[A slightly different/condensed version of this piece is in episode 28 of my podcast. The episode covers the best portrayals of kink in film and some of the worst, as well as this writing.]
[Secondary note: I use ‘top’ and ‘bottom’ rather than saying ‘top/D-type’ ‘bottom/s-type’ every time. Substitute the title most applicable to you.]
There are certain tropes that are pretty much a given when watching or reading kinky media created by mainstream/vanilla writers. For your eye-rolling pleasure, here is a list of THAT’S NOT HOW IT WORKS. Perhaps use it to make a bingo card for the next time you’re watching a mainstream film containing kink!
It’s all about/Always about sex. There was a great piece of writing on Fet some time ago—I can’t recall who it was by now, but the repeated line was something like: ‘My dick doesn’t just fall out’. It was about how, when topping, remarkably, his dick didn’t work out how to unzip his jeans and join the party. Yet, in most depictions of mainstream kink: it’s penis time! You…do know people do kink for other reasons, right? Of course you don’t. You’re a vanilla writer who didn’t bother to consult any icky kinky people for five seconds.
It’s only about what the Top wants. This is particularly insidious because we learn how we’re supposed to be by seeing ourselves in the media. If the few times we—meaning bottoms—see ourselves we’re told our desires don’t matter that’s what we’ll believe. Then ethical tops have to drag information out of bottoms who think not liking pain/degradation/bondage makes them a bad bottom or submissive. This again comes from vanilla writers who take how the default world works and think: ‘Well, people with all the power do whatever they want and everyone else just has to deal with it—those people look like assholes so that must be what they’re doing, too.’
As an aside: Do you think anyone has ever done a role play where they’ve topped a vanilla writer and done a bunch of ‘non-consensual’ things to them? As an instructive sort of thing for the ‘script’ they’re writing, I mean?
Kinky people are hot. I don’t mean because every kinky person is a bajillionaire—though, that too—and can afford all the gear they want. I mean, somehow, all kinky people are the sexiest mofos outside of a Prince video. I think this is because vanilla writers think kinky people are having all the fun so they must be the most amazing humans on Earth so they can’t imagine the most amazing humans on Earth look normal. I mean, that’s out of the question, right?
Not only are they hot, but they’re kink prodigies! Everyone knows how to use every piece of kink equipment like it’s their job. Where are the mentors or the classes or people needing to retie a knot? These fuckers are born knowing how to throw a single-tail!
After I did the episode, the incomparable Tina Horn (@tinahornsass) reminded me of the common theme of people practise BDSM as a way of trying to feel anything. Because, of course, vanilla writers look at what kinksters do and think, ‘That can’t be how people naturally connect—they must not be able to have normal relations. They’re just trying to feel something.’ Mary Gaitskill, who wrote the short story Secretary is based on said something similar about what she thought BDSM was about—I wrote a whole rant about it on my site.
You know, you guys. You can talk to kinky people about why we do the things we do. We’ll tell you.
It’s only about pain. 9 ½ Weeks contained some sensual domination, but for the most part it’s spanking and handcuffs from here to the International Space Station. Kinky people know that BDSM is a veritable cornucopia of fetishes and sensations. These writers have no imagination. It makes me sad for them. (Trivia: Do you remember the name of the Mickey Rourke character? John Gray! Another Mr. Gray. James Spader was E. Edward Grey in Secretary. I addressed this on my site.)
This next one is my personal favourite.
It’s what I call Psychic Dom/me Syndrome: Now, Secretary, which is one of my favourites is rife with this one. James Spader is such a psychic Dom he not only knows it’s okay to commit assault and battery at work (and he’s an attorney!) but he does it without even knowing he’s a Dominant! This is because the majority of films and TV shows are written by men. And men don’t want to communicate. Talking is so boring and hard and you have to acknowledge the other person has feelings, which is literally the worst. Besides, if you’re the Top, you get to do whatever you want anyway and the other person loves it because you’re amazing. So, nuh.
You don’t need to communicate anyway because everything always goes perfectly. No one’s contact ever goes astray, no one ever has too much tea and needs to pee 800 times, no one ever gets a foot cramp from hell in the middle of a needle play scene when absolute stillness is really important. And there’s no such thing as aftercare because cuddling is for pussies and shit. Forget any kind of debriefing—you couldn’t learn from that scene and improve—you’re already perfect and a debrief may involve talking, which we’ve already established is the devil. Aftercare is also something a writer probably wouldn’t learn about unless they did research, which we know is really difficult what with computers containing literally all information known to mankind.
And finally, people are always in the mood. Because why wouldn’t you be? Everyone is sexy as hell, rich as the dickens, knows exactly what you like, and can give it to you perfectly.
Unless it involves aftercare. That shit’s for pussies.
Did I leave anything out? (Probably.) What else would you put on your THAT’S NOT HOW IT WORKS bingo card? What films are the most egregious offenders?
What films subvert these? To hear about my favourites, listen to the episode, though I must proselytize about The Duke of Burgundy. If you’re already a fan or don’t care about all the spoilers, here is a recap with hundreds of screenshots and reviews of all of the DVD extras because it’s my favourite film of all time.
An index of the films containing kink I’ve reviewed is here.
[This writing also appeared on Medium. If you are a member there and you enjoyed it, please give it some love.]