From The Writers' Room Featuring Geek Actually

Cecilia Tan on Writing Geek Actually Episode 6 “Can You Not”

Among the thorny topics facing our heroines in this episode, the one that was right in my wheelhouse was “BDSM scenes gone wrong.” People often ask me how I do my research because they jokingly assume that I don’t actually go out and DO anything too wild. Writers sit at home in their bathrobes with their cats all day, right?

Their faces sometimes turn red when I relate that, no, actually, I’ve been going to BDSM play parties since the 1990s. In fact the first party I attended was one that I hosted myself with some online friends in 1991, at a science fiction convention at a hotel in Tewksbury, Masschusetts. The party that Michelle attends in New York City is similar to some I’ve been to in more recent years.

Private BDSM play spaces are tricky to keep running. Rent isn’t cheap in a city like New York, and parties only happen once or twice a month, making the admission fee for the parties quite high. A bigger problem is that technically most BDSM activities are illegal. Hitting someone–even consensually–is considered assault in the eyes of the law. While these days most police departments have better things to do than harass consenting adults, the fear that there may be a “crackdown” at some point makes landlords leery of keeping dungeons for very long.

One infamous case of the police getting into hot water by “raiding” a play party of consenting adults took place in Attleboro, Massachusetts, in July 2001. When they busted into a warehouse without a warrant, the cops probably thought they were going to find a rave or maybe sex trafficking. What they found was about two dozen mostly middle-aged married couples. Among other things, the police ended up charging a woman with “assault with a dangerous weapon” for spanking another woman with a wooden spoon.

This was how the city of Attleboro got the nickname “Paddleboro.” People began mailing their wooden spoons to the police station with letters saying they were “surrendering” their “dangerous weapons.” The town and the police were made to look ridiculous. The BDSM community raised money for legal defense. Google the word “Paddleboro” to get the full details, but a year later the cases were dismissed. Since then, police departments have mostly steered clear of BDSM “busts,” but it’s still important for consenting adults who get together for fun to know their rights.

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