Update: There is more information emerging that indicates that this specific case may not be what is claimed. The following advice applies regardless, but keep this in mind so as to not make any judgments about any of the people involved until more clear information is available.
Somewhere at the intersection of trans* and BDSM, this happened:
“Three people have been arrested for allegedly keeping a transgender woman as a slave in the Ajax area of Natchitoches Parish.
“… NPSO received a report Saturday night from a Robeline assistant town marshal that he had come in contact with a female who had a logging chain wrapped around her near the intersection of Interstate 49 and Louisiana 6 West near Natchitoches…”
Media and law enforcement are making some judgments, and I’m tempted to come to a few conclusions of my own, but either way, it’s clear that something started out consensual and then went very wrong. It’s not clear where that happened, how far the negotiation went, when the consent ended, or what broke down, and it’s not possible to know those things from the information we have. Beyond that, it’s all speculative, and isn’t going to help anyone to comment on these people or this specific case.
However, I do have readers at a similar intersection, and there are some larger general comments that need to be made. While trans* people who are attracted to BDSM can be at either end of the dominant – submissive (D/s) spectrum, many of these points will be about self-care and safety for the latter, who are more vulnerable in the equation.
This has raised some judgments about what would compel a person to consent to a situation like this, about depression, self-image, self-worth. I hesitate to make judgments, because those things can be factors, but they’re not necessarily the entire story. I believe that individuals can have inherent D/s needs too (and no, they don’t split along gender lines), so I caution about oversimplifying things.
No matter where you fall on a D/s spectrum, you have a right to (and a need for) personal autonomy and personal fulfillment. You have to first have personal power in order to be able to surrender it to someone else. You are not a sacrificial lamb. If you feel like the latter, you have some soul-searching to do.
If you feel worthless in your life, or helpless, then it’s always best to look in, discover who you are, the value you have and what you need in your life before looking outward. It’s not right for you (or fair to anyone else) to put all of that on someone else. You should have this sorted out before committing to a serious relationship of this intensity.
As much as you might want to trust someone else and put yourself in their hands, there does need to be a way out.
When dating in a BDSM world, if at all possible, do not move away from your support networks (hopefully, you have some to begin with, although I know this isn’t always the case). Most major population centres have a BDSM scene, and it’s worth starting there to try to find someone without making yourself too vulnerable and isolated. In the process, you can also learn safety practices and habits, and be cautioned about unethical persons and practices. I know that local BDSM communities can have divisions and problems, and can be fractured or unwelcoming, so this doesn’t always work, but it’s worth trying, first.
When looking for a relationship with a measure of BDSM or power exchange and meeting new people, it’s a good idea to use the silent alarm or some modification of it.
Of course, a D/s relationship doesn’t automatically mean a 24/7 D/s (a 24 hours / day, 7 days / week dominance & submission paradigm) one, but unfortunately this is an assumption neophytes sometimes make, and a direction some consequently go. 24/7 D/s is a divisive argument in the BDSM community, because of the stakes involved. It is a form of edgeplay.
I’m willing to believe that 24/7 D/s is possible, but it would absolutely require regular check-ins to ensure that the participants are finding mutual fulfillment, ways to *mutually* renegotiate if it’s not working, and an exit plan if it fails. That exit plan should include the financial means for everyone involved to start over.
I’ve never been in a 24/7 situation and don’t make the rules, but I’d imagine they’d be something like this:
– If you and / or the person or people you’re negotiating with have not been in a lengthy (I’d prefer 2 years, but YMMV) D/s situation with anyone before, then you’re probably not ready for long-term 24/7 D/s.
– If you and the person or people you’re negotiating with have not been together for a reasonable amount of time, then you’re probably not ready for 24/7 D/s either, although it doesn’t mean that you can’t start small and work toward it carefully. People change as you get to know them (or more accurately, they dispel some of the illusions you’ve developed / acquired about them).
– I know that 24/7 D/s people often strive for a paradigm that works without a safeword or stopping point, for a total power exchange. I’d hope that if there’s no stop point, then there’s at least a way to communicate (because a submissive still needs to be heard and have their needs considered), and for renegotiation, if needed.
– Would a short-term 24/7 with scheduled renegotiation point work? I don’t know. But jumping in too quickly and too completely is usually a bad idea.
– I’m not convinced that 24/7 D/s can be accomplished with a stranger. This is a long-range thing, not something to expect from the outset.
The idea of a 24/7 non-negotiable ownership situation is a fantasy, however much people might want it to be otherwise. It’s not legal for one person to own another (nor should it be). You can push it to the edge, if that’s what everyone involved wants to do, but a responsible arrangement does not go over it.
Reality will absolutely never be what you fantasize it to be. I think most people understand that, but it bears repeating. Real life will always throw in tedium, surprises, tragedy and drag-downs. Likewise, the people who are participating in your life will have different fantasies and objectives — how different depends on how well the two of you have negotiated. Those fantasies and objectives change over time for both of you, so there absolutely has to be a way to come back to the table and renegotiate periodically. The exit plan is for if you can no longer resolve your different visions. It happens, and you can’t always predict it in the beginning of a relationship.
You cannot prepare for a sky dive by fantasizing that your chute will open. It is your responsibility as much as anyone else’s to ensure that your gear is assembled properly and functioning.
This doesn’t mean that the victim is to blame for what happened [if things happened as being presented — see update above] — the victim’s responsibility was only to avoid making themselves vulnerable to exploitation as much as they could (even if the situation was meant to achieve vulnerability), but the responsibility ended there. The perpetrator’s responsibility was to not abuse and exploit that vulnerability, especially with the amount of personal authority being given. The burden is by far on the perpetrator. But either way, these are discussion points a person can use to plan for what they can, and to use caution.
The only other responsibility is to not put more expectations upon someone than is reasonable. This is something that happens in BDSM, and then the dom(me) is blamed if they fail to live up to those expectations. I don’t know if that happened here, but I have seen it when trans people (or anyone else, for that matter) enter BDSM relationships and expect them to be everything they dreamed.
Certainly, there are bad apples in BDSM (as anywhere), and the risk of predation is far greater when this level of power is exchanged. You’ll hear that a lot: “you can’t blame us all for what a few bad apples did.”
But even the “good apples” are human. No matter how much you feel you can trust and respect someone, there has to be a contingency for when they inevitably fail.
The biggest challenge for D/s dom(me)s is the expectation that they be somehow perfect, and infallible. Sometimes this even means that they aren’t supposed to have emotions, health issues, weaknesses, character flaws… yet everyone has failings.
A dom(me) should never be so insecure as to not be able to communicate, negotiate, change, acknowledge their own failures, and allow for exit plans. A dom(me) isn’t supposed to be perfect. They are, however, supposed to be responsible and ethical. That’s the line. And it won’t always be obvious at the beginning if everyone knows where that line is.
Take care, be safe, realize your value and get what you need without losing yourself in the process.
(Crossposted to The Bilerico Project and Facebook)