Café con Leche: A Vanilla Latino Male Perspective on 50 Shades of Grey and BDSM


I have to confess that when the 50 Shades of Grey trilogy came out I wasn’t interested in the least. Like many others, I jumped on the band wagon that labeled it “mommy porn” without actually reading any of the books. I wasn’t antagonistic towards it. I just dismissed it as something I would not be interested in. However, the build up to the movie’s release, especially the dozens of positive and negative articles, piqued my interest. Reading those articles made me feel very ignorant not just about the book, but about the whole BDSM scene. There are things in life we can’t change about ourselves: ignorance is not one of them. So, to understand what the articles were talking about, and to have a somewhat informed opinion, I started to visit BDSM sites and chat rooms. Yeah, someone has been naughty.

I have to be honest, as a non-kink or Vanilla person (don’t worry I will explain later), I was expecting those chats and the people in them to be completely different from me, maybe even “weird.” To my surprise, the websites were in fact very educational and helpful, and both the sites’ owners and their followers and commentators showed a genuine interest in getting people to understand their lifestyle and sexual preferences and kinks (I said I will explain later!). I could tell they wanted to educate both those in the Vanilla world and who will never leave that world, as well and those who may want to join the BDSM community.

I don’t know how much you know about the BDSM world and terminology so before I proceed I will explain some terms. Ufff, so nervous now, let’s see how well I learned those definitions.

shades

(Note to Readers from the BDSM Community- If I equivocate please correct me- gently.)

Let’s start with BDSM. Easy one, it stands as an acronym for three pairs of words: Bondage and Discipline; Dominance and Submission; and Sadism and Masochism. They are not the same though — some share elements and/or complement each other. Bondage and Discipline refers to being restrained in some way, i.e. being tied up with rope, chained, handcuffed, gagged, or any combinations of the above. Discipline refers to punishment of some kind – for example, spanking, caning, paddling, or whipping. There are other forms of punishment that are not physical.

It is really important to understand the differences between Dominance and Submission as opposed to Sadism and Masochism. Sadism and Masochism, plainly speaking, refer to the eroticism or pleasure which comes from activities in which some level of pain is inflicted or received.

On the other hand, Dominance and Submission describes a relationship in which there is a dominant person and a submissive person. It is important that the differences between the two sets of words be clear for, as I will explain later, I think that the way in which there is no difference between the two in 50 Shades of Grey is what upsets the BDSM community the most- especially those in a D/s dynamic.

The Dominant has control over the submissive in some way or aspect of life. So, submissive refers to the person in a relationship or contract that accepts to submit to the Dominant. These terms also appear abbreviated, Dom for male, Domme for female. They are also called Master or Mistress by their submissive whom sometimes also go by “slave.” Some people may alternate roles and they are known as “Switch.”

I mentioned a “contract”. Yes, whether verbal or written, there must be some kind of accord between the Dominant and the submissive. The contract serves to mark the limits of what the Dominant can do to, and expect from the submissive, and also to establish the rules in their relationship.[1] As explained in several sites, such dominance could be confined to the bedroom, it could be in all areas of life, or it could happen during a casual encounter. Most sites also agree that there are many different styles of D/s relationships (a Dominant and submissive couple), and that in like any other relationship – what works for one set of people may not work for another.

Ok, a few more definitions and we will be on our way- promise. “Vanilla” refers to anyone who is not part of the BDSM community. Yeah, most of you reading this right now. The physical acts performed by the BDSM are referred to as “Play.” And to avoid things getting out of hand, there is an agreed upon word which will stop all play activity- the “Safe Word.”

All of the sites I visited agree on a few fundamentals. The first one is that the relationship must be consensual and the submissive must enter into it willingly and knowing she/he has the power to terminate the relationship at any time. This goes by “Safe, Sane, and Consensual,” or RACK “Risk-Aware Consensual Kink.” Any kind of intoxication by either party is strongly discouraged during play. Most agree that both the Dominant and the submissive must be sober during a play session for safety reasons. For example, an intoxicated submissive may not realize he/she had enough and fail to use the safe word. Equally, a Dominant may fail to realize that the submissive has had enough.

Most importantly, the Dominant must never play while angry. The emphasis is on safety and consensual relationship and on the fact that this is “play.” As one of the sites I found to be incredibly educational put it:

“Remember that BDSM is pretend. It is. We pretend that you’re a slave and I’m the Master, and we like to live that lifestyle, but the only reason it works is because both participants choose to make it work. Out of love. Out of mutual respect. The love and respect is what’s real, the bondage is an illusion. A healthy BDSM relationship is a healthy mixture of fantasy and reality.”[2]

One of the most interesting parts of the whole Dom-sub exchange is the “care” that the Dom must provide to the sub after a session. Cuddling, caressing, applying creams, baths, all are common features of the “Aftercare.” Talking, communication, is a big component of Aftercare. The Dominant must make sure that the submissive is well both physically and psychologically. Sometimes the sub even goes into a state called sub-space from which it may need the help of the Domme to fully comeback.

It is very interesting that many of these websites are run by submissive women. Almost every single one of them has a list or articles on what makes a “Good Dom.” And what really surprised me about their definitions is that if you subtract the whole Master-slave play dynamics, what makes a good Master is essentially what makes a good partner in a Vanilla relationship. Here are some examples from ServingMaster.com:

  1. A good Dom has an extraordinary amount of self-control.
  2. A Good Dom knows that communication is key.
  3. A Good Dom does not pretend to know everything about you.
  4. A Good Dom is honest to the deepest part of his being.
  5. A Good Dom is humble. He recognizes his own flaws and will gladly point them out to you time and time again.
  6. A Good Dom works hard to constantly enrich himself.                                            (Adapted from servingmaster.com)

Women on these sites write (and some male submissives comment) about giving themselves to their Masters from a position of power and strength. The submissive women in these sites define themselves as strong and assertive people who want sex-positive experiences. They are experienced and know what they want. And they are very demanding of their Dominant.

So this is how 50 Shades gets it wrong.

The power dynamics in 50 Shades is as unbalanced as a bicycle missing a wheel. Introducing Christian Grey, a twenty-sex year old billionaire (yep with a B) who makes the rest of us mortals look like we took a fall from the ugly tree and hit every branch on our way down. He also flies planes, helicopters, plays the piano, dances like Fred Astaire, and probably makes the best caviar chimichangas this side of the Space Needle. The unlikely heroine (more like the cliché Cinderella heroine) is Anastasia Steele or Ana. She is a low self-esteem ugly duckling (which no one buys) and graduating from college still a virgin! Hey, it happens.

And, of course, Grey wants her and she wants Grey. Why does she want him? The real question should be, why not? We live in a society in which we have TV shows like “Who Wants to Marry A Millionaire?” (An oldie- I know). Those shows are the capitalists, and maybe, more honest version of the Cinderella stories fed to our daughters since we can remember. So, of course, since their first encounter, Ana wants to see purity in Grey, to find his heart, she wants him to be a White knight in shining armor (a kink-free armor mind you- pun intended). Grey himself is taken by her purity: a virgin and so honest she can’t lie to him. Ufff.

And this is the bottom line; this story is not about BDSM. This story is but a Cinderella story with kinks. There has been outrage about how this is not a love story and there are many articles criticizing women in their 40s, 50s, and 60s for falling for a story of abuse. Well, they fall for it for a simple reason; Grey is an imperfect Knight who could be redeemed by true love and a lot of fucking. Who knows, maybe in the third movie he will finally able to “make love” as opposed to “fuck, hard.”

I bet that many who criticize the movie would have no problem if the Dom/sub dynamic wasn’t there. The hypocrisy of this perspective should not escape our attention. The power dynamics would still remain irreparably unbalanced without the D/s. But, I bet most moviegoers would not have an issue with it if the D/s was removed from the equation for it would be another rosy story with a Knight and a Damsel in Distress.

Let’s go back to 50 Shades not being about BDSM. The virginity issue is a big cue. It seems that those in the BDSM community who engage in Dominant-submissive dynamics prefer experienced partners. Moreover, Ana’s inexperience and low self-esteem and Grey’s experience and wealth put her in a position in which she could never consent freely- and that is a big component of the D/s dynamic.

Also, though Gray introduces himself as a Dominant, he is not. And, I don’t say this because he admits to Ana he started as a sub himself initiated by a friend of his adoptive mother. The movie insinuates that Grey is “50 Shades of fucked up” because he was abused and neglected by the “crack-addict prostitute” who was his biological mother. He is a sadist not a Dominant. His urge is to hurt women, and to derive erotic pleasure from it which is nothing but his way to cope with unresolved mommy issues and the abuse she inflicted upon him. He is punishing, disciplining his own mother when he hurts other women.

The movie misrepresents the BDSM world- especially the D/s dynamic. Grey breaks every rule in the D/s’s book. For example, he leaves right after he first spanks her without engaging in Aftercare. But, the one scene that puts him over the top is ordering her into the play room when he is angered because of his business. Visit any of the sites listed at the bottom or do your own search and you will find that taking your rage on your submissive is not part of the D/s dynamics. The movie also implies that anyone who wants to be part of the BDSM must be “fucked up” as Grey says near the end.

The film sends a horrible message by presenting a fairy tale and by misrepresenting the BDSM lifestyle. As the sites I visited mention, even the most basic and almost-Vanilla D/s require practice, training, communication, patience and over all, the ability of the submissive to consent and that of the Dominant to truly be in control- otherwise people get hurt and what should be “play” becomes abuse.

There were about a dozen teenage girls who snuck into the theater to watch the movie. I can’t help but wonder what they will get out of this. Judging by the giggles (coming from the teenagers but also from the forty to sixty-plus years old women) and the singing along the movies’ memorable soundtrack, I would guess that the “Cinderella” story won and that many young and inexperienced teenagers will venture into this world seeking to find and redeem a Mr. Grey. That would be their Cinderella story with Kinks. I seriously hope I’m wrong.

Well sorry but this is it, got to go, the Mistress is calling and it is time to ‘Play.” Well… actually, my wife is reminding me that it is movie night and we are binging on House of Cards. To each his/her own.

Some of the websites I have visited are:

http://servingmaster.com/2012/11/21/the-good-dom/

http://kimdebron.tripod.com/index.html

http://www.kinkabuse.com/healthy-bdsm/some-passing-thoughts-on-being-a-good-dom/

https://modemworld.wordpress.com/ds-essays/the-loving-dominant/

[1] “The word submissive seemed to be used more like an adjective than a role – Dominance and submission describes what people do and how they act, Master and slave describes who people are.” http://kimdebron.tripod.com/id36.html

[2] http://servingmaster.com/2012/11/21/the-good-dom/

5 thoughts on “Café con Leche: A Vanilla Latino Male Perspective on 50 Shades of Grey and BDSM

  1. Autumn says:

    Very well informed and well written article. I am glad I was able to help you understand the difference between 50 Shades and healthy BDSM 🙂 I have shared this on my fan page on Facebook. Thank you for commenting on, reading and following my blog 🙂 And for making sure that I know I helped you understand our world a little bit better. (I thrive on that kind of validation) 🙂

    –Autumn Lokerson

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Dr. Harry Franqui-Rivera says:

      Dear Autumn,

      Thank you, for sharing my article, for your kind words, and for the very good reads that helped me understand or have a glimpse of the BDSM world. It means a lot to me that you found it well-informed as I have learned much from your column. To be honest, since I never write about these topics I was a bit worried about the reaction from people who actually know what they are talking about. 😉 The validation has been mutual.
      Harry

      Liked by 1 person

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