Photo of Lewis Call and Jane Lehr holding a frame

Written by Tyler Deitz on October 29, 2013

BDSM as an ethical lifestyle: A conversation with Lewis Call and Jane Lehr

The term “BDSM” and the word “library” are not often used in the same sentence (I don’t think). Kennedy Library, however, changed that last Friday, October 18, at its most recent Conversations with Cal Poly Authors event.

During this conversation, Lewis Call, an associate professor of history, was joined by Jane Lehr, associate professor in the departments of ethnic studies and women’s and gender studies and liberal arts and engineering studies, to talk about Call’s new book BDSM in American Science Fiction and Fantasy

While this topic seems like it may only cover a small portion of the world, big themes with broad implications were discussed.


BDSM as an ethical sexuality

“I hold that BDSM is an ethical sexuality and deserves to be treated as such,” Lewis said.

Photo of Jane Lehr and Lewis Call talking about his book

Jane and Lewis share a laugh.

This is Lewis’ favorite and most important line in his book. It was a recurring theme throughout his conversation with Jane.

Lewis’ main goal in the book is to show that BDSM (bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, sadism and masachism) is an ethical way of living and building relationships. In the BDSM lifestyle, consent is emphasized and is important for both parties. This is a theme that Lewis wanted his readers to understand.

“This book turned into a book about ethics,” Lewis said. He also emphasized that there is nothing wrong with living a consensual BDSM lifestyle, and that an important aspect of this type of relationship is open communication.

Another theme that he wanted his reader to get out of the book is that BDSM and crazy people do not go hand in hand. Pop culture has a hard time detaching BDSM and being, for example, a crazy serial killer, he said.

“Let’s keep BDSM weird, but show that it is not something to be afraid of,” Lewis said.

BDSM through the years

Lewis talks about a variety of different science fiction/fantasy TV shows and comics in his book that have BDSM elements to them. Battlestar Gallactica, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dollhouse, the original Wonder Woman comics and more are discussed in the book.

Wonder Woman was created by William Marston in the 1940s and represents an interesting perspective in the BDSM world: a woman in the dominant, powerful role. In BDSM, men are often cast in this role. In the original Wonder Woman comics, however, the woman is in charge in nearly every page of the comic.

The TV show Dollhouse is also discussed, to show BDSM perspectives in modern day society. Call discusses the slavery and ethics that present themselves in the show. This chapter serves as the book’s conclusion since it is the most recent science fiction/fantasy media discussed in the book.

Writing the book

Lewis’ interest in science fiction and fantasy started at a very young age.

“You could say that I have been working on this book since I was 6 years old,” he joked.

Screenshot of @reklibrary on Twitter

Screenshot of @reklibrary on Twitter

Lewis’ interest in BDSM started because of all the images in comics that he read as a child. He translated these life-long interests in a professional activity by writing his book.

He also had a good amount of help from a writing group of Cal Poly professors called the Petite Guillotine. In this writing group, professors come together to share their work and receive feedback from other members.

“The book has better structure because of the writing group,” Lewis said.

Listen to a podcast of the whole conversation, including the story of the DIY book cover design, the controversy about Wonder Woman and Superman’s new romance, and how  James Tiptree Jr. defied expectations. Listen on SoundCloud.

The audience shared their own highlights with Kennedy Library during the conversation via Twitter. More photos on Flickr.

 

 

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