- Goreans are an insular bunch. Vice got a few self-described “kajirae” (female slaves) to talk about their lives.
- The Dig History podcast has an episode on the culture of sex work in 19th century America. As far as I can tell, sexual flagellation was not popular in American pornography or sex work, and what little there was was produced overseas and imported. The podcast does include an intriguing reference to sex workers who provided “ropes and braces” (18:29), likely some form of bondage. Another common practice was living tableaus (26:40), in which women would adopt a pose and costume based on popular paintings or sculptures, one of which was Hiram Powers’ The Greek Slave. I suspect there were a lot of themes of capture and bondage in these displays.
- Another Dig History podcast episode spotlights that “hero in evil”, the Marquis de Sade.
- Jean Genet, a French playwright, included many queer and kinky themes in his works. The Balcony, one of his plays written in 1956, was one of a series of dramatic works produced for TV broadcast in a joint project between the Open University and the BBC between 1977 and 1981. This shortened version of The Balcony never made it to TV broadcast. The linked essay isn’t clear if the film survives in any form, other than a few stills, though a comment says that a brief clip appears in a documentary on Genet.
- A short essay on the meaning and history of the Phyllis riding Aristotle trope.
- The myth of “secret European kink training houses” has been around for a long time, even before the publication of Story of O. There’s never been, to my knowledge, credible evidence of them. That’s why I’m highly suspicious of this interview with Ernest Greene and Nina Hartley about Greene’s forthcoming book, The Truth about O, which claims that these elite, secretive organizations do exist.
- Episode 222 of the Kinkycast interviews Tori and Jeff of the Leather History Preservation Foundation. Leather history doesn’t preserve itself, you know.
- Speaking of preserving history, San Francisco will designate part of the South of Market (SOMA) neighborhood to be a “Leather and LGBTQ Cultural District.” It’s home to the Folsom Street Fair and many gay and kink bars and shops. The Washington Post says, “It will give the cultural district negotiating rights in future development and access to public money.”
- Dame magazine has a feature on the particular issues of kink for Orthodox Jews.
- D/s sometimes awkwardly rubs elbows with the Christian domestic discipline subculture. The Sexing History podcast has an episode on Evangelical Christian marriage manuals, and their efforts to expand the sexual opportunities within conservative marriage.
- In an echo of the Jian Ghomeshi incident from 2014, New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman has defended himself from accusations of abuse of women by claiming he had “engaged in role-playing and other consensual sexual activity,” within “the privacy of intimate relationships.” It is painful but necessary to again educate people on the basics of consent, and fortunately even mainstream publications like Lifehacker and the BBC have taken part in this education.
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.
Brown, Carolyn E. “Erotic Religious Flagellation and Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure”, English Literary Renaissance, Vol.16, Iss. 1, Dec 1986
Shakespeare’s play Measure for Measure (first performed in 1604) links religious asceticism and flagellation with deviant sexuality and political tyranny. The Duke of Vienna, the judge Angelo and the novice nun Isabella claim to be pious and chaste, while their sexuality is repressed in such a way that it emerges as indifferent voyeurism, aggressive sadism or masochism, respectively. “…by drawing parallels to historical or topical events, Shakespeare suggests that the protagonists’ very asceticism, ironically, causes this deviant desire and that they associate their austere religious practices with pleasurable feelings.”
The plot revolves around a couple, Claudio and Juliet, who have not properly observed all the rules of engagement and marriage. While the Duke travels through Vienna in disguise as a friar, he hands power over to the judge Angelo, who decides to make an example of Claudio and condemn him to death for fornication. Claudio’s friend Lucia asks Isabella, the novice nun and Claudio’s sister, for help. Angelo offers to free Claudio in exchange for sex with Isabella.
The trio of the Duke, Angelo and Isabella are all ascetics (though none are actually clergy), and are hostile to sexual desires, believing that “pain kills the libido and thus subjecting themselves and others to physical abuse.”
Salon.com has an interview with former nun Mary Johnson, who worked under Mother Theresa at her mission in India. Currently being considered for canonization, the late Mother Theresa has come under scrutiny for her beliefs in the nobility in suffering, not only the voluntary kind, which border on religious masochism.
During your time with the sisters, you gave up all possessions—your hair, which had to be shorn every month, an audiotape sent by your parents, even photographs. How does this relate to the fusion of love and pain?
The Missionaries of Charity set out to live like the poor they serve. We each had two sets of clothes, which we’d wash by hand every day in buckets. We ate rotting vegetables and stale bread that we’d begged from wholesale grocers. We slept in common dormitories, without any privacy, on thin mattresses we’d made ourselves. Living poorly day by day convinces you that life is hard. For a Missionary of Charity, ideal love was self-sacrificing, even to the practice of corporal penance.
Your first session of self-flagellation is imprinted in my mind: “My knees shook. I took the bunch of knotted cords into my hands. From Sister Jeanne’s stall, I heard the beating sounds, one, two, three. . . . I swung harder. The skin of my lower thighs turned red, then red with white streaks as I hit harder.”
When I took that rope whip into my hands, I was scared, I was excited, I hoped that I was on my way to conquering my selfishness and becoming a holy person. When you visit the homes and shrines of various saints, you often see hair shirts or whips or spiked chains on display. This is a religion in which nearly every house of worship, classroom, and private home has as its most prominent feature the image of a bloodied, tortured man. We were taught that wearing spiked chains and beating ourselves allowed us to share in his work of redemption. I know it doesn’t make much sense when you say it just like that, but within that entire system it had its own weird logic.
I’m reminded of Hannah Cullwick and her nun-like devotion to her labours, based on her own private value system. Is this masochism? Of a kind.
The problem with this kind of thinking is what happens when you are in a position to impose it upon others, who have no choice in their conditions. Subsequent investigations have shown that her mission provided a standard of care that would be intolerable in any non-religious institution, and she avoided modern medicine. She followed a medieval line of thought that the soul in the afterlife was all that mattered, not the body in the moral world.
Davis, Robert C. Christian Slaves, Muslim Masters: White Slavery in the Mediterranean, the Barbary Coast, and Italy, 1500-1800. Palgrave MacMillan, 2003 Amazon
What you might call “Mediterranean slavery”, of Christian Europeans captured through piracy or raids and enslaved in North Africa or the Near East, coexisted with Atlantic slavery, roughly paralleling the dates. While the numbers about Atlantic slavery are pretty solid, the numbers on Mediterranean slavery are far less so, and Davis is forced to piece together rough estimates from a variety of different sources.
Trying to pin down numbers of Barbary slavery is beyond the scope of this blog, and I don’t want to get into any kind of “oppression Olympics” about different slave economies. (Discussions of white slavery tend to bring out people with an axe to grind. One discussion of Barbary coast slavery on Fetlife included a post with a link to a white pride site. This included lengthy incoherent rants about the place of white people in history. One passage included an array of pictures of tribal people with facial tattoos or body modifications, followed by another array of white people with facial tattoos or piercings. The caption said that these white people took no pride in their heritage and were trying to imitate other races.)
As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, it would be fascinating to witness the birth of a particular fetish, and I was fortunate enough to find one that has born recently.
Tales of the Veils, a site devoted to veiling fetish, announced its seventh anniversary last month.
Brooten, Bernadette J., ed. Beyond Slavery: Overcoming Its Religious and Sexual Legacies. Palgrave MacMillan, 2010.
Although Jewish, Christian, and Muslim religious leaders have always recognized the difference between slavery and marriage between men and women, they have sometimes applied concepts from slavery to marriage.
Pg. 8, “Introduction” by Bernadette J. Brooten
The word “slave” is an emotionally charged one.
I began my BDSM career in the early ’90s with an email slave relationship with a woman on the other side of the continent. It lasted over a year, with a contract, daily reports, exchanged gifts by mail, and so on. I had the notion that this is just what you did. (I eventually met her in person, and we still stay in touch. She currently lives with two men, her husband and her slave.)
When I signed on to Fetlife for the first time, I chose “bottom” as my role, not “submissive” or “slave”. I carefully chose a name, “Liegeman”, that connoted the feudal relationship of mutual obligation (or at least the idealized version of that), rather than the kind of terminology associated with the institution of slavery. I’m just not comfortable with that language, especially after I started researching American slavery.
For me, and I imagine a lot of people, the word “slave” denotes American antebellum slavery: an unskilled labourer in a hereditary state of chattel bondage, justified by the worst combination of Calvinism and Darwinism.
Obviously, lots of people in the greater BDSM scene use the terminology of master-slave, but the meaning they apply to it is quite different. The relationship is paramount, with aspects of marriage, apprenticeship, and military discipline. While Masters talk about “owning” slaves, it isn’t ownership in the sense of property, but more like noblesse oblige or feudal obligation.
As I asked in my presentation, how did we get from one definition to the other?
LN pointed me at this fascinating interview, courtesy of the Leatherati Youtube channel, with slave Alia who is a devout Muslim woman who is also the slave of Master Skip Chasey. She comes from a cultural background quite different from most people in the greater BDSM world, and there are interesting parallels between her life as a devout Mulsim woman and her life as a slave.
The Montreal by Words podcast interviews me on my Maria Monk “nun porn” story in MaisonNeuve magazine. It starts at about the 15 minute mark.