a b o u t...m e

Copyright 1998 by david stein; all rights reserved. May not be reposted, reprinted, or otherwise reproduced except for personal use without explicit permission from the author.

bondage is love
Since at least the age of five, back in 1953, i have wanted to be restrained and controlled, with my energies harnessed and directed, by someone stronger and more sure of himself than i was — and yet at the same time someone who cared for me and would protect me. Very early in my life, for reasons unknown — perhaps because i was granted too much freedom as a child and was largely ignored by both parents until i was of school age — i made an unconscious association between bondage (or any kind of restraint/constraint) and love. (It was only a few years ago that i realized this.) For me, to be bound is to be loved; to be confined is to be wanted.

Media-fueled fantasies of bondage, confinement, and slavery, as well as risky self-bondage experiments, preceded my discoveries of both my own sexual capacity and my homoerotic sexual orientation. i spent a miserably closeted childhood and adolescence in which the feelings that meant most to me were the ones i was least able to share with anyone else. It wasn’t until my very late teens, in graduate school (being as precocious intellectually as i was retarded emotionally), that i realized i was queer and that there were other guys like me who were attracted to men — and who also had the kind of desires that today we casually refer to with such phrases as “s/m,” “leather,” “Dominance and submission,” and “BDSM” and “kink.”

how i became a cover boy
me at Inferno Once i came out, in my late 20s, i came out in a big way — at least in terms of talking about it, if not actually having sex or doing BDSM! i became involved with the gay newspaper in Pittsburgh, where i was then living, and when i abandoned my quest for a doctorate in Philosophy (at Northwestern, with an unfinished dissertation on the modest topic of “truth” <g>), i went into editorial work full-time.

i moved to New York City in 1977 and am still there, still working for the same magazine that hired me back then, though i’ve had several promotions over the years and am now managing editor. In my early years in the Big Apple, i also worked as a volunteer for the National Gay Task Force (now the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force), writing or editing several of its publications. In addition — i didn’t always have to work 10-12 hours a day at my job, as i have for the past few years — i worked part-time for Christopher Street magazine, then in its glory days.

CS ran many of my articles and reviews, and i helped edit some of its star writers, including the now-famous Edmund White. i became the magazine’s house “expert” on s/m, and after my first trip, in 1981, to the Chicago Hellfire Club’s infamous Inferno, i wrote an article about the event for the New York Native, which had the same publisher. Much to my embarrassment, a nude photo of me all tied up at an Inferno bondage demo, which i had provided to illustrate the article, ended up on that week’s cover (i used to see it flash by in TV commercials for the Native). So despite my less than stellar physique (though it was better then than it is now!), i can say i’ve been a cover boy.

my first leathersex
In those early years in New York, i looked for bondage, slavery, and love in all the usual places, but smoky bars with loud music and crowds of aloof, buff leather clothes horses aren’t an environment where i do well. For years i warmed a bench or stool at the Spike, never making contact with anyone. Trying to follow the “code” i’d read about in Larry Townsend’s The Leatherman’s Handbook and Drummer magazine, i wore only denim, not leather i hadn’t “earned” yet, but this approach got me nowhere.

Finally i bought my first leather jacket and wore it to the bar. That same night a handsome man in full leather, who had never noticed me before, took me home with him, let me lick his boots and suck his nipples and cock, and even allowed me to share his bed for the night. It turned out that he was turned on by chubby bottoms, as long as they wore leather, and he called me for return visits, or took me home from the bar, once or twice a month for the next three years. He bought me a pair of leather pants, and he enjoyed having me service him while i wore all the leather i had, including an open-mouth hood i had made for that purpose. (Alan Selby told me that i was the first mail-order customer of his then-new San Francisco store, Mr.S <g>)

The leatherman’s name was Alan, and he talked a great scene, calling me his “dog” and his “slave,” and telling me about all the “evil,” perverted things he would do to me when he got me out to his cabin in the woods. It was wonderful, as far as it went, but i wanted so much more than he was willing to give me, or would let me give him — and the cabin in the woods was never more than talk. Alan didn’t enjoy bondage, or ass-play, or anything more painful than light spanking, and he had no desire to be anyone’s Master or to extend a scene beyond the time it took us both to get off. When i eventually made contact with some heavier players, with his blessing, we broke off our “fuck-buddy” relationship — as i called it (though the sex was exclusively oral) — but we remain friendly. i’ll always be grateful to him as the first man who made me feel that my body and sexuality were things of value.

a fateful letter
GMSMA logo In the summer of 1980, i spotted a letter in Gay Community News (a Boston-based weekly that was a Bible for gay activists in the East) from a Brian O’Dell in New York who wondered if anyone else wanted to get together to talk about s/m, bondage, and role-playing. After years of benchwarming at the Spike, or listening to Alan’s verbal fantasies, i was starving for a chance to talk about s/m. So i called the number in Brian’s letter, and i ended up attending the very first meeting of what became, by the end of that year, Gay Male S/M Activists (GMSMA) — now the world’s largest gay s/m organization, and one of the most respected.

i threw myself into GMSMA as if it were my salvation, and in a way it was. For 11 years i helped build GMSMA, serving for the first year or so as chairman of the steering committee and later as vice president, president, and executive secretary. For most of those 11 years i was also program chairman, and for many of them i edited the newsletter and other publications. Most of my friends came from GMSMA, and most of my contacts in the s/m world were made through it or on its behalf. It absorbed more and more of the time and energy that didn’t go into my job.

GMSMA not only gave me opportunities to learn about s/m — it became the teaching outlet that my departure from academia had denied me, and i used every opportunity it afforded to spread information and ideas about safe, responsible bondage and s/m between consenting adults. i wrote tens of thousands of words for GMSMA publications and prepared dozens of program handouts on various techniques and other topics, some of which have been widely reprinted. An essay i wrote about the historical importance of GMSMA and its sister organization, the Lesbian Sex Mafia (LSM), which was founded at the same time, appears in the anthology Leatherfolk edited by Mark Thompson (Alyson, 1991).

my first Master
i met my first Master, David D., through GMSMA in 1981, and our tempestuous five-month relationship the following year was a tug of war between my commitment to GMSMA and my commitment to him. Although he, too, believed strongly in the value of the organization and was willing to serve it in his own way, he was unwilling to play second fiddle, as he saw it. He loved me very much, and i loved him as much as i’ve loved anyone. We had a good time trying out new things together — like my first mummification — and the sex i had with him was probably the best i’ve ever had, not least because he’s the only man who ever fucked my ass and made me like it! (He said it was because his fisting experience taught him how to relax a tight ass. <g>)

David lived and worked in New Jersey, and he would always come to my apartment in Manhattan. He never even let me see his place until the night we broke up. It was a bitter split, with a lot of anger and recrimination on both sides. He felt that i had never really submitted to him, just allowed him to do things i wanted while resisting anything else. i felt that he had never tried to train me, just expected me to transform myself from the assertive, controlling person i usually was into a meek, compliant slave at the snap of his fingers. After we broke up, David left GMSMA and stopped coming into New York, or at least to any places where he might encounter me. i only saw him once again, on the street at a Gay Pride March four or five years later, and i don’t know if he’s still alive. His parting words rang in my head for years: “I can’t understand why you want to be a slave, because you won’t let go of control for even one minute.”

finding gold in SF
In 1979, through a mutual friend in New York, i met a young Topman, Thor S., on a vacation trip to San Francisco, my first time there since i had come out. (i stayed at the Hotel Eldorado, South of Market, where i also met Guy Baldwin, long before he became famous. We corresponded regularly for several years, and he taught me a great deal.)

Thor and i played once during that trip, as well as doing plenty of touristy things together (a native Californian, he loved SF and was a very knowledgeable guide), and we kept in touch in the years following. We had much in common, despite being very different in temperament, and we grew closer and closer through our correspondence and occasional phone calls. He witnessed my affair with David from a distance, and afterward he sympathized with my frustrations in connecting as a slave with anyone else. He was getting frustrated, too, at the shallowness of the connections he’d been able to make in SF. He had no trouble finding partners to play with, but he wanted someone he could contemplate growing old with.

Finally, after four years of dancing all around the issue, we began talking about getting together with each other. It seemed like a “natural” match, because we already had such a strong basis of affection and friendship, and because Thor wanted to come to New York anyway for career reasons. In May 1983, he spent a week with me in New York on vacation, a week filled with great bondage and s/m, as well as great meals i cooked for him or that we ate out, and on May 30, kneeling naked at his feet, i agreed to become his slave. Our open-ended commitment had no rules except honesty and no foundation except our mutual love and trust.

longtime companions
Six months later, Thor moved into my alcove studio apartment — a month before he’d told me he’d be arriving (he enjoyed surprising me <g>). It was a Friday evening when i arrived home from work and found him sleeping off his jetlag in my bed. i was scheduled to Top in a GMSMA demo that night and, whispering, called up the organizer and canceled.

Though Thor and i talked about getting a new place together, we never did, and almost 15 years later at this writing, we’re still there. If we hadn’t loved each other deeply, we’d have surely killed each other by now! Nonetheless, our feelings changed over time, and it’s not only been years since we were Master and slave, but we’re now in the process of separating lives that have been tangled together for so long.

We had a good run, longer than many, and there are years of great memories. It still awes me a little when i think about how much Thor loved me, and how often he showed it, and my only regret is that i didn’t love him enough in return. i took him for granted too often, counting on him to support and protect me, and to help me achieve my goals, without really seeing his needs unless he expressed them, which he rarely did.

i owe Thor more than i can reckon or express. Even after he stopped being my Master, he was my Top, my lover, my partner, my colleague in countless GMSMA projects, and my best friend. He has read and helped improve, with his comments and suggestions, most of the things i’ve written during our years together, including this autobiography.

Thor designed most of the program handouts and pamphlets i did for GMSMA, as well as the newsletter when i was editing it, and he designed GMSMA’s great 10th Anniversary program book, which featured the first timeline of s/m events and anniversaries. He also did many things for GMSMA on his own or with other collaborators, from programs to flyers to T-shirt designs — his slide show on s/m erotic art is a classic that he is asked to repeat from time to time. If he felt jealous of my commitment to GMSMA, or to my job, he never showed it, though he often advised me to cut back for my own sake, because he saw the constant stress and long hours as endangering my health and poisoning my joy in life.

wisdom of the body
In 1992 i no longer had any choice about cutting back. A combination of health problems hit me in short succession: arthritis in both knees, a very serious bout of pneumonia (not PCP or AIDS-related, but still life-threatening), and, during the convalescence from the pneumonia, the rupture of two degenerated spinal discs in my neck because of the incessant coughing. i was out of work for six weeks, and on a reduced schedule for months after that, and i never returned to active duty in GMSMA. For one thing, i could no longer easily climb the stairs at the Community Center to the third-floor meeting space that GMSMA used. And for another, soon after i recovered, more or less, from my illnesses, my job started to absorb more and more of my time because of staff turnover and the launching of an online version of the magazine.

Unable to participate in person in many of GMSMA’s activities, and also unable to engage comfortably in much BDSM play with Thor or anyone else (not being able to kneel is a real handicap for a submissive bottom, let alone a slave), i turned even more to the written word and to online media to share the knowledge i’d gained over the years and to express the ideas that kept bubbling up in me.

the writing life
A year earlier, when Bound & Gagged magazine went full-size, the editor/publisher, Bob Wingate, had invited me to write a regular column on bondage safety, and “Bond+Aid” became a fixture of the magazine for more than six years. (The editor/publisher and i had a disagreement after B&G’s 10th anniversary issue, and i stopped doing the column for him.) Although i could have written much of it off the top of my head, i enlisted the help of a kinky M.D., Richard Sommers, to provide a sound medical basis for the advice i printed. Some of the columns have been posted online before and will be available here, but i still hope to collect them all into a book someday.

During the same period i started and kept adding to Carried Away: An S/M Romance, a huge novel about the beginnings of a Master/slave relationship. Excerpts were published in Drummer, the short-lived zine Servants’ Quarters, PowerPlay, Mach, and Joseph Bean’s anthology The Horsemen: Leathersex Short Fiction. In 2003, it was finally published by Daedalus. i am prouder of it than of anything else i’ve done.

To a degree, the novel was therapy, allowing me to live out in fiction the bondage scenes and Master/slave relations i wasn’t enjoying in real life. But once i decided that it would be a realistic novel, with nothing inherently impossible (unlike most erotic fiction!), it became difficult to take the characters further than i had witnessed in real-life examples of such relationships — and at that point, i had witnessed very little of the sort! How could i show how a long-term Master/slave relationship might work when most of the couples i knew hadn’t even done as well together as Thor and me? At least we had a year and a half in which he was more or less continually in charge, though we were far from continually “in scene” or “in role” (for instance, while i wore a leather collar to bed most nights during that period, i never wore one during workdays, not even a chain). So i made it a project to “collect” Master/slave couples and find out how they did it, what worked, and what didn’t.

In 1996, i organized a GMSMA program on Master/slave relationships, and because i had found only a few local men willing or able to talk about this, i drew on the long-distance and online contacts i’d made to prepare an extensive handout. The various contracts and other documents printed there, plus the pieces written at my request, ended up giving a much better picture of the variety of such relationships than any hourlong program of talking heads could have done.

After Joseph Bean, then managing editor for Brush Creek Media, read the copy of the GMSMA handout i’d sent him, he invited me to guest-edit an entire issue of International Leatherman magazine on the same subject, with both new material and some recycled from the handout. The gestation was long and at times agonizing, but finally IL #14 appeared in August/September 1997 — and in Checkmate the critic and writer Victor Terry called it “the best single-topic issue of a gay leather magazine ever.” (Maybe we should have submitted it for a National Magazine Award? <g>) Of course, some readers immediately suggested that i should turn the issue into a book — but i never had time, and it's been too long now for it to be practical. Besides, the Master/slave scene has changed so much since then.

going the distance
i’m glad to say that GMSMA not only survived my “retirement” but has even been reinvigorated by some outstanding new leaders who have come along in recent years, especially John Weis (past president and now chairman), who’s a wonderfully committed activist — and wields a mean flogger, too! These days, i still write for the newsletter occasionally, or let it reprint some of my online posts, and i try to participate in an occasional program as well as attending any weekend events it sponsors. And in June 1998, for the first time since my knees got bad, i went the whole distance with the GMSMA contingent in the annual Gay Pride March — in fact, i led it, because i was driving the Jeep that we rented for the occasion!

Today, i get little static from neighbors, colleagues, or family about being gay, but identifying as a “slave” can still raise eyebrows, especially at my age (50 at this writing). It’s not something i’m comfortable yet discussing with everyone, and as i am still anything but a passive, compliant, unassertive person, many friends and acquaintances who do know are as puzzled as David, my first Master, about why i want to be a slave. Is it just a sexual fantasy?

My two extended Master/slave relationships might seem to support that view. After all, neither of them lasted long, at least in those terms. The first, with David, collapsed after only five months, and although Thor and i stayed together for 15 years, we kept renegotiating our roles until they were diluted so far that they lost any erotic charge for us. And yet, my two “failures” as a slave were more than some other guys with such fantasies ever achieve.

Those periods of enslavement felt real, and they felt good, for the most part. The unresolved tensions that brought them to an end were not trivial — both my Masters and i tried very hard to make the relationships work, and if we failed, we failed honorably. i know that i’ve learned a lot, about myself and about slavery, since the last time i wore Thor’s collar (let alone David’s), and despite all the difficulties i still have with being a slave, my desire — and need — to live in obedience and service is stronger than ever.

choosing slavery
One of the things i’ve learned is that consensual slavery doesn’t happen in a vacuum. In a society where people can be enslaved and held in service against their will, there’s no question of “inner conflicts” about being a slave or concern that a slave can’t “get his head into it” or stay in a “submissive space”! Slaves held by force obey, or else. But i don’t think involuntary slavery is at all a good thing, and i’m glad that our society doesn’t support such “relationships”!

Still, the result is that a voluntary slave’s relationship to his slavery is exactly the reverse of an involuntary slave’s: instead of having no choice about remaining a slave, that is precisely what he has to continually choose to do! And all the forces of law, society, peers, family, and career are constantly telling him to give it up, that being “your own man” is what all should strive for, that obedience to any other Master but them is a stupid illusion. So the surprising thing is not that anyone would attempt to be a slave and “fail,” but that anyone ever succeeds! And every moment that a voluntary slave chooses to remain obedient is a triumph.

Another thing i’ve learned is that a life of obedient service needs a structure, or discipline — that simply doing what a Master wants may not be enough to enable a slave to hold to his course. Experienced Masters generally discover this in time and work out structures for their slaves that simultaneously support them in their slavery and get the Master what he wants. But both of my early Masters were inexperienced, as novice at Mastering as i was at slaving — experience as a Top in BDSM scenes is not the same as Mastering a slave over the long haul. They knew what they liked, and what they wanted, but they didn’t really know how to get it from me, and i didn’t know how to give it to them.

David complained that i wouldn’t surrender control, and Thor complained that i didn’t respect him or trust him enough — and both were right, but it wasn’t entirely my fault! i couldn’t learn to surrender, or to feel the kind of bedrock respect and blanket trust a Master wants from a slave, just by an act of will. i needed training that neither of them was able to give me, not least because they didn’t even realize such training was needed. From their perspective, i was “a bad slave,” always fighting their control, and since they weren’t prepared simply to beat me into submission, they gave up on me, at least in terms of slavery.

Was i “a bad slave”? Yes, in many respects — i’d be a fool to deny it. Can i be “a good slave”? Yes, with the right handling, and a lot of patience! How do i know this? — my two periods of training with Master Steve at BUTCHMANN’S Academy in Palm Springs, California. Now, it may seem foolish to take a couple of weeks of training as more indicative of the state of my soul than five months in one relationship and eighteen months in another, and if it were up to me alone i’d still be wondering if i’m cut out to be a slave. But Master Steve, who is not only an experienced Master but also an experienced slave trainer, recognized my “heart of slave” in the periods i spent in His house, and He has encouraged me to accept “slave” as my identity and destiny.

i would never presume to claim the title simply because i want it, but if Master Steve feels that i am worthy to call myself “slave,” i’m not going to argue with Him! Besides, even if it turns out that He’s wrong, i’ve felt better about myself, and treated other people better, since “finding my slavery” than i had for many years previously. Seeing myself as “slave” whether or not i have a Master has made me happier, and more content, than anything else could do short of actually having a Master. If my slavehood is a lie, it may be, to paraphrase Nietzsche, one of those lies without which a being like me cannot live.

slave david stein
July 1998

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