Don’t Fear The 50Shades Newbies

50screamWith the long promised movie coming up, internet BDSM communities are continuing the ongoing tizzy about how terribly awful bad this phenomena is for kink, particularly how we are going to expect a barrage of innocents any day now, who will totter in all starry eyed and come into some sort of unspecified calamity based on something they read or saw.

I’m going to bracket this by saying 50shades is not my cup of tea, and indeed is Bad Writing. Then again I can’t say I’m a fan of a lot of things- cheerleading, miracle whip or pastel magical unicorns are also going to draw out a bah humbug (and indeed given the injury rate, cheerleading is probably a lot more dangerous than recreational spanking). And for that matter the books have never claimed to have aspirations to high art.But, that aside, this still doesn’t mean the supposed tide of 50shades newbies we’re supposed to get (who have yet to present themselves, btw) are somehow this big problem we needed to dread and plan for.

True, Christian Grey is fucked in the head, while Anastasia is at least next door to having some sort of combination social anxiety and eating disorder, as well as weird jealousy issues and poor decision making. But BDSM literature as a whole is a zone of emotionally unhealthy characters- not in the least of which because we are a bunch of by and large sane people fetishizing horrible things. (I mean come on, depending on which version you read, Story of O ends in her suicide!) There are millions of terrible harlequin romances extant and somehow heterosexuality as a whole has survived all sorts of silliness.

Let’s take a look at some of the common worries, shall we?

BDSM is a super special dangerous thing you need training to do. Newbies are going to get hurt if they enter into kink thinking this is easy and safe. The books never get more intense than a beating scene with a prison strap, which is further addressed as being something it is both okay and understandable for the dippy heroine to not want. Hell, the first book ends with a break up because she decides she is not comfortable- and the middle book is about coming to a compromise that balances their respective crazy. But, more to the point, this is kinky sex, not rocket science. You are not part of the special sexual elite- 99% of what we do, while highly enjoyable, doesn’t exactly take annual certification and an OSHA inspector. And no judgement, but triple razor wire flaming suspension bondage is not a common activity for most of us, even scene veterans.

The other implication here is also that the 50Shades fanbase is somehow dumber, more naive and less inclined to do their homework than the person making that claim. Now you might point to how stupid you think the books are, but then again BDSM is not known for our high quality pornography. As Wildcard observed to me on the subject, I don’t think most of us were initially sexually inspired by high art.

The books sell an overtly controlling person as a super magical dom, and will lead to newbies not knowing that they could find kinky abusers.. Over the course of the three books its repeatedly addressed that BDSM itself is not the weird thing, but rather that the male lead is literally crazy. The implication about worrying about risk of abuse is that 50shades newbies are ripe picking for our resident predators. You know what that says? If you are so utterly sure there are enough abusers in the scene that you have to actively protect everyone who comes in you are acknowledging one hell of a missing stair problem. That is to say if you really think the community you are part of has more risk than the rest of the humans who are not part of your special sexual subculture, the problem is that your subculture is fucked up.

Maybe instead of trying to focus on some sort of welcoming committee, as many people seem to think needs doing, that energy should be used to clean house?

People who get into kink through 50shades are annoying dabblers not REAL kinksters. I’m sorry, you’re a snob if you think this. I am as peeved as anyone else that the bottom tier of cheap toys has taken on a distinct colour palette and branding. But, no matter how you feel about tacky satin blindfolds and rhinestone handled paddles, you do not get to make the distinction of sincerity versus weekenders. And if you try you are going to sound like a huge hipster trying to keep your exclusive hobbies from the poseurs. This also goes to people who think there is some sort of unbroken legacy that’s been handed down but will now be neglected- sorry guys, BDSM is an activity practiced in the private bedrooms of couples all around the world. You don’t get a monopoly to define and control kink and you never had one.

The problem with 50shades is mostly that it’s in the midst of a moral panic the like of which is typically found among suburban parents worrying about jelly bracelets and rainbow parties, but most people who don’t think its worth the flap are generally not invested in protecting ridiculously popular things. It hits just in the sweet spot between containing enough sex to make conservative prudes squawk, but not enough self awareness to make anyone who would normally be all liberal and sex positive happy. And yet, maybe its time to admit the franchise didn’t create any problems that weren’t already there to start?

Where Is The 50Shades Of Femdom?

Or: When are we going to see a femdom best seller?

I get this as a compliment/question, when people find out about the whole femdom writer thing. People assume that I’m positioned to write the next Fifty Shades of Grey. Only for F/m relationships. Unfortunately as awesome as it would be to produce a work of BDSM erotica that’s so popular that you can buy licensed pyjamas and softcore sex toys based on it, that’s not going to happen. Not without a bunch of variables being taken into account at least.

It’s not just that the average writer no more makes the best seller list than the average person who runs makes the Boston Marathon. The success of 50shades is also part of the genre that birthed it, and the cultural underpinnings that define pop culture’s approach to sexuality. But first, before I delve in a little deeper, a back story about the book for those living under a rock.

Fifty Shades of Grey is a trilogy about a BDSM relationship between virgin Anastasia Steele, the sub, and a billionaire hunk dom, Christian Grey. It not only crawled from ebook sales into the mainstream, but more to the point, began as a Twilight fan fiction where the two leads of that franchise were stripped of the supernatural and sent to college. When that got popular, the author changed the names to avoid getting sued and monetized it, building a following from the amateur reader/writer online groups. Pay attention, this origin story is just as important as the BDSM parts of the books.

One of the important things that defines 50shades is how classically part of the romance genre it is, including its parentage and all the various things that combined together, even more than just people wanting to read about kink in general, that pushed it to the forefront. Part of its success is that it is extremely formulaic.

Critics of the books get bogged down in two places, how badly written it is, which I think is unfair even if it’s true, and other critics point out how poorly representative it is to healthy relationships, kinky or otherwise. News articles trying to be click bait hammered the End of Feminism angle, trying to argue that all women are femsubs and that’s because having jobs and personal autonomy is not natural for them,  something they’ve been saying every single time people pay attention to women’s fiction. Which, moving onto my next point, includes the genre of romance, a pretty major segment of the publishing industry as a whole.  (By the way, that’s 39.3% of book sales according to some estimations, while other figures give romance 55% of the paperback book market.)

If you’re a dude, and/or don’t read romances, you probably have a mental image about pirates cutting ladies out of their corsets and really bad writing- and you’d be about half right. Romance has its highlights and low points, including everything from literary masterpieces to the throwaways you can get at the grocery store with titles like “The Millionaire Italian’s Lover”. But, because it’s such a big genre it straddles many other genres, so you may have a fantasy story with a romance in it,  or a sci-fi story with a romance, etc… It’s a little more than the story of a romantic relationship, although that’s one of the things all romances have in common. But, as a bit of a background- the genre is unabashedly female audience dominated, including a fair deal of pandering, and romance novels generally have something to them that compliments the “romance”. In the case of  50shades, BDSM is providing the compliment, and provides the tension to drive the story and create conflict.

While everyone who is not asexual and/or aromantic likes the idea of relationships, the genre gets its power from the fact that historically,  women dealt with the limitations that participating in the world can only be facilitated by the presence of a male romantic partner. Looking at the genre at its earliest days, writers like Jane Austen didn’t just want to pair off people because it was sooooo romantic, but were writing about making the sort of life choices that defined what freedoms their female characters would have. In her time period, Austen was mostly making a point about sensible matches with people you can respect. Okay, so what does Pride and Prejudice have to do with BDSM erotica?

Why, everything of course! Keep reading, I have a point here!

Read more