- The Alternative Sexualities Health Research Alliance (TASHRA), a San Francisco non-profit community research organization, launched the first ever national survey to examine the impact of kink sexuality on health and healthcare usage: Survey
- The KinkyCast has an interview with Nancy Ava Miller, founded of PEP and instigator of many American BDSM organizations in the 1980s and 1990s. In the pre-Internet era, she used the medium of dial up phone communication for counselling and for entertainment.
- Salon discusses Robert Mapplethorpe’s domestication as an artist, from his posthumous demonization in the late 1980s by cultural conservatives to his high-art gallery displays today. The article suggests that the culture wars have shifted, and North Americans are more comfortable with homosexuality and sexually explicit imagery now. Today’s flashpoints are things like transgender issues. I would argue that the sexually explicit images are still contested, but the discourse has shifted from a sin model to an addiction model.
- The Other has a short history of John Sutcliffe’s Atomage fetish magazine/catalog.
- A French blog has scans of a Japanese bondage magazine, Uramado (meaning “rear window”), a competition to the older Kitan Club. The excerpts run from 1958 to 1964. Uramado included bondage, but also just straightforward nudes, unlike Kitan Club.
- Gloria Brame asks on her blog whether Internet anonymity is a good thing for the BDSM culture anymore. I would say that a major factor in the development of the BDSM culture was the anonymity of the Internet in the 1980s and 1990s. The Internet has changed since then, becoming far more of a real of surveillance for both governmental and commercial agencies. There is transparency, of the people but definitely not by or for the people. Online communities in which identity is known and fixed still suffer from the problems of harassment and trolling and so on, while the lack of privacy may inhibit people from self-expression in the way they used to. While I would like to see more BDSM people come out of the closet, it should not be forced upon anyone.
- Ralphus.net has a collection of 1960s men’s adventure magazine stories, not just the scanned covers but the complete transcribed stories as well. IMHO the entertainment value of these artifacts is largely in the lurid art and the hyperbolic headlines (e.g. “1,000 Naked Beauties for the Chamber of Horror”). The actual story will almost certainly be a disappointment.
Back in August 1983, Playboy magazine ran a feature on the New York City sexual underground, “A Walk On The Wild Side”, by John R. Petersen (Pg. 88).
Right from the start, Petersen sets up a “descent into the underworld”/”Heart of Darkness” scenario.
It begins with a taxi ride to the West Village in Manhattan, near the docks. Medieval map makers would have marked this space with fire-breathing dragons.
There’s even a guardian at the threshold, whose warnings are duly disregarded.
I have heard about this place from a friend who has been covering the New York sex scene for 20 years. “I thought I had seen everything, ” he told me, “but there are things happening at the Hellfire Club that made me nervous. There is one room… I couldn’t stay in there for more than a minute. You’re on your own. I won’t go back.”
Hydra fighting head to head
“Amnesia” by Chumbawamba
Continuing my discussion of Anna Robinson’s “Passion, Politics, And Politically Incorrect Sex: Towards A History Of Lesbian Sadomasochism In The USA 1975-1993” (2015). (Alternate)
Even the most crankish of critics can ask pertinent questions. That’s why the lesbian-feminist criticism of BDSM is so interesting, even with all the distortions and straw-women attacks and other problems.
As I wrote in my previous discussion of the Unleashing Feminism anthology, the problem was an attempt to fuse together two separate concepts, feminism and lesbianism, and enforce the border around that rather narrow ideal, both sexually and politically. However, the lesbian sex wars occurred mainly in the 80s and early 90s, when the BDSM community was just beginning to work out ideas of physical and mental safety. This was before the publication of Different Loving or On the Safe Edge, when kinky people rarely had any venues to express themselves.
Reti, Irene, and Pat Parker. 1993. Unleashing feminism: critiquing lesbian sadomasochism in the gay nineties. Santa Cruz, CA:HerBooks Amazon link
We must not offer haven
for fascists and pigs
be it real or fantasy
the line is too unclear.
“Bar Conversation”, Pat Parker, Pg. 6
Published roughly a decade after Against Sadomasochism (to be discussed later), Unleashing Feminism came into a different world. Lesbians were more visible than ever before, including opening their own sex clubs and making their own porn magazines and videos, but to the lesbian feminist authors in this anthology, that was not a sign of progress. Their interpretation was that lesbians and other queers had lost their revolutionary principles and were being assimilated into mainstream consumer culture. Some of the essays portray the “lesbian sex wars” as a microcosm of a larger, almost apocalyptic conflict, a last chance for justice after the Reagan-Thatcher era and the beginning of the neoliberal Clinton era.
- An article (part 1, part 2, part 3) on a body modifications blog covered an alleged Victorian fad for nipple piercing. The source is letters published in correspondence columns in magazines, which as we have seen in the Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine and others, are questionable to say the least. They’re more indicative of interest and fantasies than actual practice.
- Jahsonic’s list of sadism and masochism in mainstream film brought me to Senses of Cinema’s article “Whips and Bodies: The Sadean Cinematic text” by Lindsay Hallam, on the influence of Sade’s work on film. “It was Surrealist Luis Buñuel who first introduced Sade into the cinematic realm. In the 1930 film L’Âge d’or, Buñuel chose to end his tale of erotic passion with a scene taken from Sade’s novel The 120 Days of Sodom. The scene takes place after the male protagonist has been betrayed by the woman he loves – that is, normal, heterosexual romance has failed. In fact, as the intertitles state, it is at “that moment” of betrayal that “the survivors of the Chateau de Selliny were coming out, to go back to Paris”. The intertitles further explain that: “Four well known and utter scoundrels had locked themselves up in an impregnable castle for 120 days to celebrate the most brutal of orgies”.”
- Another short history of bondage imagery in mainstream film and history, mostly damsel-in-distress-type stuff.
- Conspiracy theorist and professional crank Alex Jones was inspired by the debut of Caitlin Jenner to spit out this bizarre claim about the transabled sub-sub-culture: “Or they like to get shot,” Jones said, “With .357 magnums through up under the chest, but missing the heart to blow a huge shrapnel hole in the back, and those are real sexy supposedly… This is the new big push and you’re not cool enough to understand how wonderful it is to be shot with a .357 magnum or how cool the bullet holes are… It’ll become sanctified. It’ll become a religion.”
- The contract Leopold von Sacher-Masoch had with Fanny Pistor, compared to the contract from Venus in Furs.
- Bitch Media covers the history of anti-abuse activism in BDSM, specifically the conflict over Fetlife’s policy against accusing people of abuse.
- A short, anonymous history of Numa Shozo’s masochistic novel Yapoo the Human Animal.
- Annalspornographie has a three-part article (part 1, part 2, part 3) on the life and work of the Marquis de Sade, including some vintage images.
One of my earliest big finds in this research, 10 years ago, was Jesus courted by the Christian Soul, a late 15th century German broadsheet that depicts the relationship in erotic and sadomasochistic terms. This was part of a genre of popular publications. I finally found another example of this.
Last week, a US federal district court ruled (PDF) that there is no constitutional right to engage in BDSM.
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.
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.