What is right and real and good and substantial in gay male Master/slave relationships? Or, more pointedly, what is an M/s relationship between men? That is the subject of Ask the Man Who Owns Him. Both the question, which is not at all new, and the book, which is stunningly innovative, inspire me to become a bit philosophical.
I sometimes explain the enigmatic human situation to myself as a world of mirrors. Before maturity, regardless of when maturity really begins, we are fascinated by our own reflections and are, therefore, absolutely certain of ourselves. What we see is all we really know of the world until, at some point, we glance away from our own reassuring reflections to discover that there are others, and we notice that these intruders are not only separate from ourselves, but different. They make different choices and hold different truths to be self-evident; they want different things and feel different goals are worthwhile. Of course, some of us take the easy way out: we label the others “wrong” to the extent that they differ from ourselves.
The remarkable book you have in your hands is a call to look outward and to set an unflinching gaze on all kinds of differences. It is an invitation to imagine the possibility that “different” does not have to equal “wrong” in the area of human choices by which we define relationship. The authors, david stein and David Schachter, don’t try to unravel the mysterious complexities of all human relationships, just the ones that have at their core a power imbalance that can be defined broadly as a man owning one or more other men.
They were not the first to set themselves the task of writing “The Book” on M/s relationships. I have been interviewed by at least six authors who claimed to be doing exactly that. I suspect that many just ran out of steam, surprised by how big a task they had undertaken. Others perhaps lost heart when they found their own assumptions overtaxed by the varieties of relationships that were self-identified as Master/slave. Schachter and stein somehow kept up their good work and managed to accept, and even relish, all the diversity they encountered.
After the publication in 1972 of Larry Townsend’s groundbreaking The Leatherman’s Handbook, two ideas emerged one after the other in the world of gay leathersex, SM, and Dominant/submissive relationships. At first, it seemed that Townsend’s book said all that ever needed to be published on the subject. Then, very slowly, a second idea formed, that other books might delve deeper into various aspects he only touched on. The community began to hope and even to hunger for such books. Through the years, there have been numerous books on who leatherfolk are, what we do, and how exactly we do it. I’ve written a dozen of them, contributed to many others, and edited about 20. There have even been a number of books specifically about Mastery and slavery.
In the nearly 40 years since The Leatherman’s Handbook, however, no other book has accomplished what Ask the Man Who Owns Him does. In these pages, you will discover that living as Master or slave means defining that life for yourself. Here, the man who is considering an M/s life, or living one and wondering if he is doing it “right,” finds that “right” and “wrong” are not the operative terms. Good Mastery, good slavery, and good M/s relationships are the ones in which the men are true to themselves, living lives that are rewarding to both Masters and slaves. Schachter and stein don’t tell you that. Instead, they allow their interview subjects to show you. And by recalling previous relationships and their own rough times, the interviewees even prove how disharmonious and “untrue” plans and purposes lead to pain and failure.
The one and only time the aims of Ask the Man have been pursued in the past with any significant success was when david stein guest-edited an issue of International Leatherman, but a magazine could not do what this book does in a graceful yet insistent way. It could not showcase enough lives and living arrangements to liberate us from our preconceptions.
In his introduction to this book, stein hopes that it will provide “a reality check for [anyone] interested in this lifestyle.” Mission accomplished! The book does that and so much more.
As Master Frank, owner of slave mr_h, wisely puts it, speaking of his reason for allowing the intrusion of the interviews on his private life, “I want people out there who are interested in Mastery/slavery not to be afraid of doing it. It’s just as good a life as any other you might choose.“ Anyone who reads Ask the Man will have the touchstone of stein’s reality check and the certainty Master Frank hoped to supply, too.
Incredibly, these treasures are now available for the price of a book.
I know many of the men represented here. I have interacted with thousands of others who shared their intention to live M/s lives. And yet, even now, stretching memory and imagination to the limit, I cannot think of better authors for Ask the Man, nor can I think of other willing, currently involved, interesting subjects who should have been included to improve on what stein and Schachter have done.
However challenging the content may be to preconceived notions, anyone involved in or seriously considering Mastery or slavery will benefit from reading Ask the Man Who Owns Him.
Joseph W. Bean is the author of many books, articles and stories for leathermen, including Leathersex: A Guide for the Curious Outsider and the Serious Player (Daedalus). At one time or another from the 1970s through the 1990s, he edited most of the magazines published for male and pansexual readers in America’s radical sex communities, and he was the first executive director of the Leather Archives & Museum. His two live-in, 24/7 slaves, scott smitherum and warren west, who were both lost to AIDS while in his service, wore brass badges engraved, Private Property: Ask My Master.
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