Why are we talking about this?
I don’t even like R. Kelly. And, frankly, I missed the whole 90’s R&B craze. I was going through a country music phase for which I am deeply, deeply sorry. In fact, my association with his biggest song “I Believe I Can Fly” came from my time in the Army. If the drill sergeant didn’t think your boots were shiny enough, he would throw them as far as he could while we all sang the perennial hit song in accompaniment to their trip through the air.
But I digress.
If you’ve been living in your Trump-proof bunker (can I move in?) you may have missed the Buzzfeed article about his alleged “sex cult”. Then there was talk about power exchange relationships, Master/slave. Dominant/submissive cultures and well, here I am talking about R. Kelly.
Damn you, Buzzfeed.
Should you have an thought your head that I’m about to defend R. Kelly, you can disabuse yourself of that right now. He is a disgusting man, and I’m not even taking into account this latest accusation. Not familiar with his greatest hits? Spin has the list, and it’s not pretty. There is no doubt (in my mind) that R. Kelly is predator of young women, but he is still a money-making artist and that attracts people; including young women, and people with young daughters. In a business where it can be near impossible to get ahead, it’s easy to believe a man who smiles and says to your pretty young daughter “I got you”. I forgive the parents totally. It’s easy to be deceived by predators, especially so when you’re desperate to help your child achieve your dream.
However, there seems to be some confusion around what Kelly might or might not be doing (more on that in a minute) and the concept we have in the BDSM world of “Total Power Exchange” (TPE) relationships. So we’re going to talk about it.
“Don’t Yuck my Yum”
First, remember when I talked about that concept in kink where we agree to be respectful of other’s wants and needs? An idea called “Your kink is not my kink, but your kink is OK.” If you missed that article, you can read it here. Keep this in mind.
Now, in the BDSM world there are many types of Dominant/submissive relationships. They can be for a brief period of play, for a day, or all the way up to 24/7. Indeed, Dominant and submissive attitudes lie on a spectrum with some people wanting varying degrees of each attribute. But in the TPE [I’ll be using this term from now on to encompass all TPE and M/s (Master/slave) relationships] the concept is taken to the extreme. One person essentially gives up control to another person. This can include dictating what the sub wears, eats, sits; who the sub sees, fucks, and interacts with; where the sub plays, lives, sleeps and on and on. As a woman with control issues, the whole thought of this makes me sigh. My motto is “I DO WHAT I WANT”, so clearly this isn’t for me. But we can’t ignore that some people want this, and it is a legitimate kink that people practice.
When we talk about these sort of relationships we often envision a tiny woman on her knees before some Adonis-looking master, ready to serve. But these relationships are not gender- or heterosexual-specific and exists in many realms of the BDSM scene: rope, leather, Daddy/ Mommy and littles, and even pup-identified. Even more, some want extreme de-humanization while others crave to be completely objectified or used as a pet, pony or pig. Bottom line, this type of play/lifestyle gets some people off, and I am a champion of that. People want this, they thrive on it, and search for it. The one caveat is that these types of interactions require an incredible amount of trust and come with intense feelings, and if you are considering something like it, please keep that in mind.
Looking from the outside in, this type of relationship can tell a very different story. Having a “slave” itself can be a touchy subject, but the BDSM community has agreed that this term is valid for its use in this practice. But more than that, this can look abuse from the outside. All the “vanilla” people see is a person who performs every command the other partner utters. Plus, this is an inherently sexual kink, in most TPEs a sub/slave is expected to perform for their Master as s/he wishes, including performing sex on demand. If things are not done to the Master’s wishes, the sub/slave can expect to be punished, sometimes brutally. For those on the outside, they cannot fathom why someone would want to “own” or be “owned” in relationship.
Agency. Say it again – Agency
And now we come back to R. Kelly. Because people are trying to equate with what he is doing as a TPE – for good or ill. So let’s just say this, R. Kelly is an abuser and not a “Dom” or “Master” and his relationships are, well, problematic to put it mildly. Now I just spent several paragraphs saying we need to accept people’s kink, and I’m all about consent (which R. Kelly seems to have from these women) so you think I would be more cautious in trying to condemn it. The reason I’m not is summed up in one word: agency. Agency is the capacity of individuals to act independently and to make their own free choices. I firmly believe that these women lack agency to be in a TPE relationship.
How can you tell? Well, Here is a handy list list that identifies several factors to make sure both people enter into this intense type of relationship with the appropriate agency.
- No virgins. Wanting only a virgin for your “slave” is not a TPE, that’s a kink that’s unacceptable. In addition, the sexually inexperienced lack the agency to make informed BDSM decisions. It’s one thing to know what turns you on, it’s another to have practiced it and find what limits you have, what conditions you like, and where your comfort zone lies.
- No one under 21. Same reason. Being in a TPE affects every aspect of your life, and if you’ve never stretched your wings, you won’t know how you will react to them being clipped. Frankly, my thought is at 21 and under you aren’t looking for a TPE, you’re looking for substitute for your parents.
- No disparity in power, money, or lifestyle. If one has too much money or power, it can be hard for the other to keep agency. Neither in a TPE should be financially dependant on the other, it restricts your ability to walk away if things go bad. If you think submitting to a man will get you a record contract you have given up your agency.
- Safewords and time away are a must. Never be afraid to step away from your lifestyle for a while to evaluate if that’s what you want. People come and go in the BDSM lifestyle and that’s a good thing. It means that they are evaluating their needs and acting appropriately. If you’re in a relationship that doesn’t change with your needs, and you can’t get away, you are in a bad situation.
- No isolation. If you are cut off from your friends and family for an extended period of time, you are not in a TPE – you are in an abusive relationship.
- A written contract. I know we all pilloried 50 Shades of Grey (rightly) for its horrible contract, but my main issue is that there were no “outs”. A written contract should protect both parties and outline expectations for everyone. Can only do TPE on Wed and Fri? Put it in writing. It’s not legally binding, but it’s a good place to come back to every few months to see if what you envisioned it to be and what changes need to be made. A TPE does not restrict you from demanding changes to your situation.
- No children. You can do TPE covertly (i.e. a sub can only wear pink on Wednesdays and no one in your life can be the wiser) but the more overt parts of the TPE should be kept away from children in the home. It takes away their agency to form their healthy sexual ideas. They see submission as the norm, and might not see it as an option but a requirement.
There are probably more, but these are the main points I outline when talking about TPEs and how to practice them in a healthy way.
Now, we must once again come back to R. Kelly. I have no doubt that the women who are with him are there with their consent. But I believe they lack agency, and that’s a huge problem. Those parents are right to be worried about their daughter. Kelly appears to be a serial abuser. He is not Master, and those women might be in real danger.
Total Power Exchange relationships can be fulfilling and intense for those involved. And living out your sexual needs in a healthy way is ALWAYS encouraged. But the line from BDSM to abuse can be thin sometimes, and nowhere is it thinner with these types of interactions where one party takes complete control of the other.
Kelly is wrong.
Keep it straight…I don’t want to have to talk about this man again.