I’m one of the newly named Xennial generation (1977 – 1983). I have been interacting with people online since adolescence. I grew up using chatrooms (Q-Link for the Commodore 128 and AOL with PC) with progressively increased private chats happening as the years went on. Back then we couldn’t (easily) send photos or use a cell phone to text, we arranged times to talk, often turning to phone sex after online chatting became more hot and personal. I was on this cusp generation that pioneered these emerging technologies, often at the mercy of the parents that allowed us access to them.
I’ve been doing this a long time–since 13 or 14 years old when we got our first equivalent of a modem. I had online access very early in my life that by the time everyone else was getting AOL, I was moving on to the next thing. And for as long as I’ve had access, I’ve had access to online flirting. So many sexual conversations, flirting online and over the phone. The currency of these exchanges relied on imagination. The more vivid descriptions, the more easily the sexual tension could build. I never kept track of how many of these conversations I had participated in over the years. How many men and the handful of women did I do this with? I’ll probably never know. But it was second nature to me. Witty, sexy, sultry banter was my thing.
The Shameful Barrier
I talk often about the accumulation of shame in my life and how inhibiting it can be. How intimidating it makes what was once second nature to me. I had stopped dating in 2009 for a variety of reasons: a new local relationship (Warrior) that took up much of my attention, a break-up with my Dallas poly husband where I felt like a failure at polyamory, residuals of being outed a few years before and a metamour whose insistence on one-way fluid bonding sent a clear judgment – that I’m somehow dirty. I was just so ashamed that I just cut off all possibilities, no matter how promising they were. No matter how much I wanted to progress with flirting and communication, it had been used against me so often that I always managed to sour the potential before it could ever take root.
Self-awareness is a grand thing that cannot be over-emphasized as we interact with the world around us. However, some people, including myself, who make this a priority, tend to skew the viewpoint a little toward whatever story they want the world to know about them. Inevitably, with all of us, we end up with blind spots that trip us up and end up impacting others. That blind spot is usually obvious once we recognize it for what it is: a struggle within to reconcile and identify the source emotion.
So let’s just attack my blind spot emotion: Disappointment. Disappointment is a close friend with regret. However, regret is the disappointment that we apply to our own actions and disappointment is what we apply to others’ actions. Disappointment doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It’s often the result of creating and sustaining expectations that another will act the way that we thought they should or would. In order to identify a feeling as disappointment you have to:
a) recognize that you had expectations;
b) believe you deserved or had good reason to have those expectations;
c) placed trust in someone else to meet those expectations;
d) relied on that person’s implied, express or assumed promise to fulfill those expectations; and
e) experienced a failure of someone to meet those expectations.
Disappointment can be general (“I’m disappointed I didn’t get any email today”) or specific (“I’m disappointed that my husband forgot our anniversary”). Disappointment carries a deeper attachment to the result or even the process than ordinary breaches of social protocol. It is personal and yet sometimes we judge ourselves for reacting to something so seemingly simple.
Disappointment is a blind spot for me because I rarely believe (b), that I deserve or have good reasons to expect anything. I feel that undeservinginess so deeply that I have adjusted my whole life around that basic concept so I never have to feel disappointment in another human being. And like most things it was influenced by some distinct event at an impressionable time.
Yet, I remember making a distinct choice to stop any public celebration of my birthday on my 16th birthday. This was the birthday where my boyfriend ditched me to have a drugged-out one night stand with a co-worker. I swallowed the disappointment, the heartbreak because I felt so unworthy of the expectation of fidelity or honesty or to be special on my 16th birthday. And I made a conscious decision that I didn’t want to be hurt like that again so i prohibited any celebration by family and friends from that time forward.
What is the old saying? If you don’t expect anything, you won’t be disappointed. Right?
(SIDE NOTE: I made an exception for my 21st birthday which ended up in that boyfriend dumping me just minutes after I turned 21 and was waiting for him to show up so we could go to the bar for my first legal drink.)
So here I am almost twenty years later. I can say with some certainty that I was completely reasonable to expect my boyfriend to spend my birthday with me as he promised instead of cheating on me. But that realization doesn’t change the new traditions I have created around this day for me. Disappointment was the fuel to that fire; but denial and avoidance of disappointment has ensured that there are no birthday parties, no presents, no cards, no celebratory drinks or revelry of any kind. Avoid disappointment,? Check. Avoid any chance to feel special and included? Fail.
Expectations are a bitch, because it’s entirely out of your control whether people meet them. And people give you excuses that seem reasonable at the time. But instead of owning up to the fact that I feel hurt or let down, I swallow it down where I plot my next attempt to circumvent any future disappointment
So how to fix it? Here are a few suggestions:
- Admit to yourself that the icky mix of anger and sadness you feel is disappointment. Write it down and burn it if you’re afraid of letting anyone know you feel this. But say or write the words at least.
- Practice telling the other person when you feel disappointed for small things. Like when they text to tell you that they won’t be able to make it to dinner tonight because they’re sick, text back “aww…I’m disappointed I won’t see you tonight. Take good care of yourself”
- Recognize and relate to their own humanity. Trust me, as a human being you’ve done something, big or small, to disappoint another human being. Remember what caused that person’s disappointment and apply it to your own now. Was it a miscommunication? An assumption? A crooked sense of priorities? Stress? Excuses or not, these play into all of our interactions.
- Express your disappointment. It doesn’t have to be a drag out fight. But instead find an opportunity soon after the event in question to tell the person you were disappointed by something they did or didn’t do and how things can be better in the future. Make it an honest exchange of information. Yes, you will hear excuses or rationale, some of which are totally understandable, but just as importantly they will hear it from you directly how you feel and what you’d like them to do differently in the future.
- Check but don’t eliminate all of your own expectations. There are times that our expectations can be pretty unweildy and can set everyone on edge (think Miranda Priestly from the Devil Wears Prada). If you’re noticing an increase in agitation or stress with the people you rely on, you may want to double check that you’re not asking the impossible and scale it back just a little bit.
- Arrange regular time to check in about promises, rules, expectations in a relationship. Having a regular check-in with a partner, loved one or even co-worker about what expectations are on the table, what’s working and what’s not can be enormously helpful. Don’t wait until there is a history of consistent fuck-ups, instead check in early and often (like every 2-3 months) to make sure each party knows what is expected of them.
- Trust again. Maybe not the same people as before, but trust that your needs and desires are worthy. It is amazing how less disappointment haunts me and hurts me now that I’ve started trusting that the world isn’t out to get me. .
And the biggest show of that trust in my life? After twenty years of solitary suffering, I am actually going to celebrate my birthday! Bring it on!
EDITS: I posted this in November 2012 on FetLife. I was asked to publish this in a larger forum where they could more easily link to the content for people who might have FetLife blocked or just aren’t members. With over 300 “loves” and 100+ comments and countless personal emails and messages I agree that this is worth sharing with a much wider audience.
As of 2016, I was banned from one of the local venues reportedly because of my activism, but also likely because of the connection they had to the person below.
I’ve also added a trigger warning on the title for those who are survivors of sexual assault whether in or out of the scene. However, there is no cut to protect against the triggers.
September Gateway 2007.
I’ve been part of the BDSM community for 8 years and the Denver community for 6 years. There was a time when I was new. And when you’re new you do some pretty stupid things.
When I was new I agreed to play with someone who told me he’d listen to and respect my boundaries, even though every conversation seemed to revolve around how great he thought he was. When I sent him my personal narrative about the “whys” of my limits, he told me “well, that was more than I ever needed to know”. But you know, I made a commitment to be there and I didn’t want to back out since absolutely no one else expressed an interest in playing with me (before the days of FetLife).
When we played I safeworded, calling Red, three times only to have him to continue the exact thing that I said I didn’t want on the spot that was already sore, the very thing I negotiated as off-limits and for the DMs to walk by or watch oblivious even when in earshot of “Red”. He ended the scene by shoving three fingers up my cunt as my face is covered in snot and tears and asking me if I liked it, expecting to be able to start on my front-side since it was clear he thought that went well.
I told him I was done and was non-verbal for the rest of the night. I didn’t confront him because it was clear that he enjoyed himself, chiding and mocking me for not being able to take more…that more would be expected of me next time. And the gall that he thought there would even be a next time combined with the passive-aggressive insult that I wasn’t a good submissive, that I didn’t give my all, that I was lacking in some respect told me that he would only try to justify his poor choices and blame me if I confronted him head-on or publicly about what he did. I was a nobody in Denver at the time nor did I feel strong enough in myself to not only endure having been outed but to also be unwelcome in a community I wanted to be a part of. Who would ever listen to me?
But the fact is, I wasn’t wrong to trust and communicate when things were going badly. I wasn’t wrong to trust someone who was in such a position of authority. I wasn’t wrong to communicate when there was a problem (screaming Red counts!). The only thing I really did wrong was waiting so long to really talk about this.
The parallels between this event and my rape are too sad when you think about it. Much like when I had been raped 16 years ago while hanging out with my friends in their dorm room, I didn’t tell others until much later. Much like the people who witnessed my rape and heard my “No” (and who jerked off as it was happening), no one stepped in to stop it, even when they had a duty to do so. And like 16 years ago I didn’t confront him, but just made sure to avoid him or anyone closely connected with him. As a person, I tend to always put blame on myself and I definitely did for this – I even thanked him a week later in an email (which years later is quite embarrassing):
Thank you for the time you spent last week…I’m still trying to piece together what I’ve learned. The fact that I safeworded concerns me. It’s never happened before, partly because I’ve never been played that hard before. And while you reassured me that I took it well, the tears streaming down my face the whole time also concerns me. This points to unresolved issues I have with my previous Dom that I want to figure out before I play any more with anyone else, including you. There is far too much history to allow it to play out with someone new. I’m grateful that I had the opportunity to play with you, but I don’t think I can go any further than we did. I am not emotionally prepared for it…not to mention physically ready for it either. I will be taking the next few months to really piece together where I am with D/s right now…and whether it even still fits into my life. You opened my eyes to a lot of issues I’ve been failing to face up to…and it’s given me a lot to think about. Again, I am very grateful for that…but with where I am right now, where my experiences have led me to. This was a chance to see whether we’re a good fit for each other and sadly I don’t think we are, especially considering the issues I still need to work through in my own life.Email, Sept 22, 2007
It isn’t about naming names as naming the problem
What prompted this post? It isn’t to publicize his mistakes. It’s to share an experience that, much like the date rape I survived, is far more common and one where I see a lot of others wrestling with whether they should say something or just keep quiet. What’s worse is I see others who continue to act badly, who take no responsibility for their actions or the impact they might have on others (particularly in a public space) and continue to act as if they are the ones who are victimized whenever anyone wants to address their behavior.
I’ve had enough. It is precisely the pattern of consume-destroy-silence-shame-repeat that is hurting members of our community and I’ve had enough. Particularly with the influx of people coming to BDSM from 50 Shades I am quite concerned about the model we are setting for those who not only have unrealistic expectations to start but who genuinely feel a draw to practice what we do. What responsibility are we going to take as a community?
I know I’m not the only one who has noticed this. Hell, we wouldn’t have had to have hosted a FuK Yes! party if everything was working smoothly, we were protecting our own community effectively, and people weren’t getting hurt by the same limited few who continue on this path of consumption and destruction. We needed the community conversation and we need a LOT more of them. That conversation needs to continue but more than anything it needs to be followed by action.
The do-nothing or the no-drama response is cowardly, irresponsible, and does not actually fix anything. Nor does crying foul when someone is told they are no longer welcome at a particular venue or event. Nor does retaliation when you or a friend has been asked to stop a particular behavior such as touching things and people who aren’t yours or targeted harassment and stalking. Nor does shaming or silencing someone who decides to speak out about their experience whether privately or publicly.
For those on the “we just don’t know what really happened” or “we don’t have enough evidence yet” fence let me clarify how utterly insulting and insidious that response really is. First of all, there are very few of us in the community who have a law degree even fewer of us who are trained to be third-party neutrals. So to suggest that our community is even qualified to hear or evaluate evidence in any sort of neutral, balanced way is fucking ridiculous. And to sluff it off as if there is some magic organization that we created or even trust to sort out the problems in our community is invincibly ignorant.
When we imply that it is the survivor’s burden to bring forth that evidence in sufficient quantity (judged by whom?) suggests that justice basically consists of victim-shaming, silencing and outright dismissal until some superior (that we haven’t actually designated) finally decides that the complaint is “worthy” of listening to. And in those rare cases where the perpetrator was you know -really, really bad- then we won’t say anything about it publicly, but we’ll have some silent agreement (not always involving the actual stake-holders) on how we will deal with that person. Probation? Supervised by whom? Suspension? For how long? Who gets to decide what is needed to keep our community and its survivors safe?
Justice in our community should be easier, but often is just a trap of mainstream victim blaming summed up with “report or it didn’t happen”.
It’s our job to fix the broken stairs in our community spaces
At the risk of repeating the obvious, here is another link to the article “The Missing Stair”. Pretending you are dealing with the problem by ignoring the problem or rationalizing why it’s not a problem is akin to denial. And, for example, it’s what many families who are confronted with an allegation of sex abuse from within do as well. Denial, shaming and victim-blaming is anything but healthy because abuse is abuse. We as a family, we as a community are in denial and people will continue to be hurt until we wake the fuck up.
Yet when people actually do something about the problem such a party host, a bystander, or community leader who confronts someone either privately or publicly with an issue, the backlash is extraordinary. Whether it was the person who was confronted or their merry band of misfits who do the retaliation, it actively discourages others who felt or experienced the same from speaking up and standing up. But more than that it affirms the original perpetrator’s lack of remorse or empathy and allows the wrong behavior to continue as a pattern harming more people along the way.
Tell me how that is called responsible, much less safe or sane?? And yet, we continue to invite them or at least tolerate them in public spaces despite their alarming lack of concern for the consequences of their own actions. We have acquiesced and turned a blind eye and yet we have no problem judging other institutions such as churches who do the exact same thing.
The minute we call them out on their lack of action, they are on the attack instead of taking any amount of energy to determine whether these survivors might actually be right. Much like the abusers themselves, leaders become oppositional the moment they are confronted with wrong-doing and use every tool in their rationalization toolbox to assert themselves as the actual victim or excuse sexual assault as the survivor “not taking responsibility for themselves”. Blame-shifting is a dangerous defense mechanism, a wobbly, crooked, and sharp one that has been honed by years of people stepping out of its way instead of stopping it. And the more we allow these behaviors to continue the more we are the ones perpetuating the problem instead of solving it.
Lack of self-awareness in a partner is a deal-breaker for me. A non-starter because eventually, they will disappoint me when confronted with their own behavior. And when I see such a gross lack of awareness in the community, I likewise feel unsafe. The excuses and victim blaming make their shocking lack basic remorse and empathy even more dangerous. I do not trust their judgment and want them nowhere near my personal space. I have survived too many violations to my very reasonable boundaries and limits to simply “tolerate” those who excuse this level of harm. Nor am I the only one who feels this way.
We are all stewards of this community.
Look, I deal with conflict. It’s my job. It’s a job I chose. And it’s not that I don’t encourage us to deal with our problems peacefully in private with education or healing conversations. What I’m saying is that the people who are actually doing this have been confronted privately and they continue to engage in this behavior and worse yet, they try to lean on those who were trying to be understanding and compassionate about lapses in judgment by wrongly assuming we are on their side.
I know confrontation is scary to everyone. Everyone has their hackles raised. It’s uncomfortable and it’s hard. And those, like me, who normally are more willing to accommodate and accept blame rather than make anyone feel bad about themselves are the least likely to do it – as I proved in my email above. This is a normal response. But nothing stopped the many witnesses that night from either checking on me or reporting his abuse of my safeword.
When we take the passive way out, we remove ourselves from the community responsibility we share. We throw up our hands and wait for someone else to take care of it. We limit ourselves waiting for someone else, someone with the illusions of actual authority to step up to fix the broken stair.
Not anymore. We are each stewards of this community and responsible for making it as safe as we can.
I am no longer willing to wait for everyone else to wake up to this problem. And I support those who tell problem players that they are not welcome. I’m happy to shut doors of opportunity in our venues, pulling away welcome mats to those who continue to violate others and act without regard to the consequences of their actions. No more skipping over that stair for me.
Victim blaming leaders are quick to point out that personal responsibility, integrity and awareness are everything.
For Further Reading:
When a friend showed me this article today, it was creepy how similar it was to my own experience starting out in the BDSM community. I’ll excerpt a bit of it here for with my own commentary.
When I start to think of the number of times I have been cajoled, pressured, or forced into sex that I did not want when I came into “the BDSM community”, I can’t actually count them. And I never came out about it before, not publicly, for a variety of reasons- I blamed myself for not negotiating enough, or clearly, or for not sticking to my guns, or I didn’t want to be seen as being a drama queen or kicking up a fuss. Plus, the fact is, these things didn’t traumatize me, and I didn’t call it sexual assault or rape, because I felt ok afterwards. There was no trauma, no processing that I needed.