Ariel Castro: The Psychopath in the Mirror?

Red eye
Image by bubblenubbins (CC BY‑NC‑ND 3.0)

“Help me, I’m Amanda Berry … I’ve been kidnapped, and I’ve been missing for ten years.”

We all remember that 911 call last May. And then those terrible words in the news. Sex slavery. Chains, leashes. Torture.

The stuff of our fantasies, now a spotlighted horrorhouse.

It was so hard to hear about it. It was even harder to think about it. But there was simply no alternative. Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight had to live through it. We had no right to find it too hard.

Or so I imagined.

I waited for the BDSM blogosphere to explode in condemnation and self-examination. The days passed, the weeks passed, and I found nothing.

And I was ashamed of us. There were young submissives out there compulsively reading about the malnourishment, the passing out from being chained to a pole for days, the forced abortions by starvation and fists and kicks down stairs.

Our future tops were out there too, seeing Ariel Castro in the mirror, assaulted by this question: What makes me different from him?

Man with hand over face in the dark
Image by Lloyd Morgan (CC BY‑SA‑2.0)

What answers did we leave for them to find? What answers did we make for ourselves?

Search “Amanda Berry BDSM”, and you’ll see. Precious little. People did write about it, but most of them were not kinksters. They’ve read Fifty Shades, they know we’re not like that. But for some of our heirs, those reassurances will be empty, because only we know what it feels like from inside.

I know we were in shock. We can’t stay that way. We owe them the truth.

Book cover of Comfort Food by Kitty Thomas

Here is my truth.

Rape. Captivity. Chains in the dark. Mind games. Yes. All of that has been in my fantasies and my porn.

It is also true that I have never wanted to be suspended by the neck from an electrical cord, or give birth to an unbreathing daughter with no doctor, or endure endless taunts about how my family isn’t looking for me and doesn’t love me. But I can’t say no sub has ever imagined it. Desire is a land with arbitrary boundaries.

And yes. Among my opposite numbers, I’m sure there are some who have fantasised about holding the power of life and death over three women in the basement, luring them into failed escape attempts, even teaching them fear and despair.

We are different from Ariel Castro. But the difference is not necessarily in what we want. It’s in what’s stopping us.

Tell me you haven’t coveted your neighbour’s iPad, or looked at a stranger with desire. Why aren’t you out there stealing and raping? Because you won’t let yourself do it. If you are sane and ethical, you count the cost – to others as well as yourself. That does not change because you have a fetish you don’t want.

I read about rape. I also do my very best not to be raped – or even touched without my consent. I have role-played rape scenarios, but never since my joints got so bad that a take-down struggle might injure me.

Rock climber hanging by a rope
Image by aatlas (CC0 1.0)

I have begged doms for things that they would have enjoyed, and I have been refused because they weren’t willing to take those risks with my well-being – or their own self-image. My domme friend Augusta won’t go near rope until she’s sure she’s learnt enough about nerve damage.

And when I’ve attended orientation sessions, I’ve marvelled at the safety precautions being urged by doms and switches, things that would never have occurred to me:

Ethical sadists don’t want to damage their partners. Look how much thought they put into protecting us. And sane masochists are nearly as cautious. Only psychopaths let their appetites run amok.

I’ve researched psychopathy, and I consider it at best a tragic imitation of sanity. We are not crazy. We are like rock climbers and sky divers – the sky is big, the ground is hard, and a life of more is precious. What we do is dangerous. So we wage war on ignorance, we have little tolerance for mistakes that cost, and we make damn sure we learn from them.

Frayed rope
Image from Tom Bech (CC BY 2.0)

Listen to Ariel Castro (or read the transcript), and you’ll see that he recognised no such costs or responsibilities. Those women survived by sheer luck, plus Michelle Knight’s gift for crisis negotiation.

Unlike psychopaths, we don’t even want to step over the brink by accident. That’s why safewords and no-drinking policies have become so ubiquitous. Safety is a huge part of why we value play parties – people actually want all those extra eyes and hands there to intervene.

And the most heartbreaking thing I have learnt about this case is that those extra eyes were on that house. The neighbours claim to have called the police several times, though the police deny it. All we know for certain is that those three women were seen but not rescued.

There is only one way I can make sense of that. People told themselves it was us in that house. Playing. They were kind and didn’t want to interfere, or they were disgusted and didn’t want to know more. Or both.

It is intolerable that our existence delayed that rescue. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Image by Taki Steve (CC BY 2.0)

To everyone reading this: We want you to verify consent. If you see a naked woman being walked around the backyard on all fours and a leash, please do vault over the fence and ask if she needs your help. Have no shame about demanding the truth. Use all your common sense and powers of observation to get an answer you believe. Our embarrassment is a small price to pay for others’ lives.

If you are a BDSM blogger: Join me. Everyone needs to know more. Let’s be brave and write about the tragedies that come horribly close to our desires. The world needs to know that this matters to us. And for our own sanity, we need to ask ourselves how we are different. Late is far, far better than never.

I am aiming for at least one REALITY CHECK post every season of the year, and I think that’s a realistic target for most regular bloggers. It will be the last post of the month whenever it appears, because I hope that one day it will be the last post that ever needs to be written.

17 thoughts on “Ariel Castro: The Psychopath in the Mirror?”

  1. Yes. Consent is the difference between psychopathy and Domination. Thank you for laying this out so elegantly. :)

    1. Um, actually, I don’t see it that way. For me, the key difference is concern for the well-being of the sub. Consent is only a proxy measure. (Edit: Okay, not just a proxy, it also has independent value, but it’s not as important.)

      I came to this conclusion after reading How to Do the Right Kinky Thing and Consent Alone Is Not Enough, both written by david stein, the originator of the tagline Safe, Sane and Consensual.

      Logically, concern for the well-being of the dom should also be crucial, but it’s easier to overlook that.

      1. Coming late to this discussion.

        Your response is only (possibly) true for countries in which BDSM is illegal. There are enough western countries where BDSM is legal and a defense even against a manslaughter or murder prosecution, and the one delimiter actually *is* consent, and consent alone.

        Consent as in uninterrupted, ongoing (no meta-consent, nor modern-style CNC), fully informed consent of a legally viable person (no alcohol, no drugs, no mental illnesses invalidating consent) between people of no real power discrepancy (no ward/guardian, pupil/teacher, patient/doctor relationships).

        And it works, it has been tested a couple of times as well. Everything outside of consent is already covered elsewhere in law anyway in these countries, such as physical injury resulting from negligence for instance.

        Insofar Stein and most of the US BDSM scene are counterproductive to ever achieving legalisation of BDSM. It’s a consistent and unabating illness not in the least countered by NCSF and various other organisations. US BDSM suffers, largely, from trying to re-write general law, instead of sanely accepting that it has to adapt to law if it ever wants to be legal.

  2. Wow, very interesting, honest post. And I’m also referring to your subsequent “Am I Part of the Problem” post, which linked me to this.

    I cannot say that I have been in the headspace you’ve described (as I’m more of a submissive than a masochist), however, I have weird inner turmoil over some of my fantasies as well…Maybe I’ll be able to write as thoughtfully about those sometime as you have here. Most of my blog posts so far are just fluff, but some of these issues really do keep me up at night.

    1. Thank you! I agree, my submission bothers me a lot less than my masochism. And I think the fact that it includes a lot of emotional masochism makes it worse.

      But I really look forward to reading what you write about it when the time comes. I know I’ll learn something, because you’ve already made me think with the questions you ask in your posts to date.

  3. I followed this case as well. From a different point of view, but definitely relevant for a true crime article writer. I could’ve done a piece about this character on my blog. Just to bring awareness and to bring rememberance of what happens around us, without us knowing it.
    We could’ve been the ignorant neighbour in the street where this story unfolded. Totally unaware of what happened next door for all those years.

  4. Really interesting post – I have just read “Confessions of a Sociopath” (M.E Thomas) and Gone Girl (Gillian Flynn) -both of which cover female rather than male sociopathy. It slightly bothered me because I did find the Thomas book, when she talks about her potential for cruelty, in some way arousing (I am a sub guy) However, both show the mechanisms by which sociopaths “hide in plain sight” – how they mimic the traits of concern, empathy and sociability – in fact their life is one of studied mimicry when it comes to human emotions. Therefore, this might lead me to be more doubtful when someone goes on to talk of their saneness and consensuality. Perhaps one clue to a person’s non-sociopathy would be the existence of some sense of secure self: namely durable enthusiasms values and beliefs over time, also an absence of vengefulness.

    1. I know what you mean about scary arousal. But sociopaths do enjoy power, so it is not surprising that as submissives we respond to that. And I agree that being able to talk well about sanity and consensuality is not a good filter for sociopaths. The best advice that I have seen is to observe people’s actions and give them time. Sociopaths are known to be poor at self-monitoring and to get bored easily, so there is every reason to hope that they will give themselves away as nasty/inconsistent people. And there is no harm in acting on the false positives and negatives you get with that test – after all, what matters is whether they behave like a sociopath towards you, not a clinical diagnosis.

What do you think?