Jun 152020
 

Gates, Katharine. 2000. Deviant desires: incredibly strange sex. New York: Juno Books.

Gates’s book is an exploration of a particular phase in Western sexual history. This is the pre-Google, pre-Facebook, pre-Fetlife Internet, when finding people who shared your kink was more a matter of luck and word-of-mouth than just typing something into a search bar. The people Gates interviews are an assortment of eccentrics who put their kinks out in early Internet forums, self-published newsletters, magazines and videos. Most of these media channels are hobbies and labours of love; a few attain the level of cottage industries that might break even some day. Some might even be seen as a kind of outsider art, fascinating precisely because of their lack of commercial slickness.

The why of fetishes has puzzled sexologists and psychologists since the concept was developed. Is there some deeper symbolic meaning to a fetish, or is it just a matter of a person randomly imprinting on a particular stimulus? Gates’ approach is primarily anthropological, not psychological, but she still tries to decode some fetishes.

People like to say that there are no new kinks under the sun, but the balloon fetish proves them wrong. Every era seems to have a fetish that is uniquely their own, and there’s something so post-modern/pop culture/McDonaldsTM/VH1 about balloons that the idea of eroticizing them feels particularly contemporary. […] It makes sense that the balloon fetish is such a new thing; after all, rubber latex toy balloons were not even invented until the 1920s, and have only been a routine part of the American suburban home since the 1950s. And although there exist looners as old as 70 years of age, most balloon fetishists are in their twenties and thirties. It’s really a baby-boomer and Gen-X phenomenon.

Pg.74-5

Many of the fetishists interviewed cite some childhood experience as the moment of recognition of their kink, such as seeing something in a seemingly innocuous film or TV show. E.g. the scene in the 1971 Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory in which a girl blows up into a sphere is well known to body inflation fetishists. However, most don’t see those moments as causing their kinks.

The first time Inflate 123 say the film at the age of five he cried inconsolably. […] By the third time that he saw it he just shut up, stared, and kept his fascination to himself. “It was the first external ‘proof’ of the concepts that were already swimming around in my head.”

Pg.99

A giantess fetishist has a similar belief, that such moments only catalyze or activate something that already existed in the person.

Ed [Lundt] doesn’t think that seeing growth stories in his childhood caused him to be a giantessophile, however. “I think that somewhere in the soup of one’s subconscious all these elements are floating around and the trigger just acts like a magnet drawing iron filings together. I starts to form a thing, and as you get older you see Village of the Giants, and it forms even more. When you hit puberty, you add on the sexual aspect and then it becomes the sex fantasy.” Ed feels that people become macros because of a combination of genetics and circumstances.

Pg.117

Twenty years later, it’s clear that Gates was definitely thinking ahead.

The sexual conversation is changing, and it’s changing rapidly. With the desktop publishing revolution and the advent of the internet, millions of people have suddenly gained access to previously unavailable information about non-conformist sex. New erotic communities are forming every day. Deviants with the most obscure and specific kinks — who always thought they were alone in the world — can now communicate with likeminded poeple.

Pg. 11

Today on Internet porn sites like Clips4Sale, you will find media catering to a mind-boggling variety of hyper-specific fetishes. Nonetheless, it is interesting to look back at this era, when the sexual frontier was charted and settled by people following their bliss, not bent on making money by exploiting a niche fetish.

May 042020
 
Cover illustration by Michael Manning

Tales of Gor (Postmortem Studios, 2017) is the licensed tabletop role-playing game adaptation of John Norman’s notorious Gor series of sword-and-sorcery novels, written by James “Grim” Desborough and illustrated by Michael Manning. Gor is notorious for heavy themes of slavery, sadomasochism, male dominance and female submission, and for long philosophical digressions justifying those themes. Since 1966, there have been more than 30 novels published in the series. The series has inspired a strong cult following, including a small branch of BDSM culture devoted to Gorean style slavery, both in real life and online in Second Life.

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Dec 132019
 

Now that 2019 is ending and Gwyneth Paltrow’s GOOP is selling bondage gear and floggers, it’s important to remember that, not that long ago, BDSM was seen as a sign of mental illness. Case in point: The Sensuous Woman by “J”, published in 1969.

The Thing That Turns Him on You Think Is Sick

If he wants to resort to whips and chains or have you urinate on him or something of that nature, I agree with you, I think he’s sick — and he should let you alone and go find a simpatico sickie or, better yet, get professional help.

[Pg. 131]

Note that the author assumes that the reader will be turned off by such activities.

The relevant passage
Aug 192019
 

I am proud to announce that A Lover’s Pinch is the co-winner for the Geoff Mains non-fiction book award for 2019, issued by the National Leather Association: International. My book shares this honour with The Sexually Dominant Woman: An Illustrated Guide for Nervous Beginners, written by Janet M. Hardy and published by Greenery Press.

This is the second Geoff Mains award I have won, the other being for the anthology I edited, Our Lives, Our History.

Aug 192019
 

GENE BILBREW REVEALED: The Unsung Legacy of a Fetish Art Pioneer (African American Artists Series) is the latest in Richard Pérez Seves’ series of biographies of fetish artists and publishers.

Pérez Seves’ previous work on Eric Stanton gave an interesting picture of a man, his work and his time. However, the author has less to work with when it comes to Gene Bilbrew.

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Apr 172019
 

In my research, I’ve observed patterns in the past that we still see today.

Cover of Awful Disclosures of Maria Monk

For instance, in the 1830s, a woman named Maria Monk turned up in New York City. She claimed that she had been held prisoner as a sex slave in a convent in Montreal, where she had been subjected to bizarre tortures and told to sexually serve the priests who entered the convent via an underground tunnel. Any offspring of these unions would be baptized, strangled and disposed of in lime pits.

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Apr 172019
 

Because they didn’t live up to Clive Barker’s original novella:

He had anticipated this moment so keenly, planned with every wit he possessed this rending of the veil. In moments they would be here—the ones Kircher had called the Cenobites, theologians of the Order of the Gash. Summoned from their experiments in the higher reaches of pleasure, to bring their ageless heads into a world of rain and failure.

He had worked ceaselessly in the preceding week to prepare the room for them. The bare boards had been meticulously scrubbed and strewn with petals. Upon the west wall he had set up a kind of altar to them, decorated with the kind of placatory offerings Kircher had assured him would nurture their good offices: bones, bonbons, needles. A jug of his urine—the product of seven days’ collection—stood on the left of the altar, should they require some spontaneous gesture of self-defilement. On the right, a plate of doves’ heads, which Kircher had also advised him to have on hand.

[…]

The doorway was even now opening to pleasures no more than a handful of humans had ever known existed, much less tasted—pleasures which would redefine the parameters of sensation, which would release him from the dull round of desire, seduction and disappointment that had dogged him from late adolescence. He would be transformed by that knowledge, wouldn’t he? No man could experience the profundity of such feeling and remain unchanged.

Mar 072019
 

Richard Pérez Seves has written a thorough and visually engrossing study of fetish artist Eric Stanton and the world he lived in. Stanton was one of the major artists to define the post-WWII American style of fetish and BDSM art, when this genre was very much underground. Seves managed to get access to impressive quantities of ephemera of the artist’s life and interviews with his friends and families.

Photo of young Stanton, Pg.24
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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.