Here's an op-ed I wrote for my public policy class-- enjoy!
Apposite Bondage, Adverse Laws
It's a benign flag—white, black, and blue stripes, topped with a seemingly-happy heart. Though practitioners say otherwise, all I see are the literal colors—black and blue bruises, blood, and bandages. BDSM—Bondage, Domination, and Sado-Masochism. Here in San Francisco, the flag is flown high as thousands of BDSM practitioners in full (or lack thereof) regalia flock into Dore Alley to share their passions each year.
I was there this year. Only I was fully clothed, an outfit completed by my security headset and orange vest, and, for once, not a member of the majority population. My duties required standing on the corner of Folsom and 10th, keeping the police out and those with ass-less chaps in; I watched as leather-clad folk enjoyed themselves, in, umhum, public ways.
Getting over the obvious breeches in normative behavior, I was struck by the ease the BDSM community shed their secrecy (with their clothes) and uniformly practiced bondage in both homo- and hetero-erotic ways. In a 2000 survey of self-professed BDSM practitioners, 68% expressed that they were heterosexual. This figure is surprising, as BDSM in its public form originated as a gay subculture. While the images of leather-daddies leading young men in nipple clamps are still salient, this shift from homo to hetero is intriguing.
Here in San Francisco, you can see this depolarization of the homo-underground. But then again, this is the unofficial gay Mecca and there are plenty of men to spare. But this makes me wonder—why is it that San Francisco is the unofficial Mecca of homosexuality? There’s the usual reasons including dishonorably discharged sailors, the AIDS crisis, or Harvey Milk’s election and subsequent martyrdom in 1978- But why does it continue to be the epicenter for the flamboyant, the irreverent, and the just plain odd? How did it get to the point where underground factions would exist and separate within the community—BDSM, Circuit Boys, Club Kids, Druggies, Drag Queens, etc?
San Francisco attracts outsiders people because like attracts like, and in this case, like also attracts acceptance. But what of the people who are not so out of the mainstream? What if San Francisco’s stand is debunked by Proposition 8 this November? While I know the veiled Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence will be ok because they’ve been built against prejudice (and being nuns, they don’t need sex), but what will happen to the homosexual population that simply wants to create a (modified)-nuclear family? What about those who do not want an underground life but who want to stand proudly and feel normal amongst their peers? There are many.
Many people have seen the popular photograph of Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, a lesbian couple of fifty-five years before they were married by Mayor “Gay”-vin Newsom on June 16, 2008. Had their 2004 marriage not been annulled, Martin and Lyon would have had four more years of wedded bliss before suffering the tragic death of Del Martin last month.
The public and mostly heterosexual BDSM community certainly defies more conventional archetypes than this couple, does it not? Even my Christian side says yes. Not to say that we have all changed our views or proudly accept Bondage and Discipline, Dominance and Submission, Sadism and Masochism, but if heterosexual people can beat each other publically in the streets I can’t help but feel that we can change our strict laws on something as convivial as marriage. Proposition 8 threatens to defeat fairness in San Francisco and all over California.
And even though I may not practice BDSM and I may not be a lesbian, that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t put my agenda aside for a few hours to help protect those ascribing to an alternate lifestyle. In the city with the golden gate bridge, I would hope we can uphold the golden rule. It’s time for marriage to go homo—uniformly given to all people. Until my peers remember that, I’ll be here warming up for next month’s Folsom Street fair, the largest leather fest in the world. Oh Daddy….