Matt Smith proves that he doesn’t understand boundaries

You may recall the rather nasty piece that Matt Smith wrote a while back, in which he detailed his opinions about BDSM and presented them as fact. It sparked off yet another round in the sex wars, as detailed here.

In response to this piece, BDSM video veteran Mz Berlin blogged about why she thinks that Smith’s conflation of BDSM and torture is ridiculous. Here’s her take on it:

Wow. Crazy busy. The beat goes on and on and on.

My head has been in overdrive pondering the ongoing drama in San Francisco about the comparison of bondage porn with real torture. It has my mind spinning and I feel a little sick.

Melissa Farley, a woman I’ve never met and have only heard referenced twice, in articles focusing on a community that I don’t live in. My only connection to her subject matter is working at a company that she hates because of her own neo-feminist crazy ideology.  So, why is it getting to me? She is not ripping the porno down from the shelves in West Hollywood. She is not asking me, personally, to leave my kinky life in order to stop being a victim.

It is one of her many wacky conclusions that really gets to me.  And I’m having a very emotional reaction to it. It truly bothers me. It’s the conclusion that bdsm porn is in any way related to real life torture. Torture, as in it’s conventional sense. (Go ahead and pull up the Wikipedia page. I’ll wait.)

While Miss Farley has tons of education on me, and has probably interacted with far more sex workers than I have, and might even have good intentions with her comparisons and book burnings, I fundamentally disagree with her based on personal experience. I have worked as a bdsm porn model and I have also been subjected to torture, under the standard definition, while under arrest overseas.  My experience was short, intense,  and life-changing. I’m not going to go into the particulars of what happened, but the experiences are totally different.

I am quite certain of that.

I have journals, photos and paperwork chronicling how I was feeling and what was happening to me the entire time I was having my non consensual experience, and obviously other people were aware of and responding to the situation so I know that happened. There’s also a matter of public record. I (and You with your magical internet powers!) have my journal, interviews and pictures chronicling my bdsm adventures. I can track how a particular shoot made me feel, and can tell you the effect it had on me emotionally and physically.  The comparison of the two makes me sick. My nausea comes from the fact that torture is totally, completely, under any definition a non consensual act.

I don’t understand why Melissa Farley, and, by default, Matt Smith feel that it’s fair to compare the same act committed under completely different circumstances. Having to saw your hand off because it’s in a bear trap and a mountain lion is coming up the hill at a mighty quick pace and giving a kidney to your sister are a lot alike. They’re both major surgery.  They are both dangerous. They both result in the loss of a body part. It’s the context that brings it together. It’s circumstance.

So, there’s my rant and rationale. I’ve tried to keep it short. It’s personal. It’s professional. It’s a gray area as far as that goes. I don’t normally discuss personal stuff. I’ve touched on the non consensual experience in a few different forums as I processed what consent meant to me.  It’s at the core of how I compartmentalize the experience and it really (in the parlance of our time) pisses me off when someone puts the two together without thought. Not necessarily without thinking of me, obviously, but the circumstances surrounding each activity. And the charge that one word can have. And, unfortunately, what the difference between edgy porno/art film and a war crime is.

Let’s take a look at this. Someone who has personal experience with both actual torture and BDSM speaks up and makes it clear that they are not the same thing. Futher, she has records of her personal reflections on her BDSM shoots, which chronicle how she felt about them. Her words, her thoughts, and her experiences all demonstrate that the consent woven BDSM makes it completely different from torture, which is (by definition) non-consensual.

So what did Smith do? He interviewed her for a follow up piece, during which Mz Berlin specifically told him that she didn’t want him to use her real name because of her concern over the possible consequences. But Smith did a little digging and found her legal name, which he published. When Mz Berlin found out about it, she protested it and the piece was edited, but the damage was done. She’s lost custody of her child.

While I don’t pretend to understand what’s going on inside Smith’s head, it doesn’t seem unlikely to me that he wanted to retaliate against Mz Berlin. She spoke up and made it very clear that he doesn’t understand BDSM at all. And then he took steps which could be reasonably assumed to have negative consequences. You do the math.

It occurs to me that perhaps the reason that Smith doesn’t understand the difference between consensual BDSM and torture is that he doesn’t understand boundaries. Mz Berlin set a very clear limit when she asked him to only use her work name. Smith chose to ignore it, despite having agreed to it. To me, that demonstrates that Smith doesn’t get what boundaries mean and how to respect them. Here’s a hint: when someone sets a limit and you agree to abide by it, do so. It’s not all that hard to understand.

When you agree to a boundary that someone sets during sex and then ignore it, that’s called sexual assault. What it is called when it happens in journalism?


Dr. Charlie Glickman

Charlie Glickman is the Education Program Manager at Good Vibrations. He also writes, blogs, teaches workshops and university courses, presents at conferences, and trains sexuality educators. He’s certified by the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists, and loves geeking out about sex, relationships, sex-positivity, love and shame, communities of erotic affiliation, and sexual practices and techniques of all varieties. Follow him online, on Twitter at @charlieglickman, or on Facebook.

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