Feb 112016
 

https://instagram.com/p/7ajGsfNfKS/

The clash of pro- and anti-SM lesbians at the 1982 Barnard Conference is complicated enough to deserve its own post. Again, I reference Anna Robinson’s thesis on the history of lesbian sadomasochism.

To be clear, the ’82 Barnard Conference did not start the Sex Wars, which had been going since ’77 on the west coast (see Robinson Pg. 64), and saw skirmishes like in 1980 when SM lesbians clashed with WAVPM at Berkeley. Robinson says the real starting point of visible lesbian SM in feminist media came in 1975, when Barbara Ruth (aka Barbara Lipschutz aka Drivenwoman) published “Cathexis (on the nature of S&M)” in Hera, reprinted in ’77 in Lesbian Tide. (Robinson Pg. 65) Between then and ’82, the two sides of the debate were relatively civil, appearing in the same anthologies and conferences. It didn’t last.

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Feb 092016
 

At the “”Speakout on Politically Incorrect Sex”” sponsored by the Lesbian Sex Mafia (LSM) the day after the 1982 Barnard Conference on Sexuality in NYC. This was part of the “”Feminist Sex Wars””.

After researching this topic for so long, I’ve gone through all the low- and medium-hanging fruit, and it has become more difficult to find a new, good source.

One of my best finds so far is a thesis by Anna Robinson of the Central European University, “Passion, Politics, And Politically Incorrect Sex: Towards A History Of Lesbian Sadomasochism In The USA 1975-1993” (2015). (Alternate) It’s definitely the most comprehensive history I’ve found so far of the so-called “Sex Wars” of the 1970s and 1980s, between lesbian-feminists on the one side and more sex-positive lesbians and/or feminists. Definitely a worthy companion to Bienvenu’s “American Fetish” in this particular field (which sadly has little to say about the history of lesbian BDSM).

However, it covers a fairly short period of time, and focusses more on the internal conflict of lesbians rather than the overall history. The history of lesbian BDSM is largely defined by these political struggles, and we know relatively less about actual practice or social organization.

That’s where Lynda Hart’s book Between the Body and the Flesh (New York: Columbia University Press, 1998) comes in. While the second half of her book goes into critical theory, the first half is a good analysis of the complex and often antagonistic relationship between lesbians, feminism and BDSM.

Lesbian s/m discussions, however, rarely historicize the practice any farther back than the early 1970s, and most contextualize it, if not assign it as an originary moment, within the sex wars of the 1980s. It is as if lesbian s/m is a relatively new phenomenon, disconnected from other historical antecedents, born within the contemporary women’s movement. [Hart Pg.74]

Between Robinson and Hart, there’s a much more complete picture of the history of lesbian sadomasochism in America.

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Jan 152016
 

Cover of the DSM5

The Atlantic has an article on how the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom successfully lobbied the American Psychiatric Association to remove BDSM from the Diagnostic and Sexual Manual. (Another for the “I should have written that” file.)

It’s an interesting development that actual kinky people have directly and successfully worked with medical authorities to depathologize kink. It took a long time before LGBT people could have the organization to do the same.

Dec 152015
 

Hurt Me Plenty is a pay-what-you-want videogame that simulates being a top in a BDSM encounter. It presents a 3D male (apparently only male) figure whom you beat with various implements, based on mouse movements. More importantly, you also have to negotiate with the character, and establish a safeword, and give aftercare. If you play too hard, don’t heed the bottom’s safeword, or otherwise breach his consent or give an unsatisfactory experiene, you will be locked out of the game for a certain amount of real-world time.

It’s not just a matter of “Your princess is in another castle.”

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Dec 152015
 
Cover mockup of Gorean RPG, showing a hairy humanoid creature about to attack an armed man, with a chained woman behind him

Cover mockup of Gorean RPG, showing a hairy humanoid creature about to attack an armed man, with a chained woman behind him

Postmortem Studios is working on a tabletop roleplaying game based on the Gor series of fantasy novels by John Norman (a.k.a. philosophy professor John Lange). Published since the 1960s, Gor is a modern version of the Orientalist fantasies of savage lands and slave markets and so on. You can read about their ongoing project on their blog. Gor has a long history of being recreated in Second Life and other online roleplaying environments, so it’s not surprising that someone would try to adapt it to the tabletop, dice-and-paper form of roleplaying.

I learned about this from following the Facebook page of Michael Manning, my favourite (living) fetish/BDSM artist. He’s illustrating the entire book. Manning is primarily known as a fetish/BDSM artist, and it makes sense that he would be tapped for this project. Apart from the standard ferocious monsters, sword-wielding warriors, decadent cities and savage fighting, the books are rife with BDSM imagery. So much so, that there is a fringe subset of the BDSM culture based on the books, Goreans, who borrow the iconography and terminology of the books, such as slave positions and so on. Some of these terms have seeped out into the broader BDSM world.

Gor is notorious for its strong emphasis not only on the world’s apparently universal chattel slavery, but the male-dominant/female-submissive philosophy that justifies it, endlessly reiterated in the books.  That’s what made me pause when I thought about Manning illustrating the book. Manning’s work, starting with the graphic novel The Spider Garden, has a strong bi/queer flair, running all over the map of sexuality from conventional, heteronormative pinups to “sacred androgynes”, cross-dressed men, and other, stranger types of sexuality. This also comes in a time when video games and related media like tabletop RPGs are under a lot of flak for #GamerGate. The games designer, James Desborough, reportedly has connections to #GamerGate and some other controversies. It got me wondering: how will Gor be adapted into this medium?

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Nov 082015
 

Weiss, Margot. Techniques of Pleasure: BDSM and the Circuits of Sexuality. Duke University Press, 2011. Amazon

You can get an idea of how thought-provoking I found Weiss’ book was by the sheer density of post-its as bookmarks.

Side view of Weiss' Techniques of Pleasure, with many post-its

Side view of Weiss’ Techniques of Pleasure, with many post-its

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Oct 272015
 

Khan, Ummni. Vicarious Kinks: S/m in the Socio-Legal Imaginary. Toronto Univ. of Toronto Press, 2014.

Remember “Two Girls One Cup“? This video clip of two women appearing to eat feces out of a cup went viral a few years ago. I happened to be at a vanilla party where everybody wanted to take their turn seeing the clip, with the kind of horrified fascination usually seen in children poking a dead mouse. The clip went viral powered by that kind of attraction/repulsion experience, exposing it to an audience orders of magnitude larger than the probably tiny audience of corporophagia fetishists it was originally made for. Disgust is a powerful force in human experience, perhaps more powerful than desire.

Jamie Dornan, who played Christian Grey in the Fifty Shades of Grey film, was less than flattering in his view of the kink scene, as he told Elle UK:

He visits a sex-dungeon of course. “I went there, they offered me a beer, and they did…whatever they were into. I saw a dominant with one of his two submissives,” he says.

There was plenty of kink… and plenty laughter. “I was like: ‘Come on guys I know I’m not paying for this but I am expecting a show.’ It was an interesting evening. Then going back to my wife and newborn baby afterwards… I had a long shower before touching either of them.”

Not only did Dornan treat this as an exhibition for his pleasure, he evinced disgust afterwards, especially in the context of not touching his wife or child, as if he was contaminated. (Probably some of the people he observed had their own spouses and children. Did they take a long shower before touching them?)

Even people who are on the side of kinky people still need to express their disgust of BDSM. Law professor Alan Young, who defended Ontario pro-dominatrix Terri-Jean Bedford, wrote in his book:

Despite my championing of the S/M cause, I always had a bit of sadness when I thought about some of the characters inhabiting this sub-terranean world. It’s somewhat pathetic that someone has to dress up as Louis XV or as an infant in a soiled diaper and yell “Vive la France” or whimper “Mommy, don’t hurt me too bad” in order to get a sexual buzz. I find this sad because I still believe that vanilla sex is one of the most magnificent and oceanic experiences available in life’s repertoire. Who needs the costumes and the humiliation? Well, I guess some people do. [Pg. 278-279, quoting Young’s 2003 book, pg. 97]

Young uses words like “sadness” or “pathetic” to describe BDSM, while his own sex life is “magnificent and oceanic”. It’s not enough to say that he feels no attraction to BDSM, he has to denigrate it and valorize his own vanilla sexuality.

Both Dornan and Young described their reaction to BDSM as one of visceral disgust, and in so doing re-state their attachment to the normative values of heterosexual family and vanilla sexuality.

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Oct 072015
 

Berlatsky, Noah. 2015. Wonder Woman: bondage and feminism in the Marston/Peter Comics, 1941-1948. New Brunswick, New Jersey : Rutgers University Press

Wonder Woman spanking a man in Roman soldier uniform

Wonder Woman spanking a man in Roman soldier uniform

Growing up, I had the notion that Wonder Woman had been created in the past as a perfect feminist icon, and only later was the character sexualized by other creators. In fact, Wonder Woman was “always, already” as much a figure of fetishistic fantasy as she was a feminist role model, patriotic symbol, or heroine for children. The original seven-year run of comics, written or co-written by William Moulton Marston and illustrated by William Peter displayed the kind of deep psychosexual weirdness usually only found in 19th century children’s books. (I say that as a fan of deep psychosexual weirdness.) Noah Berlatsky’s book explores just how queer and feminist those stories were; as the author puts it, “a flamboyantly gendered mess.”[Pg.169] Continue reading »