May 312012

Ana wakes up in Christian’s hotel suite the next morning. Christian not only had her undressed, but sent his bodyguard off to buy her a complete set of new clothes.

Um, wasn’t Ana’s friend and roommate Kate nearby when Ana passed out, and wouldn’t she have been a more natural choice to look after an unconscious Ana than a relative stranger like Christian?

Let me call process for a moment. I started thinking about the previous chapter’s commentary while I was still reading the text, and I was going to talk about how this wasn’t supposed to be a snarky commentary. That is, no cheap shots, no snobbishness, etc. Accept it for what it is, and understand how it fits into the world.

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Punish Me. A film by Angelina Maccarone

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Nov 082011

Ranai’s blog has an interesting discussion of the German BDSM film Verfolgt (meaning “Hounded” in German), released as Punish Me in English. (IMDB) Briefly, a young male criminal and his older female probation officer begin a sadomasochistic relationship, with her on top. (I haven’t seen it so I can’t discuss the film itself in detail.)

There’s a lot of food for thought here, about the nature of male submission and female submission, its depiction in media (both mainstream and pornographic), and the influence of the commercial BDSM scene on the non-commercial. Fashion choices are only the most obvious form of this influence.

Elsa doesn’t need a costume. Inside subcultures, dictates of commercialisation and sexism still cause a good deal of female hetero beginners to ask ‘I want to dominate my man for the first time. What should I wear?’. This does not refer to people who actually have clothing fetishes themselves, but to people being collectively or individually pressured into costumes. It is immensely pleasant to see a female character simply going right ahead. Costume? What costume?

Jan and Elsa don’t buy and sell their interaction. They are in a personal relationship. Most people don’t get told by pervasive cultural narratives that the default of their sexuality is sex work. Heterosexual dominant women and submissive men get told just that. Our culture still overwhelmingly frames a man submitting to a woman as a commercial service which a man buys from a woman he is not otherwise in a relationship with. To the point of casting dominant and sadistic women as sex workers by default, and submissive and masochistic men as clients by default. To the point of pressuring many women into imitating prodoms and porn performers in their personal lives, and to the point of causing many men to act as if they were clients even in non-commercial, personal contexts (client mentality). To the point of, in the wider culture and in many sadomasochistic subcultures, effectively erasing and repelling women who happen to be sadistic and/or dominant in their personal lives. It is gloriously refreshing to see a story of a submissive man and a dominant woman doing their own sadomasochistic stuff inside a personal relationship.

A malesub-femdom love story would be so against the grain of culture’s rules about love, sexuality and gender that it might be illegible as a love story. People would look at it and scratch their heads, unable to understand it.

Guy Baldwin on the leather Old Guard

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Oct 272011

Leatherati has posted Guy Baldwin’s essay on the Old Guard. As per the site’s editorial request, I won’t post any excerpts here.

The most important thing Baldwin says about this misunderstood and much mythologized era (in large part because HIV killed most of the people who were actually involved) is that there were no universal protocols of leather. The idea that there was such a thing was a pernicious myth that other related subcultures have inherited to their detriment, and I’m glad to see an authoritative statement on the subject. The problem was that what local leaders of each community’s Scene handed down their own particular set of protocols as if they were universal.

Baldwin describes the primordial scene as three overlapping interests (motorcycles, “rough sex” and S/M fetish) and the people into the sex gradually segregated out over time, losing the bikes but retaining the military discipline culture.

Just your daily dose of WTF

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Oct 242011


From the goofier end of the Silver Age comes this little oddity. The image reads a little like a dream, with the dreamer’s aggression directed at the image or effigy of the beloved, instead of the beloved itself, who watches heplessly.

Apr 202011

The Hooded Utilitarian has a series of posts on the deep, deep psychosexual weirdness of the early Wonder Women comics, mainly from a post-Freudian perspective.

wonder woman

The writer argues that Marston’s ideal of “loving submission” is a parent-child relationship, distinct from the usual patriarchal “rule of law”. It isn’t enough to obey the law and keep your own thoughts; you must love your authority figure (shades of the ending of Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four.)


The impression I get from reading writer Marston’s stories is instability of roles and relationships. Wonder Woman shifts from dynamic omnipotence to helplessness and back in an instant. In one panel, she’s throwing around war profiteers like they were children, in the next, her mother Queen Hippolyta shows up and lifts her up like she’s a child. Harry Peter’s art accentuates this by playing fast and loose with perspective and scale. In the aforementioned scene, Diana is drawn as if she were child-sized relative to Hippolyta.


Ideas like this, of sexuality sublimated into fantasies of mind control, hypnosis, disguises, role-playing, transformation and the like, permeated much of popular culture, waiting to give people their first taste of kink.

Mar 252011

Desmond, Marilyn. Ovid’s Art and the Wife of Bath: The Ethics of Erotic Violence Cornell University Press, 2006 Google Books

Desmond’s book starts off with telling how people objected to the inclusion of an informational panel on consensual sadomasochism at a feminist conference in New Paltz in 1997. This set off a media firestorm across the US. A similar controversy flared up in 1982 over the Barnard College conference that eventually led to Pleasure and Danger anthology, and was one of the inciting incidents in the 1980s iteration of the “sex wars.”

The New Paltz conference fifteen years later demonstrates that S/M remains an “alarming symbol,” even when its practitioners stress its contractual and consensual nature–as they did in the conference program–and even though popular culture, especially advertising and fashion (Versace, Gaultier) is saturated with S/M imagery.

Pg. 3

As such, violence against women constitutes a form of “structural violence” in the contemporary West. By contrast, the theatricality of S/M demonstrates that such hierarchies are inventions, and unstable inventions at that. Commercial and consensual S?M are aggressively policed in Britain and the United States while domestic violence has generally been tolerated in both countries as part of the status quo; perpetrators of domestic abuse, unlike S/M practitioners, are not classified as sexual outlaws.

Pg. 4

While S/M scripts parody the formations of power and fetishize the instruments of violence, such parodies and fetishistic operations frequently rely on historical configurations. Michel Foucault described S/M as a form of courtship, in which “sexual relations are elaborated and developed by and through mythical relations.”…. Premodern history offers intense opportunities for staing power in theatrical erotics since the semiotics of power relations in premodern cultures are popularly though to be crudely figured in terms of dominance and submission or starkly organized into social institutions such as feudalism or the Church…. Perhaps this is why Slavoj Zizek sees masochism and courtly love as direct reflections of one another….


Desmond cites an essay by Anna Freud, “Beating Fantasies and Daydreams” (1922), which follows up from her father’s “A Child is Being Beaten.” This shows an individual process of how one person takes a story and revises it repeatedly, turning it from a tale of violence to a tale of suffering and redemption.

Anna Freud’s case study suggests that narratives adapted–however loosely– from an identifiable past such as the medieval West provide a superstructure of fantasy that facilitates an erotic paradigm. If medieval scripts can be read through masochism–as Zizek sees it–or if they facilitate masochistic fantasy–in Anna Freud’s terms–perhaps the constructs of the medieval past might elucidate specific performances of contemporary heterosexualities, particularly in terms of erotic violence.

Pg. 5-6

What Desmond does in this book is trace out the genealogy of Western civilization’s views on the relationship between eros and violence.

Classical roman society was intensely hierarchical, and a Roman man was expected to keep order in his household (which included wives, family members and slaves) through words or blows. St. Augustine saw violence as an integral part of domestic order and affection, as an expression of marital love. Medieval marriage manuals, if not condoning violence against women, told women to suck it up and bear it. The consensus of laws in the period was that husbands had the right and duty to “correct” their wives physically, within some “reasonable” limit.

The root of this particular tree is Ovid’s Ars Amatoria, written around 2 CE. It’s a three-part elegy poem, with the first two parts telling the male reader how to seduce woman, and the third telling women who to act in such circumstances. Ovid wrote it in early days of imperial rule, when Augustus imposed new laws to strengthen marriage and penalize adultery, brought on by fear of declining birthrates and not enough citizens to maintain an army. (Cf. Foucault’s bio-power)

Marital reproduction thus became a legal obligation in order to further the goals of Roman conquests and colonial occupation. By contrast to such official policy, the Ars defines amor as an experience that can only take place outside of marriage, and it is completely silent on the reproductive consequences of heterosexual performance. The Ars thereby mocks the assumptions of Augustus’ marriage legislation that sexuality can be regulated by law.

The heterosexual script as it develops in the course of the Ars emerges from the structures of imperialism so that the praeceptor’s [instructor’s] discourse of sexual domination and conquest mimics the discourses of Roman coloniality.

Pg. 36

This is perhaps the most interesting aspect of Ovid’s work, that it was meant at least in part as a satire of the newly expansionist and martial state, which intruded into private matters. A Roman would have got the joke; a Frenchman a thousand years later wouldn’t. (This ties into two other themes I’ve noticed in the history of BDSM: imperialism/colonialism, and the misreading of texts.)

There is a masochistic side to this, when Ovid advises his pupil to occasionally and strategically debase himself before his domina (mistress, or woman in charge of household slaves). “Don’t think it a disgrace to suffer curses or blows from the girl, or plant kisses on her tender feet.” (2.533-34)

This voluntary subjugation–which the praeceptor offers as a theatrical role the lover might effectively adopt–is derived from the topos of the servitum amoris. In Latin amatory poetry, the metaphor of the lover as servus to an all-powerful domina provided a rhetorical formula for expressing the emotional agency of the puella [girl]– an agency which amounted to her ability to withhold affection and sexual favors from the lover; her ability to exercise any control over her own sexuality, that is, made her all-powerful… The praeceptor only suggests the pose of the servitum amoris as a means for the lover to consolidate his power over his puella.

Pg. 46

These ideas of how a passionate relationship should be conducted were carried into the centuries that followed. The great medieval lovers, Abelard and Heloise, referred to Ovid’s works, including the Ars amatoria.

The female reader of Ars amatoria 3 who disregards the irony of Ovid’s didactic discourse would find herself situated as the object of eroticized violence in an elaborate power play in which she could only acquire recognition through submission.

Pg. 57

Ovid’s semi-serious advice mixed up with Heloise’s uncle’s instruction to Abelard that “if I [Abelard] found her to be careless, I should constrain her severely.”

I’m not quite sure what to make of the Abelard/Heloise relationship. I know there was a reference to what sounded like spanking in Abelard’s account, but according to this book, this was not unusual. In the medieval pedagogical tradition, it was considered perfectly normal for teachers to beat their pupils, and otherwise be physically intimate with them. The scandal might actually be because of the fact that Heloise was remarkably well educated for a woman of her place and time, so this student/pupil relationship, usually confined to the homosocial/homoerotic all-male world, butted up against the heterosocial/heteroerotic world.

It didn’t end well. Heloise got pregnant, Abelard squirreled her off to a convent and her uncle castrated him. They continued to write each other. (This is the when the letters by Heloise start.) Curiously, she never mentions her pregnancy or child, perhaps echoing Ovid’s silence on the subject, so to speak.

The Abelard/Heloise relationship actually reminds me greatly the Munby/Cullwick relationship. Both relationships appear exploitative and intensely hierarchical at first glance, but on further examination reveal a much more complex interplay of fantasies, roles and power.

Heloise wrote to Abelard that she would rather be his meretrix (a high-level courtesan) than imperatix (the empress). (Pg.64) This is echoed in Cullwick’s statements that she would rather be Munby’s maid of all work than his bourgeois wife. In one of Heloise’s letters, she said that their relationship was not just teacher/pupil, but also father/daughter, husband/wife, brother/sister, all of which were based on the classical dominus/ancilla (master/slave) relationship. (pg. 62) (This is different from the more complex roleplaying of Munby and Cullwick, in which she was often the dominant role, both as a maternal figure and as a more masculine figure than Munby.) Heloise’s letters seem like she’s trying to top him from the bottom, demanding her recognition as his submissive lover. In effect, she’s saying he owes her attention and recognition, and that he isn’t playing his role properly.

So, were Abelard and Heloise a BDSM couple as we would recognize it today? Sort of. I think the difference is, and this is something that Desmond never quite puts her finger on, is that the word punishment in BDSM should always have quotes around it. In the ancient and medieval traditions Desmond writes about, violence is used as a punishment, not a “punishment,” as a means of controlling the subordinate party. If the subordinate party wants to be beaten, then the entire strategy falls apart.

Desmond’s book does raise the idea that violence and eros in Western civilization has been coupled together at a very deep level. She cites Foucault to say that Ovid’s poetry provided a kind of script that informed other depictions of heterosexual relationships in later times, a set of theatrical gestures that could be manipulated, re-read and mis-read.

Desmond also discusses the “Mounted Aristotle”, a visual and literary reference that began in the 13th century and recurs in many different works. The most common form is a older man, whose age and dress indicates his learnedness, on all fours, with a woman riding him as a horse, often wielding a whip. The story behind it, which has no basis in classical records, is that Aristotle was tutor to Alexander the Great in India. Aristotle chides Alexander for being too smitten by his wife or mistress, usually named Phyllis. As revenge, Phyllis seduces Aristotle, and he agrees to let her ride him as a horse. She also arranges for Alexander to watch this. (Note the elements of voyeurism and humiliation, common in fantasies.)

I bring this up because I want to make it clear that people should not look at this particular image and anecdote and immediately say, “Aha, people in the 13th century were kinky just like us.” The mounted Aristotle was viewed in a variety of different ways and contexts, including references to contemporary politics. It was not only an erotic image. It was also a warning against the seductiveness of women, yet also a rueful admission that even the wisest of men are susceptible. Yet the perverse erotic meaning is within the image, there to be read, and provide a seed for fantasy. In a horse-based culture, equestrian metaphors would have had a lot of currency.

The fantasy of the “mounted Aristotle” shaped the language of erotic violence in medieval French and English narratives so that a cultural notion of the scandal of female dominance could be cited visually or textually in equestrian images or metaphors. The erotic potential of such equestrian fantasies remains a recognizable feature of modern power erotics.

Pg. 27

Dec 312010

io9 has a post on the 1960 case history of a man whose kink was to be run over by a woman driving a car.

Some perversions, while representing formidable psychopathology, are also tributes to the complexity of the human mind and unconscious ego mechanisms. The patient, a man in his late twenties, reported a periodic desire to be injured by a woman operating an automobile. This wish, present since adolescence, he had by dint of great ingenuity and effort, gratified hundreds of times without serious injury or detection.

Satisfaction could be obtained by inhaling exhaust fumes, having a limb run over on a yielding surface to avoid appreciable damage or by being pressed against the wall by a vehicle. Gratification was enhanced if the woman were attractive by conventional standards. Injuries inflicted by men operating automobiles or other types of injury inflicted by women had no meaning.

This is an interesting counterpart to the fetish of men observing women pumping car gas pedals, “powerful, violent woman with a car” versus “helpless, impotent woman with a car”. It could probably be connected to the foot/trample/giantess cluster of fetishes, i.e. of being physically overpowered by a large, feminine thing. I also think of the scene in Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965), in which Varla attempts to crush the Vegetable with her car, and I strongly suspect the patient knew of that movie later in life.

Nov 202010

Pleasure Dome, by Megumu Minami, is a collection of 5 yaoi manga stories. There is a lot of non-consent, bondage and “ravishment” in these stories, plus an absinthe enema. There’s also a strong theme of role reversal, switching back and forth between who is on top and who is one the bottom.

Of the five stories in this collection, two use real-world historical conflicts as settings.

“Desire on Fire” is set during the British colonization of India. A British officer attempts conquer an Indian prince, but ends up captured instead. Ultimately, the prince, torn between his duty to his people and his love for the officer, exiles himself and chains himself to a rock, waiting to die, where the officer finds him, out for vengeance.

In the afterward, the author says this is very loosely based on the Buddhist story of Angulimala, a bandit who reformed under the influence of Buddha.

The Japanese are not strict and devout Buddhists, but there is something very dramatic and attractive about various characters that appear in Buddhism. I’m sure Christians feel something similar when they hear about the betrayal of Jesus by Judas, the Crucifixion, and other biblical stories.

To other people around me, I may have looked like a very devout Buddhist that was touched by the religious significance of the location. However, I must confess. When I closed my eyes, I was thinking more of the bare feet of Angulimala dashing about.

I wonder if I’ll ever be punished for my blasphemy.

The second story, “Hell for a Fallen Angel”, refers to the persecution of Catholics in feudal Japan. The male owner of a brothel is tasked to torment a male Christian and get him to give up his faith.

Christianity has a definite foreign feeling. Some of the words uttered by Japanese Christians back in the day like “Biruzen Santa Maria”, “Rusanchiman” and others end me into a dreamy state.

Of the remaining three stories, one is set in Medieval Europe and loosely adapts “The Song of Roland”, while the other two are set in Europe in some Edwardian or late Victorian period. The settings seem to be mainly there for variation in costume and character design.

So, we have various historical settings and religious myth used as backdrops for male-male erotica. From a Japanese perspective, none of these are set in the here and now, and arguably their settings are fair game for use as background.

I’m not sure an Indian person or a devout Buddhist would be too pleased with “Desire on Fire,” but I think this is an example of using real world settings, even controversial ones, as inspirations for sexual fantasy. It is not only the West using the East for its own imaginative purposes; Japanese may indulge their own “Occidentalism” by reading these stories. The author herself (?) seems only slightly concerned about the shift between the reality of atrocity and the fantasy of sadomasochistic, homoerotic romance.

At a certain remove in time and space, atrocity and injustice become fantasy material.

Aug 122010

Continuing our discussion of A Man Called Horse, consider the Kyle Stone novel The Initiation of PB 500, parts of which were first published in Torso magazine in 1993.

Going by this excerpt and what I recall from skimming it years ago, PB 500 largely follows the first act of Horse: space pilot crashes, gets captured by primitive warrior culture, etc. However, the homoeroticism and sadomasochism that is implicit in Horse is quite explicit in PB 500. It also follows the initiatory structure I talked about (witness the title), but with a twist. Horse follows the hero’s journey plan, while PB 500 manages to have it both ways: the protagonist becomes both sex slave and warrior/assassin.

Micah strode along the silent corridor like a warrior going into battle. He was a warrior, he reminded himself, although the Commander’s guards would see only a naked slave. A painted harlot bought and paid for by an alien chief. Under the long blond hair held in place by a blue band, his back bore the scars of his master’s whip. Proud scars. But they could never understand.

Micah clenched his teeth and thought of his master, the hard dark man who demanded so much of him, who owned him body and soul. Time and time again Micah had demonstrated that he would do anything for Attlad. Surely this was the ultimate test? This evening when he had been forced to go so much against his own nature? What he would do next, was nothing, compared to this.

The Erskan Chronicles series of books by K. McVey is yet another variation on this premise, though in a femdom-malesub setting. This is a great premise for forcing a character into another culture with radically different sexual mores, so naturally it is used repeatedly. Though I think it is more commonly used in science fiction or fantasy settings than in contemporary settings. Still, it is essentially the same kind of story you could find more than 100 years ago.

Jul 282010

In the fourth season premiere of Mad Men, Don Draper should be on top of the world. Instead, he has a ratty Greenwich village apartment, a carefully maintained pretense that his new agency has a second floor, and a standing appointment with a prostitute whom he orders to slap his face while not taking off her bullet bra.

In art, everything means something, particularly in Mad Men, in which much information is conveyed in minor shifts in behavior rather than over speech or actions. That Don hires a prostitute and has her smack his face a few times during sex is indicative of his internal state of chaos, along with almost yelling at Peggy and throwing prospective clients out of the agency when they don’t like his pitch. In previous seasons, Don has masterfully handled jittery clients and a string of mistresses, one of whom had a masochistic streak herself. His masochistic behavior is meant to indicate his decline and his self-loathing, after his divorce and starting a new agency. He’s actually becoming a bit of a cliche, the high-powered executive in a suit who hires a pro domme to dress him as a French maid every Thursday at 7pm.

However, does masochism always indicate a disordered or self-loathing mind? I don’t think it does. BDSM can be integrated into a functional life. If Don owned up to a few things to himself, he might use his masochistic sessions as a way of getting some stress relief. However, Don seems to be using his scenes the way he uses cigarettes and booze: maintaining the impression of control without any moderation. Thus, he’s not an example of healthy BDSM, not that that idea had been developed yet in the show’s current year of 1964.

Phrased another way, will we ever reach a point in which a TV character has some form of non-normative sexuality without it being some exterior sign of some inner mental flaw? A parallel with homosexuality’s depiction in mainstream instruction is instructive. It used to be that homosexuality was a problem to be explained, and it could not be an incidental aspect of his or her character. I think we’ve reached a point where gayness is no longer an overriding element of a character. Sadomasochism is somewhere on that same trajectory.