Gary Switch letter

During a discussion of SSC (Safe, Sane and Consensual) on the TES-Friends list on 11/25/99, I proposed RACK (Risk-Aware, Consensual Kink) as an alternative. Here’s my motivation:

Nothing’s perfectly safe. Crossing the street isn’t perfectly safe. Remember that it’s technically called «safer sex,» not «safe sex.» If we want to limit BDSM to what’s safe, we can’t do anything more extreme than flogging somebody with a wet noodle. Mountain climbers don’t call their sport safe, for the simple reason that it isn’t; risk is an essential part of the thrill. They handle it by identifying and minimizing the risk through study, training, technique, and practice. I believe that this approach will work better for us leatherfolk than claiming that what we do is safe. We want to foster the notion that we develop expertise, that to do what we do properly takes skill developed through a similar process of education, training, and practice.

Negotiation cannot be valid without foreknowledge of the possible risks involved in the activity being negotiated. «Risk-aware» means that both parties to a negotiation have studied the proposed activities, are informed about the risks involved, and agree how they intend to handle them. Hence «risk-aware» instead of «safe.»

The «sane» part of SSC is very subjective. Who’s making the call? Person A might think fisting is insane; persons B and C might enjoy it very much. «Sane» always reminds me of Pat Paulsen’s campaign slogan from the old Smothers Brothers show: «Vote for Paulsen; he’s not insane!» If you go around constantly reassuring folks that you’re not crazy, they’ll start to wonder.

I’ve heard «sane» interpreted as: «able to distinguish fantasy from reality» and «not intoxicated,» which are both perfectly valid, though the latter is similar to the above — you don’t go around constantly reassuring folks that you’re not drunk, either.

«Consensual» is the crux, implying negotiation which implies being able to distinguish fantasy from reality, as well as dealing responsibly with risk factors. If you don’t know the risk factors, if you don’t know what will happen in reality, then you don’t know what you’re consenting to. Meaningful negotiation must always take place on the common ground of consensus reality.

The «kink» part went in to make a snappy acronym and because SSC doesn’t tell you what you should be SSC about. Safe, Sane, and Consensual trout fishing? Alluding to the rack, an archetypal torture instrument, has been criticized, but to me it signifies our transformation of atrocity into ecstasy, and admits that though we may enjoy some dark fantasies, we realize them harmlessly.

RACK is admittedly more confrontational than SSC. It’s defiant, the same way the GLBT community uses «queer.» RACK allows us the freedom to have non-PC fantasies. Don’t a lot of us enjoy non- consensual fantasies, either from the top side or the bottom side? We enjoy them in our literature; we may very well enjoy them while we play. But we act them out responsibly and consensually.

(Reference source: Gary Switch, Contributing Editor, Prometheus magazine, )

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