For those of you unfamiliar with Fetlife, it is a social media site for kinky folks (kinky defined very broadly).
Currently, there is a group of folks of undetermined size who are planning to temporarily deactivate their accounts at the end of April as a protest to some of the current policies and procedures on Fetlife. In the last couple of years as kink has become incredibly popular in the mass media the site has grown exponentially with folks looking to explore some part of kink. As will any group that grows rapidly there are growing pains including trying to teach newbies the norms of the group.
For kinky folks who have been in the scene for more than the past five years, we had communities which prioritized boundaries and consent. We taught the trickle of newbies about the importance of boundaries and consent and corrected them when they violated these norms.
With the massive influx of new folks, they have brought the norms of wider American (and to some extent British and Canadian norms). For those of us who have watched this, we have seen more consent and boundary violations and struggled with how to deal with these issues.
Let me make this clear right now- not all boundary and consent violations are equal. They are all important. I see a clear difference between an online account consistently sending creepy unwanted messages to someone and being raped during a pick up play scene. Both need to be addressed and prevented (if possible) but they are not on the same scale.
So much of the what is being protested (but not said explicitly) is the lack of capacity to redress boundary violations. All of us have some boundaries. All of our boundary lines are a bit different. Context can affect where we draw our lines.
Most women and a large number of men of color experience online harassment and boundary violations. Most of us have received creepy, unwanted messages from members of Fetlife. This happened early on in the sites history and happens more today. They make the recipient feel “icky” and sometimes unsafe. Sometimes we just want to non-consensually beat the person who sent it.
There is a big thread on Fet that “creepy messages never hurt anyone.” Eh… ok, most creepy messages don’t end up with someone being physically injured, I’ll give you that much. However, constant harassment and nasty messages can leave a person feeling unsafe. True, you can block the sender. However, when it is a daily chore to block folks sending creepy harassing messages, people bounce from the community. Nobody wants to have to feel like they are constantly being preyed upon by random strangers will ill intent. And yes, there are those of us who log on and our first chore is to block the new creepers. It sucks.
Sending an unwanted message tells us a lot about the sender. One, you are either unfamiliar or simply ignoring normal social boundaries. Two, if you persist in sending creepy messages when told to stop or the person fails to respond to your first one, you willingly continue to violate someone’s boundaries. These mean you are unfit to play with someone in the kink community.
Kink and BDSM relies heavily on people discussing their boundaries and respecting the boundaries of others. It is back to the old example, the difference between an impact scene and assault is consent. Many people use online contact as a primary or singular source of contact with other kinksters. If you constantly violate boundaries you signal you are not willing to respect community norms and should be bounced.
Racism, Sexims, and Ablism
Many of us who receive unwanted messages get messages which are filled with racist, sexist and ablist vitriol. As a fat chick, many cis het men on Fet feel comfortable either fetishizing part of my body or sending unwanted comments about how gross they think fat women are. If I don’t know you, I don’t want to hear your stupid opinion about my looks (positive, negative or otherwise). I also don’t want to be reduced to a single physical characteristic (e.g., don’t wax rhapsodic about my giant tits and fail to notice literally anything else about me).
My friends who are people of color get harassed way worse than I do. Black men (especially those identifying as Dom or Master) get messages inquiring about the size of the cocks riddled with racist slurs. Black men who identify as submissive have shared with me harassing messages about not “being a real man” and other racist stuff Fetlife members choose to message them. I could go over the specific forms of racism each different group gets, but I think I made the point— Fet has racist members.
We block these asshats, true. Some of us report them but that puts the burden on the person being harassed to correct the behavior. Most of these creeps move on to other targets but remain active members of the Fet community.
Beyond general creepy messages, some Fet members violate a person’s consent. Many of us have a clause at the top of our bio which states, in one form or another, we don’t accept unsolicited friend requests from someone we don’t know. Many slaves or submissives have additional instructions as to who to contact if they want to make an introduction. Most of these are ignored regularly by creepy folks on Fet.