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In January 2001, some discussion on a mailing list prompted me to return to the question of how the M/s Subculture can coexist with modern society, given that we go against some of its basic building blocks. These were my feelings at the time.

It's not so hard for the mainstream BDSM scene to get more public tolerance, since they can come up with slogans like "Safe, Sane and Consensual" or say that safewords are always used. This means that they are still within the Western tradition of guaranteed personal liberty, inalienable rights etc.

This isn't much good for us though, because M/s and Ownership relationships embody the concept of alienable rights that can indeed be removed. We're not just talking about the weekend SM player who's happy to be whipped. Our subculture accepts the use of confinement (Kidnapping?), physical punishment (Assault?), body modification (Grievous Bodily Harm?) etc by the Master with the decision taken solely by him.

Some BDSM organisations even explicitly identify as abusive some acts which might be fine in an M/s relationship. eg the US National Leather Association's Statement on Domestic Violence includes the following as signs of abuse: ( )

  • Does your partner ever hit, choke, slap, or otherwise physically hurt you outside the context of a scene?
  • Has he/she ever restrained you against your will, locked you in a room, or used a weapon of any kind?
  • Battering is not "agreed" upon; there is an absence of "safe words."
  • Are you confused about when a scene begins and ends?
  • Do you feel obliged to have sex?
  • Does your partner limit access to work or to material resources?
  • Are you or your partner emotionally dependent on one another?

I don't expect to be seeing an "M/s Subculture Statement on Abuse" that sounds anything like that ...

So what do we do? Keep our heads down? Say we're in an alternative lifestyle that cannot coexist with society if they become aware of us? Or compromise our lives to fit in with what our "Leather Leaders" say we can do?

Personally, I think our long term welfare is best served by the broadening of the concept of consent. SM test cases about consent to "assault" help this, but so do non-BDSM issues such as voluntary euthanasia - which the Dutch have now legalised:

At this point it is useful to distinguish between talking about "consent" as part of jumping through hoops to gain legality and tolerance for what we do; and using ongoing consent within the relationship itself. (Once a submissive is enslaved, then the presence or absence of consent doesn't alter the substance of her ownership.)

Ultimately what we would need is the acceptance of consensual non-consent as a defense in court - ie that the submissive can agree to set aside legal rights and have her non-consent overriden in the future. Currently, if I were to put lili in my cell and keep her there despite a tantrum and statements that she wanted to come out, then I believe I would be vulnerable to a charge of kidnapping. However, if I could use some form of legally valid consent as a defense, then I would be on much firmer ground.

I don't know what we'd need to do, to get mainstream society to swallow that. Maybe some form of witnessed declaration rather like a will, perhaps like the consent to euthanasia declarations the Dutch have now legalised? From a legal and "social" point of view, there certainly needs to be safeguards above and beyond what we do already.

I'm sure that the slaves of other Masters I know haven't been kidnapped off the street and aren't silently suffering behind closed doors. But as a member of society, I'm not prepared to take that on trust from other dominants, especially given the predators that are out there. I believe it's fundamental to the working of society that "might is right" justifications are not accepted. Just because someone can kidnap a woman off the street, strip her of her rights and hold her in "slavery", does not mean we should accept that. For onlookers to the relationship, the submissive's initial consent is the ethical test we should require to protect our neighbours, our families and ourselves.

Last updated 12 June 2001.

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