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Debunking BDSM/Kink Myths in Wake of Kevin Bacon’s Murder

By | 2020-01-27T15:05:18-05:00 January 27th, 2020|Michigan, News|

When it was revealed that LGBTQ Michigander Kevin Bacon was mutilated and killed by a Grindr date last month, his story not only made local headlines but national waves as well. In fact, it impacted communities that people might not initially consider, too.

“This has affected every … aspect of the LGBTQ BDSM/kink community,” said local physician Erik Wert, some of whose patients count themselves as members of that group. “Everyone’s heart is going out for this person. Going out for their friends and family. They are more worried of, ‘How did this happen?’ and, ‘Why did it happen?’”

Indeed, questions and grief, not to mention fear and misconceptions swirl around this case. Between The Lines thought it useful — if not sorely needed — to state the facts and dispel the myths about BDSM/kink and the LGBTQ community. And to clear up the conflation of some sources that the mental illness present in the perpetrator of this crime is related to BDSM.

Wert agreed. He said it’s vital to understand that BDSM/kink is not practiced by exclusively LGBTQ people.

“It spans the entire sexual orientation, gender identity spectrum,” he said. “It is not just an LGBTQ issue. Think about when you had the big outbreak of ‘50 Shades of Grey.’”

However, despite these facts, complicating factors are that BDSM/kink is often poorly understood by the general public. The term “BDSM” can mean different things, but it’s usually translated as bondage, discipline, domination, sadism masochism. It’s really a catch-all term encompassing a wide range of activities that can be described as an identity, fantasy, activity and culture.

 

Where BDSM Differs from Abuse

For all the variety and variations of BDSM/kink and the individuals who participate, three concepts are key that distinguish it from abuse: consent, communication and safety.

“Consent is the core of BDSM, truly,” Wert said. “communication and consent.  And that means individuals engaging have to agree on what is acceptable, what is off-limits. And they have a shared power dynamic: each person equally empowered in this. And the other thing you have to remember, even though consent may be given, it can be withdrawn at any moment by either party. Either party can say, ‘Nope, this ends.’ That’s why you always hear the term, ‘safe word’ or ‘safe symbol.” … People use different ways to say, ‘This is something that we need to stop now.’ And so, this is a constant communication between both parties. It’s a check-in at almost all times.”

In BDSM/kink culture, safety means a shared understanding of the risk-benefit ratio of a particular behavior. That must be discussed upfront. Many behaviors, sexual or not, carry some risk, sometimes great. Wert mentioned the acronym RACK, or risk-aware consensual kink. Individuals have a responsibility to acknowledge the risk inherent to a particular behavior and to mitigate the risk as they see fit. Wert also explained the meaning of SSC, or safe, sane and consensual.

“That means everything is based on the idea of a safe activity,” he said. “And each person is of sound mind and can consent to what’s going to happen.”

Wert explained why myths about BDSM/kink culture persist.

“People think there’s a dark, grungy underside to it,” he said.

Perpetuating that myth, Bacon’s parents told the press that their son had ‘a dark side,’ upon learning the circumstances of his death.

“For a long time, this has all been pushed underground,” Wert said. “No one wants to talk about it. Even the medical community doesn’t want to talk about it. I try to educate other doctors on it. I try to dispel myths about it, I try to educate them that you need to talk to your patients about what they might encounter.”

Unfortunately, “No one really studies it,” he said.

And because of this “dark” reputation, “There’s not much real, evidence-based information out there.”

For example, the study cited in the following section is 12 years old.

 

Backlash

“The BDSM community is reeling from this just as much as the LGBTQ community,” Wert said. “And they’re all worried about this backlash.”

A fear of backlash is well-founded. According a 2008 survey by the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom ncsfreedom.org, the majority of respondents were not out to family and work regarding their “sexual minority activities” and around 40 percent were not out to non-BDSM friends. The reasons included fears of disapproval, harassment and loss of custody of children; some stated the desire for privacy. Of those who were out, more than a third had experienced — in order of prevalence — discrimination, harassment or violence, which was slightly more common for LGBTQ people. Some reported loss of job or promotion; others, loss of custody of children.

Other negative consequences were estrangement or alienation from family. Finally, almost half reported discrimination by medical doctors and more than a third by mental health professionals. It should be noted that it wasn’t until 2015 that that psychiatry’s “bible,” the DSM-5 reclassified “unusual sexual interests” in a way that distinguishes behaviors from mental illness.

The fears described above could be the reason that Bacon’s murderer was not investigated or prosecuted sooner. There are two known instances this fall of men fleeing the murderer’s home; they did not wish to file police reports. Whatever embarrassment or repercussions they feared, they chose to remain silent.

“This is the perpetuation of a very sex-negative, sex-phobic society that we live in,” Wert said. “We are so sex-negative, and anything … outside what ‘the norm’ is, is looked down upon, is marginalized, and it makes people feel watched, [or] that these people are ‘bad.’ Some of the nicest people I take care of are into this, to be honest. They are very open, because they know I won’t judge them.”

 

The Law

Part of what fuels the fear and backlash surrounding BDSM is how it is defined by law, which is helpfully described by the NCSF. The nature of criminal offense in BDSM is that one person has caused physical harm — injury and/or intense pain — to another person. The law sees this as causing harm, not engaging in mutually agreed-upon or beneficial conduct; therefore, BDSM is seen as violence, not as sex.

That explains why the issue of consent is different in BDSM cases than in rape cases. In a rape case, the sex act is not viewed as criminal unless it can be shown that consent was not given. In a case involving BDSM, however, causing physical harm is, in and of itself, criminal. However, if the participant consented to have the acts done to them, the question remains whether the “criminal conduct” can be excused.

 

Addressing Mental Illness

BDSM/Kink elements were present in the events leading up to Bacon’s murder and it’s clear the perpetrator was mentally ill. However, there is no known correlation between psychological dysfunction and violence perpetration by BDSM practitioners. And unfortunately, Bacon couldn’t have known his date suffered from major depression with psychotic features, paranoid schizophrenia and personality disorders — according to court filings by his ex-wife, or that he had a history of not taking his prescribed medication.

Wert pointed out, too, that anyone outside of the LGBTQ or BDSM/kink communities could end up on a date with someone without knowing that they are mentally ill. Because of this, he stressed the importance of establishing a safety plan when meeting someone for the first time: only meet in a public place and check-in with a friend via texts, calls, etc.

Perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind regarding mental health and violence is that only 3 to 5 percent of violent acts can be attributed to individuals living with a serious mental illness. Further, people who have mental illness are 10 times more likely to be the victims of violent crime than the perpetrators, according to statistics from mentalhealth.gov.

Wert summed up the effects that Bacon’s murder has had on the local community.

“There’s no words to describe what his family’s going through, his friends are going through, but it also raises good questions,” Wert said. “How do we deal with mental illness? How can we demystify … how humans express sexual desires, intimacy, relationships? All I know is this has sent huge ripples through the LGBTQ community. Everyone is talking about it; they’re all feeling horrible about it. It’s going to be hard for you to wrap this [article] up because this is going to have some long-term consequences. But we can also take it as a learning experience.”

About the Author:

Ellen Shanna Knoppow
Ellen Knoppow is a writer, editor and activist.