With Dave in London, January 2005
Photo credit: Kinkinprint.com
Apart from meetings with the Spanner Trust and the Woodhull Freedom Foundation in London, my main work in January was flying to Chicago to emcee the Mr Chicago Leather 2005 contest at Touché. There were five judges, including the current IML Jason Hendrix, and five contestants. It's the only event during Jason's title year which we're both attending in an official capacity. Of course, as emcee I had control of the microphone...
My favourite part of the contest was the roll call. Last year the contest organisers allowed me to have a roll call of non-titleholders. This year I took it a step further to recognise people who would never accept public thanks. I asked for volunteers from the audience to receive our appreciation on their behalf. Six people came up onstage to represent those who do fundraising without credit (e.g. selling raffle tickets); anyone who gives their tips to charity; the "muscle" (door supervisors, security guards, minders and chauffeurs); anonymous sponsors; backstage crews; and people who stay at home (pet minders, baby sitters, partners) so that we can come out to events. The crowd gave a huge round of applause.
One of the five causes I'm supporting this year is the GAY LEATHER SM SEXUALITY RESEARCH PROJECT, run by author and part-time PhD student Eric Chaline. On a Saturday afternoon in January we met in the downstairs lounge at Coffee, Cake and Kink in Covent Garden so that he could give an update on his work.
What year are you in?
I'm in the second year of the project.
How many more years do you think it will take you?
I'm going to try and break a few records and do it in three years! Because I'm a part-time student that's unheard of, but I'm going to give it a go. Most full-time students do it in four. One of the great things is that because I'm an "insider" doing the research I didn't have all the spade work that other people would have to do. If I wasn't gay and wasn't into S&M then it would have taken six months to a year just to know where to go and who to talk to. I've also found that everyone has been incredibly co-operative - they actually want to put their point over in the research. People who enjoy playing but aren't involved in the scene very much want their version of S&M to be put over as well.
In lay terms what's your PhD about?
Homosexuality was constructed differently in different periods of history. So the Greeks had a version of homosexuality, the Romans had a version of homosexuality, then you had mediaeval versions of homosexuality, and each one was very different and culturally specific to that historical phase. Up until the 19th century homosexuality was just an act, a sin, but it wasn't a condition. At the end of the 19th century it had become a medical condition, which could have some kind of cure. My PhD starts there in the late 19th century with the creation of the first discourses of S&M, which gave it the pathological psychiatric definitions that are still around today.
And how would you define it?
I don't work that way. I'm going to let the people I'm surveying and interviewing define it for me.
Out of the people that you've interviewed so far have you noticed any broad themes?
Very, very broad. One of the conclusions is going to be how varied S&M is and that there isn't an agreed definition amongst players. Maybe there is among certain groups of players but it's a very personal and unique journey that everybody makes. For whatever reason you're interested in when you start, it could be as a child, or as an adolescent or as an adult, you have your very personal reasons why you choose S&M as a way to express your sexuality. You start meeting other people who are also into S&M who have their own versions of it, and through that process of interaction you start to develop your own S&M. You have, let's say, S&M in potentia when you start discovering it as a child or an adolescent, but that's not what S&M is socially. What I'm looking at is a transformation of S&M as a personal fantasy into a social reality and how that process happens.
Onstage at Mr Chicago Leather
Have you noticed a difference in people's stories before and after the Spanner Trial?
Well I've interviewed people who go right back to before the legalisation of homosexuality. I had one interviewee who first came out on the S&M scene in 1958 and went to the Coleherne which was then the main place. I don't know if he had a charmed life or not but he reported absolutely no police harassment, just had a wonderful time. He's now in his late 60's and he's never had any trouble with the police. He travels around and carried on having many encounters.
So far the people I've interviewed seem to enjoy their S&M and have not had any problems with it and actually most of the younger ones are not even aware of the problems that the Spanner generation had.
How many people have you interviewed so far by questionnaire and in person?
A hundred people responded to the paper survey, so I've stopped there. And I've done 17 face-to-face interviews out of 30, so I need another 13 volunteers.
Are you looking to interview anyone in particular?
I want as broad a variety of people who are actively taking part in gay S/M in the UK as possible: people who are on the scene, people who are very closely identified with S&M and made it their whole lifestyle, as well as occasional players and people from ethnic minorities.
Thanks for your help.
International Mr Leather 2003