Of human bondage

THE SEX ISSUE: The Bay's wonderful women of BDSM aren't bound by convention
|
(0)

culture@sfbg.com

529-madison.jpg
Swingin' with a star: Madison Young, photographed by Pat Mazzera

San Francisco is America's capital of kink. Consider Sunday's Folsom Street Fair (www.folomstreetfair.org) as a flagship holiday and the Armory, occupied by Kink.com, as a kind of sexual City Hall, and there's little dispute.

But it may seem peculiar for a city so committed to gender and sexual equality to be the patron city of BDSM: a complicated acronym that stands for bondage and discipline (BD), domination and submission (D/s), sadism and masochism (SM). In crude terms, BDSM relationships are marked by deliberate and sometimes extreme inequality, where a submissive party voluntarily forfeits partial or complete physical, psychological, and emotional control to a dominant one. Although "switching" does occur, D/s — the Dominant (capital D) and submissive power dichotomy — may seem to be everything our traditional concept of liberal empowerment and classical feminism rail against.

But while it might be difficult for some to grasp, BDSM — which includes a broad spectrum of sexual acts including (but not limited to) bondage, corporal punishment, electrostimulation, piercing, branding, suspension, golden showers, and asphyxiation, as well as general play relationships like age play, pet play, medical play, and cross-dressing — is controlled by a strict code of behavior referred to as "SSC," or "safe, sane, and consensual." San Francisco even has its own BDSM nonprofit, the Society of Janus, which was founded in 1974 to promote safe adult power exchange.

529-fivestar.jpg
Ropes aficionado Fivestar, photographed by Pat Mazzera

And unlike that other U.S. capital, Washington, D.C., where women are systemically outnumbered in the decision-making process, in San Francisco's kinky community, strong and sexually empowered women are well represented — if not always well understood.

Women in BDSM, unfair as it seems, often receive some of the harshest criticism from a varied opposition. D/s women frequently find their lifestyles attacked by religious groups, academics, psychologists, and sexual conservatives, as well as much of the midsection of the United States. Whether stigmatized as self-loathing antifeminists or insatiable man-eating jezebels — or dismissed as insane — much misinformation has been spread about women (gendered, self-identified) who operate within the community.

However, the strong, independent-minded D/s women of San Francisco will have the vanilla (their term for those who do not engage in BDSM activities) know that BDSM is not what you think. Indeed, BDSM: It's Not What You Think! premiered last year at the Frameline Film Festival. Frameline, the longest-running film festival dedicated to LGBT programming, featured a cast of prominent figures in the San Francisco leather community, many of them women.

For the women of bondage in our city, many of whom maintain 24/7 D/s relationships, BDSM is considered a liberating force. The following profiles are shout-outs to just some of these women, each representing a different facet within the BDSM spectrum.

Also from this author

  • "Chronic" 2010

    D.A. Powell brings love, longing, and lyricism back to poetic life

  • Pigs in Oakland

    Novella Carpenter creates an urban homestead in Farm City

  • Point for point

    Elif Batuman's Possessed charts a hidden map of Russia