Monthly Archives: January 2013

Roles and Reals

In a famous passage Sartre discusses the behavior of the stereotypical French waiter. Waiters in France are expected to behave in a very specific way, they have a specific role in the play being enacted at the dinner. This role is to be as faceless and robotic as possible, as much an automaton as they can be (in contrast to the American waiter, for instance, who is expected to portray a generic friendliness). However anyone experiencing the French waiter’s behavior is quickly aware that it is put on, that behind it there is a person who would behave very differently if you met them after they clocked out for the day. And this immediate awareness of the real human being behind the automaton comes about precisely through the waiters over identification with the role, the exaggeratedness of their playing of it. Through a twist in our perception their apparent over identification with what is after all only a job role exposes the gap between the facade and the real person.


The converse of this is the British or American lawyer or chartered accountant, who through a touch of sarcasm and self deprecation here and there (the lawyer that occasionally tells lawyer jokes, for instance) lets you know that they aren’t a “generic” lawyer or accountant but “themselves as” a lawyer or accountant. Despite the appearance of not “fully” identifying as their job role, this mode of behavior betrays their real self-identification with the role and their enjoyment of the prestige and respect they feel it affords them. A correlate of this is that they find it far more difficult to “drop” that role in a situation where it’s inappropriate (for example, I’ve taken precisely that type of person, a CFO, to a Rancid concert and observed their discomfort at not being able to adapt to a situation where their “being a CFO” is entirely irrelevant).


This relates to people in 24/7 M/s or D/s relationships in a unique way. By virtue of the intent of the initial role adoption (as a Master/Dominant or slave/submissive) to be 24/7, i.e. to be “really” who and how they are, rather than playing a role for employement and dropping it the instant they “clock out” (or in this case are not “in public”), the “bad faith” that Sartre identifies the waiter as having avoided through exaggeration is inverted. The “slavelier than thou” slave or “domlier than thou” Master are the ones that betray a lack of self-identification with the role they are in, and since the claim is that that is who they are, they are in bad faith in the Sartrean sense. Conversely those that tend to understate their role, self-deprecate their ability in the role, are precisely playing “themselves as” a Master or slave, and as a result the self-identification is genuine and over time becomes more so. They are a Master/Dominant or slave/submissive in full good faith.


To some degree, then, anyone new to living in this manner is liable to be a bit more “over the top” than someone who has, over time, more fully identified with the role by making that role their own in their own way. But genuine self-identification is by no means an automatic thing that occurs over time, and as a result, as with the waiter or the lawyer examples, can be used as a rough guide as to how “genuine” a given person is in their claims as to who they are and how they live.

The History of the Fetish Scene and Power Dynamic Relationships, Part One

The History of the Fetish Scene and Power Dynamic Relationships, Part One

Since the fetish scene in various guises has a much longer history, and therefore much of the information about the early origins is vague at best, I’ll do what I can to get across my understanding both of it and of the power dynamic relationship subculture within it.

BDSM itself as a sexual activity (as opposed to a punishment-based activity), the adoption of “fetishisistic” dress, and the beginnings of consensual power dynamic relationships in the west arose at approximately the same time, shortly after the Renaissance in 16th Century Europe. Within the upper and upper-middle classes, dissatisfaction with the sexuality involved in arranged marriages, together with a more restrictive societal outlook on extramarital sexuality, led to the notion of “courtly love” as a higher (but socially deviant) form of sexuality than marriage. A small subculture that self-identified by dressing in a more outrageous manner than the society around them began holding social events where those involved in sexual relationships that were not socially acceptable could socialize with their chosen partners rather than their official partners. The infliction of pain as a sexual act became common at some of these gatherings. Partly due to the danger of being involved in unsanctioned sexuality “courtly love” adopted as part of its definition a loyalty and obedience requirement that went far beyond the marriage requirements at the time.

These types of gatherings continued through the 1700’s, with the dress adopted becoming more individualistic in line with the increasing notion of individualism in general society. The religious turmoil of the 1700’s, with the combination of a new puritanism on the one side (Calvinism) and atheism on the other led to greater extremes of behavior which was reflected in the sexual behavior at these underground gatherings. This continued into the 1800’s, when the extremes of BDSM itself were codified by various authors including de Sade and Sacher-Masoch. The term “pervert” was itself defined by 19th century psychologists, referring to those who insisted on actualizing fantasies proscribed by “decent” society. Fantasies such as vampirism became common themes within the scene, as the scene both influenced and was then influenced by the Romantic movement in the arts. The late 19th Century “decadent” scene exemplified by figures such as Aubrey Beardsley was the public’s main “look in” to the largely private and still largely illegal scene.

By the early 1900’s there were permanently established (although member’s only) BDSM/fetish clubs in the world’s major urban centers, such as London and Paris. The outbreak of the first world war, the subsequent mess in the 1920’s and 1930’s, followed by the second world war forced most of this activity back underground. It reemerged publicly in the 1950’s in London, Paris and Berlin with private activity occurring elsewhere. It’s association with the “mod” style in the late 50’s and 60’s and their loose association to the beatnik scene in the US helped to fuel a similar scene in North America.

By the 1980’s the fetish scene, at that point strongly affiliated with the goth scene (itself heavily influenced by the more outrageous dress from the 19th Century back to the Renaissance) was extremely influential in terms of the dress style of musicians from Bauhaus and the Sisters of Mercy to Propaganda and even, eventually, Madonna.

Throughout this history the original framework of courtly love had itself adopted more and more extreme forms which would be seen today as D/s or M/s relationships.

The History of the Fetish Scene and Power Dynamic Relationships, Part Two

During the 1980’s the combination of the large numbers of non-leather gays in the fetish scene and the adoption of leather dress as one type of fetish look, together with the shared practice of BDSM and the slow emergence of leather groups themselves from secrecy created an intermingling of the two scenes. This was furthered by the greater acceptance of women and straight members in the leather groups themselves. Since, out of necessity, the leather groups were generally better organized the resulting mixture became known as the “leather community”. The public clubs that arose (the largest currently being the Antichrist club in London) still generally enforce a strong fetish dress code that ironically is more latex and rubber oriented than leather oriented, although both permanent clubs and special club nights at other locations often combine the terms as fetish/leather.

During the same period Renaissance Fairs and Festivals began to provide a “fetish-light” experience for a larger audience, and there remains a fair amount of crossover.

As a result of both the public clubs / club nights and the presence of fetish paraphernalia at Renaissance festivals there is more of a public awareness of the scene than in the past. The public “caricature” of the fetish/leather scene is still largely goth oriented in terms of style, and within the public’s perception of straight fetish people the dominatrix is a much more acceptable figure than the dominant male, who raises too many associations with spousal abuse with the general public.

The dominatrix as a character has been known since the publication of Sacher-Masoch’s work in the 19th Century, however the male dominated power dynamic became more common during the 20th Century, mainly because male dominated relationships ceased to be the norm with the rise of feminism, and as deviant were forced into the “alternative lifestyle” space.

The growth of the internet, of course, spread knowledge of this scene from the major centers to smaller locales, and simultaneously changed much of the terminology used differently in different places. For instance, until the 1990’s M/s was generally a term for a play-oriented relationship in Europe, while D/s referred to relationships that realized the fantasy in a more permanent and consistent way. The influence of North Americans via the internet switched this terminology around, such that D/s now meant a less extreme relationship than M/s. Knowledge of BDSM as a whole spread initially via Usenet and later via more user friendly boards, and the skills involved in pain play became coveted skills far from the major centers in which they originated.

Subject-Object vs Topological Sexuality

In the subject-object mode of sexuality (or subject-subject, it means the same since the “other” is treated as objectively present, whether they’re referred to as another subject or not), there’s a masculine and feminine way of experiencing sex, which are very different from each other.  The masculine means of “objectifying” the other and subjectivizing themselves – experiencing sex from the perspective of the “I”, not the Self, is really masturbation with someone else there as a prop.  The feminine means is to experience it as a narrative.  Perhaps it sounds harsh to say that the common feminine experience of sex relationally is primarily as something to be discussed afterwards, but even though they may enjoy the sex at the time as well, that enjoyment itself contains an element of narrative distance, as if they are already observing the act and turning it into a story.  Some men of course experience things in the feminine manner and vice versa.  You’ll notice that ‘feminine’ types who experience sex in that way are the ones who take up the most space (almost all of it) online whether on BDSM or on vanilla relationship sites.
Beginning with a fantasy explicitly though can result in a different reality.  The a priori fantasy removes the “I-subject” as the focus of the experience, hence there is often tendency to talk in third person because somehow saying “I” feels odd, while saying “me” doesn’t, but where “me” doesn’t grammatically fit using third person is the only available option.  But this provides the possibility for each to experience sex topologically, not relationally, from the places they occupy in the fantasy, and the resulting real situation, the resulting shared Self, arises out of being in those places.  The is also a more intense experience, because it’s not an experience of doing something with or to an “other” that is irreconcilably distant, but an experience of a shared being-together enacting the very means by which that sharing arises.
If the RPG player is more themselves in their fantasy character than in the person they play in “real life”, the BDSM play scene takes that one step further, in that roles are still being played, but they’re being played in a more realistic physical manner.  However the people playing are still not willing to accept that that persona IS closer to their real Self and actually enact the role as much as possible in their “real life”.  Hence the insistence with many people that “they’re always dominant except when playing” or the need for many tops to appear super-sensitive to the bottom when not actually playing.  The discomfort of people into BDSM from a play perspective with those who enact the role to any degree in real life, which in my experience is much more intense than the discomfort for vanilla people, comes out of this combination of a desire to enact it more fully with a lack of confidence to actually do so.