Peter Tupper

Dec 302018
 

The blog Of Love and Sex has reviewed A Lover’s Pinch.

A Lover’s Pinch is a deep dive that goes far beyond Leopold von Sacher-Masoch the Marquis de Sade. Admittedly, I wasn’t expected to read analyses of how religion, war, and slavery impacted our sexualities (and relevant imagery is included on some pages), but the author of this book is not afraid to broach those subjects.

I wouldn’t say that tricky subjects aren’t handled with care within these pages or that it’s un-PC, but the tone is sometimes decidedly frank. If you’re especially religious or still experience trauma from war or slavery, then A Lover’s Pinch might not be a book you wish to pick up (or you may wish to skip those specific chapters).

Dec 162018
 

I got started on the Internet in the early 1990s, when every session was preceded by the squeal of an acoustic modem over a phone line, and USENET was the cutting edge of interaction. I loved it. USENET was a decentralized, public system that didn’t really have an owner or a central control. The USENET group alt.sex.bondage was a major influence on my budding interest in BDSM. The Internet seemed like a wide-open utopia/frontier of freedom and choice, where I could find like-minded people.

I knew that there were racists, sexists, homophobes, anti-Semites, etc out there, spewing out their hatred, but also assumed these were sad little men in small dark rooms who didn’t pose a serious threat to anybody. (Being a white, cis, hetero male was definitely part of this assumption.) Child pornography was, I read, a bogeyman for people who wanted to censor for the sake of censoring. Free speech was an almost unequivocal good.

Fast forward more than twenty years, past high-speed internet, Youtube, Facebook, Google, Gamergate, Sad/Rabid Puppies, 4chan, ironic racism, pick up artists, MGTOWs, incels, revenge porn, etc. Those sad little men networked and became a force that has dragged North American society hard to the right. This also coincided with a terrifying rise in right wing demonstrations and violence.

As of the end of 2018, there has been at least some pushback against the alt-right. People who have committed hate crimes have been prosecuted under the law. Media figures like Alex Jones, Milo Yiannopolis and Gavin McInnes have been kicked off major platforms like Youtube and Twitter and barred from venues, a tactic known as “de-platforming”.

I was never 100% comfortable with the concept of de-platforming, which to me had an unpleasantly Newspeak overtone. “It’s not censorship, it’s de-platforming.” But I’ll be honest and say that, despite my commitment to free speech, I wasn’t going to go to the barricades for the likes of McInnes, Jones and Yiannopolis.

One of the big takeaways from Slavoj Zizek’s two films explaining his theory of ideology (The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema and The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology) is that ideologies don’t require all of their followers to have sincere belief. A successful ideology can accommodate people who know how to toe the party line, say the phrases, wear the uniform, and smugly congratulate themselves on being ahead of the game, all the while contributing to the machine. Whether they were true believers or hucksters/trolls, the end result was the same: an endless flood of hatred, paranoia and self-righteousness, into the eyes and ears of people who had a limitless appetite for it. Likewise, it doesn’t matter if the recipients are hardcore white supremacists or misogynists or anti-Semites, or they just get off on the transgression, they’re still propagating it. The best way to curtail such people is to attack them where it hurts: their bottom lines.

That’s why I didn’t object to the de-platforming very much: because North America and Europe are seething with racial, gendered and religious violence, and I didn’t know what else to do about it. Something had to be done to reign it in. Even if you don’t believe in the “monkey-see-monkey-do” model of the media’s influence on the individual’s actions, such tactics at least sent a message regarding what was acceptable discourse. If that had even a slight chance of preventing another Pulse nightclub shooting or Toronto van attack, go for it.

The idea that media creates and propagates a culture, and certain percentage of recipients of that media will do physical violence, is straight out of the second-wave radical feminist arguments against pornography and sadomasochism. Which puts me in a bit of a bind.

The changes in content rules on Tumblr (coming into effect December 17, 2018) and Facebook (soon) are driven by the “anti-trafficking” ideology that gave use SESTA/FOSTA. Going into the history and flaws of that legislation would require an in-depth article itself, but they’ve already caused problems for sex workers, and people who discuss sexual issues.

Personally, these changes will cause problems for me. As of December 15th, 2018, I have 2,790 followers on Tumblr, 223 followers on the Facebook group and 233 followers on Pinterest, and no way to transfer them to other platforms. They are major assets for promoting A Lover’s Pinch and other future projects. I especially liked how I could set up automatic daily updates on Tumblr and then have them repeated on Twitter via IFTT. While I was never a huge user of Tumblr, especially not for personal material, I liked scrolling through feeds and reading the freewheeling, queer and quirky stuff. I know it had its own problems with hateful content. I read the “raceplay” tag a few times and, as I read, I kept thinking, “You’re just kidding, right? This is all just rhetorical?”

It’s not a good look to shrug when other people are de-platformed with “Well, they had it coming,” and then cry when it happens to me.

The philosopher Karl Popper wrote about the “paradox of tolerance” in 1945, right after seeing the global violence of fascism.

In other words, we have to draw the line somewhere. But where? I know where I would draw it, but that’s a solution only for me.

I could pile up the word count hashing out this debate, but the real problem is that this is an issue outside of politics. Tumblr, Facebook, etc, are private corporations. They exist to benefit their shareholders, and any other benefits are only incidental. Thus, they can impose whatever content regulations they like. Whatever communities users may have built on those platforms, they never belonged to their users. The real problem is the influence of capital on our discourse, at multiple levels.

One of the things that suck about getting older is that you have to see the revolution you believed in falter and be assimilated or even corrupted. The online communities of hatred (of women, non-whites, queer people, trans people, Jews, Muslims, immigrants, and so on) (and their parasitic profiteers) festering on the Internet in 2018 are a twisted, degraded reflection of the communities of acceptance and diversity that flourished on the Internet of 1998. (Please make allowances for rose-coloured glasses of nostalgia.) The Internet was supposed to be a path to utopia.

I don’t know what will happen to my blog on Tumblr Monday, or what will happen on other platforms in the years to come. Will there be some kind of cultural conservative backlash, a return to the middle after the excesses of the extremes? That bodes ill, not just for online communites, but for society in general.

Dec 162018
 
Nov 192018
 
  • Fetish art master Eric Stanton had a daughter, Amber Stanton, who is an artist in her own right.
  • Speaking of Stanton, I just got Richard Péres Seves’ new biography of him, and it looks great. Here’s the review on The Fetishistas.
  • The Sexing History podcast has an episode on the new medium of phone sex in the early 1980s. One of the topics the interviewees discuss was that for a lot of gay men in the period, who weren’t in major cities, this was the first chance to talk to another man about their sexuality. This probably also helped people who had kinky, non-normative sexualities like BDSM and fetishes too.
  • On a related note, the Wellcome Collection has a display of the 1980s UK practice of phone booth sex work solicitation cards. Just over half of them included BDSM services.
  • A few months before the launch of A Lover’s Pinch, I got a call from the NPR show Radiolab. They asked me about the evolution of ideas of consent in BDSM, and while they didn’t use any of my interview, I did get a “thank you” in the episode notes of their three-part series on sexual consent (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3). I was puzzled by one of the interviewees in the third part talking about how she was reluctant to use a “red” safeword in a public scene even if the situation called for it, because it could lead to her top being ostracized even if there was no negligence or malice. I had always understood that calling “red” does not necessarily mean the top did anything wrong; it could be because the bottom is experiencing something unexpected.
  • In New Zealand, which has much more liberal laws regarding sex work than the USA or Canada, sex workers are taking the lead in teaching about consent.
  • Aeon.co has a more in-depth discussion of sexual consent.
  • Kinkly provides another, going back to 1990.
  • One of the things I’m curious about is BDSM in non Western cultures. Desiblitz has a profile of Asmi, an Indian submissive female. I don’t have the cultural context to assess this in detail, but I am curious about how Asmi’s submissive desires interacts with a culture with more traditional views of female roles.
  • Paste magazine has a list of BDSM mainstream films, including a few I hadn’t even heard of but sound interesting for the Celluloid Dungeon project.
  • Dazed magazine has another list of sexually experimental films, though only some could be described as “kinky.”
  • Gloria Brame’s Educators Directory just posted the Mistress Michelle Peters collection of vintage BDSM photography, pulled from straight and gay magazines from the 1960s to the 1990s. Most of them don’t have dates or identifications of the people in them, but definitely a source for future research.
  • With all the talk of mainstreaming kink and BDSM, in mass media products, it’s easy to lose track of BDSM’s queer radical history and revolutionary potential. When Pat Bond, Terry Kolb, Cynthia Slater and others were putting together the first modern kink organizations in the early 1970s, there were pretty far from what most people would have considered “normal.” Slate has a short essay on the innovations made by kink communities and their value in a heteronormative, vanilla-normative society.
Oct 232018
 

Bettie Page with camera and photographer

Now that A Lover’s Pinch is out, I want to continue working. It’s not the only book on BDSM I want to write. While I don’t have any response from a publisher yet, I want to get to work on my next product, The Celluloid Dungeon. Students of queer film and history will doubtless notice the resemblance to the title of the classic book, Vito Russo’s The Celluloid Closet. I hope this will do the same for BDSM in film (primarily American).

There are a few problems to consider. First, I would like to have a lot of images in this book, but I run into two problems. First, getting the rights to film images via Getty or other services can be very expensive. Whether I self-publish or go through a publisher, I’ll have to pay for that myself.

Second, a lot of very old images, such as from the silent era, may or may not be in public domain, and good luck finding who owns the rights to them. For instance, I’d like to use stills from the old Irving Klaw bondage stags, featuring Bettie Page, but I’m not sure if they’re public domain or who owns the rights if they’re not.

Images are not essential to a work like this, but I think they would increase the customer appeal.

I also need to work on a clear thesis that will help organize the material.

Oct 172018
 
  • Sexual spanking is a subset of BDSM that manages to be something even people who don’t consider themselves kinky sometimes try. Even the Kama Sutra includes techniques on spanking. VICE’s Broadly has an article on Dr. Rebecca Plante’s Sexual Spanking, the Self, and the Construction of Deviance in 2006, based on sexual scripts theory.
  • It’s been a troubling couple of years as male figures from entertainment, politics and other realms are revealed to have committed non-consensual acts, usually followed by attempts to discredit the abuser and/or excuse the infraction. Just like the Jian Ghomeshi case from a few years ago, writer Stephen Elliot has tried to avoid the allegations against him published on the privately-circulated “Shitty Media Men” list by saying he’s into BDSM as a submissive. From the lawsuit: “Defendants are aware the published statements are false because of Plaintiff’s published sexual preferences, including his preferences as a submissive male in a BDSM context, which are commonly known in the parties’ industry.” Sad to say, people like Leopold von Sacher-Masoch demonstrate that submissive men can be predatory and abusive. I hope this argument doesn’t hold up in court.
  • Lasting Marks is a documentary short about the notorious Operation Spanner case in the UK in the 1980s and 1990s, in which a group of adult men were arrested for engaging in consensual sadomasochism. It’s narrated by one of the men arrested, Roland Jaggard.
  • Cara Sutra looks into the historical context of maledom-femsub vs. femdom-malesub, and why one is far more acceptable than the other, becoming a feature of popular film and book romances. Even submissive men themselves have internalized shame from the culture about their desires, while dominant women are subjected to prejudice and stereotypes.
  • One of the questions we discussed in the recent documentary panel was, what is BDSM, and what isn’t? This relates to the perennial debates of “what is pornography?” and “what is sex?” Are the various fetishes grouped under “wet and messy” part of BDSM? Are video and audio clips produced in order to stimulate the ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response) sexual, and therefore a kind of pornography? And should the producers of such media be banned from payment processors like Paypal? Producers of media generally considered sexual have had enough problems with getting payments processed, but now this has extended to ASMR producers. Apparently, some denizens of the 8chan message board have nothing better to do with their time than falsely report ASMR producers for selling adult content, which can result in the near-monopoly companies banning the producers for life and/or having their funds frozen for months. Background on anti-pornography actions by the banking industry
  • To look at the “what is and isn’t BDSM?” question from another angle, Brides.com has an essay “The Complete Guide to Rough Sex.” The article’s second paragraph hastens to make it clear that “Rough sex doesn’t necessarily mean BDSM of any kind. You can have rough AF sex without tying anyone to the bed or bringing out a riding crop.” The dividing line between BDSM and rough sex, as far as Brides.com is concerned, appears to be whether gear is involved. However, the essay’s discussion of rough sex covers consent, negotiation, boundaries and aftercare. All of this could have been copied and pasted from a BDSM guide. So is “rough sex” just BDSM without extra equipment?
  • The Guardian explores the closing of many gay male leather venues in London, and the evolution of the scene. “Rising rents, competitor fetishes and competition from online dating apps have all been a turn of the screw.”
  • Drummer’s Jack Fritscher wrote a profile of the late Cynthia Slater, co-founder of the Society of Janus back in the 1970s, a true pioneer.
Oct 162018
 

Divine Deviance panel, 28 September 2018. L-R: Peter Tupper, Carol Queen, Gayle Rubin, Mufasa Ali, Dr. Robert Bienvenu, and Rostum Mesli.

One of the best things about subcultures is that it is possible to meet all of the major people involved in them. In the case of the micro-field of sadomasochism history studies, it’s possible to get the leading people sitting around a single table.

I was deeply honored to be sitting at the same table as the people whose work I had read and built on for many years: sexologist & Center for Sex & Culture ED Carol Queen, academic & activist Gayle Rubin, ONYX founder & Mr World Leather 2006-07 Mufasa Ali, anthropologist & historian Dr. Robert Bienvenu, and academic & author Rostum Mesli. The shoot was at the Catalyst playspace in San Francisco.

The shoot took about seven hours, including lunch breaks, but all of it was fascinating. A lot of the discussion revolved around what exactly BDSM was, and what wasn’t BDSM, and whether certain activities and cultures grouped together really had anything to do with each other. This also raised the question of, when we looked into the past to find antecedents of modern BDSM (whatever that is), do we find anything, or do we see something else that only superficially resembles modern BDSM but isn’t actually. A lot of my thinking on the subject was put to the test, in a dialog that refined everybody’s thoughts.

It was also just a pleasure hanging out with people who have lived through some of what I have been studying. Not only did I meet Carol Queen and Gayle Rubin, one of the producers was Race Bannon.

L-R: Carol Queen, Peter Tupper, and Race Bannon

My thanks to Race Bannon, Jörg Fockele and the other producers.  I look forward to further developments in the Divine Deviance documentary series. Donations would be greatly appreciated.

Sep 162018
 
  • You’ve probably heard the bit about how Victorian doctors would use vibrators to administer orgasms to female patients. Turns out that is not backed up by the historical evidence, and the idea stemmed from one author willfully mispresenting primary sources.
  • The Kinsey Institute at the University of Bloomington, Indiana, used to be one of the foremost organizations studying sex in the world. Now its leadership is being handed over to people who come from animal studies, not sexology or psychology, to de-emphasize the study of human sexuality.
  • When we kinksters talk about raceplay, ageplay or other forms of “cultural trauma” play, we like to claim that the roles within the scene have nothing to do racism, sexism, ageism, etc in the outside world. But that’s not truth. In the porn business, interracial porn depends on the taboo of black men and white women being sexual together, but white female performers routinely charge higher rates for scenes with black men. Broadly has the story on this and other forms of institutionalized racism and sexism behind the porn camera.