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The Safety Word

by | May 29, 2016 | Family Law

I wanted to continue exploring the idea of mutual combat, and take you into what’s likely to be controversial and/or taboo territory. But, if you find yourself in the position of needing a family law attorney for a nasty divorce or custody issue, you may have to get comfortable with talking about things you would previously only discuss with your doctor, your partner or your closest friends or anonymously on message boards. (Then again, you may have no problem talking about it at all. Regardless, read on.) 

This may mean telling your attorney about your BDSM activities. I will not use the word “lifestyle” because my research has shown me that most people who engage in BDSM do not view it as a lifestyle (which implies choice) – it’s a part of who they are, their cellular makeup. I’m going to try to be as respectful as possible as I move forward with this.

If you don’t know what BDSM is, allow me to elucidate: BDSM are sexual practices involving bondage, domination/submission, sadomasochism/masochism, and other similar activities. These are erotic practices done consensually. Most people assume a role in one or two of three categories: dominance and submission, or sadism and masochism, or bondage and discipline. People who engage in BDSM are your co-workers, relatives, neighbors… there’s no “one” personality type who engages in BDSM, and a person who enjoys BDSM is not damaged or traumatized. BDSM is erotic, but doesn’t always lead to sex; it’s about connection, trust, and self-expression in a safe place with a person you feel safe with. BDSM is often more about the buildup and the excitement than any actual consummation.

There’s another school of thought that BDSM is the “legitimation of domestic violence against women”, or “consensual domestic violence”, or “abuse wearing leather”. This perspective believes that BDSM propagates violence, abuse, rape, degradation, and torture against women. Furthermore, under this view, if you consider yourself a feminist at all, or bear any type of modern viewpoint of equality, then BDSM is directly antithetical to your “cause”. When the film version of “50 Shades of Grey” came out last year, a slew of my friends ranted and raved against the film, arguing that the relationship between Christian Grey and Anastasia was nothing short of domestic violence and psychological abuse. However, those in the BDSM community will also agree with dissenters on that particular issue.

But I digress. The key words with BDSM are “consent” and “trust”. Domestic violence, physical and emotional, as well as sexual assault are those actions done outside the scope of consent – you never agreed to the actions. If you have not consented to an activity being done, and you feel uncomfortable or scared (not in the sexy way), you may be a victim of domestic violence. BDSM is not, nor can it be, a one way street. On the contrary, BDSM is about respecting the word “no”, or whatever your safe word might be. Boundaries are fundamental.

Here’s how this comes up in a courtroom. Your partner shows up with photos of their bruises and scars, and details your sexual activities as monstrous and agonizing events that left them scarred and humiliated. You are no longer their consenting “dom”, you’re painted a batterer. And now, a white-haired judge is staring you down like you’re an abusive menace to society. And your attorney is floored by this unexpected entry of information, not expecting a story like that. You had said that you and your spouse fought, not that you tied her up and beat her and said you love hurting her! You’re now left more hurt and embarrassed than you were at the start of all this, all by your partner’s mischaracterization, and now you’re left to go on defense.

This type of scenario is easily avoided, though, by taking a breath, trusting the attorney you’re paying to advocate for you, and letting them know about these types of things ahead of time. I guarantee pretty much all family attorneys have “heard everything before”, and it’s not our job to judge you and make you feel less a person because of who you are. It’s my job to help you navigate any difficulties that may come up, to control the narrative, and to nip mischaracterizations in the bud before they blossom. Consider it courtroom appropriate bondage.

So, whatever your proclivity, the moral to the story is absolute honesty with your attorney. It will serve you better in the long run. And then the fun that you enjoyed once won’t become the sadness you have to endure now.