Content Note: Discussion of “forced fantasy”/”rape” roleplay, race play, body shaming play, slut shaming play and general topics of that nature that may be distressing to some readers.
So about a week ago, University of Abject Submission published a guest post from Cava Supernova asking, “Is Racism Sexy?” Cava wanted to know what it meant that in the middle of a threesome scene, her black partner wanted to be called all kinds of racist terms.
I gave the standard reply that is well-rehearsed from discussing things like rape fantasy (and is familiar from my own bottoming rape fantasy/roleplay stuff):
I suspect that it’s that concept of, “this thing that can destroy me in r/l, can’t destroy me here so it is hot.” Some people even find violent sex/roleplay to be therapeutic in terms of reliving in a controlled way some past trauma.
I roleplay a version of Vannie (with one or two twists to better reflect those sides of my personality that need this) as a victim on a rape fantasy website (where it’s very hard to find anyone who’ll violate you – the standards of consent negotiation are VERY high), and a similar discussion has been going on about the sorts of ultra-violent fantasies that I feel the urge to bottom in. Someone asked, “Is it a way of exerting control over an idea that is terrifying in real life?” and I replied:
Call it, the soul surviving intact even if the “body” (virtual/fantasy) doesn’t. It’s not “degradation”, but it is definitely violation and that’s an element as well.
It’s about coming out the other side.
All of which is preamble to the main point, which is about being the top in violent or humiliation-based scenes.
In my reply @ University of Abject Submission, I cited (again) Pandora Blake’s piece on humiliation play with Nimue Allen, and was reminded (again) of Pandora’s response to being asked to play the abuse-hurler, by comparison with Cava’s discomfort with being asked to roleplay the racist for her partner (such discomfort that she needed to ask us what it all meant).
When Xiao Yingtai tweeted Stabbity’s piece @ Not Just Bitchy, “It’s okay to like intense play” I was struck by Stabbity’s point:
What pisses me off is when people refuse to admit they’re doing something problematic, or refuse to admit that people have a right to worry how someone’s play might reflect their actual attitudes toward women, or people of colour, or submissive men.
I was already questioning what it means that, when I top (at least, in online scenes), I find it so easy to slip into this role of expressing views that I really don’t have, in language that I never use, and express hatred that I don’t feel. Not hatred for the person, nor for the group they’re a member of. That point (which is valid, of course) made me think even more about what it means even more acutely.
Pandora Blake’s account of her feelings is informative:
I said I wasn’t sure I was comfortable using body-shaming language, but in the end, I did. When I started to insult Nimue, she held her head up and calmly returned my gaze. I verbally abused her, and I could see a smile playing on her lips as she absorbed the insults, claimed them as her own, and responded with nothing but pride. If she had reacted with shame or fear, I would have held back, but her self-acceptance made me feel safe. I ended up being far nastier and more insulting than I had expected to be – and she loved it.
The language we had negotiated I would use – insulting her for being a slut, a whore, telling her she was disgusting to be sexual and to enjoy kinky play – represented the opposite of my own point of view. My role was not to express my own opinions but to hold up a mirror, to play the part of the worst sort of conservative, whorephobic, misogynistic, slut-shaming, body-shaming prude so that Nimue could rise above it. I was fascinated by the power these words held to make me feel so uncomfortable – and even more fascinated to discover how aroused they made her.
She adds, “I got into the scene way more than I expected. The abuse was a role, a performance – I didn’t relate to the character I was playing … Once I got into the swing of it, my sadistic impulse kicked in.”
I’m likely to quote/steal a lot from Pandora’s piece because she writes so intelligently and insightfully about it. But again, Pandora reported being unsure and uncomfortable about doing it. My self-questioning is that I find it so easy to, as Blake puts it, “play the part of the worst sort of conservative, whorephobic, misogynistic, slut-shaming, body-shaming…” – or racist, or homophobic, or take your pick.
Of course, I need to know that it’s genuinely what the other person wants, that they need me to try to provoke those reactions. In one online roleplay in particular, my partner was a woman of mixed race who wanted to be raped by a racist cop (and of course, basing the “arrest” on racist profiling that she must be an illegal sex worker or something) and have her appearance absolutely shredded verbally. I basically demanded she say, “Do your worst!” And I did. I used every contemptuous, racist, degrading phrase I could to reflect back to her the photos she’d linked me, find whatever points I could to hurt her. It wasn’t until we did aftercare/debriefing that I knew I’d hit the right notes, but her feedback was those insults, the contempt and viciousness I expressed, had been the hottest and best part of it (I think her absolute favourite insult included the phrase “frizzy-haired half-breed” or something like that). The point of the anecdote being that as soon as I was confident she wanted it, I was ready to go, completely in-character.
As Stabbity says (by quoting Mollena), a top can’t really ask for such play: in fact, I don’t really want or seek it particularly, myself. But somehow I am very good at providing it, and slipping into the role of “hater” or “abuser” in a scene. Partly this may be down to the thanks and gratitude that bottoms have expressed once a scene is over and I’ve given them all they hoped for in terms of this verbal assault. It’s a positive reinforcement of the behaviour in context. And, top or bottom, there’s a strong element of service in my play even when I’m pretending to be the most selfish, self-obsessed, “it’s not your place to enjoy it, just to serve me!” type Dominant in the world.
Part of it may be that I go through life afraid I’m going to hurt someone by mistake or accident. As in, in a harmful way, not a consensual, fun way. But here’s all these ways where you desperately don’t want to hurt someone, and suddenly it’s not just okay, they actually want you to do your worst. I don’t have to be afraid any more, I can be the nightmare instead.
And part of it may be that, in despising the haters, and opposing them, I learn to imitate them (something about staring and the abyss, here?). Blake writes:
We can be advocates for slut pride, for sex worker rights, for body positivity and kink acceptance – and we can play with those taboos in private, in the safe container of a scene space. There’s no paradox there. It’s our genuine hatred of real-world abuse that gives play abuse its power.
To take on, for a moment, the role of what I hate is to confront the capacity to hate within myself; and to take on the role of a hater or abuser does the same thing. (Blake, again: “To mindfully explore our kinks is to turn to our shadow and accept it” – and of course I’ve referenced the “shadow self” concept a few times myself.)
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Ultimately, I don’t know what it means that I am so readily able to take on these roles and play them out in a consensual, kink, setting. I am pretty sure it doesn’t mean that I am secretly any of the things that I play and that the social justice stuff is all a façade. I think it does mean that I am aware of the influences society has on all of us, regardless of our political convictions, and that living in a racist, or rape-culture, or homophobic, or whorephobic, society means that somewhere along the lines you’ll pick up something of those issues – we all have the capacity to hate. The operative word in the Blake quote is, “mindfully”. To enact the roles without engaging with where they come from is problematic.