Members of the leather, fetish and BDSM community from across the country visited Houston this weekend to share their wares and offer workshops on the fetish and BDSM lifestyle in a convention at the Sheraton Brookhollow Hotel. We sent a photographer to check out the booths and the most interesting items for sale. Text in some images may be semi-NSFW. PHOTOS BY GROOVEHOUSE
Submissive kinky women are far from the shrinking violets that BDSM's critics have characterized them as being. Often they're women who know exactly what they want.
by Alex Henderson
BDSM has come a long way in the last 20 years. A subculture that was once very underground has been infiltrating mainstream American pop culture in a major way since the early 1990s; pop stars like Christina Aguilera, Nine Inch Nails, Madonna and Joan Jett have employed BDSM imagery, and kinky references have popped up in mainstream television programs ranging from “Frasier” to “The Young and the Restless.”
Most college-age adults of the 1960s and '70s had no idea what a dominatrix was; now, it’s hard to find a college student who doesn’t know what a dominatrix is. But as ubiquitous as BDSM has become, there is one area of BDSM that continues to be widely misunderstood: female submission. From the anti-porn school of radical feminism exemplified by Catherine MacKinnon and the late Andrea Dworkin to Dr. Laura Schlessinger and Phyllis Schlafly on the religious right, BDSM’s opponents have often denounced female submission as misogyny taken to the extreme. Even people who are relatively BDSM-friendly may have some wrong ideas about women who volunteer to be tied up and spanked.
But the reality is that submissive kinky women are far from the shrinking violets that BDSM’s critics have characterized them as being, and in many cases, they are women who know exactly what they want in a relationship.
Outside of the BDSM scene, there are many misconceptions about submissive women. Non-kinky individuals might assume that submissive women are passive, indecisive or weak individuals who lack ambition—in other words, the anti-feminists. But spend some time around the BDSM community, and one encounters plenty of submissive women who describe themselves as card-carrying feminists. A female submissive might be a corporate lawyer or an emergency room physician, or she might be signing a major book deal. The fact that she is voluntarily submissive in the dungeon doesn’t mean that she is submissive outside of the dungeon.
One card-carrying feminist who is deeply involved in the BDSM community is New York City-based Susan Wright, founder/president of a sexual rights organization called the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom (NCSF). Wright, who founded NCSF in 1997, is also a widely published science fiction author and a long-time member of the National Organization for Women (NOW). It was Wright who successfully petitioned NOW to drop its anti-BDSM position—and thanks to Wright, NOW’s official position against BDSM became a thing of the past.
“The common misconceptions about submissive women are that what they are doing is not consensual, that they have been coerced, or that they are doing something that they really don’t want to do,” Wright explained. “That’s a misconception because submissive women know exactly what kinds of partners they want and what they want to do and how they want to play. Submissive women have a fantasy. I think that everybody who is into BDSM has some type of fantasy that they want to fulfill, and that includes submissive women.”
Wright continued: “Being submissive is very compatible with feminism because it is choosing your own form of sexual expression. In the end, sexuality is empowering—and you can empower people in all the diverse ways that they enjoy sexuality. Power exchanges are one of those ways. That’s certainly why I did the SM policy project for the National Organization for Women. I’ve been a NOW member since I was 16, and when I found out that NOW had an anti-sadomasochism stance, I couldn’t understand why. I didn’t believe that feminism and BDSM were at all incompatible.” ...
An Oklahoma County judge declares a mistrial in a sex fetish enthusiast's domestic abuse case after dismissing a juror who appeared to be drunk. The judge had the juror arrested. Prosecutors plan to retry the case.
The unusual trial gave the jury an inside look at the so-called BDSM lifestyle. BDSM is short for bondage and discipline, dominance and submission and ...
When most folks think leather or BDSM — that is, bondage, domination, sadism, masochism — chills might run up their spine. Or, perhaps, feelings of disgust flash through their mind.
It’s that initial, gut reaction that most upsets Pam Payne. She lives in and around Hickory and operates a mentoring program and four-bedroom “halfway house,” so to speak, for people in the leather and BDSM “lifestyles” who find themselves in flux or in need of some extra help. She is a part of the BDSM lifestyle herself and she says her way of living is about much more than images of sexual power, pain and perversion most people ascribe to it.
“It’s not purely a sexual identity,” Payne says in rebuttal to arguments about her life and family. “I’d say its a balance of 50-50 — people who just want to belong on a level that doesn’t exist in the vanilla world.”
“Vanilla” is how Payne describes mainstream society, whether gay or straight.
She says most people in the BDSM lifestyle simply long for acceptance and relationships that matter. “I want to be able to do this for you, give this to you, serve you in this way and, in return, I want you to take care of me in this particular way,” she says, describing a typical relationship which she says is built over periods of months — sometimes years — and depends on negotiation and contract.
The allegations in the indictment were shocking: A young woman had been held captive for years as the sex slave of a Missouri couple. She had been locked in a cage and subjected to electrical shocks. Parts of her body had been nailed to wooden planks. When announcing charges last month, U.S. Attorney Beth Phillips called the case one of "the most horrific ever prosecuted in this district."
Authorities said the woman was a mentally deficient runaway who was recruited by an older man at the age of 16 to live in his trailer. The situation came to light in early 2009, after the woman, then 23, landed in a hospital following what prosecutors said was a torture session.
But as more details have emerged, more questions have arisen about the accuser, including her involvement in violent sex practices, her posing for a pornographic magazine and her work as a strip-club dancer. Supporters of the defendant are speaking out, too, saying many of the acts described in the indictment are practiced every day between consenting adults.
Ed Bagley, 43, faces 11 federal charges, including conspiracy, sex trafficking by force, fraud or coercion, and forced labor trafficking. Four other men also are charged with various crimes.
A graphic 21-page federal indictment describes medieval-like sexual devices being used on the woman at Bagley's mobile home about six miles outside Lebanon, in southwest Missouri. Accusations of waterboarding, suffocation and beatings are mentioned throughout.
Bagley's wife, Marilyn, said she and her husband knew the girl because she had dated their son. That relationship had ended, Bagley's wife said, but the girl wanted to come live with the couple when relations with her adoptive parents soured. She said the girl moved in when she was 17, not 16, and never had sex with her husband until after she turned 18.
"She was not a runaway," Marilyn Bagley said. "We picked her up from her adopted dad and stepmom. They were right there and everything."
Marilyn Bagley said prosecutors have told her she also will be charged if she doesn't agree to testify against her husband. But she said she will not take the stand against him because she believes the two did nothing wrong.
Prosecutors said Ed Bagley posted videos and other images on the Internet showing the young woman engaged in sexual activities. He allegedly described her as his sex slave and advertised that she would perform sex acts and submit to torture for other people during encounters online or in person.
Bagley is accused of taking payments of cash, cigarettes, computer hard drives, even meat, to let other men come to his home and torture her.
Bagley and other defendants are also charged with transporting the woman to California in 2006 and 2007 for prostitution. She appeared on the cover of the July 2007 issue of Taboo, a publication owned by Larry Flynt's Hustler Magazine Group, and was the subject of a story and multipage photo spread inside.
Prosecutors said Ed Bagley also forced the girl to work as an exotic dancer and threatened to punish her if she was not a top earner at the clubs where she stripped.
But another dancer at the same Missouri strip club said the woman seemed to enjoy the attention she got when she danced, often showing off the issue of Taboo magazine that featured her on the cover.
"This girl was spoiled," said Katie Smothers, who said she spent time at Bagley's trailer when she needed a place to stay but never participated in bondage activities.
"She would take customers to show them her magazine, and she had a bucket of photos at the bar. She bragged about it."
Susan Dill, Bagley's Kansas City-based attorney, told reporters recently that the indictment tells only one side of the story. She said the defense will present evidence that the woman practiced BDSM — bondage, dominance, sadism and masochism — by choice.
Dill declined to go into detail, and attorneys for the other defendants turned down requests for comment.
The U.S. attorney's office in Kansas City also declined repeated requests to comment, saying the indictment speaks for itself.
Marilyn Bagley, who for years shared a bed with her husband and the woman, told The Associated Press the woman often left the Bagleys' home to go into the community.
She believes the woman's family coerced her to go to police after she was taken to a hospital suffering from cardiac arrest, which Bagley claims she suffered while getting ready for work — not during a torture session.
"She started seizing, and when she was done, she stopped breathing. Ed gave her CPR. I was on the phone to 911. We were freaking out. We didn't know what to do," she said.
Dr. Keely Kolmes, a San Francisco-based psychologist who sees patients who practice BDSM, said that many of the acts listed in the indictment can be part of consensual activities. But others might indicate Bagley was an abuser, such as allegations that he shot animals the woman cared about to prove he could kill her and that he refused to stop immediately when the woman used a "safe word."
"Consensual BDSM does not involve holding minors hostage against their will or causing physical or mental harm," Kolmes said in an e-mail to the AP. "That is a criminal behavior."
Susan Wright, spokeswoman for the Baltimore-based National Coalition for Sexual Freedom, said some of the things Bagley is accused of are clearly abuse, if true.
"Certainly in abusive relationships, sometimes it's hard to parse out what people do voluntarily and what things they are coerced to do," said Wright, who helped write a sadomasochism vs. abuse policy statement in the late 1990s that has been adopted by national BDSM groups.
At times, it all becomes "tangled up," she said. "And at that point, I don't think any consent you give is legitimate consent."
Where does consent begin and end in the eyes of the law when it comes to rough sex involving dominance and submission play?
Should adults engaging in consensual sexual behavior be subject to criminal laws including assault and battery? What local, state, or federal laws could be used against you for engaging in consensual BDSM activity? What does consent mean, who can give it, and what are its limits? How do we distinguish between consensual BDSM and domestic violence or abuse when such matters come before our law enforcement officials and enter into the court system? What are the boundaries of consent and sexual freedom?
Riverfront Times Kendra Holliday is a total slut. Go right ahead and say it — she does. She's not hiding from it anymore.
In some ways, she's always been honest about it. She's unflinchingly blogged every detail of her sex life for years — she's a bisexual, polyamorous, joyously partnered divorced mother, living and writing and fucking (and yeah, it's a lot of fucking) in St. Louis. Her blog, www.thebeautifulkind.com, details all of it. It has made her into a celebrity of sorts. It has cost her a job. She's called it her second partner.
But she's been hiding in plain sight, going to great pains to conceal her name, face and identity on the blog — even as she exhorts her readers to "be open and honest." The blog has become a safe space for sex-positive readers in St. Louis and all over the world to come together. It's created a virtual community, and Holliday and some of her kinky friends want to take that momentum and push the Midwest forward into greater sexual freedom and openness.
And it's hard to do that when you're hiding. So Holliday is coming out. ... The situation is definitely complicated. Susan Wright of the Baltimore-based National Coalition for Sexual Freedom, a nonprofit that helps protect the rights of people with alternative sexual interests, applauds Holliday's decision to out herself.
"When people knew people who were gay and were able to think of them as their friends and family, they could think of them outside the stereotype," she says. "We need to get the help of the bulk of Americans who really don't care about other peoples' sex lives, so we can fight against the people who want to legislate morality." But Wright, along with others, can see the point in staying hidden.
"I would use as a caveat: If you are a parent of a child under eighteen, don't come out," Wright says. "You could have a great relationship with your ex — once you go public, they could get blowback from people in their lives and try to get custody. I would discourage it, but I admire it and support her wholeheartedly."