Why I Care About Depicting Survivors of Abusive BDSM Continuing to Do Kink

As a heads up, this post discusses abusive BDSM relationships, intimate partner violence, and sexual assault. It also discusses ableism and stigma around mental illness in kink communities, anti-kink prejudice in survivor spaces and therapeutic treatment, and kink community responses to abuse. It includes a brief reference to an abusive therapist. It includes a brief description of an erotica story that includes age play, edge play, Daddy play, and rape play.

I tweeted this yesterday: “One of the core reasons I write fiction about survivors of abusive BDSM doing kink is that it’s very rare to find realistic depictions of that experience and I care about creating that representation because I need it so badly myself, and I needed it especially as a novice.”

I want to talk a bit about why this representation is so important to me. It’s not just the piece about realistic depictions of survivors of abusive BDSM, though that matters deeply to me as a survivor of that sort of abuse. It is also very important to me to write about survivors of abusive kinky relationships continuing to do kink, for several reasons, which I discuss below.

Before I begin, I want to note that it is up to each trauma survivor to make their own choices around how to manage trauma, what relationships they want, how/if they want to continue to do kink/be connected to kink communities. I am speaking from my own experience, and describing my own needs and choices. You choose what’s right for you. I myself have made a range of choices around how, with whom, and what sorts of kink I was up for, in trying to grapple with the impact of abusive BDSM relationships. I do not believe that there is one right way. I support survivors in making these choices for themselves, and trying a variety of different things if they want to, in the aftermath of abuse.

Ableism around mental illness in kink communities

There is a deep stigma in kink communities around playing and creating relationships with folks who are mentally ill. This isn’t of course unique to kink communities as ableism around mental illness abounds everywhere. But I find it to be especially intense in kink & polyamorous communities, where folks often talk derisively about “crazy exes,” about not “sticking your dick in crazy,” insist that they aren’t like the “crazy” people who do x kink practice, and other such intensely open hostility. This is compounded in kink communities in particular by the framework of SSC (safe, sane, and consensual) which while originally intended to talk about play and not the people doing it, is commonly translated to excluding mentally ill folks from play, probably partly because it’s built on an ableist framework and uses ableist language. Ableism is deeply embedded in kink communities, and as I’ve discussed before, I think some of the ableism around mental illness is a defensive reaction against being deemed “crazy” solely for being kinky.

This is further compounded by a generally ableist framework around play, where folks are often urged to only do x kink activity (especially SM and bondage) with people that are perfectly physically healthy (I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard kink educators espouse this). Folks are often similarly urged to avoid doing x activity (especially D/s and psychological play) with folks who are mentally ill. In my experience, many people do not disclose mental illness, chronic pain and physical disabilities out of concern that nobody will want to play with them. When I teach kink education classes for trauma survivors, I hear numerous stories of rejection and fear of disclosure, fear of being perceived as “too messy” to play with. I hear numerous stories of trauma survivors ignoring red flags and not advocating for their own needs in negotiation and BDSM relationships because they feel like it’s a miracle anyone would be up for playing with them because of their PTSD.

So yes, ableism around mental illness and in particular a stigma around playing with mentally ill folks is a problem in kink communities. One that deeply impacts the experiences of survivors with PTSD as well as other mental illnesses. Hopefully, kink fiction that shows survivors doing kink helps to challenge that a bit. Fiction can’t do it on its own, but I do think that seeing yourself on the page has an impact and that kink fiction can influence kink culture.

Anti-kink prejudice in survivor communities and support systems

Another piece of this is that in survivor communities and treatment options, there is a lot of anti-kink prejudice and kink is often stigmatized. So seeking support for trauma while in or after leaving an abusive BDSM relationship is a challenge, and many survivors either choose not to or try to seek those resources while being closeted about the kink, which makes them substantively less helpful. Few written resources about abuse and to aid survivor healing are kink inclusive or kink friendly (you have to know where to look), and finding kink aware counseling around this sort of abuse is a big challenge as well, even in urban areas where more resources exist.

After leaving an abusive D/s relationship, when I sought help for the trauma, it never occurred to me to seek counseling at an intimate partner violence non-profit agency because I assumed that they would be anti-kink, from my experience working in that field. Instead, I sought private therapy and interviewed about a dozen therapists, looking for someone who was trans savvy and who wouldn’t try to get me to stop doing kink, or say that I was kinky because of my trauma history.

I was ferociously adamant that this experience of abuse not rob me of kink. I had worked so hard to accept my kinkiness (after having an early therapist try to cure me of it). I had worked so hard to find ways to express my kinkiness; it was vitally important to me, core to how I saw myself. And I knew that for many people, the response to a story about an abusive D/s relationship would be to urge me to stop doing kink. I wasn’t wrong about that. Most of those therapists flat out refused to work with me while I continued to do kink.

Using writing to imagine non-abusive BDSM relationships

When I was in that abusive D/s relationship, isolated and scared and struggling to hold onto my sense of self and my joy in submission, one of the things that kept me going was the idea that maybe D/s didn’t have to be like this. Maybe it could look different, feel different. Maybe D/s didn’t need to be a project of destruction and fear, maybe it wasn’t always about grinding the submissive partner down to dust.

I wrote a story from deep inside that abusive D/s relationship, in an attempt to imagine my way out. “Dancing for Daddy” is about an adult survivor of child sexual abuse pushing her edges and exploring age play that includes rape play, with a Daddy she loves and trusts. It is also the first erotica story that I published, a couple years after it was written. It’s included in my queer kink erotica collection Show Yourself to Me.

The story is a survivor fantasy, an imagining of the sort of cathartic play that I ached for. It is a reclaiming of my desire, for myself, at a moment when I thought nothing could be mine. It is a vow to honor my desire, even when it comes loaded with so many landmines.

I wrote it to tell myself a story about how this sort of play could be: if it were consensual, if you had a Daddy that was worthy of your trust, if you pushed your edges with care and within a safe-enough container. I wrote it to show myself that kink didn’t have to be what I was experiencing, that it could be careful and mutual and consensual, that dominants could be responsible and caring and careful, that what I was experiencing was masquerading as kink but was actually abuse. I wrote that story to promise myself that deciding I didn’t want to do this anymore with my abusive dominant did not mean I was choosing to stop doing kink. I wrote that story, and within a few weeks I had left my abusive partner. Writing “Dancing for Daddy” helped me get free.

I truly believe that if I had been told that kink was the problem inherent in that relationship, that I would need to give up kink in order to be free of abuse, it would have taken me much much longer to get out. The idea that the problem was this relationship specifically, and not kink in general, is what made it possible for me to leave then. The person I called to help me leave that house that night was someone deeply embedded in kink community, a regular play partner of mine. When I relocated to a new city soon after, one of the first things I did was to seek out kink community and in particular kink education, with the hope of learning ways to prevent this from happening to me again. I was not willing to leave kink in order to leave my abuser, and I deeply believe that I would not have left that relationship, or would not have stayed away, if I had felt that was the only way.

After leaving that relationship, I ached for realistic stories, models, examples of folks who survived abusive kink continuing to do kink. They were (and still are) difficult to find. At that time, the only one I found was a pair of Patrick Califia stories, “Mercy” and “No Mercy”, about a leatherdyke submissive leaving her abusive first dominant, that was printed in his collection No Mercy. (That book is out of print, but you can find both stories in his later collection, Blood and Silver, which is still available, and which includes some of my favorite stories of his.)

Since these stories were so difficult to find, I started writing them. I wrote about a Daddy who used to be a boy and stopped submitting because of his experience of abuse, vowing to be better more responsible, careful, and caring dominants to his own boys. I wrote about a dominant exploring being a service submissive again after many years of choosing only to be a dominant in the aftermath of abuse, and the glorious experience of submitting again, of serving after so many years. I wrote multiple stories about survivors of trauma trusting their partners to hold space for them in cathartic play.

I’m still writing stories like this. My erotica collection Show Yourself to Me is a survivor-centered book in many ways. The next project I’m planning, a kinky queer Beauty and the Beast romance retelling, centers a survivor recovery arc. And my current WIP Shocking Violet is a polyamorous romance novel centering queer and trans survivors doing kink with each other, managing their trauma reactions, creating trust with each other, seeking cathartic play, supporting each other in the aftermath of abusive kink.

Kink community responses to disclosure of abuse

Which brings me to another reason I care about this kind of representation in kink literature. Kink communities, like many communities, often do not respond particularly well to disclosure of abuse within the community. They often silence discussion of abuse (both of specific disclosures and what it can look like in general in kinky relationships), shun survivors (especially marginalized survivors and survivors who seek remedies and protection from the state), worry more about how vanilla folks will use stories of abuse to smear kinky people than about the well-being of survivors, decide that the solution is to add extra intense policing around gender and who is allowed in the door, rarely hold abusive folks accountable, struggle to figure out how to respond to abusive behavior and boundary and consent violations that occur in community spaces, act as if playing in public, seeking references so as to find “safe people” to play with, and quietly sharing information about missing stairs creates safety for everyone, push folks out of the community so they become somebody else’s problem (sometimes all parties, sometimes survivors, sometimes abusive folks, which leads to further isolation of their partners). This isn’t true of all kink communities, but it has generally been my experience, and is something I hear many stories about; it’s fairly common.

Part of the role of culture is to illuminate these kinds of problems, and to imagine other ways of creating consensual kink and responding to abuse in kink communities. For me, writing erotica stories that include references to abusive BDSM as part of the backstory for a character is a critical piece of not erasing this common reality. In my longer work, I have been telling more in-depth detailed survivor centered stories about doing kink, and  imagining other ways my characters might respond to abuse in kink communities and putting that on the page, as well.

Kink fiction isn’t going to resolve the community and societal issues that lead to abusive BDSM. Neither is kink education and other writing that illuminates ways to discern abusive dynamics and discusses what consensual D/s might look like, and multiple ways to get to consent. But I have found that kink education and kink non-fiction writing can provide helpful information and context for folks grappling with abusive situations. And kink fiction is a key place where survivor readers might catch glimpses of their own experiences, where we might begin to challenge ableist stigma in kink communities, and where we might begin to create survivor centered fantasies of the kinds of kink community responses to abuse that might feel supportive and good to us.

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2 thoughts on “Why I Care About Depicting Survivors of Abusive BDSM Continuing to Do Kink

  1. I also write about being sexual &/or kinky after abuse, even if the abuse affects how and with whom they may practice. #cuilverse features survivors who are #ace/#asexual &/or #aromantic & into #bdsm plus allosexual and/or alloromantic survivors of all genders, races/cultures, and orientations.

    Additionally, I write inclusively about #bdsm and #abuseculture in the nonfiction #intersectionalnonmonogamy book series, starting with #AroErosArrows, because that is so so needed, as well.

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