Guest post from Jess Mahler

Jess Mahler, an excellent author and blogger was kind enough to offer me this guest post on the subject of abusers and the lies our culture tells us about them. Thanks Jess!


The stories we tell ourselves matter. So often I hear people say “It’s just fiction!” Conveniently forgetting that we use stories as teaching tools in school because they work. But I’m not going to beat that horse today. Instead, I want to talk about one specific story. The story of the abuser.

The abuser is a mean, selfish, angry man. He is a control freak who uses manipulation, coercion, and threats of (or actual) violence to keep the people he claims to love under his thumb. He is a horrible, evil person who may also be insane, but also may be redeemed by the power of love.

This is the story our culture tells about abusers. We have been seen it in movies, read it in books, talked over, around and under it, but we almost never look at it straight in the face and talk about it. It is this story which underlies all out discussions about abuse, our attempts to address abuse in the scene, and our ideas about what an abuser looks like.

This story is a lie. Abusers are rarely any of these things. Many abusers are like this young man, thinking they are helping the person they abuse. Some don’t know how to have a healthy relationship and believe thanks to many romcoms, romance books and porn, that they way they  are behaving is healthy. Others may know that their behavior is wrong, but not know what is right or where to go to get help. Some may be dealing with mental or physical illness, lashing out from pain or inability to do anything else. And some are, in fact, the angry selfish prick of our popular narrative. Perhaps the most dangerous lie is that all abusers are men.

If we are ever going to deal with abuse in the scene, we need to change how we think about abusers. We need to stop thinking of monsters, and start thinking of people. We must be willing to look past a charismatic personality, to not dismiss the possibility that someone we like might be an abuser. And most importantly we need to be willing to look at ourselves.

The scene generally promotes an awareness of our behavior and its consequences in the dungeon. We encourage each other to know the risks of our chosen activities, to keep communication going within a scene in case problems develop, to honestly assess our mental state and ability to play safely, and to regularly check ourselves for the possibility that we may make a mistake. We need to start taking that same self-awareness to other parts of our interactions and relationships. To build healthy communication outside of scenes so we can recognize and deal with problems as they develop. To actively seek out and learn healthy relationship techniques, the way we learn new bondage techniques. To stop and assess our words, actions, and ask ourselves “Is this the way to build a healthy relationship?”

We need to understand that each of us can be an abuser, because only then will it be possible for the people who abusers to say, “I’m fucking up, I’m hurting people, I love, and I need help learning to stop.” For as long as saying, “I am an abuser,” is the same as saying, “I am a monster,” we will never be able to build the structures to effectively address abuse within the scene. (And for the rare abuser who is the selfish, angry, control freak of popular culture? We can’t help them, we can’t change them, we can only remove them to protect ourselves and others.)

Before I wrap up, I want to make one important distinction. Abusers are not rapists. Studies have shown that contrary to our popular view of the drunk college boy who got carried away, the majority of rapes are committed by serial rapists who deliberately plan out their attacks–yes, that includes so-called “date rape.” Rape and abuse may overlap, but they are not two sides of the same coin.

5 thoughts on “Guest post from Jess Mahler

  1. The only thing I would add to this is that abusers don’t come in just one gender. While female abusers aren’t necessarily as violent or physically abusive but they do exist. They can also be just as dangerous and destructive.

    I’m not trying to downplay male abusers. Neither are good. We all need to be aware and know when it’s time to leave a destructive relationship.

    • Completely agreed. I thought I had addressed this, but I probably should have been more explicit. There is a lot of danger in the idea that only men are abusers, and a lot of men have been notjust hurt but denied help and even been blamed for their own abuse because of the idea that the woman is always the victim.

      • Yep.

        Huge double standard in the good ol USA. In many states it is legally not possible for a female to rape a male for example. And try and get ANY support as a male if a female does physical damage to your body. It is a total joke.

        In the movies kicking a man in the genitals is done for a laugh.

        In BDSM it is very close to synonym to say a woman dominates a man or a woman hurts a man. I have had many online chats where people can’t even separate domination from S&M play.

        The idea that it is socially/legally/mortally/physically not possible for a woman to abuse a male is reality in US today. This translates into BDSM play that can be frustrating for both dom and sub. Females that are trying to explore their dominant desires can often feel like S&M is the toolbox they have to use if they want to play. Sub males might not even have the vocabulary to communicate that they don’t wish to be physically or emotionally hurt by a female, yet they want to submit.

        All that being said, by the numbers male doms and female subs are by far the greater demographic.

        Seems to me the situation is exasperated by the fact that many submissive personalities don’t like to ‘speak up’.

        I personally feel the subject of S&M should be sidelined and communication should be mandatory on this key topic for any new dom or sub looking to explore their kink. Don’t feel like you have to conform to any mold as to how the power exchange is established. We are all humans and we are all free to define what works ‘for us’. Maybe it has S&M as a part, maybe it does not.

        • As a female dominant I can agree with the frustration this causes, and it can go the other way also–I’ve been approached by several male masochists over the years who think that because they like to be hurt they must be submissive.

          I’m not sure the real demographics are as screwed as you and many others feel, unfortunately this double standard creates a situation where both male subs and female doms are less likely to be active publicly. This makes it impossible to collect accurate numbers for comparison.

          FYI, the FBI rape guidelines do include female-on-male rape and (I believe) physical abuse. It is even harder to prosecute those cases than cases with female victims (which are notoriously hard to prosecute), but whatever the social situation (which I agree sucks), woman-on-male violence is recognized legally at the national level in the US, and increasingly on the state level.

        • There is an absolute difference between S&M and Dominance & submission. I am a submissive but I am in no way a masochist. While a certain amount of pain, and for me that’s a very small amount, can be part of my submission it’s not the main focus of any scene I play a part in.

          To me submission is about giving up power and service. I also prefer more of a loving, sensual dominant. That’s neither better or worse than the way others prefer to play, it’s just my preference.

          It should be all about the communication. It’s something that isn’t pushed as hard as it should be. We talk about safe words and communication is mentioned but it should be stressed much more.

          Communication is difficult for most people though. Talking about some of these things can be embarrassing. It can also be hard because we aren’t always in touch with ourselves. I think it’s important to be a little introspective and figure out not only what you want but why you want it. That’s not always an easy question to answer…

          Aftercare is another thing that we need more of. Not only for male and female subs but for dominants as well. A good scene takes a lot out of all the participants. A good scene is not only emotional but it can also be very psychological. All of that needs to be taken care of and put away before a scene is really over.

          Communication and aftercare should be stressed 100% more.

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