It’s Not the BDSM

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[content warning: description of: domestic violence, abuse, using BDSM as an excuse for abuse, rape]

Some of you may be aware that I have a deep and abiding loathing for the Fifty Shades of Grey Trilogy.

At first, I was just pissed off that it existed — it was plagiarized from another book series (that is badly written and glorifies abusive relationships, with a fanbase that largely seems, well, pretty offbase most of the time) and yet this seemed ample reason to reward IceQueenSnowDragonFairyFartPrincess — sorry, EL James — with a publishing contract. Oh, and scores and scores of cash.

Then I was pissed off at how badly written it was. I mean, dear gods, if people are going to make an author rich for a plagiarized piece of work could it at least be well-written? Apparently that’s too much to ask. The series is terrible. It is worse than the source material, Twilight, and that really is saying something.

Then, I got pissed off at the combo-deal of crap: not only is the BDSM in the books completely wrong and downright dangerous, the relationship is actually incredibly abusive. And often, Christian uses his “domness” or whatever as an excuse to abuse Ana.

For a while, folks have been calling out the series for its blatant glorification of abuse. And for a long while, there was no response from EL James. Perhaps she was clueless, we thought. Perhaps she just doesn’t know, and once she hears about it, she’ll think about it. Apologize. Say that the books are just a fantasy, and that they shouldn’t be taken as a manual on How to Do Relationships.

Then she said this:

“Nothing freaks me out more than people who say this is about domestic abuse. […] Bringing up my book in this context trivializes the issues, doing women who actually go through it a huge disservice. It also demonizes loads of women who enjoy this lifestyle, and ignores the many, many women who tell me they’ve found the books sexually empowering.”

Quote source. (Be warned, the page plays two mis-timed video ads that are incredibly annoying.)

There went that theory.

Jenny Trout has already done an amazing takedown on her blog, but I feel I must add my voice to the conversation.

Especially as, since we took to Twitter and started asking EL James about her statement, she blocked anyone who said anything about 50 Shades being abuse, and called us all trolls and witches.

Mature.

So, here’s my response to you, EL James. Please note how civil I’m being, even though I hate you with every fibre of my being and hope that Artemis turns you into a stag.

(After the cut, I go into detail about abuse and rape. I put in a read more tag so that you can skip this if you want.)

1. I’ve been through domestic violence. Several times. I grew up with an abusive father who abused my mother and me for years, even after an 11-year divorce that got heralded as Second Worst in my province’s history (no, I’m not joking). I finally cut him out of my life last year when I turned 26, but that doesn’t repair the 2.5 decades of damage he’s done, nor has it stopped him from continuing to try and contact me, including using my sister to get at me.

I also had a series of abusive relationships with boyfriends that got worse and worse (until, like a godsdamned angel falling to the ground in front of me, the Ogre appeared in my life, and I’m never letting him go).

The second guy I dated tortured me for six months — long distance, no less — under the guise of BDSM. His actions had me breaking down in tears daily, wondering how I could be a better sub for him. He made me believe I was worthless, a dirty whore that didn’t deserve him. I had several nervous breakdowns at school. I changed my life and my plans to suit what he wanted, until finally he dumped me. Just as I thought I might be a bit better, just as I thought I could breathe again, he came back into my life and started the mental torture again. That lasted for two months, until he told me he’d never had any feelings for me, that his story about wanting to marry me had just been to get into my pants, that I was a cheap fuck, and a distraction while he pursued the only woman worth his time. When I cried, and said he was breaking my heart, he told me to stop having a pity party and hung up on me.

I still can’t say his name out loud without having a panic attack. I have nightmares about him.

That was in February, 2009. I spent months healing as best I could, until I was happy being single, until I could actually function. I only cried sometimes. I finally realized that he’d abused me, and that helped a lot.

In September of that year, I became friends with a new guy in the theatre program at VIU. In fact, for a while I was his only friend — he had a habit of alienating people by being a douchebag, but I gave him the benefit of the doubt. I should have noticed his horrible habit of never respecting peoples’ boundaries. I didn’t. I was younger and more foolish back then.

We ended up dating, but it was tumultuous from the get-go. We’d already been sleeping together for a while, and I was in love with him by this point. He had no such feelings for me; instead he only slept with me until he could convince the girls he really liked to go out with him. They didn’t want to, so eventually we started going out because I was a good consolation prize, I guess.

The abuse was emotional and religious. He told me I was stupid daily, and he continually disrespected my altar, my gods, and my faith, and made subtle comments that said, pretty clearly, that he viewed me as a pagan whore who was corrupting his pure Christian soul. One of the biggest points of contention in our relationship was that I felt he was ashamed of me: he refused to be in a relationship with me on Facebook, for one, and he seemed to gloss over the fact that we were dating whenever we were out.

“I just don’t like PDAs.”

“They’re just labels; they don’t matter.”

He went home for Christmas, and when he came back I knew something was different. He’d cheated on me, and continued to — with a girl in Nova fucking Scotia, which takes talent really — until finally telling me and dumping me on Valentine’s Day.

Within a week, he was dating her — even went so far as to change their relationship status on FB. I told him we were friends off, but he wouldn’t leave me alone. He kept forcing himself back into my life, no matter how much I tried to cut him off, and gods help me, I let him. Because I was still in love.

He cheated on her with me, too, multiple times. I kept believing, stupidly, that if we just had sex one more time he’d love me and everything would change. He wouldn’t call me stupid any more. He would respect my religious choices. I wouldn’t have to cry every day.

Finally at the end of spring semester I moved back to my mom’s house, a ferry ride and 2 hour drive away. Finally, I didn’t have to see him every day anymore. Finally, I could start to get some closure.

And I did. I even got to a point where I wasn’t in love with him anymore, and felt we maybe could be friends. He came to visit me during my mom’s cancer surgery that summer, and then he raped me.

The point of this story is that when I read the excerpts of Fifty Shades of Grey on Jenny Trout’s blog, I had flashbacks to my relationships with these two men. When I read the “sex” scene in chapter 15 of Fifty Shades Darker, I got triggered, because it was almost exactly like what happened when my ex-boyfriend raped me. It took me a full day to recover.

So don’t fucking tell me that saying your books glorify domestic abuse “trivializes” the issue, EL James. Abuse is not just beatings and yelling; it can be so subtle that not even your friends know what you’re going through. And when women who have suffered abuse tell you that it’s in your books, maybe you should shut your fucking mouth and learn to listen.

2. Saying the relationship in your books is abusive does not demonize women who are into BDSM or kink. This is because a) there is more to a relationship than just BDSM, and b) most actual fucking kinksters are saying the BDSM in the books is wrong and/or abusive.

I’m a kinky pervert, EL James. I’ve been into BDSM since I was 19, and in that time I’ve done some kinky shit. Honestly most of the sex that Christian and Ana have is downright vanilla by my standards. There’s not much they do that I would even call kinky.

So, as a kinky pervert who has also suffered domestic violence, can I just tell you to go fuck yourself? (Oh, damn, there went the civility. Oh well. Not like you were particularly civil yourself, anyway.) It’s not the BDSM that I take issue with. If I took issue with BDSM in erotic romance books, I wouldn’t love the Kushiel Series so goddamned much.

It’s the parts of the relationship where Christian coerces, manipulates, drugs, yells at, insults, or hurts Ana. It’s the parts where she’s terrified of him beating her, where she’s terrified of his temper, where she minds her Ps and Qs so she won’t piss off her husband.

It’s the parts where he ignores her lack of consent and just does whatever he wants to her — like making marks on her body because she sunbathed topless. Marking her as his property. Not in a sexy, consensual way.

I’ve had hickies and I fucking love them. I often ask the Ogre to try and make them on my neck. But if he starts to try and make one and I don’t want one at that point in time, because I have to do something the next day or whatever and don’t need bruises on my neck? I ask him to stop. And he fucking does, because he respects and values me as his equal, and he always respects when I withdraw my consent for something.

Reading Fifty Shades of Grey, I actually wondered if you had spied on my past relationships and used my exes as fodder for your Christian Grey, EL James. There is domestic abuse plastered all over the books, and while Christian does use BDSM as an excuse to abuse Ana, it’s not — in general — the “lifestyle” with which I take issue. (Side note: if you’d done your research or if you knew anything about BDSM, you’d know that there a lot of kinksters who take issue with the term “lifestyle” to refer to what they do.) I’ve survived over 25 years of abuse in my life, EL James. I know what the fuck I’m talking about.

It’s not the BDSM. It’s the abuse.

And when you block people on Twitter for bringing it to your attention, when you call domestic violence survivors trolls and witches for trying to raise awareness, all while saying out of the other side of your mouth how much you care about those poor battered women, you show us that you really don’t give a shit about us. You don’t give a shit about anything except the heaps of money you’re rolling in.

That makes you a hypocrite and a terrible person, and I hope that someday the world sees you for what you really are.

In the meantime, I will never let myself be silenced. I will never stop campaigning for awareness of the domestic violence in your books. I will never stop talking about it. No matter if I get suspended from Twitter, as a compatriot of mine did this past week. No matter if I get threatened with physical violence from your supporters, as at least two of my tweeps did. No matter how much verbal abuse is lobbied at us for speaking out, we will not be silent on this issue any longer.

Fifty Shades is abuse, EL James, and it’s not about the BDSM.

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One thought on “It’s Not the BDSM

  1. You are a strong woman Katje. I couldn’t agree more with everything you said here. Abuse is abuse, no matter how people package it to socially acceptable.

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