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The kink community is outraged over the Jian Ghomeshi scandal

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jian ghomeshi

The CBC broadcaster claimed he was fired for his BDSM “private sex life,” but many aren’t buying it.

Last night, it was reported that well-known Canadian radio broadcaster Jian Ghomeshi was let go by the CBC over what was later revealed to be allegations of sexual misconduct. In response, Ghomeshi posted a detailed, 1600-word self-defense on Facebook, claiming that he had “done nothing wrong” and was being discriminated against for his sexual proclivities, which included “adventurous forms of sex that included role-play, dominance and submission.”

In the post, Ghomeshi claimed that these activities were 100 percent consensual:

Let me be the first to say that my tastes in the bedroom may not be palatable to some folks. They may be strange, enticing, weird, normal, or outright offensive to others. We all have our secret life. But that is my private life. That is my personal life. And no one, and certainly no employer, should have dominion over what people do consensually in their private life.

At first, Ghomeshi’s fans on Twitter were outraged by what they perceived to be the CBC’s discriminatory actions against the broadcaster:

To a certain extent, it was understandable that Ghomeshi’s fans and those in the sex-positive community would rally to his defense. The BDSM community is often subject to censure and stigma, particularly from those in the mainstream, who might not have a comprehensive knowledge of alternative sexual lifestyles. Furthermore, this wouldn’t have been the first time that the CBC took an employee to task for their sexual proclivities. Back in 2006, the network threatened to fire broadcaster Sook Yin Lee when she appeared in a non-simulated sex scene in the film Shortbus, but ultimately relented in the face of public protest, after celebrities like Julianne Moore and Francis Ford Coppola rushed to Lee’s defense.

The tone of Ghomeshi supporters like Savage Love columnist Dan Savage, who initially responded to the post with a (now deleted) tweet claiming Ghomeshi had been fired for “consensual BDSM sex,” became substantially more measured after the Toronto Star published three women’s detailed allegations against Ghomeshi.

The women alleged, among other things, that Ghomeshi had “struck them with a closed fist or open hand; bit them; choked them until they almost passed out,” and “covered their nose and mouth so that they had difficulty breathing” during sex, all of which was done without their consent. (A fourth woman, one of Ghomeshi’s coworkers, also alleged that Ghomeshi had harassed her in the workplace, claiming he’d whispered “I want to hate-fuck you” during a story meeting.) All three of the women refuted Ghomeshi’s claim that the sex was consensual, or that he had used “safe words” during their encounters.

The details of the women’s allegations shocked the kink community, which places enormous emphasis on the value of consent. The fact that Ghomeshi, as a self-avowed member of the BDSM community, would not use a safe word during rough sex seemed like a strike against his “I was fired for my alternative sexual lifestyle” argument. (The fact that his Facebook post compared his sexual relationships to Fifty Shades of Grey, a subject of much derision in the BDSM community, also didn’t help his case.)

Many kinky and sex positive people have argued that Ghomeshi was using BDSM as a convenient cover for his violence against women, thus exploiting those in the community who have actually been attacked and persecuted over their lifestyle:

In a blog post responding to Ghomeshi’s Facebook post and the Toronto Star story, sex blogger Andrea Zanin, a.k.a. Sex Geek, argues that Ghomeshi may be using the BDSM lifestyle as a smokescreen for his abusive behavior, accusing him of trotting out his nonconforming sexual proclivities as a justification for assaulting women:

A danger inherent in this kind of media-message success is that the “don’t hate me for being kinky” defence will be used by people who perpetrate non-consensual violence, and that we, as a community, will stand by uncritically—or worse, cry out in support—as victims of violence are once again silenced. I don’t wish to be complicit in someone’s misappropriation of BDSM terminology and codes as a shield for rape and assault.

In her post, Zanin is careful to note that we still don’t know the full story. At this point, there’s no evidence to definitively suggest whether Ghomeshi is actually the subject of a witchhunt over his personal sex life, or if the kink community is “being thrown under the bus by someone who’s no friend to sadomasochism.” (For his part, Ghomeshi has refuted the Star’s claims that the rough sex was nonconsensual, with his lawyer telling the Star that he had reviewed “emails and text messages” that he believed would “discredit the individuals we believe to be your sources.”)

But as we watch the story unfold, and as we wait for Ghomeshi’s accusers (and the many other women rumored to have been victimized by him) to come forward with their stories, one thing should remain painstakingly clear: There is a world of difference between the consensual BDSM sex Ghomeshi claims to have had with his accusers, and the nonconsensual, violent assault they claim to have had with him. We have no way of knowing as yet which version of events is the most accurate, but we do know that there is a difference between people who like violent sex, and actual violence. At its heart, this story isn’t about kink. It’s about violence.

Photo by Brenda Lee/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

EJ Dickson

EJ Dickson

EJ Dickson is a writer and editor who primarily covers sex, dating, and relationships, with a special focus on the intersection of intimacy and technology. She served as the Daily Dot’s IRL editor from January 2014 to July 2015. Her work has since appeared in the New York Times, Rolling Stone, Mic, Bustle, Romper, and Men’s Health.