Do we have the right to be offensive?

Thanks to Heather’s post This Is Not Okay, I discovered this bit of dickbaggery. Like Heather, I’m not happy with Loren’s defense of people’s supposed “right” to be offensive.

Technically, people do have the legal right to say horrible, disgusting things. What they do not have is the right to get paid to say hateful, loathsome things. No-one is attacking Chuck Knipp/Shirley Q. Liquor’s right to say blatantly racist things. We’re just saying it’s not okay to pay him to do so.

Aside from the Shirley Q. Liquor act, which is obviously indefensible, I think it’s worth talking about whether we have a right to do things that we know will offend some people, even if those people aren’t directly involved. Let’s not kid ourselves, all kinky activities are offensive to someone. Race play is extremely difficult for some (many? I’m trying to avoid generalizing too much because I’m not a person of colour) people of colour to watch. A punching scene with a male dominant and female submissive might be just as painful for a female survivor of domestic abuse to watch. Age play could be traumatic for incest survivors to watch. Even a simple needle scene could traumatize someone with a severe needle phobia.

Given that some people have extremely good reasons to object to certain kinds of play, how can we get our kinky needs met without being assholes? I think a huge part of that is about context and consent.

A scene is sort of a bubble – in that context, nothing that happens necessarily tells you anything about how the players treat people in their daily lives. A scene also doesn’t have much of anything to do with anyone outside of that particular scene. A woman enjoying a takedown scene has nothing to do with my horror at the idea of being abducted. That’s my discomfort to manage. Because it’s just a scene, I can remind myself that everyone involved consented. By walking into a play party, I’ve also consented to being exposed to things that might offend or upset me. If I want to be sure I won’t be upset, I stay home.

Another important part of the context of a play party is that organizing a play party doesn’t necessarily imply approval of the play that happens during the party. Most parties that I know of have fairly simple rules to do with liability, safety, and ease of cleanup. Within those rules, you can do pretty much whatever you want. The organizers may not love your scene, but if you’re not breaking any rules they’re very unlikely to stop you from having it. Paying a performer, on the other hand, implies approval of what they have to say. While you can avoid being exposed to play that upsets you by skipping a party or workshop, there’s no way to avoid the fact that you now know the people who run your local leather bar think blatant racism is fine and dandy.

People having scenes that they know are particularly likely to be difficult for others to watch do have a responsibility to at least try to be courteous. Edgeplay scenes, for example, don’t need to be done at the front edge of the play floor. Deliberately trying to shock people who are just trying to relax and catch up with their friends is pathetic and douchebaggy. Particularly loud scenes should probably be done either very early in the evening before most people show up (at least out here, practically no one shows up on time. Local parties tend to be pretty dead for the first hour or so) or toward the end of the night to give other people a chance to play without being rattled by constant screaming.

I do think people who want to have a loud or edgy scene have a right to get their kink on in the way that makes them happy. They even have a right to do those things at parties. Honestly, where else can you have a scene that involves a lot of screaming without having a thoroughly awkward conversation with the police? 

Even if I’m offended by certain kinds of play, I still think it’s better to get them out in the open. I may not enjoy watching  a particular scene, but someone who’s struggling to accept their desires might really be helped by seeing that other people enjoy the same kink. Just, you know, try not to be an asshole about it.

6 thoughts on “Do we have the right to be offensive?

  1. Don’t we sort of have the responsibility to not be offensive? Shouldn’t we do our best to make our communities welcoming to everyone, especially if we want people to treat our relationships and our sexual expression with respect, don’t we need to show some baseline respect to others first?

    That’s my thought, on it. If you’re going to identify yourself as part of a group, then you had better do your best to present that group in the best possible light. Otherwise, not only are you being a huge dick and hurting people, you’re also making everyone else in the group to which you claim membership look like big mean dicks.

    • Perhaps there’s a difference between “offensive” and “disturbing.” The Shirley Q. Liquor act is offensive. It has a right to exist–offensive things do–but members of a community that wishes to create a haven for marginalized persons have a responsibility to eschew and speak out against things which reduce the security of that community. An act that mocks, generalizes, and makes light of the plight of a group of people in general, without that group’s consent, is offensive. One can argue that paying to see a performance is consenting to be exposed to its content, and that’s true. Racism (or nationalism or homophobia or domism or any other marginalizing generalization you can think of) is a part of the world in which we live and no amount of railing against it seems capable of eradicating it. But as members of a group that is marginalized and misunderstood we have a responsibility to provide an environment in which further prejudice is minimized. The act in question here is offensive in a similar vein to a Dom announcing to a room that women are naturally submissive and males naturally dominant: doing so with the express invitation of a venue tells anyone who does not fit that paradigm “you’re not welcome here.”

      So I should probably address why a scene is different. A scene, even a race play scene exploring and exploiting the same stereotypes as the act in question, is disturbing but not truly offensive unless persons who did not consent and were not included in negotiation are made part of the scene. What we do at clubs is disturbing, by which I mean all of it disturbs someone. I know a burn victim who leaves the room every time a fire scene starts. I can’t stand to be near knife play. But fire play does not in itself mock, belittle, or harm burn victims. Knife play, no matter how panic inducing I find it, has nothing to do with my trauma. BDSM is about the two or more people involved in a scene exploring whatever kinks they’ve agreed to explore that night. It can be disturbing, absolutely. To be offensive, though, it would need to be directed at someone else without his consent.

      The variety and intensity of activities found under the umbrella of BDSM virtually guarantees that we will disturb. I’m okay with that: it’s that same variety that lets me stand in a corner for heavy impact (complete with screaming, sorry) while my scary friend plays with knives in another alcove and someone else performs elaborate suspension across the room. They’re all different rides at the amusement park. And we can pick a favorite or try a few or stand aside and watch. The ones that frighten or disturb us, we can avoid. Hosting and supporting a racist (sexist/homophobic/other bigoted) act for all, on the other hand, is tantamount to putting a sign at the gate of the park saying “you must be this white (maledom-femsub/straight/whatever) to ride. One of these can enhance the community. The other smothers it.

      • Perhaps there’s a difference between “offensive” and “disturbing.”

        Ooh, I like that idea. Making that distinction makes it a lot easier to talk about things which are difficult to watch, and things that are just not okay.

        The act in question here is offensive in a similar vein to a Dom announcing to a room that women are naturally submissive and males naturally dominant: doing so with the express invitation of a venue tells anyone who does not fit that paradigm “you’re not welcome here.”

        Exactly! One person randomly behaving like a total asshat isn’t exactly a good time, but it’s a very different thing from asshattery not just being tolerated but invited by a venue.

        I think your comment would make a great blog post.

        • *nod* I think there’s an element of the ethical vs. aesthetic standard here*, and those are difficult for most people to separate. However, as kinky people, our aesthetic taste is already a standard deviation or two away from normal. We can see where pain co-mingles with desire or joy or love, which is (I hope we can agree) a phenomenal, beautiful experience. But it comes with the need to separate the aesthetic from the ethic, to say pain can be inflicted in this way, at this time, for this reason, and not at others.

          Also, yup, absolutely yoinked that previous comment, tarted it up a bit, and tossed it back at my own blog. I imagine it feels a bit ill-used now, but oh well.

          *why yes, I will take any excuse to make use of that darn philosophy degree.

    • Don’t we sort of have the responsibility to not be offensive?

      Ideally, yes. We absolutely have the responsibility to not be total assholes, but it all gets kind of messy when you start talking about things like race-play. I know of some people who are really turned on by, and of others who are deeply hurt by the re-enactment of the horrors their ancestors endured.

      Otherwise, not only are you being a huge dick and hurting people, you’re also making everyone else in the group to which you claim membership look like big mean dicks.

      Yes! If I’m a jerk, I’m not just making myself look bad, I’m making all the other kinky people look bad by association. That’s one of the reasons I think it’s so important to be an honourable person, not to mention it’s also a handy justification for my perfectionism 🙂

      My style of activism is letting people get to know me, and eventually when the time is right and the subject comes up and I feel safe (and I don’t mean to knock people who never feel safe. It’s way easier to come out as a dominant woman than as a submissive man), outing myself to them. Then the one kinky person they actually know is the quiet girl who works hard and is always nice to them. That just doesn’t work if I’m a jerk.

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