Mar 192010
 

Via Clarisse Thorn’s blog, the murder (manslaughter, according to the courts) of Steven Morris by his submissive’s estranged husband, John R. Moore III.

Thorn’s analysis of this case suggests that this is a variation of the gay panic defense, which would explain why Moore got manslaughter instead of homicide. Thus, when the media and the general public look at this tragic affair, they look for a person with whom to identify. Morris? Nope, he’s an adulterer and a BDSM dominant; doesn’t make a good victim, and he’s dead besides. Laurie, Moore’s wife and Morris’ lover? Nope, she’s an adulterer and a BDSM who met Morris via collarme.com; must be either crazy or a slut, and therefore not a good victim either. That leaves Moore, even though he shot a guy, violating his wife’s protection order in the process. He’ll have to do for the audience’s sympathy. There’s a marked failure of empathy in the coverage, without any quotes from Laurie Morris, who’s been through a horrible experience even before the shooting. (Presumably there’s a reason she had protection order against her husband.)

As a side note, I notice that Moore is a Blackwater defense contractor who had spent time in Afghanistan. This dovetails with the news item that David Grisham, the leader of the Texan Christian organization Repent Amarillo, is an armed security guard at Pantex, a company that works with nuclear material disposals and high explosives. Grisham’s organization drove the Route 66 swinger club (with some BDSM elements) out of business, by noting down license plates in an adjacent parking lot to the club and notifying family members and employers.

These are the men we should fear: not the Islamic terrorist, not the big black guy on the street. Fear the middle class white guy with the military-industrial complex job who keeps his gun and his Bible in the same bedside drawer, who loses it when his control over the world begins to crumble, when anything disrupts his view of how the family should be. Both Moore and Grisham reacted violently to perceived threats against the family and sexual normality. There’s only going to be more of that in the future: more visible gays, poly people, kinky people, trans people. How will men like Moore and Grisham react?

May 132009
 

Ms. Muze’s guest post on Let them eat pro-SM feminist safe spaces has an intriguing theory about the idea that BDSM is a symptom of the lessening of the class division in society, and thus less sexual access to lower status people.

We have a solid literary record stretching back at least three hundred years of a culture where women were expected to maintain their virtue through chastity, young men were expected to engage in casual sex, and there was plenty of kinky porn. Probably those things have been true much longer; it’s my personal knowledge of literary history that goes back only that far, not the existence of kinky porn. If “women”, by which we mean middle- and upper-class women, were all going to their marriage beds virgins, who were these guys fucking?

The servants. Prostitutes. Poor girls. These are the people de Sade was routinely accused of abusing and molesting before he was imprisoned. The people who over and over again in literature and historical record are raped, knocked up, “ruined” and cast aside by men of a higher social class who would never dream of laying an improper hand on their social peers.

We now have a culture where young men are taught to view young women of their own class as sexual commodities, while a few generations ago they would have been brought up to view their female peers as the “angels in the house” whom they might love or marry and the lower class women in their lives as sex objects who they might fuck, with or without consent. A man growing up today learns to look to his girlfriend/wife to play out violent fantasies that he might once have satisfied with a prostitute or not at all.

This cultural shift gives us a lot of great things – sexual agency! safe, sane, consensual kink! birth control! – but with it we have all inherited some of the risk that used to belong more clearly to women on the fringes of respectable society. It’s not BDSM, or its watered-down aesthetic leaking into mainstream porn, that contributes to a culture of rape.

There is a complex relationship between real “rape culture” (e.g. pre Civil War South) and the theatrical performance of such.

Apr 232009
 

The US policy on torture is much in the air today. Some of the defenders of the policy liken the kinds of “stress positions” and the like allowed to be used to fraternity hazings.

One interesting angle is comparing torture to SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape) training, used by the US military to prepare soldiers for being tortured. Slate compares SERE and real torture, making explicit comparisons between the former and BDSM.

Third, SERE offers interventions that relieve stress and reinforce the unreality of the exercise. Instructors and psychologists are available “to watch the students for indications that they are not coping well with training tasks, provide corrective interventions with them long before they become overwhelmed, and if need be, remotivate students who have become overwhelmed to enable them to succeed,” Ogrisseg noted.

Fourth, SERE has “defined starting and ending points. … [T]rainees arrive on a certain date and know that they will depart on a specified date.”

Fifth and most important, SERE is voluntary. “Students can withdraw from training,” Ogrisseg noted. In a report issued four months ago, the Armed Services Committee added that in SERE, “students are even given a special phrase they can use to immediately stop” any ordeal.

The difference between SERE and the Bush interrogation program is the difference between S&M and rape. There is no consent. There are no mutually understood boundaries. There are no magic words. People who can’t tell the difference between rape and S&M go to jail. What happens to people who can’t tell the difference between torture and training?

In this argument, the social context matters.

Over on Susie Bright’s blog, she talks about the impact SERE training had on her Airforce Academy boyfriend in the early 1970s:

In addition to the group beatings, waterboarding, electric shock, sleep deprivation, sound/noise torture, starvation, dehydration, he was also forced to eat human feces and vomit, in accompaniment with the beatings. They had replicas of “tiger cages’ they kept him in. He wrote me that after awhile of knowing it was all a training, he couldn’t hold the frame anymore and it became nothing but his reality. His sense of time and self evaporated.

His father was Air Force— and I think even he was taken aback by the SERE training. Afterward, as far as I could tell, Robbie had a psychological breakdown. He wasn’t the same guy. I was afraid of him.

They’d given him some very peculiar advice about women— it creeped me out. I was, like, ‘HEY, it’s me, remember?” But he didn’t. He hurt me when we made love, my back bled. He acted like we were supposed to play this out until I got “tougher” and could take it. It didn’t have anything to do with “kink” or fun.

The Slate article says that the “frame” is very important, the subject’s awareness that there are rules and limits to this, that there is a safeword. However, Bright’s account suggests that it is not always possible to maintain that frame.

May 142008
 

Frost, Laura Sex Drives: Fantasies of Fascism in Literary Modernism, Cornel University Press, 2002

I once interviewed an elderly French woman who had been a courier for the Resistance in occupied France. In Paris, she was captured by the Milice, French fascist collaborators, tortured without divulging anything and held prisoner for months. A Milice officer named Cornet would visit her cell and point her out, saying, “That one didn’t talk. She has courage.”

One night, Cornet and she drove to a nightclub for Miliciens and German soldiers, the Green Parrot, which she soon realized was also a brothel.

Continue reading »

Jun 092007
 

Elizabeth of the Alternative Journey blog calls Jack Bauer, the hero(?) of 24, her “ultimate conquered male.”

Bitchy Jones followed up with a related post on male suffering and heroism.

Male submission and the archetypal heroic narrative are basically interchangeable. But somehow submissive men (and, I guess, a lot of people in general) seemed to have been tricked into thinking submission is basically feminine; that submissive men need to create feminine personas to make their submission make sense, get I touch with their feminine sides.

Which is bollocks.


Submissive men are heroes. Every time they take off their clothes. Which they should do both frequently and often.

Look, Prometheus stole fire for humans and was, in retaliation, tortured daily for 30,000 years (sm). Atlas holds up the fucking sky on his shoulders (predicament bondage).

And then there’s Jesus Christ. Where to begin? Sacrifice? Submission? Dying for all our sins? Nails? Hot jewish guy in pain and mostly naked? My god, my god, why have you forsaken me? He safewords on the cross! I fucking loved Sunday school.

Do you see what page I’m on? Every story of heroism. From then to now.

Dr Jack says to the evil ‘others’ in Lost – let my friends go and you can do what you want with me.

Angel goes back to fight in the Ring even when he could walk free because he can’t leave the other demons to their fate.

Goddamnit, Indy, where doesn’t it hurt?

And Elizabeth has covered Jack Bauer in detail. (She’s an inspiration – that woman.)

Bauer suffers, certainly, but is he a masochist? His suffering is incidental to his mission. He does not suffer for its own sake, or find meaning in it. Arguably, he undergoes torture out of guilt for his own actions. Bauer’s distinguishing characteristic, at least in my mind, is sadism. Over the course of the series he mentally and physically tortures several people, kills a man in cold blood and cuts off his head with a hacksaw, and executes people on his own side. Like Richardson’s Lovelace and Sade’s libertines, Bauer justifies his actions by claiming he is aware of a higher truth about the nature of the world.

I’d call Bauer a stoic, not a masochist. Masochists suffer; stoics endure. A masochist wants to feel deeply, while a stoic wants not to feel pain or pleasure.

Old school male heroes, the John Wayne/Humphrey Bogart/Gary Cooper generation, were defined by stoicism, their immunity to fear, pain, exhaustion and loss.

The thing is, stoicism can easily shade into masochism. In order to prove one has the proper stoic’s indifference to pain, one seeks out suffering, makes a performance out of it. Is masochism the sign of a person insecure in stoicism?

It’s later on, starting around 1990, that we get male action heroes who not only suffer, but make flamboyant displays of suffering. Mel Gibson’s characters are often tortured in his films, while Bruce Willis weeping while picking broken glass out of his bare feet in Die Hard is a far cry from Sylvester Stallone as Rambo cauterizing his own wounds with gunpowder.

Furthermore, masochism can be a relief from stoicism, saying, “Yes, it does hurt, but I can still take it!” Masochism was defined as a specifically male problem by Kraff-Ebing when the masculine ideal was the height of stoicism, and self-sacrifice was the female ideal. Sacher-Masoch could be viewed as a holdover from the previous century’s culture of sensibility.

I’ve been talking about male characters so far, but what about women? Currently, there are two female characters on TV who are defined by their capacity to withstand suffering. Claire Bennet of Heroes and Jane Vasco of Painkiller Jane both have superhuman regenerative abilities, being nearly impossible to kill. Their storylines offer plenty of scenes of them being injured and recovering, and their willingness to undergo harm is a big part of their heroism.

However, Jane feels pain, while Claire doesn’t, or not as most people do. Does that mean Jane is masochistic, while Claire is stoic? Or does it mean that Jane is the stoic, ignoring pain, while Claire is the true masochist, experiencing intense physical sensations as pleasure?

Ariel Glucklich’s book Sacred Pain emphasizes that we do not just experience pain, we interpret it, assign it meaning in our life stories. A stoic sees pain as a distraction, to be ignored, or perhaps as proof of determination to accomplish goals. A masochist sees pain as a way to get outside our self.