A few weeks back, I received a note from Rich Juzwiak, a guy who writes for the column “How to Do It” on Slate.com. He asked me for input on a query he’d received from a Black woman concerning BDSM and racism. And lookie here, my name pops up as a good source! Gotta love it when a white guy actually concedes that he might not be an authority on all things, so ten points to House Juzwiak!
The original question to me was the following:
I have been thinking about my kinks and what I’m interested in with a sexual relationship, and I’ve decided that I’d like to try a BDSM relationship. However, being a young black woman, I don’t know how to navigate the inevitable fetishization and inappropriate dynamics that I’ll run into. How should I bring up power dynamics with a potential dominant?
You can read my (slightly edited) response over on Slate!
Or hey, you can read it all EXCLUSIVELY here at the source, yo.
I mean, it is pretty much the same BUT STILL.
The thing about a BDSM relationship is that it will definitely involve humans who live in the “Default World.” The overwhelming majority of people do not live, work, play, have family deeply submerged in the BDSM community 24/7. It’s just folks. Much like Soylent Green, BDSM is people. This means that all the prejudices, all the tension, all the poor behaviors, all the wonderful beauty of friendship and love – all of this is present in the communities created by a common interest in BDSM.
As a Black woman living in the USA, you definitely have experienced prejudice, racism, bigotry…and you certainly can expect to run into that while exploring kink. The upside is that, among kinksters, we are committed to communication. Negotiation upfront, plain speaking about our needs, wants and desires, talking about exactly what dynamic you crave, is not something presumptuous or forward. It is central and necessary to negotiating ANY type of kink relationship. Sitting face to face with a potential dominant partner, asking them frankly about their history, politics, opinions, BDSM experience and opinions on racism and bigoty can provide a treasure trove of information as you explore a potential relationship. Bringing up power dynamics is our normal. Talking about the thorny issues of power exchange (PE) is our bread and butter and ought to come as naturally in a PE dating situation as sorting out what movie you’ll be seeing next Saturday. The “how” is as easy as “I need to talk to you about how you plan to handle a PE relationship with a Black woman.”
Realistically, fetishization is unavoidable – again, this is not unique to BDSM. I’ve definitely had so-called “vanilla” dates with individuals who were not POC where my intended suitor tipped their hand by revealing that they had “always wanted to be with a black woman.” This is not something I personally find appealing, and so those relationships were nipped – with extreme prejudice – in the bud. You will likely meet these same undesirables while traversing the BDSM community. You have a lifetime of experience in weeding out those who are not worthy of your time and attention based on their petty small-mindedness. Bring this savviness to the table when negotiating with a new dominant. Ask them, point-blank, how they’d handle the reality of the kinky, sex-based PE while also navigating the intricacies of a real-life racism, bigotry and prejudice. See what they say, see how their responses feel to you. You’ll quickly realize that your experience, common sense and gut instinct will help you weed out those who will disappoint. And if someone DOES slip under the radar? Someone who seems wonderful at first only to subsequently reveal themselves to be unworthy? You will have gained valuable experience not only in the BDSM scene, but also in the “Default World”
Another way to avoid this type of grotesque unpleasantness is to limit the pool of potential dominants to other Black folks. The shared experience of living while Black in America can generate a uniquely special bond when forming a PE relationship. Of course, misogynoir, skin privilege and socio-economic differences can present their own unique issues even when dating someone with a similar racial makeup.
Find other allies within the scene who are POC, talk with them, share your concerns, victories and shortfalls. These folks will prove to be invaluable allies and important friends and associates as you explore these exciting, uncharted waters. Enjoy!