Boundary disputes

On drama, differences of opinion and being civilised

We in the kink and sex-positive community are big on boundaries, consent, respect, that sort of thing. Which is why I guess it’s so disappointing when members of the community are mean to each other about where and how boundaries are drawn when it comes to non-sex stuff.

Yes, I’m talking about the content warning drama that occurred earlier this week. In case you missed it, here’s a summary:

  • A link to blogging meme post was tweeted
  • Tweet contained extract from post
  • The extract was pretty disturbing stuff
  • There was a content warning, but it was placed after the extract
  • Some of us who’d been caught unawares by the extract piped up in distress, asking that CWs go before the disturbing stuff, rather than after.
  • The person who tweeted it originally accepted that it could have been constructed better and apologised for causing distress…

…which should have been the end of the matter.

Except that it wasn’t.

Because there were people left feeling hurt and afraid thanks to the memories that the content had stirred up, and those feelings were expressed both publicly and privately.

There were others feeling outraged and defensive that a project they supported had been criticised, who expressed their perspective publicly (and, I assume, privately).

Others became drawn in to debates and discussions on the relative merits of content warnings, the ‘right’ way to give feedback and sadly, the personal characteristics of those involved. Trenches were dug, battle bugles were sounded.

What does this have to do with boundaries, you may ask? Quite a lot, say I.

For myself, as a survivor of some rather horrid times, I try to maintain boundaries against the resurgence of bad memories and bad feelings associated with those times. When something crashes through my carefully-constructed defences, it feels like an attack. It might not be intended as one, but that’s how it feels. It’s a threat to my well-being. I’m not so naive or entitled as to believe that I should always be shielded or exempt from anger, fear, grief, or other negative emotions because life is hard, the world is cruel and other people can be insensitive or unkind, even when they don’t mean to be. Trying to minimise my exposure to content which I know will bring up PTSD symptoms seems like the sensible thing to do.

When I perceive attack, or threat, I get defensive. Sometimes I manage to take a step back and a deep breath, apply rationality and remain civilised. Not always, because I’m only human, however I eventually learned the hard way that lashing back doesn’t fix anything. Counter-striking doesn’t rebuild my protective shielding – in fact, it makes me more vulnerable to further blows. It doesn’t win hearts or minds, actually it’s more likely to entrench oppositional views. So, much as I would like to wreak righteous vengeance on those who have made me feel bad, I try not to give in to that urge. To use an architectural analogy, my boundary fences need their posts to be rooted firmly in the moral high ground in order to maintain the integrity of the perimeter. This is bloody hard work of course, since I am feisty, impulsive and have a strong tendency to crusade on behalf of what I see as justice.

I think something similar went on in the heads of those who reacted badly to the criticism levelled at the blog-meme-tweet. Something they cherish and consider important was ‘attacked’, which felt like a breach of their protective cordon prompting a ‘hit back, harder’ response. Perhaps – not needing or seeing the value of content warnings themselves – some of them felt that the boundaries of those who objected were imposing upon their turf – as though we’d turned up and started stringing barbed wire across their lawn.

The thing about boundaries is that they manifest in multiple directions. They keep out as well as keeping in. Protecting and defending – but also excluding and restricting. When all parties agree on where the markers should lie, there is peace. When dispute arises, there is conflict. How we manage that conflict is the difference between civilisation and savagery.

In physical or otherwise sexual contact, we follow a code of conduct that holds sacrosanct the idea of personal boundaries and personal space. You can do to/with me only what I agree and allow you to do (and vice versa). To violate those is at best, fucking rude, and at worst, a heinous crime.

In conversation however, the boundaries are less clear-cut because they rely on ideas, values and beliefs that vary from person to person. Do I have the ‘right’ to criticise someone even though it may upset them? You might say “yes, provides you are civil about it”. Or you might say “no, stay in your lane”, depending on the topic at hand, the people involved, and whether you agree with my position. You might also say “only if you do it in private so as not to humiliate that person”. We may never agree on the specifics, and that’s a fact of life we all have to deal with.

In such a diverse community as sex-bloggers, we are inevitably going to come up against different ideas and beliefs. The thing about strongly-held beliefs is that having them challenged is perceived by our brains to be as much of a threat as a physical attack. It’s easy to get caught up in an emotional response and it’s hard to be rational in those circumstances.

It’s worth making the effort though, no? To stop, take a deep breath, and think “am I adding anything worthwhile to this discourse?” before hitting the ‘send’ button. To refuse to see one’s ideological opponents as two-dimensional cartoon villains (even when you think they’re behaving that way). To refrain from name-calling, or dogpiling, no matter how satisfying it may feel in the moment.

Personally, I’m with Voltaire – I may not agree with what you say but I’ll defend your right to say it. I won’t absolve you from the consequences of saying it though, and I don’t have to listen if I consider your position to be fundamentally at odds with my values.

In conclusion, I highly recommend the following blog posts as being very relevant to this matter. No matter how ‘right’ we think we are, a bit of humility and compassion never goes amiss.

Girl On The Net: Trigger Warnings

Kayla Lords: Handling Mistakes

Thanks for reading.

8 thoughts on “Boundary disputes

    1. Thank you, yes I intended to add that link when I saw it earlier – you’ve saved me the trouble, cheers! X

  1. Great post Rosie – and a resource in its own right – Impeccably written as always
    May x

  2. Thank you for that link to the Oatmeal piece. It is a really excellent thought provoking read. For me change is absolutely the key but that does take time and a willingness to really listen and sit with the stuff that you hear.


  3. Excellent explanation. Social media often causes more problems than it helps. So many opinions without face to face interaction can lead to loads of misunderstandings and things said that might otherwise not be.

    1. We humans have constructed a world so complex that it’s impossible to avoid all the traps, snags, snares and temptations that come along with it.

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