This started out as a comment in response to “Do we have a right to be offensive?” on Not Just Bitchy. The fervor surrounding the issue that sparked that original post has died down, but the general issue Stabbity raises is one that we face constantly: how do we as a community know where to draw the line between “Your kink is not my kink but your kink is okay” and “Dude, you just crossed a line”? I’m not going to summarize her post (go read it, lazy) because this can easily be read as a response to the titular question.
So, do we as a community have a right to be offensive?
I’d like to turn this into a linguistic problem. People will say “I’m offended” when the act that bothers them is not inherently offensive, but rather disturbing, disgusting, or simply difficult to process. There’s a difference between “offensive” and “disturbing.” The Shirley Q. Liquor act is offensive. It has a right to exist–offensive things do–but members of a community that wishes to create a haven for marginalized persons have a responsibility to eschew and speak out against things which reduce the security of that community. An act is offensive if it mocks, generalizes, or makes light of the plight of a group of people in general without that group’s consent. One can argue that paying to see a performance is consenting to be exposed to its content, and that’s true. Racism (or nationalism or homophobia or domism or any other marginalizing generalization you can think of) is a part of the world in which we live and no amount of railing against that seems capable of eradicating it. But as members of a group that is marginalized and misunderstood, we have a responsibility to provide an environment in which further prejudice is minimized. The act in question here is offensive in a similar vein to a Dom announcing to a room that women are naturally submissive and males naturally dominant: doing so with the express invitation of a venue tells anyone who does not fit that paradigm “you’re not welcome here.”
So I should probably address why a scene is different. A scene, even a race play scene exploring and exploiting the same stereotypes as the act in question, is disturbing but not truly offensive unless persons who did not consent and were not included in negotiation are made part of the scene. What we do at clubs is disturbing, by which I mean all of it disturbs someone. I know a burn victim who leaves the room every time a fire scene starts. I can’t stand to be near knife play. But consensual, negotiated fire play does not in itself mock, belittle, or harm burn victims. Knife play, no matter how panic inducing I find it, has nothing to do with my trauma. BDSM is about the two or more people involved in a scene exploring whatever kinks they’ve agreed to explore that night. It can be disturbing, absolutely. But those who are disturbed are not made to feel unwelcome in the environment as a whole. To be offensive, it would need to be directed at someone else without his consent.
The variety and intensity of activities found under the umbrella of BDSM virtually guarantees that we will disturb. I’m okay with that: it’s that same variety that lets me stand in a corner for heavy impact (complete with screaming, sorry) while my scary friend plays with knives in another alcove and someone else performs elaborate suspension across the room. They’re all different rides at the amusement park. We can pick a favorite or try a few or stand aside and watch. It’s brilliant. The ones that frighten or disturb us, we can avoid. Hosting and supporting a racist (sexist/homophobic/other bigoted) act for all, on the other hand, is tantamount to putting a sign at the gate of the park saying “you must be this white (maledom-femsub/straight/whatever) to ride. One of these can enhance the community. The other smothers it.