Apr 142016
 
Cover of Playboy August 1983, featuring Sybil Danning

Cover of Playboy August 1983, featuring Sybil Danning

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.”

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Apr 132016
 

Hydra fighting head to head

“Amnesia” by Chumbawamba

Part 1

Part 2

Unleashings-l225

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.

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Mar 272016
 

Reti, Irene, and Pat Parker. 1993. Unleashing feminism: critiquing lesbian sadomasochism in the gay nineties. Santa Cruz, CA:HerBooks Amazon link

Unleashings-l225

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, 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.

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Mar 152016
 
  • 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.
Mar 142016
 

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.

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Feb 112016
 

Part 1

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.