The Last Two Centuries of SM

From Chapter 2: Past Life

Originally published in Lavender #287 (May 26, 2006)


The image was arresting. On the screen, in black and white, a naked woman was bent over a fainting couch while a naked man was poised to swing a switch at her buttocks.


What made the image more arresting was the fact that it was from the 1800s. And the man was, as they might have said in the nineteenth century, in full arousal.


Thus began “History of the Development of Sadomasochism in Twentieth Century America,” one of the final presentations of the tenth annual Leather Leadership Conference (LLC) in New York in April.


One of the presenters was Robert Bienvenu, Ph.D., a sociologist who wrote his doctoral thesis on the development of SM as a cultural style in the nineteenth and twenties centuries. The other presenter was Chuck Renslow, a man who lived (and made) some of the history Bienvenu included in that doctoral thesis.



One’s Kinky, the Other One Isn’t

From Chapter 4: Married Life (and other relationships)

Originally published in Lavender #169 (November 2, 2001)


Can this relationship be saved?


Dear Mr. Leather Columnist, Sir: I’ve just fallen head-over-heels for a real dreamboat. He’s charming, intelligent, and kind, and I think he’s equally smitten with me. But as far as I can determine he’s completely, relentlessly vanilla. I, on the other hand, have a closetful of leather and a bulging toy bag. Oh, and they sing “Hello, Dolly” when I walk into the Eagle.


Should I tell him about my interest in leather? If so, how? Or should I even be pursuing a relationship with him? Is it possible to make a relationship work when one member of a couple is into leather and the other isn’t? Do leather and vanilla mix?


Should you tell this seemingly vanilla person that you’re kinky? Suppose you do, and the other person is horrified; it’s probably better that you discover this incompatibility before investing a great deal of time and energy in a relationship that might be derailed when your interests come to light. On the other hand, the other person might say something like “Oh, thank goodness, so am I! I was wondering how I was going to tell you.” In that case, you can take the discussion to the next stage: “Are you a top, bottom or switch?”


A third possible response, of course, is an even-handed “I’m not into that, but it’s not a problem if you are.” Before you let your hopes be dashed because the other person doesn’t share your leather interests, consider that they may have an interest that you don’t share—opera, for example. If the rest of the ingredients for a relationship are there, what’s to say it can’t work? Maybe they wouldn’t be averse to at least seeing what goes on in a dungeon, and you actually might enjoy “Carmen.”



An Evening at The Minneapolis Eagle

From Chapter 7: Night Life

Originally published in Lavender #216 (September 5, 2003)


Let’s continue our journey into leather culture by visiting one of the places from which the leather community sprang: a bar.


Since The Minneapolis Eagle opened five years ago, I’ve heard many men say something like this: “Well, I’ve tiptoed up to the Eagle and stuck my nose in, but I could never actually go in there!” Evidently, quite a few Lavender Magazine readers have actually “gone in there,” and they liked it so much they chose The Minneapolis Eagle as “OutStanding Bar to Meet Men.”*


For many years bars have been an important social center for the gay male community. Gay bars were a safe place, a shelter from the outside world, where people could be themselves without fear of harassment. Bars were places to meet people of like mind, to converse, to dance, to watch a drag show or other entertainment, to cruise (or just to people-watch), or to hook up for a night or a lifetime. Bars were our turf, our territory.


For the gay male leather/biker community that evolved after World War II, bars filled the same purposes, and still fill them today.



No More Toxic Toys

From Chapter 11: Healthy Life

Originally published in Lavender #311 (April 27, 2007)


The Coalition Against Toxic Toys (CATT) wants you to know that toys can be hazardous to your health.


And they aren’t talking about the kind of toys that come in a Happy Meal.


Based in Minneapolis, CATT is a nonprofit consumer advocacy and education organization dedicated to ending the manufacture, distribution and retail sale of toxic sex toys. The coalition is allied with Smitten Kitten, a retailer of sex-related goods that prides itself on not selling toys that are toxic to people or to the environment.


Far from being the small, fringe industry of yesteryear, adult sex toys today are a $500,000 industry in the United States alone. The largest market for them is middle-class couples, 35 and older, in a committed relationship.


But this huge market is for the most part unregulated. Medical devices, teething rings for baby and even your dog’s chew toy are regulated by the US Consumer Products Safety Commission. These products can be made only from materials that are certified as safe and pose no health threats.


But dildos, vibrators, cock rings and other adult sexual paraphernalia receive almost no regulation or oversight at all. No government agency is responsible for ensuring that the toys in the drawer of your bedside table are safe and don’t contain hazardous materials. Adult toys avoid regulation by being labeled “for novelty use only.” (Translation: these are gag gifts to be giggled at, not to be put to any actual use. You want to do what with it? Oh, we won’t take any responsibility if you do that.)


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