“He asked me if I was into S&M”

A year ago I went with my mother to visit Chicago for my birthday. It was a weekend trip and the only thing that I could put down as harassment was when we were on the train going from the airport to our hotel.

There were no seats left and I was standing by the doors holding onto one of the metal poles. There was a man across from me and at first he didn’t say anything until about fifteen to twenty minutes later when he made a comment about a necklace I was wearing. He asked me if I was into S&M. The necklace was a pair of handcuffs that I had bought at Claire’s, of all places.

I was a little bit put off but simply responded, “No, I just liked the necklace” Thankfully he didn’t say anything to me until he got off about ten minutes later.

Later when I told my mother about the experience she said to me that I had to at least expect some comments because of what the necklace was. I don’t agree and I thought that what that man had said to me was inappropriate.

– Anonymous

Location: Chicago, IL

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12 Responses to “He asked me if I was into S&M”

  1. friday jones says:

    In this case, I think that you were wearing a signaling item that is common to a tiny subculture you’re not a member of. That’s a privileged act that is a component of Cultural Appropriation. It’s the equivalent of putting out strong signals using “The Hankie Code” and then becoming offended when approached by members of the community who actually use the Code.

    Your “necklace” made of handcuffs is what the BDSM community calls a “collar.” It’s a VERY powerful symbol in that community.

  2. Marie says:

    Uhm, a collar isn’t just a chain with a pair of handcuffs on it. And if they’re selling them in mainstream shops, they’re no longer part of an underground subculture.

    Anyway, I understand what Anon is saying here. I regularly wear corsets as part of Victorian styled outfits, and get creepy people ask me if I’m ‘kinky’ or into ‘BDSM’. They have no right to ask questions like that, it’s rude and intrusive.

    Even if Anon was interested in BDSM, approaching someone on a bus and using it as a conversational opener is incredibly forward.

    In short, I’m sorry this happened to you Anon, and I don’t agree at all with Friday Jones.

  3. When you assume... says:

    I don’t give a fuck what the BDSM community use as their symbol, that gives them no damn right to go up to people and ask if they’re into S&M. And if handcuffs are to make anyone think of anything, it’s usually the police, not someone with a beating fetish.

  4. socks says:

    i could see how someone could mistake the necklace as signaling.. do we really have to be so fast to hate on bdsm? i can’t help but feel a little hate in the’when you assume’ comment. feels alienating. but of course no one has the right to ask you about your sexual preferences while you are waiting for the bus so i too am sorry that it happened to you.

  5. When you assume... says:

    I don’t see how someone could “mistake” the necklace as signaling and I am not “hating” on the BDSM community, but I think it’s idiotic for someone to tell the victim to expect those kinds of comment because of some subculture’s supposed symbol.

  6. friday jones says:

    It wasn’t a comment, it was a question. As in, you were wearing a collar made to look like handcuffs, and he inquired if you were in the sub-community that created that look specifically as a signaling item.

    If you’re offended by the very idea that you are “into S&M” then perhaps you should stop appropriating our cultural symbols. If you find the very question offensive, then wearing our symbols is a bad idea. We specifically chose items that would not be casually worn by vanilla people, but the mainstream seems to think that all cultures are quaint little tourist areas apparently.

    Collars are not just a cute fashion item, they have deeper meaning in our community than the wedding ring does in the mainstream society.

  7. Jen says:

    Bottom line is that, even if she was into S&M – or anything else that her dress somehow denoted – it makes people uncomfortable to be questioned about it by a complete stranger. I think it’s a bit unfair to start getting hysterical about the fact that she’s ‘appropriated’ a cultural symbol – not everyone will walk into Claire’s, see a necklace with handcuffs on it and think “Oh my god! They’re misappropriating subcultural symbols – I sure ain’t gonna buy that!” Not everyone will know that it ‘means’ anything, and in any case I *suspect* that handcuffs existed before the S&M community adopted them as a symbol if we want to make THAT the issue, not the fact that once again a woman has been made to feel uncomfortable by unwanted male attention.

  8. When you assume... says:

    I know it’s just *oh* so hard to believe, but life actually exists outside your lovely little subculture. So whether it’s comments or questions, it’s unwarranted and rude. I mean jeez, are those who don’t want to be harassed going to have to use a “safe” word?

  9. friday jones says:

    Yeah, that “safe word” crack is about as funny as a joke targeting LGBT people. Your Privilege is showing.

    Let’s get this straight: A small sub-community is persecuted, and develops a signaling system in order to be able to find each other and still have a community together despite societal persecution. Someone in the mainstream purchases a COLLAR, then is simply asked if she’s in the community that wears such things, and she gets royally pissed off. That’s not harassment of her, it’s her exhibiting her straight vanilla Privilege.

    Same with the attitudes expressed here, such as “I don’t give a fuck what the BDSM community use as their symbol,” “life actually exists outside your lovely little subculture,” and “I mean jeez, are those who don’t want to be harassed going to have to use a ‘safe’ word?” What a load of privileged nonsense.

    She was outraged by the very question, and the question was just “are you in our community?” It’s pretty much the same privileged BS that makes straight men get massively offended if they are asked if they are gay. Which might happen if a straight man wears something the gay community uses as a signaling device.

    Your bashing of my community is noted, and as an LGBT woman in the BDSM community, I can see that this is a case of women bashing women for being in the “wrong” sexual subcultures, like Betty Friedan kicking out the “Lavender Menace.”

  10. Jen says:

    I can see why the comments from When you assume… are problematic, but I don’t think we’re all engaging in ‘bashing’ the S&M community. As I’m not a member of the community, I’m not aware of the level of prejudice its members might receive, but it does seem odd to me to compare any prejudice directed at a usually covert ‘small sub-community’ to prejuduce against a large visible group i.e. women who are harrassed on the street.

    I think that some of the terms Friday uses, such as ‘straight vanilla Privilege’ are equally as insulting as some of the terms pinpointed as alienating in When you assume…’s argument. There is an assumption by the S&M community here that everyone else is somehow socially unaware, leading boring little conservative lives and full to the hilt with a hatred of anything outside that. I think that’s an unfair assumption; I’m involved with extreme electronic music which comes with its own quirks and areas of interest that others may find offensive, and write for what many people would call ‘underground’ publications. Just because we object to being asked a personal question by a stranger in the street, doesn’t make us ‘vanilla’.

    This is all sounding a lot like some of my friends in the mid-90s, when ‘their’ bands like Green Day became mainstream and were no longer part of a punk subculture: they were instantly accused of ‘selling out’. I really don’t see what genuine threat there is in the OP accidentally wearing something that could be seen by *some* people as a signalling device. If this guy genuinely was asking if she was part of his community, couldn’t he have been more subtle about it, bearing in mind that she *might* not be and may be offended by his question? We don’t even know this guy WAS a member of the community and not just your regular sleazy harasser.

  11. collared says:


    No, even if she was part of the subculture, that bus guy shouldn’t have asked. There’s a time and a place and that isn’t it.

    HOWEVER. There is crazy fighting going on in the comments now.

    Vanilla doesn’t mean boring office workers who flinch when you say “blowjob”. It just means that sexually, you have less quirks than us. Fair enough.

    HOWEVER. Just because you are part of the community doesn’t mean you have to bash wildly on anyone who doesn’t really understand that much about it and is more pissed at the idea of a guy on the bus leering over to ask private questions than about BDSM as a culture in our lives.

  12. Vanilla says:

    Asking a perfect stranger about his/her sexual preferences of any kind while riding a bus is totally inaproppriate and harassing, no matter which kind of preferences people may have, wearing a signaling necklace or not. And no matter if the person who asked was a part of the community or not. Simply too intrusive.

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