Sunday, July 13, 2008

For those of you who don’t already know, I live in a theatrical family. Not only do I hold a Bachelor’s in Theatre Arts, but my husband has an MFA in Acting and Directing and directs five shows a year. My daughter plans to major in Theatre Arts in the fall as she starts college (THAT apple didn’t fall far from the tree!). The only one in the house who isn’t “into” theatre is my 16-year-old son who is in his rebellion phase and wants nothing to do with activities his parents enjoy.

This weekend, my husband’s production of Little Shop of Horrors went up; my daughter choreographed and is stage managing it. My son actually went to his obligatory one performance and has asked if he could go a second time because he really enjoyed this one (wonders never cease!). Me? I go to every performance and hold down the fort while trying to keep everyone fed in between writing very hot sex scenes for my newest book.

Little Shop of Horrors began life as a Roger Corman film (1960) with a very young Jack Nicholson in the role of Wilbur Force, the masochistic patient of sadistic dentist Orin Scrivello. When Howard Ashman and Alen Menken rewrote the film as a musical in 1982, it opened off Broadway without that character, but keeping the pain-loving dentist. And when the musical was turned into a movie, another famous face, Steve Martin, made Orin’s sadistic streak famous.

I sat and watched another talented performer play the part these past few nights and let me tell you, Orin is a downright mean, nasty and abusive brute of a man. As he hollered at Audrey (the heroine) and pushed her around, I’m afraid I lost a bit of the comedy. Not because of the acting or the directing, but because of what I write.

You see, I write erotic romance with very strong BDSM themes with a heavy concentration on male Dominance and female submission. And as I watched, I saw a character who crossed the very thin line that separates BDSM activities from those of abusive ones. The jokes about the handcuffs and bruises were cute, until he raised a hand to her and called her a slut in front of other characters on the stage. At that point I stopped smiling and instead, wanted to punch the guy’s lights out. And I know I wasn’t alone.

While I laughed at some of the antics of Orin Scrivello, DDS, there was also a part of me cringing to see the stereotype once more reinforced: all Masters are bastards and all women who submit are dishrags with no self esteem. But in reality, that’s not BDSM, that’s abuse. Unfortunately, too many in the audience will never know the difference. And that’s where this blog post comes in.

As a writer of BDSM erotic romance, I have a duty – a responsibility –to remind people of the line between consensual activities and abuse. The mantra of “Safe, Sane and Consensual” is a good one, although communication is needed to determine the definitions of those terms. “Safe” is pretty easy, but depending on the level of expertise, something one Dom can do with ease, another would be dangerous trying. “Sane” is a word like “normal.” Who defines it? What is insane to one couple is very sane to another. Probably the only word of the three most people can agree on is “consensual.” If both parties agree to it and no force is used in the agreeing, then what they do is their business and no one else’s. Theoretically, anyway.

The problem is, the line is in a different place for each couple. What one man and woman not only tolerate but expect from each other, is very different from what another couple will accept. And that’s why communication is so incredibly important in all BDSM activities. Communication before the scene (so both parties have an idea where the limits are), communication during the scene (you’ll notice my characters often use the traffic signal as a way for the sub to let the Dom know what’s going on in her head; see note 1 below), and communication after the scene (what did both of them enjoy…what will they never do again?).

The language used by those participating in BDSM activities also helps to set the boundaries. “The term "play" is used along with another word to describe the sexual act with all the trimmings: a "scene." Both these terms, derived from the theatre, denote a setting-apart...a definite movement of the action out of real life and into a realm of fantasy” (see note 2). So communication and knowing the vocabulary are vital to keeping the action honest…and not crossing the line into abuse.

If you suspect you’re in an abusive relationship, GET OUT. Stay with a friend, go to a women’s shelter or better yet, pay a visit to your friendly neighborhood police station. But do NOT stay. Abuse and BDSM are not synonymous. The key word, consensual, is missing from an abusive situation. If you don’t like what he is doing, tell him. And if he becomes violent or doesn’t listen, LEAVE. And if you’re afraid of him…then that’s a dead ringer for an abusive situation and again, tell the grocery clerk or the movie usher…tell someone and have them help you get away until the police can be called.

The mainstream media feeds on lurid tales of BDSM activities gone awry or involving celebrities. But the reality is far more mundane. Lifestylers keep their activities quiet lest they be seen as abusers and prey; those truly abused often stay in their relationships far longer than they should.

And Little Shop of Horrors will go on entertaining audiences…and I will go on cringing every time Orin Scrivello, DDS takes the stage….

Play safe!

(NOTE 1 on the traffic signals: “Green” means “keep on what you’re doing,” “yellow” means “hand on, I need to pause the scene for a moment,” and “red” means “stop right now, don’t go one iota further and get me the heck out of these ropes!” Use them in good health!)
(NOTE 2: Yes, I'm quoting myself. Took that sentence from a previous blog post on my own blog. Scroll to second post of that week. Seemed to sum up what I wanted to say here, too!)


Lynn LaFleur said...

Great post, Diana, and very informative for those of us who know nothing about the BDSN lifestyle.


Diana said...

(grinning) Especially since it's the bdsM lifestyle, Lynn.

(chuckling into her cuffs...)