Vermont's very own Sensuous Sadie's Interview with
Bob Dern - October 2002
Welcome Sensuous Sadie!
Sadie is also a columnist at
with Bob Dern
More photos at end of interview
SENSUOUS SADIE: You co-produced the video, "Safe Sane Consensual SM - A Documentary" with Ann Soucy-West which was released in 1992. What motivated you to do a documentary on the lifestyle? What was your approach to educating people at that time?
BOB DERN: "One day in 1991 Ann and I were discussing how the effects of the news coverage of the Jeffrey Dahlmer horror stories were casting a very negative light on the topic of SM. I already had the video equipment, etc. from Rigid Video (my short-lived) attempt at being a XXX porn video producer, and Ann was very connected within the SM community, much more than myself. We thought about the idea a lot, and after a month or two we developed a list of 15 or so questions to send to the participants. When they were ready, we met with each of them, individually, and taped their responses, accumulating over 20 hours of tape to condense down to 85 minutes. That part was the hardest part of all.
"Our approach to the project was to produce an interview-style documentary that “middle-America” and others interested in learning more about SM would be able to watch and learn from, without being offended or “put off” by content that was too graphic. One interview was taped while in her dungeon, so there are some good visuals of one person’s dungeon space. That approach did produce negative comments from some viewers/reviewers complaining that there were not enough actual scenes portraying SM action. There was a flogging scene included which came from the Thank You party we threw for all the participants. I happened to be watching this scene with the camera when the bottom said “yellow." The top immediately stopped the flogging, began stoking the bottom’s back, and then turned to the camera to explain what had just happened and what the concept of “safe words” was all about.
"The tape was marketed for about a year with The American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors and Therapists newsletter, and resulted in about 200 video sales to therapists all over the U.S. who needed to better understand the topic to better counsel their clients."
SS: How has your practice of BDSM changed in the ten years since you completed the video?
Bob: "Truthfully, it has changed quite a lot. When the video was made, I was fairly active with SM and attended SM play parties frequently. My favorite activities primarily being electrical play and flogging, both as a bottom, primarily, but also as a top. In 1994 I met Sunny and we enjoyed a wonderful relationship for the next four years. SM was not part of that relationship. (To this day, Sunny continues to be my closest friend, something for which I’m truly grateful.) After we broke up in 1998, my primary focus moved on to having lots of sexual play with men found on the various on-line sex sites, both one-on-one action and groups up to about five or so. My studio condo converts to a play-space in short order, and the canvas sling hangs in the middle of the room. (A small image of this space is on my sfbob.com website). I’d say the one SM item often well received by current play partners is the violet wand. It’s an old unit, probably 40-50 years old maybe, with a large box with a rheostat and a hand-held unit into which glass attachments can be inserted. My favorite is the large glass globe unit that I hold onto with one hand while hovering over a playmate until the arching of electricity occurs, maybe at our nipples, dicks or balls. Lightly caressing his body with my fingertips is also much fun.
"Another thing that’s changed is my energy level from mid 40’s to mid 50’s. In addition, last January I had a major six-hour surgery on my neck to fuse the lower 3 disks together and a titanium plate was permanently attached to the front side of my neck. I feel fine, and the surgeon says it’s all ok, but I still wonder if I could handle an intense flogging scene like used to occur in the early 1990’s, the HIGH point of which will always be me bottoming to Joseph Bean in an SM demo in front of 600 students at SF State University. The 20 minutes of non-stop flogging with various floggers was intense and I loved it, and by the end the endorphins had sent me way through the roof of the auditorium. It was difficult to focus on the succeeding 40 minutes of good questions from the students.
"So, I’d say my involvement with SM has changed during the past 10 years, but its concepts are still with me.
SS: The foundation of the today's BDSM culture was the gay leather community and the "old guard." With BDSM increasingly being mainstreamed, what do you feel has been lost or gained in the process of the last 20 or 30 years?
Bob: "There are certainly some I know who are “old guard” and don’t care for some of the changes that are occurring. For me, change is good, and provides an opportunity for “old guard” members to share their insights and history with newer members, and to also learn of new approaches and ideas being offered up by these newer members. I was recently a judge at a local leather title contest, and the contestants covered a wide range of appearances, including a very young pierced and wonderfully tattooed young man. As the other judges asked their questions, I quickly discovered that this young man had already accumulated a wealth of experiences and ideas on how to improve upon the status quo. He did impress me a lot!"
SS: The coming out of the BDSM community has often been compared to the coming out of the gay/lesbian community twenty years ago. Do you think this simile is an apt one? What will we face that will be easier or more difficult than what the gay community faced historically?
Bob: "Over the past twenty years or so, the Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community (my “Old Guard” hat still thinks “Gay Community”) has become more accepted by the public in general, perhaps because of this “coming out” process and the realization by the “straight” community that we do, in fact, have friends, acquaintances, business associates, etc. who belong to the LGBT community.
"I suspect that the coming out of the BDSM community, whether straight or gay, will be much harder to achieve. It’s a subset of our larger communities, and the idea of BDSM, even within our own communities, is still often scoffed at.
"Perhaps the question really is: “just how far out does the BDSM community really need to go in relationship to the overall public community?” I can recall being in NYC in the early 1970’s and feeling the excitement of going to some of the gay bars, and especially going to Studio 54, where the sexual energy was extremely high. It was nothing like I could ever imagine back in rural Vermont. It did so seem like a secret world I’d just discovered. I’ve heard, too, from older gays that the mystique of the secretiveness in which they lived (to avoid arrest, public harassment, etc.) was an exciting situation which pretty much doesn’t exist today, at least within the larger LGBT community. Perhaps keeping BDSM within our own communities and not trying to expose it to the entire world is something for us to consider. (ok, how many toes have I’ve stepped on with this thought?!)."
SS: Please tell me about your association with Mama's Family. (www.mamasfamily.org http://www.mamasfamily.org/)
Bob: "Mama’s Family started as a light-hearted joke sort of thing in the early 1990’s between Mama and a well-known local artist who often could be found around town appearing as 'Ernestine'. Mama (Sandy 'Mama' Reinhardt) is the most wonderful straight Black woman I’ve ever met who runs a child day care business in a town to the East of San Francisco during the day. Mama is an extremely caring and loving person who continually does everything she can to help out needy causes that she feels strongly about all throughout the year. Her personal choices of Organizations and individuals she chooses to follow and support are, of course, her choices, but we all here in the San Francisco Bay Area Leather Community, the San Francisco Imperial Court, The San Francisco Ducal Court, The AIDS Emergency Fund, The Breast Cancer Awareness Fund, Positive Resource Center, the list goes on and on. They all LOVE this amazing and wonderful woman for coming into all of our lives to make things better wherever she sees she can do that.
"Mama is also found attending as many events and fundraisers as possible, sometimes bouncing from the Russian River 80 miles north of here back down to SF to attend yet one (or more) other events happening on the same day. She also frequently came be found serving as a Judge at various contests. Right now she is asking all the Family members via e-mails to help out however they can with a number of fundraisers between now and the end of November or early December that are being held to help obtain 2002 (Qty) toys and as much cash as possible to be donated to Camp Starburst, a camp that helps children 17 years old and younger who are living with HIV or AIDS. Their website is www.sunburstprojects.org http://www.sunburstprojects.org/ in case any reader wishes to help them out. I’m honored to have been pinned Mama’s Twisted CPA in 2001, and I wear the bronze pin proudly and try to do what I can to help Mama raise the very, very large sums of money she does raise each year."
SS: You are a native Vermonter, but now reside in the hotbed of San Francisco. (literally as well as figuratively). As you may or may not know, the Vermont community is only a few years old, with the first group being founded (by me) in 1999. When you were in Vermont, did you find any venues to explore BDSM?
Bob: "I left Vermont to go to college in the fall of 1966. Prior to that time, I never knew of any venues in VT at which to explore BDSM. In retrospect, I suspect such spaces existed, but I never connected with them. The one “venue” I did discover was electric fences around the cow pasture just above our home. Unfortunately, at about age seven, the connection between electric fences and SM activity was completely lost on me."
SS: What do you miss about our beautiful green mountains?
Bob: "The memories of VT, my Mom’s cottage on Lake St. Catherine, the state’s rural setting, marble quarries to swim nude in, dirt-covered back roads, large old houses and red barns all are things I miss being around.
"But there also was the really awful feeling of being all alone while growing up there. Other than one guy who lived on the same road as me with whom I had occasional sex, I didn’t have anyone to talk to about my feelings towards other men. Until age 23, when I came out and moved back to Boston, I frequently considered taking the 100 or so seconal (sleeping pills) I had on hand. Thank God that didn’t happen. A lot of great things have happened in the following 31 years!
"I also suspect, given the ruralness of VT, that it’s much easier for couples to live comfortably in VT over singles. For this reason, I doubt I’ll ever go back to VT, even with the ridiculously low real estate prices, offset in big part by the horrible winter months! Yuk."
SS: In your vanilla life you are a tax accountant, and in your BDSM life you are a film producer and pretty out there guy. In what ways do these different aspects of your life affect or not affect the other?
Bob: "Yeah, I guess you’re right about me being a “pretty out there guy." My business client base is primarily from within the LGBT community, although I do have a few straight married couples for whom I perform tax services. For totally new clients who call about my services, if it isn’t obvious from their initial comments I will explain to them that my primary client base is with the LGBT community. If that’s a problem for them, I suggest they find another tax practitioner. I advertise in the weekly gay newspaper, the Bay Area Reporter, and also in special event Programs, especially the annual Folsom Street Fair Program.
"When the two XXX movies were made in the early 1990’s, I did use my pseudonym, “Greg Roberts," to keep some separation from my daytime business. That pseudonym carried over to the SSCSM documentary, although in retrospect that was not necessary at all. I did go by Greg Roberts virtually all the time for several years (outside of my day job).
"And, there’s even a third “persona” who existed around the same time in the early 1990’s. His name was “Jeff” and part of his story is scheduled to be included in an upcoming book due to be released sometime in 2003 by Alyson Books."
SS: Your video "Safe, Sane, & Consensual" includes an interview with Billy Lane, a FTM (female-to-male), and your primary play partner in the early 1990's. What are the particular issues that you faced being involved with a transgendered person?
Bob: "No issues for me, at all. I’d known Billy from the time when he was going by his earlier (female) name, and watched as he progressed to his real male self. He was always a great friend to be around, lots of fun and LOTS of intensity. Maybe his also having “Squeeze," a rather dumb but fun to play with boa constrictor, also caught my attention. Billy now lives in Seattle, so I only see him on occasion these days. Billy and I especially liked play with a stun gun.
"The only other person who occasionally caught me on the street to try out his stun gun on was Matt, another FTM."
SS: You produced, directed and starred in two XXX videos by Rigid Video, Incorporated. Can you tell me about this experience and how it changed you?
Bob: "I’ve often thought that I did in my early 40’s what many others did in their early 20’s, yes maybe a mid-life sort of thing, but did I care, NO! The creation of Rigid Video was an offshoot of my work with Sande Mack and his twice-weekly TV show, “Electric City Cheap TV” which aired on public access cable TV.
"While only two movies were produced, they were much fun putting together. I’d meet possible actors at the gym or even on the sidewalk. If they looked like they would be a good fit (all types wanted, except the blond, blue-eyed types so often found in swimming pools in other movies) I’d ask them if they’d like to be in a movie. Many said yes, and the Producer’s interview then occurred <G>.
"One actor I interviewed had just moved to town and was looking to make some real money. He had a striking appearance and great smile! I suggested he consider running a sex ad in the local gay paper. I helped him put together his first ad, and for many years afterwards he was a very successful sex worker.
"The first movie had eleven guys in it, and the second and final movie had nine guys in it. Locations were all around town and included a pool table fuck scene done at one of the well-known local leather bars.
"Yet another non-typical accountant-type thing to have included in my life’s story.
"All of the events that occurred in the early 1990’s happened, in large part, because I was (and still am) an outgoing and friendly type of guy. The production of all three video tapes also allowed me to get to know many new friends from the SM community. From the XXX interviews I also got to meet a number of sex workers here in town.
"Both of the XXX tapes, plus the SSCSM tape, are lying flat on top of a filing cabinet in my office. Occasionally a client will spot them and they are intrigued about this piece of my life, and want to know all about them."
SS: Around 1955, when you were about seven years old, you describe grabbing onto the electric fences around the farmer's cow pastures and enjoying those electrical charges, often for a good long time. May I assume that you still have a passion for electrical play? What other BDSM interests do you have?
Bob: "Well, I guess by some of my comments above, you can see that electrical play has always interested me, and still does to this day. Other than electrical play, flogging was high on my list in the past and is something I’d like to again try if my new and improved neck cooperates! I do still love nipple play with fingers (connected to Tops who know how to really use those fingers), and with non-adjustable clamps.
"Another related item I still enjoy are those very small black all plastic clamps (like mini clothespins) that are intense. Removing them is the most intense part of all. Yes!
"And, my playspace has items that look so innocent to the unknowing. A simple leather strap, thin, maybe a half-inch wide, and long, two to three feet maybe, is great to wrap up the base of someone’s dick and balls. Add a blind-fold and then let your play partner forget all about the leather strap. Later on when the time seems right grab hold of the end of the strap and pull. Use some caution and common sense with this trick, (concepts to always play by), because it can be very painful to the Bottom (and by this I mean passing the “pleasure” area and going on further to just plain pain)."
SS: Your website includes such personal information as your dick size (6 1/2") and your BDSM interests, including fisting, electricity, mirrors, and sweat. Why do you include such personal things in a venue that can be read by anyone on the planet?
Bob: "Exposure Exposure Exposure! It’s a great place to refer new friends to better understand who I am. One of my sites proved fruitful during my first trip to Amsterdam in the summer of 2000. I walked into the Web Bar in the afternoon of my first day there, wearing a tee-shirt, and the bartender, Peter, asked me to take off the tee-shirt. When I did, he said I know you, I’ve seen you on your website. When he got off work he gave me a very private “Welcome to Amsterdam” hello upstairs in one of the dark rooms."
SS: Do you really have a fantasy about doing a German Shepherd? Is this just sex, or are you planning on tying up the poor dog in Japanese rope bondage? Seriously though, what are your feelings about the ability of animals to practice real consent?
Bob: "Oh Sadie, you’ve got the roles reversed! I’m the bitch in that fantasy, on the bottom on all fours, with the large male dog on top of me. So, I suspect he would be signaling his consent when he mounted me. I may never experience this fantasy in real life, but have seen many pictures of this action. Yes, perhaps this thought puts me in a very, very small subset of our community, but I know I’m not alone."
SS: You were named San Francisco Leather Daddy’s boy XVIII in September 2000. To many not familiar with the history of BDSM, the idea of the "Leather Man," much less the "Leather Daddy’s boy" is a bit fuzzy. Can you explain first what it means to you to be a Leather Man, and also about being a boy and what the title is about?
Bob: "I’m not the most qualified person here in San Francisco to discuss the significance of being a Leatherman or of being a boy, but to me, being a Leatherman means being a part of a large group of individuals who feel bonded together by the values they live by including integrity, honesty and caring for those in the Community (and elsewhere) who are in need of help. And 'Leatherman' certainly includes 'Leatherwoman' by all means!
"I moved to SF in 1978, and by 1981 or 1982, many close friends of mine started dying left and right. The Obituary section in The Bay Area Reporter went from maybe one or two obits a week pre-AIDS, to generally one to two full pages of death notices every week. I saw one of my good friends, Patrick, at a Sunday night meeting where he looked just fine. Either one or two days later I walked into the Cove Cafe where he worked and you could hear a pin drop. Solange then told me Patrick had died. He was 30 years old. I was in a state of shock over his passing. With all this horror and sickness and dying all around us, there was this one very special group that immediately jumped in to help do whatever they could do to help for the next decade and more.
"This was, of course, the Leatherwomen of San Francisco. They helped endlessly through all those years, and it is now so wonderful to see the Leathermen of San Francisco return that favor by sponsoring The Breast Cancer Emergency Fund among other things. Personally, I was asked in 1984 to become a participant in the newly formed San Francisco Men’s Health Study, which continues in a limited format today I believe. I was a plasma donor for North American Biologicals and Hemacare when they were in SF in the early and mid-1990’s. The plasma being collected was hopefully going to help find a way to prevent to transmission of the AIDS virus from mother to child. And I also was part of the Anal Cancer Study for a number of years until funding ended a few years ago.
"Now you’d like me to tell you how it feels to be a boy. First, as I said at the September 2000 San Francisco Leather Daddy’s boy XVIII Contest, to me age is a state of mind. Anyone at any age can be a boy. Truthfully, I’ve spent a lot of the 24 years here in San Francisco observing and not getting really involved, with several exceptions to that over the years. So, when my friend Keith Truitt became San Francisco Leather Daddy XVIII in July 2000, I knew I would run for the boy title in September so I could be there for him and with him during the upcoming year. I did win, and he and I represented our titles well around the City and the Bay Area at fundraising events and our own various fundraisers. This Daddy and boy combination still goes out to support functions and fundraisers, such as the Mr. & Miss Gay San Francisco Pageant Event that occurred last Saturday evening, 10/19/02.
"It’s also important to understand that a boy in our boy Community is not necessarily a male. There are women who also comfortably identify themselves as a boy.
"In June of this year jack and scott formed the San Francisco boys Of Leather. Both of them and several other individuals urged me to join. I did hesitate for several months, but finally realized that I would not know for sure how much I would like being with the Group until I started attending their meetings. I attended my first meeting of SfbOL two Saturday’s ago. I discovered a wonderful mix of Boys/boys/bois at the meeting. It felt good attending the meeting, and I hope to give the Group a reasonable length of time to see if I wish to join and for the group to see if they want me in the Group."
SS: Is there anything else you'd like to share with our readers?
Bob: "There’s a motto I’ve lived by for a long, long time:
"Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained - If you want something, go for it!
"The most someone can say is “fuck off” and you move on. But, if you never ask, you’ll never know what might have happened. Just recently, I was having some drinks with a friend of mine at a local bar. We were in the outside patio area, and I noticed this very handsome man sitting all by himself. My friend said, “oh, he wouldn’t be interested in us, he’s probably got a lover, blah, blah, blah!” Well, I walked over to the guy and said Hi and asked him how his day had gone. He turned out to have just moved to SF within the last month, was very friendly, and the three of us chatted for about an hour. He especially liked my friend’s Atlanta accent.
"Thank you so very much for interviewing me!"
SS: Thank you! It's been my pleasure.
Sensuous Sadie is a BDSM columnist and edits SCENEsubmissions, a free e-newsletter. 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 SensuousSadie@aol.com or visit her website at www.sensuoussadie.com. 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.
Mister Marcus & Bob