Editing the Vanilla Privilege Checklist

I’m still getting pingbacks on “Thoughts about Vanilla Privilege” saying “maybe, but as a POC/woman/queer, I also get shamed/victim blamed/commodified.” And, yeah, your possession of vanilla privilege doesn’t invalidate that or somehow make it less objectionable. What your vanilla privilege does do is make sure that the level of kink you desire/act upon is not a contributing factor to the shaming/victim-blaming/commodification. Which is nothing to be, like, overwhelmedly grateful for. But it’s everything to be at least fucking aware of.

I haven’t seen it stated formally anywhere else, but my definition of “privilege” is this: privilege on any given axis (be it class, race, gender, etc.) is the guarantee that the dominant culture won’t persecute you on the basis of your position on that axis. No one commits hate crimes against straight people, for example, so all of them have straight privilege regardless of the actual amount of violence any individual straight person has suffered. Being a victim in a differently-motivated hate crime does not mean that you don’t have straight privilege, it means that you quite clearly suffer from a different oppression.

With that in mind, this is my attempt to write a Vanilla Privilege Checklist. I modeled mine after Peacock Angel’s, which has been criticized for missing intersections between race/gender/sexual orientation and kink. (I would argue that a lot of hir statements with regards to the government and media availability are also western-centric).

But the ultimate problem with the original Vanilla Privilege Checklist is the same as the problem with a number of privilege checklists: it infers that the privileged people have all been given a set of benefits for being privileged on one axis without taking into account the fact that many “vanilla privileges” have been taken away from vanilla people on some other basis, like their race.

My checklist aims to refrain from making assumptions about vanilla people’s experiences. Instead, I focused on highlighting the ways in which vanilla people are not exposed to systematic oppression based on the level of kink they desire. Which is, somewhat redundantly, the reason they are privileged.

Most of the words are from this checklist; my corrections are made by crossing out the objectionable phrases and rewriting them in blue.

  • A vanilla person does not have to fear that discovery of their being vanilla will have an effect on their work life.
  • A vanilla person usually does not have to worry about the potential legal implications of sex in the manner they prefer with a the vanilla nature of sex they had with a consenting adult partner.
  • A vanilla person does not have to worry about their being vanilla as having bearing on whether they are considered fit to be parents.
  • A vanilla person doesn’t have to worry about their being vanilla being thought of as diseased or pathological.
  • A vanilla person will have an easier time finding depictions of people with sex lives similar to their own that are equally vanilla in the media.
  • A vanilla person will not have their sexual orientation called into question due to their sexual practices the vanilla nature of their sexual practices.
  • A vanilla person will have comparably easy access to reliable dealing with safety surrounding their sexual practices not be refused access to sexual safety information on the grounds that they are vanilla.
  • A vanilla person seeking medical attention due to an accident that occurred during sex will not face scrutiny or be treated unsympathetically because of the vanilla nature of their sexual activity.
  • Vanilla is not used as a pejorative. The word “vanilla” in this context will never be appropriated to mean “kinky but passionate.”
  • A vanilla person will not be assumed to be a sexual predator because of their vanilla sexual practices, nor will language used to refer to vanilla people as a group be used to describe rapists and perpetrators.
  • A vanilla person will have an easy time finding media that portrays people with their sexual preferences a desire for vanilla sex sympathetically and accurately will be easier to find than media that portrays kinky people similarly.
  • Vanilla people will never have their sexual practices the vanilla aspect of their sexual practices used for shock value.
  • A vanilla person does not have to worry about outsiders perceiving their relationship the vanilla aspects of their relationship as abusive or pathological.
  • Safe spaces for vanilla courtship and socializing are not privilege to legal harassment in the way BDSM clubs are.
  • A vanilla person will not have their being vanilla brought up during a rape investigation (either as accuser or accused)
  • Vanilla people can assume their relationship partners will not find their sexual arousal pattern the vanilla nature of their sexual arousal pattern disgusting.
  • A vanilla person will not fear their sexual practices the vanilla nature of their sexual practices counting against them in a divorce.
  • A vanilla person will not be asked about the origins of their sexual arousal pattern vanilla status, or have it assumed their sexual arousal pattern vanilla status stems from trauma or disease.
  • A vanilla person will not have to worry much about their roommate discovering their vanilla-ness.
  • A vanilla person’s actions will not be attributed to their being vanilla.  (Many people link people’s bad actions to their kinkiness, “Well of course he’s a thief, he’s kinky”)
  • Symbols of vanilla affection/romance will not be appropriated as “edgy” fashion statements (E.G. collars)
  • Discovery of equipment associated with vanilla sexual practices, provided they are otherwise privileged (condoms, lubricant, even a vibrator) although embarrassing will not result people’s drastically changing their opinion of the person in question.
  • A vanilla person will not have their masculinity/femininity called into question because of their dominance/submission in bed (I.E. A woman who enjoys being sexually dominant may be called unfeminine, or a man who enjoys being sexually submissive may be called unmasculine)
  • The discovery of a famous person having vanilla sex (provided it is within the other realms of privileged sex, monogamous, heterosexual, etc) Finding out that a celebrity prefers vanilla sex will not be considered news worthy.
  • A vanilla person’s sex related equipment (E.G. Condoms, lubricant, dental dams) will be regulated by government agencies and tested thoroughly for efficacy and safety.
  • Vanilla people can find numerous studies relating to their sexuality and sexual desire from the scientific community that do not treat them their vanilla status as marginal or pathological.
  • A vanilla person can count on the media to usually get the symbols associated with their relationships generally right (Here’s an example of the media getting it wrong, dominants generally don’t wear collars)
  • There is accurate medical research on the effects of vanilla sex upon the human body, kinky people are left with scraps here and there and anecdotal evidence.  We still don’t know if it’s safe to flog breasts. When researchers set out to study the effects of sex on the human body, they are thinking of vanilla sex.
  • A vanilla person will not worry about how their vanilla-ness reflect upon their gender, sex, sexuality, age group, etc etc etc.
  • A person’s political beliefs will not be called into question due to their being vanilla.  (For example, a heterosexual man who identifies as a feminist and acts as a good feminist but is sexually dominant may be told he is a bad feminist for enjoying a dominant role during sex, same for a heterosexual female submissive, or a sexually dominant woman may be called an angry feminist due to her preference for a dominant role during sex)
  • A vanilla person will have an easy time finding a counselor who understands and is sympathetic towards their vanilla status sexual practices.
  • Vanilla-ness is not vilified or exotified by the media (For exotification/vilification of the kink community check out basically any CSI/Bones/Law and Order type show with an episode that deals with kink, or numerous episodes of shows like 1000 Ways To Die)
  • A vanilla person can remain ignorant of terms involved in BDSM.
  • A vanilla person will not be assumed to be sexually experienced because of their vanilla-ness.
  • Vanilla is not taken to mean sexually available.
  • A vanilla person can go their entire life without being called vanilla.
  • As always, most importantly, a vanilla person can ignore their vanilla privilege.

4 Comments

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4 responses to “Editing the Vanilla Privilege Checklist

  1. [Trigger warning: discussion of abuse -Nora]

    (Here via Shakesville.)

    You mentioned USA-centric bits: have you considered how it’s English-centric too? If you haven’t seen/read it yet from the blogaround, I’d suggest you read my series “Why Kinky Isn’t French (Or Is It?)”.

    Because of my own experience, my perspective is critical of the concept of “vanilla” and of the divide between “vanilla” and “kink”. Being French, when I started saying “ok then, I am vanilla” to the English-speaking Ontarian kinkster who abused me (Frenchness and the relation of French to sex and sensuality also played a huge part in the sexual abuse I was victim by this person), it was a radical act – like it was radical for a Frenchperson to say “I am frigid”, “I am puritan” and, finally “I am asexual”. (When the French media – briefly – noticed the phenomenon of asexuality, they put it in perspective with the self-representation of the French as sensual, sexual seductors. I still have to hear or read about it from Québec media.) I continued stating for two years, because in the Internet, fanfic-reading, fandom-centered microcosm I live in, kinky is the norm and vanilla or “fluffy” a mocked, boring aberation, it was still a radical act to state “I am vanilla”. For long, I didn’t know what triggers meant or were, so it made sense. Now that I think of it, though, and now that I’ve been considered, by an English-speaker, “that I am kinky too because of X thing I like”, I started to realise “kinky vs vanilla” makes even less sense to me as a Frenchperson who lives in a French-speaking culture.

    • So I want to address two separate things in this comment:

      because in the Internet, fanfic-reading, fandom-centered microcosm I live in, kinky is the norm and vanilla or “fluffy” a mocked, boring aberation, it was still a radical act to state “I am vanilla”

      The dominant culture is never “not present.” Most of the people I know online are queer, but the straight ones I know still maintain full straight privilege. It is still not radical to declare “I am straight; I am cisgender; I am a man” even if that makes you the minority within your subculture.

      have you considered how it’s English-centric too?

      I’m assuming that you mean English-language-centric? Anyway, yeah, it is. Writing solely in English, and using English terminology is definitely English-centric. But obviously that applies to everything I write, I’m afraid.
      What I’m getting from your comment is that what’s considered “kinky” in North America isn’t necessarily treated as such in France? That’s fair. But then you just have to redefine “vanilla” in context. What kind of acts/fetishes/consensual power dynamics during sex will cause you to lose your vanilla privilege? That’s how you know what counts as “kinky.”

      • Yeah, English-language-centric. Forgot about that, but yeah, I mean from the linguistic perspective.

        It is still not radical to declare “I am straight; I am cisgender; I am a man” even if that makes you the minority within your subculture.

        Point taken. That was a bad example, especially considering fandom is already a form of subculture (I think). The thing is, I don’t believe vanilla is a privilege – so we’re going to disagree on that – because

        1) I believe it’s a preference;

        2) I have no idea how it can be defined as it constantly shifts;

        3) Unlike what the original poster of this checklist said (that you corrected), the term “vanilla” was precisely invented to be used as a pejorative.

        If there is a definition to vanilla, it’s sometimes “liking/doing fluffy egalitarian sex”, which isn’t the dominant perspective of sex at all: the dominant perspective isn’t egalitarian, it’s about gender roles defined by power dynamics.

        What I’m getting from your comment is that what’s considered “kinky” in North America isn’t necessarily treated as such in France? That’s fair.

        My point is that, being French, I am considered de facto as kinky for English-speaking people. As for inside my own culture, my posts are attempting to explain it.

  2. Madluv

    I am tring to understand.. Whats so special about ..being like everyone else?
    Dont u get called simple?
    I am a bit of a freak. But my partner isnt.. And we have issues

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