Student Project Profile

BDSM on the Margins: The Unique Experiences of BIPOC BDSM Practitioners

Project Title

BDSM on the Margins: Recognizing the Unique Experiences of BIPOC BDSM Practitioners

Faculty Mentor(s)

Project Description

Salma works at a table on her laptop.

My research project focuses on people who identify as BDSMers and BIPOC and examines their lived experiences, how central each of those identities is to their self-concept, and how these identities interact and/or conflict. It considers processes of racialization and the stigmatization of sexual minorities through participants’ narratives.

BDSM (bondage/discipline, Dominance/submission, sadism/masochism) community spaces and associated research note extensive gender and sexual diversity among members; however, BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) BDSMers' experiences have been underrepresented, under-researched, and framed within a White/Other binary. Racialization as a social construct in America positions Whiteness as the “default” and classifies non-White racial and ethnic identities as “Other.” As a result, BIPOC experience discrimination in education, housing, employment, and society in general. Identifying as a BDSMer is also met with prejudice that negatively impacts psychological and physical well-being. Because of the unique and pervasive effect race and ethnicity might have on BIPOC BDSMers' identification and experiences in BDSM, we sought to understand and represent BIPOC BDSMers' perspectives through semi-structured online interviews. Participants answered questions about identity salience and centrality, identity disclosure, identity conflict, fetishization, accessibility, code-switching, research exploitation, and experiences of being BIPOC BDSMers in diverse and non-diverse spaces.

Why is your research important?

Racial, ethnic, and sexual minorities face tremendous discrimination and obstacles. Research has rarely if ever covered the intersection of BDSM and BIPOC identities in a non-reductive or non-comparative lens to Whiteness. BIPOC experiences deserve to stand on their own and be represented holistically to deepen the knowledge in the field about these populations and about identity centrality.

What does the process of doing your research look like?

My research primarily relies on participant interviews, so, along with the rest of the research team, I am present during the virtual interviews to take notes and ask probing questions. I have also been working on a great portion of the manuscript, transcribing, and analyzing!

In what ways have you showcased your research thus far?

I participated in the Undergraduate Research Summer Symposium. Also, I am currently working on the manuscript for the research paper to communicate the project’s results and understanding of the uniqueness of BIPOC BDSM experiences and amplify the voices that are systemically erased from society and science.

How did you get involved in research? What drove you to seek out research experiences in college?

Curiosity! I have a lot of questions about the world. Plus, I want to help (marginalized) communities through social justice-informed intersectional research. This project means a lot to me because of the nature of this population's stigmatization in terms of misinformation, sexualization, and discrimination.

What is your favorite aspect of the research process?

Interacting with participants and getting to know more about their community was very enjoyable. I appreciate all learning experiences when they come my way! Understanding this population has extended my perception of broader concepts relating to racialization, power, and sexuality.

How has working with your mentor impacted the development of your research project? How has it impacted you as a researcher?

My mentor has directly supported me during this learning journey about the research process and the literature on BDSM and BIPOC issues. I have learned a substantial amount about the structure of research and how positionality and biases impact analysis.

How has the research you’ve conducted contributed to your professional or academic development?

In-depth, hands-on experience with all the procedures and intricacies within research was so satisfying, especially as this project enabled me to work with minority populations. My main research focus is on sexual minorities and Arabs’ experiences, so gaining experience with other minoritized populations has been priceless.

What advice would you give to a younger student wanting to get involved in research in your field?

Check out your professors’ research interests, pick the ones closest to yours, and contact them. Professors are often very open and excited to work with students, so just reach out! There are a lot of opportunities to work on what interests you, so do not be discouraged or think that your ideas are not worth exploring!