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Sadomasochistic Literature  
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Other Lesbian Sadomasochistic Fiction

S/M-themed lesbian short fiction can also be found in Dorothy Allison's Trash (1988) and Cappy Kotz's, The First Stroke (1988). The Dog-Collar Murders by the successful "vanilla" novelist Barbara Wilson defends S/M against the charge that it is internalized male hatred that inevitably leads to violence.

Lesbian S/M literature has been at the forefront of recognizing the legitimacy of consensual S/M practice while criticizing the real social structures that S/M practice in part reflects and contests.

Serious Criticism of Sadomasochistic Fiction

Although critics of S/M fiction continue to claim that it reinforces gay self-hatred, they also level the more serious charge that it advances conservative social and sexual ideologies. Since the majority of S/M literature is produced by and for white males, critics have tried to show the ways in which S/M culture replicates race, class, and gender hierarchies.

It is true that S/M literature too often eroticizes racial and ethnic difference. And in its less rigorous forms, it also depicts positions of power and dominance based on class position and misogynistic notions of masculinity.

Perhaps these tendencies are rooted in the origins of S/M culture in America. Scholars have argued that it arose out of the biker culture of the 1950s, which is often seen as a reaction against the domestic stability and white-collar positions offered to white males in post-World War II America.

The association of male homosexuality with S/M imagery such as leather, piercing, and tattoos is sometimes seen as a reaction against the widespread belief that homosexuality was a form of gender deviance and effeminacy.

If S/M has become a dominant mode of gay life and gay style, some critics have argued that it is only imitating the rise of a new form of masculinity associated with the rising conservatism of the 1980s and 1990s.

But to call S/M, especially in its most radical and dissenting forms, politically conservative is clearly too simplistic. There is reason to believe, for example, that the politics of confrontation and outrage that have come to be associated with the ascendancy of politics owes a significant debt to S/M.

Not surprisingly, some S/M writers lament the increased visibility and cultural mainstreaming of S/M practice as a watering down of its empowering potential.


The heated wars over lesbian S/M, like the attempts in America and abroad to ban consensual S/M sex and to censor its representation, attest to the fact that S/M continues to be a site of extraordinary controversy and fascination.

S/M writing, as the spirited nonfiction anthology Leatherfolk (1991) demonstrates, has constructed itself as a form of emancipation for all lesbians and gays. As a crucial site of S/M performance, sadomasochistic literature continues to stake a claim for S/M's radical potential.

Robert Wood

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social sciences >> Overview:  Bear Movement

The Bear Movement has inspired a number of organizations, events, publications, and resources dedicated to affirming and eroticizing large-bodied, hirsute gay men, known as Bears.

literature >> Overview:  Erotica and Pornography

Erotic and pornographic works have been written in many cultures since ancient times and recently have flourished with the relaxation of censorship.

social sciences >> Overview:  Leather Culture

"Leather" is a blanket term for a large array of sexual preferences, identities, relationship structures, and social organizations loosely tied together by the thread of what is conventionally understood as sadomasochistic sex.

literature >> Allison, Dorothy E.

South Carolina native Dorothy Allison refuses to write didactic or romantic illustrations of the lesbian experience, focusing instead on the sheer survival of her lesbian characters in the hostile environment of Southern working-class families.

literature >> Andrews, Terry

Terry Andrews is the pseudonym under which was published The Story of Harold, one of the most remarkable queer books of the twentieth century.

literature >> Burroughs, William S.

Both in his life and his novels, American writer William S. Burroughs was an outlaw and a provocateur, focusing on sexual repression as the fundamental element of social control and writing in a surrealistic and bitterly satirical mode.

literature >> Busi, Aldo

Italian novelist Aldo Busi, while eschewing the label "gay writer," nevertheless presents homosexual acts as normative behavior and foregrounds gay sex as an epiphany for his protagonists.

literature >> Califia, Patrick

Controversial for defending sadomasochism and pornography, gender outlaw and sexual anarchist Patrick Califia, who recently underwent gender reassignment, is widely admired as a defender of individual freedom.

literature >> Cooper, Dennis

Controversial writer Dennis Cooper is best known for his series of strikingly original, critically acclaimed, albeit transgressive and contentious, novels exploring the nature of sexual obsession, alienation, brutality, and death.

literature >> Delany, Samuel R.

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literature >> Goytisolo, Juan

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literature >> St. Sebastian

Although he has had various embodiments throughout history, Sebastian has long been known as the homosexual's saint.


Preston, John, ed. Flesh and the Word: An Anthology of Erotic Writing. New York: Plume, 1992.

_____. Mr. Benson. New York: Badboy Edition, 1992.

Samois, eds. Coming to Power. 3rd ed. Boston: Alyson Publications, 1987.

Thompson, Mark, ed. Leatherfolk: Radical Sex, People, Politics, and Practice. Boston: Alyson Publications, 1991.

Townsend, Larry. The Leatherman's Handbook II. 3rd ed. New York: Carlyle Communications, 1993.


    Citation Information
    Author: Wood, Robert  
    Entry Title: Sadomasochistic Literature  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated March 12, 2012  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 1995, 2002 New England Publishing Associates  


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