Boy do I have a lot to fucking say on this issue.
The first is that I find the idea of a “BDSM lifestyle” slightly difficult. Much like “the gay lifestyle” and “the homestuck fandom”, it seems to imply that there is a single, self-governing body of people with a set of rules and maybe some kind of rudimentary parliament. When in fact it’s a sort of wibbly-wobbly community-woonity thing of people who share similar interests and concerns, and a common vocabulary.
Some people take “BDSM lifestyle” to mean all kinky people, even the ones who just like a little rough a tumble in the bedroom. Some people understand the lifestyle to be people who interact with the community (i.e. engage in discussion online, attend munches and parties, network with other kinksters). Some people think that the “lifestyle” is only for practitioners of 24/7 power exchange or gorean master/slave relationships or traditional gay leather stuff (that I know nothing about).
I think one of my biggest frustrations is this essentialism of the “BDSM lifestyle” the believe on the part of vanilla (for lack of a better word) people and some kinky people alike that there is only one real way to be kinky and that people who do it otherwise are somehow fucking up.
My other frustration is that people who are unfamiliar with BDSM seem to assume that kinksters aren’t real people, with real emotions and real relationships and every day jobs. So many people are kinky. Just like the gays, it is impossible to identify a kinky person just by looking because we are normal people and we are everywhere. I really and truly believe that sexual diversity and ingenuity is a natural part of being human.
When I see kinky people in media (*cough* fifty shades *cough*) we are fucked up people. We are damaged. We are unable to make healthy connections or have healthy jobs and we certainly aren’t successful, caring, normal people.
For example, the portrayal of BDSM dungeons in television and books (and fanfiction) is usually of darkly lit clubs with frightening women in scary leather outfits. Usually there are dominant people who will asset their dominance left and right with no interest in the comfort or consent of those around them. There are frightening, incomprehensible acts of cruelty and unexplained social rules that one must follow or else.
And there are people who act that way and expect those things. But those people are assholes. They are assholes no matter what context you put them in. Most BDSM practitioners are very concerned with the safety and consent of those around them. Many of them are very friendly and some of them even wear pink cashmere cardigans or even tennis shoes.
Most parties and dungeons are geared towards welcoming newcomers and creating a space where people feel safe. The dungeon that I frequent in Connecticut feels like home to me. It is clean and usually well lit in most areas. There are clear rules that makes sense and are easy to follow. There is always a potluck so that no one goes hungry and there are very comfortable couches to sit on so that you can chat. Sometimes we chat about kinky things, but sometimes we chat about sports or Adventure Time or politics or whatever else comes to mind. There is Rockband and most of the rooms outside of the main dungeon area and the medical room look a lot like my grandma’s house.
What I’m saying here is that BDSM is a lot more normal than everyone seems to think it is, and the people who like it are actually just people. Who knew?!