Sep 292016
 

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There are a couple of principles I keep in mind when studying history. The first is, “You have to work with the evidence you have.” We have no way of knowing how many people secretly had relationships like Arthur Munby and Hannah Cullwick, but left no historical evidence. Likewise, I and other scholars of this particular field have to contend with the lack of historical material about lesbian SM before the 1970s. Maybe somewhere there’s an old journal or manuscript or audiotape sitting in somebody’s basement, and someday somebody will find it and open up a new field of study.

The second principle is, “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” It’s highly unlikely there were no lesbian women doing SM before 1974, but we can only make cautious, educated inferences based on what evidence we do have.

Thankfully, somebody scanned and posted old issues of Lesbian Tide, which contain what may be the earliest mentions of BDSM in lesbian media. As I mentioned before, lesbian SM emerged into visibility at the same time and in dialectic with more restrictive theorizations of lesbian-feminist sexuality, and it cannot be discussed without also discussing this conflict.

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Sep 202016
 

Ortmann, David M., and Richard A. Sprott. 2013. Sexual Outsiders: Understanding BDSM Sexualities and Communities Lanham, Md: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

Sexual Outsiders is primarily a guide for people in the helping professions (psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists and counsellors).

If you need to ask why this book is necessary, there is a problem of “therapy refugees”, people who have been unable to get therapy because they have been, or fear being, rejected for being kinky:

“After an off-hand comment made by the therapist about ‘those sick people who beat each other,’ I was put into a position of being unable to talk about any connections I had to BDSM. I also felt that it was unsafe to discuss that I was raped by a partner (which was something I needed to talk about) because we had been involved in a Dom/sub relationship.” [Pg.122-123]

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Jul 162016
 

SM One Foot Out Of The Closet 1980

For a while, I’ve seen references to a 1980 documentary about kinky people, aired on public television station KQED. Online searches turned up nothing, but I finally put in the effort to look up KQED and see if I could somehow get access to it, if only partially. After a few emails, they were kind enough to give me access to a stream of the 36-year-old documentary. I had to sign a fairly restrictive agreement, so I can’t share any of it.

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Jun 192016
 

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Elliot and Ahsley continue their relationship, now into vanilla sex. This scene is fully in the conventions of softcore porn, with soft lighting and rich textiles in Elliot’s bedroom, instead of the hard lighting and concrete walls of his dungeon. He even makes her breakfast the next morning. While it’s competently done, it’s pretty standard, instead of the kink we were promised. I have nothing against romance, but you can get that everywhere.

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Jun 162016
 

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Episode 3

This episode starts off with another soft-core BDSM scene in Nolan’s dungeon. It’s competently shot, with implied cunnilingus and male butt exposure, but doesn’t go into the characters at all, except for hinting that Dylan is getting jealous of the women she brings to him.

Most of this episode revolves around a party. Borrowing Linda Williams’ observation in Hard Core that sex serves the function in porn that singing and dancing does in musicals, this provides a premise for various subplots and couplings. Such as Elliot getting Ashley in his sights. She fascinates him more than Dylan’s latest acquisition for him, who promises “nothing is off limit”.

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Jun 072016
 

Lying somewhere on the boundary between affectionate fetishism and domestic violence, spankings between lovers or would-be lovers were a staple of Hollywood romance movies. Jezebel has a pictorial and essay on the subject, by Andrew Heisel. This was reflected in real-life practices of the time, when husbands were expected to treat their lives like children.

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May 272016
 

According to the New Yorker, the Van Dykes were a microculture of nomadic lesbian separatists who roved around the US in vans (hence the collective and individual names) in the late 1970s. They were on a quest of sorts to explore the new frontier of lesbian culture. Interestingly, when the mainstream of lesbian feminists were building an orthodoxy position that female sexuality was inherently domestic, monogamous, and without power dynamics, the Van Dykes went in the opposite direction, developing a new sexual culture of what would today be called polyamory and sadomasochism.

During yet another fight among the Van Dykes over who was sleeping with whom, Heather recalls, Judith left in a huff and caught a ride to San Francisco. There she met the sex radicals Pat Califia and Gayle Rubin, who had started a lesbian sadomasochist group that they called Samois, for the house of torture in “The Story of O.” “She hooked up with those women and when she came back she said, ‘You’re going to love this,’ “ Van Dyke remembers. Judith was not mistaken: tofu quickly gave way to leather in the vans. The Van Dykes loved the drama of sadomasochism, the way it gave them license to play power games—which, really, they had been engaged in all along. For Heather Van Dyke, who had been a kind of lesbian Joseph Smith, driving around the continent looking for the promised land with a band of wives and ex-wives and future wives in tow, the idea of being explicitly dominant—a top, in the parlance of sadomasochism—was particularly appealing.

[…]

Lesbianism in the seventies had been configured as a loving sisterhood in which sex was less important than consciousness-raising. For many gay women, sadomasochism was an antidote to this tepid formulation. It was permission to focus on what turned them on, rather than what was politically correct, a way of appropriating the lust and power hunger that feminist doctrine had deemed male. “We’d been being egalitarian,” Lamar Van Dyke told me. “And suddenly we were over it.”

The Van Dykes even gave a SM workshop at the 1979 Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, which in later years would be the site of many conflicts over the presence and visibility of BDSM.

May 152016
 

One way to view the Internet is as a vast sorting system, in which individuals can curate collections of material that might never be allowed to come together otherwise. I found the Fraulein Swastika Tumblr recently, a collection of erotic images of women with fascist elements. What’s interesting is that the images seem to come from at least three different discourses.

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