What Donald Trump's Campaign Can Teach Us About BDSM Consent

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 3.618% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

So Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s campaign manager, grabbed a reporter’s arm.
He went to jail for this.
Now, the charge he’s going to trial for for is simple battery, which is defined as “1) Any actual and intentional touching or striking of another person against that person’s will (non-consensual), or 2) the intentional causing of bodily harm to another person.”
And some of you are going, “Jesus, he just grabbed her arm, that’s a lot to go to jail for.”
Yet if you’re smart, you can learn a vital lesson about consent and BDSM from this.
Because depending on who you talk to it was a hard arm grab or a trivial one, it left deep welts or it didn’t, it was meant to hurt her or it wasn’t, whether he’s a serial abuser or whether this was a genuine mistake.
Which is a lot like any BDSM consent violation: there’s always a swirl of conflicting facts after the event, with people debating precisely what happened and whether the victim should (or should not) be upset by this, and hauling out the credentials that “X is a good person, they’d never mean to hurt someone.”
That’s the usual storm of uncertainty. It comes standard with any consent violation – and you can debate whether it should be society’s modus operandi, but at this point in time this is how humans currently operate.
Yet what isn’t in dispute is that after it happened, Lewandowski denied anything bad happened, saying that Michelle Fields made it up. Trump’s campaign denied anything bad happened. Trump denied anything bad happened. And when presented with video evidence that something happened, they doubled down and said, “Nothing happened, and even if something did happen, she’s crazy.”
And a funny thing happens when your first reaction is “WE DID NOTHING WRONG NOTHING HAPPENED WE’RE GOOD PEOPLE SHUT UP YOU’RE NUTS”:
The people you’ve tried to erase will sometimes go to great fucking lengths to prove you wrong.
And so Michelle Fields got angrier and angrier at watching her pain get written off. As the Trump campaign rebutted her denials with “NOTHING HAPPENED,” she was left with a choice: quietly agree she was as irrational as they claimed, or go balls-to-the-wall to prove that yeah, something happened.
She found enough evidence to make Corey Lewandowski’s life hell.
Which, again, is a common failure mode in the BDSM community – something bad happens during play, the top screams “I’M NOT A BAD PERSON ONLY BAD PEOPLE VIOLATE CONSENT THEREFORE NOTHING BAD HAPPENED,” and the victim of the consent violation is faced with a choice: stay quiet and agree that they’re a liar, or to go to great lengths to refute the person who injured them.
It usually doesn’t end well for the top when the victim goes volcanic.
Which leads us to the actual lesson:
Do you think Corey Lewandowski would be in jail if his initial response had been “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to injure you, we’ll make sure that doesn’t happen again?”
My answer is, “No.” He’d have people calling for him to be fired, of course – but this is politics. You’ll always find someone calling for someone’s resignation.
And I’ve watched enough consent violations happen to watch the difference between the Big Domly Doms who believe their reputation rests on perfection, and the folks who went, “Aww, man, sorry you got hurt, are you okay?”
Now, nothing’s a guarantee. Your apologizing doesn’t mean the person who got hurt is obliged to accept your apology, and anyone who thinks that apologies equal forgiveness is generally a manipulative person. Sometimes you apologize and someone still escalates and yes, that’s a reality no one should deny.
That said, in practice, most people will accept an admission that something went wrong, whether you intended it to or not.  A “Sorry you got hurt. I’ll make sure that doesn’t happen again” often prevents someone from escalating to, you know, bringing the cops in.
Sane people understand that BDSM involves risk, and bad things can happen when good people misread one another.
Yet what happens in the Big Domly Dom world is what happened in Big Domly Trump world: there is a huge hubbub about how much of an injury is necessary before you should apologize, and really isn’t this so-called “victim” a big baby, and nothing really happened anyway so why are we discussing this?
I personally think that apologies aren’t so precious that they should be doled out according to a perceived need. If I intended to do nothing bad to you and you wound up hurt, jeez, I’m sorry. (And particularly if I’m doing a BDSM scene with you, where I intended to bring you satisfaction in some way and you instead experienced trauma, then yes, I am very sorry.)
But if you have to be the hard-edged Domly Dom who refuses to apologize unless there’s good reason to, ponder this:
The good reason is that apologizing, even for incidents you consider trivial, is often the best way to defuse potential drama coming down the line. Maybe you don’t think you did anything wrong – but someone is hurt regardless, and if you choose to erase, belittle, or undermine their hurt, *they may decide that you are their enemy*.
That “I’m sorry” often protects you.
Which is, as so much of my advice is, giving practical reasons to be a nice person. You can debate all day exactly what happened between Corey Lewandowski and Michelle Fields – but his refusal to acknowledge that anything happened, even if it was trivial, was a factor in Michelle going to the cops weeks later.
A trivial hurt can still be worth an apology.
And I predict a slew of Domly Doms going, “Nah, she woulda gone to the cops anyway! Women like that are hysterical! They’re out to get us!” At which point I will suggest, gently:
Next time someone tells you, “You hurt me,” try leading with “I’m sorry” and “I’ll try to make sure that doesn’t happen again.” (And then, for optional credits, instead of blustering about that crazy person, look at your habits and determine what might have gone wrong to bring this person pain. For optimal results, start with the assumption that the hurt person is not a vindictive wuss.)
Try apologizing when someone complains.
You might be surprised by what happens when you’re not an asshole.
(Inspired by this excellent FetLife Writing.)

1 Comment

  1. Jerry
    Apr 13, 2016

    My wife and I teach a communications class to couples who will be married in our church. One of the central themes is that “feelings are always valid.” When someone says “I am upset with you because…” the response should always be “I am sorry that I upset you” (assuming that’s the case, which we are here). Apologizing for hurting someone’s feelings is NOT the same as agreeing that the person’s feelings SHOULD have been hurt, and this is a very important distinction. Once understood, situations like this are much easier to defuse.
    I can’t speak to BDSM but I can speak to various other human interactions. Let’s say my wife asks me to vacuum the floor and I tell her that I’ll do it tomorrow (for whatever reason). She forgets the tomorrow part. She comes home, finds that the floor hasn’t been vacuumed, and gets upset because she thinks I’ve ignored her. When she confronts me I can certainly argue that she’s wrong for getting upset, but that probably won’t help in the moment. But if I acknowledge that her FEELINGS are valid, it goes much better. “I’m sorry that you are upset. I certainly didn’t mean to upset you and I would never do that on purpose. Once you’ve had a chance to calm down I’d like to discuss this further.” Then later “Going back to the vacuuming thing, maybe you forgot that we agreed I would do it tomorrow…”
    Admittedly, this is a trivial example, but I believe it illustrates the point. Feelings are ALWAYS valid. We can disagree all day long about the CAUSE of those feelings. And sometimes it is absolutely appropriate to disagree about–or at least discuss–the cause. But that discussion/disagreement is entirely separate from the feelings themselves.
    Which is what I believe you are getting at here (and please correct me if I am wrong). When one person unintentionally violates another person’s boundaries the first step should be to acknowledge and apologize for causing those feelings–even if one believes that the other’s feelings should not have been hurt. These are entirely separate things. “I’m sorry that I’ve upset you. That wasn’t my intent. I would never intentionally do anything to make you feel this way. Perhaps at some later time we can discuss what happened and how we can make sure it doesn’t happen again. But for now I just want you to know that I’m sorry for upsetting you.”
    The feelings are always valid, even when we disagree with the cause of those feelings.

All Comments Will Be Moderated. Comments From Fake Or Throwaway Accounts Will Never Be approved.