Kink On Tap Wiki
Episode name: Kink on Tap 70 - Playing on the Edge
Filename: kinkontap70
Duration: 116:05
Transcribed by: Rebecca Crane

-- Blank lines ( _________ ) indicate audio was unclear or too soft to hear.
-- [BRACKETS] indicate transcriber comments, best attempts at words that are unclear, or descriptions of non-spoken sound.



MAYMAY: This is Kink On Tap Episode 70, recorded March 6th, 2011. "Playing on the Edge" Kink On Tap is brought to you by donations from listeners like you. Thank you so much for your support. It's time again and at last for more Kink On Tap, the smart sexuality netcast for the kinkily inclined. Hi everyone. Maymay speaking again. I am not going to consider myself "back" from hiatus, as I'm still not really ready to return to weekly broadcasting. But when an opportunity like this one presents itself, I can't think of anything other than Sun Tzu's famous words, "Opportunities multiply as they are seized." And so, Staci, if you'll pardon the potentially brash turn of phrase, I just knew I had to seize the opportunity to share your work with our listeners on this special Kink On Tap episode.

STACI NEWMAHR: Thank you very much. I'm glad that you came back, that you resurrected it for this. I was very excited.

MAYMAY: "Resurrected" is a strong word. I don't wanna say that I'm dead either. [LAUGHTER]

STACI NEWMAHR: Woke it up?

MAYMAY: Yeah, sure. Perhaps "stopped hibernating."

STACI NEWMAHR: Okay. There we go.

MAYMAY: So, for those tuning in, I'm speaking with Staci. STACI NEWMAHR. Staci is the author of a new ethnography called "Playing on the Edge: Sadomasochism, Risk, and Intimacy." It was published in 2011 by Indiana University Press. Her work plays with the intersections of gender, non-conformity, risk-taking, emotion and eroticism. She's an ethnographer and sociologist at Buffalo State College and an associate editor of Symbolic Interaction, a social science professional's publication and, if it's not too haughty to add, a personal friend of mine. I am so, so happy to have you here, Staci. Thank you so much for joining me.

STACI NEWMAHR: Thank you. I'm thrilled to be here.

MAYMAY: Good, good. Thrilled is a good word, because this is-, we are talking about risk at some points in this, and that is certainly has relationship with risk-, with thrill-seeking behaviors.


MAYMAY: So, I hope you don't feel like you're taking too big of a risk, actually. But. [LAUGHTER] In talking to me.

STACI NEWMAHR: I'm comfortable with the level of risk. [LAUGHS]

MAYMAY: Okay, good. It's all consensual here. STACI NEWMAHR's book "Playing on the Edge", it's available now on Amazon. One of the reasons that I've been so looking forward to this show is really because the book is personally really powerful for me. In it, you are able to articulate in an academic language a huge number of the things that I've been trying, I feel like, to discuss for a really long time on my blog, but I am probably the furthest you can get from the formal academic. So, it is good to hear so many of the things that I've sort of discussed about S/M and my experience with it, and my experience in the community, articulated formally to an audience that I could probably never reach. So, I think that is one reason I am so excited to have you on. And I guess we can start by-, because it is an academic work, can you briefly explain what ethnography is? 'Cause this book is an ethnography. What is that? What's an ethnography?

STACI NEWMAHR: Right. I can, um, well, first of all, can I just-, I just wanna disagree already and say- [LAUGHTER]

MAYMAY: Haha, this'll be great.

STACI NEWMAHR: I think that there are-, I think there are ways to be much, much further than a formal academic than you. I just wanna say.


STACI NEWMAHR: You're that far off.

MAYMAY: I will take that as a disagreed compliment.

STACI NEWMAHR: Yeah. It is intended as a compliment.

MAYMAY: Thank you.

STACI NEWMAHR: But, um, ethnography is-, it's a pretty contested term, actually, right now in sociology. But I use it in sort of its traditional anthropological way, at least as much as a sociologist can, because it's a complete theft from anthropology. [MAYMAY LAUGHS] But what it is, in the way that I understand it, is a written representation of a culture or a sub-culture that one sort of arrives at by completely immersing oneself in that sub-culture or culture for a period of time. Sociologists can't-, obviously, I think obviously sociologists can't do that the way that anthropologists can, because sociologists generally continue commuting to their place whereas anthropologists go and live there for years on end and break contact with their own culture. But, to the extent that it's possible in sociology to immerse oneself in a culture, that it affords that opportunity, um, if somebody does that and then produces a written representation, that's what I call ethnography.

MAYMAY: So, ah, and I hope this isn't at all diminutive, but it sounds-, the thing that I'm thinking of is like Jane Goodall's experience with apes.

STACI NEWMAHR: Right, no, that's not diminutive at all. So, I mean, anthropologists do that with people. At least, cultural anthropologists do that with people. And sociologists generally do that with people within their own culture.

MAYMAY: I see. So, your book was an immersive-, the research for your book was an immersive experience in a S/M community, in a metropolitan S/M community in America.

STACI NEWMAHR: Right. And had it been in another-, had I gone to Britain, then it would've been closer to maybe anthropological and ethnography. But since I'm an American and I studied a sub-culture within my own predominant culture, then that's what makes it very different, I think. But I try to keep in accordance with the anthropological tradition.

MAYMAY: Okay. And on the back of your book, it does read, "Based on four years of in-depth and immersive participant-observation, she-" -- you -- "-juxtaposes her experiences in the field with the life stories of community members, providing a richly detailed portrait of S/M as a social space in which experience of violence intersect with experiences of the erotic." Um. One of the questions that I wanted to sort of broach with you was, in being a researcher in a community that is both marginalized and often very distrusting of researchers, in order to have-, y'know, in order to actually conduct that research, you had to not only enter the community but then befriend people in the community.

STACI NEWMAHR: Right, right.


STACI NEWMAHR: Well, that- I'm sorry, go ahead.

MAYMAY: Yeah, no. Go ahead. What was that experience like?

STACI NEWMAHR: Well it's-, I mean, it was fantastic. That's the short answer. [MAYMAY LAUGHS] That's the way ethnography works, particularly-, I mean, really anywhere. Because that's what it's about. It's about becoming a member of a community. And so, in so becoming, then you obviously form relationships and, y'know, make friends and all of this. And so there's a lot of emotional and identity stuff all wrapped up in these dual roles, because you're at once a participant and a member, but you're also a researcher and an ethnographer. So, it's absolutely challenging but it's also thrilling, right, in a way. And risky, in a way. [MAYMAY LAUGHS] So, um…

MAYMAY: It's very meta.

STACI NEWMAHR: Yeah, it is. It is a very meta kind of experience. So, and it was, um, people in the community were really welcoming. There was some reticence. The community that I studied had been burned a couple of times by people who had said that they were researching something or writing a paper for a class and it turned out that they were not and they were journalists or some kind of snarky people and, um, so there were people who were a little concerned. But once I started playing, those concerns seemed to pretty much disappear and I think most people were comfortable with my sort of dual identities throughout the time.

MAYMAY: It's like you got a bit of street cred.

STACI NEWMAHR: Yeah, exactly.

MAYMAY: [LAUGHS] I can-, I am thoroughly impressed with how you were able to sort balance both the personal experiences and the academic rigor that you needed to accomplish a book like this. In the book, you have formal interviews with community members. I will out myself- [Staci LAUGHS] -by saying that am one of them. And on that note, what I did notice in reading the book -- and I am not to the end of it, so I apologize for not finishing the entire text -- but I did notice that my names, apparently, are "Jack" and "Sam."


MAYMAY: So, why am I Jack and Sam?

STACI NEWMAHR: [LAUGHS] You never actually told me what you thought of the names but I'm gathering that you're not impressed with my selections.

MAYMAY: I-, no, it's not that I'm not impressed! I am-, I have never seen myself as a Jack or a Sam. And I know you couldn't use my actual name OR my scene name-


MAYMAY: -for purposes of, it's like a double-layer of confidentiality.

STACI NEWMAHR: Right, exactly. The pseudonym thing was so tough on multiple levels. I mean, I needed to obviously protect peoples' confidentiality from outsiders, but I also needed to protect their confidentiality from insiders because, while people would be recognizable-, if I'm describing a scene and several of us were there, and then they might remember the scene and they'd recognize that person. So, I couldn't use that same name as people in interviews. If that person appeared in the interviews. Because then they would know, "Oh, that person also has this history." And so I had to do this crazy juggling act. But then, in addition to that, an ethnography is a cultural representation usually of a sub-culture or of a community that nobody knows much about, and names carry a lot of symbolic weight, and so I needed to choose names that I felt weren't exactly untrue in sort of this emotionally evocative sense, but also weren't so true that it'd be a dead giveaway, y'know? And so, um, and then of course it's all very subjective. So, what "Sam" triggers for me, means for me, is not at all what "Sam" means for somebody else. And so the whole things was probably a futile endeavor. But I tried very hard to capture-, and I'll tell you, if you want the background on Sam and Jack, I'll tell you exactly the thought that went into it, but it will reveal how sad it is that I spent this much time on these kinds of questions. [LAUGHS]

MAYMAY: No, I-. Well, look, I think the fact that you spent so much time on these questions is one of the things that I-, that this community should praise you for because, as you mentioned, it has been burned before. I remember speaking to journalists and so-called researchers when I was in the community and I did not appreciate some of the things that was written about me. Because I thought, not that it-, not because it was bad. Although it was. It was misrepresentational, which is what I was upset about. Like, you can tell me something about me that's critical and as long as I think, "Y'know, there's a grain of truth there. That's actually accurate. That's an accurate representation of something I've done," great. I'm happy about that. That's good feedback. But when someone misrepresents something that I've done, then I feel angry about it because it's just not true.

STACI NEWMAHR: Right, right. And there-, y'know, I'm sure that there will be moments of that. There are for any ethnographer. And, for all I know, maybe you're thinking, "Sam?! There's no part of me that's a Sam whatsoever! That's a misrepresentation." [LAUGHTER] But I'll tell you, what I was trying to capture-, and I won't spend too much time on it, but, y'know, so I had the public persona, like, you in play and you in the community and you as a social being. And then I had the interview persona. And you may remember that back in the day you were, what, 19 years old?


STACI NEWMAHR: And what you looked like-

MAYMAY: I think I met you when I was 18, actually. And then I turned 19 in knowing you.

STACI NEWMAHR: Yeah, yeah.

MAYMAY: You gave me a 19th birthday mix, I remember.

STACI NEWMAHR: Right, right. Oh yeah, that's true, I remember that!

MAYMAY: Which I still listen to, by the way.

STACI NEWMAHR: That was such a long time ago!

MAYMAY: I know, right?

STACI NEWMAHR: But you were-, the 18 year old you, the way that people perceived you based on what you looked like and how you carried yourself was shockingly different than the 18 year old you that came out once you started talking to people. And I don't know if you remember that.


STACI NEWMAHR: But people, y'know, they would see you and they would see you a certain way. You were young, you were slight, you were fair-skinned, you had this crazy red hair-


STACI NEWMAHR: And, y'know, people just thought, "Ohh, maymay! He's so sweet!" da-da-da. And then you would talk and you were such a force when you talked. [MAYMAY LAUGHS] Y'know what I mean? You had such definite, y'know, analysis and opinions and thoughts. And so, I wanted to capture both of those yous, sort of, y'know what I mean? Like, I didn't want a name that was going to obscure those. And so, I saw Sam as kind of a, y'know, kind of a youthful kind of, I dunno, a more innocent kind of name. And I saw Jack as a more conventionally forceful kind of name. And so, I wanted to be able-, I wanted to be true to both of those yous and that's why you ended up being Sam and Jack.

MAYMAY: Wow. [STACI LAUGHS] That actually explains-. So, for those listening, I have, as I mentioned, read this book, "Playing on the Edge". I'm showing it now on the video stream. The cover of the book also, for those who are regular readers of my blog will recognize that that picture was taken from my blog, it's a picture of me with knife marks on my back which Staci asked to use as the cover of her book and I was very honored to be asked and is now the cover of the book. So, we have-, but we have not actually yet talked through the book. So this is, like, awesome for me on a personal level as well as a-, I get to showcase a thing that I think is really valuable for people in the S/M community to read and to read with an open mind, because there's so much information and there's so much insight into it and because it was done in such an academically rigorous way that still has an incredible authenticity from actual community experiences. So, I don't want to go all fanboy on you, Staci. [STACI LAUGHS] But I may slip into that from time to time.

STACI NEWMAHR: [LAUGHS] That's fine with me. Thank you for saying such great things about the book.

MAYMAY: Yeah, no, well look. 'Cause usually I read stuff about sexuality and I'm almost programmed to respond with, "Well, that's just utter crap. That's just complete bullshit." And this time, every page, I was like, "That's interesting. That's interesting. That's true! Oh, what a great way to say that," y'know? [LAUGHS] And so, I'm really-, from a sort of activist perspective, there's a lot in here that I feel is deserving of praise simply to get that information out. Let's talk about, if you don't mind, let me share actually one bit of the book that you quote from an interview with me. In the beginning, you talk about-, you sort of describe the book, the community, the S/M community that you were part of, to outsiders. To people who aren't familiar with the community. And one of the main sort of themes in the beginning of the book is this notion of community members feeling like they were not part of a mainstream, they weren't the popular kids in school, for example. And one example of that that you offer is just physical body size. Whether large or small, people in the community did not have experiences in mainstream culture, in school, wherever they were, where they felt part of it. And the example used to sort of illustrate this for me is this, um, is this retelling of me in elementary school. I say, "I was a small kid, first of all. I was one of the shortest guys, shortest people in the entire grade, which did not bode well for me as a boy. And there was this little space between a bookshelf and cubby that was in the 3rd grade classroom and I wedged myself in-between them, and I fit perfectly because I was little and I wouldn't move. And not just wouldn't move, but wouldn't move AT ALL. Barely any blinking, staring very straight ahead. There was a point where a girl named Jessica-" -- of course, names are changed -- "-actually came up to me, waved her hand in front of my face, and sang a song to try and get me to respond and I just acted like she wasn't there. So, that just convinced everybody that I was literally insane. And then they were like, 'Yeah, don't mess with him. He'll actually hurt you.'" [STACI LAUGHS] Because, y'know, he's insane. And you go on to say, "Here, Jack's small size became a source of defiance, as he wedged himself into a space in which he was not permitted and in which only he could fit." So, can you-, when you talk about people not-, in the community, having this sort of disjointed experience of not being part of the mainstream and that being central to the inclusion in this community, can you-. How quickly did you identify that as a main motif thought being in the community?

STACI NEWMAHR: Ah, not until I had left the community.


STACI NEWMAHR: I mean, I had been wondering about it the entire time. I mean, particular questions fascinated me, and I had been, y'know, and there were, on one level, some aspects of what I call "social marginality", this sort of not fitting in or feeling in their lives they hadn't fit in. Some if that was obvious upon entering the community. But a lot of it-, and a lot of it became more obvious during interviews. But the interviews happened over the course of four years. It wasn't like I knocked them out in the first six months, so-.

MAYMAY: Right.

STACI NEWMAHR: It wasn't until probably Year 3 where I started to realize, "Wow. Everybody's got these life stories of this." And, now, a lot of people have life stories of that. But these were backed up by how people presented themselves anyway, and they were these multiple levels of non-conformity. But it was actually in analyzing your interview that defiance became the organizing concept.


STACI NEWMAHR: It was actually when I was doing the-, when I was coding the interviews. And this was, y'know, I was out of the field for, I dunno, six months or a year, and I was coding your interview and I was reading that story and I had already, y'know, been thinking along a lot of these lines and playing with non-conformity and marginality and trying to make sense of peoples' experiences which were all very different but very connective, and I thought, "That's what this is. This is defiance." I don't don't mean "this" S/M.

MAYMAY: Right.

STACI NEWMAHR: I mean this attitude toward non-conformity, this sort of romantic acceptance of marginality, there's a defiance of mainstream hegemonic standards -- of pretty much everything -- at work in the community. And so, it was-. I didn't really have that piece until-. I didn't have most of the pieces until later. Because you're kind of in the moment when you're in the field.

MAYMAY: Right.

STACI NEWMAHR: So, it came pretty late.

MAYMAY: Huh. So, what other facets of this sort of non-conformity and/or defiance did you sort of, like, discov-. What were the other, like, key pieces that struck you as being notable?

STACI NEWMAHR: Well, there's-, you mentioned there's body size. So, people on average tend to be -- tended to be at the time, anyway -- much larger than average. Although that's changing in America in all sorts of directions. But larger than average in the community. So there was that. But then it was-. I forgot the exact number, but interview after interview after interview respondents had skipped a grade, or had been in a gifted and talented program, um, people I talked to informally who weren't actually technically interview respondents, same thing. Skipping a year or two in school. Being-, sort of understood themselves as gifted or advanced. So, there's this intelligence level. There's this body size level. There are other interests, too. So, there was a lot of common interest in things-, in other alternative kinds of things like science fiction, or paganism, or Wiccanism, and so just on multiple levels people-. I mean, the three that I-. There's four that I outline in sort of a more methodical way, but the overarching theme was that people at every turn weren't conforming, and then of course there was gender. And so it was a really fascinating space, because people weren't gender-bending, but they weren't gender conforming. And that became a really interesting part of it for me, too.

MAYMAY: Yeah. Let's just talk about, um, we're sort of jumping around in what I wanted to get to, but that's actually fine because there's so much in here that I was like, "I don't even know what to get to next." But let's talk about gender a little bit because your book describes S/M specifically as a "deeply gendered activity". And you also describe it as being performed against this backdrop of something that you term "incidental androgyny."


MAYMAY: So, can you explain a little bit how S/M and playing, y'know, being-, doing S/M, especially doing it in, um, sort of the public community is both deeply gendered as well as hinging so critically on this idea of incidental androgyny?

STACI NEWMAHR: Yes. I will try.


STACI NEWMAHR: Let me take incidental androgyny first, because I think that's important to understand before the other piece.

MAYMAY: Yes. For those who haven't read the book, what is "incidental androgyny"?

STACI NEWMAHR: Right. What I mean by that is, um, is a non-conforming to sort of mainstream gender standards but in a non-deliberate, non-political way most of the time. So, um, and I've got exampl-, y'know, I should just open this and look at it. But I'll do it from memory. So, examples are, y'know, women who are neither butch nor femme, they're not kind of dolling themselves up and putting up a lot of makeup but they're also not engaging in a gender identity project. They're just kind of not doing gender. I mean, this comes out of, y'know, West and Zimmerman are sociologists who talk about the idea that doing gender, "gender is a collection of doings." And then Judith Butler, of course, takes that to an entirely different level of performativity. So, it comes out of a school of looking at gender as the culmination of things that we do in order to become or accomplish gender. And so I was saying, in incidental androgyny, that people in this community aren't doing that. They're not doing it in either binary direction, men or women. They're just kind of not gendered that way. And given that, the fact that they're engaging in this activity which is deeply gendered because it mimics the power dynamics of the gender binary, right? What it is to be toppish is what it is to be masculine in a sort of a heteronormative, hegemonic sense. And what it is to be-

MAYMAY: To have power.

STACI NEWMAHR: Yeah. Well, I mean, I don't know that I would look at power as something people have or don't have.


STACI NEWMAHR: But they doings of dominance or the doings of topping and then, conversely -- and I say that deliberately -- the doings of submission, those mirror the doings of masculinity and the doings of femininity. I mean, it's the flipside, y'know, it's what-. It's another way of looking at the way we've always looked at men and women and what "should be" in their relationships. But because this community is incidentally androgynous and because men are bottoming and women are topping and trans people are doing both also, then it's not so simple as that. So, you do have a deeply gendered activity, but that doesn't mean that it's gender-normative or gender-conforming or not gender-resistant. Am I making any sense?

MAYMAY: I think so. I think, if I can mirror what you're saying in my own words, and perhaps also to role model good communication! [LAUGHS] Um, it sounds like peop-, there's this mainstream notion of a gender binary: Either you are a man or a woman. And of course we have, ah, most regular listeners if not all regular listeners to this show will understand how silly that is. And so I won't go into that too far. But then we have a similar, um, I don't want to call it a dichotomy, but a similar conceptualization of this sort of one-or-the-other notion in the S/M community i.e. top or bottom. And, of course, it's not as simple as that because of switches. But to be-, to "top" is to-, can be understood in the context of performing typically masculine-ish traits and to "bottom" is to perform typically feminine traits. And we see this in BDSM often. I mean, I, at, basically try to rail against that fact, that to couple masculine-ish with "top" and to couple feminine-ish with "bottom" is sort of frustrating to masculine bottoms.


MAYMAY: And when that is-, so in the community where we have, for example, where men who are bottom-, sort of, bottoming, one of the first if not only terms to describe them are "sissies" then there's not a lot of space to explore gender in, I wanna say, collaboration with S/M.


MAYMAY: And that's sort of my-, that's-, I sort of have made a reputation, if you will, about being angry about that. [LAUGHS]

STACI NEWMAHR: [LAUGHS] Right. I do follow that reputation.

MAYMAY: Yes. Okay. Well, that's good to hear. Um, so-, but is that-, is sort of-, but at the same time you make the good point of saying, because there are people i.e. like me who are, y'know, men and very sort of adamantly submissive and yet also, y'know, adamantly masculinely submissive, it's not as simple as saying "women bottom and men top."

STACI NEWMAHR: Right. Well, that's absolutely true. But I think even more complicatedly than that-

MAYMAY: Mmkay.

STACI NEWMAHR: -you were talking about it in relation to masculine and feminine traits, y'know, for lack of a better word. But I think, I mean, symbolically it's even deeper or worse than that, because what it comes down to is, I mean, the reason, y'know, one of the reasons but the fundamental reason that topping is seen as masculine-. And by "topping" I'm including, y'know, I'm using "topping" very broadly; I know a lot of people disagree with this, but "topping" for me is the broader term.


STACI NEWMAHR: So, that includes dominance, even though a lot of people think about it the flipside, that dominance is broader. I'm using "topping." Anything you do that it is a topping-ish activity, I'm calling "topping." So, just to get that out of the way.


STACI NEWMAHR: But anyway, the reason that it's so gendered is because topping is seen as active and bottoming is seen as passive.


STACI NEWMAHR: Which is also ridiculous. [MAYMAY LAUGHS] Just as ridiculous as masculinity being seen as active and femininity being seen as passive. But in the exact same ways. And so, by "deeply gendered" I mean there is no topping that we see as active, and as accessing power, and as violent, and as dominant and then bottoming as all the converse, y'know, the converse of that or the inverse of that, without the gender binary. The gender binary needs to exist for this to even be a thing. And that's all I mean by "deeply gendered." Your second point, that the existence of people who cross all of those categories problematizes, absolutely. But the binary, as we all know, is problematic in the first place.


STACI NEWMAHR: And so that's another reason why this breaks down. This is both deeply gendered-

MAYMAY: Right.

STACI NEWMAHR: -and gender-conforming and gender-subversive all in one messy and fascinating package.

MAYMAY: [LAUGHS] Yes. Messy and fascinating are fantastic terms for that. And you also raise this really important point of sort of having this binary at its core being something that is, itself, problematic. At the same-, and you sort of-, you address that very head-on in the book, and you also discuss, um, you also take on the sort of-, the issue of feminism very head-on. And in the book, you are able -- and, again, I would encourage everyone who's listening to read this book because it is actually fantastic --


MAYMAY: But you, um, you sort of take on this-, the arguments of what I will term "anti-S/M feminists" who sort of seem to understand-, even the anti-S/M feminists seem to at least acknowledge, if not accept, the fact that someone can be a, y'know, self-identified dominant woman and a self-identified submissive man. Like, those people exist. Most anti-S/M feminists that I've read or discussed tend to trivialize both of those experiences very, very strongly. I know Robin Morgan has said quite literally in some of her work, um, in an anti-S/M book that men who are submissive to a woman are simply trivializing real woman's real oppression and thus, y'know, she sort of discounts the validity of a submissive masculine experience. And you take those ideas on. But you do so without letting the entire conversation go all to hell.


MAYMAY: [LAUGHS] In the book. So, how were you able to sort of discuss gender and how deeply gendered it is and the binary without, y'know, and engage in these arguments that these anti-S/M feminists have made, ah, while avoiding so many of those sort of strawman arguments? How did you do that?

STACI NEWMAHR: Well, I mean, this is a 30 year old debate in academia, this anti-S/M vs not-anti-S/M thing, y'know, among feminists, and the reason-, the thing that led me to this community as the topic for my research in the first place was a book I'm sure you've read, "Against Sadomasochism." It was written-

MAYMAY: I have read excerpts from it. I actually was very-, it was difficult for me to read even the excerpts. [LAUGHS]

STACI NEWMAHR: Yeah. It's really something. And so it was written in response to "Coming to Power" and it, um, and I came across this book as I'm trying to figure out, y'know, where-, how to understand my feminism, right? And I'm reading this book and there's no empirical research on this whatsoever, nobody studied anything. They find, like, some junkie who used to be a pro-domme or a bottom, I don't know what she was, but she's talking about how it ruined her life, and that's the extent of their empirical data from which they conclude that S/M is anti-feminist. And this sparks, y'know, this is in the middle of the whole sex wars anyway, people are fighting over what is feminist and what isn't and women are very concerned with telling each other how to be feminist women. And so, I knew nothing-

MAYMAY: Right. This is not dissimilar -- sorry to interject -- this is not dissimilar, though, from the way anti-porn arguments often take-


MAYMAY: -y'know, one disgruntled porn star, former porn star-


MAYMAY: -who doesn't like-, had bad experiences, and then sort of universalize that experience to the remainder of all sex workers, which is equally crappy.

STACI NEWMAHR: Right. And they're interrelated. I mean, the porn wars and the S/M wars are all part of the sex wars-

MAYMAY: Right.

STACI NEWMAHR: -in the late 70s, early 80s. So, the legacy there, from my perspective in academia, in sociology and feminist theory, are all tightly interwoven. So, I knew nothing about, y'know, and I'm thinking, y'know, this was all about lesbian S/M. And I'm thinking, first of all, is there no other S/M? Is it-, because there was gay leather work and there's lesbian S/M, and post-Internet I'm thinking, "There must be straight S/M." And if there is straight S/M, and by which I mean-, I don't mean straight people engaging, I mean women and men-identified people playing together, than that complicates this question of who's abusing whom-


STACI NEWMAHR: -and what's really abuse and all of this stuff people were tossing around, and I just didn't know that I bought that all these womens were victims of false consciousness etc. etc. etc. So, that's what led me to do it. So, part of the answer to your question, which I promise I'm getting to, is-

MAYMAY: [LAUGHS] We have-, the nice thing is this is a podcast, so we have pretty much as long as we want to talk about this. [STACI LAUGHS] So, take as long as you need to answer the question.

STACI NEWMAHR: Uh, I was really hellbent on not engaging in the question of whether people, particularly women, should or shouldn't be doing anything, right? It was an important question in second-wave feminist literature but I don't think it's as important of a question now. I think it's always an important question, what people should be doing, but in terms of women policing each others' feminism, I think understanding how women are understanding feminism is more important than telling them what to do. And knowing nothing about S/M, not even whether men and women were doing it together, I wanted to, y'know, I'm kind of an empiricist and I wanted to see the data. Like, show me what's actually happening.

MAYMAY: Show me the money!

STACI NEWMAHR: Yeah! [MAYMAY LAUGHS] Before I can draw any conclusions. So, I think, in writing it -- and it took me a long time to work up the courage to even have that little bit that you're talking about-


STACI NEWMAHR: -to even get into it in the book. I was just really shy about even-, I didn't want to open this up. I didn't want to get into Sex Wars 2012. [MAYMAY LAUGHS] I didn't want ____________. Because I really didn't think that the question of whether women should be doing this was a very interesting question. And so I think that's why I'm able to do it. Because I'm trying to understand it as I experienced it, as I saw it. I'm trying to understand in the context of what I read. But I'm really not trying to understand, "Should women be engaging in-?"

MAYMAY: Right.

STACI NEWMAHR: I don't care what women do on an individual basis. And I don't think that that's part of my feminist agenda or should be. So, I think I'm just able to navigate that ground out of stubbornness. [LAUGHTER]

MAYMAY: Well, no, it's-, 'cause it's-, y'know, it is-, I like what you said about being an empiricist. It does sort of come back to that. One thing I noticed that was very, very strongly obvious to me reading the book -- which I think will be obvious to others even if their interviews are not necessarily in the book -- was that you stayed on point in every single section. So, for example, when you're talking about, y'know, the excerpt with me and body size, the point you were making was about the sort of-, the-, my not feeling comfortable in a mainstream space and thus finding a place, the S/M community, where that was so much a problem. Body size, regardless of one's actual size, was not an issue. And you made that point very clearly in that section. What you don't-, and in much the same way, things you didn't say were sort of equally poignant to me. Because you never mention that Jack in the book is a bottom.


MAYMAY: And so there's a lot of illustration about defiance and power in the intersections-, in the interview sections with him, or me, but I don't see anywhere in the book -- and, again, I haven't finished the entire text, so I apologize if it is actually mentioned somewhere -- but nowhere do you talk about Jack's top or bottom orientation. And that both speaks to me-, two things. Number one, it sort of, again, is an illustration of how strongly you stayed on point, which I thought was awesome. But I also wonder, like, what-, I mean, was that purposeful? Why-? I guess I'm asking, like, you didn't mention I'm a bottom! [STACI LAUGHS] That's okay! But, like, what-, where did that-, y'know?

STACI NEWMAHR: Um. Yes. It was purposeful. I mean, I don't mean it was purposeful individually with you alone.


STACI NEWMAHR: I just mean, um, and there-, on the most-, on the simplest level but the least important, I tried to avoid talking about whether people were tops or bottoms or dominants or submissive or switches because that's an identifier.


STACI NEWMAHR: So, that's the easiest way to field that question. But that's not the truest. I was also try-. And there's-, the other piece of that is, um, identities change.

MAYMAY: Right.

STACI NEWMAHR: So, um, what somebody-, I mean, they changed week to week. They changed, y'know, so. [MAYMAY LAUGHS] When I did the interview-, I looked at this a couple of months ago actually and I think it was half of the people, maybe a third of the people that I interviewed have-, now have a different identity than when I interviewed them. A different S/M identity. And so I wasn't-, I didn't want to tie their words forevermore to an identity that might not exist later. But deeper than both of those was that I am trying in the book to problematize the distinction, itself, between topping and bottoming as identities. I didn't want to-, I don't want to essentialize dominace, submission, topping, bottom, sadism, masochism. I don't want to essentialize any of that. And I think that to do so mimics the gender binary in a reactionary way-

MAYMAY: Right.

STACI NEWMAHR: In a sort of, y'know, mainstream kind of way. And I don't think-, it's not my experience that most people in the community view them, necessarily, that way. And even if they do view them that way, then they change and now they're more fluid. And so, unless it was relevant to the point that I was making, and as you say, I did try to stay on point in the book.


STACI NEWMAHR: So, if it was relevant, then, y'know, there are discussions about switching and topping and bottoming and in those instances I pointed out when people said things whether they were talking about topping or bottoming.

MAYMAY: Uh huh.

STACI NEWMAHR: But if it wasn't relevant, I tried to not-, to me, that was like bringing up, y'know, someone's shoe size except imbued with lots of deep social meaning. And I just didn't want to go there, because I didn't want it to be seen as essential to S/M and relevant to peoples' words unless I thought it was.

MAYMAY: So, ah, that makes a huge amount of sense and Thomas in the chat room has asked a really good question sort of about role and the language that people are using. The chat room, by the way, is having a fantastic conversation about language and terms and, y'know, "top/bottom" and why people use that terms. So, Thomas is asking: "When we all know that roles are fluid, why does the community talk about them as if they are fixed essences?"

STACI NEWMAHR: Yeah. That's a fabulous question, Thomas. Thank you. [LAUGHTER] And it's one that I struggled with in the book and never really came to a satisfactory answer. [MAYMAY LAUGHS] Um, I think it has a lot to do-

MAYMAY: Oh, I'm not gonna get a climax at the end? [LAUGHS]

STACI NEWMAHR: Yeah, I mean, I think it has a lot to do-, and this is kind of jumping ahead or I don't know if we were getting here or not, but-

MAYMAY: No, go ahead.

STACI NEWMAHR: But I, y'know, one of the thing I deal with are the strategies that people in the community employ in their play to achieve senses of authentic power-imbalanced experiences. And so, y'know, play itself and people themselves do all sorts of things to try to make the power differential feel authentic. Whatever the-, even if it's not D/s play, just, y'know, make it feel real. And so I think that there's a level on which seeing those identities as fixed, y'know, so somebody says, "I'm a submissive and I was born this way and I'll always be this way," I think that that helps make the power imbalance feel real in the relationship, in the scene, in that kind of thing. And so, if in two years he changes his mind and says, "Nevermind, now I'm a top" or "I'm a switch" or "I'm a this or I'm a that," it doesn't negate the fixedness in that moment, because that worked to achieve what S/M, I think, often tries to achieve, or BDSM or kink, this kind, often tries to achieve, which is a sense that there's a power imbalance somewhere.

MAYMAY: Wow, that-. I am digesting that myself. I think that makes a lot of sense. Um. I have always felt, and I don't know if this is so much just a "me too" statement or not yet, but I have always felt like, um, in fact, in reading the book, ah, you had asked me in an e-mail way, way before this show, y'know, you said, "I was not sure if you would like it, because I don't know if your opinions have changed along the way."


MAYMAY: And I said, "Well, y'know, my opinions-. I love the book. I think it's really good," I responded, but I was also saying, like, "But yeah, some of my opinions have changed." And one-, in fact, I am-, another sort of interview excerpt with me is used in the discussion where you talk about people essentializing their experience-

STACI NEWMAHR: Right. Right, right.


STACI NEWMAHR: You picked up on that, huh? [LAUGHS]

MAYMAY: I did! Oh, I did. Well, because-. [LAUGHS] I did pick up on that. But I picked up on that specifically because, like, that is something that I found interesting as a reminder of where I was. Like, I read this book, coming to it now, this book was, y'know, you [said] four years in the S/M community. That's a long time ago. And then it took a long time for you to write the book-


MAYMAY: And so, I've obviously-, I'm obviously not the same person I was then, necessarily. And so, a lot of my opinions have changed. At the same time, there's a lot of true stuff in there. The thing that I most no longer feel was my own statements about essentialism, and my own essentialism, that you use in the book to make that case.

STACI NEWMAHR: [LAUGHS] Right. And that is, if I could just interject, that's the answer to Thomas's question. Right? Thomas says, "Why do people say it's fixed, talk about it as fixed, when really they know it isn't fixed?" Or they're gonna change their minds and it's not going to be fixed. And that's exactly an example. I don't think that, y'know, I don't think that-, I think people need it to be fixed at any given moment-

MAYMAY: Right.

STACI NEWMAHR: -for a whole host of reasons. And not-, it doesn't mean that they really on some deep, intellectual level have decided that it's fixed. It's just part of the discourse that works to reinforce the strategies.

MAYMAY: Yeah. I feel often like, ah, especially as the more I sort of come to my own understanding of myself as an activist, I feel often I am, like, trying to have these conversations with people, with ostensibly my own community, in which I am talking about something that's like about 100 yards ahead of everyone. And, I mean, that's the point of activism, right? You're trying to make people care about something that they may not previously think is important or affects them or something like that. And so, when I talk to the mainstream and people in, y'know, the world hostile to many of us, ah, they are like 100 yards behind everyone. And then the S/M community, or the sex-positive community, or whatever sort of group that you feel kinship with, y'know, trans people feel this way about trans community and so on, um, they're like, "Well, we understand all this stuff." And then, if you are also say, a trans activist, right? And what you are doing is challenging notions of the way people have conceptualized gender themselves within the trans community, I feel often like what you're doing is saying, "Hey! All you guys that are over here. Look at all that rest of the distance we have to go!" And then your own community says, y'know, like, you're almost fighting your own community on that front.

STACI NEWMAHR: Right, right.

MAYMAY: And yet, for me, as kind of looking back on this book, I realize-. Reading that was very-, I felt almost compassionate for my former self-


MAYMAY: Because it was like, ahh, I really did want to feel that way because I needed to at that time.

STACI NEWMAHR: Right. And, y'know, and there's another piece of that, too, though. Which is, I mean, the default position in Western culture is that things are essential. I mean, that, y'know, we believe in essentialism. We believe that we're born all sorts of ways, right? We're born male, we're born female, we're born smart, we're born talented, right?



MAYMAY: "It's in your genes."

STACI NEWMAHR: It's not a queer ideology, the American ideology. And by "queer" I mean messing with binaries. We like our binaries in this country. We hold tightly to them. And so, y'know, the easiest answer, I think, to the question, again, to bring Thomas back into it, [MAYMAY LAUGHS] is the same-, it underlies your experience of looking back and saying, "Oh, y'know, that's where I was then."


STACI NEWMAHR: The easiest answer is because, when we feel different, then we feel that we were born this way. And when we feel the same, we feel that we were born this way. And I think everybody starts from there and it's only through activism or through a queer sensitivity or a queer lifestyle or sociology or critical theory-


STACI NEWMAHR: -that people come to mess up with those binaries and say, "Not so much" with the born that way.

MAYMAY: So, you mentioned earlier that peoples' identities were changing week to week. In the book you write about how people who were in the public community that you, ah, and you also, well-. Let me start this way: People in the public communities, they would introduce themselves with an identity often. It was almost like a cultural script within the subculture. It was, y'know, "Hello, my name is may and I am a…poly bi switch" or whatever it was that I used to say. [LAUGHS] And this would be sort of a-, an almost sort of expected community introduction. We also talked about this sort of essentializing and how emotionally comforting that can be, often, especially in a culture such as America's where it is all like, y'know, in your genes and your always born with it and it's gotta be an "orientation" not a choice and all that sort of stuff.


MAYMAY: Regardless of the fact that that may not-, may or may not be an important question, even. Um. Do you think that-. My question is, do you think that that has something to do with the way people conceptualize sort of "in the community" and "not in the community"? Like, if you were sort of, y'know, born different, then this is the community for you! You talk in the book about how people feel like they are "coming home" when they come to this community. I have often experienced in my, ah, work and, um, frustrations that there is a very, very strong impetus among people to define the borders of their community. It's almost like a cultural, like, border crossing-


MAYMAY: -when you go into a space. And there are guards there. And that is a policed boundary.

STACI NEWMAHR: Absolutely.

MAYMAY: Um. So, do you think that-, I guess, number one, do you think that those two are related and, if so, how? And the possible follow-up to that would be, do you think that boundary makes as little sense as the essentialized view of one's identity?

STACI NEWMAHR: Um. Okay, do I think that there's a relationship between the two things? Which are the two things that you're asking me is there a relationship between?

MAYMAY: This idea between essentializing one's, y'know, the sort of cultural essentialism that America has sort of ingrained many people with and, um, the sense of "in the community" and "out of the community," of "coming home" being a-, it's almost like people-, you almost describe-, you describe how people almost feel like they are talking about coming to the S/M community as though it was a journey and now they are home.

STACI NEWMAHR: Right, right. So, I think-, I mean, okay. So, on the broadest level, and just cut me off if I'm misunderstanding your questions-


STACI NEWMAHR: But, um, y'know, people all over need to define their borders and then engage in policing them. I don't know if that's a need, um, in some kind of innate essentialist way. But what you find in social systems at every level are people saying, "This group is this, and this group is that, and I'm in this one, and you're in that one," right?


STACI NEWMAHR: And so, um, so I think that piece is typical and probably happens even without essentialist viewpoints. And you see that now, y'know, as sort of-, as people become queerer and more comfortable in queer communities, you're still seeing, y'know, every day there are new labels, right? So, there's gender, there's trans, there's cisgender, and then this is that and then there's MTF and FTM. Because distinctions are how we understand the world and how we understand each other. And so, I think that in-group/out-group is a very similar thing. It's distinctions. "You are one of us" and "You are not one of us." The criteria that we use for those, I think, are closely related to what you're talking about, these experiences of marginality, right? So, when I decide that this piece of me is most salient, is most relevant, then I'm going to look for people who are like me on that level and call that my in-group, right?

MAYMAY: Right.

STACI NEWMAHR: As opposed to I'm gonna go hang out with people, y'know, who have curly hair and we're gonna call this a group. So, how those distinctions come to have meaning have to do with how the world responds to people who have certain characteristics and that's where I think it relates to the in-group/out-group border policing. Am I talking about what you were talking about?

MAYMAY: You are. You are. I think that is a very, ah, to understand that concept is to sort of accept a kind of intellectual permeability between any concept, and I think that that is very fundamental to being open-minded about things. In the chat room, ExploreIt says, and I like this sort of formulation of this discussion, ah, ExploreIt says, "Yes, borderlands can be scary environments but also sites for self-discovery and evolution, which never ends." And I feel like if we to put this on a map, if we were to-, like, if we could map the extents of subculture and mainstream culture and then different subcultures and, like, y'know, draw a geopolitical map of those cultural places, we would end up with something that was-, that had no actual lines. That had no straight lines. They would just be sort of gradations from one to another. We have the "fetish scene", which as you describe in the book, is distinct from the "S/M scene"-


MAYMAY: But there's overlap.


MAYMAY: And then people police based on which one they want to be a part of, y'know, "Oh, you're the stand and model crowd, not the sadomasochist crowd."


MAYMAY: "Oh, you don't get, y'know, you don't get this, I don't get that," that kind of thing.

STACI NEWMAHR: Right. Absolutely. And I just think that that happens everywhere, with every community, and it's-, I don't think it's only gradations. Because I don't think it's always linear. So, you've got, y'know, lines that don't make any linear sense, so to speak, also being drawn. Connections that are something other than overlap. But yeah, I think that that's, um, y'know, that's a part of the process of social grouping and the value in looking at them in any given community is to find out, um, what's being aspired to. What's being valued here, that a community would group itself along these particular lines as opposed to these particular lines.

MAYMAY: Yeah. That is a-, hm. I am always fascinated by people who are willing to sort of cross boundaries, or borders perhaps is the better word, because I sort of-, I feel like if we can go even meta again, I-, one of my most salient characteristics, the thing that I feel like describes me best now, at least, is this imperative that I've got to go into other spaces and learn about them. I'm often in sex-positive spaces, as everyone knows, I'm talking about technology or I'm talking about something that is difficult for many in that space to understand as being relevant. So, in sex-positive spaces, I'm often like, "You guys need more hackers!" And then I go to hacker spaces and I go, "You guys need more sex-positive feminists!"


MAYMAY: [LAUGHS] And I'm like, y'know, trying to bring-, bridge-building is a good analogy because we're talking about borders and geography.

STACI NEWMAHR: Right, absolutely.

MAYMAY: But it's very similar to that, I feel like.

STACI NEWMAHR: Yeah, it is. I agree. But you're also not going into, y'know, you're not going into communities of, um, you're not trying to infiltrate KKK meetings [MAYMAY LAUGHS] and say, "You need more sensitivity training!" right? [MAYMAY LAUGHS] I mean, you're making-, in other words, even though the communities in which you find yourself are very distinct and could benefit from the other, there are particular reasons that you choose those communities, right?


STACI NEWMAHR: And so that-, any time anybody is building those bridges, the question for me is, "Why are these people interested in those bridges?" Like, why? Y'know. So, that's, I think, at the root of what you were asking about, the inside/outside, is why these lines? Why does this make it this community and then this is a line for that community?

MAYMAY: Well, and I guess that is where I find social interaction so interesting because, y'know, for me, I don't go-, well. So, I go into technology and sexuality spaces because those are areas where I have both opportunity and capability. Y'know, each according to one's, what is it? Each according to one's…I want "capability"? There was a phrase and I don't remember what the phrase is. But it basically makes that point. I can't go into, for example, sex worker areas because I don't have as much experience as-. I'm NOT a sex worker, so I can't speak as anything but an ally in those spaces. And I can do that well or poorly depending on how educated I am and all that, but I can-, but I also feel like that I have a sort of, ah-. And when I go into a hacker space, I go, "No, I do understand the programming language you use." And someone who is, for example, not a programmer wouldn't be able to access that as easily.

STACI NEWMAHR: Right. Thomas-, I don't know if you were in the chat room, but he gave you your line which is from the Communist Manifesto.

MAYMAY: Oh. Is it? Wow. Well, look at me, commie. [STACI LAUGHS] What is the line? "From each according to his ability; to each according to his need." Exactly. From each according to his ability. To each according to his need. Look at that, I'm apparently a dirty commie. [STACI LAUGHS] Alright. Good to know. Thanks, Thomas! [LAUGHS] So, okay. You did actually mention one other thing that I found interesting, which was, y'know, I don't go into KKK groups and be like, "You guys need more sensitivity!" And of course, for me, that reason is because I think they would kill me. [LAUGHTER]

STACI NEWMAHR: Right. I don't think sensitivity training is-, I don't think the lack of that is the problem.

MAYMAY: [LAUGHS] That's a good point, too, right. But it does highlight this notion of risk, which is another thing that you talk about a LOT in the book, and you describe this academic concept of "edge work" in the book, in a great deal of detail, but it's a distinct concept from what the S/M community -- despite how related it is -- from what the S/M community understands as "edge play."


MAYMAY: So, can you elaborate on the distinction between and perhaps the relationship between edge work and edge play?

STACI NEWMAHR: Sure. Um, first out of the way, I have to clarify something about edge play because, I don't know if you with all of your activism and action in various communities, whether you know this, but this is new to me. "Edge play" in Caeden means something different than "edge play" means-

MAYMAY: And "Caeden," sorry to interject, but Caeden is for those-


MAYMAY: "Caeden" is the fictional name of the actual S/M community that you were researching.

STACI NEWMAHR: Right. Sorry. Um, so "edge play" there means something different than "edge play" means in other places. Not all other places, but at least in some other places, I've since learned "edge play" refers specifically to play with blades. Did you know about this? I didn't know about this.

MAYMAY: In other S/M communities?


MAYMAY: I did not know that!

STACI NEWMAHR: So, I have met folks from other S/M communities where "edge play" means "play with blades."


STACI NEWMAHR: So, that's not the way I'm using "edge play" here, just in case people are from different communities. "Edge play" as I understood it from both the BDSM literature and my time in Caeden means, um, y'know, playing on edges for people. Now, there's two different ways of looking at that. Some people think there has to be sort of an objective standard of edginess, so it has to, y'know, involve a risk of consciousness or unconsciousness, or it has to be, y'know, ethically really edgy. And other people say no, it's only whatever's edgy for the player. So, if this is something really edgy for you, then that's enough to call it edge play. But in either case, "edge play" is a concept in the community that's about S/M play and how intense it is, um, emotionally or physically or psychologically for people, right?


STACI NEWMAHR: "Edge work" is a concept that comes out of the deviance and criminology literature. It was coined by a sociologist named Stephen Lyng who borrowed it from Hunter Thompson who, I think, lots of people know is the guy who wrote "Leaving Las Vegas," he was a journalist, and used "edge work" to talk about extreme experiences. So, Lyng, the sociologist, takes "edge work" to look-, to really be the first to look at voluntary risk-taking activities, um, usually leisure voluntary risk-taking activities, as if what they're doing is taking a risk for its own end. So, prior to this, everybody thought about risk as something you must do to get a good thing, and so they were trying to understand risk in terms of the benefits of it, the payoff of it, because otherwise why would anybody engage in a risk? So, Stephen Lyng looks at situations where people engage in the risk because of the risk itself is fun, and that really gives sociology its first, um, really rigorous way to begin to think about voluntary risk-taking. So, what I'm doing-

MAYMAY: Risk is like an end unto itself.

STACI NEWMAHR: Exactly. For its own sake, um, autotelic, just because you want the risk and not because of what the risk is going to get for you.


STACI NEWMAHR: So, what I'm doing here is I'm saying, okay, edge play, yes. It makes sense to look at edge play as edge work. But I'm trying to look at ALL S/M as edge work by sort of expanding the ideas, the thinking about edge work. And so they aren't the same thing and I'm not even using edge work to only look at edge play, although edge play provides the, um, most-, the simplest, sort of most straight-up example of edge work in S/M.

MAYMAY: Because edge play is almost the risky-, not almost, it IS the riskier parts of S/M play. So, to analyze risk, you look there.

STACI NEWMAHR: Yeah. So, I mean, just to make it easier than I'm making it-, than I have been making it up until now-

MAYMAY: [LAUGHS] That'd be good, thanks!

STACI NEWMAHR: Edge play, at least in the, y'know, in the community that we were in, people didn't delineate what constitutes an edge, but through analyzing it, I delineated what constitutes edges and so I argue in the book that the edges for people to consider it edge play in the community were the line between ethical and unethical. So, things like race play, rape scenes, incest play, often looked at as edgy for that reason. Consciousness and unconsciousness. Temporary and permanent, right?


STACI NEWMAHR: So, branding, for example, or body modification-

MAYMAY: Is edgier than…play piercing.

STACI NEWMAHR: Right, than not-, right, exactly. And then life and death. So, anything that people thought could kill you tended to be edgy. And then consent and non-consent was the other major edge. So, play that happened along these lines generally tended to be, regardless of whether the individuals felt it was edgy or not, generally tended to be looked at as edge play. And so I kind of lay that out so that I can say, "So, that's edge work," but then I move on to, "but edge work is really all S/M" because it's all risky on these other levels.

MAYMAY: That was a good explanation, actually. [STACI LAUGHS] No, I mean, I don't-. What I found so fascinating about your discussion of edges was the way in which it-

STACI NEWMAHR: Oh, oh, I'm sorry. I have to interrupt you-


STACI NEWMAHR: -because Thomas corrected us again, me again, right, it wasn't-. Did I say "Leaving Las Vegas"? [LAUGHS]

MAYMAY: Huh? What? Oh the-

STACI NEWMAHR: That is a really deeply depressing Nicholas Cage movie. I meant "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" which was a book about a, y'know, a drug adventure. [LAUGHS]

MAYMAY: Oh, I see. Thomas Hunt-, ah, see, this is how lack of mainstream culture I have, I don't even know who this person is.

STACI NEWMAHR: Oh, well thank you for catching that, Thomas. I didn't mean "Leaving Las Vegas."

MAYMAY: Our chat room is so smart.

STACI NEWMAHR: I know. It's just so cool. And now-, and look at me, because y'know me, the luddite, I'm clicking back and forth on different tabs here.

MAYMAY: I thought you weren't even going to take a look at the chat room, but you are diving right in.

STACI NEWMAHR: No, but you mentioned this great conversation and I got curious.

MAYMAY: Ahh, see, it is an intellectual eagerness.

STACI NEWMAHR: Yes. [LAUGHS] Alright. I don't know where you were when I interrupted. I'm sorry.

MAYMAY: Um, ah, I can't precisely remember either, but that's okay. Um. Y'know, but there was one other thing I wanted to talk to you-, ask you about, because, y'know, there are plenty of accolades to provide you with for this book and I think you deserve all of them and one of them in particular that I think you deserve is perhaps not going to come from others within the community, because you did not always, ah, shed the most flattering light on the members of the community. In fact, it includes some [STACI LAUGHS] portrayals that people would call unflattering. Uh, on page, I remember, 33 in the book -- I highlighted this because it was so-, it was one of those moments where I was like, "Yes! That! Thank God someone said this." [STACI LAUGHS] You wrote, "During my time in the field, I frequently found myself unable to communicate effectively through normative bodily cues. Backing away from a speaker who was standing too close often resulted in the speaker closing in on me and even walking away sometimes led to being followed by the busily chatting offender." Um, I have experienced that numerous times. I think almost everyone who was in the public sc-, ah, communities at some point has had this experience. And yet we don't-, I mean, it's not like a huge infraction, but it is a good illustration of how different culturally it is to sort of normative expectations are.


MAYMAY: But it's also, because this book is much more-, it seems to be for, y'know, other academics and you were advancing the state of the art of sociology. It's not for this community. But here I am going, "Dear This Community of Mine," [STACI LAUGHS] "By the way, a lot of you have trouble dealing with normative bodily cues." [STACI LAUGHS] "Do you think maybe we should talk about that at all?" Like, how did you feel about highlighting that sort of thing in a book like this that you know, because I told you, that I was going to tell the rest of the community to read and that you, I hope!, y'know, considered that the rest of the community would also find it valuable?

STACI NEWMAHR: Right. Um. Well, I mean, the short answer is: Deeply, deeply uncomfortable and ambivalent.

MAYMAY: [LAUGHS] Okay. Fair.

STACI NEWMAHR: But, y'know, one of the toughest things-. There were a lot of tough things about doing ethnography, but one of the toughest things is that sooner or later, you're gonna have to call it as you saw it.


STACI NEWMAHR: And once you do that, y'know, that's always going to include some unflattering things about somebody and I think the trick, um, is to make damn sure that you think you need to call this particular thing and not call it just for sensationalist-, y'know, ethnographers can hurt their communities, y'know, psychologically, emotionally-


STACI NEWMAHR: -people can get feel betrayed. And it was really important to me to make sure that if I was doing something like this particular description, that it was important and interesting and necessary and to do it in a way that was respectful. And that part was easy for me because I really did respect the community, so I didn't have a problem where I had to wrestle with sort of hypocrisy, which some ethnographers do. I didn't have that problem. But I did have a problem where I said, "Okay, I'm gonna have to say that these people are not what people picture." Because I'm speaking to an audience that is picturing, y'know, people who weight 102 pounds in red PVC and men who look like, y'know, Wesley Snipes in Blade and -- Blade? Is that the movie? Thomas will tell us. But anyway-

MAYMAY: [LAUGHS] Ahh, I don't know. Movies are like one of those-, it's like movies and bands, I can't do it.

STACI NEWMAHR: Yeah. So, but anyway, they're picturing sort of hegemonically hot people [and that's it] engaging in this who are like celebrities-

MAYMAY: Yes, Thomas and Mr. Blue have said that is the movie. Blade.

STACI NEWMAHR: Okay. Thank you. So, this wasn't that. I mean, no matter how you slice it, y'know, I'm not saying there were no hot people to be found. But by and large, I'm sorry, it just wasn't that. And that was important because this is a public community. This doesn't mean that every-, y'know, for all I know, everybody does it in their bedrooms. But this was a public community. And the fact that people looked like this, acted like this, felt like this, was relevant to how it held meaning for them.

MAYMAY: Right.

STACI NEWMAHR: And so, that helped me sort of work up the guts to say things like what you just quoted and just really kind of cross my fingers and hope that people understood that, in the end, this was, I thought, a respectful portrayal, despite these moments that might be cringeworthy.

MAYMAY: Right. Because again, it sort of-

STACI NEWMAHR: I'm cringing right now. [LAUGHS]


STACI NEWMAHR: As I speak, I'm cringing!

MAYMAY: I don't, y'know, but again, I'm sure some people, yes, I'm hesitating to say this but I am in fact sure some people will take offense, ah, argue the point, um, y'know, call it a generalization, and that's all, y'know, I guess, fair to their experience. I don't want to discount peoples' experiences. I also think you are right and they are wrong. [LAUGHTER]


MAYMAY: So, for-, and I think this comes down to rep-, y'know, the issue that I was talking about earlier about misrepresentation vs. inaccuracy. There is a difference between something that you feel is misrepresented because it is not true and something that is true-, accurately represented but is uncomfortable and also happens to be true.

STACI NEWMAHR: Right. Right.

MAYMAY: Yeah. Internally, communities, when one is critical of them, do not do such a good job at distinguishing that line. Which is an unfortunate thing, I think largely because it prevents that community from having a-, it prevents that community from having credence in the other things they say. For one. At least for me. And that is unfortunate. And frustrating.

STACI NEWMAHR: Yeah, no, that's a good point.

MAYMAY: Yeah. I mean, it's-, I don't wanna be, ah, I could probably rant about, y'know, this sort of thing and I am reigning myself in right now. [STACI LAUGHS] Because, as you know, I am kind of a BDSM community critic. I like to throw rocks at it and then see how it responds. [STACI LAUGHS] But I think that is useful and I think that, ah, it is good to have an academic formulation of that, 'cause I don't think I could put it in these words. And now I get to go, "I am going to quote Newmahr on page 165." [LAUGHS] Y'know, and I sound smarter for it.

STACI NEWMAHR: I get to be the scapegoat. [LAUGHS]

MAYMAY: Hey, you have given me the opportunity. [LAUGHTER] Which I shall seize! Um, let's see. The other thing, you also mentioned earlier when we were talking about what to talk about, you said you wanted to discuss serious leisure. And in the book, you call S/M "serious leisure."

STACI NEWMAHR: [That's correct.]

MAYMAY: Sex as serious leisure. What-, I'm-, I don't think I'm clear on precisely what you mean when you say that, so I guess I'm asking both for me and for anyone listening, what do you mean "serious leisure"? What's that?

STACI NEWMAHR: Okay. But first, I have to say the most contentious part, which is that I'm not saying sex as serious leisure, I'm saying S/M as serious leisure RATHER than understanding it as sex.


STACI NEWMAHR: And so what that means is-, and I'm glad that this-, the reason I wanted to make sure that we talked about this was because, um, probably more than anything else in the book, this is the part that people in the community, I think, are going to not like. I mean, except for the stuff that you just pointed out.

MAYMAY: [LAUGHS] The shallow shit.

STACI NEWMAHR: Yeah. But this is, um, and not all people. I think it depends on who was where when. I really do. But there's a tremendous variance of S/M communities, um, and what it means for people. But, okay, so answer the question. Serious leisure is a concept, it's Robert Stebbins's concept, that distinguishes leisure practices that are highly immersive and require high skill sets and really have a way of taking over peoples' lives and provide high thrills, like rock climbing -- they don't have to provide high thrills but a lot of them do -- but like rock climbing or skydiving or bungee jumping or whatever, from other leisure like watching television or playing chess. Well, playing chess could probably be serious, too. But you get the point.

MAYMAY: Right. Something that you have invested very heavily in.

STACI NEWMAHR: That you've invested very heavily in, that provides a status power-, er, a status ladder, y'know, status potential, that provides a community, that feels connective with other people who-, other devotees of that same leisure pursuit, that becomes an identity. So, he's got all these criteria that make a pursuit a serious leisure pursuit. And why it was a useful concept for me was, um, that I was speaking against what I see as an oversimplification of S/M as sex. And so I wanted something that would say, um, we have to stop saying it's just sex. And I'm putting "just" in quotes-


STACI NEWMAHR: -because I think that we oversimplify sex and we shouldn't-, y'know, sex is serious leisure too and we should call it that, but we don't, and so I'm spea-. Or can be serious leisure. And so I was speaking against a particular line in work on BDSM that assumes that fundamentally all S/M should best be understood as a sexual activity, a sex activity, and I wanted to use the serious leisure framework to say, "Let's explore all else that it is in a public community context." Because if you're not talking about what a couple does in their bedroom at night, then you're talking about what I see as a serious leisure endeavor. Which may or may not be sexual. Which is often erotic but not best reduced, from my perspective, to sex.

MAYMAY: So, okay, let me see if maybe this-. I have another question to maybe help me understand what you've just said. How would you then differentiate between someone, for example, who does-, a couple who, for example, does have a sort of S/M lookalike-, "lookalike" is not the right word. That does S/M-, a couple that does S/M in their private bedroom, like S/M sort of bedroom S/M stuff, and again that's in [quotes], so "bedroom S/M"-


MAYMAY: As opposed to, like, y'know, public club S/M? Is that a salient distinction to understand what you're talking about? And if so-

STACI NEWMAHR: Well, I don't know, because I don't, y'know, I don't have experience with people who only do or primarily do "bedroom S/M."

MAYMAY: Right. [LAUGHS] Okay. Fair.

STACI NEWMAHR: So, I suspect it is, just based on the number of people that I watched come into the community, take a look around, spend a day or two, and then go back home and never come back again.


STACI NEWMAHR: And so, I do think there's probably a distinction. I do think there are a lot of people who are into kink who are not in the public community or who are in a different public community. I have friends in-


STACI NEWMAHR: -Europe who say that their public communities, y'know, are full of different kinds of people if you will. And so, all I can talk about is the community where I was, and in that community I think that understanding what they do as sex is-, poses a host of problems because it doesn't account for all sorts of complexities and it doesn't account for experiences of people who say, "My S/M isn't about sex."


STACI NEWMAHR: And I think it's important to look at that.

MAYMAY: So, well, I can-, I mean, I have definitely discussed S/M activity with people who are not part of any formal S/M or leather or, y'know, even sexuality of any stripe community. Gamers are an example. Hackers are another. These tend to be, ah, geeky people.


MAYMAY: And yet, y'know, they seem not only willing but eager to behave in ways that look similar to -- in their sex, and they do formulate it as sex -- what sexuality communities do, and specifically the S/M community does, in public.

STACI NEWMAHR: That's interesting.

MAYMAY: Yeah. And so, I mean, I think you hit the nail on the head when you say, "Well, we simplify sex, too." So, if we understand S/M as sex and then we sort of use the sex framework to discuss S/M, we are simplifying it on two counts.


MAYMAY: Number one, it is not just sex - again, "just" in quotes -- but at the same time, if we were to do that, then sex itself sort of has this simplified position in our conceptualization of what the behavior is actually about.

STACI NEWMAHR: Right. Which doesn't help us understand S/M or sex any better than we did.


STACI NEWMAHR: And so, y'know, and that's my problem. But in addition, there were a surprising number of people in the community that just said, "My S/M is not about sex. It's not sexual. I don't experience it as sexual." Some people said, "I don't even experience it as erotic. What does that mean?" So, we have a real language problem, right?

MAYMAY: Right.

STACI NEWMAHR: And this is where my new work is moving, which is understanding the non-sexual erotic. And so, I think that, y'know, the sex frame is what people use often when it's not about sex parts, right? It's not about secondary sex characteristics. It's not about sexual response, right, through vaginas and penises, but it's erotic and how do we process erotic experience that is about, y'know, a punch in the chest? And so, I think that that's really misleading and misrepresenting, and that's really what I'm speaking about when I call it "serious leisure."

MAYMAY: You, on your homepage, you say that you're-. You say: "Currently-" You write in third person. "Currently, Dr. Newmahr is writing about Renaissance Fairs based on participant-observation research in 2010. She is also in the early planning stages of virtual ethnographic research on MMOR-" M.M.O.P.R.G.s? I think you mean RPGs.


MAYMAY: I think you have a typo on your website.

STACI NEWMAHR: Oh, I need to fix that. Thank you.

MAYMAY: No problem. Um. So, y'know, which strikes me as fascinating in and of itself because my-, the only relationship in which I-, the only very long-term relationship in which I felt-, in which I had a sort of personally-, well. When I first came into the S/M community, I sort of felt like I would identify as a, y'know, man who is submissive. A submissive man, if you will. Then I sort of rejected that out of frustration with what the possibilities for submissive men were, and I was like, "Fuck that. I don't wanna be any of the things that you say are submissive that men can be," so I wasn't.


MAYMAY: Then, I sort of said, "Well, fuck THAT 'fuck that' part." [STACI LAUGHS] "I will do it anyway, you mofos!" Y'know, like-

STACI NEWMAHR: -bring us back to defiance. [LAUGHS]

MAYMAY: [LAUGHS] Precisely. So, and part of the sort of-, the catalyst of my saying, "Well, fuck you community, that is bullshit and I will do what the hell that I want and I will use your terms for it because that way I get fucked the way I want," which is basically what I was after at that point. [STACI LAUGHS]


MAYMAY: Y'know, but the catalyst to do that was meeting, um, the-, my former, ah, partner, the person with whom I started Kink On Tap originally back in 2007, Eileen she is called on my blog often. And Eileen was a very active and, y'know, known member of Renaissance fairs and the Renaissance circuit, Fair circuit. Just before-, just a couple minutes ago, I mentioned gamers as being a community whose behavior intersects privately with that of the S/M community.


MAYMAY: And so, those two are-, so it's very-, like, when I read your bio on your site, I was like, "Ooh! Two things that make a lot of sense as a corollary to this book."


MAYMAY: At least intuitively for me. I'm curious why you chose Ren Fair and MMORPGs as sort of the next step and have you-, have you seen in any of your newest works or observation or Ren Fairs that you went to or whatever "participant observation research in 2010" means [STACI LAUGHS] similar sort of characteristics, or are they completely different?

STACI NEWMAHR: No! My god, no, they're very similar. And, y'know, this all comes out of the work on marginality and the creativity, um, which is a word that I like but didn't really get the chance to develop in the book. But the creativity of people in the community that I studied. And sort of, y'know, and you mentioned openness, and several people mentioned openness, and these kinds of interests were so common and they are intuitive for you and for a lot of other people in the scene, but to the rest of the world, I mean, when I first came to the community, I was completely stymied by and fascinated by why so many people in the S/M scene were science fiction fans.


STACI NEWMAHR: And I couldn't wrap my mind around it. And now it's something that I take for granted and other people are shocked by. [MAYMAY LAUGHS] But it really is not intuitive to other people, because they don't make these connections of open-mindedness and creativity and non-conformity and marginality and fantasy and, y'know, they're not interrelated for everybody. So, for me, Ren Fair made sense in terms of, um, in terms of eroticism, in erotic fields, which is, y'know, a really interesting thing if you've ever been to a Ren Fair-


STACI NEWMAHR: I mean, they're pretty much about sex [MAYMAY LAUGHS] without being about sex.

MAYMAY: Right.

STACI NEWMAHR: I mean, it's fascinating.

MAYMAY: Kind of like Disney.

STACI NEWMAHR: Yeah. And they're deeply gendered but they're also gender-subversive at moments and in places.


STACI NEWMAHR: And y'know, and it's all serious leisure. It's all intensely immersive play. It's all play that people engage in for fun, that is often erotic but not always, that can take over a person's life, that can be a space for people to feel like they're home when other spaces haven't felt like that, and so for me all of those connections, um, made a tremendous amount of sense. I almost started to study LARPing, um, which is Live Action Role Play.


STACI NEWMAHR: But, um, it was just too confusing for me. [LAUGHS]

MAYMAY: You mean, you didn't understand the mechanics of LARPs?

STACI NEWMAHR: I just didn't understand what to do and I haven't met anybody who could really kind of hook me into it yet.


STACI NEWMAHR: And so the other ones were more accessible for me. So, for me, they made perfect sense. They were, y'know, there are similar kinds of citizens who engage in these particular activities and there are similar values there and that's what I'm interested in.

MAYMAY: That's fascinating. I cannot wait to read the follow-up to this.

STACI NEWMAHR: Yeah, well, y'know, I-

MAYMAY: Do you think it will be a follow-up, actually, or will it just be a different work?

STACI NEWMAHR: Well, I think, I mean, y'know, these-, the projects on Ren Fair and the project on gaming, I don't know yet whether they'll be full-length works like whether they'll be books or whether they'll just be a couple of articles. I do envision a book, and probably the next book, on non-sexual eroticism, which will draw on these works and draw, I think, in particular on sadism and masochism.


STACI NEWMAHR: So, I see it as coming out of this work but also sort of branching out into other realms of the non-sexual erotic.

MAYMAY: Interesting.

STACI NEWMAHR: That's where I'd like to go. I wanted to point out, though, something in the chat room. It was back in our conversation about serious leisure and sex and ExploreIt made a really good point, um, ExploreIt said, "My S/M is about sex with some people but not with everyone." And I hadn't mentioned that as another distinction, but another reason I was speaking against the frame of S/M as sex is because of that relativity, that relationalness, that's so common in the community that-, y'know, it's sex with a sex partner, it's sex with someone you're attracted to, but without that, it's serious leisure. Or it's something else. And so, y'know, ExploreIt brought another dimension to the reasons why I think to call it "sex" is reductionist.

MAYMAY: So, is stuff like, um, so in the gaming community, for example, there is a very strong emphasis on things like souping up your computers. This is true for mechanics, y'know, for car enthusiasts as well. And in order to do that, in order to actually succeed in getting the ultimate gaming machine or, y'know, the fastest hot rod or something, you need a serious amount of a -- serious, interesting word -- you need a extensive amount of knowledge, of typically very niche knowledge, to get the best GPU and have the best RAID array and actually configure that so that you, y'know, end up with the machine that is most performant. Whatever-


MAYMAY: Whether it be a car or a computer or whatever. Is, ah, do you find the framework of serious leisure, like, is that-, 'cause now I'm finally starting to come around, is that the framework of serious leisure, is that sort of an intrinsic quality to that, and S/M simply is that because it's technical as well, um, it fits into that? I hope that makes sense.

STACI NEWMAHR: I think the answer is 'not quite.' I mean, that is a-, serious leisure has a lot of criteria and Robert Stebbins has, y'know, sort of altered it throughout the years, so updated, so it changes. But in general, yes, need equipment, specialized equipment, often expensive equipment. Needing technical skill sets, difficult to acquire skill sets that require practice and reading are absolutely characteristic of serious leisure, and I would argue absolutely characteristic of S/M, too.


STACI NEWMAHR: And I do argue that. Because it's a similar thing. And again, it's not necessary. Y'know, you can skydive with middle-range equipment. [MAYMAY LAUGHS] And you can engage in S/M with middle-range equipment. But talk to a whip thrower-

MAYMAY: Or knowledge!

STACI NEWMAHR: -and, y'know, or knowledge. And, y'know, a veteran with whips is going to tell you that it's this kind of whip, and it's this expensive, and this is the way that you can avoid taking out an eye, etc. etc.

MAYMAY: [LAUGHS] Right. Yes. Good things to know.

STACI NEWMAHR: Yeah. And so, I do see it-. I see them both-. And gaming, for example. And so, some are pricier than others. But sure, serious leisure-

MAYMAY: Where to get the best deals…

STACI NEWMAHR: Yeah. That's part of it. There are a lot of criteria. It's not-, I don't really develop this much in the book, I don't think. It's better developed in an article that's on my website. But, um, to go through the actual criteria of serious leisure and say why S/M meets all of these criteria. But the point of that, again, is really to speak to people who are saying, "No, it's just 'kinky' sex!"

MAYMAY: Right, right, right. Well so, okay, then the follow-up question to that, I suppose, is: One of the things that I am seeing in all of these sort of examples of what we are calling, or what you sort of used the serious leisure framework to sort of, ah, relate with is an incredibly classist environment, one that requires the money to get the specialized equipment, one that requires the access to the spaces in which you can get that knowledge. I mean, the whole intersection of disability and sexuality is hugely problematic for sort of BDSMers who don't-, who aren't sensitive to it, um, precisely because so many of the spaces in which BDSM occurs are also, and I don't want to say by definition, but they are certainly ableist.

STACI NEWMAHR: Right. Absolutely.

MAYMAY: I mean, y'know, things like "stand over there." Well, what if you don't stand. [LAUGHS] Right?


MAYMAY: Like, y'know, these are things that it seems to me like the most privileged people can do. I don't see, as an example, a lot of female gamers.


MAYMAY: Because-

STACI NEWMAHR: It's increasing. It's increasing in really very impressive rates, it's increasing. But still-

MAYMAY: Both in gaming and in the S/M community. I mean, I am st-, I think there was some sort of transformative period, like in 2008 or 2009, just as I was leaving for Sydney, of course, in the communities-, the S/M communities that I was aware of, because, y'know, groups started-, there was an influx of younger people, these younger people challenged a whole lot of pre-determined ideas about it, there were suddenly a lot more switches, trans people started playing out in public which was awesome, y'know, all these sort of other parties bubbled up, and I did not remember that happening when I joined the communities that I was part of in 2002. That was completely non-, ah, invisible. If it was there at all.

STACI NEWMAHR: Yeah. Well, I remember you and me disagreeing about that at a diner, actually.

MAYMAY: Oh, do you? [LAUGHS]

STACI NEWMAHR: Yeah. Circa 2003, maybe.

MAYMAY: Uh huh.

STACI NEWMAHR: I think it was there. I think it was invisible to you, but I think-


STACI NEWMAHR: -it was there, but it was not there in satisfactory numbers.

MAYMAY: Right.

STACI NEWMAHR: And, ah, and I think, y'know, it was a part that was really important to you and um-


STACI NEWMAHR: -and I think it started to, it did start to pick up much later and I was gone by then, but I know it picked up just from what people have told me. But I do think it was-, that it was there a little bit more than not at all. But you're right. Although, by my count, it was pretty equal in terms of people who identified as one gender or another, it was pretty equal man/woman identifications. I didn't see it as a male-dominated space. But other than that, I agree with everything that you're saying. [MAYMAY LAUGHS] About the change. But the beginning part of this-, I lost the beginning question…

MAYMAY: Um. Maybe the chat room will remind us, 'cause I lost it as well.

STACI NEWMAHR: But you hit on something-. No, they're talking about something else.


STACI NEWMAHR: Oh, it was-, you were talking about-, I think it was coming out of the serious leisure thing and you were wrapping your mind around sort of the different criteria for serious leisure.

MAYMAY: Yes! Right. The sort of-, the classist-ness-


MAYMAY: -of how these sort of serious leisure activities were so privileged.

STACI NEWMAHR: Yeah. Well, absolutely. And yes, you're right that serious leisure is for the reasons you're pointing out, the expense of it. But all leisure is a privilege of the upper classes-


STACI NEWMAHR: -in all societies, because the biggest resource is time.

MAYMAY: Right.

STACI NEWMAHR: That you need to engage in serious leisure. Right? You need to learn the thing, you need to have time to go do the thing, you need to have time to socialize with the other people who do the thing. And, y'know, when you work two jobs, you don't have a lot of that. And when you're off, you're too tired. So, there's that plus the money. Um. But yeah, the S/M community is no exception. The S/M community is classed. It just doesn't necessarily look like the same people who engage in the rock-climbing.

MAYMAY: Right.

STACI NEWMAHR: Although, fascinatingly, I can't even count the number of people who told me, while we were in Caeden, that they had gone sky diving. So, I thought that was really interesting, too.


STACI NEWMAHR: That there was this other sort of intersection of thrillseeking going on.

MAYMAY: I remember being amazed for, I think, very much the same reasons when a friend of mine here in SF, who I know from the hacker scene, was like, "I'm going sky diving this weekend." And I was like, "What? Sky diving?" Number one, I would be scared out of my wits and I'm a total wuss when it comes to that. Number two-. 'Cause I don't like heights actually very much. And number two, I was like, "Wow, another one."

STACI NEWMAHR: Right, exactly. Exactly.


STACI NEWMAHR: And, y'know, I spoke with a friend who was a sky diver and she, um, to my knowledge was not part of any S/M community. But she was a serious sky diver, a serious leisure sky diver, and when I first met her, we started talking and I talked about what my work was, and she said, "Ohh! I have friends who know a lot about that." [LAUGHTER] And I thought, there really is a lot of intersection between all of these thrill-seeking activities.


STACI NEWMAHR: And that was probably the biggest reason I wanted people to stop talking about it as if it was just a bedroom thing, or just a-, and again, the quotes around "just." Because sex really doesn't have to be thrill-seeking, right? I mean, we've got opinions about that, maybe-

MAYMAY: Right.

STACI NEWMAHR: -but it doesn't have to be for it to work. It doesn't have to be about thrill.

MAYMAY: Two people-, so not only did one person in the chat room, ExploreIt, says that they are a sky diver-


MAYMAY: -we also have people saying, y'know, a lot of their entire lives were about thrill-seeking. A former Marine in the chat room, uh, Mistraphoenix, says that they were a former Marine and their entire life is about thrill-seeking. And I appreciate people in the chat room who are saying, "I feel so privileged all of a sudden." [LAUGHTER] That's Molly Ren. But this is a-. Another one: "Nine jumps."


MAYMAY: There we go.

STACI NEWMAHR: And with the username of "coward." [LAUGHTER]

MAYMAY: I think that's a-, I think that's an automatic username, because "coward" in technology's also "anonymous."

STACI NEWMAHR: It's very funny.

MAYMAY: Yeah. There's an overlap there, and our chartroom sort of gives anonymous usernames to people who don't want to sign in.

STACI NEWMAHR: Right. But in the light of risk-taking discussion, that is pretty funny. [MAYMAY LAUGHS] So yeah, so that's really where that all comes from. And I wanted to get it out there so that everybody didn't-, y'know, everybody who read it didn't say, "But your'e saying my S/M isn't erotic!" or, y'know, "that I don't get off on it." And that's not at all what I'm saying.

MAYMAY: Sure. Right, right. Yeah, no, I think it is fascinating to-. The thing that I liked about your work was that it really sort of took this object of, "Let's talk about this S/M thing" and rather than-, it wasn't so much a deconstruction, because frankly I hate that word, [STACI LAUGHS] so maybe that's why it wasn't a deconstruction. Maybe it was. I dunno. But, to me, it was like you took S/M and then you sort of turned it on its axis multiple times and, by analyzing it in a completely different axis, you get to approach it from a completely different perspective, thus providing an academic deconstruction. [STACI LAUGHS] Which I-, which is, I guess, the same thing, but I don't like "deconstruction" as much.


MAYMAY: I mean, it's-, am I wrong? Is it the same thing? Was it-?

STACI NEWMAHR: Well, I mean, y'know, "deconstruction" is another one of those terms that's still hot for a few people but contested elsewhere-


STACI NEWMAHR: But, I mean, y'know, I think you get the gist.


STACI NEWMAHR: It's taking apart in uncover deeper and symbolic meanings.

MAYMAY: Right. Right. Well, so, okay. We talked about, like, serious leisure. We talked about the deeply gendered-ness of it. What-, was there anything else that you wanted to specifically talk about or that we haven't yet covered that you feel like would be fun to banter over?

STACI NEWMAHR: Well sure, yeah, I mean, I-. And I think you are in the-, if I remember right, you are at the beginning of, um, the chapter that really gets into this. But I would love to hear some of your thoughts about where you think it might be headed or what it is so far.

MAYMAY: Ooh. Well, I would-. Am I going to get a spoiler if I ask questions? I don't know if I want one.

STACI NEWMAHR: Well, I won't spoil anything too badly. But-

MAYMAY: [LAUGHS] Okay. Well, so I'm-


MAYMAY: Yeah, go ahead. [STACI LAUGHS] No, go ahead. Sorry.

STACI NEWMAHR: The particular thing-, 'cause other people who haven't read it, I want to give them a little background to what I'm talking about-.

MAYMAY: Yeah. Sure.

STACI NEWMAHR: Um, which is, y'know, what-, what I really hoped to do in the book, besides give a portrayal of a community that I think is very misunderstood, was to explore the question that fascinated me more than any other during my fieldwork, which was how is it, precisely, that S/M is experienced as so connective?


STACI NEWMAHR: Why does it feel so intimate to beat each other up? That was really the big intellectual conundrum. And I, um, and I wanted to explore it. And when I say, y'know, and so, it's a no-brainer for people who do it, on one level, but in terms of social theory, we don't really have a way to understand how intimacy is constructed, how we construct intimate experience.


STACI NEWMAHR: And instead we use the word "intimacy" to mean all things lovey-dovey-

MAYMAY: Right.

STACI NEWMAHR: -and all nice feelings that they give us.

MAYMAY: Sugar, spice, and everything nice.

STACI NEWMAHR: Yeah. And I really wanted to understand-

MAYMAY: And thus, uh, women actually. Sugar, spice, and everything nice-


MAYMAY: What is the nursery rhyme? Boys are made of puppy dog tails and whatnot-

STACI NEWMAHR: Puppy dog tails and sn-, something snails and puppy dog tails-

MAYMAY: And girls-. And yet we also construct intimacy as something women are able to access much better.

STACI NEWMAHR: Right. And are in charge of maintaining and creating and obtaining. And so, y'know, it's their sphere of responsibility, too. The negotiation of the intimate relationship. So, all of this, y'know, all of this speaks to not a very precise understanding of intimacy as a social situation or a social experience or a social interaction. And so, I became really interested in how play constructs intimacy. And through that, and how intimacy is constructed much more broadly than the S/M community. Just, what it is. When people talk about intimacy, whether they're talking about sex or about sharing secrets or whatever it is they're talking about, y'know, membership on a rugby team, what do they mean by intimacy, how do we create it minute by minute, precisely? And I think that S/M really helps to illustrate what intimacy is and how it's constructed. And, for me, that's sort of the thrust of the book is the relationship to risk-taking between people.

MAYMAY: Yeah. So, you seem to-, so you as-, have put-. So, I'm in the middle of Chapter 8 right now. I just, as I mentioned in the beginning, have not finished the entire text, but I just got to the intimacy chapter and started reading it. And, un-, whereas it sounds like you put the most important part to you in the end of the book. Whereas I would, as I web writer, writer for people with ADD-


MAYMAY: [LAUGHS] -people who use the Internet, would always start with the thing that's most important to me. Like, I always make my point, and then I go and talk about it.

STACI NEWMAHR: Right. Right.

MAYMAY: This was-, it sounds like you have done the reverse.


MAYMAY: So, um, so one of the things that struck me in this chapter, the last bit, was where you say that penetration, and sort of sexual intercourse-, you talk about sexual intercourse and fisting and you talk about how these are intimate acts and often perceived as, y'know, often idealized as penetration. But then you go on to say, "but it can also be conceived of as the occupation of shared physical space."


MAYMAY: Which, to me, not only was exceptionally sexy. [STACI LAUGHS] Because that understanding of a sex act as, y'know, with the anatomy that I have, a penis, and y'know, in a heterosexual encounter, am sort of expected to be a penetrator, is so-. It is so much more appealing to me to think about. Rather than, like, I don't want to penetrate. I would like to share-, I would like to occupy shared physical space. Is that-. So, I found that a. incredibly sexy. But b. a great example of that, like, let's look at this from a different perspective thing.


MAYMAY: So, so that was very, that was a like a eye-opening, if you can describe that as eye-opening, [STACI LAUGHS] which is a whole different sort of cavity of the body, I guess, to talk about. [LAUGHS] That was a very eye-opening experience for me in reading it. I also found the fact that you talk about intimacy as just stuff that is different than, or how did you put it? This is-

STACI NEWMAHR: It's access to stuff that-

MAYMAY: Access to stuff.

STACI NEWMAHR: So I, y'know, and this is where I don't want to give too much away because-

MAYMAY: [LAUGHS] ____ spoilers.

STACI NEWMAHR: Yeah, this is, um. And I'll confess to this, even though it's kind of embarrassing. The reason that I didn't start with this, I mean, well there are good reasons that I didn't start with this, not the least of which is that, at the beginning of the book, most readers don't know what S/M is-

MAYMAY: Right.

STACI NEWMAHR: -and if I start off with this, they will not know what I'm talking about. So, I really did have to spend the first two thirds of the book describing what it is that people in the community do. Which is not the book that I really wanted to write. [MAYMAY LAUGHS] The book that I really wanted to write happens at the end of the book.

MAYMAY: Right, okay. [LAUGHS]

STACI NEWMAHR: But people aren't ready for it, because they don't know what S/M is.


STACI NEWMAHR: So, there's that. But the other part is that I really did see this as, um, y'know, building up to something. I really did see it as sort of stacking these pieces onto each other to get to the grand finale, the ending, where y'know- [LAUGHS]

MAYMAY: The crescendo.

STACI NEWMAHR: Right, exactly. And so, so I won't give away too much of it either. [MAYMAY LAUGHS] But I was talking about access and the extent to which intimacy means accessing another person that those people don't normally feel are easily accessible, in ways that those people don't feel are normally accessible. And so-

MAYMAY: Right. You used the example of "I have seen you play".


MAYMAY: As something that one BDSMer typically says to another as a mark of "I know about you."

STACI NEWMAHR: Right. Exactly. And that's not-, that's not an argument that S/M is intimate. It's evidence that people see play as deeply connective-

MAYMAY: Right, okay.

STACI NEWMAHR: -and as revelatory about one another. So, yeah. So that's, y'know, that's where it's going, is kind of playing with that question of why is it so intimate, and what is intimacy, then?


STACI NEWMAHR: And what's the relationship between that and risk and eroticism and all sorts of other things?

MAYMAY: Right. So like, yeah. The part that I got to specifically, and I literally am on this page, I have actually bookmarked, I'm not quite done with this chapter…


MAYMAY: Uhh…173.


MAYMAY: So, I'm like 25 pages out. Which is-, man! What a tease. [LAUGHS]

STACI NEWMAHR: Oh, so you didn't get to you yet.

MAYMAY: No, I did!

STACI NEWMAHR: Oh, okay. 'Cause you're on the bottom of this page.

MAYMAY: Umm… Yeah, so then you go, at the bottom of page 173, we're talking about connection and energy and I'll just read a bit here, you say, "For S/M participants, connection and energy are better tools for describing intimate moments than intimacy. Jack's discussion of intimacy illuminates the tension between intimacy as an authentically good and long-lasting condition of a relationship and intimacy as a social situation." And then you go on to quote from one of our interviews, um, "but either verbally or non-verbally or both, you definitely share a huge part of yourself, and a huge very personal part of yourself with people. And many people. And people you don't know so well. People you only know certain parts about. And it's not the foundation of anything long-lasting. Anything long-lasting has to be based in something that is at least a proven substance." Here you go with my scientific mind again. [LAUGHTER] Jesus! Reading about me in here is interesting. Anyway. Ah, proven substance… "I mean, there has to be something there. And if you just met the person a couple parties ago, for example, you're not gonna know them, really. You don't know what kind of foods they like and what their favorite color is or shit like that. Or maybe that's all you know. And so what ends up happening is that a lot of people will get very naked with each other and think that they're very personally involved with these people, with these other people. Which creates this immense feeling of false intimacy. Well, of intimacy. Which, when you actually take a look at it, turns out to crumble under any close inspection at all." And then you talk about how, ah, I sort of-, sort of this account that I have of intimacy and qualifying that with "false" and then immediately fixing my own qualifiers, not-false as inter-, you go into that. And then, as a way to access a discussion about what intimacy looks like. So, that's the part that I'm at right now. [LAUGHTER] And I have not gotten to the rest of it.

STACI NEWMAHR: Right. Well, that's good. I won't say much more about it, then. I won't say anything about it.

MAYMAY: Oh, well, y'know.

STACI NEWMAHR: So, you should read it and then you should share your thoughts with me.

MAYMAY: Okay. I will.

STACI NEWMAHR: But that is what I see as kind of like the, um, y'know, the main thrust of the book is how all of these other pieces, the marginality, the gender, the risk taking, the edgework, how it all leads to a discussion of what intimacy is in the world. Not just in S/M but between people, y'know, what is that? What's up with that?

MAYMAY: Yeah. I am reminded of a completely unrelated but, well tangential but I guess very related since I'm reminded of it, um, YouTube video. I think it's called "The Empathic Civilization" and it's an animation of a talk that was given discussing empathy and its importance in everything. Social life but also sort of civic and politics and, y'know, technology advancement and it sounds to me like-, and I may be misunderstanding 'cause I haven't finished the book, but it sounds to me a lot like the notions of intimacy as constructed here are very, very relevant to being able to approach what that video calls an "empathic civilization" or one in which people care for one another by virtue of common humanity. And that is sort of a philosophical activist ideal, in my utopia. I am sort of a pessimistic idealist. [STACI LAUGHS] If you will.


MAYMAY: So, I liked that almost utopian vision of the way people can relate to one another and, if nothing else, the book that you wrote, Playing on the Edge, and your discussion of sort of edge work as, ah, sort of intimacy -- or rather, your discussion as S/M as sort of int-, y'know, the edge work of intimacy -- is fascinatingly pertinent to any discussion about how we go from, y'know, constant war and conflict and pain and suffering in the world on a macro sense to what that video calls an empathic civilization. So, I'm just making a connection right now in my head as we discuss.

STACI NEWMAHR: Right. Well, that's a neat way to connect it. I didn't see that one come. That's cool.

MAYMAY: Curveball! [LAUGHS]

STACI NEWMAHR: Well, that's cool. Thank you.

MAYMAY: Yeah. Um. Everyone should go read the book. We've been talking now for about an hour and 45 minutes, which I think is fantastic and awesome and we could probably continue for a while, um, but I have post-production work to do on this and have to do it alone now. [LAUGHTER] So, I will make an executive decision and call end for at least the show. The chat room is still going and you guys are welcome to stick around for as long as you want, but to wrap up, I want to just say Thank You again, Staci, for coming on and talking so openly about the ideas in the book and sort of engaging with the academics of it to someone who is a middle school drop out. [LAUGHTER]

STACI NEWMAHR: Well, it was my pleasure, as you know. Maymay, thank you for having me on the show and thank you for the people who were chatting and throwing great stuff out there. I really appreciated that, too.

MAYMAY: Yeah. That is why I love doing the live stuff. Because you can-, it is a-, it's always an unexpected experience, and whether that be good or bad, I get to learn something from it.


MAYMAY: So, that is very cool. Speaking of the chat room and people in the chat room, you guys, I don't know if you would know this. If you don't, I will tell you now. Go to, which is a page that I put up pretty much when I stopped doing weekly shows because I'm silly like that, where you can get in touch with me and sort of share your two cents about this show, the show in general. If you have questions that we did not get to, I know some of you did, that you would like to ask Staci about, if we can get enough questions we can maybe collate them. Or maybe just feedback, not even questions, but stuff, reactions, things that you thought about the book, the conversation that Staci and I had now, send it-, go to and write your two cents, share it with us, and we can collate them and maybe have you back to answer questions sometimes.

STACI NEWMAHR: Yeah, that would be great. Can I throw two other possible avenues of communication out there?


STACI NEWMAHR: I don't want to take away from kinkontap. People are here, so you're there. Go to the feedback page. That's great. But should something else come to you at another point, you can also-, I have an account under my name on Fetlife with a discussion thread of the book. That account is particular-


STACI NEWMAHR: Y'know, it's particularly for talking about the book with people, if you're there. Sorry to plug Fetlife on Maymay's show. [LAUGHS]

MAYMAY: That's fine. No, it's okay. I am not a fan of discussion in Fetlife 'cause of other issues, but in terms of getting in touch with Staci, I think it-, go ahead.

STACI NEWMAHR: Yeah. And also, um, the book has a Facebook page which also has a discussion thread. So, either of those places or-, and y'know, my e-mail's on my website. So, any of those places or ways to reach me, I'd love to hear any feedback also. But yeah, if there were an opportunity to come back and talk more, I'd be game. That'd be awesome.

MAYMAY: Well, I would love to have you back. I had a fantastic time talking with you and I always do have a fantastic time talking with you, even when-, and perhaps even especially when we get to disagree and sort of get into stuff.


MAYMAY: We did not disagree a whole lot this time. I know you thought-, I think you were afraid that we would disagree more.

STACI NEWMAHR: Well, I wasn't afraid. I like disagreeing with you, as you do with me.


STACI NEWMAHR: I think it's a lot of fun. But um, y'know what I think? Because this conversation sort of symbolizes the first time we've talked about the book-


STACI NEWMAHR: Y'know what I mean? I think just on an emotional level, disagreement would've been hard. But once I got past that-. Like, if you had sent me an e-mail a week ago [MAYMAY LAUGHS] and said, y'know, "I read the book and here's what I think is really dumb, this this this and this, and I completely disagree with the take on this," then I'd be ready for it.


STACI NEWMAHR: But since this was going to be our first conversation, I think I was excited to hear how much you liked it. That was important to me. But disagreement is great, y'know. It's-.

MAYMAY: I have always hugely respected you for sort of disagreeing and doing it, ah, sort of intellectually as opposed to feeling personally offended when I disagree with you. But I have to say, I really don't disagree with any-, at least yet, salient point that you've made in the book. And I think that speaks more to my own evolution. I think I disagree more with the Jack in the book, y'know, the me-


MAYMAY: -of whenever I was being interviewed-


MAYMAY: -than I do with you.

STACI NEWMAHR: Sure. Well, and that too. I mean, y'know, that also has something to do with the fact that we were in the same place. I mean, people in different communities may have different takes, but not only were we in the same place, but we also talked to each other a lot during this time.

MAYMAY: This is true.

STACI NEWMAHR: Y'know, while the last third of the book wasn't written while you and I were really in close communication, the first two thirds, y'know, we were talking about a lot of this stuff. And so it does make some sense, unless one of us had changed radically since then-

MAYMAY: Right, right.

STACI NEWMAHR: -it does make sense that we would be aligned on some of these issues. So, other people in other communities who aren't part of these conversations may, y'know, not have that take.


STACI NEWMAHR: But it makes sense that we would see it similarly, I think.

MAYMAY: And I sincerely look forward to hearing and reading critiques and sort of reviews of the book.

STACI NEWMAHR: Oh yeah. Can I make one more plug?

MAYMAY: Yeah! Please! Plug away. This is plug time.

STACI NEWMAHR: Plug time. If people out there are reading the book, um, and if you're a reviewer, like an academic reviewer, then you know your venues. But if you're not and you're reading the book and you just have, like, a few sentences to say, even if they're not particularly nice sentences [MAYMAY LAUGHS] and you can put a review on Amazon, that would be really, really wonderful. Because it helps get the book seen by other people.

MAYMAY: Yeah. Mmhm.

STACI NEWMAHR: And so, if you've got any thoughts at all to share via Amazon, that'd be great. Thanks. [LAUGHS]

MAYMAY: Yeah. What we'll also do is every one of the Kink on Tap shows gets a show notes page on our wiki where we will also put links to the book on Amazon and your website, Staci, so we will be able to sort of-, if you, y'know, if you don't find it on Amazon or something, just come to, find this episode, and click through to the wiki -- which is, I think, already up actually. is the front page of the wiki -- and that'll get you as well to links. And I'll link to the Facebook page. And anywhere else where you want to link to, Staci, let me know and we'll put it up, too. So, that's a-, and also, I know that you were doing speaking engagements about the book.


MAYMAY: Do you have engagements you want to-, like, things-, where will you be. Where will people be able to see you talk?

STACI NEWMAHR: Well, I'm in Buffalo now and I have a thing, I have a talk and a signing in Buffalo at Talking Leaves on Thursday, and then I'll be in Vegas at the erotic heritage museum on Friday night, April 3rd. So, if anybody is in Las Vegas and wants to swing by the erotic heritage museum, which is supposed to be a really, really cool place in its own right, um, that would be fun. And then, I'm also doing another webcast, actually, in April-

MAYMAY: Sweet.

STACI NEWMAHR: -on a show called The Female Voice, which is, um, Janet Hardy and a couple of other people whose names, I'm sorry, are escaping me.


STACI NEWMAHR: But I think it's fairly new show, and that should be a lot of fun, too.

MAYMAY: Yeah, I just heard about it. I think via you, actually. [LAUGHS] But Janet Hardy is an author of The Topping Book and The Bottoming Book and very, very well known and I look forward to listening to your show there!

STACI NEWMAHR: Great! Thank you. I really had a ball, Maymay. Thank you so much for having me on.

MAYMAY: Oh, thank you. I am glad that now is the first siren that we are listening to. [SIREN IN BACKGROUND] Because that usually happens throughout the show, and I have not had to silence my mic once except for when I was coughing. So, that's good. Speaking of speaking engagements, I did want to, since we're doing plugs, I want to plug a couple of speaking engagements that I will be at. I, on March 19th, will be in Providence for Kink For All Providence 2, which is sponsored by the Sexual Health Education and Empowerment Council at Brown University. If you are on the East Coast or plan to be in the Providence Rhode Island area on March 19th, go to for Kink For All Providence 2. That'll take you to the wiki signup page for Kink For All. There's also event pages on Facebook and Fetlife if you need to go there. On March 21st, I'll be speaking at the-, at RISD, at the Queer Student Association. On the 22nd-. Again, Facebook and Fetlife pages are there. On the 22nd, I'm speaking at the Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health on Remaking Male Submission, Confronting Sexism in BDSM. So, I hope to see you guys there, too. Again, Facebook and Fetlife pages. And this is why March is a busy month. [SIRENS IN BACKGROUND] On March 26th, I'll be going to the Atlanta Poly Weekend conference in Atlanta, GA where I'll talk about technology. I'll talk about Anti-Censorship Best Practices for the Sex-Positive Publisher. That's at And if you are in the Atlanta, GA area, I hope to see you there. All of that and more is at my blog at And I am-, and now that I am basically doing this full time -- "this" being sort of activist speaking stuff -- this is why I have so many engagements planned. If anyone is a student at a group or is a university professor who would like to, I imagine, either invite you, Staci or, I hope, myself as well, to talk about anything that we talk about, please get in touch. is a way to get in touch with both of us. I will happily hear-, I would love to hear from you guys and would happily forward stuff to Staci as well.


MAYMAY: So, I think that's everything. And with that, I will say another Tap is done.


STACI NEWMAHR: I don't know if I passed this on, or if you're getting this, too, but without fail, every single time I have mentioned to anybody that the person on the cover is my friend Maymay, and it's probably been about a dozen times, and then I've gone on to say, "Yeah, y'know, I really love this picture and he let me use it-" every single person has said, "He? That's a he?"

MAYMAY: [LAUGHS] HAH! That is such a tell-, THAT is a telling example!

STACI NEWMAHR: Absolutely. Because if you look, I mean you've got-

MAYMAY: I've got facial hair in the picture!

STACI NEWMAHR: I'm like, "He's like half wolf-man if you look at his cheeks!"

MAYMAY: Yes! Completely unshaved. [MUSIC CONTINUES] Do you know about

STACI NEWMAHR: No, but I'm writing it down.

MAYMAY: Check out


MAYMAY: It is, ah, a site by two erotic authors who were fed up with the publishing industry constantly choosing sort of female-bodied and very, y'know, sort of traditionally sexy women on the cover photos for their erotic-


MAYMAY: -novels that they were writing. The top post is the-, it was basically the campaign, and at the very top post they go, like, "These are the new covers for Got a Minute 60 Second Erotica and for Girl With a One Track Mind by Abby Lee" and they show there's actually men in the cover! Which is amazing, because the previous covers both had women in panties.


MAYMAY: And they just-, one after another after another examples of this. And um, it's very telling. And I like-, if I can make a plug for myself here, they were very big fans of Male Submission Art and the highest rated "not safe for work" photo -- which they called the "Man Candy Mondays" which they post every Monday -- the highest rated Man Candy Monday they ever posted was a photo that they sourced from, which I was very happy about.

STACI NEWMAHR: Yes. Congratulations.

MAYMAY: Thank you. It was good traffic for the site, actually, 'cause this campaign went REALLY viral within the sexuality spheres.


MAYMAY: Well, thank you for being my friend. I don't think I had many. And the more I speak up, I fear, the less I will have. [LAUGHTER]

STACI NEWMAHR: _____________-aking.