50 Shades Of Opinion

It’s just a film – just a fictional story – about two people involved in a relationship that includes a sexual element. Just normal people, getting up to the things that love, sex and relationships involve: intimacy and sexual exploration. The catch is – that sexual exploration’s role playing is seen as controlling, and abusive and not unlike rape…

And everyone has an opinion. From letters from concerned psychiatrists to scary mommies to Twitterers. Everyone. And that’s OK.

Let me start off by qualifying myself, like the other writers, reviewers, critics etc ad infitium have done, just so we’re clear, before I unpack MY opinion:

IMG_3298I am a single, forty-something gay male. I am a rape survivor…and I play in the BDSM world.

I am a submissive, like Ana, in Fifty Shades – but unlike Ana, I have been playing in this space for over two decades – since my late teens. Since before I was raped by my boyfriend and a friend of his. They were not into BDSM and my rape did not happen in a BDSM situation.

I am not “broken inside“. I do have a therapist, who helps me unpack the word and my place in it, just so we’re clear on that score.


Fifty Shades of Grey is a film; it’s a story. It touches lightly – and with a lot of accuracy – on the world of BDSM and just two of the many different roles that exist, the dominant and the submissive.

It’s just a film, like I said – and in 90 minutes it is impossible to fully explore the entire panoply of what BDSM entails.

Take for example the 1991 film ‘By The Sword‘ that told the story of a fencing coach and his team. The film obviously had to show fencing, which is an incredibly complex and fast sport, but had to dumb it down to a large degree so that the ordinary movie goer who was NOT a fencer could understand the basics of how it’s done and how a winner is determined. Real fencers everywhere scoffed at Eric Roberts’ laughable footwork and the exaggerated movements, done so that the non-fencing public could follow the blade play. Now think of Fifty Shades’ BDSM in the same way…you have barely skimmed the surface, and the film touches on the two very basic roles, that of dominant and submissive.

It’s easy to see why that is taken for rape, where the attacker subdues their victim.

The difference between the two is this: rape is an act of violent, aggressive abuse. BDSM is an exploration of your body’s sensations. Often it is not sexual; it is sensual. (Think of the scene where Christian flogs Ana’s hand…)

In the film, you caught a glimpse of some of the toys that we use (and boy, would I kill for a playroom like Christian’s!) – but there is so much more that is explored in this fascinating, sensual, and above all consenting world we play in.

I am what’s known as a sensation seeker – I submit to the sensation of touch – of skin. Hot wax. Ice cubes. Suede strips drawn slowly over my back. Leather floggers. Rubber whips. Wooden jacks. When I am at play, my eyes are masked and the room is silent, so I can focus purely on the sensation on my skin.

For me, BDSM is not sexual – it is sensual and intimate. As I said I am gay and a submissive. And the dominant that I submit to is a woman. Our play sessions are therefore not sexual – you can see that, right? Any play that we have is discussed at length for days before we engage. We discuss what sensations I want to explore and what toys I want her to use, and for how long. We don’t have a contract, like Christian and Ana – but that could be fun, and part of the role play.

My dominant knows about my rape; we are both clear that I am not recreating that awful night, in fact when we are at play, that night doesn’t even enter my mind. I am completely focussed on the beautiful, sensuous things happening to my head, my back, my arms and my legs – and yes, the rest of my body, let’s be honest.

We are good friends, beyond this BDSM play space, and connect as equals.


One scene did smack of rape to me big time. She said no. Repeatedly.” – Sam’s comment on Twitter is valid – and that is the risk you run when you produce a film where you have to pick a fraction of the multitude of aspects and facets of such a wide subject. So let me clarify this a bit more, so you can understand it:

In the carefully scripted play between a dominant and their submissive, it is the submissive who is in complete control at all times. Read that again – it is the submissive who is in complete control at all times. The play starts and ends on their say so. We have safe words that at all times guide the play:

Green: carry on, I like this and I want more

Yellow: I am at my limits, carry on slowly – but with care

Red:  Stop.

Why do we need these words, if it is consensual? Answer – because this is a role play, and often we’ll say things like “Stop!” or “No!” because we are living out a fantasy – we like to play, just like you when you put on your French maid’s outfit, or talk funny-dirty like Kevin Kline in ‘A Fish Called Wanda‘.

More importantly, when we are at play, we are often pushing our own personal boundaries of how much we can take (how much hot wax, how much ice rubbed over your nipples and for how long…) Why? Well, why do you try to beat your personal best when you’re running, or lift more weights at the gym than you did yesterday? Because we’re competitive – and never more so than when we are in competition with ourselves, always striving to do and be more than we did and were yesterday. It’s that simple. And it doesn’t need a thesis from a psychiatrist, or a panicky scary mom blog to fuel the poorly-informed hysteria.


 

It would be a far better thing for that psychiatrist and that mom to do some proper research before advocating and pontificating about a lifestyle they know only what they gleaned from 90 minutes in a theatre (IF that!)


 

Because otherwise, it’s fear mongering. It’s like the old days of “don’t talk to that queer, you’ll catch gayness from him!” – it’s facile, infantile and laughable. Stop that.

But ultimately, like all submissives, you are in complete control of your knowledge and your opinion. Use it wisely and don’t force it down everybody else’s throats. If you do, I’ll call RED! (See what I did there?)

My opinion? It’s a great film. It’s shallow, light entertainment that is beautifully filmed and has a pretty amazing soundtrack. And it’s fiction. Don’t get so hyped up about it. The sensationalism will pass, so those of us who play in this space will not engage in the fickle media spotlight – it will move on to something else tomorrow.

I do wonder though, if that psychiatrist and that scary mommy are also writing letters to their sons for every action movie that portrays a reality where guns and violence save the day; where life ends with a happy ending; where driving too fast and too furious is a ‘thing’ – are they? No. Of course not. Because driving fast and shooting people (except if you’re Oscar) is not the sensitivity of the moment.

We DO have a HUGE problem with violent sexual abuse of our women and children – and to confuse the matter with a romance like Fifty Shades is puerile, and simple. Don’t get caught up in it, and don’t lose sight of the real challenges we’re facing in life today, just because of this one harmless movie – yes, harmless: the harm comes from the misunderstanding and the hysterical barnyard psychology that’s vomited out as a result.

I completely agree with Gaelyn – if it’s your thing, watch it. If not, don’t.

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POST SCRIPT: Having chatted to a friend about this – one thing that needs to be mentioned is that in both the books and to a lesser a degree in the film, Ana does not completely trust Christian. In BDSM play, as in all relationships – trust is an absolute foundational requirement. If you don’t trust your partner, you are open to all sorts of trouble, that taken too far becomes emotionally or physically harmful.  There is a lesson in that for all of us – and it is not peculiar to the BDSM lifestyle, but to ALL relationships, regardless of whether they have a sexual element or not.

© Dave Luis 2015. All Rights Reserved.

NOTE: I’ve scene some pretty abusive commentary out there – take care to comment here respectfully, as this blog is MY space, and I will delete and block anything that does not contribute to the conversation in a constructive way. I am ALWAYS happy to answer questions and help educate – I am in no way trying to convince you, convert you or sell you my opinion as the only one that matters. I respect that you may have a completely different view. Take the time to read this, to read up on BDSM, to ask questions and become informed – it’s always better that way when you enter a debate.

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27 Comments

  1. Beautifully written piece.

    If all the naysayers out there took even half an hour to do some REAL research on BDSM I think they would change their tunes quite quickly.

    I read the books, they were ok. The writing WAS awful, EL James is just lucky that hers was the first ‘main stream’ book out there and she reaped the benefits of the hype because she is definitely NOT a writer.

    I havent seen the film yet, mostly because Im not sure I want to spend that amount of money on it. I think I will wait for an Avengers or Superman movie 😉

    Oh, if you want to read a fantastic book (the first in an 8 part series, split into 2 sets of books) set in the BDSM world, that is extremely well written, has an amazing plot with tons of twists and turns, and real, believable, lovable characters, then download The Siren by Tiffany Reisz, you will thank me!! I have read every book, novella and free short story the woman has written, she is funny and smart and honest. http://www.amazon.com/Siren-Original-Sinners-Tiffany-Reisz/dp/0778313530/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1424238093&sr=8-1&keywords=the+siren

    1. Thanks for the compliments, Gina – and yes, what we’re dealing with is (at least) two criticisms – EL James’ writing (bad) and her portrayal of BDSM (superficial) and somehow this is all being misconstrued as an advocacy or rape and abuse.
      Thanks for the reference to Tiffany Reisz – going to look her up immediately!

  2. Absolutely loved this! Like many, I am curious about the lifestyle and the 50 Shades story allowed me to tiptoe gently into what it is all about, and get an idea about the pleasure that can be had. Thanks for opening up and sharing your experiences and practices with us. Definitely going to share this so more people can get some decent insight into the safe and sensual space that you occupy.

    1. Thanks Gaelyn – and thanks for being one of the few level-headed people who ask questions and engage without prejudice or judgement – much respect for that!

  3. Found this post fascinating! I also have no clue about the real BDSM world and although I read the books, I have no interest in watching the film. I’m with Gaelyn and you on this one – watch it if you want to, and just stay away if you don’t. Simple. Thanks for sharing this.

    1. Thanks for commenting – I haven’t read the books, I have just watched the movie – so I also just want to be clear my observations, responses and comments are based on what the movie portrays, and the reactive pieces that have been written about the movie. I appreciate the books will go into far more detail.
      As it stands, the movie itself needs to be seen simply as what it is: a story, and not a cultural subverter.

  4. You know I just wrote a review about the movie and loved it and then I read yours and realized I didn’t do the movie justice or the fact that yes the book is more descriptive of the BDSM lifestyle but the movie is definitely more sensitive to all the viewers. While I myself don’t practice BDSM i never felt out of place watching the few scenes of it (compared to reading it) so I agree with you. Also people who haven’t even read the books and then want to critique the movie have really annoyed me because they weren’t prepared for what the movie was going to demonstrate and if they had they would see it was beautifully done … X

    1. Would love to read your review – please share the link.
      I think it’s important to note that there will always be a distinct difference between the books and the film, and the film is not the big evil it is made out to be.
      Thanks for your insights!

  5. Wow – this article it just….incredible! I had zero knowledge of BDSM before I read the books but after reading your article, I’ve come to realize that there is MUCH more to be researched than just what the movie portrays. Thank you for sharing your story and experience with us 🙂

  6. Brave brave Dave and BRAVO!!!!
    I LOVED this post! So thank you for sharing it. I’ve read 50 Shades and Tiffany Reisz and I LOVED the books & the exploration into a topic that has been taboo in society, while widely practiced for so long.
    I’ve found the fear mongering around the film ridiculous. Someone actually told me her biggest issue with it was that it was normalizing this kind of behavior and could increase pedophilia! Um… no! How?
    I especially loved this:
    “I do wonder though, if that psychiatrist and that scary mommy are also writing letters to their sons for every action movie that portrays a reality where guns and violence save the day; where life ends with a happy ending; where driving too fast and too furious is a ‘thing’ – are they? No. Of course not. Because driving fast and shooting people (except if you’re Oscar) is not the sensitivity of the moment.”
    Because that has been my biggest issue with the fear mongering, it seems ridiculous to me, if fiction turned into fact, we’d all be in pretty big shit every time we went to the movies or read a book.

    The other thing I found upsetting about the negativity was that it made me (and I’m sure a lot of women like me) feel dirty for being sexually liberated, for enjoying a bit of fantasy. It took me right back to that feeling of a woman’s body being dirty and shameful and that sex somehow for us should be less about pleasure and more about duty. It’s a stigma I’ve struggled with all my life and it took work on my part to liberate myself from that archaic school of thought. Why can’t I have fantasies, why can’t I enjoy those fantasies when I’m not hurting anyone in the process, why is it dirty for a woman to have kinky fantasies? I also couldn’t help noticing that a lot of the “shaming” was by women directed at other women. Really now?

    As for all the posts about “what I want my daughter to know about 50 shades…”I’ll say this: Firstly, my daughters are little so no need to worry about that just yet, they won’t be reading or watching this movie for a long time to come. Secondly, as important as it is to me to raise daughters of high moral standards, it’s also important to me that I raise girls who will grow into confident young women, comfortable with their sexuality and able to explore their own pleasure, when the time comes, without feeling shame or dirty.

    I think people miss the point… I don’t think 50 Shades was written as a political piece or to be politically correct. I don’t even think the author anticipated it ever blowing up into the sensation that it has. In my opinion, it was written as a piece of fiction, total fantasy, escapism, a little bit of erotica for regular women to enjoy. And it did just that.

    Thanks again for sharing to honestly and openly!

    1. Ditto your thoughts – I detest that the reaction to movie has been to make us feel shame and feel dirty – I refuse to take on those emotions. I am very clear on the fact that our play space is not degrading, nothing to be ashamed of – and also, not everyone’s cup of tea.
      And yes – if fiction turned into fact, well, we’d have to ban all books and films and songs and stories and what a boring life that would be.
      Thank you for your utterly brilliant, long, considered and personal response – especially mentioning your role as parent – I wish there were more realists like you out there!

  7. Nice – bloody well written, after this I may consider watching the movie after all. I decided from get go to not watch it, not because it’s not my scene but I had thought it could never do the scene justice. That it would only spark sexual outcries and for some a lack thereof but nothing real. Yet this is just a movie, it’s not meant to be the holy grail for the scene. That is what I most importantly take away from your post Dave. A very good point to keep in mind always!

    Warning I have not read the other comments as yet so excuse me if i repeat any sentiments already expressed.

    The world is general is just to not ready for sexually mature films that explore anything other than vanilla and tried and tested relationships and roles. I say this because this reminds me of when Brokeback Mountain entered the scene all them years ago. Everything was about how gay and sexual and out there it was. I watched it only to be underwhelmed at what I had expected would happen.

    People who like shielding knowledge, if it’s in my face I’ll get it away, else I’m fine with it – keep your dirty things in the closet where they belong and not for my children or husband to see. lol.

    From conversation I know a little about this space and how it’s played in and what is done. Thanks for adding that last note, I really think it’s key for people to understand the trust factor. I recall brining this up with you as well. Asking and your answer: “Complete trust”. It’s not like, it is a relationship of intimacy and sensuality and exploration. Like you pushing boundaries for self gratification and reward and pleasure as we all do in one form of another.

    I really wish people would pick the battles they want to fight, to react to things of importance. To educate themselves about things out of their comfort zone. We live in an age where everything is a click away and to think young people don’t explore or know is foolish and ignorant at best.

    1. Thank you Ryan – it is infuriating to me that a story in which BDSM is a background to which the main story plays out sees the wider public reacting in such a “village mob with pitchforks” kind of way. The more they crow their prognostications of dire warnings and evil intent, the more harmful and idiotic they show themselves to be.

  8. My problem with 50 Shades of Meh (besides the shockingly bad writing) is the misrepresentation of BDSM. I am a female submissive who has been in an incredibly emotionally abusive relationship and the fear, distrust and abuse of power that is made to seem acceptable in that stupid little bit of fluff is actually horrifying to me. The fact that this is a mainstream movie and an example of romance to millions of shiny-eyed women makes me hope that they’re smart enough to realise that any real relationship requires trust, equality and exchange of power, not control and abuse.

    I’ve read the books, I’ve been on both sides of the dom/sub spectrum (although mostly sub) and 50 Shades seems to teach that one is involved in BDSM is because one is damaged. Perhaps it is easier for the mainstream to believe that something they don’t understand is wrong rather than just a different option.

    1. I think the important thing to clarify about my writing about the film and the resultant negative attention it is getting is that abuse, fear, distrust, infidelity etc is part of ALL relationships – and shouldn’t be linked to the BDSM community as a defining aspect.
      It’s also to highlight that this is a work of fiction – fiction that covers the entire gamut of human experience, a lot of which is utterly unbearable. We learn through story telling. This is a work of fiction – not unlike Hansel & Gretel – yet are we writing blogs and getting psychiatrists to issue statements of dire warning against step mothers? No. Because it is fiction. Relatable fiction. it is not written as a guide of “This is how your life will be!” and so many people are reacting as if that is EXACTLY the point of the film and books.

  9. Such a well written piece. I found it via Gaelyn’s site. I can not believe how people are hissy fitting over this story! Most of them, probably the ones who read the book secretly, under the covers, and now they are scared of their peaked interest. I believe our world would be so much better if people were more tolerant, spoke about things more, were more open and curious. (And I mean this from every angle, sex, politics, religion, and race). I have not seen the movie but enjoyed the books a ton! Had some very interesting google searches on many occasions as I read about “things” in the book 🙂 There is a world out there much bigger than yours people, open your mind! Explore. If you dislike it once you found out some more, move on. Now you just know another thing “which is not for you” OR even better ….

    1. I think it often comes down a thing of words and actions. So many of us preach tolerance and freedom, and then in the next breath try to control someone else’s reality and expression. Often from a place of misunderstanding.

  10. yes. yes. yes. And again I say. yes.
    Thank you for this Dave. Its the most insightful thing I have read about 50Shades! And the link between the fencing movie and this one was INSPIRED!
    Big open hearted love for you and this post.

    1. Thank you Sarah! I felt it was important for a voice from the community to be heard, to inject some clarity for our community and what it is we do (and don’t do!)

  11. Hi Dave. Firstly, I applaud your honesty in your introduction. I am glad you are able to speak about your past publicly and that you have overcome the challenges set before you. You have my respect.

    Yours is the second review of 50SOG that I’ve read. I agree with all that you’ve said about it being a portrayal of a culture and not indicative of the bigger picture. I concur on all your points about how BDSM should and can be, but I fear that this review has coloured my opinion. Here is the link: http://rs1img.memecdn.com/7-8-10-too-shady_o_4574559.webp

    Just in case the link is stripped, search for “50 Shades of grey gets bondage all wrong. This girls nails it.” If you need some motivation to read it, I’ll give you the highlights: Christian uses alcohol to sway Ana’s consent. When she retracts her consent, he continues. That is rape and sexual assault!

    Lastly, I will admit that I have not watched the movie, and I gave up reading the book because of the atrocious grammar. So my examples are purely hearsay and I offer them because I think it is important to talk about these issues and educate anyone who might be interested in pursuing something that you clearly love – something that can be loving and sensual. From what I have read so far, 50SOG does a poor job or portraying that and we should talk about it.

    1. Thanks for your comment and the link, Peter – it’s a great piece and written from a point of deep understanding.
      What I am also trying to get across here is the separation of the BDSM from the abuse and coercion that many are calling out.
      Again, as with any film trying to cover a wide, wide subject such as BDSM, it will only dip in lightly. And so many of the reviewers and naysayers cannot separate the relationship from the BDSM.

  12. Don’t know how I missed this one! Totally enjoyed reading your opinion Dave, also very insightful. I’ve not read or watched the 50 shades, too much hype about it I suppose.

    Touching briefly on the violence in other movies, I have a pet hate, “don’t give my child toy guns as a gift” and recently someone did; a party pack received at a church on Christmas day. Now I thought, “you know what? Let him play with it, it is only a toy after all”. But after observing the somewhat reflective reaction to point it at people, “like in the movies” had me confiscate and trash it, after making it clear that he was not to point it at people and pull the trigger. Now it is a toy, and some may think it paranoid, but in the violent trigger happy society we live in, I’d much rather be clear on my dislike of toy guns, than worry about 50 shades of sex – after all we are sensual beings and our children (when they become adults) will need to explore, responsibly, without judgement.

    Hope you kinda know what I’m getting at here ’cause sometimes my fingers are challenged by the chaos in my mind.

    Thanks again for writing this great piece!!

    1. Absolutely get where you’re coming from and that is exactly why I raised the point in the piece: if the anti-50 Shades lobby is so insistent that movies will cause younger viewers to replicate the behaviour, why are they not as vocal about war movies, or anything by Tarantino, with its gratuitous violence?

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