For a long time it seemed like Toronto women weren’t interested in SM play parties – or something was stopping them.
Admittedly, SM in public spaces doesn’t appeal to a large percentage of the lesbian population. But it seemed nothing visible was happening in Toronto compared to other North American cities of its size.
Was it something about Toronto women that made them afraid to show their raw sexual side in front of their peers? Or was it a matter of being in city where Canada Customs and the police made access to SM ideas limited?
Toronto has a long history of resistance to women expressing their SM desires. Some of the problem comes from women themselves. For those of us old enough to remember the 1980s, that was when Toronto’s only women’s bookstore didn’t carry such perverse lesbian erotic magazines as On Our Backs or Bad Attitude. SM was considered horrific by the feminist community; the feminist mentality was that pornography was violence against women, whether it was made by lesbians or not.
We boycotted the Toronto Women’s Bookstore and bought our supply from what was known as the men’s bookstore, Glad Day. It even got busted on our account when the US lesbian SM magazine Bad Attitude was seized there in 1992 and found obscene by on Ontario court in 1993.
Visible SM women in this city were shunned in the ’80s and early ’90s because they didn’t fit into the feminist ideal in practice or dress. Leather, especially on butches, was seen as scary.
SM has gained much acceptance in the last decade as can be seen in fashion and film, and by the play piercing, flogging and fisting workshops that have sprung up – the Toronto Women’s Bookstore changed its policy. But we have not had a fully developed SM women’s community.
As someone who has travelled a lot in the US, I knew things could be different. SM books became widespread there in the ’80s and ’90s, and I was able to attend leather contests, weekend events and play parties. Seattle and San Francisco have been home to well-established out and proud SM women’s groups like Outer Limits and The Outcasts. Vancouver and Portland have benefited from proximity with the S-towns, and SM women’s communities have developed there (or women travelled the distance to slut out of town).
On my return to Toronto, it seemed like I was stepping back to a more conservative time.
Not that women haven’t tried. There was the beginning of a women’s group here in Toronto in the early ’90s, in the days when Excorriga (a pansexual SM group) and the local chapter of the National Leather Association were newly formed. There were also a few women’s leather contests. During 1998’s Pride, Aslan Leather hosted a women’s fetish and play party, attended by hot-looking women who seemed to come out of the closet for just that occasion. But the poorly publicized International Ms Leather event here last summer attracted few local women.
Admittedly, it takes a lot of energy to organize events, but being out about SM is a deeper issue. There are many women who fear losing their jobs or social standing if their after-hours activities became public knowledge. When police visited September’s Pussy Palace women’s bathhouse night, some women fled because they couldn’t imagine explaining their attendance to family and co-workers. If an SM play party gets raided, found-ins will feel much like queers did being caught by police and outed in the 1950s and ’60s.
In a town where there never were public play parties, local women have had little experience playing outside their bedrooms. Considering that we expand our SM play and technique from watching and playing with each other, there were few visible female mentors to learn from.
In my many experiences at play parties in the US, I have not been mentored by one individual, but by many women and men in the broader leather community. In fact, if it wasn’t for our brothers in leather, there were times that Toronto women wouldn’t have had a leather community to enjoy. The AIDS Committee Of Toronto’s safer SM workshops have been operating for almost 10 years now, educating all genders and orientations about play.
There are signs that things are getting better for women into SM. We seem to have survived to social stigma of being “women beating women” as others have come to recognize the importance of consensual sexual freedom.
The Toronto women’s SM discussion group formed in the summer of ’99 with 28 women, and has grown to encompass leather dykes, trannies, women of colour, bisexuals, suburban and downtown women.
Our first party took place in a fully-equipped dungeon. The location alone blew the minds of many who had never even played in public before, let alone in a world class dungeon.
I’m hoping the wonderful group of women I have met who came together will continue to meet and play, and that the rest of Toronto’s women SM players come out and join the fun.
The Toronto women’s SM discussion group meets the first Wednesday of every month at 8pm at the 519 Church Street Community Centre. Ms Toronto Leather is scheduled for Sat, Mar 3 at the Opera House. Tickets are $20 at the door.