Thank you for that generous introduction, and for your kind welcome.
(But I know its just ‘cause y’all will be planning to kill me later. Right?)
I’ll begin by thanking what powers there be for the privilege of coming before you tonight. It’s nice to see so many familiar faces as I look around the room, some of you glad to see me, others maybe not so much. And others, of course, are wondering if flames are about to shoot out of my mouth, again. Or not.
You won’t have to live with the uncertainty for long, I promise.
Perhaps one useful way to help us begin to frame our visits with each other this weekend might be a reminder that we recently marked the 150th anniversary of, guess what, the beginning of the great U.S. Civil War.
It was, ultimately, a war about slavery. And I will hazard a guess that at least ninety- eight percent of the people in this room would have no trouble agreeing that bringing an end to that kind of slavery was a good thing to do — was the right thing to do — was the just thing to do.
And I’d bet that you would agree with me about that because somewhere inside, most of us understand that some kinds of “slavery” are just plain wrong. By implication, it must surely follow that some kinds of “Mastery” must therefore also be wrong, doesn’t it.
It’s pretty easy for us to move the slavery that spawned the Civil War into the This Kind Of Slavery Is Wrong column because we remind ourselves that, among other troubling features, it included a legal, race-based, involuntary subjugation. Nope, we say: not our kind of slavery.
But it turns out there are times in the world of outside-the-box sexualities that telling right from wrong and good from bad isn’t always simple or easy or fast. In our world, a world of authority-based connections and relationships, when trying to navigate the sometimes perilous outer banks, we discover that things can get stormy fast. At such times it can be all too easy to drift unawares across the line and into territory that can be morally hazardous and even downright dangerous.
Although generally, I try to avoid reading to adults, bear with me for a moment while I read something that will begin to shed some light on what I’m driving at.
Here is a news item that appeared not long ago in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle:
S&M sex master John Hopkins appeared in court this week and will proceed to trial next month. Hopkins, 45, was arrested in February after allegations arose that he had enslaved a 27- year-old woman who had responded to his Craigslist ad for S&M sex and then traveled from Wisconsin to Williamsburg to live with him free of rent.
Hopkins, an audio engineer, is charged with dozens of felony and misdemeanor sex crimes, including rape in the first degree.
The victim, who did not show up to court earlier, reportedly admitted that the initial encounter with Hopkins was consensual and that the two had an online correspondence before she came to Brooklyn. However, after living in his Williamsburg apartment for a week in February, the victim reportedly called her mother, who contacted the NYPD.
Police found the victim chained to a radiator and curled in a fetal position in Hopkins’ apartment.
Kings County Supreme Court Justice Patricia Di Mango said that despite evidence from both sides that the sex may have been consensual, the question is if the victim ever said “no.”
Judge Di Mango, however, did release the defendant from jail on his own recognizance pending trial.
Trial was delayed because the victim had left the city and was unavailable to testify, according to reports.
Prosecutors from the Kings County District Attorney’s office were reportedly unsure of her whereabouts. The woman reportedly had a blood-alcohol level two-and-a-half times the legal limit four hours AFTER she made a police report claiming she was being held as a sex slave, a defense lawyer said.
Hopkins’ attorney had said that Hopkins and the woman knew each other for two years and had a consensual relationship. The woman even wanted to return to the apartment after Hopkins kicked her out for excessive drinking, Stoll said.
So said the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.
Now, I don’t know either of the people involved. But even if these details are all accurate as reported, I still can’t tell, with any real confidence, what their original destination, let’s call it, with each other might have been. Or even if either one of them had thought about one. Or even if they realized that talking about a “destination” might be a smart idea.
What does seem clear from the news item I just read is that whatever they were up to went seriously off the rails in ways that are going to complicate their lives, and the lives of anyone close to them, for some time to come. And that does make me sad.
Why so? Several reasons.
To begin with, I’m saddened because I happen to be a survivor of the Human Potential Movement, and that means that I just happen to believe that life is, or I think should be, a special occasion. Even for those of us who are “erotically different,” because the inalienable right to the pursuit of happiness also applies to us, even when we go after that happiness in unconventional ways.
Next, I’m saddened because I know that some percentage of the people who read that news item — or who read similar horror stories which regularly show up in the media, all across the country — some of the people who read those stories were already secretly feeling a powerful pull toward authority-based relationships and/or sexuality.
I know this partly because from time to time someone like that turns up in my office, where I then I hear about the turmoil such stories unleash. When the public becomes aware of the mismanagement of this kink, it can hugely delay and complicate the coming-out process for “our kind”.
I’m also saddened because I know that some percentage of people who come across such stories are turned on by them. And perhaps worst of all, when such stories appear there is a real possibility that they may function as a misguided role model for how this stuff looks, for how it works, for how it should be done.
And who knows for sure? In the overheated imaginations of guys with no experience, no mentors, no positive examples to give them a reality check, is it any wonder that these nightmares happen?
For example, the stories of Jeffery Dahmer and John Wayne Gacy — two very disturbed and very lethal gay men, both of whom tried their hands at enslavement — will continue to muddy the waters for who knows how long.
But even long before a day comes when nobody remembers Dahmer and Gacy, you can be sure that, almost like clockwork, another story, indeed many other stories like the one I just read to you, will again pop up to keep the waters muddy for people interested in authority-based relationships.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the same coin, with the publication of that so-very- poorly-written book, 50 Shades of Grey, the very idea of authority-based relationships has been thrust squarely into the center of American erotic consciousness as never before. And consequently, the wide popularity of that book has given a broad-spectrum and culture-wide validation, support, and dare I say encouragement to the notion of male dominance and female submission.
One non-scientific observation offering some evidence of the increased popularity of this relationship profile has caught my attention and should also catch yours. In 2011, a group of straight male dominants in Los Angeles founded a group called “Male Dominant Het Leather,” or M.D.H.L. for short, to be pronounced “Metal.”
Soon after its formation, the MDHL group in L.A. decided to create its own event, called BOLD, a two-day event in Burbank, California, five minutes from that city’s airport. The event focuses specifically on the dynamics and challenges of male Dom/female sub, authority-based relationships. Significantly, in its first year, it was 75% sold out. The second year it was 100% sold out, and the attendance cap has been raised 12% for 2014.
The success of this two-year-old event is evidenced by the fact that there are now twelve newly forged MDHL chapters (Male Dominant Het Leather chapters) all across the country, and I’m told another five chapters are currently in various stages of formation.
But — and this is important — kinky communities are like fruits which cling to the parent tree only until they ripen, after which time they fall away and take on a life of their own. It remains to be seen what Los Angeles will have spawned hither and yon.
One need not be a rocket scientist to recognize that interest in male-Dominant- slash-female-submissive relationships is, as I have cited more than a few reasons to believe, experiencing an unprecedented explosion.
Also exploding in the media are more and more stories of involuntary domination of women by men:
Ariel Castro held three women captive for 10 years in Cleveland, Ohio. He has said that he’s not a monster. It’s tempting to dismiss him as crazy, isn’t it? And we’d feel better calling him crazy, wouldn’t we? That would make it comfortable for us to distance ourselves from him.
But are we really prepared to say that a person must be mentally ill who screws up when it comes to managing authority dynamics? Especially if he’s never actually seen any healthy examples of one?
In Cleveland, Texas last June, a woman was taken captive by three men and then raped by fifteen men, ten of whom have since been convicted.
Earlier this very month, Hanna Andersen, age sixteen, was taken captive in California by a man —a friend of the family. Just a few days ago, she was accidentally found in wilderness Idaho by horseback riders as the abductor was hiking with her, twenty miles from the nearest road. The riders thought the situation looked strange and that she looked scared. They called the police. She was rescued. He was killed.
Five Vanderbilt University football players have been arrested for rape. And last week, two Ohio brothers intervened to save a woman being raped who had been stabbed fifty times with a screwdriver…
And I could easily have listed fifteen more such incidents that have happened since January. It even looks like the mayor of San Diego will soon be facing a recall election for his misbehavior with women.
What the hell is going on with men in this country?
Apart from a few phony “urban legends,” I know of no — none, zero — reported incidents of women taking men captive to satisfy erotic cravings. And they could, you know. Women can own guns. Women know how to say things like, “Shut the fuck up and get in the car or I’m gonna cap your ass.” But they don’t do that, do they?
So: what the hell is going on with men in this country?
I have the horrifying suspicion that the kinds of things we’ve been reading about or watching in the news media are somehow just the tip of a huge iceberg of misogyny — and let’s call it what it is: woman hating — which lots of evidence suggests has increased exponentially in contemporary society.
The Center for Disease Control’s survey tells us that one in four women experience abuse in a domestic setting. Three out of four Americans claim to know a victim of abuse. Date rape accounts for 70% of sexual assaults reported by adolescent and college age women.
There are several theories that might account for this development — and if you’re interested in that discussion, come join the conversation tomorrow about that. I don’t want to strain these precious minutes to go there now.
But what boy doesn’t secretly dream of having special powers that lift him out of his dull life and into a special one? And when such dreams become someone else’s nightmare, one enters into darkness.
Louis C.K. in his newest one-man show has joked that the most dangerous thing a woman can do is to hang out with a man, while the most dangerous thing a man has to face is heart disease. Funny? Yeah. But true.
Clearly, despite the fact that straight and bi men are drawn to women, way too many men are angry at women, or at the very least, have no or little respect for them.
So why am I, a gay man, talking about this? The answer is simple.
I am concerned, and I think you should be concerned too, that when the people who have been erotically awakened by things like 50 Shades of Grey, or even the Gor books. begin the search for themselves — begin to look in our direction, in the direction of the Master/slave world — that we, none of us, should give outsiders any reason or any excuse to confuse us with the likes of Ariel Castro, or any of the other angry abusers of women flooding our news channels every goddamned week, it seems.
It feels to me that we are within at least imaginable distance of being seen to condone the abuse of women. And it is our responsibility to resist that misapprehension, and vigorously.
I am concerned, and I think you should also be, to make sure that no corner of the Master/slave world as we know it is ever misunderstood to be a place where we give any cover to, or otherwise validate, the mixing of sincere hate or anger or sincere contempt with sexuality — in any form, whether it be misogyny or homophobia or trans-phobia or bi-phobia, or poly-phobia for that matter.
Sexuality, healthy sexuality, in my personal AND professional opinion, is and must be about pleasure and satisfaction, excitement and eager anticipation, renewal and nourishment, and above all choice, for everyone! Healthy sexuality is not about anger management. For anyone. Ever. Human sexuality isn’t designed to do therapy.
And a number of people who have tried to use it that way end up in therapy offices like mine, suffering — that’s right, suffering — with depression, confusion, and loneliness. Or they end up in jail. Or dead.
Sometimes, those with the most power display the least amount of grace. And it is in the gap between power and grace that Dominants are at greatest risk for yielding to the impulse to mix anger or rage with sexuality.
But there, in that mix, there be dragons. A calling to Ownership is and must be a calling to honor. Dumbledore was right when he said to Harry, “It is not our capabilities that make us who we are; it is the choices we make.”
And don’t think that we don’t have skin in the game. We do.
Exactly whose job is it to counter the horrific stories like the one I read to you tonight from The Brooklyn Eagle, or the nightmare story of Ariel Castro in Cleveland, for that matter?
Who is there to respond with solid information, information that is not porn, about how an erotic fantasy of power and defenselessness can be realized safely and consensually and with each partner taking their share in the responsibility for it?
Whose job is it to balance the idealized unreality of 50 Shades of Grey with a standing-right-in-front-of-you, visible example of a grounded and thoughtful Master/slave connection that supports the growth, the development, and the self- realization of each person in the dynamic?
Whose job is it to correct these insults and misconceptions about us? Isn’t it our job?
If not, then who else is there?
Well? Are we doing anything about it? Are we doing enough about it? My answer is no. Not nearly enough.
The gay men’s leather community has International Mr Leather, the title contest that has produced men like myself, like Lenny Broberg, an out police sergeant in a major metropolitan police department; like Mike Gerle, an out senior policy analyst in city government; like this year’s Andy Cross. These and many others like us across the land show up at festivals and at parades around the world, and we arrange and give interviews in the mainstream (print and television) media.
The women’s community has its own well-known globetrotters — Mollena Williams, Andrea Zanin, Laura Antoniou to name only a few. These women are out and proud and in your face about who they are. They consistently offer thoughtful and articulate counterpoint and rebuttal to the thundering foolishness about female sexuality that spews forth from the Tea Party and other idiots who claim, for example, that raped women can’t get pregnant..
These people are out there, doing the job. Are we, in the M/s community? And will we ever get it done, I wonder?
Until we start owning the job the way it needs to be owned, the way a serious community ought to own it, and until we begin to place real value on the qualifications necessary to get this important job done, the job of actually representing us, of actually fighting the good fight against all the slander and shock-news that passes for information about us in the eyes of people who don’t know any better — well, then no, we won’t get that job done.
And how can the public know any better until we have community representatives, yes, titleholders, regional and international, or maybe others who are not afraid to step in front of a crowd of skeptics and cameras and say, “This is my first name, and this is my last name, and I have the honor of being Master (or slave) to this person beside me”?
It is not too much to ask. Others have done it. Mark Bowers and his slave bob farrell did it. Race Bannon and mike pierce did it.
K.T. Chase and suzi sheppard did it.
John Birch (yes, his real name) and lee james did it. Jack and tom Stice did it. Rick and Tina Dunham still do it.
Roger Kurtman and a few others are well-remembered by some of us from a time when our Master/slave subculture was younger (and yes, less dominated by het folks). Their legacy has passed to us now, to you.
What are we doing to help and support the next generation of seekers drawn, as we were, to authority-based relationships?
What are we doing to counter the bad press generated by the men and women who get it wrong and become sensational news-weapons, to be targeted against what we thrive on?
Like it or not, all of you are parents, to one degree or another: the parents of those newcomers who are struggling to find their way to a bliss we already know something about. Good parents must be good role models. And where are our best role models for healthy and fearless Master/slave relationships?
Are they really our titleholders? And if not, what is the reason?
Could it be that we are too cowardly or ashamed ourselves to demand it of them?
The title system, whatever its faults may be, did yeoman service for the gay men’s community all throughout our darkest hours with AIDS. We did so by mobilizing enormous resources — financial, human, political, media, educational; in-home care, even pet care — all to create and sustain support during the years of our shattering experience with the AIDS nightmare. One after another, our titleholders faced off with officials in city councils and state capitols for legislation and funding for local support organizations, and in Washington D.C. to facilitate FDA approval of experimental drugs, all because we were dying by the tens of thousands.
And we did that facing off using our real names, by the way.
And why did we use our real names? Easy: credibility. Members of Congress, you see, have a tough time taking anyone seriously who won’t go by their own name.
Now, you might be tempted to think that our Master/slave titleholders face no such similar daunting challenges — but you’d be wrong. And the current barrage of bad press and bad fiction about the issues surrounding erotic authority make that point for anyone who is really ready and willing to see it.
The survey I’d like to see done here this weekend?
One question, true or false: “Intelligence and presentability presumed, titleholders who are out and proud, who use their names and show their faces, are more likely to do a better job at fighting ignorance and in garnering respect for our lifestyle.”
I believe that if we cannot find people through the title system, people who are ready, willing and able to be out and proud warriors, ready to publicly resist the rising tide of misunderstanding about us, then it’s time for us to scrap the Master/slave titles and to look for and find a better mechanism to do that job.
Either we believe in the legitimacy of what we are, or we do not.
Take a look at the marriage issue. Gay men and women and our allies have just shown the world that coming-out can change how people feel about others who are different. And we can change our future because we must, and not just for ourselves, but for those to come.
The problem of public misinformation about erotic authority will not go away by itself, any more than AIDS has.
You see, as gay and lesbian people have learned, it’s a constant fight. And well, when it comes to us, currently we’re losing ours.
Thank you for your time and attention