The following is a guest post from contributor Jim Marcus and part of the Beyond 50 Shades of Grey series. The 50 Shades of Grey phenomenon has everyone talking about kink. This part of a series of articles that take a deeper, more realistic look at elements of BDSM. Get ready to go beyond 50 Shades.
A few days ago, one of the local radio news stations interviewed us for their “50 Shades of Grey” series. I was interested in talking about the book. One way or the other it’s an important book right now. It’s on paper, it’s got a cardboard cover, it’s written with an incessant and continual internal dialogue that makes you want to stick needles in your face, it’s on the bestseller list.
I suppose you can say what you want about how it’s written but it’s turned a lot of heads and attracted readers that significantly better written books couldn’t manage to lure away from back-to-back episodes of NCIS on TNT. I can’t explain why. In many ways, Beta was better than VHS, too. The idea that catches on isn’t always the objectively best one.
As it turns out, we didn’t talk about the book. Which is fine, because, in the book, Ana says the words “Holy Crap” somewhere north of 60 times, which I know I would need to reference and I’m afraid that doing that that might come off as critical. Instead, she wanted to talk about our relationship- one that includes elements of Domination and Submission. We explained to the interviewer that we are not a 24/7 couple, that I am a dom but she is a switch, and that we don’t have a comprehensive contract in place right now like Christian and Ana do, although I have contracts in place with other people.
She was a seemingly very emphatic person but she seemed to have no understanding at all of this. It’s hard to imagine that sometime in the middle of 2012 there could be a grown college educated woman that had never really considered BDSM and what the various practices might mean, especially one that worked for a radio station and ostensibly covered popular culture.
The first question I experienced in the interview was the question I have to answer at the start of all interviews from the outside. It’s a question that never fails to make me feel sad and get my brain racing. It’s the question that I feel a huge urgency to answer. And it’s a question that this book sort of forces people to ask.
Do I think that men are superior to women?
My first instinct is to rush in and answer this. Of course I don’t. I’m reminded that I’m a person who admittedly likes to dominate women (and men, too, but we won’t clutter the issue here), beat them, abuse them and make them do what I want. I’m also reminded that Rush Limbaugh himself would not admit to being a chauvinist. Because that’s how bigotry works. It takes a rare self-aware racist, for example, to openly admit to being racist.
So, do I think that men are superior to women?
It would be nice to joke my way out of this but a joke would suggest that I don’t recognize the damage done by chauvinism and gender driven bigotry both in this country and all around the world.
So I step back 25 years and remember my own way here.
I’m a feminist. I get angry when I hear about pay inequities and failures to recognize the equality of women in the workforce. I started an anti-rape group and do pro-bono work for 2 others. All of that has been me since I was younger. So how did I DEAL with this? How did I answer the question to myself?
My ideals and politics are well-considered, well thought out. You might not agree with them but you have to admit that I’ve put in the effort to think about them. You may find yourself on the absolute opposite end of the political and cultural spectrum but you can’t deny that where I am at is a place I got to intentionally and willfully, after a lot of work.
Which is sort of the opposite of my fetishes, I suppose. They pop up in the morning, before I have time to think. I see the beautiful girl lying next to me and all I want to do is to tie her hands down and ride her ass. When I’m tired, dreaming, not thinking at all, that’s who I am.
When I tell her that we can’t politicize fetishes, that we can’t turn a fetish someone has into a political positioning, she is curious why we can’t do that. What can’t we assume that someone who likes to dominate women believes honestly that women have a rightfully subordinate position? Why can’t we assume that someone who, as a sexual fetish, likes to demean and abuse black people and is sexually excited by pretending to rape one is a racist? Why can’t we assume that someone who humiliates men and tells them they aren’t fit to lick her feet might wish in her political imagination, that men couldn’t vote and were generally subservient?
So here is the whole story, I think. And, of course I could very well be wrong.
We can completely politicize fetishes if we like. We can look at that dominatrix and assume she believes that men shouldn’t be allowed to vote. We can look at that race player and assume that he thinks that all white people should be paid less than black people. We can look at that Dom and assume that he considers the opinions and insights of his female partner as less valuable because she is female. We can do that all day long. No one is stopping us and no one can tell us that we don’t have a right to do that. We can do anything we like. You’re not the boss of we.
We just can’t expect that our answers will be very true, that’s all. And that’s what I tell her. She is welcome to take this fetish- dominating women- and politicize it- to assume that it is the political equivalent to a manifesto on the inequality of women. But when she does that she probably shouldn’t expect an answer that is terribly consistent with reality. That Dom right there is going home to a person he respects more than anything, possibly. That Domme is having lunch with a man she trusts enough to tell everything to. As equals. And that raceplay couple fight really hard, possibly, for equality for everyone when they’re not in bed, fighting really hard to be abjectly unequal.
Of course some it is can fully come from somewhere. Brought up with racist parents? Weak father and Icy mother? Nazi imagery in your Jewish household growing up? Of course it can. But we humans are more complex than that. The problem is that Christian Grey isn’t. He’s precisely as two dimensional as the page he’s written on. He had a horribly troubled youth that drove him to abuse women. How horrible if this book leads to people seeking THAT out.
And I feel like I want to apologize to the interviewer. I feel like I want to apologize to you all. Because this is no hot. This is going to roll off the sleek skin of her listeners like baby oil. They are just going to go back to the book and fantasize because, again, this is not hot.
I don’t now what I expect. I wish I could have talked about something that was actually hot. I wish she had asked me to invent some fantasies that the listeners might find sexy and fun. I wish she asked me to recommend a bunch of really good books that people interested could read and get off on.
I don’t like you much, Christian Grey. And I hate the fact that you’re incapable of answering the questions you should answer. I’m happy that you and I travel in different circles. But the next dull as fuck interview is yours. I want a hot one.
Jim Marcus is a musician and member of the Chicago Fetish community. The lead singer of the band Go Fight and, previously, of the defunct band Die Warzau, he has appeared on over 60 albums, singles and compilations worldwide, working with artists such as KMFDM, Pigface, Revenge and Björk. He speaks frequently on Consent and safe sex issues, put together sex education curriculum for schools and groups across the country and spoken on fetish and the goal of building better, more sustainable sex lives.