2016, and created a sense of community around anti-kink sentiments.

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More often than not, “kink critical” communities overlap with sex work- and transgender-exclusive radical feminist spaces and regularly perpetuate whorephobia and transphobia. One popular Tumblr blog, “Non-binaries aren’t men/women-lite,” defines “kink critical” as “a general [radical feminist] dogwhistle” that often runs parallel to bigoted, transmisogynistic beliefs. Many rely on cherry-picked studies or paint abuse in the BDSM community as representative of all kink experiences. Additionally, they paint Domination/submission dynamics with a heteronormative brush, erasing queer experiences in the kink community or otherwise.

Academic and professional dominatrix Mistress Snow argues there is a “misunderstanding of intersectionality” behind claims that “BDSM is abuse.” Identifying power structures is important, she told the Daily Dot, but ultimately fails “without a more expansive knowledge of the critical frameworks” behind how power plays out.

“So BDSM is violent, but it’s not structural violence. It’s a framework that can be manipulated to abuse but is not inherently abusive unless it intersects with other matrices of power, and EVEN THEN it’s not abusive as long as the individuals are mindful of those dynamics and communicating, consenting, etc,” Snow said. “Like with clients, from a basic bitch analysis, they’re in power because they have the economic privilege to book me, they’re typically cishet men so physically larger, they’re typically older than I am, etc. But if I breach their consent then despite the ~power dynamics~ I could become the abuser.”

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While “kink critical” spaces may be spreading misinformation online, the kink community does still have its fair share of legitimate problems for marginalized participants. Offline, cisgender and heterosexual kink spaces are far more prominent than queer ones, and these communities generally prioritize straight, cis men’s pleasure first, Speciale and Khambatta’s participants said. The study also identifies how queer kink spaces “are not immune from boundary violations” and how “members sometimes felt compelled to stay quiet about consent violations” due to stigma from the outside world.

Additionally, kink spaces can reflect the biases and bigotries of the outside world. Speciale and Khambatta’s study notes, for example, how many kink spaces are not accessible for kinksters with disabilities. Likewise, kinksters of color experience “nonconsensual imbalances of power, exotification, and racism” in kink spaces, the authors note.

These problems with intersectional inclusion are a reflection of larger cultural issues that reemerge in kink. But when kink spaces are inclusive and affirming, Speciale and Khambatta found queer kinksters experienced a sense of connection, acceptance, support, and “long-lasting, positive impacts to their emotional wellbeing.” Ultimately, the authors’ findings reinforce existing research “attesting to the therapeutic power of kink.” In other words, BDSM is not abuse; in an intersectional and inclusive space, it can be a healing experience for LGBTQ kinksters.

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“Most importantly, the findings illustrate that belonging to and participating in the kink community is beneficial to the wellbeing of gender- and sexually-diverse clients,” Speciale and Khambatta write. “The theme of community connectedness demonstrates the profound meanings the participants ascribed to their membership in the kink community, which provided several benefits to their self-acceptance, sexual health and wellness, and personal development.”

The Daily Dot reached out to Speciale and Khambatta and will update this report with their comments.

Update 1:42pm CT, Nov. 24: Speciale and Khambatta told the Daily Dot via email that kinkphobia “subjects LGBTQ kinksters to an additional layer of dehumanization, regulation, and minority stress.”

“It’s important to note that our participants found respite from this discrimination within the kink community, further attesting to the protective benefits of participating in kink and identifying with the kink community,” the authors told the Daily Dot.

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When asked about the prominence of “BDSM is abuse” among young anti-kink internet users, the authors called the phrase “common, but deeply erroneous.” They believe the phrase does not accurately reflect consensual BDSM play and how it provides tools for “countering and healing from kinksters’ individual experiences of gender-based violence and discrimination.”

For example, the authors found their participants experienced “great therapeutic value” in reenacting “scenes of subjugation on their own terms, with clear and open consent, and with partners who listened to and deeply respected their emotional needs.”

The authors also identified parts of both the feminist and queer communities that “have adopted a kinkphobic lens,” which the authors believe originates “from misinformation, lack of personal involvement with practicing kinksters, and simplistic views on consent.”

“Our study gives direct evidence to the contrary, most notably in our findings that kink spaces can be powerful sites of empowerment, healing, and safety for women, as well as people with other marginalized identities,” they said. 


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*First Published: Nov 23, 2020, 1:53 pm CST