Controversial BDSM-themed bestseller is ‘Fifty Shades’ of meh

Wildly popular novel featuring dominant-submissive relationship should come with a warning: Please don’t try this at home

Fifty Shades of Grey has caused quite a stir among mainstream critics who don’t quite know what to do with the kinkier aspects of the bestselling book.

In fact, the kink seems to be the only thing that anyone talks about, and it isn’t surprising that, as a well-known gay leatherman, I’ve been asked repeatedly to give my take on it — and specifically about how realistic the BDSM in it is.

So I dug in and downloaded the e-book version to see what all the stir was about.

First, let me say, most literary depictions of kinky sex are either so tame as to be boring or so wildly improbable that they are laughable. The notable exceptions are books by authors who have real-life experience with some aspects of BDSM and can speak from experience.

For the uninitiated, BDSM is bondage, discipline, sado-masochism — or, alternately, the DS stands for Dominance and Submission and the SM can indicate Slave and Master. Just think kinky and you get the idea.

This book, the first of a trilogy, falls into a new category: authors who learned about BDSM from the Internet — and, as everyone knows, everything must be true on the Internet.

The book, in fact, first appeared as fan fiction with different character names and a few details changed. It was serialized on the web and it reads like it. While characters with names like Christian Grey and Anastasia Rose Steele might work in an online fantasy, in book form they seem more appropriate to soft-core porn or third-rate soap operas.

And that is pretty much where the book falls, a cross between poorly written erotica with soap opera dialogue — bad soap opera dialogue. And then there are the pages and pages of email transcripts that make up a good portion of the story. For a person who demands a non-disclosure agreement before even kissing, Mr. Grey is pretty cavalier about strewing details of his trysts all over the Internet in email form. I mean, OMG!

But my point is not to review the literary merits of this book — it has few — but to comment on the viability and realty of the kink it contains.

As far as the dominance and submission elements, I am guessing it’s about half right. I say guessing because this work is very much heterosexual and since my experience in BDSM is in the realm of gay leather, I can only judge from what I know of my straight friends and their relationships.

The dominant male, submissive female scenario might be abhorrent to some people, but I know quite a few who really enjoy those roles. However, I question the idea that a virginal 22-year-old girl, fresh out of college, would jump into a serious DS relationship, especially one that began with not one, but two written contracts!

And that brings me to the contract. Billionaire Christian Grey presents Anastasia with a several-page dominant/submissive contract right from the start. First, in my experience contracts like this are usually master-slave documents, and second, they are not legally binding. More importantly, this one spells out so many do’s and don’ts that I am surprised they could engage in any BDSM play at all!

This is part of what I guess is that heterosexual obsession with rules. It seems that some straight people are only really happy when they have a rule book to go by. Spontaneity rarely plays a part, but that is a different issue.

I can assure you that though some people do have these kinds of contracts, the vast majority of leathermen prefer verbal negotiations and honor their word without need of a missive.

Moreover, the idea of someone who has never experienced sex, let alone any kind of kink being attractive to an experienced BDSM player seems laughable. The thrill of introducing someone new to the scene is indeed fun, but if they have no experience at all in any kind of sex, that thrill would soon fade, but then again I am not a heterosexual male, so I am only guessing.

Then there is the SM play in the book. Paragraph 15, line 3 of the contract states that the dominant shall not leave any permanent marks on the submissive. Then the author goes on to describe what she calls a “flogger.” It has suede tails each terminating with a bead. I can tell you that though suede is soft, it can abrade the skin and with the addition of those little beads, it would be difficult not to leave cuts, scrapes and/or at least nasty bruises.

He also proceeds to flog her across her belly, a very unsafe activity and one that no experienced player would ever do with someone new, like Anastasia. Again, this shows all the hallmarks of Internet BDSM and has little resemblance to
reality.

I could go on, but it would bore you and me. This book has a lot of rabid fans, and I suspect quite a few people will use it as a Bible for BDSM relationships, but I also suspect they will soon have a “crisis of faith” once they actually try any of the activities in it.

If you want a pure fiction pot boiler, this might work for you, but if you want to know what BDSM is really about, stick to non-fiction.

Hardy Haberman is a longtime local LGBT activist and board member for the Woodhull Freedom Alliance. His blog is at DungeonDiary.blogspot.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 1, 2012.

Comments

comments

Powered by Facebook Comments