Gloria Brame Discusses Sexual Freedom in America

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Gloria Brame, leading international authority on BDSM and fetish sex, talks culture and politics with Gracie.

In a time of vanilla politics, how would you evaluate the BDSM community reaction? Do you think folks are worried? Not taking it seriously? Is it an issue in your mind?

As I see it, this is not a time of vanilla politics but a time of anti-sex politics. Big difference. We live in a primarily vanilla world and always have. But over the past three or four decades we saw a gradual loosening up of censorship and intimidation against people involved in sex-work or so-called "alternative lifestyles." Certainly Stonewall was a landmark event in the consciousness-raising of all sexual minorities. It's hard to know whether a Stonewell-type action could even occur today without media burying the story behind tales of Dubya fishing in Rancho Busho.

To some degree, American culture has always had a split sexual personality: on one hand, we are bombarded by the values espoused by people who consider sex to be dirty or evil; and then there are the industries which cater to sexual desires. Whether selling cars or cologne, sex has existed as a marketing tool almost as long as advertising--and so have the consumers who write angry letters about it.

What we've been seeing in the last several years, though, has been a direct assault (former Attorney General Ashcroft, like one of his predecessors, Ed Meese, was virulently anti-sex) on sex-related media, materials, and socio-political iissues. Whether it's the US refusing to fund contraceptive initiatives in foreign countries which permit abortions; or ongoing legislative battles over Roe v. Wade, targeted prosecution of porn merchants, increased harrassment of SM groups (most pointedly, organized efforts to shut down SM events throughout the country, from "Paddleboro" to St. Louis), abstinence-only education, or the passage of the CDA, we are witnessing a government that is intent on turning back the tide of social liberalism. This Administration in particular has been working hard to re-assign authority for sexual and reproductive choices to the government, rather than the individual. It isn't liberal. It isn't conservative either. In fact, I don't know what the hell it is other than a pretty tragic situation for those of us who think that we should be free to choose what we do with our own genitals.

Perhaps the most worrisome aspect of all this is not what the Feds are doing but how the current Administration's policies are empowering people at a local level to take direct action against those they deem to be perverts. This week's news contained a story about a vigilante who murdered two registered sex offenders in his neighborhood. He obtained their names and addresses from the Web where police agencies regularly publish photos of people busted for sex crimes.

Objectively, is a sex crime better or worse than larceny, manslaughter, or drunk driving? I would say it depends on the nature of the crime. Rape is an abomination; but plenty of "sex criminals" are johns who got busted patronizing a hooker, some are gay guys caught cruising, and so on. But the current attitude seems to be that all sex crimes are equal--at least when it comes to the way we treat the convicted. I feel the legal system is out of control now on how it assesses sex crimes in relation to other types of crimes. I also believe it's the direct consequence of a Puritanical, prudish, and sex-terrified culture: mutually consensual adult behaviors are being prosecuted more vigorously and ruthlessly than white-collar crimes which bankrupt thousands of employees. That is not justice.

I used an extreme example in mentioning the vigilante. The far more common manifestation is either a phone/letter campaign against alleged media depravity (a la the Janet Jackson tit-flashing), boycotts and marches against hotels which host SM events, or Kooky Christians who go ballistic over gays. Whereas we would have, even 10 years ago, rightly viewed these people as cranks and prudes, the Administration has granted them a kind of legitimacy that emboldens them to take their campaigns further and further, and to bring their rhetoric onto every major television news outlet. Until I see people from Libertarian or genuinely Left-Wing (no, not Democrats, for goodness sake--let's see some Commies or some Anarchists, like Henry Rollins) getting equal time with people from the Heritage Foundation on every sex-related issue, I will not believe that pop media has any interest whatever in a honest debate on sexuality.

People usually don't worry, en masse, until something affects them personally. Bin Laden was threatening to bomb us for months before September 11th. It took a catastrophic event for us finally to accept that there are people who hate us, who would kill us, who want to terrorize us, and who will stop at nothing to do so. It was, I think, an emotionally devastating realization for many Americans.

I'm not saying it will take a catastrophic event for sexually liberated Americans to finally realize that all the pieces have been slowly moving into place to persecute sexual minorities--maybe you have all realized that by now. But I do think until there is some big event which unifies us (or scares thousands of us back into the closet, and possibly both), that most people will not take it as seriously as they could.

Also--who's to say? Maybe we will never face any really tragic turn-around. They have been trying to shut down porn on-line for years without success. They've made it incredibly difficult for SM businesses to operate on-line, yet SM businesses find ways around it and persist. The fact is, no matter how hard anyone may try, there is no effective means to eliminate sex from human consciousness or to reduce the human appetite for sexual satisfaction, short of brain-washing and intimidation. Some may disagree, but I do not believe America will ever be that kind of a country. I hope I am not being naive.

Personally, of course it's an issue. I can't imagine the things I write are really popular across the political spectrum. At the same time, I don't do reckless things. I'm a "what you see is what you get" kind of person with no skeletons in my closet (just bodies--wink). So I don't feel that vulnerable. My attorney, however, frequently reminds me that I'm deluded about that, which I guess is what I pay him for.

** Dr. Gloria G. Brame is a licensed clinical sexologist and a long-time kinky person. You can find out more about Gloria here at another interview here, as well as the review of her book. More information on Gloria is available at her website,, and her blog, Inside the mind of Gloria Brame.



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