Clarisse Thorn's picture

Interview with Richard Berkowitz, star of “Sex Positive” and icon of safer sex activism

Our second film at Sex+++ was “Sex Positive”, a fascinating documentary about the history of safer sex. I’ll be honest: I was psyched about “Sex Positive” from day one, long before I’d even seen it. It was the first film I chose for my film list. In fact, the whole idea for the film series came out of a conversation I had with Lisa (our lovely Hull-House Museum education coordinator) in which I said that I wanted to see “Sex Positive”, and then added, “There are so many sexuality movies I want to see. You and I should have a regular movie night!” She looked at me and said thoughtfully, “You know, I bet people besides us would come to that ….”

“Sex Positive” tells the story of Richard Berkowitz — and how he was one of the first to spread the word about safer sex in America. Berkowitz, a talented writer, started out as a hot-blooded participant in the promiscuous gay bathhouse culture; later, he became an S&M hustler. When AIDS started decimating the gay community, Berkowitz was instrumental in teaching his community (and the world) about safer sex. As it became clear to some medical professionals that sexual promiscuity spread AIDS, Berkowitz tried to tell the world about their findings. But there was a huge backlash against him — because in those days, the promiscuous bathhouse culture was seen by many gay men as a huge part of identifying as gay and sex-positive … and anyone who argued against it, or tried to modify it, was therefore cast by many people as sex-negative.

lovemagician's picture

Room For Growth

I usually spend Memorial Weekend at The Heartland Polyamory Conference (HPC) just outside French Lick, Indiana at Our Haven Nature Sanctuary--178 acres of sacred land where diversity isn’t just tolerated but is celebrated.  I was disappointed when I learned that the conference wasn’t taking place this year.  I would miss the heart-felt and thought provoking discussions among a diverse group of polyamorous and polycurious people from communities throughout the Midwest and beyond.

It is so helpful for polyamorists to come together and share about our experiences.  Most of us are learning as we go with limited access to information and support beyond books and the Internet, so sharing with one another about what has and hasn’t worked for us is very useful.  I’m lucky to have access to a very active local poly support and networking group, but I still love expanding my community and hearing from more perspectives.

In addition to the uplifting sense of community at HPC, the weekend affords me an amazing connection with nature.  I camp near a running stream in the clothing optional section (sunscreen and shade not so optional).  I feel an inspiring sense of freedom when I am there.

Last year, I had the opportunity to interact with people who were on the land but were not involved with the polyamory conference who happened to be swingers.  I found myself on the receiving end of assumptions because I’m bisexual and polyamorous.  Couples I had just met were inviting me to connect with them sexually.  I politely declined and tried to take the opportunities to educate them about how and why that is not in line with my personal pursuit of polyamory.  Yet my unwavering assertions were actively ignored, and I got to see how strongly stereotypes can influence people’s behaviors even when they are contrary to what is actually taking place.  I realized I had been naïve to assume that if I am honest and transparent that I would be believed.

arvan's picture

Straight People ♥ Gay Synagogues


Mazel Tov!: Rabbi Lisa Edwards, right, and her wife, Tracy Moore, at their civil marriage in 2008 at Beth Chayim Chadashim in Los Angeles.  (Image courtesy of Jewish Daily Forward)

OK, now this is more like it.  After a week of listening to one form of relgious driven intolerance after another - dominate the information superhighway, I am relieved grateful for news of respect, inclusion and invitation.

Seriously, the pro-life and pro-terrorist crowings that have come since the terrorist murder of Dr. Tiller combined with the fundamentalist hate-mongers vilifying gays for wanting to get married really wore me down this week.  My expectations of where any religion conversation would go, were at an all time low.  A friend of mine tried to strike up a conversation about religion earlier today.  All I could tell him was that if he mentioned the word Jesus, I was leaving him with the bill for lunch.

Then, my bride sends me this story: Why Straight People Go to Gay Synagogues - and what we can learn from them.

It's a wonderful piece on how people actually want and will actively seek out - a society that accepts people who define their own sex, gender, body - in their own terms.

Holy. Fucking. Shit.

Clarisse Thorn's picture

One split in the BDSM subculture: the desire for transgression vs. the dislike of stigma

(Image courtesy of Wisconsin Historical Society)

I'm behind on everything, and every time I manage to take a day where I swear I'll catch up, I get sidetracked by some other huge thing. But this Thursday I'll be presenting at a conference hosted by Chicago's very own LGBT community center, Center on Halsted: "The 2009 Alternative Sexualities Conference: Cultural Competence and Clinical Issues". I, and some other people in the community, will be speaking about the role of communities in the BDSM experience. I can't possibly get sidetracked from that, and I'm pretty excited about it!

Now I've said before, and I say as often as I can, that BDSM communities are filled with many different voices -- plus, there are many BDSM communities out there, not just one. I hope no one ever takes me as "speaking for BDSM" or accurately describing every possible BDSM community out there. But there are some elements common in the BDSM subculture, and some very general splits that I often find myself noticing within it. (I do welcome other voices, ideas, additions, or disagreements with what I'm about to say! Feel free to leave comments! Especially disagreements -- I relish getting different perspectives on the BDSM scene and questioning my own assumptions. Absolutely relish it. Delicious.)

Clarisse Thorn's picture

Evidence that the BDSM community does not enable abuse

How can you tell BDSM from abuse?

People ask me this all the time.

The idea behind that question is that BDSM “looks like” abuse. BDSM can leave bruises or other marks of pain. When two people are having a BDSM encounter, then — if an outsider were to walk in in the middle — it might look like a scene of abuse. Hence, one of the biggest fears that people outside the BDSM community have about BDSM is that — although it appears to be consensual — BDSM enables abuse, or is used as a mask for abuse.

Are some BDSM relationships abusive? Unfortunately, some are. But abuse happens, sometimes, in all relationships. There are lots of non-BDSM relationships, whose participants have never even heard of BDSM, that are abusive. And the fact is that the majority of BDSM relationships — just like the majority of vanilla relationships — are completely consensual encounters between adults who have specifically sought out, opened themselves up to, their own BDSM desires.

Just as importantly, there are swaths of the BDSM community that actively work against abuse within the community.

Clarisse Thorn's picture

Interview with Daniel Bergner, author of “The Other Side of Desire”

I was all set to dislike Daniel Bergner. As a member of the BDSM community and an advocate for greater societal acceptance of BDSM, I was unimpressed by the reviews of his new book, The Other Side of Desire. I get annoyed when I see media depictions that play into BDSM stereotypes or create other problems for the BDSM community image; it seemed to me that Bergner had written a book that did just that. At best, it sounded naïve — at worst, cynical and insensitive. I requested an interview with him, wondering whether we’d end up at each other’s throats … and then I read the book.

The Other Side of Desire is far more complex than I initially gave it credit for. There’s too much silence around alternative sexuality, and it breaks that silence — not by promoting an agenda, but with a plea for personal understanding. I found myself believing that Daniel Bergner really had done his best — not to put us deviants on display like animals in a zoo, but to give profiles of human beings thinking about human concerns. Still, there were gaps in the book that I found very troubling, and I wanted to see if he could defend them.

I arranged to meet Daniel at the Leather Archives and Museum, a museum devoted to leather / fetish / BDSM on Chicago’s north side. There, I found him looking over the Archives’ BDSM history timeline. As he greeted me, I was impressed by his measured speech and unexpectedly dark eyes. There was an openness to him — even, perhaps, a vulnerability — that didn’t come across in photographs. I could see how he’d gotten so many people to open up about their sexuality, and I warmed to him instantly.

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