Frontier #11: BDSM, by Eleanor Davis

2

Fronter 11 BDSM Cover, Eleanor DavisFrontier #11: BDSM

Eleanor Davis
Youth In Decline
February 2016

BDSM takes place on a porn set. Two women, one a dom the other a sub, are playing out a mistress/maid scene while an all-male crew — save the makeup artist — directs and shoots. The director calls for a halt: the sub is too into it but the script calls for a shy virgin being coerced into sex that she finds, later, she just might like. Alex/Lexa, the sub, likes getting hurt a little too much. Victoria, the dom, is too nice for this scene. So says the director. They play through the scene again and he is satisfied. Everyone goes for a break.

Outside, the crew shoots the shit. The scene was hot — was it EVER — Lexa, or Alex, is a lovely, submissive angel, and Victoria, they think, is kind of a bitch. “Why don’t you ever bring us coffee, Victoria?” asks one of them. Ha. Ha. Ha. Lexa, that good girl, is happy to bring coffee for everyone from craft services (the crew here calls her Lexa, whereas Victoria consistently calls her Alex — which one is her preferred nickname? She never tells us). When a coffee is spilled, that same garbage fire crew member suggests that Victoria could lick it up, or if Lexa does, they should start filming. It’s a nasty scene. A bit of real life nonconsensual power play with men asserting their authority over women, who are adult film performers. Nastier too, for seeing Victoria, so powerful on set during play, made uncomfortable by these decidedly Mediocre White Men, and Lexa trying to soothe Victoria’s temper, saying she’s just “being nice.”

In this scene — not a scene in the fictional film, nor a scene in the kink play sense of the word — we’re reminded of the palpable force of sexism in the film industry, adult and otherwise, and in the Scene, between male doms and female dom/mes, or just any old guy who feels threatened or unsettled by femdom. What is the significance of their being adult film performers versus regular actors? Mostly, I think, so that the intersectional power dynamics and abuses in operation are on full display: sexism in the making of sex. Victoria being comfortable with dominance is threatening to these men. Lexa being submissive is an affirmation. Here, outside the shoot, these crew members can take control. The shoot itself is under the control of the male director. Yes, this makes it more comfortable for them. Visually, it’s represented in the long and lazy lines of the crew members bodies; the tightening up, the shrinking of Victoria’s. She coils with anger and humiliation, folds into herself a bit with the surprise of it — a colleague shouting at her over a spilled coffee — the non-surprise of it — just another douchebag on a set.

Sex, obviously, is the subject of BDSM, but power, gender and identity are just as present, framing every panel and interaction. While power play is at the heart of D/S relationships — especially when there’s an element of humiliation, as there is in the film’s scenes — it’s power play, not the power of institutionalized sexism or racism, not the power of coercive force. Power exchange, guided by a contract dictating by limits and the importance of care, is what makes sexual dominance and submission sexy. Power taken, without consent, is what makes sexists feel good. BDSM leads with a heavy one-two punch of controlled film shoot (though not without its power imbalances: director, crew, performer, gender, sexuality) and then the crew interaction that turns Victoria’s assumed place on its head.

After a humiliating coffee break they head back inside the shoot. “You chose this,” says Victoria. “You chose to demean yourself. You’re disgusting.” It’s both what the film script has her say and, in this moment, Victoria’s real feeling. Lexa chose degradation, both on screen, and in deciding to clean up that spilled coffee — “I’m just being nice” — in real life. For Victoria, right now, Alex/Lexa’s submission is thrilling and infuriating. But the shoot is soured. Her dominance shaken, even as she tries to reassert her authority over her sub.

But the shoot wraps. Alex — no longer performing for the camera, just us readers — loses her car keys. Victoria gets to play hero, low in her seat, elbow braced on the window frame, driving Alex home. You know the pose I mean, it’s a classic. How to Occupy Space In a Car. How to Drive With Endless Confidence. Of course she invites Victoria in.

This is where the comic takes a turn. They fall into bed together and it’s sweet at first, Victoria asking after Alex’s bruises — too hard? just right. But when Alex enjoys Victoria’s dominance a little ~too much, Victoria becomes frustrated — is it just more performance for Alex? does Alex like to be degraded? These questions disturb the mood. Here they were fucking and suddenly Victoria is wondering if the way they fuck is ok? It’s not her own desires that Victoria questions, not exactly, but Alex’s. Victoria wants control and power and what’s so strange about that? Alex wants pain and submission, and sometimes even humiliation, and well — what does that mean, exactly? (Was she asking for it?)

Victoria’s doubts here are all too common, too real. It’s practically a think piece: is it okay for women to get turned on by being humiliated, pushed around and even hurt? Of course — of course — women like to be in charge sometimes, but what about the women who don’t want to be in charge? Part of Victoria’s trouble in this comic is seeing her desires as more valid than Alex’s. It’s Alex who cuts that short, saying, “You liked it when the guys were watching,” and then, “it’s okay if I wanna get hurt.” It seems, in this moment, that Victoria gets it, but there’s a lot there for her to unpack. Another what does it mean: she liked it when the guys were watching, but questions Alex now in this more personal context. While little else is said, so much is in the body language. Davis writes confidence/doubt/new confidence/new intimacy into the way Victoria holds Alex and the way Alex opens for her and invites her in.

Where does it go from there? Well, orgasms of course, and a certain new ease with every word that Lexa speaks, because Victoria needs that reassurance from sub to dom, from woman to woman, that there is nothing wrong with either of their desires.

It’s a different kind of play than the choreographed and taped scene that precedes it — this scene is more intimate, the negotiations of power more personal. The sex unframed by a camera lens and less framed, less posed, for all that Eleanor Davis is the director of this comic. The difference between porn sex and real sex is apparent in the lines of their bodies, twisted together for intimacies, not tilted up and carefully spaced out for show, and by their dialogue and real (“real”) emotion. Although we are the audience for both, voyeurs, this latter scene feels as though it’s for their/our eyes only. There may be straight men reading this scene in this comic, by a woman, Eleanor Davis, but they can’t interrupt it, interject between two lovers their power. It’s only Victoria and Alex’s (and our) feelings that matter.

BDSM is a short comic that feels short, more a series of moments than a complete story. That’s because it’s meant to convey this main idea, “it’s ok,” and more briefly the complexities of being kinky and queer and working in the sex industry, which is still so dominated by straight cis men.

Though spare and stripped down, both visually and narratively, it yet feels thick and lush with eroticism and complex feeling. We don’t get the details of these characters but we don’t need them. They feel real enough, broad strokes that they are, a combination of familiar pose, archetype and minute, off-brand details to give them flesh. Alex has flowing, wavy hair. Victoria has a severe bob/undercut that’s suitable for work and play. Minor details drawn sparely that say much — the way Alex pushes her hair back; the way Victoria takes up a frame. Davis works this to her advantage. The simplicity of the comic, visually and narratively, lends a not-quite-realness to the scene on the porn set. Later, it cuts to the bone, a simple intimacy that opens Victoria, Alex and us to real moment of vulnerability.

Like a lot of issues of Frontier, BDSM contains a big idea only briefly explored. A friend told me that he thought it would work best as one chapter in a larger story. But I think it works as it stands: a few short, interrogatory scenes that are answered simply: “it’s ok for me to like it,” even when “it” is so complicated.

 

You can find print and digital copies of BDSM and other recent issues of Frontier at Youth In Decline’s site.

Share.

About Author

Editor-In-Chief. Megan was born in Toronto. She's still there. Philosopher, space vampire, heart of a killer.

2 Comments