“Did you hear that so-and-so injured someone last week?”
“I won't tie with that person. I heard they're a rapist.”
“So I heard that so-and-so got nerve damage at a party last night.”
We rope bottoms all talk. About our injuries and experiences, about our rope partners. About other rope bottoms' injuries and experiences, about their rope partners. Sharing information through talking and writing is key to gaining knowledge, staying safe, and feeling connected to the rope community as a whole.
But sharing certain kinds of information can be a bad idea. Sometimes we share stories that aren't ours to share, or for the wrong reasons. Sometimes we don't know the whole story but we share it anyway, creating errors in omission. Sometimes we claim we're just trying to be helpful, and maybe we even believe it, when really (perhaps subconsciously) we're trying to appear “in the know” or otherwise special, and we may actually be harming someone.
This is gossiping.
Sometimes we talk to friends instead of the person who really needs to hear it: the rope top. We tell a bunch of people that so-and-so ropester caused us harm (“but please don't repeat this to anyone else, OK?”) or that we had a bad experience with them, and we never tell the actual rope partner.
This, I call griping.
Lest you think I'm pointing a finger at you, let me admit right now that I've done both of these things on occasion in the past (yes, in an effort to be helpful), and now regret it. In fact, most people likely have gossiped and griped at some point, because these are very human behaviors. But luckily, we humans are also gifted with intelligence, which lets us examine and adjust our behavior as we learn.
Gossiping and griping are insidious and harmful even if the intent isn't harm, as you'll see below. Let's look at some examples and at better ways to share information.
The gossipy way: Rope bottom Ariel tells you that rigger Ursula violated her consent (or injured her or whatever). Flounder asks you if you've ever tied with Ursula, and based on Ariel's report alone, you say, “No, but I hear she violated Ariel's consent [or injured her].”
What's wrong with this? You didn't see the violation or injury happen, and you didn't talk with Ursula. You don't have the whole picture. You don't even know if Ariel is actually telling the truth. You've now harmed Ursula by damaging her reputation, and you've possibly prevented Flounder and other rope bottoms from having a beautiful experience tying with her.
The better way: When Flounder asks if you've ever tied with Ursula, you say, “No, but I know someone who has. Would you like me to contact them and see if they would be willing to talk with you?” Notice that best practices here dictate that you don't even share Ariel's name, because what happens between Ariel and Ursula is their private experience. Ariel may have shared the private experience with you, but Ursula didn't, and you didn't get either person's permission to share who their partners are with other people.
The gossipy way: You notice that rope bottom Jafar seems interested in tying with rigger Aladdin—flirting publicly on FetLife or Facebook, say, or you see them at a club getting cozy. You pull Jafar aside and whisper, “Just be careful, OK? I heard Aladdin is a rapist [or consent violator or dangerous rigger or whatever].”
What's wrong with this? While wanting to protect someone from rape or other kinds of sexual assault is obviously good, if you don't know firsthand (as in, it happened to you) that Aladdin is a rapist or whatever, you're possibly spreading lies and certainly damaging Aladdin's reputation. And saying “I heard” (as in, “maybe this is true and maybe it isn't”) doesn't get you off the hook, because all Jafar will take away is “possible rapist,” and we all know how the game of telephone goes.
The better way: You tell Jafar something like,”I noticed you're getting cozy with Aladdin. Have you researched him and talked with other rope bottoms about their experiences with him? Always a good idea with a new partner, you know.” You could even strongly urge. And if you're that concerned, and not just taking the easy route of spreading rumors, you could ask a person it didhappen to (if that person exists) to talk with Jafar directly.
The griping way: You tell Elsa, Anna, and Olaf that Kristoff injured you or violated your consent in a rope scene. You don't, however, tell Kristoff.
What's wrong with this? This is a tricky one. First, you aren't obligated to tell Kristoff anything, especially if it causes you any kind of mental or emotional pain or fear (of retribution, of physical harm, etc.). But by sharing the info with other people and nottelling Kristoff, you run the risks that a) only half the story will get spread around, creating a biased and possibly inaccurate picture, and b) Kristoff will never realize what he did wrong and will keep doing it to others.
The better way: Again, this is tricky, and getting injured or violated brings up other issues that may override being considerate of the partner involved. Personally, however, I think it's a good idea to muster up your courage and discuss it with Kristoff, unless it might cause you harm, as noted above. And I think it's perfectly OK to discuss your experience with a trusted friend, but I urge you to examine your reasons for doing so and to do so in a thoughtful, honorable way. Telling close friend Elsa in confidence so she can help you process or deal with what happened is one thing. Telling a dozen people that you're not going to a party because Kristoff will be there and you're avoiding him because he injured you is entirely another. Talking with a trained counselor can be a good idea too.
What if you did actually witness something, like a violation or an accident? Does that give you the right to get on the horn and tell everyone what you saw? Not necessarily. Keep in mind that what you saw is still only part of the picture. There are things you may have missed seeing and things you couldn't have picked up just by watching. And it's still not your story—that story belongs to the people directly involved. If it happened in a private club, you may even be bound by the club's rules to not disclose anything that happens there (very common in the kink world).
On the other hand, very good reasons may exist for sharing something you witnessed, even if the people involved don't share it themselves (telling the dungeon monitor or owner of the club where it happened comes to mind, as does speaking up for someone who is unable to speak up for themselves). So I think sharing something witnessed should be taken on a case-by-case basis, but the decision should be made thoughtfully and with honorable intentions. And pure gossip or rumor-mongering is never an honorable intention.
The golden rule seems to apply here: Treat others how you would want to be treated. Mentally switch places with the person you're thinking of gossiping or griping about, and ask yourself how you would feel if they were doing it to you. It's not the only thing to consider, but it's a start.
These few examples just scratch the surface, and I have no formal training in communications or conflict resolution. If you have better “Better ways,” or any thoughts about responsibility in talking or writing about personal experiences publicly, please share them in the Comments! I do, however, have a deep love of our rope bottoming community. And when we gossip and gripe, we do a disservice to our community as a whole. Because we lower the overall levels of respect, honorability, and thoughtfulness—and that affects everyone.
- Some people said they realize they could be more careful about the way they speak, a valuable realization.
Some people pointed out that second- and third-hand info has helped find and root out predators, and that it's an effective system of helping protect people where no real structure is in place to otherwise do so, and where people are particularly preyed on and may not be able to speak up for themselves, and those are all excellent points.
It was emphasized that not revealing a victim's name without permission is important.
There is absolutely no victim shaming involved in the post, and anyone claiming that has either not read the post carefully or is deliberately misinterpreting it. The difference between speaking the truth about problems and gossiping is huge.
Regarding the word choices of “gossiping” and “griping,” I invite anyone with better choices to share them, because I couldn't find any.
People who are falsely accused are victims, just as victims of predators, abusers, and consent violators are. The percentage of cases of victims of false accusations among all kinds of victims is not known and may be small or less talked/written about.
Hopefully we can find a balance between reducing thoughtless and hurtful gossiping while supporting victims of abuse and violations. If you have any ideas to contribute, please share them in the Comments or on my FetLife profile post.