Sunday, December 5, 2010

BDSM Fiction: The Hair of the Dog that Bit You

The “sexual healing” story is a common romance trope. A mistreated heroine leaves her rotten man to find a better one. The new man’s love transforms her. BDSM romances can also follow this plotline. My One sort of does. This story is a kinky twist on Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Briony leaves a cheating man and ends up exploring three new relationships: too hard, too soft and just right. The theme of the novella is the wide range of BDSM interactions. The idea is underscored by sprinkling the tale with introduction letters from suitors.

One of Briony's bears is her old friend Sterling, a glamorous sadist. Many readers are bothered by this relationship. I evidently did not do a good job illustrating that the dalliance between Briony and Sterling was consensual. I also failed to make clear the fulfillment she got from the interaction: subspace, pride in serving, and excitement. Ultimately Sterling wasn’t the right mate for Briony, but she was never a victim. The DM hero’s response to her relationship with Sterling may have prejudiced some folks. But the good DM’s protective reaction was not reliable: he was in love with her.

But what about BDSM stories in which the heroine is truly a victim? Here the “sexual healing” plot has the heroine leaving a bad Master because of BDSM-style abuse. Ultimately she is saved by a “good” Master, who teaches her the true meaning of BDSM. I hate these stories. The line between BDSM and abuse is already tissue thin. Why utterly shred that barrier by bad fiction?

Writers of BDSM sexual healing stories don't care about the subculture they misrepresent. Because, hey, that plot provides plenty of drama, and generates sympathy for the poor victim. Which translates into book sales. But this melodramatic story device is a cheap emotional trick. The plot requires the bad Master’s abuse to be so outrageous that it’s just plain insane. Not only does it portray Masters as crazy and evil, it makes slaves look helpless, without common sense or desire for self-preservation. The underlying message is BDSM is crazy and evil.

Ultimately the new Master and abused slave have to fall in love in these tales. But how? BDSM is bad! Resolution of this paradox involves a magical switcheroo. BDSM must suddenly morph from abusive to romantic. The new Master must be cut from more noble cloth. The damaged slave must trust the new man and give consent. Consent by an abused person is supposed to be possible--and ethical. Finally the reader must not view the Master as a predator--but as a savior. In order to provide the maximum contrast between bad Master and good Master, the new relationship often ends up being sweet, a watered-down, fakey sort of BDSM, with lots of cute protocol and symbolic accoutrements of BDSM, but no true emotion.

These stories do not do real-life BDSM much good.

For a lively and interesting discussion of two BDSM sexual healing stories, see Dear Author.

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