I've been reading in the news about Glenn Marcus, a member of the BDSM community recently convicted in federal court on charges of sex trafficking and forced labor. A woman who'd been in a dominant/submissive relationship with him accused him of forcing her to bottom to him and refusing to remove kinky photos of her from his website. His defense argued that Marcus and the victim had a "contract" to engage in a master-slave relationship, and that the victim had given up her rights to refuse his orders. The jury didn't buy it, and now Marcus is awaiting sentencing.
No one but Marcus and the victim know exactly what happened, but based on what I've read, I'm not surprised the jury convicted him. Absent some more compelling rebuttal of the victim's claims, I would have, too.
What is the difference between BDSM and abuse? Kinky people would like to be able to draw a clear line, but like vanilla sex, it all spins on consent, and consent is a fluid, dynamic thing. You don't give it once and that's it for all time. You give it, either tacitly or overtly, every time you play.
It's not always obvious. I have bratty play partners who mouth off to me. One partner likes to scream, "You are a sadistic fucking bitch, and I hate you!" And I generally laugh and say something like, "Why, yes, I am a sadistic bitch, and you fucking love me for it." I don't stop what I'm doing because I know, from both previous experience and clear negotiation with her, that she isn't really withdrawing consent.
But I never lose sight of the fact that she could withdraw her consent. Anyone I do BDSM with could, at any time. No matter what he/she said they wanted, or whether he/she signed a "slave contract," or took a blood oath, or had my name tattooed on his/her ass, the minute someone says, "Stop, I don't want to do this anymore" and really means it—well, that's it. Game over. Continue past that point and you're not doing BDSM, you're being abusive and you've lost my moral support.
Did Marcus cross a line? The jury thought so. But when cases like this happen, certain people in the BDSM community will invariably contend that consent was not clearly revoked at the time, but rather was retroactively—and maliciously—withdrawn. That's an unsettling idea for dominants. It makes us think: Can I trust my partners to tell me the truth? Or will they say, "Yes, yes!" now, but turn on me tomorrow?
The lesson for dominants: Know your partner. Negotiate and get clear consent—and, yes, it can be done without being a buzz-kill. And be aware that no matter what someone says, you're taking a leap of faith when you pick up the whip. For submissives: Even if you call yourself a slave, the person primarily responsible for your safety is you. If something's going wrong, say so—promptly. A good dominant will want that information. Someone who doesn't care isn't someone you should belong to.
The Wet Spot's kinky dance party: goth/industrial music, sex, and BDSM, with a younger, more style-conscious crowd. Wet Spot, 1602 15th Ave W, building E, 270-9746, firstname.lastname@example.org, 9 pm—1:30 am, $10, membership required.
FRIDAY 3/30COLUMBIA CITY CABARET
Tamara the Trapeze Lady hosts this sexy variety show featuring Miss Chica Boom, the Titillation Twins, Acrobalance Duet Vern and Anneka, Berlin-based clown Hacki Ginda, and aerialist Michele Francis. Columbia City Theatre, 4916 Rainier Ave S, 605-9920, www.trapezelady.com, 8 pm, $20, 21+.
SATURDAY 3/31LITTLE RED STUDIO
Little Red Studio is an intimate space for erotic performance art. Music, delicious desserts, beverages, and a variety of sexy audience-participation performances, in a new larger space. Little Red Studio, 328-4758, www.littleredstudioseattle.com, 9 pm, $30, reservations recommended.
SUNDAY 4/1WHAT TO DO WHEN THINGS GO WRONG
My partner Max's rope-bondage class, in conjunction with the Bondage Is the Point party. This month: Things can go wrong in bondage scenes; come learn how to keep a little bump from turning into a big problem. Wet Spot, 1602 15th Ave W, building E, 270-9746, www.bondagelessons.com, 2:30 pm, $30/$35, nonmembers welcome at workshop, members only at party that follows.
MONDAY 4/2THE WOMEN'S WELCOMING COMMITTEE
A friendly discussion group for women of all orientations, the WWC meets monthly to answer questions and provide resources for women new to the Seattle BDSM/fetish community. Hot Dish, 2255 NE 65th St, www.wwcseattle.org, 7—9 pm, $3 suggested donation.
For the infantilist crowd: Enjoy seven supersized inflatable rides, roaming clowns, face painters, and other pint-sized entertainments. Seattle Center House, 305 Harrison St, 684-7200, 11 am—4 pm, $7.