THE LOG BOOKS
Season 3 Episode 9 - “Not suitably dressed”
Presenters: Tash Walker, Adam Zmith
Contributors: Richard Desmond, Fisch, Derek Cohen, Femi Otitoju, Clare Truscott, Matt Skully, Alex Warren
Producers: Shivani Dave, Tash Walker, Adam Zmith
Music: Tom Foskett-Barnes
Artwork: Natalie Doto
AZ: This episode contains extreme sex practices and state homophobia.
[telephone dial tone, music]
This is a log book entry from July 4 1992:
Please note The Backstreet has a strict dress code. Leather and rubber only club. Please do not send beginners there - as the owner has complained about having to turn people away sent from Switchboard because they are not suitably dressed. Thank you.
This is a log book entry from August 13 2001:
Caller rang wanting to know about adult baby groups – people dressing up in nappies. Couldn’t find anything in database, checked Fetish/Other. Does anyone know of anything?
TW: I love that The Backstreet is still here today – living history. You know they actually pitch themselves as a historic fetish club?
AZ: Amazing … I’m still just thinking about those adult babies.
TW: You and me both.
AZ: It’s very cute. Well, I don’t really know what to say about them except I hope they found a playgroup.
You're listening to The Log Books: stories from Britain's LGBTQ+ history and conversations about being Queer today. In partnership with Switchboard the LGBTQ+ helpline.
TW: In this season we're reading through the notes made by the volunteers who took calls between 1992 and 2003. I’m Tash Walker.
AZ: And I'm Adam Zmith.
TW: Episode 9: “Not suitably dressed.”
AZ: We are talking about kink. There are so many log book entries through all the years about kink and fetish. But from 1992 to 2003 we found loads!
TW: So, we are hearing from people with memories of the kink scene in the 90s. Running nightclubs or just doing dirty things and the volunteers at Switchboard who heard anything and everything about callers desires.
AZ: What is funny about kink is that you cannot understand for one moment another person’s fetish but yet you also have your own - which are just as mysterious to everybody else
TW: Go on Adam …
AZ: I don’t understand why some people would be interested in dressing up as adult babies, but I also cannot understand why some people don’t have the same obsession as I do with men’s feet.
TW: Ok, slowly putting my manly feet back into my socks over here, Adam
The great thing about kink is that it is an open and welcome conversation about what turns people on. Exploring fantasies and sexual pleasure.
RD: I’m Richard Desmond – at one point there was a regular, simple, newsletter that was put together by a member of staff. And I had probably said in passing I was Switchboard’s resident leather queen. And it appeared in print - actually in the Switchboard newsletter as ‘Richard leather queen is doing….’ Seeing that in the newsletter …it was ok ….it was true, but it was not how I am normally billed.
I am not everyone. And it is absolutely fascinating now talking to hear young people -who are choosing to have sex in different ways. And the different priorities people put on sex and the different weighting they put on it. I thought like a lot of gay men is that sex is a hobby - it’s not unusual - that’s not anybody else’s experience. And at Switchboard we listen - we don’t judge and often we can make suggestions. If a caller is saying that, you know, they want to get into kinky sex then you listen, you reflect back what they said they wanted to do, then there is a lot of places you can buy the gear here -off you go have you heard of London Alternative Market? It is cheaper than the gay shops.
Fisch: People bought their toys and fetish gear at … and well I… people - I bought my toys and fetish gear at Expectations and at Shush. They are the ones I remember. The experience of somebody rolling from [Northampton?] in 1995 well you’d be lovely. I mean it would be …. the thing is you know you have to go out to the right place and meet the right people. Hi. Hello, my name is Fisch also known as King Frankie Sinatra, and I was running club nights for lesbians and dykes in the 90s. Thank you very much.
RD: Switchboard talked about sex a lot. And if it possible for humans to do it - they would talk about it with Switchboard. Now, I’ve yet to have a caller that’s talked about buckets of custard and live eels - but almost anything else in between has come up.
We have to train our volunteers to cope with this … and we do …and sometimes we laugh an awful lot in training. But it is also important that we encourage safe, sane, consensual sex. Often the most the most dangerous sex is completely vanilla but emotionally manipulative. The kinkier sex is actually -very often - the most considered and talked about. What we do is encourage conversations with the people who are having sex. If you are going to have sex with someone, try talking about it - it might even be fun. Telephone’s work … but not with us.
We will talk about sex - but what we won’t do is to encourage callers to masturbate. Sometimes - like people want to do their own piercings. I get close to being directive - you know - that’s really not a good idea to do your own piercings unless you really know what you are doing. If you do, fine! But its not as simple as it looks go to somebody who knows what they are doing and has got a hygiene certificate. That is pretty much nearly directive advice - which in the Switchboard world is a frowned upon thing. But it’s the caller’s choice - if they still want to pierce themselves with a 9-inch nail, they can! For me there never has been a contention about kink at Pride because -it’s been something that comes up all the time … I’ve got a t shirt that that has two bears fisting on it - and it’s a cartoon, but it’s a very rude cartoon. In about 1992 … maybe 1993 … when Pride was in Victoria Park - I was wearing this t shirt and I got told off because I was offending this ladies’ children. She was deeply offended that I was wearing this rude passing t shirt. Pride is about very many things and part of it has to be that we are family friendly -because we are family – people have children. So, you have a no nudity rule … the thing that freaks people most is the predominantly young men who are into pup play and seeing guys in rubber pup masks. If you haven’t seen it before – and you don’t know they are generally really sweet guys - it’s a bit freaky. Kink at Pride has come up every single year - there is … has always been the conflict between the gays that have sex and those nice camp guys … guys that you can relate to and no threat sexuality at all. It is the distinction between the dirty gays that have sex and the nice respectable gays. There is a big overlap. You … just some people pop on their suits and look tidy. We have a function that is rooted in …in liberation. That people can be themselves as they are - people are good enough!
The kink scene - what is interesting now - is that it is more polymorphous … we have got a wonderful array of people who are choosing to define themselves - in ways that just weren’t around in 1992. But they were and the people were. It’s just that they were forced into far more box like things. So, somebody who would have never label themselves as pan - at that point would have thought of themselves as bisexual. Because that was the label that was on offer. I don’t think … I think …. people have always had the same wonderful diversity of gender and sexuality. I go to the oldest, most traditional leather bar. I’m not pretending the Back Street is anything other than that, but it is my local and they do let Switchboard volunteers in for free and always have.
We have to say. We lost a generation. There is no getting away from it - gay leather men have lots of sex – it’s a hobby. Some people do macrame -we do sex! That led to losing a generation. HIV killed a generation of gay Londoners, and it killed a generation of gay Londoners who were leather men. So, perhaps the generation that came after that - had to reinvent it. Perhaps kink had to be different - aside from the fact that leather is bloody expensive and involves dead animals - the younger generation like the rather … other sorts of clothing. It’s different. But, perhaps, it was necessary because it is a different generation. It is very flattering when I get young men cruising me and I sort of say thank you very much, you know have a pat on the head and go away. Some are following the experience - there are still a derivation of Tom of Finland. There is still the gay masculine leather aesthetic - but there is an awful lot of other stuff as well - and it is completely fascinating and interesting.
TW: What is interesting now - is that the kink scene is polymorphous. We’ve got this wonderful array of people who are choosing to define themselves in ways that weren’t just around in 1992.
AZ: Yeah, but the tastes were there, and the people were there - but they were just forced into more box life categories.
TW: Totally, so as now someone who would think of themselves as maybe being pansexual at that point might have described them as being bisexual - because that was the more common label on offer at that time. But people have always had the same wonderful diversity of sexuality.
AZ: Yes, diversity of sexuality - of desires and tastes. Always bubbling away under our skin. Sometimes, we keep it discrete.
This is a log book entry from March 1993:
Women caller. Can you tell me about Clones Zone? Me: Yes, it’s a shop selling everything from lycra shorts and underwear to leather harnesses and nipple clamps. Predominantly gay boys but some women use it. Why what do you want? I thought - she’s looking to buy a dildo. Caller: ‘Well, I’ve just found a receipt in my husband’s pocket. ‘
Oh dear. I wonder how it went after that?
Fisch: Sadie Masie was a lovely, mixed, S&M club or S&M themed club that used to go on in the basement of the London Lesbian and Gay centre. I don’t know. They’d always have something odd going on – like somebody in full formal sailors’ uniform -just sort of in a hammock in the corner swinging, casually. So, it was very entertaining …. people used to wear not very much. I didn’t really have any dedicated fetish gear I used to just kind of put on a cocktail frock or a bit of underwear. I loved it - it was great and, of course, at this time when I was single, I had to make sure I was going to get home safely on my own. So, I’d always be travelling to these places on public transport - I didn’t have an awful lot of money -and so I’d stay sober and, of course, staying sober in clubs was jut perfectly the norm back then -because everybody was off their tits on ecstasy. I was always too scared to try ecstasy -not knowing how I’d get home. I was just … I’d have like one drink at the beginning of the evening and then just drink water, so that I was sober for going home. Yeah. And I’d have a great time. Everybody loved everybody. Everybody wanted to dance and that’s what I wanted to do – I just wanted to chat and dance - and everybody was very friendly, and everybody loved everybody …. And yes, there was an awful lot of dancing.
XXX: People found out about nights like that in flyers. So, you used to go to First Out – First Out was the gay lesbian and gay café … the first one in London up in the West End. In St Giles Street. And yeah, they’d be flyers - and so you’d go ‘oh a flyer’ and you’d have the Pink Paper and you’d have Gay News. And so, things would be in the back - you’d have adverts for these things. And it wasn’t, you know, it wasn’t that hard to find really - I don’t think it was. And you know you would pluck up your courage put your best gear on and off you’d go.
Fisch: Susie Kruger went on to run Fist which was a mixed BDSM night -various locations. I remember going there in the early days of my relationship with Lucy. And it was much more you… did you have to dress up? I can’t remember! By that time, I had a bit of rubber and stuff. Tell you what -you know when you’re getting old when all your rubber is getting rotted. So, we don’t have anything to dress up in anymore - not that I think I would fit in it any more.
As you’d walk in - the sound just hit you - it was absolutely physically loud. Some pounding music - very hard house music. And the smell of poppers: smell of smoke and poppers. Because of course, you could still smoke in pubs and clubs back then. Every club was very smoky back then. But at least it was easy to wash the smell off your rubber!
I remember seeing some interesting cabaret involving fruit … god … its all so long ago now. I remember going to the Click club when it was based at Central station - when it was based in a pub called the Elephant and Castle in Vauxhall - which is now coffee bar, I think. Its kind of weird going in that coffee bar and thinking god - I saw somebody having their pubes shaved in this corner. I’d go along to these places but I never got off with anybody ... oh no I once got off with a woman in Sadie Masies and afterwards felt cheated. I thought she looked gorgeous - coz she had these gold eyelashes on and this black tutu. She looked amazing. Turned out that both the eyelashes and the tutu belonged to a gay boyfriend of hers and I think I would have had more fun with him.
Fisch: Co running clubs in the early 90s - and the one that was probably the kinkiest and the most fetish was Chain Reaction and that was at Market Tavern in Vauxhall every Tuesday for a few years. We took over a gay men’s leather bar - which was just fabulous because you know somewhere we were never allowed in - on an everyday. So that was lovely and then I carried there running a Saturday night which was also leaning towards the fetish and kink end of the spectrum. And it was because it was an empty it was so interesting it was the early 90s and it was you know a leather bar in the early 90s in London - and Saturday nights there was no one there because the men weren’t going for whatever reasons. Obviously HIV and AIDS - but you know that bar was rather empty and so I said to the owner - who was a very lovely man - I said ‘would it be possible - I think I could get some women to come’ and he said ‘Yes give it a go!’. And then we had it every Saturday and I mean even now we are hard pushed to have a Saturday night for dykes so yeah that’s what I always … always …in my whole career - I bring people together. That is what I do. Eventually I ended up at the Oak Bar in Green Lanes which was owned by two lesbians and …. I dropped Cum, I stopped doing that … that went to one side and I started doing another night called Kiss. Because I do just like the one word - just makes it really quicker. And that was every Friday night - and that the emphasis on that wasn’t quite so much leather and kink it was more …. there was always acts … and they were always sexy we had strippers and cabarets - and things were going to push some buttons but there wasn’t a dress code you now everyone was welcome. It was Stoke Newington -you know what I mean in the 90s - it was full of bloody lesbians you can’t move from them. It was fabulous - every Friday night it was just brilliant …. just brilliant =.
DC: Hello, I’m Derek Cohen I’m fairly ancient. One of the things I was involved in was a club called Sadie Masie it was set up in 92/93. It was … and who were at the time SM Gays organisers – following on from the success of Dungeon in the Sky. They wanted to run a club on a more commercial basis - more than you can do on a voluntary organisation – they wanted more as a business. So, they set up Sadie Maisie as this club - which started in the London Lesbian and Gay Centre and just grew beyond belief. And it was an S&M disco club for lesbians and gay men - and I used to great fun telling, particularly friends from America, I’d say ‘Have you heard about Sadie Maise’ ‘vaguely what is it?’‘an S&M and disco club for lesbians and gay men and it’s funded by the local council.’ And if their heads hadn’t exploded at the idea of SM lesbians and gay men dancing - the last bit just finished them off. But it was an amazing expression, of sort of, SM culture - in a way that’s not about sex - it’s about sexuality, it’s about relationships. Very much about … I wouldn’t say fashion … about you know. clothing as expression - fetish clothing or not. And there were certain looks like black and white urban camo trousers and a rubber singlet, a septum ring and a shaved head was like you know we talk about clones - leather clones – well this was the Sadie Masie’s clone. And I thought it was really sexy. I do have a shaved head, I do have a septum piercing, I did have some urban things - but I was ten years older than these men at the time. But it was about lots of fun and things. And … it grew hugely with over 1000 people a week came to this - up at the Electra Works - which is a sort of old horses for pulling trams shed in Islington. And it was just great fun and was part of a culture that I sort of think which I think - after you have things like Susie Kruger’s Fist, there was another club that came in the wake of that and various other things - that have that sort of fetishy thing. And you have it on the straight scene as well.
Fisch: Well, we used to go there in the early days of Fist and when it was still fairly mixed. But as time went on it became more and more dominated by men- and I felt as a lesbian utterly numbered. But yeah, I remember some great nights out at Fist - I wasn’t a regular but I used to just go now and then.
TW: Ah, the 90s when I started clubbing – the very late 90s. But it sounds so full of amazing club nights - not just fetish nights but music all linked together. So many people talk about the music as well its like this booming culture
AZ: Yeah, what is interesting about the culture from a lot of the stories that we’ve been hearing is that it is so mixed of genders and sexualities - I think that is something that you see on the fetish scene a lot and its still quite like that today. Although it can be London centric - I know that outside of London fetish nights can be predominantly straight as well.
TW: Yeah, and don’t forget as well that a lot of these stories are about the clubs - this is a very DIY thing, and they are loads of places and ways to meet up. Because it was about the people, right, not the places.
AZ: Yeah, but for now - lets go back to the club because Fisch transported me back in time and took me to Chain Reaction!
Fisch: Ok, well, Adam, come on - let’s go into Chain Reaction. I mean you are not allowed in as is a woman only night - but we’ve made an exception just for you. And first we are gonna walk up the 39 steps in Vauxhall that will take you to the front door of the Market Tavern, which is in a massive tower block and its on the first floor which is up 39 steps from the car park. And you go in the double doors- on the right-hand side there’s the coat check. And the first thing that hits you is the smell - and it’s not an unpleasant smell buts is the smell of club which we all know - it’s a little bit beer, little bit vomit, bit of toilets, bit of leather - maybe some BO. You know = that lovely aroma that clubs have that we treasure and adore. And you gonna hear some house music, gonna hear some dance music and you are going to see wall to wall dykes all wearing black because that is what you have to wear - and some kink and some leather, and some chains, and some cufflinks …. handcuffs … not cufflinks … and everybody having a marvellous time. You might see somebody tied up, might somebody getting whipped - you never know your luck!
We just did what we wanted - there was never a feeling that oh we are going to get into trouble. Never. So yeah - and the men’s nights, of course - they had their own clubs they had everything up in Vauxhall. I think we were quite tame by comparison really.
This is a log book entry from March 10 1995 entitled ‘dog avalanche’:
Had a desperate call from a guy in the middle of a sex party in his home. The others had suggested a dog avalanche - not knowing what this was he fled from the room with the excuse he needed to fluff up his hair and called us for help. What is a dog avalanche he begged? Neither Phil nor I were able to help the poor man. He was very good - he very bravely went back to his party to admit his ignorance. He then called us back to enlighten us. A dog avalanche is being screwed up the arse and in the mouth at the same time- but being screwed so hard down the throat that you vomit. Then it seemed your sphincter muscles tightens on the cock up your arse. Sick making? Yes.
DC: Even though I’d been doing SM quite a while in the sense the things that I enjoy as a bottom in the SM scene - had certain limits to do with how much pain I could endure, and I was all, you know, using the stop word or avoiding it. One time I had sex with a friend of mine … who I’d played with occasions - who was a top and stuff. He said ‘you know you really chicken out much too early’ he said. I tell you what … ‘you just lay down on the floor and I’m gonna tie you down and I’m going to take your stop word away for ten minutes.’ And he was a good friend -I trusted him and known him a long time. And he just got a leather strap of some sort and whacked my shoulders really hard quite a few times and because I didn’t have a stop word … I had… and I discovered I like it. And a similar thing happened to me with a friend in the US … where I’d not - so that’s a more thuddy thing. And I’d really been quite … wary of stingy things like whips and things like that and canes. And again, a friend of mine in the US - we were staying at the same hotel at an event, and he said, ‘I’d really like to whip your back’ and I thought … don’t chicken out - just be open to new experiences and he did, and I thought gosh this is wonderful - coz it was something new that I’d sort of prevented myself from enjoying. Because it’s about …S&M …is about exploring your limits and going into a slightly sort of spiritual sub-space type thing. And sometimes if you pull out - you just don’t get there and you miss out on the fact that you’ve had this amazing scene and it takes you half an hour to recover because your head is somewhere else. So, there was lots … those are some of the things I learned. I was paid for sex once -the one time in my life - by this man I chatted to at a bar in, I think, Los Angeles who said, ‘I’d really like to suck your cock I have a van outside’ and if he’s listening to this he will know exactly who this is but I am sure he wouldn’t mind. And I said … he said ‘I’ll give you one of my rare t shirts in exchange’ I said ‘ok’ - so we want to have sex in his van, and I was like I’ve just been paid for sex. It’s not an SM thing -it’s just about the strange things that happen.
Fisch: Well at the Dungeon - the Dungeon is where Fire is now in Vauxhall. And … people were running clubs there and I teamed up with a friend of mine - a male friend of mine- who was a journalist at the time working for Boyz magazine and … we decided that if I bought the women and he bought the men we’d could have a pretty successful club.
If I take you by the hand and walk you into the Dungeon ….
Sunday afternoon - it’s a nice bright sunny day. You are gonna come to the Dungeon – you’ve got all your best kit on, you know - your sporty spice look with your little tight shorts and all your muscles out. Take you by the hand and walk you in - and the very first thing you notice is the overwhelming smell of mould. I kid you not it was an absolute health risk- that club. But it did have a lot of equipment in it - it had lots of like of places to chain people up and you know like crosses and God knows what else. And so, yeah, sexy things did happen there. There was a side room, there was a dance room, there was a bar, and it was again it was mainly boys 0 because it was the Sunday afternoon for men used to mainly be Market Tavern from 2 to 4, then they would all go over the road to the Vauxhall Tavern 4 to 8, and then they would come back to the Market Tavern to dance in the evening. So that was in Vauxhall - that was a route that was well worn for loads and loads of gay men in the early 90s. And so, we kind of filled the gap that the Market Tavern had made when it shut so that was 93 and then 94/95 - unfortunately it closed around the time Princess Diana died so – yeah, that’s how we remember it.
This is a log book entry from March 8 1995:
The caller asked: Can foot fetishes/toe suckers get verrucas in the mouth? Since they are, I believe, a fungus type of infection I suggested the caller err on the side of caution and try getting into Boots. And for more informed advice talk to local GUM clinic.
Another volunteer writes: Viral actually like common warts.
And then another volunteer wrote isn’t this another case for giant condoms or dental dams or something?
Clare: Ok, one day in a bus queue in Brixton - this man started talking to me about reflexology. And as he was talking to me, he kind of gradually sank to his knees and was generally focusing on my feet. I wasn’t even wearing high heels - I was wearing kind of kittle heels, you know suitable for the office - black sling backs. And he’s going on about how he could give me a foot massage. Of course, you are in the bus queue in London -you are talking to a complete stranger- he looked a bit like a street person you know a home less person everybody starts moving away from me like I’m mad. I’m always polite to street people so I am engaging with this man in conversation about reflexology or whatever it was and just say ‘no, no thank you’. He eventually ‘he’s on his knees and he said, ‘Could I just sniff them?’ at which point I said ‘No, now you are embarrassing me - get up and go away’ Which he did because one of the things I did learn in the BDSM clubs - is that men like that do exactly what they are told.
TW: Is all this feet chat getting you hot and heavy, Adam? How do you feel hearing Clare talking about feet though seriously?
AZ: Obviously it is funny because it is feet - but it also serious for me because its …feet. Its bizarre. I know that most people are freaked out and disgusted but that’s the beauty of a fetish, isn’t it? I even feel awkward talking about it her on this freaky podcast even though I shouldn’t - but the point is I want to lay on the floor and have a man push his feet into my face.
TW: Ok Adam. Get your freak on. We get the picture. Let’s talk about teddy bears.
This is a log book entry from April 12 1992:
Caller rang about the teddy bear group – men with beards -that meets at the Empire on Wednesdays. Asking for a phone number for the group. I couldn’t find anything on it – am I just being stupid, or have we’ve got any information on this?
This is a log book entry from March 12 1994:
Quote “I’ve developed a crush on Steve McDonald from Coronation Street. He was on Noel Edmond’s show the other night and when he got gunged - I came in my pants.
Gee my first call!
Another volunteer writes: Call that weird? You aint’ heard nothing yet!
AZ: Yes, gunge is a whole thing. Definitely a real kink. Definitely a porn genre. Lovely sloppy stuff.
TW: For sure - but kinks can be controversial in many ways: outside and inside of these communities. They are always lots of different conversations going on around ableism -many legal obstacles and practices that could be racialised which Femi tells us a bit more about here.
AZ: And just to note that when Femi talks about the Railway Art Project -she’s talking about the Black Lesbian and Gay Centre in Brixton in London - which was a social space for support groups and counselling and things like that.
FO: I think the Black Lesbian and Gay Centre Project was probably the one place where the debate about kink and BDSM didn’t get heated. It was just a kind of …’we won’t do that will we.. no...’ kind of thing and it didn’t happen again. Maybe somebody … to be fair … actually you know there are well known black photographers and artists who are celebrated … who are quite into kink - it’s just it wasn’t in that space. I’m Femi Otitoju. I’m 63 years old. As important as the discussion around language was - equally important was the discussion about what became of the spaces that we fought so hard to get. Who was allowed in? And what were they allowed to do there?
And our little railway arch had to be everything for everyone who didn’t identify as part of white … as the white community - and actually we wanted to invite them in as well because some of us had white partners you know we wanted them to be able to come along. So on the face of it - counselling, support, groups those sorts of things were easy – it’s when it came to social space that ... things started to get difficult. I mean it wasn’t just at the centre it was all over the place. Big debates – kink, SM - we were very politically motivated, so sadomasochism was never really a big discussion. I think we pretty much agreed that that that sort of thing shouldn’t be going on in this space. And I think that was because so many of us identified as black - or as we should say now minority ethnic - and the links between the imagery of BDSM, of kink, are so close to the links of the thing imagery that is evoked when you think about times … of you know …. when people were people of colour were enslaved and just suffering so badly. That -you know - the restrictions the physical restrictions, the chains, the handcuffs -you know, even though they weren’t actually handcuffs - the things, the masks, and so on. Just even thinking about it makes me feel a bit sick. And things like slave auctions and the games people played were so often … yeah… reminiscent of the things that people faced in the days of slavery. In though most of us in the UK - aren’t necessarily descended -we don’t know- but even so we are a lot of us aren’t personally connected it is still part of our lives and so it was quite … easy… easier in that space I think than in any other to go no – that’s stuff is not happening here.
I suppose the others place where I saw discussions around kink, or I mean I didn’t actually say kink very much - I think I used S&M in a very stern sound of voice. And I think the others for me where it came up with things like lesbian strength marches where the women wearing clothes - leather chains, you know, or even too many bits of metals and piercings in various places. Would, you know … would spark debate -discussion about whether they should be on the march? whether they should be at the front? Nothing changes – that’s still going on today. And likewise … you know various clubs sprang up and I think there were divides within the movement - often based on your political affiliations or the absence of them. So, the more strongly feminist you considered yourself to be the more likely you were to say, therefore, I disapprove of kink. Although of course if you spoke to those women, they might also say they are feminist, so it was a false division. None of us are perfect and I think that even the most staunch feminists every now and again does things that … other people wouldn’t necessarily consider feminist. I know myself I am a strong independent woman I’ve done car maintenance classes and all sorts of things … but if someone … if I’ve got stopped by the police because I knew why I’d run a red light or done something wrong – blow feminism I would weep. Coz they are more likely to let you go! So just because … just because you call yourself a feminist - doesn’t mean you are never going to do anything that is perhaps not completely in keeping with most feminist thinking.
This is a log book entry from 5 April 2001:
Repeat caller. Spoke twice to him myself. Lives about 100 miles from London - is into heavy S&M. He’s a bottom. Cutting, blood play, etc. Calls are always long and drawn out. Very insecure about himself. Asks directly for reassurance. Identifies as bisexual. Seemingly very needy and emotional.
TW: Kinky sex is often the place where care and consent are spoken about the most. But other people don’t always seem that - which means it can often draw the attention of the police
AZ: Which brings us to a thing called Operation Spanner. We are gonna turn it over to Derek who can explain.
DC: Spanner started … spanner is the code name that the police gave the operation … was an operation that started because the police stopped a man in Wales and in his car, they found a load of videos. And … they looked at these videos and they were just … I think they were just looking at the time generally for child porn - but also there was this idea that there were snuff movies around -this was in the back of their heads - the mythical snuff movies. So, they looked at these videos and there were videos that this man and his friends had recorded their SM scenes. And they were not mild SM scenes - there were lots of marks and bruises and cuts and things. And the police said, ‘well this looks like violence you know are these people still alive?’ this sort of stuff and the man said, ‘yes they are all friends of mine I will give you their details if you want’. And so, the police trawled all these other men - who believed they’d done nothing wrong legally said ‘yeah that was me - that was here we were just having fun it was all consensual.’ So, they did this, and the police spent millions of pounds on this investigation and there were no snuff movies or anything and they decided they had to have something to show for their efforts - so they prosecuted 16 men who were actually convicted. And to show how convoluted the English law is - the men were convicted under the 1861 Offence Against the Person Act. You put this in context - in 1861 - if you’d had a serious cut a deep cut you would probably die of sepsis or tetanus or something. But still if you have a cut that breaks the skin it is considered to be - not just a common assault but it’s a more serious assault. And the 16 men were all given suspended sentences and three of them actually went to prison for six months. Some of the men were convicted of aiding and abetting assault on themselves - which is because … or aiding and abetting the assault …because they were videoing this. The history of this goes back to bare knuckle fighting in the streets -again in the nineteenth century - where the only way that they could think of stopping people gathering around and betting on these bare-knuckle fights on the street was to make it an offence to watch. So, you’ve got this - you know- old 19th century stuff being applied to persons today.
When this was brought to our attention - because there was a lot of publicity in the newspapers about this - with pictures of the 16 men. I felt sort of well … I thought .. I felt frightened, I felt intimated, I felt oppressed I felt sorry because I knew some of the men. Some of them were - not close but friends - but certainly men who I’d came across socially and chatted to and things like that. And it didn’t make a lot of sense - how could it be that something that I knew was being done safely and consensually was criminalised?
Now this happened in the … about 1991 - which is ten years after SM Gays started -which started in 1981. So, I and other people had spent ten years educating people about safe SM practices, about safe techniques - from really trivial simple things like how to use handcuffs or rope to things like flogging or whipping … things like that. We decided what to do. And we decided …we had a decision to make we could either go home -go underground -or double our visibility. And that’s what we decided to do we decided that this was really our time to stand up for SM - as a practice, as a sexual preference and that more than ever it was important to do our education -not just about the technical aspect but also about the law.
I mentioned you now aiding and abetting an assault against yourself the other one was a man called Allan Oglesby - who was a professional piercer- very famous piercer. And he had done a piercing in one of those videos - sort of part of a sex scene. And the ruling said you could only have a body piercing if it was for cosmetics purposes - because either the piercer or the person having the piercing at that time or possibly at the future date might get sexual piercing from the piercing- that it was illegal. So, the piercer has to be psychic to know whether - if you have your cock pierced or your tits pierced now - sometime in the future you might find it sexually arousing. This is typical of archaic English law.
AZ: This issue of piercing sounds really funny and it’s a weird thing about how the law works and how the law doesn’t understand people and what they want to do their own bodies
TW: I just can’t imagine what will be the next steps to battle this.
DC: Once we’d decided that we are going to fight this in lots of different ways - a number of things happened. One is that we helped and supported the setting up of something called Countdown on Spanner which was a pansexual campaigning organisation and fundraising organisation. Because going through the courts involves lawyers and things and it went to the Appeals Court, the House of Lords - which was before our current Supreme Court - and to the European Court of Human Rights. And all that cost money - though a lot of the lawyers were giving their time cheap or for free. So, there was the Spanner Trust raising money and … Countdown on Spanner campaigning -and of course it’s a sort of Barbara Streisand effect. You try to supress something all you end up doing is publicising it even more. So, I did a couple of programs for Channel 4 - myself and other people appeared on lot of talk shows and things, on the radio, on the TV. So, all this happened alerted loads of people who had SM interests but didn’t know there were other people like them. That it was around - and that these were people that were confident and fighting for it and for standing up for it. Bizarrely the European Courts said - we don’t believe that these people will be prosecuted. I mean how they know I don’t know but that was their ruling …. their ruling was that. But also, there is things called the margin of appreciation -which allows countries to have a sort of wiggle room around human rights - and they said it felt within that as well.
JS: I certainly remember Operation Spanner and I remember it being a subject of discussion and we did certainly have calls from people who were involved in BDSM and maybe wanted to talk about that or wanted to find out what … if there were local clubs. I don’t particularly … I don’t very strongly remember … calls from people who were worried about the possibility of police harassment or prosecution or whatever. For what they were doing. And I don’t remember … I don’t remember ever having to say to people - well watch out because you might get raided if you do this here or there. It was a shocking - certainly a shocking time - and I think you now the relief when in the end the prosecutions were dropped. But it was yeah it was pretty nasty - it was very nasty stuff. Very nasty stuff.
DC: Obviously at Dungeons in the Sky we did workshops about SM and the law -and one of them is memorable because we invited senior Metropolitan police officers along to a panel. And they came along in their uniform - with endless pips on their shoulders and fancy caps and things. And we had to reassure people that they weren’t here investigating - they were here - in a sense - making their peace, I think you might say. The panel was quite interesting because basically what they said was - policing people’s private sexual activities was not a priority for us. We are much more concerned … you know if you look at Vauxhall with its various bars and clubs and things of all sorts. We are much more concerned about drug dealing than we are about sex going on in those clubs and people’s homes. It’s not a priority. So, it was a very reassuring thing, and it was reassuring for two reasons: one because of what they said and also because people could see that these were senior police officers who were engaging with the community not fighting it.
This is a log book entry from 4 March 1995:
This guy phones and says, ‘Hello can you tell me about S&M please?’. And I thought he said M&S - like Marks and Spencer so I said, ‘What are you looking for?’ ‘Something new and different’ he replied. Well said I ‘You ought to try the big store at Marble Arch. They put new lines there all the time’. ‘New lines? Oh no - I’m not into piecing.’ The penny dropped.
TW: I mean M&S might be someone’s kink…
AZ: Do you want to sit in a bath of Percy Pigs Tash?
TW: Do you think one day M&S will ever doing piercings - Percy pig poppers and piercings?
AZ: I think Percy Pig is a dirty little slut and M& S are just commodifying it.
TW: Well, we all are really, commodifying sluts.
AZ: We’ve been talking about kinks from the 90s and the good news is - that people are just as freaky today.
TW: So, we spoke to Matt Skully who organisations fetish events and Alex Warren aka Kiwi who produces a cross party called Crossbreed.
MS: Hi my name is Matt. I’m 33 and I’ve worked in the fetish scene for over ten years and now I’m still continuing to work in there. It’s today’s fetish scene - I think the first thing there in terms of difference is that … being able to connect with other people and to seek out other people who are into kinks and to find education around different types of sexual and fetish practices.
In terms of - like night life there’s - I think there is a fairly healthy scene. I think it is somewhat depleted a little bit over the last couple of years through venues closing down and generally queer spaces not being available anymore. But I think the fetish scene has always because it such quite a tight knit community - that they … people find ways of making events happen, making spaces available for people, making education available for people.
I tell you like place like quite our institutions or places like The Backstreet which has been around the 70s like essentially a leather bar with various nights and. But you know - they sort of they stick to quite old school traditional old guard ideology which I think is great and I think serves a community in a really good way because it pays homage to the people who kind of pioneered … pioneered those types of spaces. Places like Torture Gardens which has been going on for 30 years which has a great mixture of sex positivity and kink, kink play and also Avant Garde fashion and performance stuff. And I think over the years it’s been - Torture Garden is a great gateway place for people to go into the space - experience it perhaps gets over any sort of misconceptions of what sex positive and fetish space are like. And have fun and meet people and sort of maybe… maybe put like a … have a more realistic view of what you know what it means to be fetishist.
More - sort of more up and coming spaces like Club Verboten and even Crossbreed I would say are creating … paving away for more queer inclusive spaces. And again, are providing a new element to kink and fetish space - and have grown hugely over the past couple of years. And again, I think are bringing in more of a younger crowd as well. I think to people who are maybe unfamiliar going to fetish places there is the misconception that you turn up and its like a dynastic orgy - it’s not necessarily the case. I think what I find really amusing is going to these spaces and the like they are …quite …. quite boring conversations, you can have with people. Like while something is going on. I remember one of the first sort of instances that really stuck in my head I was quite young and was going to Torture Garden -I was quite young -and chatting to … she must have been a primary school teacher or primary school headmistress and we were just talking about working in a primary school, because my dad works in a primary school, and her husband was completely worshipping her feet at the same time. I remember thinking this is such an inane conversation I’m having -like this is the sort of conversation I would have with my family while like there is a whole kind of dynamic going on with her sub. I thought that was really interesting.
But there’s … like with these spaces … they are very well monitored and there are normally …dungeon monitors who will make sure that there are people playing safely and conducting themselves correctly within that space. And also helping them to provide education and support - like you know a lot of people who come to these spaces for the first time it probably is quite overwhelming and there is this misconception that if you go to these spaces you have to know everything and anything about being BDSM, fetish - like the difference practices, the hierarchies. And you don’t - it’s all about education. And I think, you know, if you are going with your partner and they want to be tied to a cross and get flogged - having someone there to help and support you through that not doing it in a way that belittles you and your experiences is really important. I think going into those spaces and being aware that you can ask those questions, you can have some one sort of help you - hold your hand along the way is really good. The fetish community are very good at self-policing, and they are very good at being aware of how to engage appropriately with each other -most of the time- I mean obviously there are always going to be incidences. I would say it always, generally, its always straight men that are that sort of struggle in those spaces because they are essentially put in put on equal playing fields with everyone - where actually a lot of their bullshit that might pass in other types of clubs just isn’t tolerated. So, I think it’s always actually the people that struggle the most in those places from my experience I might be completely wrong but is straight cis people. Which is just great.
Alex: I’m Alex. I’m a DJ and a music producer and also a promoter of party called Crossbreed. I use they/them pronouns. Yes, I’m happy to be talking.
Crossbreed is a queer sex positive fetish party that is quite centred in music. Well, its centred in music and community - and we try to create safer spaces for people to explore their queerness, their sexuality, their kinks and in - I guess - a more public setting. First of all, there is a little bit of gatekeeping we have quite a strict dress code -which you need to pass to get the door. And we do that for lots of reasons but mostly is to create a safer space once you are inside. Once you come through the doors people tend to find that they sense quite like a sense of community and warmth.
And you’re often welcomed by … we have armband wearers that are there to support you and look after you. And it’s a very kind of open-minded space - people tend to share a same or similar values and politics. Its also just like a rave - it’s like sweaty, the music is good. It’s a lot of fun and you know if you venture further into the playrooms and you then that’s what you want to be part of your experience - then things get pretty filthy in there and it’s, you know, if you like you will see some things. And yeah, that’s kind of it.
We have a wellness sanctuary too where you can go to decompress and look after yourself if you … you know maybe you’ve had a scene and you are dropping - there’s people in there making cups of tea and biscuits, and there’s blankets and it’s kind of like a cosy and quiet space to take a minute for yourself.
We have a dress code for a number of reasons – one of them is to detract cis straight men from coming as they may not feel comfortable getting dressed up but also because we would like those people - if they do come and they are allies - to push them out of their comfort zone. And when they are out of that comfort zone, they may kind of reassess how they approach conversations and a lot of their self-learnt patriarchal systems - that we are all subjected to. We want to create an environment that kind of questions those and I think the dress code is a good starting point. All we really ask is that you express yourself - we don’t allow fancy dress or anything like that - but we do ask that you kind of present a look. And we say if you can get on a bus and not have everyone on the bus turn and stare at you in disbelief -then you probably won’t get in.
I don’t know … I don’t like to get to focused on the fetish and the kink side of things because I mean for me - it like most sex involves power and power plays - and really that’s all we are talking about here and negotiating that and working out where we fit within those dynamics. And what we like, and I think for me … the future … the future I think on a political level like queerness is becoming more and more important. And … I think …I think that’s why these spaces really matter and yeah. I think, you know, sexuality and finding your own sexuality and being able to explore with support and without shame and stigma and amongst other people that share similar values is like really really relevant.
TW: That brings us to the end of episode 9. Now we’ve got one more episode left for you in this season.
AZ: And it’s going to be a bit different coz it is our final episode as we close The Log Books.
TW: Calls to Switchboard are confidential so to bring the log books to life we’ve changed the caller’s details.
AZ: The Log Books is produced by Shivani Dave, Tash Walker and Adam Zmith in partnership with Switchboard: the LGBT+ helpline and supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.
TW: If you think other people would like The Log Books please rate and review us on Apple Podcasts. These ratings and reviews really help others to discover the show. You can send us your feedback and stories to firstname.lastname@example.org or join the conversation on social media with #thelogbooks
AZ: Our music is by Tom Foskett-Barnes and our artwork is by Natalie Doto.
TW: Thanks to
AZ: Stef Dickers and team at the Bishopsgate Institute. The folks at Acast, Content is Queen, David Pie, the staff and volunteers at Switchboard and everyone who shared their stories with us.
Switchboard continues to take phone calls from 10am to 10pm every day. If you are affected by any of the issues in this podcast or need to discuss anything to do with gender identity or sexuality you can call Switchboard on 0300 3300630; email email@example.com; or instant message via switchboard.lgbt where you can also donate money or time to help.