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TPEs and My Issues With BDSM in Fiction Part 2

September 26, 2012

I’ve been cooking a while on a topic. I’ve debated how best to present it. In the end, I think I just need to be frank and honest. What is that topic? TPEs (total power exchanges) in erotic fiction. Specifically, in M/M erotic fiction. I find the TPEs commonly found in this genre to be deeply, deeply disturbing. In fact, at one point, I got into quite a row with another author, but it was for a different issue, which goes hand-in-hand with the bigger issue. This author said that TPEs just don’t exist in real life because they would never be legal.

So, this post is two-fold. A bit of a rant. A bit of a soapbox.

I’m a BDSM submissive. I know that may be TMI for some, but it’s my credential. I’m a BDSM submissive. I have an awesome Dom I worship. He knows how to work my body. He knows how to fuck with my mind. He knows how to push my boundaries while still respecting them. And both of us have been active enough in the BDSM community to know, with a good deal of certainty, what goes on in the community. TPEs exist. TPEs are legal. TPEs aren’t simply roleplaying. They are a serious relationship dynamic that is complex and deep and astounding to me because of the level of commitment both parties have for each other.

Now, does a TPE mean the Dom can just beat the sub up whenever and however they want? No! And that’s where this ties into the TPEs being presented in fiction. While I know it is just fiction, wish fulfillment and fantasy, I find myself very uncomfortable with the influx of rape and abuse being labeled as BDSM and TPEs. I shake my head at discussions where these stories are heralded as amazing and shocking and groundbreaking. Quite frankly, nothing is groundbreaking anymore. These sorts of stories can be found dime a dozen in fandom, so they were bound to leak out into the professional field. But, just as I spoke out against these type of stories being labeled as consensual and BDSM in fandom, I’m speaking out about it in the professional arena, too.

Trust is integral to a successful TPE relationship. The Dom trusts that the sub knows and understands the constraints they’ve negotiated and is truly accepting of hir, and the sub trusts that the Dom will never knowingly violate those constraints or harm hir in a way zie hasn’t agreed to. Trust is the key component that is missing in most of these so-called TPEs in fiction. They are entered into too quickly, without proper negotiation or full understanding, are usually enforced by a silly and pointless paper contract, and quickly spiral out beyond the confines of the flimsy agreements initially set up.

A successful TPE is still, like any BDSM relationship, about mutual pleasure and fantasy fulfillment. It’s not about the Dom breaking the sub down, wresting away control, and converting them into a mindless fuck doll. And yet, so many fictional TPEs go that route. The sub doesn’t know what zie’s getting into, zie’s duped or tricked or just naive, and maybe it’s okay for a while, but then the dark and mysterious Dom pulls out all of these tricks that catch the poor sub off guard, but by then, zie’s so hopelessly mired that there’s just no way out, and doesn’t zie find that zie likes it just a little bit after all?

In the real world, that’s called abuse and brainwashing, and it bears absolutely zero resemblance to an actual TPE relationship. Everyone goes in, eyes open, with a clear understanding of what is expected. That doesn’t mean that the boundaries don’t shift over time; it means that when they do, it’s always with that spirit of trust and mutual pleasure in mind. It doesn’t mean that the sub is never caught off guard; it means that when zie is, zie trusts hir Dom not to violate the spirit of their relationship or harm hir in a way zie doesn’t accept and want.

Actual, successful TPE relationships are about love, not slavery. Pleasure, not abuse. They require work, effort, consideration, and respect on both sides. They are nothing like the shameless, loveless, careless fuck storms that litter M/M erotic fiction. And in the real world, Doms that don’t understand that, don’t deserve the respect and admiration of their subs, and quickly find themselves alone.

(I will add that in 52 Weeks, Rhys, our Dom, uses a contract with his newly acquired sub, Aspen, both as a negotiation tactic and as a mindfuck sort of move. He knows it isn’t legally binding, but Aspen doesn’t. Contracts can be a wonderful plot device for such fiction so long as they are properly handled and treated as something that is psychological rather than something legally binding. I just feel a lot of fiction with these types of relationships are being lazily written with no regard to those who are in the lifestyle, and we need to have a little more care than that in the stories we tell.)

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