Clinton St. Quarterly, Vol. 7 No. 1 | Spring 1985

So I shut the plant down. Called a halt to any expression of sex tinged with S&M. I ceased relations with my partner, and finally all sexual involvements with others. Yet this was no simple celebration of celibacy. When I lay down by myself to love myself, there they’d be: each picture of each woman rising like a nauseous bubble from the depths of the swamp, exploding at the surface of consciousness as vividly as the day I used my Oxford English Dictionary's magnifying glass to enlarge the brutal details of the catalog's offerings. fMrfovmg out of numbing, away from lies, insisting on joy and truth is not a direct journey on any map. As soon as notice of closure is given, the old self scrambles for prominence, for recognition: I exist, I exist, it shouts, as the masturbatory fantasies, the S&M images mushroom. A little voice whispers: Remember when you did this or that—how good we felt! One little fantasy; what can, who can it harm? There is an illusion of wholeness during an S&M act, a desperate deception agreed upon between two people who long and yearn for wholeness and freedom but are afraid to seek it, afraid to risk confrontation and communication with the self. I cannot deny the excitement I have experienced while participating in S&M scenarios. There is an ecstasy present, the misplaced, misbegotten ecstasy of the martyr. But there is nothing joyful or erotic about sado-masochism, despite anyone’s claims to the contrary. S&M is sex without a beloved face, with someone who has no name. The distilled essence of the need for S&M is a need for control. True eroticism I imagine duplicating some of the images on m yflesh, though I reassure myself, nothing truly painful. How much pain is too much:’ The women in the catalog remain mute. is powerful. It is the great Beast of Revelations and we are taught by home, school, church, our economic systems to fear its power in ourselves, to mistrust and label evil its marvellous ravenings. We tame the Beast, choose to worship the burning bush, turn away from the golden calf. But the great Wild One in each of us does not submit, does not tame easily, and so in desperation, we turn to punishment, to loathings, of which S&M is only one manifestation. The hydra of guilt keeps us hacking and mutilating our selves. As a participant in S&M, I have offered myself up to controlled violent situations, my attempt to ward off the threat and danger inherent for me, a woman trying to live in a male culture: I have become a scapegoat. This is similar to the battered woman who deliberately precipitates a battering incident because at least she can control the timing, at least she can claim that minimum of power. Once I began to give hesitant voice to my understanding of the oppression, my own and others’, revolving around S&M, and risked sharing my stories with trusted women friends, I found them mirroring my discoveries, admitting to certain predilections, fascinations, repetitive self-destructive relationships, fantasies of rape and bondage, unnamed desires and longings. Ultimately there was no hesitation about recognizing and claiming a mutual oppression. So I am not alone, as I feared through much of my journeying. The past few years have been difficult, a time of learning. I loved myself despite my “slips,” reasserting my trust each time that this re-emergence of the addicted old self was only temporary and provided corroboration for the vital necessity of my work. I refused to continue to whip myself with guilt. The Catholics would say I was placing myself in a situation where the occasion of mortal sin was amplified. I would agree, except my involvement with S&M was not only a sin as defined by a male priest class, but a mortal sin within my own definition of morality, mortality. In one of my poems, the Whore of Babylon says to Jesus: “Sin is not in the knowing. It is knowing and not changing. ” Eventually I burned the catalog I purchased with five-hard-to-come-by dollars. I burned The Dark and Luscious Terrors of the Dungeon and the Whip, because no matter where I hid its pages in the house, I could not hide the contents from myself. The women on those pages are branded into my psyche forever. I can imagine taking their faces with me to the grave. I can call their haunted images up at will, those ghost women I know and don’t know. In that summoning I struggle to make them human. M^lliam Butler Yeats noted, “In dreams begin responsibility,” and it was with dreams that I began to lift myself out of the mire. I make joyous love in the dream fields of my psyche, sleeping single in a double bed. There is no sadness or loss upon waking, for these images, the men in my head, belong to me now. They are tender, good humored, brimming with joy, spilling over with life. The props and paraphernalia, the desire to be victim, are gone, and sunlight and green shadow remain. I am new ground, fertile soil. The blossoms I gather are finally my own. I have learned to love the Beast, to see my own face reflected in its frightening visage, just like Beauty did in the fairy tale. And I love him. Christina V. Pacosz has been a resident of the Pacific Northwest for 12 years. Her books include Notes From the Red Zone, (1983, Seal Press- poetry). She is currently on assignment in Tennessee.