Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Other worlds

There’s something about the idea of publicly acknowledged power exchange. Kinky relationships in private are all very well, but for some, the more people who know, the hotter it gets. That may have something to do with the humiliation factor. I’ve noticed that readers who hate humiliation seem to prefer their fictional characters to keep their kinky behaviour to themselves. A preference for out-of-the-closet m/s may also have to do with the intensity of the power exchange. Fictional slavery that’s gone public is slavery with law and custom behind it. That means the owner has Power with a capital P. If that gave you a yummy little shiver, put up your hand.

When the story is about masters and slaves, owners and property, authors cook up all sorts of creative ways to make the bondage stick. Mysterious islands, pirates, slave planets, aliens with a fetish for human chattel. Secret societies, thugs with warehouses full of caged beauties, oriental flesh markets. Or historical fiction set in a time when people could be property. Whatever will make the slavery “real.”

Consent is, of course, a tricky issue in stories like these. I had to maneuver the plot of Owned and Owner through some narrow windows so that my s-type could be utterly helpless and yet totally consenting. Many authors go with the I-hate-it-I-love-it approach, as their outraged heroine succumbs to her inner submissive. And if the heroine isn’t kidnapped into slavery, it’s astonishing how often she’s kidnapped by bad guys and has to be rescued by her true dom (with a nod to Annabel’s rescue theme). It’s as if the kidnapping has to get in there one way or another.

Anyway, my main point was about the elaborate worlds we concoct for our naughty purposes. What imaginations we have! How many ways we contrive to render our characters helpless! I don’t know about you, but from a very early age I spent every minute of my time between lights-out and sleep, creating worlds like this. Sometimes I’d spend more time working out the society’s custom’s and belief systems than visualizing the payoff: naked slaves in bondage. Speculative kinky sociology; now there’s a specialty!

The book I’m working on currently has a string of fantasy worlds, so this sort of thing is on my mind a lot. What about you; Is there a secret slave society living in your head?


  1. Consent is a tricky issue ... the I-hate-it-I-love-it approach ... Yes, Yes, Yes! I made this point once before but I really believe that the appeal of the TPE or slavery theme lies in including scenes of punishment or humiliation that have the feel of being nonconsensual, because the slave would never consent to what’s happening outside the relationship, but still within a basically consensual story. Purely consensual stories without those elements I personally find bland. It works the other way too, because it seems that many, perhaps most noncon stories involve the victim eventually loving it. What it comes down to is that our sadistic/masochistic fantasies demand that the submissive suffer a lot - I mean isn’t that what it’s all about? - while our moral sense revolts against a purely noncon story treated with any degree of genuine realism.

    I’ve never read any world-where-slavery-is-legal stories, but I would guess that the I-hate-it-I-love-it approach would work there too.

  2. Hmm. So much depends on what turns your crank. For me, one absolutely crucial element is that the Power Is Real. Another is that the sub willingly gives up control. The moral issue is definitely part of that. I'm not sure it's the whole picture. Genuine abuse and victimhood is simply abhorrent and not sexy at all. Even if the sub isn't enjoying what she's going through in that moment, she is still getting what she wants in the long run. And walking that fine line is what makes the fictional relationship work, I think.

  3. Well, in AST there was the scene where Anders turns Maia over to his lesbian friend. That's the kind of humiliation scene I enjoy. (That's not to say I don't also enjoy scenes where the sub is having the time of her life - my own books contain both.) If that scene didn't take place within a consensual relationship it would have been repulsive. Scenes where "the sub isn't enjoying what she goes through in that moment" is precisely what I meant by having the feel of being nonconsensual. I'm not sure we really disagree in substance. Or maybe we do. Perhaps that scene I mentioned above meant something different to you.

  4. I think we're saying exactly the same thing; no disagreement here. Yes, that's what that scene meant to me: Anders had the power to make Maia do something that she really didn't want to do, something that humiliated her, and the benefits to her were only in the long term -- that overall she loves being controlled and helpless.

    My only additional thought is that I'm sure there are some people who get off on genuinely non-consensual bdsm. Their consciences may rebel, but their fantasies are what they are. In my own case, and perhaps in yours, the lack of consent makes the story repulsive rather than arousing. Probably a matter of hardwiring.

  5. It’s the authors’ “consciences” that rebel in noncon, because from the few I’ve read and from descriptions it seems there are always strategies employed to take some of the sting out: the victim ends up loving it, the victim is a nasty person and deserves it. They also tend to be written in a melodramatic style, sometimes with a touch of humor that makes it like one of those campy old horror stories we love to laugh at. But in preferring consensual I refuse to claim the moral high ground - I do happen to like (though not exclusively) scenes of punishment or pure sadism and the consensual background is how I satisfy my “conscience.”

    Actually I’ve never experienced any crisis of conscience over my kinky desires, or about enjoying extreme things in fiction. My original statement that we like to see the sub suffer was a deliberately pointed one - sadomasochism is a large part of BDSM. Sadism is morally suspect in a way that masochism is not, and as one who identifies with the Dom side I have a different perspective on it than you perhaps do. I am acutely conscious of the need for these dark impulses to be domesticated, and also of the function of fiction in providing an outlet for extreme fantasies that go beyond what many of us would want to do in real life.

    Incidentally, my M/s novels are practically vanilla compared to yours; I don’t want to give the impression that they’re veritable orgies of sadism. I think for you the sadomasochistic element may actually be less important. What’s distinctive about your work is the emphasis on bondage. Maia likes being controlled so being restrained a lot doesn’t make her suffer. But I see the main point of AST as the imaginative realization of a true TPE relationship. This allows Anders to do things to Maia that he knows she doesn’t like; whether because he enjoys her suffering or is indifferent to it is perhaps a moot point. And that goes back to my original point that the M/s narrative accommodates such scenes while domesticating them by embedding them within an overall consensual relationship.

  6. Interesting that you say the sadomasochistic element may be less important in my fiction. I would have said that it's very important, but that a lot of other things are just as central, such as bondage and orgasm denial. But of course you're right that the story of the relationship is the core.

    By the way, Maia does suffer in the constant bondage. And Anders certainly enjoys that.

    I can certainly sympathize with the dom side and the need to find a way to mesh sexuality and ethics. That's a tricky balancing act.

  7. I read AST some time ago and its a long book; I wouldn't want to have to take a quiz on it now. But thank you for your comments, they've been very illuminating.