Hollywood goes stupid on BDSM

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It has been a while since the whole internet (and not only) was buzzing with “Fifty Shades of Grey” frenzy. Unlike many, I did not run to the cinema to watch it, although I knew I would eventually have to. As somebody interested in alternative erotica and how it makes it into mainstream, watching it was a must.
Despite reading a couple of reviews and personal opinions on it, I went to the cinema with an open mind. Therefore, I can say there are some good scenes, which could have given the watcher a good sense of domination in sex and everything connected with BDSM eroticism. However, the sensuality of these scenes is suppressed and even shattered by all the unnecessary and abusive elements brought into the picture without any real consideration. After paying to see this movie, some of us may feel that it was nothing but a shallow use of controversy for the sake of box office success only and no further considerations.

(Photo: from wikipedia, featured picture of Lady Byron)

Yes, very Hollywood-like indeed, if we are to be very critical of the American movie industry. And as A., my partner, put it, those intimate moments between Dominant and Submissive which are not messed up in the movie might have actually been copied from whatever material available in the sex and porn movies industry. They somehow managed to give a glimpse on the erotic pact which is part of the BDSM game, but only to later aggravate everything and turn eroticism into abuse.

And this is the reason why I am writing now about “Fifty Shades of Grey” in English, after I have done it in Romanian. Not to talk extensively about the movie itself and to mainly criticise how they portrayed the Dominant as an abuser, exactly what alternative sexuality needed, but to debate how harmful it actually is.
To do this, I will present you the following plot: a very successful business man, who is also gay, gets very passionate about a young student, who is not very certain he really likes men or not. The successful guy does everything he can to seduce and convince the subject of his desires, but only to abuse his younger lover when he finally gives in. At the same time, you actually find out that the seducer has been raped himself by an older man when he was 15, which made him become gay, and now he just somehow propagates unto the others what happened to him, saying “this is how I am”. Nice, isn’t it?

I want to believe not many would accept today such a plot on homosexual eroticism, and for good reasons. Bringing into the mainstream the idea that somehow people with other ways of expressing their sexuality than the majority are deranged, have a problem, were traumatised and therefore became little monsters in their intimate lives does not seem clever at all. Society today is still tarred with misconceptions, fears and very judgemental views on the different, and yet another media product reinforcing such things is not what we miss.  

Speaking of homosexuality, I wonder how many people know that it used to be scientifically classed as a paraphilia, which meant a sexual deviation with not very favourable psychological implications. Doing a little research, we can read that homosexuality, although it was no longer considered a crime even in the interwar period (Poland 1932, Denmark 1933), was still officially seen a “disease” or “mental disorder” until 1973. That year, the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), due to sustained civil protests and lobby from the gay community in the 70s.
Think of it: how intelligent can it be to judge a person as suffering of a disorder on the basis of his/her sexuality only, if it causes no harm to anybody, if it is consensual and a source of contentment and joy?

It is true that, despite the antidiscrimination laws being clear in most of the Western world today, they cannot make each and every person think. Nothing can really make people use their brain capacity if they prefer not to. But at least stigmatising others on grounds of their personal preferences cannot be tolerated in a society which respects human rights.

Going back to “Fifty Shades of Grey”, the main message it conveys is that whoever might call themselves a sexual Dominant is actually an abuser, while whoever sees themselves as sexually Submissive are actually victims. Is this really needed?
Back in Bucharest, in 2008 I have met a guy over the internet whom I became friends with. We never dated, it was instant friendship. We talked about photography, books and also about sexuality. When I came back from the hospital, after I had my appendix removed and nearly got peritonitis in the process, he brought me a big photography album by a renowned Japanese artist. He was, to my knowledge, the first Dominant I have ever met in real life. Had he not told me, I would have never known. This guy was very polite, very intelligent, loved paragliding and other challenging sports, he loved photography and apparently he liked tying women up when he had sex with them. One day I actually met an ex of his, they stayed friends, and they were both very relaxed in each other’s presence, joked a lot and laughed a lot.

My male Dominant friend never actually told me a lot on his personal sexual preferences. He was a discrete guy. But he did tell me some stories, and also that there are some idiots out there calling themselves Dominants who treat their Submissive so badly and just push them beyond their limits. He completely condemned those people, and apparently would always encourage and even help the abused submissives to get out of that type of a relation.

So what about Christian Grey? Is he a Dominant or an abuser? Unfortunately, I guess the first and only advice my friend would give to Anastasia would be: get away from him! He will not have a relation with you, he will just abuse you and demand you be happy for being abused. And this is just wrong.
Let’s take it step by step (in big steps, we do not have all day, actually). In the beginning, Christian says he will not touch Ana until she signs the contract. What does he do? Break his own word, right away! Would you trust this man to tie you up and use a whip on you for sexual arousing? I know I wouldn’t.

Next? He presses on, despite the fact he knows Ana does not have any solid sexual experience. Apparently, the movie wants us to believe that the attractive Mr. Grey actually wants Ana so much that he makes one mistake after another. Does he, really? Well, then theory confirmed: this guy is nothing but an idiot with a very well equipped playroom, but with a very poorly equipped brain. After 12 years of experience, all he can do is loose patience, not follow his own terms (having BDSM sex with Ana only after she is fully aware and fully consenting), and at the end truly abuse his new lover? This man does not deserve to be in any kind of a relation.
And what is his actual “excuse” for it? Well, poor thing, he was the son of a heroine prostitute, he was traumatised in early childhood, before ending up as adopted by a very wealthy family. Dare I say that this is the story, up to the being adopted and raised by a high class family, of so many criminals who never ever get out of trouble. But because this guy is attractive, rich and influential we should somehow feel sorry for him and hope that Ana comes back to and tames this wild beast, shouldn’t we?

I hope at this point it is quite clear why such a movie does not do any service to people who prefer to express their sexuality through Bondage and Discipline, Dominance and Submission, Sadism and Masochism. While DSM-5, the current American Psychiatric Association manual (which is a benchmark for the whole world in matters of psychiatry and psychology), released in 2015, excludes BDSM practices from any clinical classification as long as they are consensual and do not cause harm or distress, a Hollywood product throws things back to where you might be considered demented if you prefer sexual arousal by means of kink toys (ropes, whips, crops, handcuffs, and other such gadgets which apparently can be fun).

Since I have learnt about the history of how different sexual orientations used to be criminalized and also about discrimination by law on basis of one’s sexuality, I admired the work of Charles Moser, a physician specialised on sexual medicine. Based in San Francisco (what a nice coincidence, isn’t it? the city of the Beat generation), he is very well known and respected in his field, a professor on sexuality studies, and also a specialist who has long advocated against diagnosing different sexual preferences as disorders. I have read some of his work, and one very strong argument he brought against what was stated in DSM-4 was the following: 1. BDSM practices were clinically diagnosed because they pose the risk of causing harm. Therefore, a Dominant or a Submissive suffers of a disorder. 2. Extreme sports such as mountain climbing pose the risk of causing serious harm and even death. Still, no respectable psychiatrist would think of diagnosing a mountain climber who reaches the Everest as suffering of a disorder.

With the changes made in the psychiatry manual, people such as Charles Moser can be finally happy that their life long work brought positive changes for society as a whole. People writing books and making movies such as “Fifty Shades of Grey” cannot. When society as a whole and many uninformed people do not know enough about something, you do not just give them a very negative view of the subject, in terms of “how not to”. You cannot start explaining and enlarging people’s views on something which is not known to them… by telling them what that particular thing is not meant to be. I do not know how it is presented in the book, but I did not hear anybody protesting too much that they have messed the story up with the movie.

So when you want to write on a controversial and very delicate subject such as what people might prefer in their intimacy, what arouses them and can be classified as unusual, you must be socially irresponsible to make it look like abuse, and not even criticize it enough.
Fortunately, in today’s society we have tools to get informed, read and educate ourselves, then write and give others the chance to consider and dismiss products which can only be but called stupid and misleading, and not much else.

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