What’s on Order: Safe, Sane, and Consensual Political Discourse, Taking a Lesson from the Sex-Positive, Kink Community

FYI: This post is an exploration of how we can use the sex-positive skills involved in negotiating kink within political discourse. It also contains mention of sexual assault. That mention is not graphic, but is it there, so please protect yourself. 

Safe, sane, and consensual (SSC). Risk accepted, consensual kink (RACK). Safe words. Negotiated hard and soft limits. After care. That language is going to sound common place to folks in the kink community, because opening your body, your mind, or your heart to other people is a big fucking deal.

I got to thinking this morning that maybe I could use some of these skills when I’m talking politics.  I am, by no means, an expert on sex-positive kink, but I’ve done my fair share of exploration, and agency and consent are two things which I take seriously in all facets of my life, especially when my life intersects with other people. It’s going to require some self-awareness, but in the end, I need to change the way I deal with folks with opposing views. These days political conversations with the opposition are brief and usually end up being a horror show. I’d like to turn them into something that might further everyone’s understanding of each other, like a scene (a pre-planned, pre-agreed space where kink happens), but with political ideas instead of whatever tickles your toes. Even if it doesn’t work, at least I’ve made an attempt to understand another human being.

See, I haven’t felt safe since November 8th, 2016. I’ve always been political. I’ve even had my moments of “What the fuck is happening here?” in the past. I remember thinking the world was going to end when W. won in 2004. Ah, good times. It’s never been like this, though. So, let’s start off with who I am. I’m a white cis-woman, which means I’m a hell of a lot safer than folks who are Black or Trans or Muslim. But I’m also openly pansexual. I believe I have a responsibility to not hide behind straight privilege because my husband is a cis-man. I’m a vocal advocate for LGBTQIA rights and abortion rights. I’m a feminist. I’m an atheist. I have a chronic illness which requires treatment to the tune of $35,000+ per year. I’m a rape survivor.

That makes a lot of the shit that’s happening infuriating, terrifying, and personal.  Any readers with “snowflake” comments may heretofore shove them up their ass, and that, my friends, is a hard limit. Being triggered may be an overused term but when it’s real, it’s real. Think about how many people (men (trans/cis), women (trans/cis), non-binary, and gender-fluid) have been victims of sexual assault, rape, and/or incest. Then think about what it’s like to have a man who is a confirmed sexual predator as the President of your country. When I was 11 years old my dad found a letter from a boy in my backpack. He pinned me to the couch and asked me if I liked having boys “groping my crotch.”  How do you think it felt to hear the man who was eventually elected President saying that he could grab women’s “pussies” when ever he wanted to, without their consent. Now imagine knowing that people in your own family voted for a man who has triggered some of your most emotionally difficult memories.

Stings like a mother fucker, doesn’t it?

Discussions about health care and the erasure of LGBTQIA rights impact my life and the lives of people I love. It touches the lives of people that I’ve advocated for as a Social Worker.  Add to that plate a heaping serving of climate change, racism, domestic and international terrorism, rape culture, and the gun lobby and it’s starts to feel overwhelming.

But as scary as it is, that doesn’t mean I can stop talking about it, to anyone and everyone who will listen, and I don’t think I’m alone in that sentiment. The problem is that I’ve got find a way to have difficult conversations with folks whose opinions differ from my own without turning into a rage beast or needing to dust off my DBT skills to navigate a panic attack.

Lobbing invective across the DMZ of the Twitter-verse isn’t helping anyone…I’ve got to start finding a way to have difficult conversations without turning into a rage beast…

Lobbing invective across the DMZ of the Twitter-verse isn’t helping anyone. Telling someone off on Facebook shuts the conversation down. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve freaked out  at someone on public media before, but I’m trying to be better.

My attempts at having a sane conversations led  me to the idea that negotiating the boundaries of a conversation like a scene, might make it easier once the subjects get personal. The worst that could happen is that the other person gets bored and walks away before we even begin to talk about the issues. But what if the best possible outcome happens and two people of opposing views have a rational conversation about something that scares them both, and they walk away with a better understanding of each other?

Now seems like the time to introduce some kink basics. A “scene” is a pre-planned space where the participants have talked out what’s going to happen before they play.  Negotiating a scene is all about making sure that before you start, you know what is and isn’t okay to do. “Hard limits” are boundaries that are set in stone and “soft limits” are more “maybe, but check in with me first.” A “safe word” is for when things need to stop immediately, for whatever reason. “After care” is just what it sounds like, taking care of each other afterwards to make sure everyone got what they needed, and figure out what worked and what didn’t work.

I thought about my most recent kerfuffle on Twitter. What might have happened if I had DM’d the dude who had called out a tweet of mine about the dangers of “religious freedom” as it is conceived on the right, and said, “I’m all about having this convo, but can we agree to some limits first?” or “Before we get started,  I won’t call you names or dismiss you, and being dismissive of my views and calling me an idiot or naïve is a hard limit. If you can agree to not doing that, then I’m game, if not, then that won’t work for me.”

I probably would have saved both of us some time and rescued the blood vessels I burst while I was screaming into my pillow afterwards. Let’s just be clear, substantive dialogue is almost impossible 140-characters at a time.

What would happen if there were a safe-word that folks who were having a political conversation agreed to? What if using that safe-word started a dialogue about what had felt gross in the moment, so the conversation could continue? Imagine hard-core, down and dirty political debate, where raised voices had been negotiated as okay, but name calling wasn’t, and afterwards people checked in with each other? What could we learn from each other if we made a space where it was safe to listen?

That sounds a little hopeful. I mean, I’m not going to promise that when I’m discussing my own views, outside of debate, that I’m going to tone done the level of passion I have for the issues that concern me.  I’m still pissed off about what’s going on in the US and the world and I want to talk about what I see. I will commit to making every effort to negotiate safe, sane, and consensual political debate with folks who are interested and I will respectfully decline to engage with people who won’t honor my boundaries.

Fuck it. I’m going to give it a whirl and if you feel so led, try it too. If it works spread the word that Safe, Sane and Consensual Political Discourse is the way to go. Who knows, maybe this will also create some space for folks to see that the Sex-Positive, Kink Community’s contributions to our culture don’t end at the bedroom door.

One can only hope.

A Little Extra: Here’s a link to a fantastic article about understanding consent through the LGBTQ and Kink Community on HuffPost: Queer Voices, by Tyler Kingkade: Trying to Understand Consent: Ask the LGBTQ and Kink Communities.

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