Header image source: Photography by Marcus J. Ranum under Creative Commons License 3.0
Like him or loathe him, there is no denying that Christian Grey got tongues wagging about the hidden world of the BDSM community. Yet barely 34 years ago, another movie graced our screens.
Gor is a 1980's sci-novel film which saw the protagonist, physics professor Tarl Cabot, taken on an intergalactic adventure with some erotic (and romantic) twists along the way. Inspired by John Norman's novel, Tansman of Gor, the movie received both criticism and admiration worldwide. Whilst it created a fantasy scenario for the "nerds" of society (who might otherwise struggle romantically), it was also strongly criticised by feminist circles for the portrayed enslavement of women. In the new millennium, it also saw growing popularity for roleplaying games on the virtual platform site, Second Life.
Today, Gorean subculture is still very active, both in reality and online. The expectation amongst many in the BDSM community is that a submissive knows and complies to Gorean etiquette. If he or she fails to do so, then the submissive could be deemed "untrained".
But John Norman himself didn't want this. The stories were intended to be fantastical, philosophical, even historical, not real and certainly not meant to be lived. In the interview that I have linked above, John himself does not associate his writings with BDSM. The very man who wrote the Gor Saga doesn't endorse the lifestyle that it has since created - in fact, he even seems positively against it!
So then, how is the criticism against Fifty Shades of Grey any more valid than the criticism against Gor? Both were intended to be fantasy, and yet one has widely been dubbed as being "just kinky sex, not BDSM", whilst the other has almost been carved into stone. If John Norman himself dissociates his Gor Saga from the BDSM lifestyle, then surely the Gorean subculture too is "not BDSM"?
When I entered the BDSM community in 2006, one of the overwhelming themes, which stems strongly from Gorean subculture, was that a submissive woman should be compliant and obedient. She should not answer back, she should not be cheeky, she should do as she was told at all times. That very idea terrifed me. As much as I wanted to be submissive, I had no desire to be this way. I enjoyed using my mind, I enjoyed being playful and I enjoyed being able to voice my opinion, and I was terrified that someone, anyone would try to take that from me. I was terrified that I'd never remember all kinds of hand gestures and positions too, and that I'd be punished for not remembering something that didn't interest me in the least. I also had no desire for a chunky collar around my neck, to boot.
I wanted in, but not in like that. I wanted a Dominant who would revel in me as I was, not try and change me into something that I'm not. I'd watch all of the other submissives and I felt so different, so alone. I wasn't trained, and I had no idea nor knowledge of how I could get trained, just that I'd need a Master to train me and I was far too stubborn for many. I was confused about who I was, and I was about ready to quit.
Over time, the appearance of so-called BDSM experts concerned me. When sadism and masochism were first coined in 1902 by Richard von Krafft-Ebing, there were no how-to guides back then. Even when Sigmund Freud coined sadomasochism in 1939, it was written about purely as a paraphernalia, rather than a sexual practice. As time has gone on, psychologists and psychiatrists alike have distinguished sexual sadomasochism for pleasure from Sexual Mascochism Disorder, which causes the sufferer psychological distress. Indeed, all knowledge of BDSM that we have today has been formed from many years of talking and sharing our ideas and practices, and finding a common ground on which we can agree some basic rules of play. There are not and never have been any widely recognised books to study for a qualification in BDSM and there are no certificates that dictate our ability to be (or not to be) present in this community, so who, then, are these BDSM experts? I was ever-grateful that one hadn't taught me.
When Fifty Shades of Grey came along, I went from being a confused and anxious little girl to a strong and confident woman with a voice. I saw what I wanted - A normal family life, with various kinky bits thrown in. I didn't want to exist as property, I wanted to live as a partner, to share life, to give my love and life to another out of trust and devotion, because I trusted him to look after me, in and out of the bedroom. Forget money, this was just the right level of kink for me: Playful, sensual, adventurous. Perfect.
I can never forget the look that we exchanged during the first movie. There was a knowing look and an acknowledgement; this is it. This was it, this is the way it was supposed to be, for us. This is the way we wanted. No contracts, no collars, just love, handcuffs and safewords. We changed as people, he became confident in himself as my Dominant, and I in myself as his submissive. I'd answer him back and head just laugh and shake his head at me. I felt empowered, accepted, satisfied. Whole.
Of course he has expectations of me, and just as much, he expects me to follow them, too. Bed and asleep no later than 2am (I am all too used to the consequences of failing that one!) and fingernails no longer than my fingertips. He expects me to act with grace, integrity and decorum, while allowing me enough freedom to laugh and joke with those whom I interact with. I don't live in fear, just as as any submissive should do. So then, am I not to be considered "trained", even if I don't know my positions and hand signals, and have no desire to learn? Perhaps, given it's enormous popularity, could Fifty Shades of Grey even be the Gor Saga of the new millennia? It's food for thought, for sure.
But as we conclude this post, how she would handle these erotic movies and novels going forward?
First, I feel that we need to tap back into the very heart of the BDSM community and remember that ours is a community of acceptance for all. With phrases like "Your Kink Is Not My Kink (But Your Kink Is OK)" and our close connections with the LGBTQ+ community, we need to remember the importance of acceptance, equality and respect for one another. Remember, a house divided against itself cannot stand.
Secondly, we need to view fantasy material in an open and non-biased way. It's fine to not like one book or movie over others, but it's not okay to dismiss them (or those who enjoy them) completely. It is what it is, and they are all, apparently, equally not BDSM.
Third, and in a similar vein, we need to revert to treating these fantasy pieces as creative ideas, rather than written law. If one person, or people, choose to adopt a Gorean subculture, then that it entirely their choice. We should not, however, be teaching newcomers that such is the only way, and that any ideas from other books or movies are simply irrelevant. In a community that relies so heavily on the importance of consent, what matters most is the joy and happiness of the individual(s) involved, not the ways in which they choose to create it. Perhaps you like several ideas from several different books and films? It should be, and ultimately is. down to the individual(s) to make their dynamic work for them.
Finally, better awareness needs to be made on the weight given to so-called "BDSM experts". I have no doubt in my mind that many of these individuals have great intentions at heart, but we need to be careful on the message that we teach. Safety and the importance of consent should be endorsed as common teachings, regardless of an individual's level of apparent expertise. However, in my very personal opinion, the importance of "training" and slave positions should only be taught by someone who practices Gorean subculture, and even then, only to those who are genuinely interested in it. We can (and should) recommend new individuals watch Gor and read the Gor Saga, but we should recommend a number of other books and movies, too. Self-proclaimed "experts" should be treated with caution, instead, all and any who have something to teach and share, should. It doesn't matter your level of apparent expertise, if you have something new to teach and share then it could be argued that we are all experts here!
I hope this post has got you thinking on the ways we teach and share our experiences with BDSM. What are your feelings on the Gorean subculture? Do you endorse it, or do you prefer to practice something else entirely? I'd be interested to hear your thoughts in the comments.
Until next time,
Stay safe & have fun,