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By Rob Jellinghaus
…is SM criminal, unnatural, immoral, unethical, or unhealthy?
If what we’ve been saying in this FAQ is accurate, then why haven’t more people heard this? Why are the prevailing images of SM so negative?
There is no doubt that they _are_ negative. Not long ago I was informed that there are some members of the Winnipeg (Canada) police department who believe that soc.subculture.bondage-bdsm is “a textbook on how to torture women for sexual pleasure. It’s obscene.” Said police were considering how to deal with s.s.b-b on obscenity grounds. In England in 1991, a group of gay men who had gathered for an SM play party in which they were using whips for pleasure were arrested and charged with battery, EVEN THOUGH they had all agreed to be doing exactly what they were doing, and WANTED to be doing it. Consensual SM is illegal in England. How can this be?
The crucial distinction here is between consent and non-consent. The difference between whipping someone in a scene and assaulting them on the street is the difference between sex and rape. If everyone involved agrees to what is happening, it is not a crime. If they do not, then it is. This distinction is not in principle difficult to understand, and being involved in SM makes it very clear. SM practitioners are _more_ familiar with consent issues than most, and as such are _less_ likely to commit crimes of the sort that people confuse with SM. And NONE of the material in this FAQ advocates ANY kind of nonconsensual, criminal behavior.
Unfortunately, there are many who would be arbiters of what others may and may not legally consent to do. I believe that consenting adults should be free to do as they wish in the privacy of their homes. There are many who don’t believe this is acceptable. It serves them to confuse the issue by claiming “SM people are sadistic rapists” when in fact we are nothing of the sort. Criminalizing consensual sexual activities (sodomy, SM, even prostitution) is an old tradition, but in my view, an unjustifiable one.
This problem is exacerbated by the body of “scholarly research” on SM and related practices. Almost all the books written about SM and other alternative practices in this century have been written by psychologists and therapists (i.e. people outside the scene), and almost all have portrayed SM as a dangerous practice, indulged in only by “unhealthy” individuals. The reason? Healthy individuals weren’t the subjects being studied; rather, the subjects were all seeking psychological treatment from the authors of the books! The “studies” completely ignored the many many well-adjusted, happy people who were also into SM. It’s easy to conclude SM is harmful when your only experience is with psychologically maladjusted SM people, and when you aren’t interested in presenting a balanced view (as few authors are–psychologists can be as sexually judgmental as anyone).
More recent events in the psychiatric community have shown a change in opinion about SM. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Psychiatric Conditions is a document produced by the American Psychiatric Association. The DSM-III, published in the late ’80s, classified “sexual sadism” and “sexual masochism” as disorders for which treatment was recommended. The APA, in the DSM-IV, reclassified SM as _not_ necessarily a disorder, unless the practice of the SM produces clinically significant ongoing emotional trauma, or leads to death, serious injury, or disability. The DSM-IV is recognition by the therapeutic community that SM can be practiced in a psychologically healthy way. Specifically, _DSM IV_, © *1994*, page 529, §302.83, “sexual masochism”: Classed as a paraphilia, not a disorder, lacking negative implications unless “the fantasies, sexual urges, or behaviors cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.” Sexual sadism is discussed 2 pages later, §302.84, with similar qualifications.
As for “natural”: people have practiced SM behaviors throughout history. Many are the saints who scourged themselves in the name of the Lord. Using intense sensation to reach altered states of mind is a practice as old as humanity itself–and hence can be considered in no way “unnatural”.
Our society (as do most societies) tends to ostracize the different. If you don’t fit the mold, you’re weird and dangerous. People into SM don’t fit the mold. This is why there is such pressure to remain anonymous in the scene; people have lost their jobs, partners, children, and liberty by having their sexual preferences revealed to their community. This stems from the same source: lack of understanding of what we do and why, and lack of respect for what is different.
Of course, there are plenty of people who just aren’t into SM. (Most people, in fact.) There’s nothing at all wrong with not being into SM, or with not wanting to be exposed to people who do various forms of SM; many people have emotional issues with some kinds of SM activities and may be repulsed or disturbed by witnessing them. These people should clearly avoid SM (and probably should avoid soc.subculture.bondage-bdsm). I would hope, however, that even these people would manage to learn about consensuality as it relates to SM, and learn how SM, practiced carefully, is not abuse.
Some people feel that any power exchange between people is unhealthy. The argument is that giving power to someone else is tantamount to giving away your essential right to self-determination, which must be considered an unqualified evil. Moreover, there is no doubt that many social evils–wars, abusive relationships, et al.–derive from one group of people seeking power over another; therefore, the argument proceeds, it is always wrong thusly to seek power.
In reality, there are many situations in life in which someone chooses to give some of their power over to another, because they trust that other to use that power wisely. Examples include entering the Army (which regulates your life for the duration of your service); getting married (which is often a commitment to abandon some of your personal autonomy); taking a job (which restricts your choices of how to spend your time); and, of course, entering a BDSM scene (during which your top has authority over what goes on). All these power exchanges are mutually agreed upon, and are mutually beneficial; when they stop being beneficial, the exchange itself should stop.
People whose moral codes state that all power exchange–consensual or otherwise–is wrong should clearly not be involved in BDSM. Certainly such people have a consistent ethical system that defines BDSM as immoral. Short of such an ethical system, however, it is hard to see how a BDSM relationship is any more intrinsically immoral than a stint in the Army, or a traditional ‘death-do-you-part’ marriage. As for me, I believe that in a free society, morality requires permitting each citizen to make his or her own choices of how to live, and how to express themselves, including sexually. Sexual rights are human rights. If we lose our freedom to love as we choose, we lose a vital part of what it is to be human.
These issues are very controversial, even now. In the 1992 Oregon state ballot, voters narrowly overturned a measure named OR 9, which contained the following paragraph:
“State, regional, and local government and their departments, agencies, and other entities, including specifically the State Department of Higher Education and the public schools, shall assist in setting a standard for Oregon’s youth that recognizes homosexuality, pedophilia, sadism, and masochism as abnormal, wrong, unnatural, and perverse and that these behaviors are to be discouraged and avoided.”
Homosexuality, sadism, and masochism are neither wrong nor unnatural. All three are consensual ways of living and loving that many people enjoy. They are not for everyone, but nor should everyone be told that they are for no one. Note also how this measure seeks to confuse the issue by grouping homosexuality, sadism, and masochism together with pedophilia, a practice which is in most places legally nonconsensual. (It is not my intent to enter here into the debate over whether children are ever capable of fully consenting to sexual acts. Suffice it to say that whether they can or not has no bearing on the fact that adults _can_ consent to SM play.) Legislating what consenting adults may and many not do in private is neither healthy nor democratic.
(In recent years there has been a spate of articles about how SM is entering the mainstream. Madonna’s book “Sex,” her movie “Body of Evidence,” and the movie “Exit to Eden” are examples of this trend. Hopefully this will lead to more people feeling free to express their love as _they_ choose–so long as it’s consensual!)
The most extreme forms of SM come closest to the line between consent and non-consent. Most SM people have established safewords which they will use if need be, though if they’ve known their partners for long, that’s rather seldom. Some people, though, do play without safewords–whether because they know their partners well enough to stay within their partners’ limits and read their partners’ responses, or because they enjoy the rush of playing without an escape clause. This latter sort of play is sometimes known as “consensual non-consensuality,” and involves scenes in which the bottom literally cannot escape from whatever the top wishes to do. This is very advanced SM; it requires exponentially more negotiation and introspection, and even then is hazardous. Not many people do this, or want to, but some people do, and find it exhilarating and uplifting. More info is available on s.s.b-b or in some of the references…or on s.s.b-b itself, which is one of the best places in the world to hear a myriad of voices speak out about their individual ways of doing and living SM.
Over the years I have observed many forms of Dom/sub behavior. Although I have never been known as one to try and categorize anything or anybody, in the educational spirit of creating discussion and thought, I wanted to discuss some of my observations. Hopefully this dissertation will help those new to the lifestyle find a place for themselves, an area to identify with or explain various forms of D/s behavior. And for those who are in the lifestyle to just enjoy the discussion.
I think that Dominants can fall into one of three categories , with modifications within them. I want to discuss the major categories, but leave the modifications to your imagination and/or conclusions. There could even be combinations of types.
The types fall into the categories of Authoritarian, Democratic, and Equalitarian. These types have their sub counterparts. I will discuss the main characteristics of these subs and again leave the various modifications thereof up to your imagination. Remember, although I may mention some negative things about some of these categories, these persons and situations must be evaluated by the quality of the people involved and not by the activities themselves. Remember that variation is endless. I do not intend to offend anyone by these generalizations. We all know that there are exceptions to every rule and that “we” are all “exceptions.”
The Authoritarian Dominant is one who “rules” with the absolute power, the total control. Makes all decisions, there is no questioning of what is asked or done. The only recourse the sub may enjoy is perhaps a safe word or , if allowed, few if any limitations. These Dom’s enjoy the strictest master/slave relationships. They attract subs who want to be totally controlled. This is the “slave” submissive. Many of these subs find themselves being considered doormat types by those who do not understand this form of D/s. (However, it may attract door-mat type persons and power freak type individuals). This form may and usually does involve strict total voluntary surrender either mentally/emotionally and/or physically, and usually through heavy S&M activities. This is where pushed limits are very much a part of the activities. Some of the strongest bonds/relationships exist in these situations. Here is where one can also find the strict 24 hours a day 7 days a week (24 / 7) D/s relationships. There are no long drawn out training sessions to effect certain behaviors as in the Democratic Domination. Things are just done, no negotiations; limits are pushed and it is accepted by both. There is a great sense of closeness and coupling in the uncensored relinquishing of power and the wielding of absolute control. They fully understand this concept of D/s and live it strictly and with elegance. Their implements (toys if you will , but in this type I don’t look upon them as toys – you can be sure that they are the “real” thing) are highly crafted, sometimes intricate, wielded proficiently and effectively. The Dominants are highly skilled in their use. And you might say that the submissives are highly skilled at receiving the results. These implements developed by the Authoritarian types are borrowed in kind and concept by other D/s types. It can be a profound and sobering experience for some not yet familiar with this type of domination to witness an Authoritarian scene. You will find this type referred to as real D/s. and it is “real.” This is what “real” is usually referred to. But D/s is not only S&M , it encompasses a wide variety of D/s behaviors and conventions. So real is real for what you are involved in and not what others do. This “is” real BDSM, have no doubt about this. It is, however, only one aspect or area of D/s. I think that here one finds the situation where individuals feel naturally (born) this way and fall into this easily and with great acceptance and comfort in spite of outward appearances.
The Democratic Dominant ( sounds like an oxymoron ) is one who controls by agreement. Contracts, discussions, limitations, conditions, safe words, times of day, places where, are all spelled out or discussed and are strictly followed. Sometimes in written contracts. Punishments are provided for the enjoyment of both when these are not followed; and rewards are given (I think) when they are followed. Submissives who are attracted to these situations are those who want the same agreed conditions, especially the limitations. They can be called feisty, bad, spoiled, hard to tame, because they like to challenge the limits/rules — either because they want it this way (to have control), or have certain fears. This can be the game area, where fun supersedes the Dominant/submissive operative. The Dominant and submissive like the actual and varied activities and enjoy participating in them. The submissive probably does not want to actually surrender, but likes playing as if she is does. These form the least strong relationships and bonds. This area is where the fun seekers usually reside, those who do not fully understand or have not fully experienced what D/s is, and maybe don’t want to. Or, frankly, the inexperienced. The activity or concept of “Topping from the Bottom” is also found here. The rules are a guide to those who like this type of interaction, or a crutch for those who have little or no knowledge of what it is all about on an intellectual, philosophical and physical level. “Cookbook” Domming and submitting. Many like this type of situation since it is a convenient and safe way to play with D/s (fun) or it makes it easy to feel like they are or are indeed practicing D/s. This type also serves a very good purpose as a safe passage to other forms of D/s, or for learning, especially among those who are doing this for the first time with someone new, or for the first time ever. After experience with D/s or experience with that particular person is gained, the “rules of the road” so to speak become more of an intimated reaction between the two, and can lead to some very strong and satisfying D/s relationships. Some of these types or agreements can be of the 24/7 type, usually by agreement, but most involve predetermined parameters. This is the area for those Dominants who like long drawn out training sessions and submissives who are resistant to certain things and need to be broken down or want to be broken down repeatedly. Also, surprisingly, we can find the very S&M orientated individuals here as well as in the Authoritarian (totalitarian) types. The individuals are very much into the giving and receiving pain. The relationship is formed with what you might say is an underlying agreement; that is ” I like and enjoy giving you as much pain as I can give and you can stand.” — “You want and enjoy as much pain as I can give and you can stand.” — “Agreed.” — “So let’s be together.” Another democratic agreement made.
The Equalitarian Dominant is one who controls by teaching, mentoring and leading. This Dominant feels and knows that when they find a comparable submissive that things will happen as a progression of the interaction. Usually just a mention or short learning situation is necessary to obtain a certain interaction. Both the Dominant and the submissive “get it”, need very little, so called “training” and naturally know what the other needs after interaction. This Dominant does not like the situation of constantly repeating and forcing a particular behavior (submission) to occur. It is not the activities but the surrender as the result of the Domination that is the objective and enjoyment. Creativity is an important part of this situation. These are the more intellectual, into the philosophy/psychology mechanism of this lifestyle. They understand the concepts and resultant interactions and can put it into real life. They do not need many “rules” like the Democratic type , nor do they like the heavy S&M activities; preferring submission to occur as a result of an instilled desire in the submissive to surrender. She “wants” to as a result of the Dominant’s knowledge and skill at Dominating. Sensuousness is the rule and pain is given and received as a form of sensuous stimulation. Light pain as opposed to severe. Sensuous torture is a popular activity in this area. Both the Dominant and the submissive must be naturally this way. These are the ones who claim to be born this way, have always been this way. They fully understand the concept of D/s – it comes to them naturally and easily. They attract a submissive who truly and naturally wants to please, and who will observe and sense what the dominant is communicating; and be able to translate that into the right thing to do. The doing or saying without having to be told type. The submissives beg easily and surrender sweetly. They understand the concept of respect and surrender and can make it happen after initial learning with little or no additional instructions. They embrace the surrender gratefully and lovingly. These individuals usually form the most intimate of relationships, the closest. There is not much downside to these relationships, because they not only grasp the concepts, but can make it happen too; and their attraction is based on strong mutual respect. Their strong relationship is not readily apparent to the unobservant, but they are always subtly in the 24-7 mode. The fact that these things come forth naturally and without the need for orders or rules are a great affirmation and source of pride, satisfaction and loving. Just as the strictness and forbearance without the need for orders or rules.
MsIn10sity’s Essay on Subspace
Falling or Floating or something else?
Something I’ve been trying to write about for years now is subspace. Finally, I have managed to say something worthwhile about this mysterious and elusive topic.
Probably the toughest thing to describe to the uninitiated is that elusive
thing that many call “subspace.” It’s also known as “headspace” or “flying” or
“floating” but while those of us who are experienced know just what this means
within our own context, it is a very difficult thing to define. In fact, I’ve
been trying to write about it for a number of years now without success.
Okay, why is this so hard to pin down? Because it is felt differently by any
given individual and there are many ways to get to this point; there are also
some folks who never feel much of anything mentally but may feel certain
At this point, I read my own words on the subject with a great sigh. I’ve just
written two whole paragraphs and haven’t said anything worthwhile. But, like any
other topic in this lifestyle, there is no *one true way* to describe any
relationship or the feelings anyone experiences as a part of this lifestyle. So,
I speak for myself here and *Your Mileage May Vary* as they say. One of the few
things I can state in an absolute way is that it is my Master (Michael) who
coined the term several years ago and he *borrowed* the term from Star Trek.
Subspace is–usually–more than just the submissive headspace one feels from
serving one’s dominant in some way… more than that extraordinary need to
please that is so common for slaves and submissives alike. The most simple
description is a sort of hypnotic state reached by the release of endorphins
into the bloodstream. But the pseudo-scientific explanation of subspace doesn’t
really matter, at least as far as this writing goes. What I want to talk about
is the mental and physical feelings involved.
It can take on a dreamy quality and can virtually paralyze some submissives for
a time. It is, in my opinion, also the greatest natural high there is and many
have likened it to a “runner’s high” or the release of adrenelin into the
system. Some have said it is invigorating rather than a relaxing trance-like
state and it has often been stated (I think mostly by those who have never
experienced it) that it is only possible to reach subspace through painful
physical stimuli. Frankly, that is nonsense; it is more than possible to reach
subspace from overwhelming passion and love with no pain being involved at all.
I’ve felt subspace on a number of levels in my time in the lifestyle, which, by
the way doesn’t make me any sort of expert on the subject. There are many
submissives I have spoken with who feel wholly different in this mental state
and all of us are describing the same thing.
Sometimes, subspace can get so deep that one can’t communicate at all and can’t
even move. I’ve had this happen a number of times and it is for this reason that
I want to caution folks who are new to all of this that no matter how subspace
is felt by any submissive, this can be a very dangerous situation for both
dominant and submissive. After all, if the sub cannot communicate, he or she
cannot safeword, safe “gesture” or in any way protect themselves and it is up to
the dominant to handle such situations with a level head and to be aware of it.
My point also covers the fact that subspace can change over the course of a
relationship and the reactions–even to the same stimuli–can also change for no
Subspace can be the most wonderful experience and it can also be terrifying.
I’ve also felt as if I were falling out of control and this is not a pleasant
feeling. I am not describing a *flashback* situation from some previous
situation going badly (such as abuse issues), but rather a sensation that is
like being in a plummeting out-of-control elevator. I can be talked *down* from
this, but have been fortunate to be with a Master who is always prepared to
handle whatever form my subspace may take in any situation.
At its very best, subspace is almost always a mental and physical *high* for me.
I sometimes see my own body in a beautiful garden with gorgeous flowers and a
flowing stream and feel such a sense of security and comfort and love that I can
only describe it as *temporary Heaven.* Often, I do not speak at all but I know
my Master is there and it feels as if we are the only two people in the world.
Sometimes I do talk, but not in response to my Master but rather a flowing sort
of stream-of-consciousness that makes no sense really. And when he brings me
*back to earth* from these kind of subspace experiences, all of my physical
discomforts are gone and I feel no pain whatsoever. I feel as if I could run a
marathon and this is what is magical about it. I do suffer from constant pain in
the form of inflammatory arthritis and there is no medicine in the world that
works to totally alleviate my pain as *subspace* does for a period of time.
Beyond this wonderful high is the essential complete trust I have in my Master.
I know he will not leave me alone in this state (which could be quite dangerous)
and that unless there is some emergency, he will be gentle and take his time
bringing me back from the subspace to reality again.
I have had subspace last for several days as well and that is sometimes an
almost bizarre feeling. Bizarre because the things that normally bother me don’t
bug me at all and I feel quite *dreamy* even while able to function as I usually
do; I’ll call these experiences a sort of *veiled reality* and I have no idea
why subspace varies so much from time to time. Also, I have gotten into subspace
with just his voice on the phone and from multiple orgasms as well. Altogether,
it is a state of mind and sometimes state of body that I wish could be bottled
but I have not *mastered* getting into subspace all by myself, though I suppose
that may be possible as well.
Copyright © 1998 – 2001 by MsIn10sity, All Rights Reserved
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The BDSM emblem has no “obvious” symbolism because it was created to be enigmatic. To the vanilla observer who would be put off by BDSM, it is merely an attractive piece of jewelry. Thus, we can wear it freely as a friendly salute, nod, and wink to other BDSMers we should happen to pass on the sidewalks and in the hallways of our daily lives.
To the insider, however, the Emblem is full of meaning.
The three divisions represent the various threesomes of BDSM. First of all, the three divisions of BDSM itself: B&D, D&S, and S&M. Secondly, the three-way creed of BDSM behavior: Safe, Sane, and Consensual. Thirdly, the three divisions of our community: Tops, Bottoms, and Switches.
It is this third symbolism that gives meaning to the holes in each unit. Since BDSM is at the very least a play style and at its greatest a love style, the holes represent the incompleteness of any individual within the BDSM context. However “together” and “whole” individuals may be, there remains a void within them that can only be filled by a complimentary other. BDSM cannot be done alone.
The resemblance to a three-way variation on the Yin-Yang symbol is not accidental. As the curved outline of Yin and Yang represent the hazy border between where one ends and the other begins, so do the curved borders here represent the indistinct divisions between B&D, D&S, and S&M.
The metal and metallic color of the medallion represents the chains or irons of BDSM servitude/ownership. The three inner fields are black, representing a celebration of the controlled dark side of BDSM sexuality.
The curved lines themselves can be seen as a stylized depiction of a lash as it swings, or even an arm in motion to deliver an erotic spanking. The all-embracing circle, of course, represents the overlying unity of it all and the oneness of a community that protects its own.
For more information, you may go to the Emblem Project website.
The BDSM Emblem is copyright 1995 by who maintains the copyright in order to protect the symbol. It is freely available for all educational and non-commercial use within the BDSM community without charge. The explanatory
text is copyright 1995, 1997 by and used here by permission.
TEN BASIC BDSM PRINCIPLES
1) BDSM play should be safe, sane and consensual.
2) Know your SM player(s). Do not have BDSM play with strangers.
3) Always inform a friend that you are having BDSM play: where, when and with whom. Use safecalls.
4) Always use safewords, i.e., 911 or red (STOP), yellow (slow down) and/or safe gestures (tap foot three times).
5) Negotiate the scene before you start. Communicate your limits, medical conditions, medications, experience and desires.
6) “No limits” is fantasy. Every sane player has limits. Do not be embarrassed to express them to the dominant player(s).
7) Do not engage in BDSM play while intoxicated or under the influence of drugs.
8) Expect the unexpected (fire, power failure, medical emergency, etc.) and be prepared. Another man’s life is in your hands.
9) Always have a first aid kit nearby.
10) Don’t play with a person unless you feel absolutely safe!
TEN BASIC BONDAGE PRINCIPLES
1) NEVER let yourself be tied up if you don’t feel absolutely safe.
2) NEVER let a stranger restrain you the first time you play.
3) NEVER tie up a body part so tight that it begins to tingle, feels cold, or “goes to sleep”.
4) No bondage involving the front of the neck.
5) NEVER restrain or gag a person and leave them unattended.
6) Always have safety paramedic scissors nearby.
7) Watch out for rope burns, particularly with coarse rope.
8) Do not gag a person suffering with respiratory ailments .
9) When gagging a person, always have an audible, bodily signal in lieu of a safe word (i.e., stomp feet three times, tap fingers, etc.)
TEN BASIC MUMMIFICATION PRINCIPLES
1) Always determine if the masochist has experienced mummification before; claustrophobic tendencies; longest period in bondage and/or hood; and if the masochist has ever experienced panic during a scene. If the masochist is a novice, consider covering the face last.
2) Always determine if the masochist has any medical conditions, particularly allergies, asthma, congestion, diabetes, high blood pressure, etc. as well as any alcohol, drug or medication usage within 24 hours of the mummification. If the masochist wears contacts, they should be removed.
3) Be sure to have the following items nearby for the scene: safety scissors for emergency removal of the wrappings; electric fan and ice to keep the body cool; and towels to remove sweat.
4) Monitor the masochist’s body temperature and pulse. Take a baseline pulse before you begin. Use ice and a fan to cool the body if necessary.
5) NEVER leave the mummy unattended.
6) Use a towel or foam splints to place between the legs, arms and torso, or wherever two body parts come into contact.
7) Do not wrap any body part so tightly that it begins to tingle, feels cold or “goes to sleep”. Check the fingers for signs of blueness.
8) When wrapping the chest, be sure the mummy expands the chest cavity, so the wrappings do not constrict breathing. When wrapping the neck, apply the pieces vertically (up and down) to avoid strangulation.
9) Provide cool water (with a straw) often to prevent dehydration.
10) Provide appropriate aftercare for the masochist. If overheated, apply ice.
TEN BASIC PADDLING PRINCIPLES
1) BDSM play should be safe, sane and consensual.
2) Know your paddler or spanker and inquire as to hisor her experience.
3) Always use safewords, i.e., 911 or red (STOP), yellow (slow down) and/or safe gestures (tap foot three times).
4) Be careful with the force of your stroke. Paddles cause a sharper, more intense pain than a spanking hand.
5) Sharp edges or rough areas on the paddle may break the skin.
6) The narrower the paddle, the less noise it will make and the more likely it is to leave marks.
7) Begin the paddling with a spanking session first to warm up and prepare the bottom for the paddle.
8) Direct the paddle to strike the lower half of the buttocks.
9) The best position when using a heavy paddle is for the bottom to be prone or standing upright with hands braced against the wall and legs spread about shoulder width.
10) When spanking, remove your rings first – they leave marks.
D/S, S/M and B/D are the terms most often used in society today. They are distinctly different in that D/S stands for Dominance and Submission, S/M stands for Sadism and Masochism while B/D stands for Bondage and Discipline. These are three distinctly different life styles.
But remember at all time and in each of the separate lifestyles all actions must be SAFE, SANE AND CONSENSUAL.
The terms are not interchangeable, yet one lifestyle may lead into the other or may overlap another depending upon the limits agreed upon by both consenting parties.
As the relationship continues to grow and expand the limits may be changed by both parties and therefore lead from one lifestyle to the next.
S/M may be and usually is incorporated in both or either of the other two lifestyles in one form or another or may be considered a separate lifestyle on it’s own.
These lifestyles might better be referred to as a form of alternative relationships, each of them being a form of love in which one person controls and the other person surrenders willingly, never forcefully.
First some terminology is necessary:
Dominant one– The controlling person. They may be a Master, a Mistress, a Dom, a Domme, a Goddess, a Lord, a Switch or a Top
submissive one– The one who chooses to be controlled or dominated. They may be a submissive, a slave, a switch or a bottom.
submissive– One who chooses to be submissive but who does not give total control of all aspects of their lives to a Dominant one.
slave- One who have given all aspects of their lives, physically, sexually and mentally to be controlled by a Dominant one and who usually has a contracted relationship.
Dom or Domme– One who is a Dominant one.
Master or Mistress– A Dominant one who has accepted the gift of submission from a submissive one who then has become theirs.
Floating or subbie space– The state where the submissive one relinquishes all control to the Dominant one and simply put, floats on a cloud, thus reaching a state of euphoria.
Switch– One who chooses at different times to be either a Dominant one or a submissive one.
Bottom– One who chooses to be scened or sessioned by a Dominant one but who is not necessarily a submissive one.
Top– One who chooses to scene or session a submissive one but who is not necessarily a Dominant one.
Goddess– Usually a Domme who have been trained under the “Old Guard” and who has earned the right to be worshipped and obeyed and who trains other Dom/mes, Masters, Mistresses, submissives, Switches, Tops, Bottoms and slaves.
Lord– The masculine equivalent of Goddess
Sadist- One who likes to inflict pain upon another.
Masochist- One who likes to have pain inflicted upon them by another
Limits- These are actions or areas or degrees of pain and/or experiences that are not to be inflicted upon a submissive one.
Safeword- A word or gesture that has been agreed upon between a Dominant one and a submissive one that should it be used by someone during a scene or a session will cause the other person to have an immediate agreed upon response.
boy- A term used for a submissive one which could be for either gender.
girl- A term used for a submissive one which could be either gender.
Dominatrix- A female Dominant one who gets paid for scening or sessioning a submissive one.
Implements-Toys-Accouterments- Anything that is used during a scene or session by a Dominant one on a submissive one.
Although a Dom or Domme can be a Master or Mistress not all are. If the Dom or Domme chooses to accept a submissive one for their own, they then become the Master or Mistress to that one.
The major differences in the two life styles, D/S and B/D, is that of pain and humiliation. In the D/S lifestyle control by use of pain or humiliation rarely occurs. The control is relinquished by the submissive one willingly to the Dominant one. The Dominant one controls by voice and minor punishment. In the B/D scene the punishment is more severe and pain and humiliation is more a part of the ongoing relationship and incorporated in scenes or sessions on a regular basis. Punishment is given for misdeeds or failure to obey, warmth is given for obeying. One must remember this is a game of love, and that love must be shown at all times, even during the act of punishment.
When one speaks of punishment, one must also speak of limits. Limits are agreed upon prior to the start of any part of this lifestyle. These limits must be adhered to by all parties involved. The submissive one submits and trusts the Dominant one that these limits will not be exceeded. They must never be exceeded under any circumstances, without first discussing them between the two parties and mutually agreeing to remove or extend the limit in question.
Mutual respect and trust is of the utmost importance in these lifestyles. When mutual trust disappears, the parties should re-evaluate the relationship immediately. remember this trust is earned over a long period of time but may be lost in a split second. Seldom when a trust is truly violated can the same degree of trust ever be regained.
Many Master/Mistresses are good teachers and can teach their submissive one on their own. But in many cases a Master/Mistress chooses to have another Dominant one teach their submissive one for them. They may or may not choose to have their submissive one serve that Dominant one in any other capacity than as a scene. Submissive ones may be trained by a Dominant one without already having a Master or Mistress to serve, be chosen by the Dominant one to serve or stay as free a submissive one with no one to serve.
In all cases the Dominant one and the Master/Mistress are responsible for the protection and safety of the submissive one. They must honor and cherish them as much as they are cherished by them. Love and respect reins above all in these relationships.
The use of safe words comes into play at this point. There are usually two safe words that have been agreed upon and understood by both parties. One safe word usually means that the submissive one is being pushed to their limits and when used the Dominant one eases off slightly and takes more time to get the submissive one to the place where they want them to go. The second safe word, when used by submissive one tells the Dominant one that something is wrong and the scene, session or the actions tops immediately and the Dominant one ensures the safety and well being of the submissive one. Under no circumstances can the action continue unless mutually agreed upon. should the action continue without the permission of the submissive one then it is no longer a consensual actions but one of force.
If you are submissive/slave it means that you consent — or choose — to submit. In other words, your submission is a gift that should be respected by whomever you choose as your Dominant. If you are Dominant, you consent to accept that gift and respect the person who offers it. Failure to do so may ultimately cause you to be ostracized from the community. Whatever takes place in a session/scene is the result of a prior careful discussion by both partners of the submissive’s limits. And it DOES mean that the Dominant one MUST always respect those limits.
Everything in these lifestyles should be
SAFE, SANE AND CONSENSUAL
Reference books that should be read and reread:
|La Laisse||Soduire||La Maison Du Raison|
|Different Loving||Gloria Brame, G Brame||Villard Books|
|Screw the Roses, Send me the Thorns||Phillip Miller and Molly Deveon||Mystic Rose Books|
|The Bottoming Book||Dossie Easton and Catherine Liszt||Greenery Press|
|The Topping Book||Dossie Easton and Catherine Liszt||Greenery Press|
|The Loving Dominant||John Warren||Masquerade Books Inc.|
|Ties That Bind||Guy Baldwin||Daedalus Pub. Co.|
|Learning the Ropes||Race Bannon||Daedalus Pub. Co.|
|Sensuous Magic||Pat Califia||Masquerade Books Inc.|
|Safe Sane Consensual and Fun||John Warren||Diversified Press|
|The Ethical Slut||Dossie Easton and Catherine Liszt||Greenery Press|
|Anal Pleasure and Health||Jack Morin MD||Down There Press|
|Leathersex||Joseph W. Bean||Daedalus Pub. Co.|
|Bound to be Free||Charles Moser Ph.D M.D., JJ MaDeson||Continuum Pub. Co.|
© 1999 by Lakshimi All rights reserved. This information is for educational purposes only. This author advises if you wish to engage in any activity mentioned in this article that you do further research and upon engaging in any activity mentioned upon you do so in the presence of an experienced mentor.
Aftercare is affectionate care and attention following any type of traumatic or mentally challenging event.
D/s relationships are engaged with a passion and intensity that are often so strong that they can strip away at the barriers and defenses that we normally use to protect ourselves from exactly those extremes. To ‘feel’ that intensity means that we are not ‘as safe’. To some extent we have stepped across our own thresholds of security and exposed some or all parts of our inner selves to the scrutiny and possible damage of others.
Scening can or may be seen as a compromise between what the submissive is seeking or desiring and how close to achieving those desires the Dominant’s own fears will allow them to go. This is a stretching in ‘both’ directions. Both the Dominant and the submissive often venture into areas they have never gone before. These areas can test their inner strength and resolve, their will and compassion. To retain ‘personal integrity’ or a belief in ourselves we have to stay within the ‘codes’ that we live by and believe in. In learning about ourselves we often test these codes to see if they are indeed ‘our’ codes or codes we have simply adopted by rote at some point along the way.
The road to ’emerging’ as a Dominant or submissive is filled with these kinds of moral and ethical choices and the contradictions and apparent paradoxes that they present. Reconciling these contradictions and forming ‘true’ choices of who we are and what lines are inviolate within the self is a process that takes years and perhaps the entirety of our lives to discover fully.
When we ‘expose’ ourselves to another human being there is an expressed obligation by both people to refrain from injury or damage, offer solace, nurturing and care until that sense of exposure recedes. We call this period of time ‘aftercare’. Most often we associate this term with the time frame immediately following a ‘scene’. However, this term is equally applicable at many other points and times and many times is not associated with BDSM or D/s at all. Essentially it is an ‘understood’ promise that should exist prior to anyone agreeing to engage in any type of relationship. Often it is overlooked or ignored as an ‘incidental’. The concentration or focus of many people appears to be on the action ‘events’ such as any and all forms of BDSM or sexual interaction that may and in many cases will occur as part of the relationship. Minimizing the importance of aftercare is a mistake. Aftercare is a period of necessary ‘recovery’. This is a fundamental recovery of the self into a form competent and ‘safe’ to independently interact with other people.
Some aspects of BDSM trigger responses much like intoxication. The ability of the brain to rationalize or make important or serious decisions may be seriously impaired for a substantial period of time after an event or scene. Scening can and sometimes does summon up long hidden memories, feelings, emotions and traumas that the individual has kept safe behind the barrier wall or mental defense system that during a scene may suddenly no longer exist. We maintain these walls through diverting a portion of our mental energy to them at all times. In periods of low stress this constant trickle of energy is negligible. In periods of high mental activity the brain diverts energy toward activities which take precedence. Managing a BDSM scene will often become an activity of such precedencial choice. When this occurs the brain is no longer sustaining the wall and it may simply vanish, exposing what is behind it.
We maintain personal barriers and walls of defense to protect ourselves from things we know but perhaps have serious trouble dealing with. An example of this would be an automobile accident. Some portion of the brain does ‘know’ and fully experienced all that occurred during the accident or ‘event’. The extremes of the experience may be so great that a self protective determining factor inside the brain decides that it is ‘unhealthy’ for the cognizant areas of the brain to experience this event through memory loops over and over again. At that point this determining factor selectively places this event in a ‘safe area’ or behind one of the brains natural mental barriers or walls.
Should one of these ‘events’ become exposed then the individual may re-experience the event. It is vital to remember that these hidden events were considered to be potentially damaging when the real event occurred so much so that the brain took active steps to protect the individual from them. Supporting and assuring the person who has re-experienced one of these events that they are ‘safe’ is profoundly important. The new ‘information’ may be of a nature that they do have great difficulty coping with it and in some cases they may need good professional assistance from a qualified therapist.
Normal aftercare occurring without such an exposure is often the simple nurturing of one human to another. The support and protection of and from revealed intimacies and aiding and assisting in rebuilding the former protective walls, barriers or defenses. These protective mental measures appear to rebuild naturally as a simple part of how the brain functions and manages over a period of time. That time frame will vary with the individual and with the intensity of the experience itself. Aftercare in its most simple form is just being there with your partner for a sufficient time period that they feel safe and no longer feel the need to cling to you. It is equally important to recognize that aftercare is for both the Dominant and the submissive. If either person leaves too soon then
their partner may feel abandonment or loss far exceeding the apparent parameters of the interaction.
It is also important to recognize that aftercare may be a serious factor when a relationship ends and especially when that ending is through the choice of one person and not the other. To some extent it remains the obligation of the person who makes that choice to extend aftercare support in a form agreeable to the person who has not made that choice until they have reached a point where they feel emotionally less devastated or more able to cope with the changed aspects of their life. In these days of acrimonious breakups it is common to act without dignity or respect for yourself and for the person whom you have engaged in a serious relationship with. This type of attack damages everyone involved and is seldom decent but most often reflects cowardly and selfish actions.
All Rights Reserved By Mistress Steel
These rules may vary, according to what you have to work with, or are able to reveal, or decide to use….but whateveryou do, don’t ignore the basic safety you will require, as a submissive meeting a new dom for the first time. There are people out there who are simply predators, and your new dom may be wonderful, online and the phone, but admit you don’t really know him, and protect yourself until you do.
1) Before you even plan a meeting, be sure you discuss your personal safety with your new dom. Tell him how you feel, and listen to what he says. If he’s really a man who cares for you, he’ll add things to protect you, and agree to anything you wish to do. If he does not, then treat it as a first clue to use caution.
2) Once you plan your meeting, find two people who know you personally: Your name, your address, your phone # and most of all, your background. Make sure they know who you are meeting: HIS name, his address, and his background, as well as any other info about him you might know. Leave them as detailed a plan of your visit as you can foresee, and arrange with them for regular telephone check-ins…and what to do if one of them is not made. Obviously you don’t want the police breaking down a hotel door, while your dom has you tied to the bed, but it might just be that you’ll be glad to see them.
3) Meet with your dom in a public place…somewhere that there are lots of people…and don’t LEAVE that public place until you feel comfortable with the person you are meeting. If you don’t get comfortable right away, be sure you have some sort of alternative plan available, in lieu of going with him. Try to have YOUR car available…or better yet, a large, muscular friend to see you off, and meet your dom with you. 🙂
4) For the first meeting, do not travel to a remote place to get acquainted. Find a comfortable, well-staffed hotel or inn, where there, again, are PEOPLE. Other people are your best defense against injury and if necessary, run to them…even naked. The old cabin in the hills, where he says you can really “be alone”, might sound wonderful, but it is not safe, and should not be considered.
5) Never, never travel away from your planned itinerary with a new dom. You planned that schedule so people could find you…if you leave it, they can’t…and your new dom ought to understand that. Stay where you said you would be, when you set up your security, and resist, to the point of running away, any attempt by your dom to take you away.
6) D/s and playing. It’s normal for you to want very much to please this man who means so much to you…to give him everything he asks for…and delight in the pleasure he enjoys. But like everything else you do, for the first time, you have to protect yourself…and as exciting as a caning might sound, while tied and gagged…once you start, remember that stopping him is going to be a problem. Use safe words…there’s nothing to be ashamed of, in doing so, and if you need them, you WILL need them. Resist any sort of neck or throat bondage. Resist any sort of oxygen deprivation play these are dangerous kinds of play, and require enormous care…and you don’t know your dom, yet. Sex itself…well, AIDS is around, but it’s silly to try and convince two people in your situation to refrain, so use a condom. Insist on it, in fact, and don’t give in.
7) This is from me, to all of you. You are submissives, and there is nothing I’ve found in my world which is more wonderful. You are all special…and we can’t afford to lose you, cause there aren’t enough to go around, now…so please, take care of yourself. When you do come back, show us your new collar, or your welts, or whatever you value most from your visit, and we’ll love you more for having done it.
But, whatever you do, come back to us.
HISTORY OF OUR LEATHER-S/M-FETISH SUBCULTURE AND COMMUNITIES
towards a bibliography
Compiled by slave david stein for the panel on “History of Our Community” at the Leather Leadership Conference II, New York City, 4/19/98; revised 5/3/98. Copyright is hereby waived, and the contents may be freely reposted or reprinted, as long as this heading remains intact so that corrections or suggested additions may be sent to the compiler, who retains responsibility for any errors and for the opinions expressed herein.
While no single work published as yet can claim to be definitive or comprehensive, the works listed here provide some signposts. Not all are still in print, but copies should be available one way or another. An asterisk (*) indicates those works that the compiler feels give the best overviews and starting points for further research.
BALDWIN, GUY: Ties That Bind (Daedalus, 1993): Mostly columns from Drummer magazine, 1987-1993, by the well-known kink therapist and 1989 International Mr. Leather, including a few explicitly historical essays.
* BEAN, JOSEPH: Leathersex (Daedalus, 1994) and Leathersex Q&A (Daedalus, 1996). Not historical works, but the first has a historical appendix, and the second has one section devoted to historical questions — both brief but very valuable. www.jwbean.com has a wealth of information about this author, artist, editor, and educator, now executive director of the Leather Archives & Museum.
BRAME, GLORIA, et al.: Different Loving — The World of Sexual Dominance and Submission (Random House, 1993; Villard paperback, 1996). Largely based on interviews with contemporaries, but Chapter 2 gives a historical overview of the Victorian roots of modern hetero BDSM.
* CALIFIA, PAT, AND ROBIN SWEENEY, editors: The Second Coming — A Leatherdyke Reader (Alyson, 1996). Billed as a sequel to Coming to Power (see SAMOIS below), which Califia contributed to (and helped edit the revised editions), this has historical essays about several women’s s/m support groups, including Briar Rose, Lesbian Sex Mafia, the Outcasts, and more, as well as other pieces of historical interest.
HARRIS, DANIEL: The Rise and Fall of Gay Culture (Hyperion, 1997). The chapter on “The Death of Kink: Five Stages in the Metamorphosis of the Modern Dungeon” argues that in “mainstreaming” s/m, we have lost what made it valuable. Irritating but thought-provoking.
HOOVEN, VALENTINE F., III: Tom of Finland — His Life and Times (St. Martin’s, 1994). This biography of our most famous gay kink artist includes much about the history of erotic art.
MACK, JOHN E.: A Prince of Our Disorder — The Life of T. E. Lawrence (Harvard, paperback 1998). Lawrence of Arabia would have fit right in with the 1950s gay leather scene in the U.S., but in Britain in the 1930s he was a square peg looking for a round hole. This biography not only discusses Lawrence’s own homosexual masochism but also gives background information on such previously unmentionable British institutions as the Hellfire Club.
MAINS, GEOFF: Urban Aboriginals — A Celebration of Leathersexuality (Gay Sunshine, 1984). A pioneering work — probably the first to connect endorphin release with BDSM experience — that today seems very “70s” in its uncritical enthusiasm but is historically valuable for that very reason.
NAN, MISTRESS: My Private Life — Real Experiences of a Dominant Woman (Daedalus, 1996). The memoirs of a famed West Coast Dominatrix with decades of experience.
* RUBIN, GAYLE: The Valley of the Kings: Leathermen in San Francisco, 1960-1990 (Ph.D. dissertation in anthropology, the University of Michigan, 1994). Unpublished; some day it will be the heart of an indispensable book.
* SAMOIS collective: Coming to Power — Writings and Graphics on Lesbian S/M (1981; revised editions published by Alyson in 1982 and 1987). Among many other things, this extremely influential book produced by the first openly lesbian s/m organization popularized the now widely accepted concept of s/m as a “consensual power exchange” (it seems to have been coined by Cynthia Slater, who founded the Society of Janus in San Francisco, and was used by local sex educations in that city).
STEWARD, SAMUEL M.: Chapters from an Autobiography (Grey Fox Press, 1981). From sleeping with Lord Alfred Douglas to filming s/m scenes for Dr. Alfred Kinsey, these are the amazing memoirs of a man who chucked a career as a college professor to satisfy his unconventional appetites and curiosities — and became famous as the erotic writer “Phil Andros.”
STEWARD, SAMUEL M.: Bad Boys and Tough Tattoos — A Social History of the Tattoo with Gangs, Sailors and Street-Corner Punks, 1950-1965 (Harrington Park Press, 1990). As “Phil Sparrow,” Steward worked as a tattooist long before such “body modifications” became semi-respectable.
THOMPSON, WILLIAM: Sadomasochism (Cassell, 1994). An English criminologist’s review of the legal and psychological concepts and definitions of s/m in Western thought, the book was written to address the issues raised by the Spanner case, but it has implications that reach much further than British jurisprudence.
* THOMPSON, MARK, editor: Leatherfolk — Radical Sex, People, Politics, and Practice (Alyson, 1991). This landmark anthology includes historical essays covering the 1940s to the 1990s by Samuel Steward, Thom Magister, Jack Fritscher, Gayle Rubin, David Stein, and the editor, plus other essays with a historical dimension by Joseph Bean, Guy Baldwin, John Preston, Pat Califia, Geoff Mains, Dianna Vesta, Eric Rofes, Wickie Stamps, Gabrielle Antolovich, and more.
THOMPSON, MARK: Gay Body — A Journey Through Shadow to Self (St, Martin’s, 1997). Thompson’s Jungian-influenced autobiography and meditation on the experience of growing up gay includes a good deal of historical material about the leather scene in California in the late 1970s and beyond.
TOWNSEND, LARRY: The Leatherman’s Handbook (1972) and The Leatherman’s Handbook II (1983). A classic. There have been various editions of both the original and the revised version (a very different book), and a 25th Anniversary edition of the original has now been published by the author. Townsend’s roots are in the early 1960s in Southern California, where he was a gay-rights activist as well as one of the first to publish gay kink erotica, including his own stories as well as work by other authors and artists. Beyond all the technical information and advice on cruising, relationships, scene-play, and so on, each book can be read as a kind of collage of the gay leather scene at a moment in time.
* GUY BALDWIN: “The Old Guard: Classical Leather Culture Revisited,” in International Leatherman #20 (Sept.-Oct. 1998), is an excellent introduction and gives a very persuasive explanation of the mutiple factors leading to the eclipse of the “old guard.” Also, “The Journey,” a free online column hosted by Leather Navigator, kicked off with two fascinating personal memoirs, “The Road to Leatherville” (Nov. 1997) and “Walking on Sand” (February 1998).
BLACK SHEETs #12 (fall 1997): “Sex Pioneers — San Francisco in the ’70s.” Part 2 will appear in issue #15, scheduled for late 1998-early 1999.
CHECKMATE #13 (November 1995) through #18 (February 1997): Charles Clark’s reminiscences about the gay s/m scene in the New York area from the 1950s to the post-Stonewall period.
CHECKMATE #19 (May 1997) and #20 (September 1997): Jack Fritscher’s personal perspective on the history of Drummer magazine and other topics in kink publishing (available online).
DRUMMER #136, January 1990: Mark Thompson’s essay on the first gathering, in 1979, of Black Leather Wings, a group of leathersex faeries, with his own photos of their recreations of Native American and other aboriginal pain rituals.
DRUMMER #139, May 1990: “Remembrance of Sleaze Past” by Jack Fritscher and Gayle Rubin’s history of The Catacombs, a famous leathersex/fisting club in San Francisco (a revised and expanded version of the latter is also in Mark
Thompson’s Leatherfolk anthology).
INTERNATIONAL LEATHERMAN #4 (Summer 1995) and most subsequent issues: “Dear Diary,” the still unconcluded story of “cliffy,” a novice slave, is actually Joseph Bean’s own memoir of his initiation into a leather “family” in 1966-67. Replete with “old guard” rituals and practices.
INTERNATIONAL LEATHERMAN #10 (Nov.-Dec. 1996): “Mecca Then,” a timeline of San Francisco’s leather scene in the 1970s.
INTERNATIONAL LEATHERMAN #13 (May-July 1997): interview with Larry Townsend; also “Back in My Day,” brief memoirs by eight leathermen about how they got started
INTERNATIONAL LEATHERMAN #15 (Oct.-Nov. 1997) and #16 (Dec. 1997-Jan. 1998): Joseph Bean’s two-part interview with filmmaker Roger Earle (Born to Raise Hell and the Dungeons of Europe series) amounts to a history of gay s/m video.
THE LEATHER JOURNAL #93 (June-July 1997): The 10th Anniversary issue includes reprints from many past issues charting ten years in our community as seen from Southern California.
PROMETHEUS #24 (Winter 1996): The 25th Anniversary issue of The Eulenspiegel Society’s magazine offers a number of historical pieces and reprints from TES archives, including “S/M Through the Ages” and a history of TES itself.
RUBIN, GAYLE: Several articles based on her dissertation (see NONFICTION BOOKS above) have been published, including a chapter on San Francisco’s South of Market leather bars in _Reclaiming San Francisco — History, Politics, Culture_, edited by James Brook, Chris Carlsson, and Nancy J. Peters (City Lights, 1997); a history of The Catacombs in Drummer #139 (see above) and an expanded version in Leatherfolk (see MARK THOMPSON above); and “Elegy for the Valley of the Kings: AIDS and the Leather Community in San Francisco, 1981-1996” in In Changing Times, edited by Martin Levine, Peter Nardi, and John Gagnon (University of Chicago Press, 1997).
Erotic fiction can be a perilous guide to historical (or any) truth, and yet it is sometimes in our fictional creations that we most reveal ourselves. The following cannot be taken as gospel, but they are all extraordinarily revealing.
ANDREWS, TERRY: The Story of Harold (Holt Rinehart, 1974; the 1975 Avon Equinox trade paperback has illustrations by Edward Gorey). Written under a pseudonym by a best-selling children’s book author, the novel is set in New York’s sexual underground of the late 1960s and concerns a kinky bisexual man’s varied relationships. Although it was praised by the New York Times for its literary merit, no one dies at the end, not even the perverts! Apparently accurate historically, tremendously funny, and very moving all at the same time.
ANDROS, PHIL (pen name of Samuel Steward): $tud (Guild Press, 1969; abridged edition with introduction by John Preston published by Alyson, 1990). All of the Phil Andros books give some of the flavor of gay s/m and leathersex back when it was illicit and mostly hidden from unsuspecting eyes, but $tud was the first to be published, and it seems least compromised by the need to satisfy an audience or an editor with embellishments or idealizations.
ANDROS, PHIL: My Brother, the Hustler (1970; revised edition published by Perineum Press as My Brother, My Self in 1983, and more recently by Masquerade; a newly illustrated edition of the original version is forthcoming from Brush Creek Media) is notable for its accurate description of The Black Castle, a Chicago leather hang-out in the 1960s where the artist Etienne, Chuck Renslow (who owned the famed Gold Coast bar and still owns and runs the International Mr. Leather Contest), and their friends lived and played.
* CARNEY, WILLIAM: The Real Thing (Putnam’s, 1968; reissued by Richard Kasak Books in 1995 with an introduction by Michael Bronski). Set in the 1960s gay s/m scene in southern California and New York, this epistolary novel, consisting of letters from an experienced leatherman to his novice nephew, presents a largely accurate account of the prevailing mores, though with a tragic, ultimately s/m-negative slant. Carney was a “player” himself, if perhaps a misguided one, and the novel is a classic. Some consider its sequel, The Rose Exterminator (Everest House, 1982), to be even more interesting, but most critics have judged it harshly, at least as a reading experience.
* FRITSCHER, JACK: Leather Blues — The Adventures of Denny Sargent (Gay Sunshine, 1984). As terse and concentrated as the same author’s novel of the 1970s, Some Dance to Remember (Knights Press, 1990), is bloated, Leather Blues distills the 1960s leather-biker-outlaw-sex scene in just 82 memorable pages. www.jackfritscher.com contains bibliographies, interviews, and more. Fritscher, one of the great Drummer editors, seems to have been everywhere and done everyone during the “good old days” of leather culture.
Origins of “SAFE SANE CONSENSUAL”
by slave david stein
under the Guardianship of Master Steve of Butchmann’s
taken from the Leather History Group
History is what happens while you’re doing something else– and it may not be until years later that you discover what you did was “historic.” When i agreed in mid-1983 to be part of a committee of GMSMA (Gay Male S/M Activists) charged with drafting a new “statement of identity and purpose” for the two-year-old organization, i had no idea that the lasting significance of our work would be reduced to a single phrase: “safe, sane, and consensual S/M.” Today GMSMA is the world’s largest S/M organization for men and one of the oldest and most respected S/M organizations of any sort. Yet there are thousands — perhaps tens of thousands? — of kink-lovers all over North America and around the world who have no idea what the letters “GMSMA” stand for. But they do know “safe sane consensual.” Those words appear on T-shirts, on Web sites, in personal ads, in the bylaws and foundation statements of hundreds of organizations, on porn videos, in virtually every kink magazine, in every book or pamphlet or instructional video produced for kink-curious audiences. It’s become a cliché, and some people are heartily sick of it — but no one has yet proposed an alternative that rolls off the tongue as easily, covers so many bases, or boasts nearly the same degree of acceptance. Blame me for it, if you like. The August 1983 report of that GMSMA committee represents the earliest use of the phrase anyone has found, and it seems very likely that i was its author. The statement of purpose we drafted began, “GMSMA is a not-for-profit organization of gay males in the New York City area who are seriously interested in safe, sane, and consensual S/M.” This wording was adopted without change by the Board of Directors on August 17, 1983, and since that fall the sentence has appeared in every GMSMA brochure and membership application as well as in most program schedules, newsletters, and other literature. The only changes made over the years have been to drop the reference to New York City and to replace “males” with “men.” Both of the other members of the committee, Martin Berkenwald and Bob Gillespie, are now dead, but a few months before his death last year, Bob said he thought it was me who came up with the formulation. It does seem likely: i produced most of GMSMA’s key early documents, and i’m sure i was the only one of the three of us to come to our meeting with a complete draft ready for comment. Martin and Bob critiqued what i’d written, and we made revisions on the spot until we came up with something we all liked. Frankly, i don’t remember who contributed what, but “safe, sane, and consensual S/M” certainly sounds like my style. Other pieces i wrote in the years just before refer to “consensual vs. involuntary S/M,” and i was always keenly interested in drawing a line between the kind of sadomasochistic sexuality that ethical people can support (at least if they are also broad-minded and unprejudiced) and the kind of abusive, exploitative, coercive activity they rightly condemn.
THE PAST RECAPTURED
It seems obvious to me now that “safe” and “sane” derived from the good old American practice of urging people to have a “safe and sane” 4th of July celebration. i heard that exhortation every year while growing up, and it stuck. It stuck with Tony DeBlase, too, and appears in an unsigned essay he wrote for the Chicago Hellfire Club’s Inferno 10 (1981) run book: “In 1980 the following was adopted as the club’s statement of purpose: ‘. . . to provide education and opportunities for participation in S&M sex among consenting adult men and to foster communication among such individuals.’ Responsible S&M has become more popular and less feared in the gay community and Chicago Hellfire Club continues to serve its community — striving always to educate and promote safe and sane enjoyment of men by men.” Since Inferno 10 was the first Inferno i attended, and it made a big impression on me, Tony’s words may have reminded me of “safe and sane,” and even suggested the association with “consensual.” But the GMSMA statement was the first place the three terms were actually conjoined. As a kid, what i took “Have a safe and sane 4th” to mean was something like, “Have a good time, but don’t be stupid and burn down the house or blow your hand off.” A couple of decades later, that seemed to fit S/M just fine. What we meant by “safe and sane S/M” in 1983, and what i believe GMSMA and most other organizations still mean by it today, is something like, “Have a good time, but keep your head and understand what you’re doing so you don’t end up dead or in the hospital — or send someone else there.” Possibly the echo of a familiar phrase explains why so many other kinky Americans have also felt immediately comfortable with “safe, sane, and consensual S/M,” which still isn’t nearly as popular in Europe or elsewhere as it is in the U.S. even aside from the issue of language.
SPREADING LIKE WILDFIRE
Clearly, GMSMA’s use and dissemination of the phrase through the mid-1980s laid the groundwork for its later explosive spread. And the fuse was lit when the Community Involvement Committee (GMSMA’s political arm), chaired by Barry Douglas, decided in late 1986 to use a streamlined form of it as the slogan for the S/M-Leather Contingent in the 1987 March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights (it didn’t become the S/M-Leather-Fetish Contingent until the 1993 March on Washington). Barry is also no longer with us, but i was a member of that committee, too, and when we commissioned a 20-foot-wide banner for the march bearing the words “Safe Sane Consensual,” the bomb was set. It didn’t hurt, either, that they also appeared on the T-shirts produced for the event or that for the entire day before the march the same banner hung across the stately portico of the government building on Constitution Avenue that hosted the contingent’s huge S/M-Leather Conference. That weekend thousands of men and women from all over the U.S. and many foreign countries read those words, identified with them, and took the memory of them back to their local communities. The rest is history — and commentary. Let me give a little of both. GMSMA’s Community Involvement Committee chose “safe sane consensual” as the slogan for the contingent and the conference because we felt these words were the best sound bite to distinguish the kind of sexual expression we were marching in support of from the typical association of S/M with harmful, antisocial, predatory behavior. While no one at our meetings felt that “safe sane consensual” was the last word on the subject, or that it “defined” S/M, we felt it did the job that needed done: to say to anyone coming to us with a stereotypically negative view based on lurid headlines and exploitative movies (we all remembered Cruising), “That’s not what we’re about.” We had no idea the slogan would have the success it did, or that so many people would take it as more than a starting point. But if it hadn’t been spontaneously embraced by so many people, because they felt it fit what they were doing, or wanted to do, it wouldn’t have had such “legs.” There was no way that GMSMA, or anyone else, could have imposed the slogan on the community if most people hadn’t liked it.
MISUSE OF A SLOGAN
The understandable popularity of the slogan has a downside, however. Those with few or no roots in the struggle to bring S/M out of the shadows — who take for granted today’s world of BDSM clubs in every large town and kinky images all over the mass media — tend to apply the slogan in a simplistic way, even using it as a stick to beat anyone whose style of play offends them for whatever reason. The implication is that whatever is safe, sane, and consensual is good, and whatever isn’t is bad, which goes far beyond what we intended back in 1987. In 1987, we were trying to draw a line between what is clearly defensible, in terms of both social structures and personal well-being, and what is either indefensible or at least very questionable. It was a conscious, deliberate attempt to shift the debate onto grounds where we thought we could win, instead of having to keep proving we weren’t serial killers, spouse beaters, and child abusers. Of course, the morality of such a strategy depends on who is left out. The organized gay-rights movement has been accused many a time of marginalizing those who don’t fit a “respectable” or “straight-acting” image, and in some cases that’s a fair objection. But when it came to choosing a slogan for the S/M-Leather Contingent in the 1987 march, that wasn’t our intention. People who rejected “safe sane consensual” principles weren’t exactly clamoring to join our organizations or march in our parades. Such people, we thought, tended to be loners and to exclude themselves by crossing any line that anyone else draws; they thrive in the shadows, not the light. Of course, once an idea is reduced to a slogan that fits on buttons, T-shirts, and bumper stickers, no one can control its meaning. Each person who sees it interprets it with whatever prejudices and preconceptions he or she brings to it. While it’s evident that thousands of people have taken “safe sane consensual” as a welcome validation for a type of sexuality still considered “sick” or “crazy” by much of our society, others read it as devaluing their own “edgeplay” in favor of cautious, conventional, and completely scripted sex games. Sometime after the 1987 march, at least one prominent member of the S/M community was seen wearing a T-shirt emblazoned “Unsafe Insane Nonconsensual,” and i have seen that phrase used elsewhere. i have also heard and read more thoughtful criticisms of the slogan. The more popular and widespread it has become, the more common it is to see it angrily rejected as either trivially empty, too far removed from what makes BDSM exciting and meaningful, or else menacingly intrusive — representing yet another attempt to force individual styles of living and loving into a boring conformity. Which is it? Both? Neither?
CONTEXT IS THE KEY
Let’s return to the origin and look at the full statement of purpose GMSMA adopted in 1983:
“GMSMA is a not-for-profit organization of gay males in the New York City area who are seriously interested in safe, sane, and consensual S/M. Our purpose is to help create a more supportive S/M community for gay males, whether they desire a total lifestyle or an occasional adventure, whether they are just coming out into S/M or are long
“Our regular meetings and other activities attempt to build a sense of community by exploring common feelings and concerns. We aim to raise awareness about issues of safety and responsibility, to recover elements of our tradition, and to disseminate the best available medical and technical information about S/M practices. We seek to establish a recognized political presence in the wider gay community in order to combat the prevailing stereotypes and misconceptions about S/M while working with others for the common goals of gay liberation.”
Note that this first use of “safe, sane, and consensual” occurred in a context that also included concepts like community, responsibility, tradition, education, and gay liberation. Moreover, the rubric “safe, sane, and consensual” itself was explicitly presented as embracing all degrees of commitment, from “a total lifestyle” to “an occasional adventure,” as well as S/M practitioners ranging from novices to veterans. In other words, the strategy was not to try to redefine “S/M” itself as inherently “safe, sane, and consensual,” something that seems all too common today. Neither those of us who drafted the statement nor GMSMA’s board were that naive. We knew that the full range of real-life S/M — briefly defined as sexual arousal or gratification through the infliction or suffering of pain, bondage, or humiliation — can embrace much that is unsafe, insane, and nonconsensual by anyone’s standards. S/M involves powerful emotions and intense vulnerability, and it can be scary stuff. This must not be forgotten or swept under the rug in the quest for social acceptance. The “dark side” of S/M — the injuries, the abuse, the exploitation, the violence — was well known to us back in the early 1980s because we were still close to it. We hadn’t already had two decades of S/M education and activism, which sometimes have the effect of making it seem like a flogging, tit piercing, or mummification are routine activities for a first date. We all knew about bottoms who’d been traumatized, or tops who’d gone berserk and sent someone to the hospital. The emerging iconography of S/M in Drummer magazine and elsewhere was very edgy, very “noncon.” In the early 1980s, as again today in certain circles, being known as “dangerous” was more of a badge of honor than a liability. Knowledge of S/M’s potential for harm was one of the chief things that led us to form GMSMA in the first place. The organization was intended to shine a light into some very dark corners. Therefore, rather than saying, “This is what S/M is, and it’s okay, nothing to be worried about,” the GMSMA statement of purpose said, in effect, “This is the kind of S/M we stand for and support. S/M can be damaging, crazy, or coercive, but it doesn’t have to be, and together we’re going to learn how to tell the difference.” If someone was deliberately careless or irresponsible, or broke agreements about limits, we didn’t say, “He’s not doing S/M” but rather, “He’s not doing the kind of S/M we can support.”
As an organization, GMSMA never tried to officially define “safe,” “sane,” or “consensual.” From the beginning, we knew that beyond the obvious applications of these terms, there are vast gray areas. Moreover, we knew that “safety,” especially, differed from one individual to another. A maneuver that’s perfectly safe for one gymnast or ice skater to perform could easily lead to a broken neck for another. A flogging that one bottom finds pleasurably exciting might leave another with serious damage. A session of rigid bondage and sensory deprivation that leads to fulfillment and ecstasy for one person might send another into a psychotic breakdown. A year as a 24/7 slave might be the peak experience of a lifetime for me, yet cause you to have an emotional collapse. Go back to the full statement, where it says, “We aim to raise awareness about issues of safety and responsibility . . . and to disseminate the best available medical and technical information about S/M practices.” That’s the context in which the “safe” in “safe, sane, and consensual” has to be understood: being responsible, being aware, doing your homework, taking precautions — that’s what we meant by “safe.” We did not mean, back in 1983 or 1987, to promote only G-rated S/M, a lowest common denominator that restricts people’s play to a risk-free sandbox where pain isn’t really painful, bondage isn’t really constraining, and dominance is being ordered to do only what you want to do anyway. We left “sane” and “consensual” much vaguer, “sane” because it’s pretty vague to begin with once you get past the obvious meaning — able to distinguish fantasy from reality — and “consensual” because we didn’t realize how tricky it is. We didn’t have the benefit of today’s more nuanced perspective, which has developed from a couple of decades of rising awareness of just how hard it can be to leave an abusive spouse. We did not discuss, back then, whether consent was something you could give once and for all, or if it had to be renewed continuously. The distinction we were trying to draw was much simpler: between, on one hand, the kind of controlled bondage, torture, and dominance that bottoms willingly seek out from cooperative partners and, on the other hand, the kind that predators and sociopaths impose on unwilling victims (it doesn’t help that coercive S/M is far more common in our own erotica as well as in sensationalistic journalism). It took another decade and a half for people to start talking openly about the puzzles of “consensual nonconsensuality” — but would these debates even occur if we didn’t agree that S/M should be consensual in the first place?
FREEDOM FROM FEAR
Just as in the GMSMA statement, Tony DeBlase’s CHC article from 1981 surrounds the now-familiar terms “safe,” “sane,” and “consensual” with other concepts — education, participation, communication, responsibility, community — that provide a context for interpreting them. i am especially struck by the clause, “Responsible S&M has become more popular and less feared in the gay community . . . .” That the “safe, sane, and consensual” slogan was coined at a time when S/M was becoming “less feared” is one of the keys to this whole history. For most people in my generation and earlier, the practices and images of S/M were very scary. And taking the first steps toward realizing our fantasies of pain, bondage, dominance, or humiliation — from either side, top or bottom — was even scarier. But from the late 1970s (when the original “old guard” began dying off, though that’s another story) to now, S/M has grown progressively less scary, to the point that many teenagers today are more familiar with what goes on in our subculture than most adults were back in the 1950s. Why? Madonna and Trent Reznor can’t take all of the credit! These and other “mainstream” artists would not have been able to exploit such themes, i think, without the increasing visibility of an S/M community that promotes responsible, ethical practices, thus raising the comfort level for everyone, whether kinky or vanilla. Coming out into S/M through our community today is infinitely less scary than doing so in isolation, or with no resources except the bars, baths, backrooms, sex clubs, and porn magazines to guide you. In contrast, when i first realized back in the 1960s what made my dick hard, i was terrified. i obsessed about the horrible things that could happen to me if i ever gave in to my masochistic and submissive urges and put myself in the hands of a dominant, sadistic man. i read William Carney’s novel The Real Thing and was sure i’d end up on a slab in the morgue if i took the first step down that slippery slope. By the time i moved to New York in 1977, still a virgin in every sense of the term, i knew that leather bars existed and that some of the scenes portrayed in Drummer weren’t totally fictional, but i was still worried that i would be damaged irreparably if i allowed a man to use me and hurt me in the ways i also knew i needed. “Fear is the mind-killer,” they say in Frank Herbert’s novel Dune, and mine took a long time to fade. But it probably also kept me alive by making me think early and often about risk-reduction strategies. And when i joined with others at the end of 1980 to create GMSMA, i finally made contact with enough men committed to doing S/M in a nondestructive way that i was able to overcome my fears and begin participating actively. That’s the historical and personal context in which “safe sane consensual” emerged: overcoming fear, shame, and silence to learn what we need to know to make our own choices. On the whole, i think the phrase has served us well — and it can continue to do so if we don’t try to make it do jobs it was never designed for. Chanting “safe sane consensual” like a mantra can’t save you from a bad scene or a bad relationship, and it can’t replace the years of study and practice that guide an experienced top or bottom, dominant or submissive through the maze of choices both must confront. While “safe, sane, and consensual” may suggest the outlines of an S/M ethics, actually articulating one will take a lot more work than coining a useful slogan. But it’s a start.
***The final version of the essay is available on slave david’s site as a downloadable PDF: go to <a title=”http://www.lthredge.com/ href=”http://www.lthredge.com/”>www.lthredge.com/. That version corrects some errors in the version here have as well as representing some changes in my his view of SSC and its (ab)uses.
Origins of the term “sadomasochism”
The word sadomasochism was coined in 1922 by combining the words sadism and masochism. It means:
the derivation of pleasure from the infliction of physical or mental pain either on others or on oneself.
Marquis de Sade
The word sadism is derived from de Sade’s name. Born in Paris on June 2,1740, the Marquis de Sade’s full name was Donatien Alphonse François, comte de Sade. This French author was best known for his erotic works which were predominantly written while imprisoned (off and on for almost 30 years of his adult life). In 1803 he was confined to the insane asylum, Charenton, until his death on December 2, 1814. Because he regarded criminal and sexually deviant acts as natural, his novels were banned into the 20th century.
Richard von Krafft-Ebing
Born on August 14, 1840 in Mannheim, Germany, this noted physician and neurologist was recognized as an authority on deviant sexual behavior. Krafft-Ebing, a pioneering professor of sexual psychopathology, helped to advance psychology as a clinical science. He first coined the term masochist, inspired by the life of Leopold von Sacher-Masoch. He did not see the terms sadism and masochism as compliments as they are commonly thought of today. Sadists were sexually aroused by inflicting pain on others or themselves. Masochists, on the other hand, were aroused by fantasies of being controlled, dominated and humiliated. His most noted work is Psychopathia sexualis (1886, tr. 1892). Krafft-Ebing died in Austria on December 22, 1902.
Leopold von Sacher-Masoch
Leopold von Sacher-Masoch was born in Lemberg, Austria (now the Ukraine) in 1836. This Austrian writer was best known for his novel “Venus in Furs” (1931, originally written in German in 1874). As in all his books, this novel detailed his obsession with masochistic fantasies. Venus is supposedly a true story. Sacher-Mashoch died in Austria in 1895. His name and life was the inspiration for the term masochist.
The Oral History Project
The Oral History project involves the taping, transcribing, indexing and filing of interviews with long time participants or important individuals in the leather community. The transcribed histories form one of the most important information sources in the LA&M’s developing collections. Identifying oral history subjects, arranging the interviews, typing them out and indexing them is an area where volunteers are always needed. Joe Gallagher is currently working on an Oral History video project with members of the Satyrs and Oedipus clubs in California. Many other projects must be undertaken soon if we are not to lose the firsthand stories of the beginning of the leather world as we know it.
A few Oral Histories are available for your viewing at the Leather Archives and Museum. Combined with all the others in the archives they tell the history of our community. The Oral Histories available here are most interesting and we will be adding more in the near future.
From Dark Connections
The leather community, created for the most part by gay men and soldiers returning home after World War ll, was a society steeped in secrecy. It’s members shared a love of motorcycles and leather accoutrements and longed for the familiar military principles and discipline they endured during the war. The term “Old Guard” pretty much referred to the first generation of gay leather men who formed these leather communities in the late 1940s and early 1950s and the styles they pioneered. Unfortunately, there is not much information to be found on the history of people of color within the Old Guard.
In the 80’s leather competitions became a major part of the community. Competing in and attending leather contests became a way to comfortably meet others in the lifestyle and titleholders are held in very high esteem within the community. In 1993 Graylin Thornton and Gregory Adams started the Ebony in Leather contest in San Francisco. The highly popular contest has since been renamed Mr. Ebony Leather and today is run by Cain Berlinger.
There are quite a few books, newsletters and articles written by and for those in the Black leather community. To Love, to Obey, to Serve: Diary of an Old Guard Slave by African-American author Vi Johnson has become a cult classic within the community. Cain Berlinger is the author of Black Men in Leather, a study on what it means to be Black and a part of the Leather, Fetish, BDSM Community. Black Leather in Color magazine published their first edition in winter of 1994. The NYC based quarterly magazine’s goal was to present the people of color images missing in mainstream leather publications and help leathermen and women of color gain acceptance within the leather community.
Jack Jackson (1921-1983) was the president of The Eulenspiegel Society for almost an entire decade since almost its inception in the early 70’s. Jackson was a charismatic leader and a self proclaimed “loving sadist”. He also took many of the photographs and ads featured in TES’s Prometheus magazine.
The first leather organizations for men of color such as “L.A. Brotherhood” and “Brothers in Leather” were formed as early as the 1980s but most have since faded away. In the fall of 1995, one of the most prominent leather clubs for people of color, ONYX (Men of ONYX, Inc) joined the SM, leather, fetish community in Chicago. Founded by Mufasa Ali, the goal of ONYX is to provide an informational and social organization to address issues specific to men of color who choose to discuss and/or participate in the lifestyle.
In September 1999 another prominent club, The New York Panthers Leather Club, founded by John K, was formed for men of color in the New York-New Jersey-Connecticut tri-state area who are interested and involved in leather and BDSM activities. The group is still active.
There haven’t been many leather organizations created specifically for women of color, however there are several notable women of color in the leather community, and quite a few leather contest titleholders.
Vi Johnson is one of the most well known African-American women in the Leather Community. A lifestyle slave, author and vampire, Johnson has been active for over two decades as an activist, writer, and educator and has been dubbed “mother” by a whole generation of leather men and women. She is slave and wife of Jill Carter and husband to Queen Cougar (former Ms. San Francisco Leather, 1993 and winner of the Pantheon of Leather “Reader’s Choice Woman of the Year 2000”.) From her journals kept while living as a slave and vampire, Johnson authored two autobiographical books Dhampir, Child of The Blood and To Love, To Obey, To Serve, Diary of an Old Guard Slave. Her work has been published in Some Women (the Anthology) and various leather magazines such as Dominant Mystique, Black Leather in Color, Passion, The Link, Black Mistress Review, Black Amazon Digest, Ouch, Obeya, and Bitches with Whips.
Jill Carter, International Ms Leather 1996 has been active in the leather lifestyle for over 25 years. She has been an officer or founding member of various organizations across the United States, President of Ms. World Leather, a speaker or workshop presenter for leather organizations and colleges. Carter was the recipient of the Pantheon of Leather Woman of the Year Award 1998 and 2001, Readers Choice Woman of the Year 1998, one-third of the Couple of the Year Award, The National Leather Association International Order of Merit and Lifetime Achievement Awards and the Emerald Award from the state of Washington.
The Ms. World Leather 2003 contest was the first time in any international leather contest that two African-American Women stood on the same stage as winner, Goddess Lakshimi, and first runner up, Daddie Millarca.
Although the leather scene was available to all sexual orientations and genders, most heterosexuals felt the need to form their own groups….
Pre-WWII SM vs.post-WWII Leather
By Gayle S. Rubin
From the LeatherHistory E-Group
On Sat, 13 Apr 2002, dogg_starr1 wrote:
Their newest claim is that the old guard invented WIITWD and specificly the “leather lifestyle”. I have been challenged to find documentation that there was a “leather lifestyle” before WWII. Normally I pretty much ignore their challenges, but I happen to be interested in learning about our history pre WWII, myself.
One of the problems here is a failure to distinguish between the overlapping but distinct histories of heterosexual and gay male SM, as well as a confusion between a “leather lifestyle” and “SM.” These terms also overlap, but have some different connotations and can refer to different phenomena and institutional complexes, particularly in the past.
SM and kinky sex certainly predate WWII. But the set of institutional and symbolic structures called “leather” did not. Moreover, “leather” as community form– as distinct from leather as a fetish– was largely developed by gay men after WWII and did not initially refer to heterosexual practice. Over time, “Leather” eventually began to function as another general term for all SM, but originally in its gay male context meant masculine gay men, gay men who were into motorcycles, and kinky gay men who all inhabited a community largely structured by gay leather bars and gay bike clubs. Not everyone in such leather communities was interested in SM. In addition, the term “Old Guard” pretty much referred to the first generation of these gay leather men who formed these leather communities in the late 1940s and early 1950s and the styles they pioneered (a superb essay on this period and these guys is the one by Guy Baldwin in his “Ties that Bind”). So in that sense, “the old guard” can be said to have invented “the leather lifestyle.” But this does not mean they invented nor ever claimed to have invented sadomasochism or fetishism.
Leather was a sexual fetish long before. Moreover, SM was practiced long before leather was a significant sexual fetish, much less before the development of “leather communities.” But the institutional contexts were different. There is a fabulous dissertation by Rob Bienvenu on the history of SM as a cultural style that covers a great deal of the history of organized non-gay male SM and fetish in the 2oth century. I highly recommend it.
There is scattered documentation of SM activity in, for example, late Victorian England and turn of the century Europe. There’s a book by Ian Gibson called The English Vice that has material on specialized flagellation prostitution; similar material can be found in other books on the sexual underworld in late 19th century London.
Turn of the century (that’s the last turn of the century, not the recent one) sexology contains plentiful descriptive data as well as attempts to interpret and explain SM (be warned, however: SM was considered a pathology).
Among early sexology, some works stand out. Havelock Ellis’ Love and Pain is a fascinating exploration of what he called “algolagnia” (love of pain) and provides ample evidence that people were certainly doing SM in the
early 20th century. Krafft-Ebing’s Psychopathia Sexualis is full of cases of SM, fetishism, and flagellation in the late 19th century. The focus there is on individuals (suffering from sexual pathologies), but one can still catch occasional glimpses of some kind of heterosexual SM public life. It’s nothing to compare with what exists now, but for example, one of his cases reported responding to newspaper ads from women with language such as “lady, strict teacher, seeks pupils….” There is a book devoted entirely to Sadism and Masochism by another early sexologist, Albert Eulenberg. Eulenberg’s book was translated into English (from German) and contains photographs from around 1900 that document professional “Mistresses” (although that term is anchronistic), houses of prostitution that specialized in flagellation, scenes in progress, and equipment for bondage and flagellation. Most of Eulenberg’s photos were in turn reprinted from still untranslated works by other sexologists writing in German, notably Hirschfeld and Wulffen. But when all these men were writing none of this would have been called “the leather lifestyle.”
Unfortunately, Krafft-Ebing, Ellis, and Eulenberg’s books are all out of print, so yes, you do need to check used book stores or your local libraries. I think Guy’s book is however available. I’m not sure about Gibson. Rob’s dissertation can be obtained through University Microfilms and I think he also has it posted on the web.
PS. It seems to me I do a version of this post every year or two; you might check the archives for a previous one.
PPS. stay tuned– there are a lot of people doing work on the history of SM now, so there is a good bit of excellent research in the pipeline. This just wasn’t considered a subject for serious historical scholarship until recently, so most of the material on SM from the mid-20th century is psychiatric and medical and has little information on the social worlds of practitioners.
(Dogmatism) Old Guard…or not…
By BullDawg66 (post from the LeatherHistory Yahoo! Group)
If anyone finds this offensive…sorry in advance but it is something that eats at me from time to time.
Okay, enough about “Old Guard” vs. “New Guard” stuff. Let’s be realistic about things. Those who care to sit down and make a name for themselves, and these days it seems to be everyone in the world, write history. It has nothing to do with what really might have happened or what actually did happen. I’m not knocking that there were some of these “Old Guard” attitude type folks around, but it certainly wasn’t the norm of life, even for the leather community of 20 years ago, and when one tries to pinpoint them to say who “they” were…they don’t exist. We were all different people 20 years ago and will be different in another 20. Society and life has a mysterious way of doing that to people.
20 years ago I could be found riding my little rice burner of a Yamaha FZR-400 up and down Sunset Highway and Interstate 5. Stopping in Laguna beach long enough for a beer or two. The Boom-Boom Room, on the cliffs overlooking the beach, a place for gay bikers by day and dance club by night. Being in the leather scene back then meant having a bike, belonging to a club, drinking beer, and more importantly…getting laid. The bars were about cruising and if you were lucky enough to live in a town with a good bar, a back room might be thrown in for good measure.
Since most of us had jumped on the cold war bandwagon in an effort to do our part against Mother Russia, we all just assumed that the protocol stay at work. Protocol in the leather community, by and large that meant you were an officer of your motorcycle club and were entitled to more beer.
The places we stayed at if we went to Los Angeles were geared towards parties and sex. No different now than it was then either. The infamous Coral Sands Hotel on West Hollywood Blvd. A veritable orgy when things got going. Occasionally we might see something that we of the so-called leather crowd would see something we thought a bit weird…someone might come in, move the beds around, open the windows in their room, spread out some plastic, and open a can of Crisco for some old fashioned fisting. Normal? Back then no, these days… more likely to happen.
Other things the bike clubs thought were kind of eccentric, one of our guys was into riding dildos…laugh if you must but it was out of the norm as it wasn’t cruising for dick after the local bands left the stage. It didn’t involve drinking beer or riding our bikes. We made fun of the guy a lot and then a few years later as our community changed and AIDS took its toll, so did attitudes…lots of guys into toys now. It’s safe.
I had a boyfriend back then too…a tattoo artist who got me into the punk scene. His idea of leather was putting on his jacket and chaps and riding off on his 1957 Triumph motorcycle. I still have his chaps hanging in my closet. Hell, he wouldn’t even consider fucking someone in a sling…too out of the norm, and he was a punker, can’t get much more out there than that in the late 70’s early 80’s. Open minded to anything new,just don’t get into the weird sex shit with him.
History also had no place for the women bikers we knew, both the straight Harley biker bitches and the lesbians who weren’t the dykes on bikes. There was a woman once, her name was Corky…for a living she rebuilt custom Harley’s. These days she would be called a lipstick lesbian, back then she even made all the gay guys hearts stop. Sweet, charming, not kinky…but damn, what a looker. The history we write of today doesn’t include her type…she’s not old guard into all the protocol propaganda.
So where does this leave us…back at the beginning of this dissertation. All these terms we use today are in retrospect. They were designed for a better understanding to describe and to categorize relationships so that people could better understand what was going on. Where did we go with it? Instead a few people use it to dictate to people that this is the way it has always been and to dictate that therefore it should be thus.
The scene and the people involved have come a long ways over the years but in the end still have a lot to learn. The way it was…hell, i was there just as much as anyone else. Most of the military protocol junk incorporated into the scene is jut that…most vets don’t give a rats ass about it unless it pertains to them and their involvement with others on a personal level…it is modified to fit their needs. Most of the people who say that the protocol is there because of the service, have never served. I’m not saying all of them, but a good majority of them. If the “real” protocol of the military showed up on their doorstep and bit them in the ass they wouldn’t know what it was. People can’t be pigeon holed in society and the leather scene today is more concerned with technique and who supposedly did what 20 years ago, 30 years ago, etc. In 100 years, ask yourself…who will remember me? Nobody will unless you were to become president or discover something.
Let’s be realistic, these attitudes of telling people how to think in order to be part of something…it doesn’t attract a younger crowd to further ideas or ideals.
leather, punk, red doc martin wearing, sportbike riding, pen weilding, nuclear radiated, psycho killer skindawg with a blue/black mohawk and packing a 9mm, patiently waiting a new collar – cause it’s a dawg on a journey thing
A recent question on one of the newslists had to do with smoking cigarettes at dungeon parties. The writer began her question with a reference to the Old Guard/New Guard dilemma.
Things have changed in fifty years, that’s for sure, but I’m not sure that things have changed as much as most “young” Leatherfolk think.
I’ll start off by saying that there’s a good chance that most of you think that I am “Old Guard.” My age and my salt and pepper hair make me look that way and the proliferation of my writing (thank the gods) makes it seem that way.
The truth is that I am a relative late-comer to Leather, having had my first “rough” sex about twenty years ago. Even at that, I’m not sure that I met that many Old Guarders in the early eighties. After all, no one ever walked up to me and said “Hi, I’m a member of the Old Guard.”
I know several people now who may be thought of as in the Old Guard, but I bet they don’t think of themselves that way. The oral history work I did with the Leather Archives gave me a great opportunity to talk with many men and woman who remember the old days. It is from my experiences and those conversations that I am drawing these reflections.
All that is to say that I don’t think of myself as a member of the Old Guard. I do, however, admit to thinking like a member of the Old Guard (whatever that is) when it comes to Leather.
If I’m going to make any point in today’s rambling, it’s going to be that there never was, and never will be, an Old Guard.
For starters, try and date the time of the Old Guard. Was there an Old Guard in 1949? I doubt it. The rough sex sub-culture was hardly a culture at the time and even though SM had been practiced for millennia, it was hardly noticed by the rest of society and was probably more closely aligned with profession dominatrices than with Gay men.
So shall we date it from 1952? Probably not, as no one is going to say that one movie, “The Wild Ones,” created a group called the Old Guard.
So was it the sixties? Maybe. But if there were an Old Guard in the sixties, they were young and new at it and feeling their way through a hell of a lot of issues. Even if they were the men and women who were to become the Old Guard, they certainly weren’t the Old Guard then.
By the late seventies Leather was alive and well and filled with newly created traditions and a relatively short history. After all, twenty years in the life of the human race isn’t much more than a blink.
Was there an Old Guard then? I doubt it.
And for my doubt I have some very reliable sources. The most reliable is an original copy of Larry Townsend’s “The Leatherman’s Handbook.” First published in 1972, those pages have a memory much better than anyone around to talk about “the good old days.”
In this book, there’s no mention at all of an Old Guard nor of requirements placed on fellow Leatherfolk by the Old Guard.
A case in point: A recent slave applicant and I had a conversation about “slavese.” For those unfamiliar with the term, it is the requirement that a slave always refer to him or herself in the third person, thereby never using the word “I,” or any other first person pronoun, for that matter. The result is that you get horribly convoluted sentences such as “Sir, this slave, Sir, requests permission for this slave to use the bathroom, Sir.”
Well, there is no way in Hell that such a requirement has anything to do with Old Guard. You can read the Handbook, for instance, all you want and you’ll find only few references to slaves and certainly no reference at all to “slavese.” You see, a person into Leather in the those days was called an “S” or an “M,” which stood for sadist and masochist and had little or nothing to do with dominance or submission.
Even the words top and bottom are rare in the Handbook, as they were rare in the seventies.
Thirty years ago, or even fifty for that matter, the Old Guard wouldn’t have had a discussion about cigarette smoke either. Groups may have but the Old Guard wouldn’t. The whole notion of smoking being permitted or not, you see, has nothing to do with Leather. That, of course, is the crux of the whole dialogue.
Most of what people want to foist on the topic of Leather has to do with being human, not with being sexual, sadistic, or kinky.
When I was a kid, and here I admit to sounding like my Dad, smokers were considerate of the places where they smoked. They asked their hosts if smoking were permitted. It wasn’t a matter of Leather protocol, it was a matter of manners.
It wouldn’t have been a matter of using slavese. It would have been a matter of using good grammar. The examples can go on and on.
Do you think, after all, that the “founders” of Leather sat around inventing a hanky code?
Sure someone sat down one day and compiled this long list of colors and meanings, but I bet that by the time that happened, the list was more tongue in cheek than color in the pocket!
Life is never as pre-calculated as “historians” want us to believe. Human culture grows by ebbs and flows, by trial and error, by ideas rejected as well as accepted.
Groups have more or less formality, greater or lesser structure, few or many guidelines. In the long run, life, and hence living groups, are evolutionary, developing style and tradition, manners and mores, by what is seen as necessary, expedient, profitable, or convenient.
That’s not to say that one “Master” won’t do it one way and another quite differently. One may line up “slave protocols” ad nauseam and the other may quite firmly demand that everything be loose and laid back.
Last week at the Eagle, while the writing of this column was still in its germinal state, I asked Chuck Renslow about the Old Guard.
As our conversation meandered, he reminded me of the terms “S” and “M” and how there were all those difficulties and arguments and human foibles then as there are now. Eventually he reminded me that Leather isn’t a lifestyle. “We can only ‘do Leather’ so many hours a week,” he noted, “and then we have the rest of our lives the way everyone else does.”
Going to work and doing chores and paying bills, eating and sleeping and studying are all parts of lifestyle.
Most of what Leatherfolk call “Our Lifestyle,” after all, has to do with being polite, careful, supportive, with having manners and common sense. There are, certainly, aspects of Leather that differ from other subcultures and those differences are to be cherished, honored, and, most importantly, enjoyed, but when it really comes down to Old and New, Father Alliot’s dictum, which I first heard from him in 1966 holds true: “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”
So if anyone tells you about the “Old Guard,” refer them to Larry’s paragraph on page 15 of the original Leatherman’s Handbook: “All through this Handbook I will be at great pains to point out that much of what I have to say is opinion… Your reaction may be entirely different, and your desires may exceed or fall far short of the action I describe. This is exactly how it should be. No one — Larry Townsend or anyone else — can even begin to set the standards for your sexual needs and/or behavior.”
That I think is precisely the Old Guard’s view of the Old Guard.
The Old Guard
The History of Leather Traditions
By Guy Baldwin, M.S., author of The Ties That Bind
While reading a recent interview with Brian Dawson, I came across some of his comments about that ‘Old Guard’ In the leather lifestyle. Although I used that label in a piece I wrote almost three years ago, I only recently realized that there was a strong likelihood that large numbers of leather guys don’t quite know for sure what the phrase, ‘Old Guard’ really means. I’m sure that I have never seen a description of the style (and it is a style, so I want to offer one now. I have carried my own ‘Old Guard’ card in my wallet right next to my Selective Service Registration card (draft card) for long enough that I probably qualify to offer what follows so, here goes…
First, a bit of historical perspective will be more helpful than you might guess. ‘Old Guard’ is really a misnomer – a misapplied name – for the earliest set of habits that jelled by the mid- to late 1950s in the men’s leather community here in the U.S. It is very important to remember that the modern leather scene as we now know it first formalized itself out of the group of men who were soldiers returning home after World War ll. (l939-1945).
For many gay men of that era, their World War ll. military service was their first homosocial experience (first time being thrown together mostly in the company of other men for significant lengths of time), their first time away from their growing up places, and their first experience of male bonding during periods of high stress. War was (and is) serious business; people died, buddies depended on each other for their lives, and the chips were down. Discipline was the order of the day, and the nation believed that only discipline and dedication would win the war and champion freedom: (Ever notice the especially strong patriotic feelings that happen at leather events?)
Anyway, these gay war veterans learned about the value and pleasure of discipline and hard work in the achievement of a noble purpose. They also learned how to play hard when they got the chance for leave time. Indeed, military life during wartime was (and is) a mix of emotional extremes born out of sure knowledge that one could literally be ‘here today, and gone tomorrow. ‘ Lastly (for these purposes), the gay vets had the secret knowledge that they fought and served every bit as well as straight soldiers, and this information strengthened their self-esteem. All of these things came to be associated with the disciplined, military way of life as it existed during the wartime years.
Although not all gay men of that time served in the military, those who didn’t were exposed to the military attitudes through their contact with the vast numbers of military men who were everywhere to be seen and cruised both during and immediately after the war years. In any case, all these things greatly influenced the shape of masculine gay sexualities.
Upon their return to the States about 1946, many of the gay vets wanted to retain the most satisfying elements of their military experience and, at the same time, hang out socially and sexually with other masculine gay men. They found that only in the swashbuckling motorcycle culture did such opportunities exist and so the gay bike clubs were born. It was here that they found the combination of easy camaraderie, the stress and thrill of real risk taking (the riding), and the masculine sexuality that they had known during their military days.
Since one can tell who is and is not in the military only when uniforms are worn, these gay men unconsciously (in most cases) transferred their loyalties to their own uniform-the leather gear of bike riders with a few paramilitary touches thrown in. Club insignia often recalled hose insignia of special military units: Thunderbolts, Warriors, Blue Max, and Iron Cross to name only a few. Club members would exchange their insignia with members of other clubs in friendship; christening rituals were transferred from tanks, ships and airplanes to motorcycles and piss was substituted for champagne; the military dress uniform hats became the leather bike caps-all these elements were just as had been during military service.
Incidentally, during the war, the soldiers would often put on skits for their own amusement. Since women were not allowed at the front, some of the men would play the parts of women by doing a kind of mock dress-up (as in one scene from ‘South Pacific’). Later, this tradition would be expressed in ‘drag’ shows during bike runs. So, masculine men pretended to be pretending to be women-not truly ‘drag’ at all. (lt. still happens in a few places.)
In any case, being in the military also meant following lots of rules. And just as in the military, there were (unspoken) rules about what you did and did not wear, how you handled your personal affairs, who you could and could not socialize with and more. All this was overlaid with a kind of ritual formalism just as in the military. Those men who were really into dominance and submission, SM, or leather sex tended to take these rules rather more seriously than those guys who simply thought of themselves as butch. The butch ones wore just enough leather to be practical when riding, and those into the exotic sexualities tended to wear more gear than necessary to signal this fact about themselves, but they all hung out together in the same settings. As you might guess, in some cases, any particular person might be into both riding and the exotic sexualities.
Just as an aside here, before and during the war, kinky folks seeking to identify each other would sometimes defensively ask, ‘Do you play the mandolin or the saxophone?’ to discover which of them was the masochist or the sadist by the first letter of these instruments. All this while wearing street clothes! The creation of a butch subculture by the gay vets began to allow people to specialize their sexual interests in a way that had been impossible earlier. Prior to this development. it was not apparent that there were very many ways to be gay.
The bike clubs and the bars where they hung out became the magnets of their day which attracted those gay men who were interested in the masculine end of the gay spectrum, but it was the leather men who defined the masculine extreme at that time. (Nowadays, we know there are many ways to be masculine.) This meant that those who had an inclination to kinky action pretty much felt compelled to explore kink in the context of the leather SM scene since it was the only game in town. If motorcycle riding or black leather itself was not ‘your thing’, that meant one felt obligated to visit the hang outs and look and act the part as much as possible to find one’s way into the inner circle of those who looked like they knew something about the exotic sexualities. This meant finding out what the rules of inclusion were (how can I be included?) in order to gain access. To some extent, all this is still true because the attitude still prevails that the ‘uniform” indicates experience and social access to the Knowledgeable People.
And so, the Scene became EX-clusive rather than IN-clusive, meaning that the people in the Scene understood the rules and tried to keep outsiders out-to exclude them. An outsider became defined as anyone (butch or not) who did not have a primary interest in and experience with the exotic sexualities or at least an interest in motorcycles. (This excluding attitude was probably also reinforced by guilt about being kinky.)
I know that this combination of kinky men mixed in with motorcycle riders may sound a bit odd now, but that’s how the Scene worked and, to some slight extent, still does. All through the 80’s, with the emergence of kinky organizations and specifically leather/SM events, the motorcycle riding community and the kinky leather community have grown apart such that now those in one group are pretty much ignorant of or indifferent to the events happening in the other.
This growing separation is more true in larger cities which have the numbers of people that are necessary to support each of these two communities, each with separate needs and agendas. Consequently, many old and venerable bike clubs have experienced a drop in membership and some have disbanded altogether.
But for the most part, kinky people have segregated themselves out from the riders as the process of erotic specialization has continued. Generally, the riding community seems not to have minded this development perhaps because many of the members of riding clubs are either turned off or embarrassed by the erotic visibility of the kinky crowd “Birds of a feather”. But for this discussion, it is noteworthy that many of those kinky people retained the paramilitary trappings, manners and attitudes of that early, core group of returning World War ll. gay vets.
Most importantly, these features of the military mind-set joined with inky interests and became erotic in and of themselves became fetishes. These men then were the original ‘0ld Guard’, and so it will come as no surprise that their quasi-military rules of inclusion and exclusion still influence kinky society today.
So what exactly were the (unspoken) “Old Guard’ rules? Here are a few of the more important ones that had prevailed by 1970:
Always were boots, butch ones, and preferably black.
Always wear a wide black leather belt plain, not fancy.
Never mix brown leather with black leather.
Never mix chrome or silver trim with gold or brass trim.
Long pants only, Levi’s or leather, and no shorts.
Chaps indicate more commitment than Levi’s, and leather pants more commitment than chaps, especially when worn consistently.
Leather Jackets must have epaulets (bike riders excepted).
Head gear is reserved for Tops or experienced or heavy bottoms only.
Bottoms may not own collars unless a particular Top has allowed that bottom to be the custodian of the Top’s collar. A bottom wearing a collar is a slave, and belongs to the owner of the collar who, presumably, has the keys. Other Tops are not to engage a collared bottom in conversation, but other bottoms may do so. Should such a relationship end, the collar must be returned to the Top.
Never touch the bill of a bike cap, including your own.
Never touch another man’s cap (or head gear) unless you are very intimate friends or lovers.
Keep studs and other decorations to a tasteful minimum unless they happen to be club insignia.
Never wear another man’s leather unless he puts it on you.
Leather, other than boots and belt, must be ‘earned’ through the achievement of successively challenging ‘scenes.’
Wearing gloves is reserved for heavy players, glove fetishists or bike riders.
Always indicate SM preference, only with keys left or right.
If you are cruising seriously, wear the keys out; if not seriously, tuck them in a back pocket.
Always indicate strictly leather sex or ‘rough sex’ interest by wearing no keys at all.
Those who ‘switch’ are second class players and not to be taken as seriously because they haven’t made their minds up. If you must switch, do so in another town.
‘Full’ leather is reserved for after 10:00 P.M. only and only with ‘our own kind’.
Respect the public by wearing less of it during the day–don’t frighten old ladies (l did once by accident), or anyone else for that matter.
About Socializing and Cruising:
Experience in the Scene determines social seniority (Top or bottom) , not age, not size, not amount of leather worn, and not offices held in organizations, awards received or titles won.
Tops and experienced bottoms should be accorded higher respect and deference unless and until they behave rudely–all are expected to observe rules of social courtesy-bad manners are inexcusable and can lower one’s status in the Scene (thereby reducing access to the Knowledgeable People for information or play),
Real Leathermen keep their word: they do not borrow or lend money; they conduct their affairs with honor and integrity-they don’t lie.
Preliminary social contact should be on the formal side.
‘Senior Persons’ (Top or bottom) are not to be interrupted when in conversation.
Experience being equal, Tops lead the conversation.
Junior Tops defer to Senior Tops and Senior bottoms in social situations.
Junior bottoms defer to all others in the Scene but not to outsiders.
When walking together, bottoms walk half-a-step behind and to the left of Tops with whom they are involved or playing.
It is up to the Top or the experienced bottom to extend a hand to invite a handshake. (All touching is highly restricted during initial contact between strangers.) NEVER over-indulge in drugs or alcohol in public, or otherwise attract scornful attention to one’s self–to do so brings dishonor on the men in the Scene,
Tops should always have the first two opportunities to make verbal or physical contact,
The more submissive one is, the less direct eye contact one makes-glance frequently at or stare at His boots only when cruising; less so in non-sexual conversation. The more dominant one is, the more direct the eye contact is unless there is no erotic interest (cruising only).
Men in the Scene do not discuss (or write about the Scene with outsiders. All men in the Scene must be able to spot outsiders with the ‘right stuff’ and be ready to facilitate them into the Scene after they indicate sincere interest.
None of these rules are taught or explained to anyone except by innuendo, inference, or example.
Erotic technical information is only shared among peers.
Maintain formal and non-committal relationships with those outside the scene; avoid contact with feminine men. Women are not allowed although Senior People may occasionally have intellectual or brief social relationships with the occasional qualified kinky woman, but only in private.
Very few men maintained full compliance with all these rules all the time, and some, flatly refused to follow rules they personally objected to. But, to be included one was expected to follow at least most of these rules most of the time. Also, confusingly, there was some variation in some of the rules depending on what city you happened to be in at the time. The list above is not complete although it conveys the sense of the style.
Understandably, a certain stiffness surrounded the men who followed these rules, just as a certain stiffness surrounded the military men of the era. Those who sought inclusion had the challenge of finding a relaxed and easygoing way to follow rules. However, this required considerable social skill and many kinky people lacking those skills (or patience ) simply gave up and accepted a frustrated role on the fringe.
As time passed, there were more and more guys in their twenties whose early sexual development had not been influenced strongly by contact with the military. Therefore, they lacked the early raw material with which to fetish-ize the military features of the ‘0ld Guard’ leather/SM scene. Still, they needed information and experiences to help shape the urges of insistent kinky longings.
These people were essentially without resources until the establishment of kinky organizations brought about new educational opportunities that were not bound by ‘0ld Guard’ rules.
Consequently, there is a lot more support now for new people coming into the leather/ SM scene who have other ideas (non- military) about what is hot. Long hair, rockers with wild designs on their jackets, road racing bikers with brightly colored leathers, leather faeries, skinheads, women and others now are found on turf once dominated by the ‘0ld Guard’ system’.
So, ‘0ld Early Guard’ or perhaps thought of as ‘Early Guard” or perhaps ‘First Guard’ because that style makes sense given the erotic influences that shaped the inner lives of the men who were coming of age sexually at that time. The Old Guard made some real contributions and made some real mistakes, and still does both.
It is more useful to understand than to criticize. And, perhaps most importantly, what the Old Guard did for the development and expansion of kinky life and butch gay male sexuality can best be appreciated against the backdrop of what had existed earlier–not much of anything!
But remember this, as long as we have a military, and a paramilitary police system, and as long as that military has traditions of initiation, ritual, inclusion/exclusion, honor and service, there will always be an ‘0ld Guard’. Its size and influence in the leather/SM scene will probably always be proportional to the role played by the military and other paramilitary organizations in society-larger following wartime and smaller during peace. I thought maybe you’d like to know.
Guy Baldwin, M.S. a Los Angeles psychotherapist, served as International Mr. Leather and Mr. National Leather Association during 1989-90
By Jay Wiseman
For some time now, and in particular within the last year or so, a number of assertions about so-called “Old Guard” traditions, customs, and teachings have come to my attention. Many of these assertions have caused me to roll my eyes and utter a world-weary sigh. I’ll also confess that I’ve been having a bit of satirical fun in this regard (as if I could deny that). Hopefully, nobody has taken serious, lasting offense.
I’ve mentioned it before, and I’ll briefly mention it again now, I see the “Old Guard” being romanticized and idealized in a manner similar to how the cowboys of the Old West were romanticized and idealized. Sadly, the reason for this is largely identical — all too many of the people who could set the record straight are dead.
One of my slaves recently remarked to me that people, particularly disenfranchised people (such as we sadomasochists) want to have a history, and if such people don’t have such a history then they will create one and proceed to set about convincing themselves that it’s true. I believe I see more than traces of that going on regarding “the Old Guard.”
Therefore, before these rapidly fading brain cells of mine deteriorate too much further, let me see if I can contribute something that might actually be at least slightly useful.
To paraphrase a line from a current movie: “What do I know for sure?” In other words, what do I know because I actually witnessed it, rather than because somebody told it to me? (By the way, I would suggest avoiding making any strong assertions about the teachings, traditions, and customs of the “Old Guard” until you can cite at least two, and preferably at least three, independent sources for your information — all of which are willing to be named. Some of the people that I personally know well enough to consider credible on this topic include Race Bannon, Guy Baldwin, Joseph Bean, Tony DeBlase, Peter Fisk, Dossie Easton, Pat Califia, Alan Selby, and Gayle Rubin.)
By the way, there is a good general recommendation that if you want information about anything in SM, you should get your information from a variety of sources. Nowadays, I consider this recommendation to be especially true regarding the supposed “Old Guard” traditions. The truth will survive being cross-checked.
Well, anyway, here are a few of my thoughts about what it was like “back then”:
I first came into the SM community in 1975, when I — very nervously — started attending functions at Backdrop. I attended my first Janus function in either 1977 or 1978. (I forget which.) I have been told by sources I definitely consider credible that Backdrop was actually started (possibly under the name of The Menlo Park School of Bondage) by Robin Roberts in 1968. The store currently known as “A Taste of Leather” was, I believe, started in 1967. San Francisco Sex Information (SFSI) was started in, if memory serves, 1972.
By the way, I believe that one could make a very strong case that Robin Roberts is the father of the “relatively het” portion of the Bay Area BDSM community. Many of the current senior prodommes, and a number of the people who went on to become founders of SM organizations got our “basic training” from Robin. To this day, he doesn’t get the respect and recognition he deserves for doing that.
My good friend Bill Burns started the female-dominant organization called the Service of Mankind Church in 1977. I started the male-dominant organization called the Gemini Society in 1978. (Back in those days, a lot of submissive men did not want to be “in role” if any dominant men were present, so at the mixed-energy parties that Backdrop gave the male-top folks would often be in one area and the female-top folks would often be way off in another area.)
So what do I remember about those days?
Well, IMO, probably the most important thing to remember about those days is that SM was a LOT more taboo and vilified than it is now. Please remember that back in those days “simply” being gay was considered evidence of being mentally ill. Being into SM was widely considered to be evidence of being even more mentally ill. For example, in one police training manual published in, if memory serves, 1972 advises the officers in training that a person who was found in possession of sadomasochistic pictures “should be arrested under any pretext whatsoever.” A popular sex book called “The Sensuous Woman” advised its readers that if a potential lover wanted to play with whips and chains the best thing to do was (a) refuse and (b) to urge this person to seek professional help. A book on sadomasochism that I looked over in a college library contained numerous pictures of things like murdered women’s corpses with over a hundred stab wounds in them.
Thus, while there was some discussion about matters such as what a collar meant, who should stand where in relationship to who, what was a good way to whip or bind, and so forth, we spent _much_ more time trying to reassure newbies that they weren’t necessarily sick or crazy. It was _the_ major issue. (The good news was that the “free love” sexual revolution was in progress; the bad news was that it wasn’t including sadomasochism.)
If you want to get a hint about how we sadomasochists were regarded back then, imagine what popular reaction would be today towards people who were members of a group which advocated that sex between blood relatives — mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, etc. was OK as long as everyone consented.
You can get another good hint of how negatively we were regarded back then by reading the first edition of “Coming to Power.” The section on the negotiations between the women’s SM group called The Outcasts and the people who managed the Women’s Building so that The Outcasts could meet there is particularly illuminating. References to how the SM contingent was regarded in the Gay Freedom Day Parade are also illuminating. Sadomasochists were frequently only slightly less unwelcome than NAMBLA (basically, the pedophile crowd).
So, point number one, IMO the most important thing to understand about “back then” is that SM was a lot more taboo and vilified than it is now. A _whole_ lot more.
A subpoint of the above is that, because SM was so much more negatively viewed back then, it took IMO a lot more courage to contact the community than it does today, and even more courage to do something like start a club or be an SM club officer. Please remember, in those days the entire “establishment” was asserting that wanting to engage in SM, specifically including consensual SM, was evidence of a fairly serious mental illness. It took a lot of just plain raw guts to be able to stand up to them and say, “No! You are wrong!” If for no other reason, those early pioneers deserve a lot of respect for having had the bravery to show up at all.
Another subpoint: 1973 was “International Women’s Year” and the feminist vibes was very strong back then. Among other things, that was roughly when N.O.W. took its anti-SM position — a position that only now is coming under challenge. Thus, women who wanted to take the submissive role had to face even more negativity than sadomasochists in general had to face.
A final subpoint to the above is that any “Old Guard” which existed at the time did not widely see itself as such. Instead, they were more like, as the song lyric goes “just a bunch of people, doin’ the best they could.”
Point Number Two would be that the community, such as it was, was much, much smaller than it is now. It was considerably harder to find kindred spirits. Subpoint: the main reason why what we are currently calling the mentoring system existed back then was largely because there was no alternative. You couldn’t send someone seeking knowledge to places such as Janus, QSM, or Differences for the very good reason that they didn’t exist.
Point Number Three would be that we didn’t know as much as we do now. Many of the things being taught today were being painfully learned, mostly by trial and error, back then. Also, because SM people (calling what existed back then a community is something of a stretch) were a lot more isolated from one another and more underground, it was much harder to find good teachers, credible books, and other useful information. (This high degree of isolation and fragmentation are the main reasons why I view with a very dubious eye any assertion that the “Old Guard” teachings were a unified, widely agreed upon, body. If there was a, so to speak, “Ten Commandments of SM” I never heard of it.)
Regarding “Old Guard” teachings and customs: When I started going to Janus events (which at the time consisted of one event a month), it was about 85% gay men, about 13% lesbians, with literally a sprinkling of hetfolk like me. Among other things, it meant that “we” had to be careful about what we did and said. While “on paper” Janus was a pansexual organization (I don’t think that the word pansexual was in widespread use at the time), in reality it had a very strong gay male leatherman atmosphere. Thus, being low-profile, relatively quiet, and courteous was a distinctly good idea if you were het.
Even in that atmosphere, there was something of a divide among the gay leathermen between the “highly ritualized” leathermen and the “California casual” leathermen. Interestingly enough, one of the items that was the subject of ongoing and vigorous debate at the time was whether or not it was proper for a bottom to initiate a conversation with a top. If memory serves, no consensus was ever reached.
(My personal “lowest common denominator” definition of BDSM is “ritualized sexual aggression and submission.” I notice that, then as now, some of us want significantly more ritual associated with our BDSM than others want. I personally, as many of you know, definitely lean more towards the “California casual” end of the spectrum. I also notice that the “ritual” folks sometimes regard the “casual” folks as not treating SM with the respect it deserves, and that the “casual” folks sometimes regard the “ritual” folks as taking both themselves and SM with much more seriousness than necessary.)
Regarding the assertion that “people who didn’t follow the Old Guard teaching were excluded from the community” — that ain’t exactly how I remember it. What I remember is that, then as now, if someone was considered to be dangerous, people would warn others about them. Also, then as now, this warning process, while usually well-intentioned, lacked any shred of objectivity or due process. Then as now, abuses of this process, such as malicious warnings, sometimes occurred. I also remember that, then as now, people who were considered desirable and popular could repeatedly get away with things that would have gotten a less desirable, more unpopular person quickly shunned.
There was a sort of general saying that it was better to start out in the submissive or bottom role, but that was not universally agreed upon. I remember one person making this assertion at a Janus program sometime around 1980, and a large, butch-looking leatherman replied with a loudly uttered “Bullshit!” Nobody raced to disagree with him.
My final point is often-not-subtle implication that these supposed “Old Guard” teachings are somehow better than the “regular” teachings. This always makes me scratch my head a bit. Was there some kind of “post Old Guard” decline in SM teachings, traditions, customs, and so forth that I failed to notice? When did “the ‘hood” go into decline? (Some old-timers would say, privately, that “the ‘hood” went into decline when all those damned hets started coming around. I’ve heard this lament from more than one old-timer who felt that I wasn’t like “the rest of them.”)
So that’s about it. To recap my main points:
1. SM was a lot more taboo and widely condemned than it is now. (Het women who wanted to take the submissive role faced particularly strong condemnation.)
2. The SM “community” — such as it was — was much smaller and more underground than it is now, and the different groups tended to be smaller and more isolated than they are now.
3. We didn’t know as much as we do now, and what knowledge did exist was harder to find — other than by personal trial and error. Almost all of the books, clubs, and so forth that exist today didn’t exist back then.
4. The main “teaching” of the time was that being interested in SM wasn’t in and of itself proof that someone was seriously mentally ill.
5. Then, as now, other than, “yeah, SM needs to be consensual or, at the very least, not distinctly nonconsensual” there was a wide spectrum of opinion and a lot of debate about almost all SM-related technical and interpersonal matters.
As the song lyrics go:
He said “They was just a bunch of people,
doin’ the best they could.
Yeah, they was just a bunch of people,
doin’ the best they could,”
and then he said that they did it
“pretty up and walkin’ good.”
— Jim Croce (I think)
copyright Jay Wiseman, All rights reserved.