ASK THE THERAPIST
by William A. Henkin, Ph.D.
Copyright © 1994 by William A. Henkin
(Note: My answer to the following question contains references to numerous books and a few magazines. Where the publishers are large, books are likely to be available in or by special order from most bookstores; therefore I have not provided those publishers' addresses. Where the publishers are small or highly specialized I've provided addresses so that interested readers can hunt the volumes down on their own. In 1994 San Francsico, many of the books I mention are available at A Different Light, 489 Castro Street, and at Good Vibrations, 1210 Valencia Street. The magazines are generally available at the leather shops that serve the SM community, such as Mr. S., Stormy Leather, and A Taste of Leather. You can also acquire most of the books and magazines by mail through QSM, P.O. Box 882242, San Francisco, CA 94188-2242, if you have a relevant bank credit card and have provided a signed statement that you are over 21 years of age.)
<Q> On a recent visit to my parents' home I was thumbing through a pile of papers in my father's study and came across a cache of pretty heavy SM photographs of him. The action was altogether heterosexual, but with all the ropes and whips and hoods and clips, you could hardly call it straight. On the one hand I'm pleased to know that my dad is not quite as squeaky clean as he makes out to be: I've always wanted to have something to talk to him about besides football, and this looks promising. On the other hand, I don't want him to think I was snooping, and in any case I don't know how to bring up the subject. Besides, none of the women in the pictures with him were my mother, and I have no idea if she knows about this part of his life. What should I do?
<A> Asking anyone about his sex life without some sort of invitation is tricky business, and when the person is one's parent the tricks are considerably more complex. Leather may be thicker than gender, but I don't know that it's necessarily thicker than genetics.
If you really want to talk to Dad about his and/or your SM experiences, your best gambit is probably to mention your own interest first, in a light-hearted and casual way. If your father wants to follow up on your lead he can; if not he can express surprise, curiosity, or unconcern, and take the conversation onto other, safer ground.
The usual coming out advice is that you leave some suggestive literature lying around so your intended target can pick it up and say, "Saa-a-a-y-yy, that looks interesting." But I think this is a dangerous approach because the target might pick it up and say, instead, "Eeeuuww, what sickos!" Your father doesn't seem a likely candidate for the second response, but if he were to take a negative position about SM based on some book you left in his path you'd have, in addition to your other concerns, the awkward consideration of calling his bluff or letting your relationship continue with an outright lie.
You don't indicate in your question whether you're gay or het, male or female, so I'll offer the broadest reading recommendations I can, selected with your query in mind from the bibliography Sybil Holiday and I use in some of the courses we teach.
If you want to assert that your interest is specifically in gay male leathersex, the main magazines are still Drummer and Dungeon Master, both published by Desmodus, Inc. (P.O. Box 410390, San Francisco, CA 94141-0390). Some of the best books about gay male leathersex include The Leatherman's Handbook II, by Larry Townsend (Carlysle Communications, 462 Broadway, New York, NY 10013), Ties That Bind, by Guy Baldwin (Daedalus Publishing, 584 Castro Street, San Francisco, CA 94114), and, for fiction, John Preston's Mr. Benson (newly reissued by Masquerade Books), as well as the novels in Preston's Master series I Once Had a Master, Entertainment for a Master, and The Love of a Master (Alyson Publications). Incidentally, though Guy Baldwin's book is written from a gay male perspective for a gay male audience, it addresses questions of SM protocol and propriety with thoughtfulness and integrity that people of any orientation can benefit from.
Though new, Venus Infers (out of print before this column went up) is a punchy magazine if you want to advertise your interest in lesbian leathersex. Two of the best lesbian leathersex books I know are The Lesbian S/M Safety Manual, edited by Pat Califia (Alyson), and Coming To Power, 2nd edition, edited by Samois (Alyson). Pat Califia is also author of some of the best lesbian leathersex fiction I've ever read, including the short story collections Macho Sluts and Melting Point, and the novel Doc and Fluff (all from Alyson).
If you think your father will respond better to something more heterosexually or pansexually inclined, the magazine of choice is Sandmutopia Guardian, (then also published by Desmodus, now SandmutopiaN Guardian, c/o The Utopian Network, P.O. Box 1146, New York, NY 10156). Some of the best pansexual non-fiction books I know include Different Loving: An Exploration of the World of Sexual Dominance and Submission, by Gloria Brame, Will Brame, and Jon Jacobs (Villard), Leatherfolk, edited by Mark Thompson (Alyson), Pat Califia's Sensuous Magic (Masquerade), and Jay Wiseman's SM 101: A Realistic Introduction (from the author at P.O. Box 1261, Berkeley, CA 94701). For fiction try any of the fantasy novels by Anne Rice writing under the name of A. N. Roquelaure: The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty, Beauty's Punishment, or Beauty's Release (Dutton).
As far as snooping is concerned, it seems from your letter that you didn't intend to intrude on your father's private affairs so much as you stumbled onto them. While I don't condone rifling through another person's papers, I also don't think it's wise to keep photographic records of your private fantasies available in an open room if you want to keep them discreet. If you and your father have a good relationship you might do well to skip the subterfuge I've suggested and simply tell him, "Dad, I was looking through the papers on your shelf and found your SM photographs. I thought you might like to know I have an interest in leathersex myself." I suspect any conversation that ensues from such an opening would be worth recording.
Finally, at least from what you've told me, your parents' relationship is between them, and what goes on within it does not include you. If you get into a larger conversation with your father you might ask him how much your mother knows about his activities, but otherwise there's nothing for you to say and in any case it's really not your business.
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