01 June, 2008

Notes from the Hermitage

This is picking up on the thread with which I started this blog of a lengthy email interview I did with a sociologist a while back. As I am just returned from travels (during which the last two posts went up automatically) it’s convenient to have something, in effect, already written, as it may be from time to time in the future. There’s still plenty left to this interview, so I’ll be posting the preserved hanks of it at times when there’s nothing fresh in the larder.

I know I will be receiving some energized mail for this post, and I would be indebted to those of you moved to write if you would post your rejoinders in the comments area where they may spur further discussion. Thanks.


I am very interested in further information regarding the politics of BDSM organizations. Specifically, I'm interested in the hierarchies of which I have some vague understanding. I'm talking about the individuals (or maybe the areas of interest in BDSM) that appear to reign king/queen and those who would be considered "lesser than". For example, who are the elites of the groups and what kind of people are criticized. I know there is one guy in Dallas who a few others said (in a derogatory tone) that he will let anyone spank him. He walked around just asking any and everyone to do so. So, I saw this hierarchy operating even before I began the interviews. What can you explain to me about the hierarchies that you observe? It isn't at all clear to me, but surely there are groups or individuals who reap greater status than some others.

With some consideration, I'm afraid I'll be of little help to you in this matter of the social hierarchies in BDSM. As you know, I (along with nearly all of my partners) participate outside the established scene. I do rarely link up with a woman who is on the board of one of our local organizations, and have from her some insight about the formally structured hierarchies, but I gather that is not quite your interest.

With said friend I did recently deliver a demonstration for the organization she helps direct, with her as my bottom. It was offered through the bondage special interest group, which is one of many SIGs organized by the membership. Our outing was very well attended, which I assumed originally had to do with the tricky inverted suspension we had advertised, and discussion following went on well past the alloted time. My friend corrected my perception later in noting that the outsized interest was engendered chiefly by my outsider status.

That I do not circulate in the club or organizational scene could add something, I think, to my currency in the NY kinky milieu. The partners whom I've introduced to the scene apparently enjoy greater cache owing, perhaps, to a subtle prejudice in favor of sexually independent and self-actualized women that both women and men in the scene deploy happily (for different reasons, of course). The woman who does not need because she already has is the stuff of which many Hollywood legends are built (think Dietrich, Monroe, & co.). Of course, the attraction is often quickly overlaid with envy or jealousy ere long, but the root fascination remains.

The self-actualization of peripheral pervs is communicated in terms of scarcity, which prompts me to speculate that another prejudice that lurks in the organized scene has to do with joining the organized scene itself, which is ipso facto expressive of a need for partners, and that need conveys weakness. It is, again, a way of wearing who one is on one's sleeve and sacrificing thereby certain tactical advantages. A woman I play with who lives in Oakland, CA used to work for Midori (The Seductive Art of Japanese Bondage, Grove, 2001), arguably the most active BDSM educator and presenter in the world. Observing that San Francisco has a lively leather scene, I asked which venues Midori prefers in her home town, to which my friend replied "Mac, be serious. You know the club scene. If she started showing up in clubs, that'd be the end of her speaking career."

In the BDSM scene, first among sacrificed advantages when one shows up publicly is mystery (a compelling quality, kinky or otherwise). BDSM refracts all manner of power expressed and exchanged between participants; minor defects of confidence or character that might be politely indulged in vanilla social settings (or even celebrated in certain therapeutic contexts) are often amplified in BDSM to the status of pathology when grafted to a particularly bizarre kink (which is, of course, any kink that is not my kink). Thus, as doubtless you've noticed, kinky folks are by and large a very well-mannered lot.

My egalitarian instinct recognizes the unfairness of this, the double standard, as it were, but the biological essentialist in me recognizes the pattern as natural. There is an incentive and opportunity, however, for people who labor with deficiencies in the confidence area to get a grip on their inhibitions and/or awkwardness, for once they have joined they find themselves in a setting where their peculiar fancies might finally find succor. While shyness inside an actual scene may be just the thing the script calls for, shyness in public, non-scene space is looked upon as a form of withholding as it might be in any social setting. There are many incentives to get out of one's own way in the organized scene; like in so many other areas of life, those who give of themselves fully (whatever it is that they have to give) enjoy generally greater status for being happier and freer people, and the same folks tend to attract attention more suited to their liking. In the scene, as elsewhere, givers gain.

That said, and at the risk of generalizing, I recognize the fellow in Dallas of whom you wrote, or I should say I recognize his type. Often, humiliation and rejection is a part of scene energy, and many are the players who will haunt the ranks affirming themselves accordingly. If this fellow's entire MO is to prostrate himself before any and all plaintively seeking intimacy, that may very well be exactly what he needs to get off. He may in fact rue the actual spankings he receives; the contempt and scorn of his peers seems as likely to me to be the instrumentality of his kink as you describe it.

Of course I'm speculating in respect to this case, but if I'm failing to describe a particular Dallas spankee, I'm describing any number of other kinky people. I am acquainted with a fellow who happens to work in my profession, but in a much more public capacity with a large investment bank. He is responsible for some 100+ analysts and makes pronouncements that affect the stock price of companies and the livelihoods of thousands. Last year, he announced that his firm would drop coverage of a large employer that had fallen on hard times, and that same company (upon having seen it's stock price drop by half) sold off a division shortly thereafter. The new European owners promptly laid off all employees (500+) and moved operations to India. My acquaintance is single, straight, handsome, 50ish, and spends the occasional weekend evening as a sissy maid crawling about the floor at private parties having his entreaties to lick women's boots rebuked. He is, of course, invited to these gatherings and a welcome feature of the proceedings. His role, however, could not be much more debased. As cliché as it might sound, his is not an unusual phenomenon; he suggests that this activity brings balance to his life (although his kink did cost him his marriage). For his part, he does not get what I do at all, finding bondage tedious and complicated (not an uncommon sentiment for those who are impatient for intensity). We agree, however, on the pleasures of keeping largely to ourselves.

As usual, you have a windy answer to a fairly straightforward question. In a nutshell, I would have to say that the elites in the formal scene are often not what they appear to be, and that they are often considered elite for not appearing at all.


Deity said...

I think you hit on it (after all of your well-intentioned and articulated long-windedness *wink*) with the quote from your San Francisco-based friend about Midori. She excels at educating folks in the scene, but she herself would not last as a pseudo-celebrity should she try to imbibe in the scene.

You know my own personal takes on the SM scene, as i've mentioned to you many times before. It largely makes me feel out of place and awkward. I don't see myself when i attend play parties. I don't see someone who remotely ressembles or comes off like me. And for that matter, nor do i see someone who strikes a similarity to my girl, and that really causes a social amputation of me from my ability to enjoy the expression of my kink.

All this leads me to question what it is we're attempting to do in this online portal. Because as i've found, and i'm sure you have as well, there seems to be a scene here too that we're tacitly participating if by just allowing blogger to list our sites in among the roster of others.

Mac K. said...

Hi Deity,

Heh. There's nothing half so edifying as being hoisted by one's own petard, is there?

It may be that this quasi-anonymous forum is merely extending the arm's length relationship I maintain with the organized scene - I can act unilaterally within this realm and all comers opt in consciously, getting for their decision only my terms as unambiguously stated as I'm able. A form of scene-space, perhaps (wherein Blogger is the DM).