My recent read and review of Slave in Training got me thinking about a number of things - and that's one of the big reasons I liked it. One of the aspects I liked about the book was the consensual nature of the protagonist's enslavement. He chooses life as a slave and is given several opportunities throughout the story to give up the path he has chosen. What struck me most about this was just how rare this is in most M/M Master/slave books coming out these days. It seems like far too many of these stories are really about rape and torture rather than anything else.
Now, I'm not for a minute going to suggest that there are certain things that shouldn't be written about. I find the whole notion of limiting what we can read and write absurd. The idea of being held against your will and used as a sexual plaything is a powerful erotic as well as dramatic concept, and yes, it's one I've used myself. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't question why it seems to have such a strong foothold in a genre, or if it's really appropriate to the story.
The thing is, I've read some stories in recent years - both self-published and by established authors - where the violence against the slave was particularly brutal and, perhaps more to the point, didn't seem to serve the plot. In short, the violence seemed gratuitous. That's a subjective conclusion, but it's not really the point. Nobody would argue that these scenes aren't brutal. Some reviewers even praised them for that. So what's the point? It's the double standard. If the slaves being raped and beaten were female, I'm sure at least some reviewers might be brave enough to suggest that the author had issues, but since they are men, nobody seems to bat an eye. Is that really okay?
When I pointed out such issues, one author's defender went so far as to suggest that maybe I didn't ‘get’ BDSM. Um, okay. I do accept that people have different ideas about what BDSM is. For many, BDSM is anything kinky, and for many straight people, all gay sex is kinky, so therefore all gay people engage in BDSM (if only...). But again, whether you label it as BDSM or not is beside the point. People just don't seem to want to talk about the idea that men can be objectified in the same way women have been. One almost wonders if the popularity of gay fiction among straight people is because you can get away with doing things to a man (in fiction, at least) that you couldn't get away with if the character were female.
Perhaps it's just that so many people still believe in the antiquated notion that men can't be raped. I dare anyone who believes that to read this article from the Washington Post. It rather convincingly pokes holes in such notions as “men never say no” or that a physical response to stimuli means the victim is really enjoying it.
In the end, I'm still left with a conundrum: Is it really an issue if nobody is willing to talk about it? I tend to think that's the clearest sign of all that there is something here which needs to be discussed.