One way to view the Internet is as a vast sorting system, in which individuals can curate collections of material that might never be allowed to come together otherwise. I found the Fraulein Swastika Tumblr [removed as of 16 June 2021] recently, a collection of erotic images of women with fascist elements. What’s interesting is that the images seem to come from at least three different discourses.
After the war, a generation of men returned home to peacetime. Whether due to awakened homosexuality in the all-male society of the military, or just a distaste for the new American dream of job and family, many of these men created an alternative culture that continued the outdoor homosociality and initiatory experience of military life.
Samuel M Steward describes his early life in S/M before there was a Scene:
…in the 1930s, I had become interested in S/M [….] In those days there were no leather shops, no specialty stores; and leather jackets were unheard of and unavailable except in police equipment outlets that would generally not sell to civilians. I finally found my first one in Sears-Roebuck’s basement in Chicago. And I had unearthed– literally, for his saddlery shop was in a cellar on North Avenue– a little man who braided a few whips for me, and even found a “weveling” Danish cat-o’-nine-tails crocheted from heavy white twine, and located also a handsome crop of twisted willow wood.
My introduction to S/M had begun with my answering a personal ad in the columns of the Saturday Review of Literature, a weekly publication out of New York City. In those days some of the wordings and contents of the ads were mildly outrageous for the times, growing wilder until the publishing of them was entirely stopped by the guardians of our American purity. The one that caught my attention [in August 1947] ran something like:
Should flogging be allowed? Ex-sailor welcomes opinions and replies. Box…i
Answering that ad put Steward in touch with Hal Baron, a former sailor dedicated to connecting every S (sadist) with an M (masochist) he could, who connected Steward with other men who had answered the ad.ii
Steward, then a college teacher, was interviewed by the controversial Dr. Alfred Kinsey, and became an unofficial collaborator on Kinsey’s sexual research. The two men share an interest in sexuality and record keeping; Steward kept a comprehensive list of his many sexual encounters in his “Stud File”, often noted as “sadie-maisie” or “sad-mashy”.iiiKinsey invented the term “S/M” (pronounced “ess-em”) as part of his group’s elaborate alphanumeric code for discussing sexual topics discretely. In 1952, Kinsey arranged a meeting between Steward and Mike Miksche, a freelance illustrator and erotic artist under the alias “Steve Masters”, as M (masochist) and S (sadist) respectively. Kinsey filmed this two-day encounter, the first homosexual encounter so recorded for the archives, as if documenting the mating habits of a rare species of lemur.iv (The film was financed by funds earmarked for “mammalian studies.”v)
Later in his life, Steward pursued many other men whom he hoped would be the “S” of his fantasies, often to great disappointment. Having to instruct the young hustlers sent by Chuck Renslow, Chicago-based publisher of beefcake magazines and owner of the Gold Coast leather bar, in how he was to be (mis)treated, Steward typed up a numbered “handout” which he had each new arrival read before the session. Titled “WHAT THIS PARTICULAR M LIKES”, it included instructions like “Please remember: his is your absolute slave” and “Piss in his mouth (a little, not too much…)” and “Give him a few whacks on the ass with your belt. Or use whip if one present.”vi Like Sacher-Masoch, Steward’s desires were so insistent he wanted nothing left to chance.
When leatherman culture began formalizing in the late 1950s, the aging Steward couldn’t adapt. His ambivalence about other homosexuals made him solitary and antisocial, and he believed that his desire, for rough, working-class or criminal-class, heterosexual men and sex that was always on the brink of real violence, could not be domesticated. He wrote an essay called “Pussies in Boots”:
An artificial hierarchy, a ritual, and a practice have been superimposed over a very real need of the human spirit [to locate that which is authentically masculine]… [but] the entire affair has become a ritual, a Fun and Games sort of thing, and in essence there is no difference today between a female impersonator or drag-queen and a leather-boy in full leather-drag. Both are dressing up to represent something they are not…
It is difficult to say at what point in such a “movement” the degeneration sets in, and the elements of parody and caricature make their first appearance. Perhaps the decay began when the first M decided that he, too, could wear leather as well as the big butch S he so much admired. And so he bought himself a leather jacket…vii
In Steward’s day, the closest thing to gay literature were hand-written or typewritten stories circulated in the homosexual underground. In America, no publisher or printer would touch the stuff. When Steward managed to get access to a hectograph, a device that could make maybe fifteen or twenty copies from a single master sheet, to reproduce his own stories, it was a huge leap forward.
Steward’s life also shows that what later generations of kinksters lionize as the “Old Guard” were once the new radicals.
iSteward, Samuel M. “Dr. Kinsey takes a peek at S/M: A reminiscence” in Thompson, Mark, ed. Leatherfolk: Radical Sex, People, Politics, and Practice. Alyson Publications, Inc., 1991 Pg. 83
iiSpring, 2010, Pg.102-103
iiiSpring, 2010, Pg.189
ivSteward, Leatherfolk, Pg.85-89
vSpring, Justin. Secret Historian: The life and times of Samuel Steward, professor, tattoo artist, and sexual renegade. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010 Pg.139
viSpring, 2010, Pg.288-289
viiSpring, 2010, Pg. 302
Weighing in at 6,100 words, “The Velvet Underground” covers roughly 1945-1970, including the gay male leather culture; the fetish porn production business centered around NYC with artists like John Willie, Eric Stanton and Gene Bilbrew and models like Bettie Page and Tana Louise; and a little bit about the contact-service-based heterosexual kink scene. I would like to do more about the heterosexual scene as it existed then, but I just don’t have the references yet. Thus, the chapter is a little shorter and rougher than I would like.
I want to cover Story of O (1954), but it doesn’t fit in a chapter largely about American pulp porn. I may need to do a chapter about high literary kink porn, like O and The Image.
The other problem I have to face is I kind of skipped over the 1910-1945 period, apart from a few bits in the fascism chapter, and I don’t have enough material to make a strong theme for a chapter. It would be a grab bag/”and then…” chapter. Friends have counseled me that it is better to admit the limited availability of source material and cover what I can than just skip over it.
Next up is chapter 10, roughly 1970 to 1990, which covers the first aboveground kink organizations and the articulation of the kink ethos; the professionalization of the kink porn industry; the punk-kink dialectic; and the influence on the mainstream, such as fashion and movies like Nine and a Half Weeks.
I think that pushing forwards to a complete draft by the end of the year might be feasible, but it has other values in that it shows me areas I need to research, and just having something I could show to prospective publishers with the caveat “It needs some work.”
It’s still a bit rough around the edges, but the first draft of chapter 6 is done (6,800 words). This was parts of another, very long chapter split into two, and covers things from the Victorian era like flagellation erotica, fetish letter columns and the flagellation culture of Eton. The remainder will go into chapter 7, with more Victoriana like Krafft-Ebing, Sacher-Masoch and the network of kinksters that coalesced around Richard Moncton-Milnes, later Lord Houghton. This probably won’t take long to get to first draft stage, just some reogan
I’m still not completely happy with the organization of these two chapters, and may reorganize them in a second draft. There’s a lot of information to cover, and it all interconnects in loose ways. Alan Moore, in the preface to From Hell, quoted somebody else as saying, “One measures a circle, starting anywhere.”
I’ve decided to press on instead of editing (or writing more blog posts), as I think it is more valuable to get a presentable complete draft finished than to refine. There are still areas I haven’t really begun to research.
I should also mention that my fiction short story “The Thing in the Printer” has been accepted by Ghostwoods Books for their Cthulhu Lives Lovecraftian horror anthology.
Perkins, Lori, ed. Fifty Writers on Fifty Shades of Grey. Benbella Smartpop, 2012 Amazon
Much like Christian Grey himself, the Fifty Shades trilogy is everywhere, overwhelming and relentless, dominating bestseller lists, metastatizing into countless imitators, and spawning an entire industry of gifts, CDs, boardgames and other branded merchandise, plus a feature film. Through sheer repetition and ubiquity, we find ourselves trying to accommodate it, even to make excuses for its flaws and offences. Some of the authors in this essay collection try too hard to put a positive spin on Fifty Shades. Even the collection’s editor, Lori Perkins, says:
Some have wondered how a “classic” can be so “poorly written.” But I contend that it is not poorly written, but rather written in an everywoman’s voice, a necessary part of its success I once worked with an author who used plebian language…. When she returned my edits, she told me that she did indeed know the word “simultaneously,” but when she was fantasizing, she always used the phrase “at the same time as,” and she knew that her readers did as well. [Pg.3]
EL James’ prose is not “plebian” or “in an everywoman’s voice”, it’s just plain bad. You don’t need an MFA to read or write good prose or hot prose.
(I’ve been ragging pretty hard on the Fifty Shades trilogy and related phenomenon. At more than a few social events for kinky people, I’ve gone on rants about my opinion of it to anyone who will listen, and a few who won’t. One friend called me on this and made a spirited defence of the series. I asked her if she wanted to do a guest post on the subject, and she obliged.)
So being a kinky person myself, enjoying and learning in my own journey of BDSM, I of course heard all kinds of negative comments about the 50 Shades books. I heard so much negativity in fact that I had no intention of reading the books. A friend of mine though had bought the books and so I decided to borrow at least the first one and see what I thought.
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.
Jay A. Gertzman’s article “1950s Sleaze and the Larger Literary Scene: The Case of Times Square Porn King Eddie Mishkin”, in eI15 fanzine, provides an intriguing glimpse into the proto-BDSM scene of 1950s America, particularly the previously mentioned publishing empire of Eddie Mishkin.
Mishkin employed fetish artists like Eric Stanton and Gene Bilbrew, as well as writers, some of whom wrote pornography under pseudonyms or house names to pay the bills while working on above-ground books or television.
According to a post on Vintage Sleaze, “Justin Kent” is a name that appeared on many American digests published in the 1950s, short novels with racy covers that promised more than they could deliver in terms of sex, bondage and sadomasochism. It was actually a pen name for an unsuccessful writer living in Harlem named Kenneth Johnson (possibly African American, but the record isn’t clear.) Johnson wrote at least ten digest novels, many with illustrations by Gene Bilbrew.