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Home > Articles > Intros by others > No Fantasy, Please, We're Americans, by Pat Califia
The following article first appeared as the Introduction to the 1996 Masquerade edition of Imaginative Sex. It was written by Pat Califia, author and outspoken advocate of consensual sadomasochism and pornography, and is republished here with his kind permission.
Note: The inclusion of an introduction by another author in a book by John Norman does not necessarily mean that John Norman endorses that author, their writings or their views, including those expressed within the introduction.
A Foreword by a Feminist
(Pat Califia, Only Briefly Tempted to Use a Pseudonym)
John Norman is a bad boy, okay? He's a sexist pig. And I own just about everything he's ever published; it's some of my most consistently rewarding jackoff material. So it's with great relish that I agreed to write a foreword to his opus Imaginative Sex, which is a sort of nonfiction companion to the series of science fiction novels he wrote about Gor, a world where Muscular Men Wield Swords and women have a lot of work to do ? kneeling, fetching cups of wine, wearing skimpy outfits, listening to surprisingly pedantic lectures from their Warlord Masters about their True Feminine Slave Natures, and (oh yes) coming tons and tons.
It's very easy to pick apart the politics of the Gor series (and this book as well). Purchasing and reading Norman's work makes me feel like I'm doing something really naughty, like smuggling a barbecued pork sandwich into a vegetarian potluck (But aren't you supposed to feel that way when you're reading erotic materials? It's delicious, that guilty feeling of doing what you want to do and really enjoy, rather than doing what you ought and should.)
Yes, the work is unrelievedly heterosexual. Gor contains no male or female homosexuality; men bond with one another by passing around their lovely Kajira. Norman posits a world in which biology is supposedly allowed to dictate the social and sexual roles which men and women will play ? dominant and warlike, submis?sive and servile, respectively, in case you've been on some other planet yourself for the last three decades. I have been tempted more than once to staple together the pages of the Gor novels which lapse into diatribe. It's almost as bad as reading the Marquis de Sade. It's not that I mind a spot of philosophy now and then; but when it repeatedly interrupts the flow of the bondage and discipline ? I mean, the flow of the narrative ? a girl gets annoyed. But tops who write S/M literature have a tendency to top the reader ? it just comes with the terri?tory.
His consistent lack of political correctness has gotten Norman censored more than once. In the late 70s, a science fiction bookstore in the Bay Area refused to stock his titles because they were supposedly offensive to women. Not even members of the fledgling women's S/M community could get it together to protest. We were too deeply divided about his work ourselves, even though it was clear that the bondage, piercing, and occa?sional blows meted out by Norman's masters were troubling the staff at Another Change of Hobbit just as much as his espousal of sociobiology. There have been many other times when an antiporn, anti-S/M version of feminist sensibility was used to hamper the circulation of Norman's work.
I'd be happy to support Norman just to oppose this moral intrusion upon free expression of the human imagination. If J. G. Ballard can write about the erotic value of car crashes, surely Norman can be permitted the staff-and-frond brand on the thigh of a newly made slave and her tears at the humiliation of having her earlobes and septum pierced. But there's much more of merit in Norman's work than a mere opportunity to shout down the censors. He speaks for a portion of the S/M-D/S-fetish-leather community that suffers from a disproportionate amount of stigma.
Perhaps a little history is in order here. People who like to enact fantasies about dominance and submission have been creating a community and culture for three or four decades in this country. Gay leathermen have been the most successful at establishing publicly acces?sible institutions such as bars, sex clubs, and bathhouses where experienced practitioners can socialize or play, and novices can begin the process of being socialized into the leather community. Heterosexuals and leather dykes have been close behind, generating support groups, publications, parties, and other means of cele?brating our sexuality and making contact with potential new community members. By creating slogans such as "Safe, Sane, and Consensual" and promulgating stan?dards of emotionally and physically safe play, the S/M (or D/S) community has instilled a sense of pride and self-worth in its members. We've even begun to defend our legal rights ? organizing politically to raise money to defend a couple in "the scene" who lost custody of their children, appeal the conviction of the Spanner defen?dants (who were jailed in England for consensual S/M activity) to the European Court, protest defamation and negative stereotypes of S/M in the mass media, and argue in court that our literature ought to be allowed to circulate freely across national boundaries.
Still, the S/M or D/S community remains deeply divided along lines of gender and sexual orientation. Each subgroup tends to prefer to devote most of its time and attention to itself, which makes sense, consid?ering that the political act most frequently engaged in by kinky people is the simple matter of negotiating a scene. Most of our energy still goes into helping community members find one another for friendship, romance, and play. Prejudice against "the others" remains fairly strong in each subgroup. And there's one bunch of people that just about everybody (no matter how pervy) looks at askance ? heterosexual male domi?nants and female submissives.
Just why this is, I am not certain. I suspect it has something to do with public relations. Power-exchange sex, often denigrated as merely a version of rape or some other form of violence against women, is regarded by antiporn feminists as the ultimate act of sexism and misogyny. If the couple in a scene consists of two women, two men, or a dominant woman and a submis?sive man, attempts to connect what's happening to rape or woman-hating are patently absurd. But if the fantasy Master is a man and the fantasy slave is a woman, an apologist for the leather community needs to demand much more of the audience he or she is trying to educate. It then becomes necessary to talk in more detail about concepts like consent, mutual pleasure, catharsis, the paradoxical nature of sex and power, the real equal?ity of top and bottom which makes pretended inequality exciting, and a dozen other sophisticated factors.
That's why it's important for books like this one to be in print. Imaginative Sex was first published by DAW Books, Inc., in 1974. It did well enough to be kept in bookstores until recently, when (for reasons I am at a loss to explain) it became necessary for Masquerade to make it available once more. It was one of the first above-ground nonfiction books to offer a rationalization for dominant/submissive role-playing and some instruc?tions about how to do it. Norman does not use term?inology that is current in today's leather community (for the very simple reason that the jargon and conventions we take for granted had not been created when he wrote the book). So familiar concepts such as negotiation, safe words, limits, etc., are not to be found in these pages. But it is clear that he is describing activity between consent?ing adults which is intended to be mutually pleasurable, respectful, loving, and physically and emotionally safe. In Norman's work, the focus is on the pleasure of the female slave, much more so than on the gratification of her master. Her arousal is the centerpiece of his work: Without the consent implied by her sexual excitement, this whole worldview falls apart.
True, it's annoying to have to skip over the para?graphs about feminism and lesbianism. Unfortunately Norman connects the fantasy roles he prefers with evolution and biology. Evolution created man-the-hunter, therefore, it's normal and natural and good and right for men to be sexually aggressive and top their female partners. Men have testosterone; therefore, they are ordained by physiology to be masters. This results in the absurd notion that feminists and lesbians are women who have too many male hormones or not enough female hormones or both. Granted, in 1974, pro-pleasure feminism had not gotten much of a start, but it is still grating to see a movement that was mostly concerned with pay equity, protection from sexual violence, and sexual freedom become stereotyped as a man-hating effort to get rid of sex and romance and turn children over to the state to be raised.
But Norman is not the first person to look for a biological explanation to justify his sexual preferences or politics. In The Dialectic of Sex, Shulamith Firestone argued that the technologically influenced evolution of human beings would eventually eliminate biological sex, reproduction, and childhood. Mary Jane Sherfey, author of The Nature and Evolution of Female Sexual?ity, posited a biological basis for the sexual superiority of the human female. In The Descent of Woman, Elaine Morgan constructed a biologically based alternative theory of human prehistory that accounted for a shift from matriarchal to patriarchal culture, as did Merlin Stone in When God Was a Woman. Gay activists as well as feminists have been eager to use biology, genet?ics, brain chemistry, and medical science to bolster their claims that sexual orientation is fixed, a part of nature, not susceptible to human control or change.
People make these ideological blunders not because they are evil or stupid (or not solely because they are evil or stupid). Such theories are infinitely appealing not only because they exonerate the individual from a charge of moral laxity or mental illness, but because they mirror the way our sexual preferences feel. What arouses each one of us, draws us to another person, or compels us to act out with that partner feels inbred, natural, involuntary. The process of creating a sex life or love life for oneself is at least as much about learning and teaching as it is about discovering one's secret, innate self; but it feels much more like the latter than the former.
Despite Norman's correlation of testosterone with dominance, if you look around the S/M community, you will see that male privilege and "male" hormones have mostly created men who want to grovel and submit to a strong, dangerous, powerful, free, and beautiful woman ? not a bunch of Conanesque barbarian slave trainers. And recent studies suggest that it is the presence of estrogen, rather than testosterone, which makes both men and women aggressive. The whole attempt to blame social sex roles on "male" and "female" hormones is absurd anyway; we all need both sets of chemicals for our bodies to work properly. On some level, Norman seems to recognize that it just won't wash to try to equate being a top with maleness and being a bottom with femaleness because he includes several scenarios in this book in which the man adopts a submissive role.
I just can't see Norman as a thorough-going misogy?nist, despite his condemnation of crudely stereotyped "Women's Libbers." He obviously loves women a great deal. I can't imagine him actively working to deny us equal opportunity. His work is fiction; it's about fantasy, and not the allocation of salaries or education. As erot?ica, it's very effective. And this book is a potent source of sexual enhancement for couples who respond to Norman's particular type of fantasy matrix. Imaginative Sex could, however, be used by readers of any sexual orientation or gender. Norman is very good at pinpoint?ing archetypal situations that are ideal for building the tension and polarization crucial to a good scene. It's fairly easy to adapt these scenarios to any S/M or D/S relationship. Both male and female submissives react to being pounced on, kidnapped, and "raped" (i.e., ravished in a thoroughly satisfying manner). A male slave being teased by a Mistress or a Master reveals his "true nature" just as a Kajira does ? by becoming aroused when the habiliments of a slave are placed upon him, and he is "forced" to perform menial tasks and sexual service.
Imaginative Sex deals primarily with the psychologi?cal aspects of dominant/submissive role-playing. There's a little technical information in here about bondage and gags, but none about the full range of activity that many people in the leather community use to create intense sensations and emotional release. The "whippings" that Norman describes here do not involve the actual strik?ing of flesh. The dominant partner is told to sharply clap his or her hands together, while the slave reacts as if being whipped. Norman suggests that any partner who really wants to be hit should be persuaded to seek medical attention. I'm not sure what a doctor is supposed to do about masochism that seeks a genuine physical expression, other than add to the amount of shame and confusion that is already way too common among caring, consensual masochists and sadists. Instead, I suggest you savor Imaginative Sex for its rich theatrical content, and consult another technical manual such as my own book Sensuous Magic: A Guide for Adventurous Couples, or Philip Miller and Molly Devon's hilarious and sexy Screw the Roses, Send Me the Thorns. Many excellent "S/M 101" handbooks for beginners have been published in the last five years, and all are available from QSM, P. O. Box 880154, San Francisco, CA 94188, 1-800-537-5815, firstname.lastname@example.org.
All of those quibbles and "yes-buts" aside, please do settle down and enjoy Imaginative Sex. It's a unique and wonderful book. Norman is, above all else, a thorough romantic. His work is an indictment of the industrial society we live in, a protest against the inhumane social forces that attempt to turn us all into identical and predictable units of production and consumption. Most people feel trapped, smothered, and humiliated by their jobs and assaulted by the urban environment. More than one person has probably carved out a little sanity for himself or herself by opening one of Norman's books and living vicariously, for a little while, on a clean and lovely planet where it is possible to be a hero or the dazzling object of his desire. A reader who takes the suggestions in Imaginative Sex to heart will be able to create a healing oasis of passion at home, with the person he or she loves best. Establishing that source of nourishment and renewal takes a great deal of trust and knowledge of oneself and one's partner. The relationship between the two of you and the secret truth you share can become a treasure that can't be bought or sold. The companion in such a journey is infinitely valuable, irreplaceable ? the very antithesis of consumerist culture. Kinky people everywhere owe Masquerade Books a debt of gratitude for keeping in print this thoughtful and inspiring work by an elder of our community.
Copyright ? 1996 Pat Califia. All rights reserved.
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