We may defend consensual BDSM, but the fact remains that we’re people - and every community has its bad apples. The insidious part is that bad behaviour is easy to hide within the kink scene, and some kinds of abuse can be disguised under a veneer of power exchange dynamics. Unfortunately, I found myself in one of those situations, but it took me a long time to call it what it was.
First, a little bit about me. I’m in my 30’s, well educated, financially stable, and at the time of this situation I was in an open polyamorous marriage. I studied domestic violence in college, and I even worked in the mental health field for a year. I firmly believed I’d never get into an abusive relationship. When I saw friends having small problems with someone they were dating I was baffled when they didn’t break up with their partners right away.
I’m sharing this to illustrate how deceptive emotional abuse can be. It doesn’t just happen to people who don’t ‘know better.’ It doesn’t just happen to the poor, the uneducated, to those without a community or without friends. It can happen to anyone.
For a long time, I weighed the behaviour of others not based on its impact on me, but on what I assumed the intent was - this is harmful and dangerous. Someone doesn’t need to be malicious or intentionally manipulative to do you harm. And while someone with a mental disorder may deserve your pity, that’s no reason to stay involved with them.
When I was in the height of relationship drama, the kick in the pants I needed came from someone I’d just met at a picnic with friends. She said to me, flat out, “By putting up with his shit you’re allowing him to abuse other women.” I hadn’t used the word abuse, she listened to my story and named it for what it was. And it was a hell of a wake-up call. Maybe I’d gotten good at ignoring my well-being, but she had a point. If I couldn’t protect myself at least, I could stand up and protect other people.
In the kink community, I feared that the visibility of my relationship could be interpreted as an endorsement of this person as a partner. I finally did what I should have done before and cut all ties.
It hits me in waves, and I’m floored by how I let myself be manipulated. I paid his rent; I bought him plane tickets, I bought him groceries. I found myself wishing he’d hit me (non-consensually) so I could just snap out of it and have a clear-cut reason to leave.
But at other times I have to admit I miss the intensity. I found a piece of myself that longed to submit and doing so was an incredible feeling. Now I worry that the part of myself that was so open and trusting is broken, maybe forever. That’s the power of the sociopath: they make you feel amazing (if only for a moment) and then use that as leverage against you. The Huffington Post sums this phenomenon up: “A psychopath goes out of his way to please you. It's just another way of getting you hooked.”
When I found the Sociopaths in the Scene website several of their points jumped out at me. Firstly: “They insist you are not submissive enough or dominant enough, declare themselves “real” or “true” while putting down others.” Sound familiar?
In my abusive relationship, I pushed myself to prove I was a “real submissive” and it took me to emotional places I should never have gone, at least not without lots of support. I hope other people will learn from my mistakes and see this for the red flag it is.
If your friends don’t like someone you’re dating, listen to them carefully. And remember, asking for references shouldn’t just be something we suggest to newcomers in the scene, it’s a practice we should adhere to.
As a community, we also need to reevaluate our response to people who call out abusers. There’s a tendency to silence those who speak up, but this only does even greater damage - to the victim of abuse and to the community. I think this inclination comes from the fear that if this person can be hurt, so can we. Fear that our community isn’t as safe as we’d like to believe. And fear that if bad behaviour in the BDSM scene comes to light, detractors will have more ammunition to use in their attempts to prove that we’re all mentally unstable perverts.
As I go through the process of healing I know I’m stronger than I was before. I want to use that strength, and the things this experience taught me, to help my community learn and heal too. I will practice speaking up when I see something that isn’t right, and I hope that my example will help others find their voices.
Stella Harris is an author, educator, and coach who focuses on sex, kink, and intimacy. Through her writing and teaching, she explores the complex world of love and lust and strives to help people explore their sexuality safely and free of shame. Follow her on Twitter @stellaerotica
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