50 Shades of Grey and defining the BDSM community in Taiwan

There’s a joke in Chinese about 50 Shades of Gray. The Joke apparently relies on the similarity between the phrase “shades of gray” and “vaginas”. Personally, after running the words through google translate I don’t hear it, but I’ve been told the joke exists. Regardless of how many vaginas there actually are in the film or the books, they have gained some popularity in Taiwan. When I arrived in Taiwan, the advertisements for the film were plastered on billboards and buses, and in the first two months I was asked several times if I had heard of or read the series. Despite this popularity, I wondered how controversial the content of the books were and how the BDSM community in Taiwan was receiving them. While at a munch last month, I spoke with one of the organizers about his feelings on the matter.

The rise in the popularity of 50 Shades in the states precipitated a debate in the BDSM community in Taiwan.  Many BDSMers viewed 50 Shades of Grey with some agitation and some righteous anger. On one hand, the series’ growth contributed to the popularity of BDSM in Taiwan and S said he’s seen evidence of that growth at his events. On the other hand, many in the BDSM community prefer to distance themselves from the series, and what they feel it promotes. Like BDSM communities elsewhere, they were concerned that people might misconstrue BDSM relationships that don’t value consent. Christian Grey, the dominant in the film, repeatedly violates his submissive’s trust and demonstrates varying levels of emotional instability. Not only does he coerce Ana into sexual acts she isn’t fully comfortable with, but it is evident that Ana isn’t confident enough to communicate fully when she is and isn’t uncomfortable. This bleeds into other parts of their lives, with Christian going so far as to track Ana’s cell phone to find her. The repeated lack of communication and violation of trust throughout the book lead many in the community to be disturbed that others could think this was what a healthy BDSM relationship looked like.

“There was a lot of backlash from BDSMers. Y’know, they say ‘this is not BDSM,'” S told me when I asked him to elaborate. While S agreed with their assessment, he didn’t share the same anxiety. For him, 50 Shades of Grey presented an opportunity to educate Taiwanese people on what BDSM meant to those involved in the community. It provided opportunities to educate them on the three pillars of BDSM: safe, sane and consensual. 50 Shades sparked the interest, but it provided little in the way of education.  Beyond this, S felt it forced those already involved in the community to inspect what BDSM was to them. To S, the community needed to do more than say what BDSM was not– namely 50 Shades of Grey– they also needed to examine why the differences mattered and, in doing so, define what BDSM meant to them. Which parts of 50 Shades, if any, were acceptable to the community and which weren’t? If Christian Grey, who is widely considered a terrible Dom in the community, conducted himself in an unacceptable manner, what manner would be more acceptable? The BDSM community in Taiwan has an opportunity now to demonstrate the difference between BDSM and abuse, between healthy kinky relation ships and unhealthy ones and S feels they should seize it.

Despite these discussions, the BDSM community in Taiwan remains fairly small. S contributes its size in part to the lack of openness in Taiwan, but is hopeful that is changing. It would be interesting, in the future, to conduct some research on the perceived impact of 50 Shades in Taiwan. One way to measure that may lie in researching the  rise in prevalence of sex toy related injuries, as the Washington Post did which it claims is indicative of the popularity of 50 shades in the United States. If such a study is conducted in Taiwan, perhaps the BDSM community in Taiwan can use that knowledge as a means publicize its existence and educate those interested on proper sex toy use. Another way to measure it might be to measure the increase in users on BDSM websites globally prior to the release of 50 Shades and after it. As of now, it is unclear what sort of impact 50 Shades of Grey has had on the growth of the BDSM community in Taiwan or how the community will use it to educate people who found the book titillating, one can only hope the S’s positive outlook on the potential effects of the film prove true.

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