27 April, 2008

Meeting with BS 3

Returning now to matters more pleasantly esoteric...


Since a live feed had happened just the previous night the space was given over largely to sets and the scattered paraphernalia of what appeared to several womens' torture. The chair (the one desk chair that has ever appeared in Insex media) was positioned prominently, a mop leaned upon it and several coils of hemp rope stacked in its seat. Beneath the chair was a bundle of plastic wrap or bags shot through with black PVC tape, several latex gloves and other matted, damp-looking bits of detritus. Before the chair stood two Sony cams, partially disassembled with open cases between them. Emptied light stands and a boom were arrayed to one side and behind these a long table held piles of leather goods, rope, tape in various colors and widths, wooden and metal devices and copies of what I would come to learn were scripts. In a tall stock pot at least one insertable item presumably awaited boiling.

Shelves positioned back and away from the set overflowed with raw materials of all descriptions – wooden planks, wire, medical supplies and entire sides of latigo leather spilled off the upper reaches, while the lower slots held tubs of Neats Foot Oil, isopropyl alcohol and racks of hand tools. These later were clearly intended to be used in the darkest corner of the room where a lathe, a small band saw and a couple of other machine tools had been pushed together temporarily. On the lathe was the beginnings of a wooden pear gag which, when he showed it to me, PD allowed he was considering having manufactured in volume, likely as a plastic casting. The part on the lathe was an element of a prototype; the other bits stood carefully arranged on a nearby work stand, the hand-carved leaves impressing me greatly in their uniformity and excellent finish.

We talked throughout, PD throwing off references to authors and artists whose work he admired and from whom he took his inspiration. I observed that the pear reminded me of something I’d seen on Jeff Gord’s site and my host steered me immediately to another shelf containing dozens of volumes of the Gor series, a score of cheap Japanese trade shibari books (the first I’d ever seen), obscure Italian and French editions (Glittering Images?) on John Willie Coutts, Bettie Page, a army field surgical manual from the 1950s, a copy of Research (#49) featuring Fakir Musafar, and, most relevantly, a number of graphic books featuring the works of Simon Benson, Eneg, Jim and others. He flipped one open to a bookmark and pointed out a Benson image by which he and Jeff had likely been similarly inspired. PD heaped praise on House of Gord, the evil genius of its master and what he assumed must be Jeff’s minion, given the profligacy of mannered abominations issuing forth from that site, especially in the area of fornophilia. (editing note: I would later visit the Gord compound outside Seattle on a similar mission and learn that Jeff Gord does engineers and machines all the designs appearing on HoG almost entirely on his own).

Inspired upon learning of my interest in fornophilia, PD dropped the Benson book and made for a terminal. He opened a browser and typed in the URL www.b****s****.com and loaded the very first ShockWaved website I’d ever seen. A grid map of a gallery with an insect icon crawling around in it came first to the screen, and links opened into a crude virtual tour. It was very impressive.

“That’s you? You're BS?”

“That’s me, formally, maybe formerly.”

25 April, 2008


About an hour ago a judge in Queens County, City of New York, issued findings of not guilty of all charges against the three NYPD officers indicted in the shooting of Sean Bell in November 2006, during which the officers emptied nearly 50 rounds into the unarmed man and two of his unarmed friends. Bell died, the two friends survived and testified at the bench trial. Neither Bell nor his friends were suspected of any crime other than, incorrectly as it turns out, to be in possession of a weapon. Sean Bell was not the target of any investigation, nor was he of any prior interest to the police. He merely was in the right place at the right time for the incompetence that periodically manifests among New York’s “Finest” to end up played out on his person.

The particulars of the case are available elsewhere. Judge Arthur Cooperman’s verdict acquits Detectives Oliver and Isnora of manslaughter, assault and reckless endangerment. Detective Cooper was acquitted of reckless endangerment. The judge tellingly wrote that “incompetence is not the same thing as criminality”. The take-away here is manifold, but most saliently I understand the verdict to mean that NYPD officers are no more competent to deal with life-and-death situations than any citizen - life-and-death situations which often they, by dint of carrying death-dealing weapons, engender. As a point of law, at least in New York State, police officers are held to no higher standard than any other citizen in matters of lethal force.

Here’s an NYPD-approved competency test. Take your preferred index finger and rest it on the edge of a table. Flex your finger, say, 16 times and rest, taking a moment to use either hand to reach into any pocket quickly and remove it. Now put your finger on the table edge again and flex another 15 times. Take note of how long that took. That’s about how long it took Detective Oliver to determine he was firing on an unarmed man, despite his sufficiency of competence in reloading his semi-automatic weapon in the middle of the fray and finally loosening 31 of the 46 fatal shots, despite his sufficiency of instinct to preserve his own life and step aside from the car piloted by mortally injured Bell which Oliver testified went from a parked position to somehow bearing down on him and his colleagues at speed in the same span of time, such that, according to their testimony, the detectives were in fear for their lives.

Detective Oliver and his codefendants are able to offer as an affirmative defense to the charges that they were not heard when they identified themselves, that they were in fear for their lives, that they misjudged the presence of a weapon (although they testified that they could not see very well into the car). Their defense, in other words, amounts to a proclamation of gross lethal incompetence, endorsed by police department procedure (which permits the use of lethal force in indeterminate situations). Judge Cooperman affirmed this as a legitimate defense and acquitted, doing damage in my estimation to both the ideas of justice and the social contract.

Let’s not overlook in all of this that the prosecution, agents of the state just like police officers, presented their case ineptly, perhaps even incompetently. In no part of this fracas has any officer or agent of the state delegated with the responsibility and paid by the citizenry to do so protected from, or taken responsibility for, the danger they themselves present to lives of the citizenry.

And justice? While it’s clear who effected Sean Bell’s slaughter and the suffering of his compatriots, in Bush’s America persons sworn to uphold the law consider themselves neither responsible to it, nor subject to its adjudication. Makes sense, doesn’t it, in a trickle-down kind of way…

At this point you’ve doubtless wondered what all my high dudgeon has to do with BDSM, rope, etc. As horrified as I am by the facts and the entailments of this verdict, I’m reflecting on the matter of competence as it pertains to non-state actors such as myself, and I’m recalling a case in Seattle where an appellate court ruled that a defendant is not allowed to plead the competence of a partner to consent to a “forcible” rape scenario, the evidence for force having been rope and duct tape found at the scene. The State of Washington, in other words, says that you are not competent to consent to whatever you’re forced to do, and being tied up is enough to constitute force.

I’m obviously not all that familiar with case law on these issues, and I frankly don’t know how case rulings in New York State generally go (I suspect the constitutional scholar John Wirenius will have something to say about the Bell verdict, and it will be worth reading when he blogs it). I am familiar with a friend who suffered for years in court over what was essentially his incompetence at recognizing the forged ID of a 17-year-and-9-month-old model with whom he made nude pictures; the state in this case was tacitly requiring my friend to act as its agent in the interpretation and processing of state papers, the disposition of which being solely of interest to the state itself. My friend had made a good faith effort to indemnify himself, as he always does. The charges were reduced repeatedly from felonies to misdemeanors to a single misdemeanor, on which he accepted the bench ruling of guilty in order to have it removed from his record once the verdict had been entered (purely so the prosecution could get the conviction). In this instance there was competence demanded of someone who professed none and of whom no reasonable competence could be expected.

So, consider the fact that citizens who are ipso facto incompetent to take responsibility in loco parentis for big brother can, should it suit the state, be forced to have done so after the fact. Meanwhile, competence for determining one's own consent to certain behaviors can be conveniently excluded from admission in a court of law. In either instance no actual harm or coercion need be demonstrated by the state.

On the other hand, in an instance of actual and irreversible harm, namely a completely blameless man was wrongly killed by agents of the state, incompetence is conveniently claimed as an affirmative defense, goes unassailed by the prosecution, and is affirmed by the presiding magistrate as legitimate. Police officers can irresponsibly gun down citizens, and this is not a crime because legally the police are as free as you or me to be incompetent, i.e., at the pleasure of the state.

What, apparently, we are not free to be is competent in any intelligible sense of that idea. A competent citizenry would not consent to legitimized police incompetence.

16 April, 2008

More Restrained Feelings

My sense of shame about sex generally has pretty much abated entirely. As I believe I've noted elsewhere, our household is abundantly revelatory of our interests (editing note - not yet on this blog... maybe someday), and all who visit are welcome to inquire after what they find there. My mother has considered at length artwork hanging in our bedroom that tells a fairly unmistakable story, but she keeps to herself her understandings (thus furthering the example she and my father set early on). With respect to anyone else, my enthusiasm to engage fully both the matter at hand and my interlocutor's interest diffuses much negative judgment. In the main, I've more reason to be pleased than not with the reception of my sexuality, and am ever more delighted to be blessed with a diversified portfolio of erotic interests and capacities.

When speaking of BDSM I am always referring exclusively to consensual activity. As in any economic activity, if two parties understand and agree to the terms of a transaction, the transaction is legitimate and its tenor is positive. If one party does not agree or breaks with the terms of the transaction, consent no longer obtains and the tenor is negative. Non-consensual activities are not properly to be referred to as BDSM in my book.

Since I consider BDSM definitionally positive, (somewhat boring, I realize, as a response to your question), I'll tell you something about what I think BDSM offers its practitioners. I believe the extensional world (i.e., the one available to our senses) to be but a small portion of what ultimately is. Proceeding from Heisenberg and Bohm in physics, Plato, Santayana and Nietzsche in philosophy, and Eliade and Campbell in the study of mystical traditions, there is always much around me to recommend the view that the varieties of human experience are practically unlimited, and that inquiry into the contemplative splendors of what lies beyond this realm is not merely edifying, but perhaps even ennobling regardless of outcomes - actually, the outcome of life is death, so in the end we all come to wisdom, don't we?

I enclose an excerpt from a presentation I gave to a lifestyle group not too long ago on shibari (Japanese-style bondage) and the link through BDSM to ultimate principles:

The idea of the monad, or the unbroken continuity between apparently discrete phenomena is axiomatic to Buddhist thought since at least the time of Bodhidharma (about 500AD), and is well developed in other eastern traditions. Consider the Hindu idea of the veil of Maya, before which we labor with the problem of duality. Behind the veil, there is no separation and what we think is duality is revealed to be an illusion. Whereas the separation from ultimate principles is believed to be a fact in western ontologies, eastern disciplines stress only the illusion of separation overlaying the fact of unity. To the eastern mind, the same energy flows through all apparently individuated things, as, for example, revealed in the meridian systems of oriental medicine or the patterns of Shinto Kagura dance. Open, boxy, and irregular shibari architecture plays with this assumed inter-penetration of energies across dimensions, crossing and rearranging conventional human postures and affording the possibility of a look into ultimate principles. That it becomes in the making highly erotic only compounds its force and potentials while syncretizing it with the mandates of biology. The classic M-jo character in Japan thus goes relatively willingly into her restraint and, while not necessarily embracing her suffering, accepts it as consistent with the pain of illusion such as we know on this side of the veil. Although Zen does not allow much about the antecedent Hindu concept of Maya, it does (through the Chinese Buddist Wu) specify Satori as the endpoint of suffering wherein the truth of unity is made manifest to the spirit.

Of course, all of this is available to the western bondage practitioner too, and it could easily be said that the rope top is performing a kind of priestly function in either case. The overwhelming emphasis on resistance to being restrained in the popular conception of bondage in the west, as opposed to ready yielding characterizing the eastern conception, is, I think, consistent with much larger mytho-poetic, and hence social constructs inhering in both. It may be difficult to describe what the salient differences are between eastern and western traditions in bondage (I mean, hands get tied behind the back in both cases), but it becomes easier when we couch our interest more broadly in the two worldviews.

Feelings, Nothing More than Feelings...

My notes on Insex are still scattered hither and yon, so while I enslave appeal to my erstwhile adjutant to get things properly ordered I present here the next bit of thread in the developing 20 questions yarn; I am most appreciative of your kind indulgence...

  • How did you feel about yourself when you first started having BDSM interests?

  • How did you feel about yourself once you started engaging in BDSM behaviors?

  • How do you feel about your current BDSM interests?

  • What do you feel are the positive and/or negative aspects of BDSM, if any?
I remember quite clearly having standard issue American shame with respect to sex generally, and since my earliest BDSM inklings (however uncategorized as such) were definitely erotic, they were tainted by association.

I don't attribute my youthful sense of shame to my parents' influence so much as to the callous treatment of intimacy in our culture. While American culture, with its emphasis on the individual, descends from a kernel of puritanical reactionaryism, my home life as I came into my adulthood was socially fairly progressive. My father was a psychiatric social worker (M.SW) and my mother holds advanced degrees in biology and instruction (M.S., M.Ed). Both my parents descend from the Nordic race and are otherwise pure Yankee of the rock-ribbed variety. My mother's tribe dates back to the founding days of the Rebublic and turns up in Gateway Families (the Library of Congress' gigantic flow chart of American familial lines that predate the Revolution), and my father's forebears date back only two generations prior from Sweden (what would become in 1905 Norway). Both mother and father had from their own upbringings every impetus to embrace conservative (even primitive) values; they strayed, staging their own reaction, as it were, and their parents, my grandparents, were not happy about it.

That fact was something of which I became aware only upon entering my teen age, when certain disjuncts between the dispositions of generations other than my own became apparent. Discussions of human spiritual, psychic and physical functioning was de rigour and often very frank at the family dinner table, whereas my parent's counsel was always to temper our youthful enthusiasm when visiting their parents. Notwithstanding, both of my parents were economically conservative much like their elders and in my idealistic years we were wont to have fairly robust disagreements. For the usual reasons young people believe such things, I thought it more just that the state balance its citizens' checkbooks (a belief I did not abandon entirely until my taxpayer status changed to self-employed, and ironically I now live in the triple-tax oppressed City of New York (quadruple, really, for in addition to paying NYC's income tax I pay the unincorporated business tax as well).


Thus were my parents very strongly in favor of their children and people generally being free (and responsible) to pursue their own happiness as long as such happiness did not interfere with others' freedoms to do the same. In the same frame, however, they both promulgated to their kids a sense for social cohesion and political responsibility that by itself would yield advantages to the whole as well as the individual, i.e., a well ordered and functional social unit is capable of accomplishing more than scattered individual self interest.

With the exception of the "birds and bees" conversations in which both mother and father participated separately and together, sexual subjects in our household were treated objectively or theoretically. One's own proclivities one did not trot out to polite company, less so because of the possibility of giving offense (as I recall mostly from my father's political constitution) than because tipping one's hand sacrificed certain tactical advantages. This I think is characteristic of WASPishness generally, although all of the good poker players I know are either Catholic or Jewish. I myself am merely scratch.

The keeping of my sexual consciousness to myself dovetailed, however, very neatly into received American attitudes about sex and personal revelation. I have considered that shame is a very effective means of treating prophylactically the vulnerability implied in the absolutist form of individualism that underlies our American moral and economic life. In the American/puritan Weltanschauung, there is no group to mediate one's application to God for salvation; you're on your own, so to speak, and completely vulnerable to failure (and damnation - I mean, imagine the lot of the early Calvinists). If we do not show ourselves completely, we preserve the power we have and which we believe to be otherwise scarce. Shame works in puritanical cultures because it enforces conformity and prevents cultural dissipation. In a way I bought into this, but less through the mechanism of shame than through a consciousness of the fact that keeping my business to myself afforded me an advantage. This is abundantly clear to me in my roll as a top.

11 April, 2008

Meeting with BS, 2

“Mac! You’re early, fucker.” That much I remember verbatim. (The next bit I don’t think I’m making up, but I scribbled down something to the effect of) “Too bad about last night. You would have been a good distraction for the girls.”

In any case, for openers he didn’t do half badly.

PD stepped back, took my hand in a surprisingly weak but perhaps just early-morning grip and ushered me into his vaulted atelier of dangerous ecstasies. Directly in front of me was an impressive video editing suite, the screens of which were variably papered with images of (enslaved.com’s) Paige White’s extremities sunken in the sands of Muir Beach with driftwood occupying both her ends of her alimentary canal, and a terminal set-up with less obviously interesting data scrolling lazily upward. I would learn two things shortly; first, how to make an anal hook and a bit gag from found objects (and how the two relate), and second, Insex’s rate of customer acquisition.

Before becoming educated, however, PD and I exchanged pleasantries, starting with the disarming mutual admission that the matter of how to handle my interest in investing in Insex was a mystery to us. I allowed that I’d never done anything like what I was proposing, and PD allowed that neither he nor his partners had ever imagined taking in outside capital. We were both immediately more at ease since there were no longer any expectations of a right way to go about our business, should it happen we would end up having any to do together. His suggestion for the time being was to “fuck that’ and show me around the space, which was more compact than seeing it on screen had led me to expect. For a New York studio it was still substantial, but PD’s inventiveness and the place’s own rustic qualities had impressed me remotely as endless. Just another trompe-l'œil of which I’d learn there were legion.

(As the critic Kenneth Tynan once wrote of Marlene Dietrich, the art is in the seeming)

Comity vs. Demagoguery

A canny contextualization of the Eliot Spitzer fracas appears in this morning's New York Observer. I was moved to make the following riposte:

Calculating political ledger balances and earnest pieties about children and families miss, I think, an important point - that in 21st c. America a toxic synthesis of legalism and puritanism has been weaponized, and even its engineers cannot contain its effects.

My heart does not bleed for Spitzer, Vitter, Gingrich, Haggard, Clinton, Baker, Foley, Swaggert, Chenoweth, Schlessinger and all the other zealots and demagogues who have been water-boarded in their own War on Nature. For the rest of us just being left unmolested by self-righteous busybodies and eagerly metastasizing bureaucracies to interact simply, peacefully and prosperously as a common weal has become the new political ideal.

As it is most of the worst offenders walk or ride out the du jour factor in scandals.

04 April, 2008

Meeting with BS

I was reminded recently by a correspondent and fellow blogging top of an episode from a few years back by which I shifted from being solely a supporter and patron of other people's creative aspirations to my current evolutionary phase - that of responsible agent.

It's very much in vogue to refer to erotic rope bondage as an art these days, and to pin the sobriquet "artist" on those who do the tying. I was reluctant for years to assume that mantle, other than as an expedient for what ever else I might have called my ropework, and in order to escape acknowledging myself as an artist. I was (and am) very caught up in complex ideas about art, art making and aesthetics, and am arrogantly wont to discount received wisdom about such subjects or to distance my ideas and works from inclusion under their rubrics, up to and including reflexive references to my creative output as art or myself-as-maker an artist. Not that I have anything like a fully formed rubric under which to cast my own creative impulses, but I thought I did at least know that no one else's were any good.

In 1999 I met someone who in his own accomplishments and disposition toward rope evinced to me that my self-righteousnessness was not only self defeating, but utterly contrary to the spirit of erotic bondage. The spirit... that was a new idea to me. My fellow top made no grandiose pronouncements nor observations regarding his or my own attitude; I inferred the possibility of a spirit of bondage from what he conveyed to me through his works, which were by that time not inconsiderable and had taken many forms in many venues. The latest of these venues was a wildly successful website. Others had included gallery shows and academic installations, both of which had, in the public reaction to them, apparently driven him out of a respectable middle-class existence and onto the web.

Of course I resisted what I was learning and it was some time after that meeting that I began to see the convergence of my own passions into something like a unified field of endeavoring, which I had learned from the example of this man was possible. 1999 was when I started to get over my own preciousness and out of my own artistic way. It would still be many years before I would be able to completely swallow that I was doing art.

I'm not much for keeping diaries or journals, but I did spend the entirety of a train trip from New York to Albany penning notes about my meeting with this fellow, which I have transcribed and augmented in the following posting and some several to come. I'll take a break from the interview transcripts for the time being and log the content of these near-decade old notes, if for no other reason than to get them on the record. My initial purpose, in fact, in writing this blog was to provide myself a linear structure in which to organize and refine these stray inspirations concerning the experience of beauty and its intersection with my erotic will.


The trip up from Princeton was mercifully fast and in my fatigue I was still able to distinguish between Penn Station in Newark and Penn Station in Manhattan, detraining at the former. Having been out of NYC for all these years had only enhanced the anxiety even a long experienced traveler might feel when embarking with the city’s mass transit from an unknown corner. Finding the PATH train in Newark to the WTC in New York to then switch for a quick uptown jot on the A or C was as good as navigating in a foreign language to me.

It was 11p when I came up in the World Trade Center’s soaring atrium and asked a guard for the nearest public phone. I dialed the number PD had given me via email and got him after a couple of rings. There was clearly audible activity in the background (of the sort I recognized from watching Insex Livefeeds) and I suddenly felt very privileged. Where others had to upload their interaction using kludgey dial-up connections, I was on the Batphone. PD was enthused for my call and suggested that I come immediately to the studio. It was, he said, just across the river. With a feeling of regret (that has only grown over the years) I begged off. Finding my friends’ apartment in the mid-night abandoned lower reaches of Manhattan would be about as much as I thought I could handle – more subways, more rivers, Brooklyn, of all places… when I had left New York in the mid 80s, nice people did not venture into Brooklyn in broad daylight, much less in the middle of the night.

I got directions on the F line out to York Street for the following day. PD and I determined to meet at the highly unreasonable hour of 9a, for he would have a shoot to prepare for in the afternoon. We would have breakfast, talk money, look at figures.

When finally I bedded down on my friend’s creaky vinyl couch at midnight my last thoughts were of my due diligence and whether I’d be able to write the check the next day if I were sufficiently convinced. Did I have enough ready capital for the percentage I needed in order to make it worth getting involved? I knew from my own participation in Livefeeds that Insex had a big, rabidly active following, and that what they were doing was revolutionary (pornographically, erotically and even sociologically). I imagined membership in the hundreds, monthly cash flow to be in the tens of thousands and margins to be pretty healthy. What sort of financials was it reasonable to request of a porn operator if you’re thinking of investing in their operation?

I came above ground at York Street and marveled at the weight of the Manhattan Bridge over my head, turned right and followed the span down into the then still disreputable district called Dumbo. I was just a bit early and so I walked around the giant, sagging warehouse where I was to seek out the Big Worm Productions buzzer, once, that is, I had found the main entrance. There were innumerable decrepit steel doors girded round the building, none of them marked or particularly distinguishable as a main entrance. As I passed by one with more than its fair share of band stickers a woman emerged from behind the battered metal and I ducked in behind her. I clambered my way first over bags of garbage and then up several flights of a decaying stairwell to where a small paper sign with “BWP-Intersec” scrawled on it marked the landing I wanted and pointed me around the peripheral hall to a corner door. I buzzed, waited, buzzed again, heard some shuffling and was presently greeted by a bespectacled, berobed and bed-faced visage I took a moment to recognize.

“Mac! You’re early, fucker.”