[identity profile] millefiori.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] the_comfy_chair
Take Clothes Off As Directed by [livejournal.com profile] helenish is NC-17, BDSM themed, and an unauthorized homage set in the alternate universe created by [livejournal.com profile] xanthelj in General & Dr. Sheppard and Coming Home.

I read Helen's story both as a sly, clever reflection of male/female relations in Western society, and a look at the potential pitfalls of a society with an institutionalized BDSM lifestyle. And it's an interesting contrast to Xanthe's stories and style.

First off, I have to say I feel kind of cheeky posting about this, because I've only read parts of General and Dr. Sheppard, and I haven't yet decided whether or not to read Coming Home. I have some strong feelings about BDSM, and (of course) that colors how I read stories with that subject matter. I think BDSM in the bedroom is a kink, and I take a live and let live attitude toward kink. BDSM (and Domestic Discipline) as a lifestyle is something else, and it's something which for personal reasons makes me uncomfortable.

Having said all that, I think I read enough of General & Dr. Sheppard to get something of a feel for the writing, and I think it's an interesting contrast. Xanthe's writing feels lush and emotional, sweeping the reader along like a fictional Tchaikovsky. Helen's writing is more spare, quirky and at times almost uncomfortable, more like, say, Erik Satie. And I think these different styles suit the different stories very well. I can see these two styles/stories existing in the same universe, the lush, operatic story told of people who are happy and suited to their lives in this society, and the quirky, sadder story of people who don't quite fit and aren't quite as happy.

I found Helen's story to be very sad, the only hopeful part being that John had finally found in Rodney a partner who loved him and would treat him the way he wants/deserves to be treated. I'm not sure if it was Helen's intent, but I read this as John not really being a sub per se (nor Rodney being much of a top), but both of them forced into the roles by the rigid hierarchy of their society, and going along the best they could. I read it as John being the sort of person who wants to play BDSM games in the bedroom, not live it as a lifestyle, and the only reason he wasn't crushed by this society is because he's a stubborn, contrary bastard.

I was almost nauseated by the way Elizabeth so obviously and earnestly felt she was doing the best, right thing for John with her inappropriate 'discipline', when in actuality she was more of a hindrance, just one more thing to be ignored/overcome in John's attempts to be himself and to do his job. Because being routinely beaten, undermined and humiliated is just the downside of being a sub who's trying to do his chosen job. (And, of course, he wouldn't have these problems if he hadn't got above himself and stayed in his proper place.) It felt very realistic, and therefore very unsettling, to see just how easy it was to strip John of his dignity and humanity, and turn him into a second-class citizen, essentially a slave. And perhaps it's all the more unsettling because there are still people in the world who are slaves, and who are routinely treated in degrading, disrespectful ways, and they too have no choice but to suck it up and endure.

Although it's a bit of a slap in the face to overlay this dynamic on our society and see the sub=women angle, I think (I hope) things are not quite that bad for women anymore. At least not in first world Western societies. It's also good to remind myself that fantasy universes aside, most of the people living rigid BDSM lifestyles are doing so because they want to, not because they have no choice. Nevertheless, I think this story is going to stay with me for a long time.
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