The OkCupid message Mollena Williams received in December 2013 was, in some ways, standard. It was complimentary: “Wow — your profile is great.” It was confident: “I am an artist, very successful (probably member of the top 10 or 20 in my genre in the world).” It was polite, signing off with “warm wishes.”
But something was a bit out of the ordinary, speaking to its author’s interest in domination and submission. The central desire? “I would like to tame you.”
The writer was Georg Friedrich Haas, whose powerfully emotional, politically charged music and explorations of microtonality make him one of the world’s leading composers. His work had brought widespread acclaim, but his personal life was troubled, with three failed marriages in his wake, when he met Ms. Williams, a writer and sex educator who specializes in alternative lifestyles. Shortly after he messaged her, the two began a relationship and were married last fall.
Composers do their work offstage and largely out of the public eye. But all music is influenced by its makers’ personal lives and, in many cases through history, their grappling with sexuality. Tchaikovsky’s struggle with his homosexuality helped create music of agonizing longing.
The Austrian-born Mr. Haas, 62, a music professor at Columbia University since 2013, has recently been increasingly open about the unusual nature of his marriage, which he says has dramatically improved his productivity and reshaped his artistic outlook. He will be the subject of a two-concert American Immersion series on Wednesday and Friday presented by the Austrian Cultural Forum, which includes the American premiere of his “I can’t breathe,” a dirgelike solo trumpet memorial to Eric Garner.
In a joint appearance with his wife, who now goes by Mollena Williams-Haas, late last year at the Playground sexuality conference in Toronto, then in an interview this month in the online music magazine VAN, he has “come out,” as he put it, as the dominant figure in a dominant-submissive power dynamic. Mr. Haas has chosen to speak up, both because Ms. Williams-Haas’s sexual interests are widely known (her blog, The Perverted Negress, is not shy about kink and bondage) and because he hopes to embolden younger people, particularly composers, not to smother untraditional urges, as he did.
The fundamental feature of their relationship is not obviously sexual, Mr. Haas and Ms. Williams-Haas, 46, said in an interview at their airy apartment near Columbia, with expansive views of the Hudson River. “It’s not caning,” he said. “It’s the fact that I need someone who is with me when I work.”
Their marriage can seem, in this regard, distinctly old-fashioned, and not in a Marquis de Sade way. While the terms they negotiated at the start of their relationship do not prevent her from pursuing her own professional and personal life, Ms. Williams-Haas devotes much of her time to supporting the work of a man — “Herr Meister,” she has nicknamed him — for whom a “good day” is one in which he composes for 14 or 15 hours.
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“She makes my life as comfortable as possible,” Mr. Haas said.
Ms. Williams-Haas, who described the situation as feminist because it is her choice, said, “I find intense fulfillment in being able to serve in this way.”
She conceded the discomfort many may feel with a black woman willingly submitting to a white man. “It’s a struggle to say, ‘This is genuinely who I am,’” she said. But she added, “To say I can’t play my personal psychodrama out just because I’m black, that’s racist.”
Mr. Haas said that he felt liberated after what he described as a lifetime’s and three divorces’ worth of suppressing what he once considered “devilish” desires. The change has altered his music in ways both quantifiable and more ineffable. He said that his productivity had roughly doubled since meeting Ms. Williams-Haas, which will delight his fans.
And while his work has not lost its moody, queasy darkness, he identifies a new hopefulness in it. His 2015 opera “Morgen und Abend,” for example, ends with a scene of a dead father unable to communicate with his living daughter. “Before I met you,” Mr. Haas said to Ms. Williams-Haas, “this end would be very desperate. Now this end is full of ‘Yeah, we have to die, we have to leave, but the life of love still remains.’” (Michael White, writing in The New York Times, called the opera “a serious and sober, though ultimately radiant, imagining of what it might be like to die and pass into another kind of sentience.”)
Mr. Haas contrasted the effect on his style to the struggles of Schubert and Tchaikovsky with homosexuality. “What you perceive is not the fact that they desired men,” he said, “but the sadness about the impossibility to make love a reality. And I think that has been part of my music. The fundamental pessimism. You never will get what you want because it’s not possible to get it. That is how my life has changed so intensely.” ...
This past Saturday, February 20th, would have been the 123rd birthday of Elizabeth Holloway Marston. She’s not exactly what you’d call famous, but you’ve probably guessed who she is from the headline and illustration above.
Elizabeth Holloway Marston was a psychologist, and the wife of fellow psychologist William Moulton Marston, who’s credited with creating Wonder Woman. At least, she was one of his wives, depending on how you look at it. She was his legal wife, to be sure, but the two lived with a third partner, Olive Byrne, and each woman bore two of Marston’s children.
Given that it wouldn’t have been safe for the Marstons and Byrne to write or give interviews about their polyamorous lives in first half of the 20th century, there’s a lot we don’t know about the structure of their relationships to each other. A lot of accounts by outsiders make heteronormative assumptions, framing the story as William Marston convincing his wife to let his mistress live with them. But William Marston died in 1947, and the two women lived together until Byrne’s death in the 1980s. We don’t know for sure if they were lovers, but they were certainly partners, and had to have considered each other family.
According to Jill Lepore’s Secret History of Wonder Woman, the family was part of a larger “sex cult” that practiced free love and advocated the superiority of women. Lepore also writes that a third woman, Marjorie Huntley, was an occasional member of their household and helped out with the inking and lettering of Wonder Woman comics.
Elizabeth Holloway Marston was also involved in the production of Wonder Woman, and indeed with her creation. Multiple sources credit her with the idea to make the superhero a woman, including this 1992 profile in the New York Times. It’s hard to know what other ideas were hers, as she and Byrne were clearly close confidantes of her husband. She was also involved with the creation of the polygraph lie detector, for which she similarly receives no credit.
Men receiving all the credit for collaborations with their wives is nothing new; in fact it might be the sharing of credit that’s a recent development. Margret Rey, for example, wrote the Curious George children’s books alongside her illustrator husband H.A. Rey, but only his name appeared on the covers for decades. Then there are even more egregious examples, like the painter Margaret Keane, whose husband took credit for her sole creations until she took legal action.
So if we acknowledge Elizabeth Holloway Marston as a collaborator in the creation of Wonder Woman, it seems entirely unacceptable to let her go uncredited, especially given the nature of the character. For all that we could quibble about the differences between the Marstons’ female-supremacist philosophy and feminism as we know it, Wonder Woman has long been embraced by feminists, down to appearing on the cover of the first issue of Gloria Steinem’s Ms. magazine. Whatever else she is, Wonder Woman was the first major female superhero, and remains one of the most significant.
With Wonder Woman soon to arrive on the big screen, it’s time that we in comics stop feeling uncomfortable with the circumstances of her creation, and the lives of her creators.
Right now, on Wonder Woman media, DC uses the line “Wonder Woman created by William Moulton Marston.” A better choice might be “Wonder Woman created by William Moulton Marston and Elizabeth Holloway Marston.” I’d even consider “Wonder Woman created by William Moulton Marston and Elizabeth Holloway Marston, with Olive Byrne.” There doesn’t seem to be much direct information about what Byrne contributed to the character, but she was certainly another confidante, and a constant presence in the Marstons’ lives throughout that era. One thing we do know is that Wonder Woman’s distinctive wrist cuffs were based on bracelets that Olive wore. ...
A lot of people spend their time worrying whether or not their sexual desires and practices fit in with what society deems “normal.” Well, fret not my friends, because that's a hot load of garbage. Some of the allegedly "taboo" sex acts society savagely judges and looks down upon are actually really, really good for your relationships and mental health, and the ones labeled “normal” are the ones that, well, kinda suck. We dug deep into three sexy topics that might be secret to happiness. Enjoy.
Contrary to popular belief, freaky sex is good for you. Seriously.
According to a study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, people who like who like bondage, hot wax, and other Fifty Shades of Grey-style kinks scored significantly higher on various mental health tests than their one-position-lights-off counterparts. That may be hard to believe, considering how nipple clamps don't always seem that sane, but you can’t argue with science.
In that study, 902 BDSM lovers, and 434 non-kinky people were surveyed on their personalities, overall well-being, attachment style, and sensitivity to rejection. Analysis of the questionnaires revealed that those who embraced the kink were less neurotic, more secure in relationships, had a better time dealing with rejection, and were generally mentally healthier than the vanilla participants.
Interestingly enough, BDSM is listed in the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, a.k.a. the psychiatrist’s bible, meaning kinky people are thought to have some sort of mental abnormality. I think we can categorically call bullshit on that one, because people who love so-called "boring" sex are statistically crazier than kinky people. Who knew.
Lead author of the study, Andreas Wismeijer, told LiveScience that BDSM aficionados probably scored higher on the mental health questionnaires because they’re more aware of their sexual desires, and they don’t feel the need hide anything from their partners. We already know that bottling up emotions of any kind, including sexual ones, takes a huge toll on mental health, so it only makes sense that kinky people would have better mental health than those who are potentially sexually frustrated. ...
“I’ve had people think weird things about my sexuality that are absolutely connected to my disability, but the experience was not that I had no sexuality — it was that I had a fucked up sexuality,” says Lyric Seal aka Neve Be, a queercrip writer, performance artist and adult film star, in an interview for Autostraddle. “Many people who work in disability and sexuality media want to make the goal: let’s sexualize disabled people; let’s make sure they know that they have bodies. I’m like, no, it’s more complicated than that.”
Why is it that when navigating experiences of sexual marginalization, we are so often pressured into traps of disavowal? To disclaim, dismiss and deny the messy, fleshy trails our bodies followed before and may seek to travel again? When encountering questions of sex and disability, the overemphasis on whether or not crips have been either desexualized or hypersexualized is a necessary and important social critique, and yet it also enforces the notion that the experience of crip sex only offers insight into the experience of discrimination. Put simply: even within the most sexually progressive circles, people with disabilities are rarely considered experts on anything other than ableism — let alone how to fuck and get fucked.
What follows, then, is a conversation meant to move beyond the erosive architecture of “do they/don’t they”; a conversation bigger than the over-rehearsed scripts about disability and sexuality that lead to predictable, shallow conclusions about oppression and embodiment. Conclusions that measure the worth of disabled people by their capacity to reinstate norms from the periphery rather than provide alternative knowledge from the center.
Wheelchairs, specifically, hold tremendous symbolic power. As the representative icon of disability in an ableist world, the body of the wheelchair (and its user) is overwhelmingly associated with abjection and otherness. Exploring the erotic significance of wheelchairs, though, is not a reactionary move toward inclusion, but an opportunity to refuse the limited choices available for sexual narration. To willingly inhabit a space abandoned by ableism, negated by ableism, so as to disorganize the definitional power of ableism.
To do so, I spoke with three queercrip wheelchair users — Seal (HARLOT Magazine, Slumber Party Series), Stella Palikarova (Deliciously Disabled ) and Bethany Stevens (Crip Confessions) about the meanings of partnership, service, touch, pain, fantasy and more.
Autostraddle: How does romance or sex factor into your relationship with your wheelchair?
Bethany Stevens: My wheelchair is a sexually assistive aid, which sounds like a clinical way to say I try to fuck it and fuck in it. Despite my efforts to figure out how to penetrate myself with bits of it, it never works with the angles of my vagina and the parts of my chair. It works wonderfully to assist in sexual activities with others, people can lean their legs on my chair while I penetrate various body parts. My large wheels are taller than my seat, so people can lean on them as they straddle me so they are not bearing weight on my body.
Lyric Seal: I have two chairs. The power chair is named Gianna and she is metallic Barbie pink. She’s a high crip femme. She is hot and fast and yet a subtle performer. My other chair is Michelangelo. He is more of a lost boy and we’ve adventured for nine years together, so I treat him with a lot of respect. And while I do involve him in the sexual things I do, he’s not a sex toy to me. And someone else cannot use him in the same way that I use him. We can use him as an assistive device in our moment, and we can also use him as a sexy device, but he’s my partner, not someone else’s partner. My relationship to him has been really romantic.
Stella Palikarova: I always refer to my wheelchair as female because she’s fast and efficient. I try to think about ways to make her sexy or ways to make being in the chair sexy. Lap dances are great.
Stevens: I also dance a fair amount, with my chair being stroked as part of erotic dancing. This seems to be titillating to other people, and I think that may be true because the wheelchair frame serves as a visual genital surrogate for my partners — they feel stroked when my hands graze up and down my frame.
Seal: I have choreographed duets and dance pieces with my chair that are primarily about some kind of eternal service relationship. What does it mean to always have an imbalanced relationship or always have a function for someone? People who identify as service bottoms or service tops love that. And I think that being able to anthropomorphize my chair in that way has been really helpful to me in imagining that it doesn’t have to be a burden for someone to be eternally in service to someone else.
Palikarova: You can also incorporate the wheelchair into part of your foreplay. Not everyone transfers out of their wheelchairs for sexual activity based on their disability. For many people the wheelchair is the site of their sexual pleasure. Personally, I like to incorporate the chair into role-play. Like if my chair is my throne or my chariot and my partner is worshiping me in it. I remember playing a sexy game once where my partner’s head was not allowed to be higher than mine. That was fun! ...
If you immediately think of Christian Grey’s 50 Shades of Grey Red Room when you hear the word “bondage,” there’s some good news: it doesn’t always have to be that intense! (But of course, it can be if you want it to.) Even if you find the idea of the B in BDSM (bondage, dominance and submission, sadomasochism) intriguing, you don’t have to dive in headfirst. Instead, sex experts recommend dipping a toe into the bondage pool before you really give it your all. Here, one shares some insight into how to start exploring the world of bondage.
Related: The Best Sex Position For Your Zodiac Sign
1. Communicate, communicate, communicate.
Embarking upon a new sexual adventure makes talking about what’s going on more important than ever. “Let them know if you’re feeling uncomfortable, and ask how they’re doing periodically,” Jess O’Reilly, Ph.D., Astroglide’s resident sexologist, tells SELF. It might also be a smart idea to come up with a safe word, which is a word or phrase either of you can say when you need a time out from the intensity.
2. Don’t get too caught up in copying what you see in the movies.
Or in pornography, or any other staged bondage depictions you may come across. “They may be beautiful, but they represent expert bondage scenes performed under supervision, and the models may have only held that pose for a few seconds,” says O’Reilly. Instead, take it slowly and don’t think you have to experience pain or intense anxiety for it to qualify as bondage.
3. Understand the difference between being tied up and tied down.
They may sound interchangeable, but they’re two distinct things. Being tied up means having a body part restricted, like having your wrists tied together, says O’Reilly. On the other hand, you’re tied down when you’re attached to something else, like a chair. Very good to know the difference when you and your partner are talking about your sex fantasies!
4. Only restrain one part at a time.
While keeping an open mind during sex can definitely be a good thing, trying too many things at once is an easy way to become overwhelmed. That’s why O’Reilly suggests experimenting by restraining only one part of your body at a time rather than going for the whole shebang. “You don’t need to be tied down spread-eagle to enjoy the erotic appeal of bondage,” says O’Reilly. ...
At first, Lily Zheng saw kink as a way to have great sex. "I thought of it like an escalator: First I would do bondage, then this and that, and then at the end, I would have the most fulfilling, amazing sex ever," said the Stanford University junior, who is also co-president of the university's kink club.
But when the sex at the end turned out to be a disappointment — "I was just lying on the bed, checking out my nails and thinking, 'This is silly and not fun'" — she realized that she wasn't interested in sex so much as the dynamics of dominant and submissive relationships. For her, sex is a tool in service of those relationships, not something she cares about much for its own sake.
Zheng is part of a growing community of asexuals, or people who are not sexually attracted to any gender, who are attracted to the kink scene because they like touch, relationships, sensation, and power dynamics — all reasons that have nothing to do with sex itself. Many say that because kink focuses so much on negotiation and consent, this environment feels safer than traditional relationships, where sex is usually expected. Still, says Zheng, identifying as both asexual and kinky initially felt like "a huge contradiction" because of the stereotypes around both subcultures.
Kink is often broken down into the four categories — bondage, domination, submission, and masochism — and has become more popular recently, thanks to Fifty Shades of Grey. But while its roots were in explicit sex, it has become more about general "connection," with people "having entire relationships where explicit sexual contact wasn't a part of it," according to BDSM educator Mollena Williams-Haas.
Asexuals, or "aces," often divide attraction into three categories: aesthetic, romantic, and sexual, with the last one being the most self-explanatory. Aesthetic attraction means finding someone physically attractive without necessarily being sexually attracted. Romantic attraction or romantic orientation (often broken down into homoromantic, biromantic, heteroromantic, panromantic, and so on) means wanting to be in a romantic relationship with someone regardless of whether you want to have sex with them.
Aces don't experience sexual attraction but some aces have a sex drive and enjoy having sex, some are sex-repulsed and don't enjoy it at all, some really love touch and sensation but dislike penetrative sex, and so on.
Still, asexuality is often conflated with being celibate, prudish or, as Zheng said, pointing to another stereotype, "hating to be touched." So it can be confusing when people encounter someone who doesn't experience sexual attraction or isn't interested in sex, but is still very interested in the kink scene.
Lauren*, a writer in northern California, says she is involved in kink because she likes "sensation-play, interactions, complex human relationship, a balance of power and control and trust." Lauren has been "tying up my Barbies since I was about 3, which is probably a warning sign" but found later that she was not really into sex, and has since had many kink partners that she's never been sexually attracted to.
Instead of being into BDSM for the sex, she says, "I appreciate this ability to step outside normal social strictures and explicitly say, 'We are going to very carefully negotiate the way we interact with each other to be safe and careful with each other.'"
Not all contact during a kink scene is sexual because it often depends on the person and the context, according to Lauren. For example, cuddling with one person can be sexual, and not at all with another. And aftercare, or the contact after a scene, typically should not be sexual at all. "It's kind of like you picking up your cat, and you're hanging out and bonding — you're having very intimate contact, but very explicitly not sexual and sometimes to the point that being sexual would make that really uncomfortable and would be undesirable," she adds. ...
She leans over, and opens the bag. Her sharp, "I'm Not A Waitress" red painted nails glistening in the low light of the play space -- or what you might call a "Dungeon." She is a well-shaped woman of a certain age; and her male partner is tied to what is known as a "spanking bench." She could be a teacher, a nurse or lawyer when she isn't tied into a corset standing in five-inch heels. Her lips are ruby red, matching her finger nails. She removes something dark. Something long. Something leather. As she stands, it almost slithers from the bag. She steps up, lifts her arm, and that long, leather something whistles through the air ... a foot or two in front of my gaping mouth ... Crack! Like a gunshot, the sound permeates the space. Again, her arm moves, her breasts heave and the object of her affection is in bliss. I briefly wonder if they are married or just met here and if he might be a police officer or a judge in his day job. It really doesn't matter. What is clear is that they are ordinary people enjoying not being ordinary.
I move on.
The lights are low, but I can still see everything that is going on. Perhaps not in garish detail, but certainly well enough. Despite the throbbing, driving scene music, you can hear some of the moans, the sharp slap of toys. Look at all those people -- sharing, connecting ... playing! That one over there in a sexy flogging scene. This one here getting paddled. Another spread on a cross, tied tautly by the arms and legs. Dominant types reaching into their toy bags, pulling out some new article to create a different sensation. This is hot. This is what over 600 people traveled to Columbus, Ohio for ... and have taken over a perfectly ordinary hotel for a weekend of mischief and very sexy, sex education.
It's hard to fathom that Ohio's kissing cousin Michigan just passed legislation to outlaw oral and anal sex and I am standing in a converted conference room -- now dungeon -- where "Fifty Shades of Grey" in comparison seems so bland. I guess because this is real and so are the people. No Barbie and Ken Dolls here! They eat red meat here (prime rib served at midnight) and every other kind of snack food from donuts to Milky Way bars is always available to keep your strength up between spankings.
I pinch myself. Welcome to the edge of the Bible Belt and the not so undercover world of an emerging, kinky and incredibly diverse sex scene in the Midwest. You want spanking, bondage, rope play, LGBTQ, straight, body acceptance, age acceptance, sacred sexuality, tantra, bd/sm and everything in-between? It's right there in Columbus, Ohio. Ohio may be the country's "test kitchen" for fast food restaurants and it may also be the country's only "Test Kitchen" for what "everyday" Americans are wanting to experiment with when it some to sex. And they are showing up.
Meet Andrew "Barak" Gardinier and Trina "Brat Sheba" Gardinier, "Ordinary" Ohio Citizens By Day (or at least at their day jobs), and Sexual Super Heroes all the rest of the time. They are what most would call; "Sex Educator Pioneers." They have been married for about 14 years and together for almost 16. When I asked Andrew to describe their relationship he said this: "We are in a primary partnered, non-monogamous, married relationship with agreements. In other words we are married and ethically polyamorous."
They are also the founders of Adventures In Sexuality (AIS) which was formed on Jan. 13, 2006 and just celebrated its 10th anniversary. This not-so-little group with about 4,000 online members (many more visitors and voyeurs) and roughly 1,500-2,000 regular attendees, two widely attended kinky conferences where 600 kinksters show up from all over the country called COPE and Winter WIckedness. And there is more! To meet the growing need, there is now an addition of a new sexuality community center that is just opening called "The Space."
I asked Andrew and Trina why they do what they do?
"We primarily do what we do, because we want to create a safe and nurturing space for people to seek and discover/uncover their bliss. For us, it is essential for people to be free to experience their sexual aspect in an accepting environment. Here's the thing; all the other aspects of self -- emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual -- have outlets and facilities, and supportive environments ... but not so much with our sexuality. Sex is a part of ourselves, yet it lives a life of shadow, shame, and persecution. We want to change all of that. ...
In 2014, when he was first accused of sexual assault and hitting women, Jian Ghomeshi said he liked "rough sex" and BDSM, calling his sex life a "mild form" of 50 Shades of Grey.
This week, the former TV and radio host is in court facing allegations from three women, amounting to four criminal counts of sexual assault and one count of overcoming resistance to sexual assault by choking.
The case is one of the country's most highly publicized sex assault trials ever, and — thanks to the Ghomeshi's own Facebook posts — has already wandered into the grey legal zone around BDSM and consent. But it also underlines a rarely used, and very serious, criminal charge that could see Ghomeshi put away for life.
The choking charge, which comes from the same section of the law that prohibits date rape, could land Ghomeshi with a life sentence in prison if he's convicted. That's because, according to the prosecution, he allegedly wanted to do something worse than only sexually assault one of the women who took the stand on Thursday: He prevented her from resisting it.
But prosecutors must prove he had the intent to commit sexual assault for the charge to stick. And if Ghomeshi intends to argue that the choking, and other rough sexual acts, were consensual — as he's suggested in the past — it might raise the question of whether consent is even possible, and whether the choking was so severe that it inflicted serious bodily harm.
It's alleged that in 2003, Ghomeshi choked and slapped Trailer Park Boys actress Lucy DeCoutere. On the stand, DeCoutere described it as "a power thing."
In a Facebook post written in 2014, Ghomeshi said, "I have always been interested in a variety of activities in the bedroom but I only participate in sexual practices that are mutually agreed upon, consensual, and exciting for both partners."
After the alleged assault, DeCoutere wrote in an email, "You kicked my ass last night and that makes me want to fuck your brains out tonight." ...