Issues with Transparency

The term “Transparency” has a long history. It initially comes not from strict BDSM, but from the open relationship between Jean-Paul Satre and Simone de Beauvoir, the author of the 1949 work The Second Sex. In 1929 the two made a pact that was the basis for a decades long relationship…they would pursue other relationships but only in “Transparency” meaning that they would each tell the other.

History has eventually settled on a moderately uncomplimentary picture of Satre and de Beauvoir, accusing them of cold rather dispassionate handling of their other lovers, and manipulaton. For my part, despite the fact that they were not practicing D/s, I tend to feel they were no worse than real. De Beauvoir ultimately lied to Satre and he to her. Everything is not always perfect and one cannot always be nice. Under any circumstances the concept of “transparency” – of sharing every detail of one’s life with one’s lover or master, has roots in their vocabulary.
Guy Baldwin devotes Essay 6 of Slavecraft to “The Principle of Transparency.”
Slaving is the primary and favorite source of bliss in my life. i crave to be owned body, mind, heart, and soul.

But I cannot be owned if I cannot be seen, because the Master cannot exercise ownership of what He doesn’t know about. And at least for now, i believe that He cannot master me if i am hiding from Him in any way. In fact, to the extent that i can hide myself from my Master, i am not surrendering to Him. By hiding something, anything, i undermine His power and my respect for him- essentially, i castrate Him (figuratively, of course) without His even knowing it and, simultaneously, sabotage my surrender. Ball cutting slaves are the undoing of Master. i believe this because i have asked Them about it.

For me, my secrets keep Him from knowing me, and having me entirely. The capacity within me for secrecy has become my enemy, my slavery is compromised by any obscurity within myself. He can see my body and can take and use it for His toy, but He cannot see into my mind unless it is transparent – open to Him. And it is my job to make and keep it transparent. So, Transparency…openness, is one of the principles that guide me in my submission to Him.

That’s a very pretty statement, and certainly there is truth in it. But one has to wonder how far it goes. We can start with the argument that not every D/s relationship is the sort of deep emotional slavery that Baldwin is writing about, nor should it be. But even accepting that any relationship that was less…intense…the level of commitment to transparency would be less intense, there is some question about whether or not that’s really a good idea.

Let’s look at another view. This comes from a self-revelatory essay by Sadie, BDSM Author, and the woman who founded Vermont Rose & Thorn

“Being transparent has made me powerless in some ways, open and vulnerable with my guts hanging out on the table. And when I am deeply hurt as I am now, there is no one to help me tuck them back in and sew me up. Certainly Vladimir can’t do it because he’s the one who has hurt me. Vladimir truly wants me to be transparent and feels that he has a right to know how I feel about him in every way. Perhaps he does; I’m not so sure now where my rights to my private thoughts and emotions start and end. For example, I realized some months into our friendship that I was in love with him. I never told him this because I didn’t want to make either of us uncomfortable, after all he had been very clear that we were just friends and that was that. Because I wear my heart on my sleeve, he knew how I felt anyway so in my mind so saying it didn’t really matter much. When we became partners, words like “I love you” became so loaded that I also chose not to use them, knowing that there would be pressure for him to respond in kind. I wanted him to have the space and freedom to come to his feelings when he was ready. But he wants to hear my feelings, all my feelings anyway; in fact demands to hear them. There are so many other feelings that I have that I still do not want to share with him, now simply because I am still flayed and exposed, and cannot reveal anything that will invite any more hurt into my life. I’m maxed out on pain.”

So since this is a blog, the question becomes “what do I think about transparency.”
Obviously it varies depending on the level of intensity. You can’t ask much of someone you are doing a casual scene with. But let’s scrub that, and focus on situations where there is at least some level of ongoing relationship.

I tend to think transparency within a scene is important. I respect privacy if I don’t have a claim on someone, but I want to be able to get at what is going on in their mind within the frame of the scene. I think you have to know how far to take that.

I do like and think there is something to gain from selective transparency. Giving up control, being willing to respond to questions is a really heady D/s element. Some of my best scenes have been with situations that amounted to Q and A. Peeling back the layers from a partner, exposing them, through a series of questions or discussions. A friend of mine joked at a Roast a few years ago that women slept with me just because I talked with them. I have had talks that were probably from a D/s point of view better than sex. There is something about that type of exposure that is intensely erotic.

But I think you need to have lines. In the end, I think that what Baldwin writes is the sort of lovely ideal, but I think there are going to be very few cases where that’s really how things work. I mean Satre and de Beauvoir were the poster children for this idea, and they broke it. I think that what Sadie writes is where it is all too likely to end up.

So I come down the middle. I demand transparency within a scene…I want to be able to get an immediate and honest appraisal of what the submissive’s state of mind/arousal/etc. is. Often I think that’s information you can take physically without asking…arousal certainly isn’t hard to judge. But I still want to ask and get a clear answer.

Outside of a scene, I think that some transparency is a thing to negotiate for and build, but I think that demanding it in full is quite possibly a fool’s choice. Consider that I am not going to totally reveal myself to anyone and that to ask them to totally reveal themselves may be unfair.

I think one can learn to command a woman without complete transparency. It isn’t castration, it’s simply a challenge to overcome. To learn to intuit those places that are kept secret and hidden, to feel them out and to impose control without knowing everything.

We all want a “perfect information” environment. One in which we know everything before acting. But I would argue that real D/s seldom allows for that. We must learn to act with confidence on what we know without feeling castrated by a lack of transparency.

Interesting Fact: In the 18th century British Navy sailors were not allowed to leave the ship while in port for fear they would desert. In order to grant the men some relief from the day to day drudgery of buggery, prostitutes were permitted aboard, so that the men could remember the other option. Since contraception was comparatively unknown, children were often conceived and were thereafter known as “sons of a gun” for having been conceived on a gun deck. If the child died, they would be cremated and fired out of the cannon under which they were conceived (or more likely some similar gun on another vessel), a process known as “Canonization.” They might also be subjected to execution and similar treatment by a body known, predictably, as the “Canon Court.” In this case, they might actually be executed by the “Canon of Common Law,” a very messy procedure reserved for only the worst offenses.

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