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Friday, October 29, 2004

roots and essence

Last Saturday evening as our local BDSM group's gathering for coffee and conversation ended, a few of us hung around for a while. We were discussing munch, meeting and play-party etiquette in general. Eventually the talk turned to protocol. Reference was made to "Old Guard" traditions and attitudes. Our consensus was that for our group at least, protocol should be more a matter of what was deemed appropriate by any given D/s couple by them for them, rather than standards of speech and behavior to which the group would expect adherence from everyone. We do have certain written rules by which prospective members (and annually, existing members) agree to abide. They're essentially just common-sense good social behavior, respect for confidentiality, etc.

Anyway, the comments about Old Guard ways seemed to be based on a general mutual understanding that there was a time in the history of our lifestyle when a certain formality played more of a role than it does now. As the evening grew later, L and I left the coffeehouse to go out for pizza with another couple from the group and our dinner conversation was pretty vanilla.

Once we arrived home, however, L asked me to tell her what "Old Guard" meant. This surprised me a bit. Her exposure to the lifestyle predates mine by a few years, but it was a name with which she was not familiar. As I began to try to explain I realized that I was not being particularly articulate, so I located some articles by Jack Rinella, Jay Wiseman and Guy Baldwin that I'd saved on my computer. I skimmed through those quickly and read enough to her from them that she felt she had a basic understanding.

Since that evening, though, I've found myself thinking often about the history of what we now call BDSM, and about the relative importance of that history. I've long thought of the D/s lifestyle as a singularly personal thing, and believed that the fact that there is no single universally accepted way to do it right is largely a blessing.

Fifty years ago the "forefathers" of our lifestyle were small, very private, strict, and highly structured groups of gay men. Membership was typically achieved through a long process of training, discipline, and sponsorship. Obviously old ways of doing things are not necessarily superior, just as new ways are not better just because they're new. Was the Old Guard way nothing more than one solution for a specific group of people living in a particular time and place? Have we lost something important as the lifestyle community has become more visible, (relatively) more mainstream, and more sexually/socially diverse?

As the week wore on, though, a phrase that I encountered in the articles I mentioned above kept coming to mind. Back in what's typically thought of as the heyday of the Old Guard, those-things-that-we-do were not called "BDSM". Apparently they didn't even use "S&M" very often. "Rough sex" is the descriptive phrase that I've seen pop up again and again.

Another question I've been mentally pursuing this week is: what is the true essence of BDSM? Is it even possible to sufficiently generalize enough to so distill it? Is it "rough sex"? Is it those old-fashioned values of discipline, obedience, integrity and honor? Or is it something else?

At this point I'm far from an answer that will satisfy me (much less one that I'd advocate to someone else). Still, I believe these are things worthy of consideration and I doubt that I'll have them out of my head anytime soon. So, be forewarned. These quasi-amorphous topics will probably be showing up again here in coming days. If you'd like to comment, point me toward some essay that you think is especially illuminating, etc. please feel free to do so either here or by email.

posted by John | 11:17 PM [permalink]


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