So yesterday, I notice on the news stands that the local press, the Cambridge News, has a big splash headline on the front page:
Fifty shades of Earl Grey? Bondage club offers kinky workshops [snip] in Village Hall (tea, coffee and biscuits provided, but please help stack the chairs at the end)
[I’m not linking the article, because I don’t want to give them the satisfaction. The same goes for any other organs (do your own smut for that one) mentioned in this blog post.]
The tone of the story was pretty squarely in the “tee-hee-titillation let’s-all-laugh-at-the-freaky-weirdos” vein of reporting (as revealed by their web poll invitation: “is this inappropriate, or is it just harmless fun? tell us what you think!”), although encouragingly, some local elected officials commented that “this sort of thing is becoming more accepted” – thanks to Fifty Shades of Grey, of course.
As it happens, about a week earlier the organisers of this event announced via Fetlife that it had been cancelled.
By the evening after the Cambridge News story was printed, it was on the Guardian Unlimited (online version of the Guardian newspaper) that the event had been cancelled because the hall’s trustees had cancelled the booking.
This cancellation was, apparently, sufficient to warrant a second banner headline the next morning (that is, this morning):
No bondage please, we’re Cambridge… Shocked village trustees cancel ‘relationship support’ booking – after learning from the News that it was actually a fetish workshop
I’ll come back to the semantics debate in a moment.
I found that the ‘i’ (the tabloid version of the Independent) was also carrying a small story about the event and its cancellation – this was now, apparently, a consensus that this was important enough to merit the quality national daily press devoting web and print space to the story.
I’ll quickly register my outrage that the BDSM community is once again the target of prejudice and marginalisation.
But my first real point is this: was there nothing else at all in Cambridge, two days running, that might have seemed like a more important story than “strange people like strange stuff, lets all gawk at them”?
Well, on the inside pages of Cambridge News for Wednesday 25th September 2013, we find the following headlines: “Councillors surrender in fight to save terrace”; Health visitor struck off for not spotting baby’s broken bone and bruises”; “Cambridge graduate Ravi killed in Kenya mall attack” and “Council scraps staff pay cut after angry backlash”. How is a bondage workshop taking place and not bothering anyone (until the Cambridge News started making a fuss about it existing, at which point freaky weirdos suddenly are a problem even when they are keeping themselves to themselves) seen as more newsworthy and important than any of these stories?
What about Thursday? Thinner news day, for sure, but “Council chief to PM: stop the ‘unfair’ cuts”; “Elderly man crashes his scooter into river” (he survived after being rescued, incidentally); “Fire crews strike in pension clash” all seem like they might be more important (actually, the man in the river happened a month ago and it was in a safety report published recently).
No, Cambridge News knows that titillation sells. Naughty, “scandalous” sexytimes shift papers off the shelves faster than important and serious stuff like politics, people being killed or children not being protected. Nothing like a little manufactured moral panic and pearl-clutching to get the punters in. (Like I said, I did NOT want to give them the satisfaction of any more pageviews – although by all means, google the stories if you must).
I am angry about this. Not because I was looking forward to the event (although I was hoping to attend), but because of the use to which my sexuality and identity is being put, and the inevitable fallout from it. The Cambridge News ploughed straight in, and that led to the pearl-clutchers saying, “Not in our Village Hall, oh, my!” (I’m paraphrasing, here) and the health-and-safety information that is invaluable, is that much harder to disseminate; the BDSM community as a whole is held up to ridicule and ostracism (the next planned munch has also been cancelled in the wake of this news story going national, too); and it is an ample reminder that people like me are not yet actually accepted in society. I have had these negative messages, with the subtle (or sometimes not subtle at all) undertones of “you filthy perverts should be banned/locked up/kept away from normal folks”, for as long as I knew that there was something different about me and my sexuality.
This hurts people. So I’m angry.
Now, some people may say, “Well, the organisers shouldn’t have lied about what the event was – they shouldn’t have called it ‘relationship support’ when it was a BDSM workshop!”
But to BDSMers, particularly those who identify as in some way “orientationally” BDSM (that is, it seems to them to be something innate and largely immutable, or as some put it, “a need, not a want”) knowing how to do this stuff safely and well is precisely “relationship support”. The reporter even acknowledged that Relate had been booked to give advice on relationship skills, because this is all part and parcel of being kinky together. If you have a workshop which includes, among other things, advice on how to maintain a happy, healthy sex life as a married couple, do you call that “creative sex workshop” or “marital advice workshop”? I dream of a day when that doesn’t even need spelling out, and it’s just accepted that some forms of relationship support involve ways to relate physically that today we recognise as BDSM.
“But,” you say, “Why didn’t they just tell the truth up-front?” Well, that dream I have? With the relationship support just naturally covering BDSM advice as well as vanilla? That also has a world in which there would be no need for euphemistic language anyway when booking a venue for such an event. I don’t know what world you’re living in that you can go up to a daytime, easily-accessible public venue and tell them you want to put on an event with workshops on BDSM techniques and D/s relationship values – but it isn’t one that exists outside of erotic novels and porn movies.
Is it really your contention that it was just the choice of wording that was the problem? I would put it to you, dear hypothetical ‘nilla-privilege-defender, that it is far more likely that the wording and definition “deception” is instead an excuse to act on the prejudice and moral outrage that the Cambridge News is so keen to exploit to sell its papers, with this faux “scandal”.
When I posted last week that my novel is different from the one I would write now, and different also from the one I started writing, it was partly because it is about prejudice and negative assumptions about BDSMers. Nowadays, I thought I would prefer to write about the problems within BDSM communities. However, it turns out that the problems between BDSM and the vanilla world are just as problematic as ever, and there is clearly still a place and a need for those themes to be explored properly. There is plenty of material for my next novel, if I choose to continue in the same vein.