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The Miscreant's Paradox for Leather and BDSM

originally posted on May 14, 2023 on FetLife

I'm starting with a caveat: I reserve the right to hold mutually incompatible beliefs and goals and to change them at any time. This article is about one pair that I've been unable to fully reconcile after nearly thirty years.

In Wild Ride, a book about Outlaw Bikers in America, Tom Reynolds defines a concept he calls the Miscreant's Paradox. He does not credit the term to anyone and it seems that he coined it by himself. He explains the term in fours passages:

Eddie Davenport on a motorcycle, with August 'Gus' Deserpa standing behind, in Hollister, California on July 7, 1947, by photographer Barney Petersen of the San Francisco Chronicle
  1. It is a Miscreant's Paradox, in which a person intentionally creates an aggressive image for himself, then vehemently denies he has such an image. With Eisenhower-era teenagers, it was dressing up like juvenile delinquents, only to become angry when their parents accused them of resembling juvenile delinquents. With bikers today, it is the adoption of skull tattoos, piercings, and scowling visages countered by feeling offended when others say they're scary-looking. With the Hell's Angels of the 1960s, it was talking and acting like maniacal razorbacks around journalists, only to become enraged when the resulting article or TV news segment portrayed them as such. (121-122)
  2. Yet another variation of piercings the Miscreant's Paradox: The same bikers who criticized the public for judging their culture so harshly were also unhappy more people were embracing it. (269)
  3. Ugly Paul does admit there has been a positive impact on motorcycling from these so called yuppie bikers. 'They've been very good for motorcycling,' he says. 'The more people that are around riding, the higher the acceptance.' Many biker purists have admitted to this and, again it adds yet another dimension to the Miscreant's Paradox: We're happy to be earning respectability by the increased presence of a class of bikers whom we don't respect. (273)
  4. The Hollister city council warily agreed to sanction the fiftieth anniversary celebration [of the 1947 Hollister bike run] ... Their publicity material firmly emphasized how the so-called 1947 Hollister incident had been, in fact, no riot. Using a stellar variation of the Miscreant's Paradox, they proclaimed Hollister as being the birthplace of the original Wild Ones, and the Independence Rally was celebrating the legacy of all those insane outlaw bikers that the irresponsible media falsely accused of being insane outlaw bikers. (278)

Does this sound familar? It should.

We can very neatly apply the Miscreant's Paradox to our own BDSM and Leather communities as well. Many of us enjoy the increasingly mainstream acceptance of our subculture by the greater majority culture. We are pleased by adoption of our imagery and dress by the entertainment and fashion industries, and welcome new comers to our organizations.

At the same time, we hate it when movie stars and pop stars co-opt our culture and "get it wrong." We deplore the boundaryless inclusiveness of communities in which "tourists" with a passing interest can find and join BDSM groups with only a modicum of effort --- or the slightest of interest and no effort at al. We don't like our symbols and dress appropriated as fashion statements that state nearly nothing.

"Does that woman's necklace with the tiny silver padlock mean she's someone's slave or submissive? Or does she wear it to look fashionable?"

Many of us hold two mutually exclusive goals --- to belong to an outlaw nonconformist subculture and to have that subculture accepted and embraced by society as a whole.

Personally, as What It Is That We Do becomes increasing acceptable to the vanilla majority, I miss the sexual outlaw mystique. I can do without the possible consequences of being arrested, getting fired, losing my social standing, serving a prison sentence, and being listed in a sexual offender registry. Those are aspects of being a sexual outlaw that I can do without. But I miss the secret satisfaction in being somewhat wicked. I'll miss the private pleasure at being a little bit a rebel.

I suspect I'm not alone in that, although I think many of us will deny the dichotomy.

A Meme stating "some call it domestic violence, I call it foreplay."

If you don't agree then consider the images we cultivate. We use loaded terms like "Master," "slave," "boy," and "dungeon." Many of us dress like outlaw bikers or dress vaguely reminiscent of fascist military officers. At the same time, we reassure ourselves and everyone we talk to that no one needs to be afraid of us. What we do is strictly "safe, sane, and consensual." (Except for those of us who despise the phrase. They attend bashes, runs, and conferences proudly wearing t-shirts with the moto "Unsafe, Insane, and Noncensual".)

I know a few among us who want our lifestyle to be completely socially acceptable. One community leader wrote words to the effect "be patient with the vanillas because they don't yet know the pleasure we know" (Italics mine.) What we do --- in the way we do it --- is not and should not be for everyone. There's no inherant inferiority or superiority to our play. Just because we can't imagine not doing what we do, doesn't mean the vanilla majority can't be happy with vanilla sex.

Here's where my caveat applies.

I don't want what I do to be fully accepted by society. I don't need the world to be comfortable with what we do. Tolerated? Certainly. Legally protected? absolutely. But at the same time, I have to admit it's too much to expect legal protection without at least a little bit of social acceptance.

It should go without writing --- but I'm going to anyway --- that this article is about consensual sadomasochism (to include BDSM and Leather.) I'm not writing specifically about Leather and certainly not about homosexuality. To be clear, I'm not suggesting that the LGBTQ+ and their allies should stop working toward more toleration, acceptance, understanding, and equality. But Homosexuality and Sadomasochism are not equivalent or even comparable. One is a lifestyle and the other is an orientation. As Dan Savage explained (better than I can) in the Stranger for March 4, 2013 blog:

Straight, gay, bi, or lesbian is something you are, BDSM is something some of each of the above do. A lesbian can't have a relationship—she can't date or marry or start a family—and keep her sexual orientation "private." But a kinky lesbian can date and shack up and get married without disclosing her kinks to friends, family members, and coworkers. No one is harmed if she is open about her kinks, of course, but her sex partners are the only people who really need to know about them. And most of us—kinky or vanilla—run our sex lives on a "need to know" basis. Into bondage? Your girlfriend needs to know. Your mom? Not so much.

So what do I mean? What do I want? What do I think we want?

We want it all. We want to be socially acceptable outsiders. We want to be innocent sexual outlaws. It doesn't matter that we can't have it all. Knowing we can't have something doesn't stop us from wanting it. It never has.

Source: Reynolds, Tom, Wild Ride: How Outlaw Motorcycle Myth Conquered America (New York: TV Books, 2000)

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