‘BJ’ is a dominant bondage and discipline, sadomasochistic (BDSM) top and co-owner of one of Melbourne’s leading fetish stores, Eagle Leather. An expert in rope bondage, flogging and general impact play, BJ’s a passionate advocate and educator on the fetish scene.
Those ready to be shocked by the movie might not get the release they’re after, BJ suspects, and he doubts anybody in the know will raise a sweat. “The BDSM scenes were quite tame, on the whole, focussed on tie, tease and fuck, which I’m sure would be a let-down for many people experienced in BDSM,” he says. “It can be highly sexual, but for many participants, sex is a completely separate act.”
More of an erotic fiction stumbling through the early stages of a dominant/submissive relationship, BJ says the film should not be treated as a resource for BDSM education, but does give it points for highlighting that a BDSM relationship isn’t always easy, and for not portraying the submissive, Anastasia, as an emotionally damaged woman, a la Secretary. Grey’s personal struggles left a lot to be desired, though.
“The problem with this film and most BDSM literature is that often at least one of the characters is portrayed as ‘50 shades of fucked up,’ as some kind of explanation for why it is that we do what we do,” BJ says. “While I appreciate Mr. Grey has his faults, as is human nature, it’s sad to see that this seems to be the only way our culture can be defined or understood by outsiders. Many of us are well-balanced individuals who use BDSM for the thrill, and the extreme emotions and deep relationships that can be built through such an intense bond.”
BJ was a okay with the negotiation aspect of Grey and Anastasia’s arrangement, with soft and hard limits and the use of safety words, but he’s not sold on the contract being drawn up so soon.
“Considering Anastasia had no sexual experience let alone any BDSM experience, it was pretty irresponsible to try and get her to sign an actual contract. In most real circumstances, a couple would play together at length first to gain understanding of one another before deciding to sign a fully-fledged contract.”
The expectation that Anastasia was supposed to worship and submit to Mr. Grey, but not be allowed to fall in love with him, also confused BJ. “If he was so focussed on protecting her and looking after her in a caring fashion, picking her up from the bar when she was drunk and ensuring she was always eating, for example, that seems at odds with the idea that he wasn’t interested in developing an emotional bond.”
BJ doesn’t agree with those taking a crack at the film for portraying a sexually violent relationship. “If there’s one thing in this world that we have a right to, it’s our own bodies and what we choose to do with them,” he says. “If two boxers get into the ring and choose to fight, is that sport or is it violence? If you take away the consent of one of the boxers, then sport becomes assault. In the same way, if you remove the consent from BDSM, erotic fantasy becomes abuse.
“BDSM should always be practiced between consenting adults, and the depictions in the film were consensual, with Mr. Grey regularly checking in with Ana both before and during the play sessions. If Anastasia had chosen to use her safe word to end the session and Mr. Grey had continued, then that could be considered to enter the realms of sexual abuse.”
And just how hot was the sex?
“[It was] pretty boring, to be honest. I found the helicopter and glider scenes more exhilarating.”
So was there anything worthwhile?
“Any film which encourages water cooler conversation will serve to decrease the ostracising felt by many in our community, who are often made to feel like freaks or outsiders.”
Mistress Asha is a dedicated BDSM top and principal Head Mistress of Melbourne’s Fetish House, a dedicated kink, fantasy and erotic BDSM play venue.
While reading James’ books, her biggest struggle was getting past the infamously torturous language, but she found herself surprisingly put off by the “distressing” filmic take.
“The activities that you see in there could be labelled as BDSM – the blindfold, being restrained, being whipped and the power exchange – but the context in which it’s done is not BDSM,” she says. “It lacks the informed consent.”
If you’re piping up saying, ‘Hold your riding crop, they have a contractual negotiation,’ complete with boardroom box-ticking exercise that rules out both anal and vaginal fisting as well as butt plugs, gag it for a moment. “I believe in informed BDSM, which means you’re given all the information you need to be able to make a choice,” Mistress Asha says. “Anastasia has no idea; she’s a virgin.”
She argues that there are serious problems with the way Grey hounds Anastasia to sign up – hello stalker tendencies – and his aggressively manipulative streak. “He doesn’t give her the space to make the decision, and there’s even a part where he gets her to sign a confidentiality clause where she can’t speak about anything that goes on in that relationship. She has no way of and getting information that’s not biased, other than asking him or researching on the internet.
“I thought that’s generally the first step of someone who wants to be controlling in an abusive way, isolating you from your support network. We hold our clients’ trust and discretion; we won’t divulge the particulars of a session, but what they do is really up to them, so if they want to go off and speak to friends and family they can.”
Mistress Asha says the film gives an inaccurate picture of the support offered by BDSM community beyond handcuffs and rope. “I’ve had circumstances when I’ve had clients come in and I’ve thought it would benefit them to see a counsellor, because they’ve indicated they feel isolated, and I’ll make recommendations to actually go and find support.
“I do think BDSM is misunderstood, but I see how anyone can look at it and think it’s just abuse, because they don’t see the negotiation and consent and something that’s experienced as pleasurable. It’s individuals being empowered in their decision and saying, ‘I really enjoyed this sensation,’ why wouldn’t that be okay to explore?”
It’s also revealed during the movie that Mr. Grey has some abuse issues of his own. “There’s this perception that BDSM is for people who have been abused, but plenty come to BDSM from a healthy perspective. There are also people who have been abused who have done the work and have just as much right to explore. I have clients who want to heal through that, and that’s okay.”
And the positives?
“The way the red room was set up was great and I really liked the close up shots of the red rope and the rings they attached it to,” Mistress Asha says.
We were both a bit disappointed by the lack of leather, latex and lace, but Mistress Asha says it’s not all about the get-up.
“As a professional mistress, I’m quite often dressed in high fetish wear, provocative things like leather, latex, stockings and high heels. When I’m conducting BDSM sessions it certainly adds to the atmosphere and helps me be present in that role, but when I get home and play with my partner, often it’s not in that gear, and that’s nice on another level. Showing that BDSM activities can be done in whatever you’re wearing is pretty cool actually.
“If the film inspires people to explore and learn more about BDSM, then that’s a good thing, as long as they’re educating themselves on how to do things safely, with informed consent, negotiation, communication and transparency.”
Fifty Shades of Grey is out now. Watch the trailer below: