SCENEprofiles Interview with 
Guy Baldwin

Psychotherapist and Author









If you wish to contact Guy, please send your e-mail to Sadie ( ) who will forward it.

Guy Baldwin, M.S. is a Los Angeles-based psychotherapist who has worked primarily with erotic minorities for over 20 years in private practice. Although in frequent demand as a speaker and teacher, he is known chiefly for his numerous essays on the Leather/SM erotic lifestyle, some of which have been collected in his 1993 book, TIES THAT BIND. His newest book, SlaveCraft, appeared last May. His books are available at  and

He has delivered keynote speeches at the Leather Leadership Conference, the Dominion Gathering, the Living in Leather convention of the National Leather Association, the Austin Bash, the Southwest Leatherfest Weekend, and the International Masters and slaves weekend.

In 1989, he served concurrently as International Mr. Leather and Mr. National Leather Association, the only person ever to do so.

In 2001, Baldwin received both the Pantheon and Dominion Lifetime Achievement awards, and was also named a
by the Leather Archives and Museum—his most coveted accolade.


Read The Principle of Transparency, an excerpt from Slavecraft, by a grateful slave with Guy Baldwin

Read In my Father's House, There Are Many Mansions, an excerpt from Ties that Bind, another book by Guy Baldwin


SADIE: One of the things that has struck me about your writing is that you so often write from the perspective of a psychotherapist. For example, you approach the idea of punishment in a BDSM relationship from an overall perspective of how it affects the mental health and self esteem of both partners. How has your unique perspective on the scene informed your relationships and your writing?

GUY: "Over the years, my psychotherapy work with kinky folk became a unique and useful lens with which I've tried to develop a more clear and dynamic view of BDSM sexuality. In 1986 Tony DeBlase (then editor of DRUMMER magazine) hired me to write a regular column to discuss what I was learning about how BDSM worked below the surface, especially in relationships. Many of those columns and some other material were collected in my first book, Ties That Bind (1993).

"More often that not, I selected the monthly topics for my columns based on what was happening in the lives of my clients at the time. I guessed that their issues might well be common enough to be of interest to the DRUMMER readership. Naturally enough, I did my best to apply what I was learning in my office to my own conduct in relationships in my private life. I like to think that what I've learned by helping others has helped me avoid some of the mistakes others have made in their relationships. Even so, it seems that all of us must learn certain lessons the hard way, and I'm no exception."

SADIE: You work with primarily single and coupled gay men. What are the kinds of BDSM issues do you see most often in your practice? Do you believe that these problems are reflective of the pansexual community as well?

GUY: "Common BDSM issues that turn up in the therapy room are reflected in the following questions. 'How can I find appropriate partners? Do my interests in BDSM sexuality make me crazy or sick? Why am I drawn to BDSM sexuality? Does the BDSM that I do come from something that's wrong with me psychologically? Should I worry about how I do BDSM sex? Is my depression (anxiety, low-self esteem, fear, anger, problem with intimacy, isolation) related to my fascination with BDSM sex, or something else? Is my BDSM sex related to the child abuse I know (or do not know) about? How do my issues with drugs/alcohol influence my BDSM, and vice versa? Do my other psychological problems interact with my BDSM? As I age, my BDSM is changing in ways I don't like---what can I do about that? Why can I only do BDSM with strangers? Why can't I get BDSM to work in the context of a romantic relationship? I'm young—how can I be taken more seriously in the BDSM world?'

"These issues occur among my clients regardless of the client's sexual orientation and/or gender. I actually work with more clients who identify as heterosexual than otherwise."

SADIE: Your articles have been published extensively. What do you see as your primary motivating force? How would you describe the thrust of your writing?

GUY: "In many ways, BDSM sexuality has been the axis around which my entire adult life has revolved. Radical sexuality never ceases to amaze me, and I have devoted nearly all of my ability to improving my understanding of it and to sharing what I learn with others who share the fascination. As an erotic activist and writer, I've had two primary goals. First, I've tried to help us have more satisfying and fulfilling personal experiences with BDSM, and second, I used to do what I could to de-stigmatize radical sexuality out in mainstream society.

"I've largely abandoned the second goal because evidence suggests that unstoppable social forces are changing things in that direction. I'm confident that those forces will gradually generate a more sophisticated understanding of sexuality that will include tolerance for erotic variation, and yes….eventually produce complete indifference to it someday. I hope that in some small way, my writing helps do that."

SADIE: Many people associate you with your writings and experiences of the Old Guard. Considering how much things have changed, what parts of that experience do you feel are most relevant and practical in today's pansexual BDSM community?

GUY: "I know that issues surrounding The Old Guard (TOG) remain a hot topic because I'm asked about it endlessly by all kinds of BDSM groups nationwide when they have flown me in to teach classes. I'm convinced that TOG is the most misunderstood single thing in today's BDSM world. The surprise to me is that this remains true despite efforts by the few remaining survivors to de-bunk it.

"Space here doesn't permit me to offer much detail about TOG, but in 2004, I plan to re-publish a long piece I wrote about it years ago that never made it to the Internet, which should help clarify things more. Suffice it to say here, that TOG was a small sub-culture of gay leathermen whose original goal (1950's) was Fellowship (a larger word than first meets the eye) and Fun. By the mid 1960's, it had unintentionally also become the steward and gate keeper-guardian of esoteric mysteries surrounding high-end BDSM. In some, but definitely not all parts of the country, BDSM was practiced in a very formal way by guys who also tended to be rather formal all day long no matter what they were doing. (Sounds exhausting to me, but hell…..people get to choose how they wanna live their lives.)

"Today, it's common to assume that those more formal guys were typical and representative of TOG everywhere, but they were not typical at all---they were the exception, and definitely not the rule. (Please read that again.)

"That said, I think it simply must be up to each person to 'do' BDSM in whatever way he or she believes will result in a more satisfying and fulfilling way. I don't think the question of what is 'practical' or 'relevant' has much meaning at the individual level. We must each do whatever we think necessary in the search for erotic joy. But I think it's usually a mistake to automatically shape one's sexuality according to the dictates of a mythical understanding of how a few gay men did BDSM 40 years ago. Put differently, if you think that patterning your sexual expression on erotic forms developed by a minority of gay male BDSM practitioners in a few places generations ago is a good idea, then be my guest. I'll just encourage you to adapt your approach based on your results.

"Sadly, what's been missing in most discussions of TOG is the fact that there were lots of features about the formal parts of that style that simply didn't work well for many who practiced it back then. Not all traditions merit preservation.

"That so many people spend so much energy trying so hard to follow the old, formal ways is, in my opinion, testimony to the failure of our organizations and institutions to help kinky folks find in themselves the courage, creativity and confidence to forge relevant new group structures and more practical paths to erotic fulfillment. We can do better, and we must."

SADIE: You wrote that, "Many of the few surviving old guard guys just scratched their heads in amazement at what the leather world was becoming......and simply withdrew." What do you think of that attitude? As a writer and activist yourself, would you say that you have chosen to take the harder road and reach out to the next generation instead?

GUY: "Well, I would say that I and a few others did take a different road---I don't know that it was harder, just different. As for the attitude behind their withdrawal, I think it was entirely natural for more and more of us to pull out. Here's why.

"Individuals in any minority facing discrimination (religious, economic, educational, ethnic, medical, erotic--whatever) always feel the pain of isolation least when we are with others like ourselves. Put differently, the more those around us are different in the same ways we ourselves are different, the better it feels. This feature of the human psyche is what accounts for the saying, 'Birds of a feather, flock together.'

"Most OG men just wanted to work at a decent job, enjoy their social networks, and play hard on weekends whenever possible. But as the leather world changed more and more, Old Guard leathermen saw less and less in it that validated, supported and reflected them back to themselves. Consequently, most had less and less reason to invest themselves in it. Then, as if that wasn't enough to threaten the Old Guard, HIV arrived in 1983. The AIDS catastrophe, and then later the Internet, were the twin hammer blows that together shattered classical leather culture. By now, there's almost nothing left of it."

SADIE: You have also written extensively about how the rules and limitations of the Old Guard created an exclusive group, which also worked to keep out the kooks. Some might say that a pansexual community that is open to everyone is, by definition, a good thing because it frees everyone to explore BDSM, not just those confined to the urban gay leatherscene. How would you respond to that?

GUY: "Uh….first, the 'urban gay leatherscene' of the Old Guard era has almost completely vanished; almost no one today gets to explore BDSM in that context. Second, 'kooks' isn't the word I'd use. In general, TOG traditions tended to keep losers out—guys whose lives were a mess, who were there to take rather than to give something, guys who had hidden agendas of all sorts, and guys who had disabling psychological problems to name a few. When the tent flaps of the BDSM world went up, and anyone could enter just by paying a donation at the door, and become a member just as easily--the Old Guard screening process that oversaw member quality was swept away.

"I have no way to know objectively if the openness that's typical of nearly all modern BDSM groups has been worth the price or not, although I doubt it. But I think it can be useful to ask some tough questions: How much energy in the community is consumed by trying to identify, contain and expel the predators who now circulate freely and prey upon newcomers? What about people whose hidden goal is to obstruct—how much political hassle in organizations have they caused? How much money has been wasted, squandered or stolen by elected officers who became members for selfish reasons or because more qualified people would not serve? What have we lost in terms of family values by striving to hold larger and larger events? How much real intimacy do you see at public BDSM events? How much respect for each other can be fostered when groups have hundreds of members? In how many groups has 'pansexual' become a polite and politically correct way of saying 'primarily heterosexual'? How much real socializing takes place between club/organization members on holidays for example? What percentage of club members do you actually hang with?

"These days, we all share the Internet as THE gateway institution—the portal that admits newcomers and would-be explorers into the BDSM world. From there, it is important that they be able to make the transition from cyberspace into real-time situations and settings for face-to-face basic education and contact opportunities with others who share their interest—only organizations can fulfill that role for them safely.

"But, organizations can (and I think should) fulfill those two responsibilities without signing up the newcomer for Membership at the door on his/her first visit—or even his/her 20th visit, for that matter. And why not? Because when you sell a membership, you also sell the right to vote, to join committees, to represent the organization at events, to influence policy, to attend business meetings, to run for office, to volunteer for anything. You also sell at least some measure of endorsement and validation to that person, whether you want to or not. He/she can then say to anyone anywhere, 'I'm a member of the XYZ club.'

"My point is simply that it seems to me that it ought to be as difficult to get into an organization as it would be to toss that same member out. The need for money, for 'new blood', more hands to help out---all of these ought not to justify a 'come one, come all' membership policy. I know that many organizations require a prospective member to attend at least one 'orientation' but the goal is usually to teach the person about the organization, not the reverse. Learning about the person seems wiser before, not after, he/she becomes a member.

"In some ways, I see BDSM sexuality as rather like an AK-47 assault rifle……I don't want it in the hands of just anyone who shows up and is curious. I want to know more about that person first. I recently refused to participate in a two-day event of seminars specifically devoted to 'edge-play' and which would be open to anyone who paid a registration fee. The person who invited me explained that a weekend devoted to edge play was chosen because it would be a popular topic, sell out, and thus help the local organization 'get back on its feet economically'. They explained that I was being asked there to help 'bring gay men back into the organization.' The whole idea sent a chill up and down my spine, and creeped me out."

SADIE: You have taken what might be described as a spiritual approach to BDSM, saying "love, intimacy, honesty, intensity, accountability, family, and self-challenge are much more important than achieving pin-point accuracy with every single whip-stroke." With a proliferation of books on how to tie people up and so on, what is the message that you want to send out?

GUY: "The impact of the breath taking views of the Grand Canyon is way more important than whether you get there in a Rolls Royce or an old Buick. Put differently, the 'how' you get there is less significant compared to the 'where' you get TO. Unless technique is a means to a much larger and important end, scenes might be impressive to look at, but they ain't gonna rock anyone's world or be life-changing."

SADIE: There's a wonderful description in Ties that Bind where you said that, "Bondage and S/M techniques are used to stress the body and (or) dominance and submission are used to stress the mind. When done correctly, the ecstatic transformation occurs." What do you think this transformation is, and what is it like for you? Do you have suggestions for people who want to explore this aspect of things?

GUY: "I can point to Paris on a map. I can show you photos of Paris. I can play music written and performed in Paris. But to know what the Left Bank smells like, you simply MUST go there yourself. I can tell you that when that ecstatic transformation happens, no conventional frame of reference can even begin to address it in a way satisfies either he who sends or receives the concept. No amount of prose, poetry, pictures or drawings can re-create that experience for you or anyone else.

"Here is a haiku-style poem (from SLAVECRAFT) which might point your readers in (one of the) right directions:

His boots, a blessing;
Scents transcendent.
Tears 'till morning
swell the river.

"I can also tell you that when that transformation occurs, it can manifest in sometimes unpredictable ways, and perhaps never in the same way twice. I've spent my life learning how to harness the energy that flows from these transformations. But to tell you what it is 'like'…….impossible. And even if I could do so, I would not share that with people I don't know.

"Perhaps when I know you better……..

SADIE: You have said that, "The ability to use BDSM sexuality to visit destinations beyond time and space depends upon the acquisition of powerful energy manipulation skills to accomplish those transformations. ... When such BDSM skills are used without the guidance of good character and love, trouble is the inevitable result." Many players might say that they're just in it for some fun. Do you think that they are all the more dangerous because of their lightweight attitude?

GUY: "No, not more dangerous necessarily….well, maybe sometimes. But the longer they do it, the greater the possibility that one day, they will encounter overwhelming experiences which they are probably unprepared for. And I only hope that such people have access to someone local who they can turn to for guidance and support in dealing with the fallout of that event. The Old Guard families usually supplied a safety net under its members at such times, and helped assimilate such new experiences into ever larger understandings of the forces and energies we summon when we do BDSM. Those families now exist in only a few places, and today's organizations either don't know how to foster such families, don't think they are important, or don't care to.

"As Joseph Bean has observed, people want to do BDSM, '….without too great a risk of also summoning the destruction that seems always to gather in the shadows of a scene, waiting for anything like an invitation.'

SADIE: You co-authored SlaveCraft which models what I might describe as a purist approach to being a slave. The concept that most resonated with me was the one about a slave being "transparent" in allowing their Dominant to see all of them, without endeavoring to hide anything. Would you say that this is the kind of approach you would take when being a slave/submissive yourself?

GUY: "My twenty year experience with HIV has taught me not to speculate or make predictions about what might be in my or anyone else's future, or how I or anyone else might behave in hypothetical futures. I can say that in any kind of relationship, BDSM or otherwise, one of the central foundations of intimacy is self-disclosure, which is what Transparency is all about. Twelve-step Programs of all sorts are fond of asserting that we are all, '….only as sick as our secrets.'"

SADIE: Now for the heavy political stuff. In a recent article you wrote that it was probably a mistake for leather leadership in the late 1980's to have supported an approach of inclusively because, "doing so obligated us to the creation of pansexual organizations which steadily alienated increasing numbers of the gay leathermen who possessed a wealth of experience and information about how leathersex really works." Why do you think that developing the pansexual community in itself alienated so many leathermen?

GUY: "It wasn't an article—it was a lecture I delivered at the Sixth Leather Leadership Conference. A version of it minus the profanity I used was widely circulated on the Internet.

"Firstly, at the time of pansexual community formation in the early 1970's, many vanilla gay men, and certainly most gay leathermen felt very estranged from the het world, and for good reasons, too. Consequently, when the pansexual kink organizations were in their formative years, most of my peers stood back and watched with a wary, wait-and-see attitude. Once it became clear that many het folks in the BDSM pansexual organizations were very homophobic, gay leathermen who'd been ambivalent saw no reason to remain involved, and gradually withdrew. Far too many homophobic het folks (men especially) grumbled about our presence despite the fact that they were eager to learn what we had to teach them, both about technique and also about the esoteric. Dealing with homophobic het men is too emotionally reminiscent of our (often) strained relationships with our fathers—why put up with it when we don't have to?

"Nowadays, most of the het men I meet in pansexual groups either are not homophobic or they hide it well. But gay men know that such het men are only a fraction of all kinky het guys…..from that point of view, modern pansex groups tend to have only the most tolerant heterosexuals. Less tolerant het folks have formed their own organizations because there are now enough educational resources in the het world available that they don't usually have to rely on gay men to supply quality instruction any longer. The need for us to participate isn't as strong today.

"Simultaneously, kinky gay men have also been forming groups that are just for others like ourselves. This ironic return to smaller, kinky gay men only groups is a modern echo of Old Guard clubs….an evolution to something we once had….a re-volution.

"The second part of my answer has to do with the hyper-masculine nature of classical leather culture. Most gay leathermen of that bygone era tended to be more allergic to femininity than now. That was especially so toward feminine men, and less so to women. Therefore, back then, we mixed most easily with butch lesbians and generally less feminine women. As the pansexual kink organizations began to grow, it was natural and inevitable that more and more feminine women began to show up in the membership. When very feminine, dominant het women turned up, they were sometimes too inexperienced to realize just how unwise it was to throw their dominant attitude at gay men, so that sometimes happened. This tended to activate gay men's defenses against what we often perceived to be castrating women (something that turns many het male subs on) and so some of us pulled out for that reason, too.

"The third part of my answer is that gay leathermen often grew impatient with the need of so many in early pansexual groups to remain so deeply closeted about their kink. Most of us had already come to terms with our closets, and we knew that het folks were far more fearful about the coming out process than they needed to be. This fearfulness was reflected again and again in business meetings of the time; so those pansex groups remained non-legal entities for a very long time in some cases. This 'informal' group type of organization limited what they could do and how they could do outreach---which we felt was important at that time. Some gay leathermen got bored with the politics of being closeted, and drifted away.

"The forth and, I promise, the last part is HIV-AIDS. It first struck the gay leathermen with the force of a tidal wave in 1984. What little spare time we had when not earning a living, was taken up with helping our dying brothers or their surviving partners. When we got very little help and support from the het folks in our 'pansexual' organizations, many of us concluded that we'd been valued only for the information we had, but not really as family. Consequently, many of us felt abandoned by the het folks in the pansexual organizations. Were there exceptions? Of course there were…….rarely… was, after all, seen as a 'gay disease' from the president right on down, despite the fact that gay politicians told anyone who would listen that we all had to pitch in."

SADIE: I also have to ask about the "how leathersex really works" part of that statement. While having mentors in any activity certainly can ease the way, it is certainly not a prerequisite for exploring BDSM. Can you explain what you mean?

Guy: "Hmmm……I'll give it a shot. In many ways, I see BDSM as being rather like the Starship Enterprise. We all have choices about what we want it to do for us. We can park it permanently in Earth orbit and be endlessly amazed by the stunning views of this amazing planet for the rest of our life. Or, when we've learned how, we can use the Impulse Engines and visit our local solar system for a lifetime of study and observation. Or, when we've learned how, and have the courage and vision to do so, we can engage Warp Drive……not only to visit the stars, but also destinations beyond time and space…..literally.

"When I've said, '….how leathersex really works….' I've meant how it works optimally in our lives. For me, BDSM is a mystical path, not just an erotic style I use to have fun with. Of course I readily acknowledge that others use it just for fun, and they are more than welcome to use it any way they choose. But I'm a pig, and I choose to wring from my BDSM every potential possible. Call it getting the most bang for my buck.

SADIE: In writing about today's BDSM groups, you say that, "The energy of nearly all of our organizations thus became harnessed to two main goals: 1) to teach our own people how to do BDSM sexuality "properly" which meant technically correct, and 2) to defend and seek tolerance for our sexual practices to the non-kinky world." I gather that you would rather focus on the passion and magic of BDSM, yet I wonder if an organization, with all the politics that entails, can ever get past the practical. What would be your vision of a more vibrant organization?

GUY: "You gather correctly. I believe that the vast majority of our organizations really can't get its members past 'the practical' much at all, if any. As non-internet, 'gate-way' groups into the BDSM world, most of them do well enough with basics. They get into trouble when they take themselves too seriously and/or try to be all things to a very mixed membership.

"Vibrant? Not the word I'd choose. But I do have a vision of organizations that would be more useful in supporting members in the development of the character, perspectives, skills, temperament, passion and magic which can take BDSM out of Earth orbit and visit the stars and beyond.

"Such groups would probably begin with two people, and rarely grow to more than fifteen. That growth would occur over a period of months if not years. The first two would choose the third, the first three would choose the forth and so on. This growth method improves chances that they will have shared values, objectives, spirituality, skills, roadmaps for development and strong commitment to the pack. Mutual respect, love, friendship, devotion to each other, and confidentiality are parts of the glue that binds them together. I have no trouble with calling it 'Family Values.'"

"The group will be devoted to the improvement and development of the least among them. They will move by consensus whenever possible, by oligarchy at other times, and democracy as a very last resort. Sound familiar? I've just described the best of the Old Guard families."

SADIE: As you mentioned, a goal of many BDSM groups is to educate the vanilla sector and seek acceptance, yet you say that, "maybe one way to re-infuse some of the mystique into the Leather world is to stop yammering about it everywhere, and stop trying to explain ourselves to people who've already made their minds up about us anyway." I would have to argue that you yourself, as part of the generation that built the foundation of today's broader BDSM community, did exactly the opposite. Would you agree?

GUY: "Yup, I sure would; you'll get no argument from me. For 20 years, I worked hard to gain acceptance. That's partly how I think we set forces in motion for tolerance that now have a life of their own, or so I believe.

"I did that because at the time, it seemed the only way I could think of to gain social and legal safety for others like me. But its nonsense to imagine that we're gonna convert everyone to our point of view about human sexuality. At some level, every time we struggle for acceptance, we simultaneously stamp ourselves as second-class citizens, and thus validate the majority's view of us. Which is why I'm no longer going to lift a finger to justify myself or my sexuality to anyone, hopefully, ever again.

"There may have been a time when it was useful to explain ourselves to anyone who would listen (I'm still debating that with myself, by the way). But even if that's true, there must also come a time when we stop doing that, simply, '…because we shouldn't have to,' according to the character, Mystique in X-Men II.

"Even so, I do think its an appropriate mission for groups to respond to the legal difficulties encountered by pervy folks when that happens. I hope they continue to embrace that role whenever possible to minimize a person's victimization for being erotically different. NCSF is profoundly valuable."

SADIE: You wrote that, "Most leather folks just plain don't give a damn about leather politics, the social position of perverts, our relationship to the larger mainstream gay/lesbian community, and the lot…. So, we are left with what appears to me to be an altogether silly situation: mostly unaccountable "leaders" trying to motivate a politically disinterested and very diverse group of people who would really just rather get laid. In fact, getting laid consumes much more of our time, energy and financial resources than anything else connected with our erotic life." As a former leader myself, I must agree with you. That being said, what keeps you motivated in speaking out to our community?

GUY: "Nowadays, I am only on the road teaching about six times a year, so I’m not doing it all that much any more. Besides, anyone who is curious to know my opinions about many topics can easily find them in my books or on the Web. I don't accept every invitation any more. And I've become too expensive for most groups to bring in unless they plan for that far in advance.

"But my other answer is that I often can't stop myself. Truth is…. that we in the world of radical sexuality are 'my people'…..this is my tribe….my nation. I spend a lot of time thinking about this stuff—something I doubt very many people do, actually. Every now and then, I come up with something that feels really interesting to me, and so I want to share it when the right opportunity presents itself.

"Buddha is said to have once observed, 'To have it all, you must first give it all up.' So I try not to hang onto my thoughts and ideas. By putting them out there in the world---our world—I trust that if they have merit, they will spark discussion, and maybe even take root and flourish…..and if they are just bullshit, then I trust others to point that out to me, and set me aright again. But I do have reasons for what I think and feel about this stuff, and if what I've said is bullshit, then whoever says so, needs to have thought through their position well enough to talk me out of mine."

SADIE: Is there anything else you'd like to share with our readers?

GUY: "Only this:

Lao Tse, a Chinese sage is reputed to have said,

The fish trap exists because of the fish. Once you have the fish, you can forget the trap.

The rabbit snare exists because of the rabbit. Once you have the rabbit, you can forget the snare.

Words exist because of meaning. Once you have the meaning, you can forget the words.

"While words about BDSM can be useful…….when all is said and done, its all about the meaning, not the words, mine included…..especially mine. (grin)

"Know what the prize is, and keep your eye on it."

Sadie: Thank you very much!



Sensuous Sadie is the author of It's Not About the Whip: Love, Sex, and Spirituality in the BDSM Scene ( She is the founder and leader (1999 - 2001) of Rose & Thorn, Vermont's first BDSM group. Comments, compliments and complaints, as well as requests for reprinting can be addressed to her at  or visit her website at . Sadie believes the universe is abundant, and that sharing information freely is part of this abundance, so she allows reprints of her writing in most venues.

Copyright 2003 Sadie Sez Publications