Feb 072019
 

Payback (IMDB) is a 1999 neo-noir crime thriller, starring Mel Gibson.

In The Celluloid Closet, Vito Russo talked about the phase of American movies in which queer film characters existed mainly as dramatic or comedic foils to the straight characters. Whether they were swishy nellies or twisted sadists, they were a simple object lesson in proper and improper gender roles. That extends to the present day, though perhaps a little less overt: heroes are associated with heterosexuality, monogamy, vanilla sex, and other normative sexualities, while villains tend towards bisexuality, non-monogamy, and fetishes and kinks.

Pearl (Lucy Liu) stomps on Val, while Porter (Mel Gibson) watches
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Feb 042019
 

Lindemann, Danielle J. 2012. Dominatrix: gender, eroticism, and control in the dungeon. Chicago ; London : The University of Chicago Press, 2012.

“Professional dominatrix” is an archetype that attracts attention out of proportion to the number of people who actually fit that description. For many, they are the symbol of BDSM in general, a representation of the perversity of men, simultaneously attractive and absurd. Are they trickster courtesans manipulating men via their weaknesses, or just another type of sex worker?

Lindemann’s book is a sociological study of professional dominatrixes, based on extensive interviews with pro dommes and their clients in New York City and San Francisco (probably the two largest concentrations of pro dommes in the USA). She spoke with both house of domination employees and independents. Her driving question is, what does professional domination, a small, highly stylized subculture, tell us about the rest of the world. She references Judith Butler’s studies of drag, an exaggeration that highlights an underlying truth. [Pg.10]

This book goes beyond some of the cliches about BDSM and pro domination, particularly the cliche that “the submissive has all the power”. Her interviews with pro dommes and client describe a delicate and nuanced struggle for control between the two parties. [Pg.33] Some pros say they are in control of the scenario, while others view it as more collaborative, even if their persona is the imperious queen. Lindemann describes several “cognitive strategies” pros use to manage this ambiguity, such as “the hustle” or the concept of “getting over” used by street vendors, the belief that despite all appearances, they are the ones who come out ahead of the transaction. [Pg.35] In the case of pros who work in houses of domination, there’s a third party with its own agenda in the equation.[Pg.38]

The “professional” part of professional dominatrix is how pro dommes construct their identity as an elite subset of sex workers, who might deny that they are sex workers at all, or at least exploit a legal loophole to work within the letter of the law. While apparent inexperience might enhance the appeal of a stripper or escort, a domme is supposed to be perfect, a mistress of her field.[Pg.72] Claims of training and experience create a mystique of authenticity. Ideally, a pro domme is supposed to do this as a calling, like an art form. To say “I’m just doing this to pay for dental school.” would spoil the experience[Pg.71, 85] One pro distinguished herself from other “hoochie dommes”: “They are contributing to the deterioration of the honor of what being a domme is.” (emphasis in original) [Pg.86] This is why, for instance, dommes who practice financial domination are viewed with suspicion and disdain by “purists”, who view findom as requiring no skill or artistry.

The other side of this equation is the client, who are trained by the BDSM culture of munches, Fetlife, online ads, etc.[Pg.60] Some clients willingly buy into the mystique of the all-powerful domme, which paradoxically desexualizes the women. By viewing these women as untouchable and asexual, the clients manage their emotional intimacy.[Pg. 113]

The space of the dungeon allows the exploration of alternate gender identities, but always in tension with the roles of the rest of the world. While pro dommes may cultivate the image of la belle dame sans merci, a taboo form of aggressive femininity, in interviews they often describe what they do as a kind of therapy, conforming to the role of woman-as-nurturer-of-men.[Pg.128, 144] This justification suggests that men’s masochistic and submissive desires are pathological, and pro dommes are doing the “work” of sustaining men in their normative sexuality and gender roles. [Pg. 147, 151] This folk belief gives the dommes a benefit too, allowing the expression of an uber-bitch role while being, underneath, a good, caring woman. They can move between different feminine archetypes. Certain subtypes of female domination strongly emphasize the quasi-maternal, nurturing roles of “mother”, “auntie”, “governess”, or “nurse”. (Lindemann suggest this is why the dynamic between dommes and their few female clients is very different; these client have no social power to reverse.[Pg.161]) BDSM may play with conventional gender roles, but it can’t completely escape them. [Pg.168]

The book ends with a woefully short, two-page historical background. Lindemann’s research says that “dominatrix”, in the BDSM sense, first appears in 1967, in The Bizarre Lovemakers, by Bruce Rogers. “Dungeon”, in the BDSM sense, goes back to 1974, in a classified ad in the Los Angeles Free Press. [Pg. 200] Though the terms “dominatrix” and “dungeon” are pretty new, there’s plenty of evidence that women provided professional domination services in the 18th and 19th centuries. Lindemann could have provided even a brief reference to Ian Gibson’s The English Vice. This is a personal quibble from a historian’s perspective on a fascinating and informative book.

The paradox of the “bitchy nurturer” put me in mind of Hannah Cullwick, and how Arthur Munby was fascinated by the strength and roughness of her body while emphasizing the sweetness and gentleness of her nature. We know that there were a lot of ageplay elements of their relationship, with him sitting on her lap or being carried. Anne McClintock’s Imperial Leather talked a lot about the “two mothers” of the Victorian bourgeois home, the “wife” and the “maid”. In our own time, there are still divides between good women and bad women, and the narrative of the “bitchy nurturer” allows us to accept this apparent paradox. The dominatrix may appear to be the polar opposite of the housewife, but they both do emotional labor for men. This rationale turns up in many narratives of fictional dommes, such as Lady Heather in CSI: Las Vegas.

Jun 182018
 

What are the sartorial origins of the black-clad dominatrix? I will skip the more familiar examples from recent years and try to find the earlier examples.

Certainly everyone will remember Diana Rigg as Mrs. Emma Peel (“Miss SM Appeal”) in the UK spy TV series The Avengers. Her most overtly kinky costumes were features in the episodes “A Touch of Brimstone” and “Death at Bargain Prices.”

Woman in black leather suit with zippers

Diana Rigg as Emma Peel in The Avengers, wearing the leather jumpsuit costume from “Death at Bargain Prices”

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Nov 142017
 

Professor Marston and the Wonder Woman (2017). Director and writer Angela Robinson. IMDB

Who was Professor William Moulton Marston? A fantasist in the tradition of Frank Baum or Lewis Carrol? A guy who ruled a secret menage a trois with his wife and his younger student? A failed academic turned huckster and pornographer with a line in psychobabble? A loving father and husband with an unorthodox, closeted family?

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Oct 242017
 

Still from the film. Central is Bella Heathcote as Olive Byrne. In the background is JJ Field as Charles Guyette.

Still from the film. Central is Bella Heathcote as Olive Byrne. In the background is JJ Field as Charles Guyette.

[The film Professor Marston and the Wonder Women (2017, dir. Angela Robinson) is a “based on true events” story of William Moulton Marston, the two women he lived with, his interest in bondage, and how all of that influenced his superheroine creation, Wonder Woman. The film includes scenes in the 1930s in which Marston meets Charles Guyette, an early pioneer of fetish/BDSM media in the USA. While Marston definitely had an interest in bondage and fetishes, I was skeptical that meeting had actually occurred. I asked Richard Pérez Seves, a fellow kinky historian, and author of a biography and photo collection of Guyette, if this had happened.]

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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 »

Aug 262015
 

I’ll admit, financial domination was a kink I didn’t really get, even intellectually. I just assumed it was something thought up by pro dommes for guys who were too anxious to meet them in person.

The interview with Mistress Harley on the People of Kink podcast opened my mind and showed me that financial domination and blackmail play is a kink with its own subtleties and intricacies. Money has its own fetishistic value, denoting power and potency, and to be deprived of it can affect some people as strongly as being deprived of the freedom of movement. A prodomme I know once told me about a man who wanted her to demolish his expensive car with a sledgehammer while he watched; she refused, not wanting to risk getting involved in an insurance investigation.

Even more interesting was when Mistress Harley talked about using applications like Teamviewer to remotely take control of her clients’ computers and phones. As technology increasingly becomes an extension of our selves, it makes sense that systems of remote surveillance and control would be fetishized as well. I am once again surprised at just how ingenious people are at coming up with new forms of sexuality.

Dec 102013
 

Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS (1975) dir. Don Edmonds IMDB Amazon

Arguably the best known Nazisploitation film (though Love Camp 7 (1969) is usually cited as the first), Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS was a US-Canadian production (and shot on the exterior old sets for Hogan’s Heroes, according to one source). It starred Dyanne Thorne as the titular concentration camp commandant, impeccably crisp in a black, white and red SS uniform.

The women sent to Ils’a  camp are divided into two groups. One gets sent to “work details” of serving the men in the guard house. The other gets beaten, electrocuted, boiled, suffocated and more in “experiments” overseen by Ilsa and her female assistants. Ilsa’s ostensible reason for all of this is to demonstrate that women can withstand as much pain as men, and therefore prove that women can serve the Reich by fighting on the front line.

The male prisoners each get one night with Ilsa, after which they’re castrated.

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May 202013
 

In researching the history of consensual sadomasochism, there isn’t a comprehensive body of knowledge to draw upon, no established canon of reference works, no Journal of Sadomasochistic Studies.

Instead, I have data points: case studies, books (often anonymous), anecdotes, images, etc. I’ll admit that sometimes what is and isn’t a data point is decided on the “I know it when I see it” principle. Connecting those points requires a certain amount of guesswork and judgment calls.

For example: Dr. Samuel Johnson, English man of letters of the Enlightenment, and his relationship with his close friend Hester Thrale.  The latter’s posthumous effects, sold at auction in 1823, included a padlock and fetters. Thrale identified it as “Johnson’s padlock, committed to my care in the year 1768.” In 1767 or 1768, Thrale wrote that “our stern philosopher Johnson trusted me… with a secret far dearer to him than his life”. On other occasions , she wrote that “this great, this formidable Doctor Johnson kissed my hand, ay & my foot too upon his knees!” and quoted him saying, “a woman has such power between the ages of twenty five and forty five, that she may tie a man to a post and whip him if she will.” Finally, there is a reference in  Thrale’s journal to “the fetters & padlocks [that] will tell posterity the truth”, and Johnson’s own journal entry, dated 24 March 1771, about “Insane thoughts on fetters and hand-cuffs.” (in Latin) (Pg.387-388)

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