Over the past few years, outward displays of faith have been a hot topic, but now the debate has taken a route which makes it more relevant than ever to fetishists. A midwife in Bedford has been dismissed from work for wearing an emblem of her beliefs, her silver slave collar. (See Article) She has taken the matter to the courts because she believes that this is a discriminatory act. North and East Herts Health Authority refuted this claim, stating that the issue was purely a matter of health and safety. The midwife then stood her ground, referring to the allowances made for others to wear symbols of more traditional belief e.g crucifix necklaces.
The slave collar is a symbol of submission and commitment within a consensual Dominant/ submissive relationship. The exact way in which a D/s relationship works may differ from couple to couple, but can involve rules and codes of behaviour and will always involve a power exchange to different degrees.
The core of the issue is based around whether the law feels it safe to recognise consensual slavery and the Dominant/submissive lifestyle in court. This, as all fetishists know, would be a huge step away from the discrimination put upon fetishists continually considering instances such as The Spanner Case and The Extreme Pornography Legislation. Fetishism is continually promoted as an aesthetic in music videos, runway collections and photo shoots but, as soon as it is more than just dress up and titillation, the tide turns and fetishists are seen in an extremely negative light -with the eyes of a voyeur at a freak show.
There is a continuing battle within society between the allure of fetish and moral disgust. Because of this, we are cowed by vague laws which, if they apply to our activities could lead to heavy sentencing as well as professional and social exile. So many fetishists must be careful to hide their lifestyle from outsiders because of such fears. One famous example is the model Bianca Beauchamp. When she started out she was also a primary school teacher – the school found her modelling site and she was told to choose between fetish modelling or teaching. I am sure we all know this is not a rare occurrence and most likely can name people we know who have been in similar situations. Surely we are a society of stable enough minds to understand that, just because a person is of a certain persuasion – be it a religious, sexual or lifestyle based – they are not necessarily a threat to others. Beliefs are not contagious; with open mindedness, education and confidence in oneself people are able to understand each other’s beliefs without feeling the need to surrender to them.
Of course, within this case there is the fear of condoning dysfunctional behaviour which may be oppressive and possibly harmful. I understand that it can be hard to convey to those outside the lifestyle that D/s can be natural for certain people and that, if these people are forced to function in a ‘normal’ relationship, this may be more damaging than allowing them to act in the way which feels right to them.
A comprehensive explanation of D/s relationships and fetishistic lifestyles would be needed to aid the courts and the general populous in understanding that, although these dynamics may appear strange and even unsettling, they are entirely harmless if done safely and consensually. But I feel they must be shown the existence of fetishism outside of sex for many people, demonstrating the importance of fetish as far more than simply a primal sexual urge – being at times a way of loving, living and experiencing.
Consider someone who enjoys pleasing others, or one who feels comfortable giving direction. These are not character faults, unless taken to the extreme. Within D/s relationships, these people balance each other and are enabled to work harmoniously together as a unit. Also think of tribal rituals which have long used pain, sensory deprivation and other tests of will power to enhance or enlighten the participants, whether as a form of teaching or as a way of experiencing something greater. A fetishist is not unlike these devotees, opening themselves to a fuller spectrum of feeling encompassing controlled experiences of pain, fear and vulnerability. Pushing themselves psychologically to mindsets alien to the most of society, not unlike monks, shamans and pychonaughts. If these people can be considered sane and safe, then surely it is the assumed deviant and sexual edge always associated with fetishists which causes our dilemma and, if this is removed, the way can be cleared for fetishistic freedom.