July 31st, 2009

In their way, these people, all of them, are saddening, bewildering, and, in a curious way, frightening. I do not even pretend to understand their drives or what motivates them or what makes it possible for them to separate so keenly the physical from the spiritual. Nor do I understand their willingness to risk the many social and legal dangers that beset their way of life.

They are foreign as the far side of the Styx is foreign, as the other side of that curtain between East and West, and there is the same sadness of human separation, of divergence and of irreconcilable apartness.

For all the moralizing and sexploitation (and shoddy journalism) of Michael Leigh’s 1967 The Velvet Underground, this passage from the very last page of the book, which I talked about yesterday, strikes me as incredibly poignant. It describes, with surprising art and insight, the fear that outsiders feel in response to any sexual “deviance,” be it BDSM, homosexuality, or cybersex. This is the fear, laid bare, that builds into suspicion, intolerance, hatred. It is the existential crisis of human understanding projected onto that which is different.

At the same time, as a “deviant” myself in just about every way Leigh’s exposé of 1960’s subcultures describes (and many more he couldn’t predict), there’s something that rings true about this passage for the kink practitioner as well — a sense of foreignness, of solitude that washes over the sub as she finds herself bound and blindfolded, over the wife as she kisses a man who is not her husband. Yes, sexuality is about coming together, but it is also about standing apart.

Tags: BDSM, books

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