Chapter Seven in the Ongoing Saga

If you've come this far, you've probably realized that a fair amount of my life and work is devoted to mainstream endeavors: poetry (my first love), journalism, the arts, technology and so on. So I guess it's about time to tell the tale of...

How a Nice Jewish Girl Like Me
Became an Unrepentant Pervert

Now that you've endured the torments of wading through my autobiography you may wish to endure even more torment. Thus it seems only appropriate at this point to raise that delicate question: "how did a nice Jewish intellectual from Brooklyn grow up to be a notorious pervert (while still maintaining her sunny disposition)?"

So, to start at the beginning. I've basically always been sexually strange though it wasn't until I got involved in SM that I looked back to my childhood and recognized the early warning signs of my sexual identity. For example, as a kid, I was fascinated by movies featuring heroes in loin cloths, armor, leather, and fetishistic outfits. Tarzan re-runs and tacky 50s B-movies about Roman Centurions kept me glued to my parents old b&w; tv on Saturdays.

At age five, I had a life-changing experience when my parents took me to see "Spartacus." In his bulging loincloth, with glistening jewels of sweat pouring down his bronzed chest, Kirk Douglas was the most naked man I'd ever seen. I was obsessed with Mr. Douglas for a few years after. I had fantasies that it was I who had brought on his suffering. I would imagine him on that sun-bleached cross, surrounded by other good-looking crucified men. My man would groan in agony, his loincloth loosely wrapped. I would scale his cross and take him in my arms, embracing him tenderly, my tears mingling with his sweat. It seemed so romantic! Even at that young age, I sensed that love brought pain. I couldn't separate the sorrow from the rapture when fantasizing that he was enduring it all for my sake.

I can point to other foreshadowings in childhood of what was to come. At holiday get-togethers, when the kids would retreat to a bedroom to "play house," I was inevitably picked to be the Mommy who punished the others with spankings for their imaginery crimes. When I was in sixth grade, a fourth-grade boy attached himself to me with masochistic passion. Our innocent SM dynamic endured all year: he would follow me around and annoy me until I just couldn't stand it anymore and then I would viciously rabbit-punch him. He'd fall to the floor at my feet, writhing and moaning dramatically. Then he'd pause and gaze up at me hopefully, as if to say, "Aren't you going to kick me too?"

But, unlike some of the fanciful creatures on Usenet who, at age 25, claim they've been doing D&S; for 22 years, I date my real experiences with D&S; from age 30. This is because, when I talk about D&S;, what I mean is mutually consensual D&S;, where both partners agree that they are going to share this kind of high-intensity sex. So in order for there to be true mutual consent a person has to KNOW that what she's doing IS D&S;, not some schoolyard game. Otherwise, the one year olds who bite each other at daycare centers or the thirteen year olds who snap their classmates' brassieres during recess would all qualify as Masters and slaves.

And, unfortunately, on the Internet many of them do. (Sorry, I just had to get that in.)

Movie scenes of bondage and captivity continuously replayed in my brain as I moved into aolescence. I watched "The Man from U.N.C.L.E." faithfully (if not feverishly) every week, anxious to see whether Napoleon Solo or Ilya Kuryakin would again be tied up and humiliated by a beautiful, cold-hearted bitch: the kind of woman who was comfortable taking complete control of a man.

A powerful woman was a powerful role model for a girl growing up amid the Victorian sexual mores of the early 1960s. I still remember one brief scene where Ilya was forced by some femme fatale to cross a burning desert wearing nothing but a pair of bvd's. That image played some havoc with my libido for a few breathless adolescent years too.

The comic art of R. Crumb was another important influence on my adolescent imagination. Crumb, and some other artists (like Gilbert Shelton) who worked for ZAP! Comix and other underground publishers, were an endless source of fascination to me. Their grotesque take on sexuality, their mania for explicit detail, the hard-boiled sexual perverts they glorified, well, it all spoke to me. Their comic art stretched the bounds of outrageous behavior and obliterated the bounds of moral decency. It was a dark zone for sure, but a dark zone that made me laugh and feel I was staring into something very real.

In my later teens and 20s, when I began actively dating (a nice euphemism for "sleeping around," n'est-ce pas?), I had a few flirtations with kink--some bondage here, a little "you are my love slave" there, and so on. Still, had you told me I was a sadomasochist, I would have vehemently denied it. Yes, I liked it a little kinky in bed...but SM, I thought, was a different kettle of sharks.

I didn't know any SMers; I'd never seen any SM porno; I hadn't read Havelock Ellis or any other scholarly work on the subject. But, like many people, I had read the classic SM novels and had naively taken them to be the gospel on SM relationships. And I was nothing like the characters in those novels. The emotional cruelty and brutal violence in DeSade's Justine, which I read for a women's study course in college, repulsed me. I certainly couldn't identify with any of the characters in Story of O. No one even LIKED each other in those books. They all struck me as self-destructive neurotics, particularly O, who I did not see as sexually submissive but rather intent on using men to annihilate herself.

Okay, so I'm opinionated.

The few times I'd seen SM depicted in movies (such as Maitresse, Barbet Schroeder's classic mainstream film about a professional dominatrix), everyone looked so UNHAPPY. Again, not for me.

Through my twenties I remained clueless about my true sexual nature. What's strange about this is that more and more men were approaching me, specifically looking for D&S; relationships. During my Wall Street years, a friend on a trading desk once handed me a copy of 9 1/2 Weeks, and urged me to read it as a favor to him.

"Okay...but why?" I asked. "I was hoping you'd read it and take me on an erotic adventure," he murmured. This sounded interesting! So I read it. And, yes, the first chapters were hot. But then I got to the ending, where the heroine ends up in a mental institution, psychologically devastated by her adventures.

Hmmmm. I think not.

Another Wall Street friend tried a more direct approach. He would periodically lure me into his office to show me the SM toy catalogues he perused during company time. (Naturally he had them shipped to him at the office lest his wife, who lived in a fool's paradise of tennis lessons and PTA meetings, ever find them.) He would try to coax me into selecting a whip or paddle from a catalogue, in hopes I'd agree to use it on him. Never one to mince words, I believe my usual reply was, "You have lost your damn mind!"

The clincher was when a managing director at Morgan Stanley (someone I recently saw gabbing it up with Louis Ruykeyser on PBS, in fact), stopped my cubicle to confess--in earshot of some female colleagues--that he had dreamed of me the night before, "dressed in fishnets and high heels, and standing over me with a whip." When giggles erupted from the women's various cubicles, the MD loped away sheepishly. I remained frozen in place, mumbling in idiotic stupefaction, "Why do men always say things like this to me?"

These experiences led me to one conclusion about conservative types: the straighter the suit, the kinkier the man.

It took a woman to open my eyes. She was another nice Jewish girl, educated and successful, attractive and funny, and very mainstream, except for her sexual obsessions. She talked openly about being a sadomasochist. I was often shocked by her stories, but I admired her nerve. Back then ('85-'86), there was no Internet, and you just didn't meet people who talked about these things. Her candor impressed me.

Within a few weeks, she confided that the reason she had pursued a friendship with me was because she could tell I was a sadomasochist too. Now, I knew more about sex by age fifteen than many women do at age fifty. I'd hung out with self-avowed queers since my early teens; lots of my hippie friends were bisexual; some were polyamorous. So I always felt that unusual sex was acceptable, and possibly even normal.

This was one of the advantages of being raised by parents who were too repressed to tell me anything about sex. I decided, early on that either EVERYTHING was disgusting or NONE of it was. As an adult, not even the most outrageous perversions have induced in me the smallest fraction of disgust I felt at age 11 when I learned that a man actually puts his, um, you know, into a woman's, er, well....YUCK! It was really all downhill after that.

Still sadomasochists were complete unknowns and their rituals seemed morbid: I saw them as victims or criminals and often both, like the characters in books by DeSade and Genet. At best they were the absurd SM couple played by Cloris Leachman and Harvey Korman in Mel Brooks' "High Anxiety." At worst they were the pathetic individuals who occasionally showed up--usually murdered in some macabre way--on the nightly news: people whose bizarre lusts inevitably led them down the road to hell.

I couldn't see how or where a basically gentle, non-violent, romantic person such as myself fit into this world. I rejected my girlfriend's theories based uniquely on my prejudices and fears. But, just as many fans have written me to say that Different Loving helped them to put a human face on SM and fetishism, my friend--through her candor--helped me to see that the fiction was just that: sensationalized accounts of a sexuality that was far more common, and shared by far more well-adjusted, loving people, than anyone might guess.

She showed me her library of SM pornography and there I found the Tarzans and Ilya Kuryakins of my youth: only these men were naked in their bonds and obviously aroused. That was exciting. She also showed me her collection of fetish clothes, from leather wear of every type to a Cleopatra-style costume. She encouraged me to try on some of the outfits and, when I did, I simply loved the way they looked and felt.

She did me another big favor: she turned me on to cyberspace. I had purchased a PC in 1983, soon after marrying husband number two (Will is husband number three). Though I used it mainly for wordprocessing, I had insisted on getting a modem (still fairly rare in those days) because of an article I'd read chronicling one man's addiction to interactive chat on The Source. The idea that strangers from around the nation could talk, 24 hours a day, didn't just amaze me: it gave me a vision of what the future might be and a keen desire to be a part of it.

When my girlfriend joined a local adult BBS (electronic bulletin board) which featured a B&D; component, she nagged me to join too. This was late 1985 and I was more than a little dubious. Despite dabbling in D&S; porn and costumes at her house, I still did not believe I was "one of them." But my marriage was already falling apart, and I was staying up nights at the PC to avoid sleeping beside my husband. Caught between intense sexual frustration (my least favorite kind of frustration) and voluntary insomnia, and intrigued by the new technology, I decided to give the world of on-line perversion a whirl.

So, I logged onto the BBS and began reading messages which shocked me. I'm not sure now if part of that shock wasn't simply the shock of recognition. At the time, I was mildly horrified and fiercely embarrassed. All the things that, normally, are shamefully hidden were, in this forum, publicly and matter-of-factly flaunted. People talked about weird sex and extreme practies the way my parents talked about going to Dunkin' Donuts--with cheerful and eager anticipation.

The candor among this band of perverts was captivating. Straightforward discussion of topics that most people considered taboo? Confessions of sexual quirks that most people (including myself) didn't have the balls to admit having, even to ourselves? There was something else: I had by then already made my commitment to art. The life of the artist, I knew from the first, was all about a commitment to living in truth. In their own way, these kinky adventurers were sexual artists. In short, I loved it!

According to the explanatory sheet that came with my BBS registration, new members were expected to leave introductory messages about themselves. So, buoyed by my reading, I set to the task of describing some of my own strange fantasies. Though I was operating under a handle, I was terrified the first time I posted a fantasy on-line that someone somehow would find out it was really me--Gloria Glickstein aka nice Jewish girl-- behind the moniker, and that my life would be ruined.

But I think what frightened me most of all was to give voice to the dark fantasies I'd hidden all my life and thus to stand naked not just before the world but, more significantly, to stand naked before myself.

Writing that first message was the most difficult step I've ever taken. And it was at that moment, I think, that I truly became a sadomasochist. Because what drove me then was the knowledge that I was taking a step towards my sexual destiny. I had no idea how it would turn out or whether, indeed, anything at all would come of it. But I was determined to find out. Was my girlfriend right about me? Was I one of them? Was SM the missing ingredient in my life, and possibly the reason why my vanilla relationships had never worked out?

My greatest fear was that people would read my introductory note and be alarmed or puzzled by the fantasy I described--or, infinitely worse, bemused and patronizing. (In other words, that they would judge me as I had judged them.) The fantasies I uploaded were not the stuff of SM novels: whips and chains didn't interest me as much as psychological domination and some of the more sensual fetishes. When fan mail poured in the next day, I was astonished. People wanted to meet me! They wanted to serve me! They wanted to enslave me! A few actually wanted to BE me, or at least to wear my lingerie!

Imagine revealing that one secret you're most ashamed about, least reconciled with, and deathly afraid to reveal because you are certain others will reject you for it. Then imagine receiving immediate and overwhelmingly positive feedback. Instead of rejecting you, people think your secret is WONDERFUL. They understand your secret. They SHARE your secret and feel a special bond with you because of it. Suddenly, you are not alone. You are indeed one of them, and being one of them turns out to be okay, because they are actually just like you: regular human beings with unusual sexual needs. No big deal.

There was simply no turning back after that. After my marriage ended, a year later, there was nothing to hold me back from freely exploring the SM world. I visited all the SM clubs in New York that welcomed heterosexuals. I read every book about SM that I could get my hands on. I went to conferences and special events. And I made it a basic rule to date only men who were similarly aware that they needed SM in their lives. I felt more alive that year than I had ever felt before. Alive and complete.

But the transition was not painless. I'd lived in denial about my sexual interests until the age of 30. I was still my parents' daughter. It wasn't so easy to give up a lifetime of being a nice girl and leap into life as a heartless bitch. (Though it undeniably was fun!) I was worried what my friends and colleagues would think of me. For a time I made a point of coming out not only to old friends, but to people who expressed an interest in pursuing a friendship with me. I wanted to be sure, before we got close, that there would be no chance of rejection down the road when they discovered I was a pervert.

I wrote a poem about this phase of my life.


For years, the truth was an acid test
I gave to all my friends. If they knew the truth,
and still accepted me, I could trust them
with the secrets of my identity.
The acid test quickly revealed
whose loyalties were sure and whose
were weakened by ideologies.

It was my shame that made me give the test;
insecurity about the life I led.
I had to know that friends approved of me.
I had to know they would not abandon me
when they knew the truth about my sexuality.
The acid test screened out enemies.

But now I know my solution was all wrong.
It's no sin nor shame to be myself.
Perhaps some will judge my life and sneer;
if they do, it is because they are weak.
If I accept myself, if I embrace
the fate that was shaped for me,
the acid test is unnecessary.


In addition to conflicted emotions about my sexual identity, I also had intellectual qualms about the implicit inequality in a power exchange relationship. I have always been a stout believer in social egalitarianism. My sexual pleasure in the dominant/submissive dynamic was hard to reconcile with my political beliefs.

I even had anxiety about what SM psychodrama might be saying about my childhood. Until then, I hadn't looked very clearly at my childhood: now that I saw it clearly, I wasn't terribly pleased. I saw clear parallels between the problems at home and the dramas I wanted to enact sexually.

I was very lucky, then, to find a mentor on-line in 1987. He'd been in the Scene for over 20 years and held my hand through that revolutionary period in my life. He helped me to see how SM could and should, ideally, fit into a loving and constructive relationship. We talked about D&S; being an intimate pact between lovers who lived according to their own concept of moral behavior and defined sexual pleasure on their own terms. This kind of philosophy--part anarchist, part civil libertarian, and purely humanistic--made sense to me. I still see the paradigmatic D&S; relationship as living up to that ideal. Finally I understood that however one is born or shaped by circumstances, you can't not be who you are. The important thing is to embrace yourself, as you are, and to find positive ways to fulfill your needs.

So that is the story of how I became an unrepentant pervert. In 1987, I founded the first on-line SM support group (Variations II on Compuserve); in 1988, Will Brame joined Variations II and caught my attention in a big way; in 1989, we were married; and in 1990, Will, Jon Jacobs and I began working on Different Loving in hopes of writing a book which would tell the truth about SM sexuality as it is lived and not as it distorted in media.

And, now in 1998, I'm fortunate enough to live in a society where I can tell this story about my own coming out.

I'll close with one more poem, this time by one of my literary idols, the early 20th century poet, Constantin P. Cavafy.


From everything I did and said
let no one try to understand me.
There was an obstacle which distorted
the deeds and the style of my life.
That obstacle was usually there
to silence me when I wanted to speak.
From my least-known deeds,
my most cryptic poems--
only from these can I be understood.
Maybe it isn't worth caring about,
or making the effort to figure me out.
In another time, in a better world,
there will be another made just like me
who will certainly appear and act freely.

translated by Gloria G. Brame, using various English-language texts

copyright © 1998
Gloria Glickstein Brame
Reproduction or distribution of any of the
materials contained herein is strictly prohibited
by the laws governing intellectual property rights.