This is a fictional story to look at the question of how a person can play well with some people while others experience consent violations, abuse, and even rape. I think often we imagine that people are either always abusive or never abusive, and while we’re getting better at recognizing that people can make mistakes and work to own and address them over time, there’s still not a lot of understanding of how a person can violate consent over the long term with some people and not with others. I wanted to group together a bunch of common perspectives in a tangible example to show what this often looks like in practice. Content warning: this is primarily descriptions of sexuality, consent violations and abusive behavior, occasionally graphic and including some systemically oppressive behavior and ideas and characters defending abusive/oppressive behavior.
Joy plays with many people of any gender as a top, and has a reputation for exciting, extreme play. Most people report great experiences with her, and she vets well both as a player and as a community member for her years of involvement. A number of people report that after consensually tying them up she engaged in nonconsensual gender humiliation and gagged them without consent, preventing them from safewording. Those people are all trans women. Outside of play she is a dedicated trans ally, and no trans men have come forward about any concerns, but she’s got a pattern of bad play behavior with trans women.
Not all trans women report her doing this nonconsensually. Some trans women have played with Joy and loved it. Anita says that’s just how Joy plays with trans women, and that everyone knows that: “If you don’t like gags and having her laugh at your genitalia, don’t play.” Mia says she hadn’t been aware of Joy’s preferences before they played, but that she’d valued it anyway. “I had just come out as kinky and as trans, and it was one of the most cathartic experiences of my life.” And Star says, “Lots of cis people like playing with trans women like this. I don’t think all trans women actually like this kind of play but I like it, and I like to play as much as I can. If I didn’t like it, I’d say upfront that those things were limits, just like if I was a straight cis woman I’d say I wasn’t into spanking if I didn’t want to get spanked by my guy while playing at whatever. Some things you just have to know people will expect you to be into.”
Callie says it started consensual and then went bad. “I loved the humiliation, that was great, and gagging is a huge thing for me. And I said I wanted to go deeper, so she asked what I thought about adding in anal play. I agreed to it, and we tried it, but I was still gagged at the time so I couldn’t tell her that it was hurting too much. I could still sort of scream though and she should have at least checked in. I saw blood on the bedsheet when I finally was untied and allowed to get up, but she didn’t tell me about it or check in or anything. I wound up having to see a doctor. I tried contacting her later and she said there was only some poop, no blood, and that I hadn’t screamed, and was just still crying from the humiliation. She said I was making a big deal about nothing and that if I wanted to stop playing with her, all I had to do was tell her that. That was probably the worst violation; I tried to tell her she’d messed up in a way that caused an injury, and she turned it into me lying to force a breakup.”
And not all trans women even report her engaging in these activities. Annette says that Joy has never gagged her or done anything not clearly negotiated, but now wonders if that’s related to having had GRS (in case Joy specifically has a thing for non/pre-op trans women) or due having a deep voice and masculine features enough so that being read as a cis woman feels entirely out of reach. Kelly reports a play experience similar to Annette’s, but says she doesn’t think it’s related to genital status or to passing at all. “I’m a big girl, same as Annette. Joy doesn’t gag fat people. It’s a hard limit for her. She said it was about higher health risks, which I think is a load of crap, but I’m not into being gagged and we have a great time playing other ways. She’s otherwise sensitive about size issues, I never have to explain anything about trans stuff to her or correct her language, and it’s hard to find someone like that who also shares my kinks.”
Gia has a different theory about who Joy targets. “I had heard about how she played with trans women, not that it was ever nonconsensual but I’d heard how she played, so I approached her about it. She declined the specific activities but asked if I was into diaper play, which I wasn’t, so we didn’t play. I kept talking to black women and realized I think she has a thing for diaper play with black women. Thanks for getting my gender right, I guess?”
A few people who aren’t trans women have reported bad experiences with Joy as well. “Her hands get pretty friendly,” Carl says. “Especially at kink events, but I first met her at a bar with some friends. After we’d been there a bit, everyone just friendly chatting together, she started rubbing my knee. I didn’t know what to do, and I’d been drinking, and I found her attractive, so I didn’t do anything. But then her hand went for my inner thigh and I got uncomfortable. I didn’t know how to say that was too much, and how do I tell a gorgeous woman that she can discretely rub my knee under the table but not further up and in? When she started moving further up still, I excused myself to the bathroom, and then picked a different seat when I got back, saying I was going to socialize with some different people. Anyway, I’ve heard other people talking about her doing similar things. A lot of guys love it, pretty woman coming on to them and they don’t have to do a thing except let it happen. I didn’t tell her to stop, and that’s my fault, but I don’t feel like I had enough time to even understand what was going on.”
Jessie is less generous. “She likes groping, and she only asks when she thinks a person will stop her if she doesn’t ask. So sometimes she does ask, yeah, which also gives her credibility as someone who asks. But if she perceives that someone wants to be felt up without having to discuss it, or if she just thinks they’ll welcome it because she’s pretty and they’re getting sexual attention, she won’t ask. And she prefers not to have to ask.”
Joy says of herself, “Kink isn’t always fluffy and controlled. Sometimes it’s about discovery and change, about becoming something so much greater as well as becoming something so much lesser. Kink can unsettle, and that’s the way I play. I’m always upfront about that. I integrate a looser, exploratory negotiation as a part of play which leaves room for surprise and creativity, instead of having drab and unsexy sessions where the bottom describes precisely what they want me to do to them. And I always follow up with my bottoms afterward. Some discover that they don’t like something we did, and I think that’s wonderful: figure out what you like and don’t like! Some discover that we’re not compatible for play, and that makes me sad of course, but I respect them for setting boundaries and meeting their own needs. That’s what the kink scene is all about. As to whether I play differently with specific groups of people, don’t we all? I tend to play differently with men than with women. I play differently with people younger than I am than I do with those older than I am. I’m not going to talk to everyone in English in the name of equality, or something; I know I have to translate to the language they know. That’s just about respecting differences.”
Gia responds, “That’s not about respecting differences. That’s about imposing them.”