Monday, October 26, 2015

Pink Therapy Event Guidelines for Organizers and Participants

Pink Therapy is a British kink education and therapy group.  They have been known to attend the Community-Academic Consortium for Research on Alternative Sexualities annual conference, which will next meet immediately prior to the 2016 Folsom Street Fair in San Francisco, September 24. 2016..  

They have produced excellent educational materials about the handling of power and the ethical obligations of participants, leaders, facilitators, educators and therapists.  I get questions all the time from therapists in training about their responsibilities at kink events.  Should they even go?  Do they need to sacrifice their personal sex lives to serve their clients?  How long after a therapeutic relationship stops is it safe to be seen by a client at an event?

These documents, which do not answer all questions, do outline the ethical responsibilities of informed consent among participants at different levels of power and experience.

Pink Therapy has produced two sets of guidelines that can be downloaded from their website:

Guidelines for Community Members Attending Parties or Events, downloadable here:

Guidelines for Community Members

Guidelines for Facilitators, Organizers and Community Leaders, downloadable here:

Guidelines for Leaders

How needed are these?  The 2014 Consent Violations Survey reported that over 30% of the over 4000 respondents who volunteered to complete the survey had experienced a violation.  This must not be confused with all kink event participants due to a self-selected sample, and we have no way of knowing what percentage of kinksters saw our survey, and how many of those decided to respond. But 20% of the violations involved kink event organizers or leadership in the event sponsorship.  This violations were perceived not just as mistakes, but abuse of institutional authority within the community.  

Please feel free to reproduce these, distribute them, and modify them as best suits your community.

Pink Therapy can be found on the web at: 

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Sexual Deviation in the Renaissance

Mehmet II using canons in the Siege of Constantinople, 1452

When, in 1453, Sultan Mehmed II brought canons to Constantinople, he did not intend to bring the Middle Ages to a close.  This was not even the very first use of newfangled firearms in the West.  These had been brought from China, which had been using them for years.  But at Constantinople, they proved decisive.  In just seven weeks they battered the previously impregnable vertical walls that had propped up the Roman Empire for almost 1500 years.  Ever since, it has been hard for historians not to credit this event with a sea change in Western Civilization.

The term ‘renaissance’ literally means rebirth.  Just as the old Roman Empire was dying, Italy was discovering interest in its classical roots.  The dis-unified, contentious, innovative Italian city states were nothing like their powerful Roman predecessors, but they were built on those ruins, the evidence of antiquity was all around them, and their new found curiosity about that classical world was part of a re-framing of everything from the medieval world.

The story of Joan of Arc’s heretical transvestism from the earlier post is actually a great transitional Renaissance story.  In it, Joan’s state of mind is of central interest.  This is the primary difference between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.  In the Middle Ages, the states of mind of kings, bishops and popes matter, but commoners do not.  St. Joan is unique in being a commoner whose state of mind was worthy of official notice.  Even then, it was only noteworthy because warring elites were citing her behavior as proof of divine intervention.  In the Renaissance, inquiry and interest in everyone begins to matter.  This change was not brought about by the Fall of Constantinople, nor by the use of canons, although that technological change is important.  Canons are not a class of weapon wielded by aristocratic warriors, but by commoner technicians whose technical skills in chemistry, metallurgy and physics have become decisive on the battlefield.  In the military, as in religion, and in sexuality, what commoner specialists know makes all the difference.  And that led to renewed interest in the classical philosophers, and a tectonic shift in which institutions centralized the authority to decide what reality was.

A modern replica of Johannes Gutenberg's printing press

The other crucial event that is often said to demarcate the boundary between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance is the invention of the printing press.  This example is a case study in social construction.  For the printing press was not invented in the Middle Ages, it had been around since antiquity in the form of the wine press, where it spared everyone the labor-intensive practice of stamping grapes into juice with bare feet.  Sometime in the 7th century, the Chinese made the first woodblock printed books.  In the 11th century, the Koreans had invented wooden movable type.  But Chinese bureaucratic class structure was not transformed by this innovation, and Johannes Gutenberg’s 15th century use of metallic movable type and the printing of the Gutenberg Bible was transformative.  The technical and trading classes of Europe who had been making incremental technical innovations in the thousand years since the fall of the Western Roman Empire had developed the literary skills to read, and a technology that could put books in their hands en mass changed everything.

Cochem, Germany, as viewed from Reichsberg Castle

Which brings us to the town of Cochem on the Moselle River, some 75 miles from bustling Mainz where Johannes press first started the mass production of the Bible.  This sleepy little wine town is nestled on the narrow flood plain of the Moselle between the steep vine-covered slopes that have been devoted to its primary craft for the last 2000 years.  Before us is a fountain of a goat being crushed in a wine press.  Lest you think its resident’s unduly harsh and bloodthirsty, the story of this fountain is actually proof of the importance of wine and of their piety.

Cochem's Goat Fountain (photo by the author.)

For the town has always observed that, in the last week of the growing season, when the grapes are most sweet and tempting, the vines are off limits to residents and animals alike.  It is death to be found stealing from the vines during the crucial final period of greatest ripeness.  Yet a boy and a goat have been found in the fields.  The boy has gone in to retrieve his pet.  He is a good and god-fearing son of a vinter whose disclaimer is to be believed by all.  But how is the animal’s innocence to be determined?  The vinter finally suggests the goat be placed on the press.  If the goat is guilty of eating grapes, his blood will flow purple with the color of the juice.  If he is innocent, his red blood will flow clear of corruption.  Eventually the goat dies, his blood flowing clear, verifying the boy’s story and proving the goat was a good animal and had not partaken of the grapes, and the citizens are satisfied of the sanctity of their crops, the boy and the goat.  All is well in Cochem!

Reichsberg Castle as seen from Cochem (photo by genuine professionals!)
Overlooking the town is Reichsberg Castle.  Originally built in the 11th century, Louis the XIV knocked most of it down in 1689 during his devastation of the Palatinate during the War of the League of Augsburg.  In the mid-19th century, Reichsberg Castle was rebuilt in the neo-romantic style, with only the Hexenturm, or ‘Witches Tower’ preserved from the original 11th century ruins.  This tower got its name from the practice of trying witches by throwing them from the 40-foot-high window.  Since no mortal could survive the fall, a suspect was obviously acquitted if she died from the fall.  Those few who survived were immediately put to death for witchcraft.

The Hexenturm is on the left, a Neo-Romantic turret occupies the center.  Witches were thrown from the arch. (photo by the author.)
The similarity of these two Cochem stories, with their devotion to a less-than-modern conception of empiricism, reads as Pythonesque today.  But like the Spanish Inquisition, which sentenced prisoners to death as the inevitable choice between two goods; the inquisitors contrived to preserve the protagonists soul, not their lives.  An innocent was consigned directly to Heaven, and their purity preserved.  The guilty were dispatched to hell and the purity of the community preserved.  Intention and adherence to law mattered more than life itself.
"And how do we know she's a witch?" (still from Monty Python and the Holy Grail -- 1975)
It is not surprising at this time that people became less tolerant of sexual variations that previously did not provoke much notice.  Sex stopped becoming a merely animal matter, or a simple function of power, and started to attain symbolic significance not unlike the Augustinian battle against paganism.  Before the Renaissance, behavior proved belief.  Pagans were converted or put to death because of their behavior.  Now that belief mattered, the boundaries changed, and you could be persecuted for thinking the wrong thing.

Not that the church found sex behavior beneath its notice after paganism had largely been replaced by Christian belief.  Thomas Aquinas declared it unnatural in his disquisition on natural law, and church doctrine had been vaguely opposed to sensuality since St Augustine.  But, like St Joan’s heresy of wearing armor, church doctrine around variant sexual expression was there as a basis for prosecution if a dissident defied Church teaching.
The first recorded execution for sodomy was in the 13th century in Ghent.  This etching, a contemporary of the printing press, probably depicts persecution of anabaptists.  Anabaptists, including Mennonites, Amish, Hitterites and other Protestant sects, believed in deferring baptism until the age of consent.  This was objectionable to Catholics and other Protestants who believed children went directly to Hell if they died having not first been baptized. 
It is quite difficult from the vantage point of the early twenty-first century to recognize the extent of the cataclysm this would provoke.  The 30 Years War, the French Wars of Religion, The English Civil War, and, and Spanish attempts to subdue the low countries were catastrophes that depopulated the Rhine, bankrupted major powers, and drove emigration to the New World.  An increasingly urbanized population had more opportunities for sexual deviance, but the rising power of states and decreased privacy meant more opportunities for sexual pogroms and repression.  And both the church and the state cared about what one thought, not just how they behaved.

A contemporary production of Romeo and Juliet  "It was the nightingale and not the lark, that pierc'd the fearful hollow of thine ear!"

The new liberalism and repression are evident in the work of William Shakespeare.  Full of bawdy references, Shakespeare is ribald enough today that social conservatives are often made uncomfortable teaching it in high school.  But Shakespeare and all London theater went through periods in which the theaters were regarded as hotbeds of immorality and were periodically shut down entirely on religious grounds.  All the female parts were played by teenage males because the theater was associated with vice and prostitution.  It was commonly thought that many actors were gay.  After the reign of Elizabeth I the theaters were closed altogether following the English Civil War. At the conclusion of Cromwell’s puritanical reign, the theaters would reopen with a ribald vengeance during the Restoration.   This same conflict about representation of the erotic could be seen in Dutch and Flemish painting as the interest in peasant and interior life gave rise to eroticism, and this was alternately exposed, repressed, and restored.  Sex lives mattered during the restoration and Counter-Reformation, but mainly in the context of a contested set of social constructions aimed at demonstrating the superiority of one form of religion over another.

Venus, Cupid, Bacchus, and Ceres (1612-13) by Peter Paul Rubens in the Counter-Reformation's return to eroticism.
Foucault would later criticize the idea that the Western relationship to sexuality was primarily one of Freudian repression.  But in the Renaissance, as society became increasing professionalized by a tiny but rising middle class, there was an initial struggle over repression.  This was not primarily about sex itself.  In the rural Middle Ages and Renaissance, it was hard to come down too hard on reproduction when children were and economic asset and the countryside depopulated by war and disease.  But sex became one more battle ground in the war over belief and the forced decentralization of church authority to dictate what reality was.

© Russell J Stambaugh, October 2015, Ann Arbor, MI.  All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The Social Construction of Reality

The Social Construction of Reality (1966)

The intellectual foundation of this blog is social constructionism.  It is my claim that you just can’t   understand kink without it.  If kink is partly a subculture, then it is necessary to understand the larger societies of which it is a part.  That larger culture is the context.  Try as we might to define our individual identities, we do so from the material provided by the larger society.  Social constructionism offers important insight about how societies work.

Social Construction is a theory that holds that the key truths of our social world are made up in an interplay with social actors; individuals and organizations who pursue various agendas or purposes.  Social constructionists don’t dispute that there is such thing as a concrete reality.  They all agree that a table is a table, and apple, is an apple, and The Empire State Building has 102 stories.  But much of the social world is ambiguous and its rules and meanings are determined in an ongoing social exchange.  Different social actors advocate and operate under differing views.  Collectively these define the cultures, subcultures and micro-cultures in which all humans are embedded.  Essentially, the epsitemologies of social knowledge flow through social interaction.

Peter Berger
Thomas Luckman

In 1966, Peter Berger and Thomas Luckman formally recognized this with their book, The Social Construction of Reality.  It is one of the most influential intellectual frameworks in social science.  

Portions of Saigon destroyed during Tet, 1968

It arrived just in time for an elaborate demonstration of its power, as Americans, who by then had all acquired the recent technological innovation of television, tuned it to see the North Vietnamese 1968 Tet Offensive.  After years of escalating guerrilla warfare, the US military leadership had taken to demonstrating the success of their counter insurgency campaign by reporting the body counts of the many Viet Cong insurgents US forces had killed.  US officials used these body counts to create a narrative of an increasingly weakened enemy. By taking the offensive over the Vietnamese New Year holiday, and simultaneously attacking 38 population centers, the Viet Cong and their allies demonstrated that the body counts meant nothing about their capacity to fight.   To attack simultaneously and ferociously, they appeared strong despite sustaining many additional casualties. Americans watched the destruction of Hue, the old Vietnamese capitol, on the nightly news and heard doubtful news commentators openly questioning the official stories of victory.   It two weeks of fighting in battles that they consistently lost on the metric of body count, the Communists completely reframed the meaning of the Vietnamese War.  The American public stopped believing that victory in the Vietnam War was in sight.  A domestic anti-war movement grew in power and eventually forced the United States government to the negotiating table and military withdrawal.

CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite.  When he questioned administration claims about the progress of the war during Tet, U S President Lyndon Baines Johnson said privately, "If I've have lost Cronkite, I've lost the Middle America!"
Social meaning can be shockingly fragile and subject to sweeping changes when the conditions were conducive to such change.  The social construction of reality provided the intellectual basis for recognizing this.  The Vietnam War on TV provided the experiential basis.

That social reality is constructed has many corollaries.  For example, individuals know a great deal about the social reality of their everyday lives, their ethnicities, social roles or occupations, and have only indistinct notions about other cultures, occupations or roles in which they do not participate. Those of you who live in New York City, have visited the Empire State Building, have a passion for the architecture of skyscapers, or have read Michael Chabon may already know that the Empire State Building has 102 stories.  But most of us do not. Our personal knowledge is like a camera with increased resolution in areas of greatest interest or experience. 

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay (2000) is one of many ways you might know how many stories the Empire State Building has.  Now this blog is another!
Much of what we come to know is socialized into us from birth, indistinguishable from objective reality as our parents present it to us.  Many of our assumptions are ingrained by habit before they are intellectually examined.  Social constructionism assumes that the formation of social knowledge is socially interactive, and often full of conflict, with competing advocates clashing over differing interpretations of reality.  While this is obvious in areas like politics or religion, such clashes occur at every level, not just the public square discourses of political apparatchiks, but in the bedroom among intimates.  It is easy to see how traditionalists could construe this as moral relativism.

Karl Marx (1818-1883)  One of sociology's Founding Fathers, Marx recognized that institutions clashed over the production of social knowledge.  

The notion that ideologies clashed was not new to sociology in 1966.  Political Science was already an established discipline, and indeed America and the Soviet Union were in the midst of the Cold War, an ideological clash of which the Vietnam was but a minor part.  Since Marx in 1848 had argued that the role of a properly communist press was to maintain class consciousness among the proletariat, sociologists recognized the large social institutions such as governments and universities were responsible for producing knowledge, and that knowledge producers sometimes clashed.  Berger and Luckman began a Renaissance in sociology by emphasizing that knowledge production happened just as intensely at the individual level.
Berger and Luckman owed a considerable debt to George Herbert Meade and the later symbolic interactionist school.  That school believes that people do not so much deal with reality as it is, but in terms of how they believe it to be.  Much of symbolic interactionism evolved out of efforts to resolve the limitations of Meade’s pragmatism; the theory that people mostly behaved in their rational self-interest and pursued their goals with reasonable efficiency.  While it is often true that people behave pragmatically, symbolic interactionism developed to cope with the imperfections of pragmatism.  Often people don’t know reality directly, and instead act in accordance with incorrect perceptions.  Sometimes they act from their identities, other times from their social roles.  Freud would go on to suggest that many reasons for action are unconscious.  Pragmatism survives to this day in its influences on rational emotive and cognitive behavior therapies.  That cognitive behaviorism has replaced radical behaviorism is largely a concession to the influences of Freud and Meade.

Another aspect of social constructionism worth emphasizing is its relation to role theory.  Often people participate in the production of social knowledge from a particular role, rather than with the entire persona.  They may be a group leader or spokesperson.  They may comment from a position of privilege or as an outsider.  Perhaps they are a mother, submissive, or a teacher.  Our expectations of these roles, and the special knowledge and perspectives we take from our roles inform the knowledge construction process.  The importance of role theory can be readily seen in understand BDSM role play, and role conflict, such as between the roles of parent and kinky submissive, can shape peoples insights about how kink works.

Jean Genet's The Maids (1947).  This play is proof that that roles were undergoing deconstruction long before Berger and Luckman.  But how we know good and bad role play is crucial to satisfying BDSM play, yet relies on social context.  These maids are very 'bad' indeed!
 Another corollary of social constructionism:  ‘The personal is political!”  For many readers, this rallying cry of the women’s liberation movement is rather before their time, but the struggle over the relationship between personal and political life began at this time and built on sociologies new focus on social knowledge and production at the individual level.  How you lived your roles became a political statement whether you intended it to be construed that way, or not.

The geocentric model of the solar system might be a disadvantage in space exploration.  Yet for an estimated 26% it is their perceived reality.  For some, dinosaurs belong in historical fiction.
The acknowledgement of the importance of roles is a special case in social constructionism of the insight that context is all important in social knowledge.  If we only know very much about the part of the social world we occupy, and much of our perception and knowledge is role dependent, context matters tremendously in our epistemology.  Pew Research published results earlier this year that only 74% of a random sample of American adults could correctly answer the question, ‘Does the Earth circle the sun or the sun circle the earth?’  74% might look like quite a lot of correct answers, until you appreciate that the chance of getting this question correct is 50% if you don’t have the slightest idea and guess randomly!  Even the basic tenets of astronomy and earth science cannot be assumed to form the context of about half of all Americans if this question is an accurate indication.  Likewise if the President of the United States is expected to know and understand the United States Constitution, but if a candidate says he would oppose an otherwise qualified candidate for President if that candidate had the wrong faith, the statement is not merely alarming because of the candidate’s possible shortcomings as an impartial leader, but also because the candidate believed that in the context of his constituency, those beliefs are fair, valid, and/or persuasive.  People who know and understand the Constitution should be shocked at the suggestion that religion alone would disqualify a candidate for serving.  But if few people understand the constitutional provisions on religion, mere unpopularity might be a persuasive political argument to them.  Social constructionism provides a basis for understanding the differences in how our actual behavior differs from our professed ideologies, one of the greatest intellectual benefits of modern social science.

The DSMs.  Look carefully to see the spiral bound DSM - I on top.  The summation of the struggles to define psychopathology, including paraphilias.  Also ripe for social constructionist deconstruction!
Regular readers of this blog have seen many prior posts that discuss the details of the social conflict over diagnosis of the paraphilias.  This is one of the most concrete ways in which social constructionism provides insight into how kink gets stigmatized.  In fact, psychiatry and the societies in which it arose were stigmatizing sexual variation for many years before this sociological behavior had a label.  To understand more about social stigma, and role theory on kink, we need to spend a little time considering the work of Erving Goffman coming soon to a blog near you.

© Russell J Stambaugh, October 2015, Ann Arbor, MI.  All Rights Reserved.