S/M: Sexual Deviance or Sexual Freedom?
Samiya A. Bashir

To deal with S/M in a Black, lesbian context has proven a many tiered task. Trying to find information pertinenet to the subject is much like the time when, entrenched in the Gay & Lesbian community and liberation movement, I realized all of a sudden that I was surrounded by white folks. All of the people of color, especially the sisters, were taking back seats and secretarial work, myself included. Realizing that "The" Gay and Lesbian community was as colorless as any mainstream community was disconcerting, though I shouldn't have been surprised. Just as I shouldn't have been surprised when I found that most everying written about lesbian S/M practices was written by white women (and men!) Just as I shouldn't have been surprised when, exploring the S/M scene as a novice, baby dykje, I noticed that the most visible women in the scene were . . . you guessed it, white women.
Now, this may lead some to believe that there are no Black women involved in the S/M scene, or that--as this is too often the only way you may see them--they are all slaves to some white woman. But, really, that's like the time a young, straight, Ethiopian man told me that there were no homosexuals in Africa--please!
Many folks have a rather large problem with S/M. Some of the roots of their problem may have valid points for some people. But as with anything sexual there are different strokes for different folks. Audre Lorde said about the subject, "S/M is not the sharing of power, it is merely a depressing replay of the old destructive dominant/subordeinate mode of human relating and one-sided power . . ." ("Letter to the Editor," Gay Community News, 7:37, 1980) We cannot deny that these power relations exitst in our daily social lives; we also cannot deny that we as lesbians of color, are deemed virtually powerless in the hierarchy of the social structure. The difference is in how each individual deals with this realization. Some sisters find that playing with these power roles gives them back some of the control over the power dynamics in their lives that the dominant society takes from them everyday.
This is also clearly evidenced in the role playing which we see with women who identify themselves as Butch or Femme. These roles are clearly defined and mirror the Dominant and Submissive roles of S/M exactly with difference being only in degree. Of course many lesbian/feminists find a great many problems with even these relatively tame role definitions.
Most of the people with whom I have come into contact who are into S/M are very educated in matters of poweer dynamics, consensuality and trust . . . not to mention anatomy. A woman with whom I spoke on the subject told me that, for her, it was a progressive act. She mentioned the different levels of empowerment she felt from her gender, from her lesbianism, and from the freedom to take control of her sexual fantasies.
Any discussions of S/M always goes back to the issue of trust. You can't become involved with someone, give up your power to them, give up your body to them; at least that is the ideal behind S/M. Having a lover to whom you can give your total trust and control, or who will turn over, for a period of time, their control into your hands, can be an extremely healing process in a world where our power, what little of it exists, is negated by society daily.
It is around the idea of taking control in our private lives of the power dynamics presdribed for us by society, of which we have no veritable control, that S/M lies. We all have power issues, and to deny that is a real sidestepping of the issue. To take from our sisters, or further ostracize them from what is often the only community in which they really feel at home, that of other Sister Lesbians, does an injustice to those women. It serves only to divide and fragment our already fragile community. Our late sister Audre Lorde also told us that we need to celebrate our differences; see them as strenths. For those of us who are Black, women and lesbians in a white, male dominated world finding strengths in our differences, which are many, is the ultimate act of resistance and solidarity.

Copyright © 1993. Used by permission of author. All Rights Reserved.

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