An Extremely Unofficial Timeline of Dyke SM
This Ain't the Bible, Kiddies!
This is a sidebar to History is Just Good Gossip: Fifteen Years of Dykes Doing SM. For a more thorough, blow-by-blow account of the formation of Samois, the first lesbian SM support group, and their fights with the anti-porn dykes, go back and read Pat Califia's piece in Coming to Power (Alyson Press), "A Personal View of the History of the Lesbian S/M Community and Movement in San Francisco". Some of the earlier dates in the timeline are taken from Pat's account.
1975 San Francisco
A bisexual woman named Cynthia Slater founded the Society of Janus, a mixed SM support and social group.
1976 San Francisco
Slater and some other women in Society of Janus started an offshoot women's group called Cardea, which (at first) was mostly bi and heterosexual women, but eventually helped to coalesce the core group of dykes that would become Samois.
1977 San Francisco
Slater convinced her male lover to invite some leatherdykes to his play parties at the Catacombs, a gay men's fisting club in the Mission District.
1977 San Francisco
Nilos, still a teenager, heard Pat Califia talk about SM at a mini-training session put on by the San Francisco Sex Information Switchboard for members of the Youth and Sexuality Task Force. "[I was] attracted to idea of playing characters -- I pretty much grew up at the [Renaissance] Faire. And my experience is that everyone who works the fair fucks in character at least once. One of the things that people play up at the Faire... is class differences. So there was a lot of power stuff.... I'd already had some experiences that now I look back and it looks like SM. So all of what Pat was saying sort of rang a bell."
1978 and 79 marked the beginning of the Lesbian Sex Wars, which continued hot and heavy into the eighties. SM women had a lot of skirmishes with their vanilla "sisters" in the anti-porn movement, who did everything they could to keep SM dykes out of their bookstores, conferences and meeting places.
In San Francisco, Samois was founded in June and Cardea died soon afterwards. The Society of Janus was the first SM organization (not a bar or bathhouse) to march in Gay Pride, and met a mostly negative reception.
In Los Angeles, the first of three pre-Leather and Lace rap groups got started around this time, but soon died out.
Raelyn and her lover Martha stopped at the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival while moving from Northampton to the West Coast. "There we met the Van Dykes... this bunch of wild lesbians that traveled all over the place in vans.... The ringleader was Lamar Van Dyke [a leatherdyke and tattooist from Seattle]. So we fell in love with the Van Dykes... they were so wild, they were great. And we were hanging around them and I remember at one point coming into their van and they had been playing and they hurriedly stopped playing and shoved the whips under the covers. And I was sitting on the bed and kind of sitting on this whip and looked at it and it was like [indrawn breath] 'Oh!' And another woman at one point was selling Van Dyke t-shirts, like the original Killer Dyke and Lezzie Love t-shirts; Quilting and Bombing Society.... One of the women who was selling them had a dog collar on. And Martha asked her 'Why are you wearing that?' She said, 'Because I like to.' Martha had to scoop her jaw up off the ground."
1979 San Francisco
Samois published What Color is Your Handkerchief? and marched in Gay Pride, with hassles from organizers and spectators.
In Seattle, where Raelyn settled, a group of friends was growing into an SM community. "I remember this one New Year's eve party that Lamar had and some of the Van Dykes had. And that was the jumping off point. All these women just started coming out. And it really grew fast. It was a party that was partial play party where everyone dressed up -- that's when I first started seeing women in body harnesses and fem drag and butch drag and restraints and chains.... It all came out, and it was wild!! Wild!! And it started growing.... Parties started happening...."
1980 San Francisco
Jesse moved to San Francisco from Montana in December after a friend in the Bay Area told her about Samois. She joined the organization two days after arriving. "I hadn't really gotten much information to that point, so when I did come and get involved in SM I was kind of disappointed at first.... I found it more methodical than what I imagined. I imagined it more someone coming and beating me and... just totally controlling me... and that's not really the way SM worked. The common thing especially in the beginning seemed to be -- well, there was a Mistress/Slave type thing, which wasn't really my thing, and they would do things like beat you and have you count. Counting's not my thing either. I wanted more out of control fantasy sort of stuff. I see more of it now; I was also able to develop my own play in order to encompass more of that."
1980 San Francisco
Ruby also moved to San Francisco from the East Coast. "I was very anti-SM. I was a lesbian-feminist.... I thought that SM was very violent. I had never read anything about it... So I... was probably here in the area for about three months and then went to a bathhouse in the South of Market area called the Sutro Baths which was a mixed bathhouse. Every Wednesday night was women's night. And that's one of the places where all the SM dykes would go to play, cause there weren't just bathhouses for women. I went with some friends and saw a scene going on and it just went right to my cunt. And I figured out that my head and my cunt were saying two different things. I walked into the room cunt first..."
Allegra went out to a woman's bar in leather for the first time. Nobody bothered her. "If you were a white woman and you walked in with leather, you would get this whole political correctness lecture. If you were Black, they didn't fuck with you, I guess cause they just figured, you know, 'Well they're Black, you know how they are.' I really didn't directly get the negativity associated at the time in the larger lesbian community about SM and leather...."
1981 San Francisco
Samois finally publishes Coming to Power after a lot of bickering and hard work. Jesse says, "[The meeting were] horrendous.... They would nit-pick over every single word.... Because people had to decide what message they were going to get across to the public.... I kind of enjoyed them, I would just go and sit back and kind of giggle. There were some strong personalities going on, and some strong conflicting personalities at that."
1982? Los Angeles
LA's first dyke SM group started up around 1982 and is still going today. According to Jamie, one of the founders, "After the third [SM rap group] died, I said, 'Im tired of this, we need some organization!' and started Leather and Lace with another woman." After six months of putting adsin papers, Leather and Lace was off the ground and Jamie backed off. After a year, Leather and Lace had their own newsletter, patches, and uniform shirts with different colored military-style bands for officers, members, and members of the mediation council. They had "initiations" every six months or so. "We got this big length of chain.... The old members would hold onto it and all the new members would get inside and wed lock the chain. It was supposed to be a secret rite."
1983 Los Angeles
Raven went to her very first leather event, a beer bust. "I bought myself a little leather band about an inch and a half wide and I thought I was a neon light symbol to everyone around, "I'm a leatherdyke!!!!" And I put that little leather band on, and I went through this curtain in the bar, and it was dark and you could smell leather and beer and smoke and all of that, and I remember that rush of fear and excitement -- it was like coming out again. You know, 'Oh my god, I've arrived. And I don't know what the fuck's gonna happen. And I don't care and I want to try everything.'"
1983 Orange County, CA
Raven's first play party was visited by the local police. This is her written account:
"I came upon one scene that kept me riveted to the floor (no, not literally!) A dominant was whipping her slave in splendid fury. The slave was screaming and screaming and.... You get the picture? Very hot. The neighbors must have thought it a little too hot, and called the Orange County police. Scary!!!! Scary!!!!
"Bound to protect and serve like some good bottoms I know, the cops arrived at the door with concerned looks on their Republican faces. They were reluctantly given entry, and they saw things that night that would turn any white boy's hair curly. Picture several huge fierce Amazons wandering past them. Daggers and axes and whips, Oh My!!!! Tattoos and piercings for days, and leather, leather, everywhere.
"Most of us were at least partially dressed. I had a horrifying moment or two when I couldn't find my glasses or clothes. Hmmm, what were my glasses and clothes doing off? Oh, yes! -- the theme of the party was 'cherry picking', and I signed up for every event. So the police were asking 'Is everyone all right?' One polite officer opened the bathroom door, only to be greeted by the sight of a naked womon, bound head to toe in chains. 'Are you all right Miss?' She assured him she was. So much to tell their families over dinner, I'm sure. I think Goddess was working overtime that night to keep all us little sapphic deviants safe."
1983 - 84?, San Francisco
Samois stuttered and died, overextended by Coming to Power and split by disastrous infighting. A lot of women bailed out before the final dissolution. Nobody I talked to wanted to go into the gruesome details of this event.
1984 San Francisco
Victoria moved to San Francisco from Santa Cruz after a year-long SM relationship with a straight man. Leatherdykes were easy to find, especially in the Lower Haight and around 16th and Mission. "At the time we were becoming much more visible. Also, if you dressed a certain way you had to be a leatherdyke. Nowadays, people dress all different ways and it says nothing about them. At the time, it was easy to collect leatherdyke friends because they had to look a certain way."
1984 San Francisco
Outcasts, San Francisco's current women's SM organization, was founded at a meeting at the Valencia Rose. Another lesbian separatist SM group was founded at the same meeting, since Outcasts wanted to include bi and transgendered women. Outcasts made a decision at some point to be a support and educational group, not a political one, to avoid some of the problems of Samois.
1984 San Francisco
Thursday nights at Amelia's became a major punk leatherdyke meeting ground for a few years. Most of these women did not join Outcasts or identify with the SM community, but they'd slap each other around in the corner, play rough on the dance floor and have a good ol' time despite horrified vanilla dykes. Victoria and her lover Jaye were the only women she knows from that group who hooked up with the "mainstream" SM community. A lot of the punk dykes were separatist and didn't want to associate with bi and transsexual women in the Outcasts. Also, they were much more influenced by PC rhetoric.
Victoria says, "It may be that we took our SM much more seriously than other [punk dykes] did.... I identified these women as leatherdykes because I knew what they were doing. But they were afraid to really fully commit. Because they were so uptight about the possible meanings in terms of the patriarchy... It was really in the heyday of dyke politics. Women were still reading things written by Julia Penelope that said if you had a tail in the back that that was a fag tag and it was a male thing and you shouldn't have that. It was a real struggle."
In the leather community, she and her lover ran into a lot of attitude as punks. "At this time the [leather] community thought that punks were horribly unreliable, that we did awful things to each other, and that we were totally not serious about SM. They didn't want to take us seriously -- we couldn't be real, we were too young, all these things. But we just hung around cause there was nowhere else to be. We really needed to be with the community."
According to the clean and sober girls I talked to, there was a big shift away from alcohol and drugs among lesbians in the mid-eighties.
Outcasts is still with us, though it is no longer the absolute center of San Francisco's active and visible SM dyke community. Society of Janus is still with us. Leather and Lace is still with us. There's a National Leather Association, millions of leather contests, and annual conferences. Leather contingents march in Gay Pride parades all over. If you want to learn technique, enroll at a business offering SM workshops. If you want to go out and play, take your pick: there are women-only parties, mixed parties, even vanilla-dyke parties if you can stand the stares. There are shelves full of books about SM fantasies, techniques, politics, and theory. From here on, make your own history. Have fun.
Back to Good Gossip: Fifteen Years of Dykes Doing SM!