I volunteer up at Chicago’s own Leather Archives and Museum; because I have some archival experience, they’ve lately had me sort a bunch of ephemera. I look forward to my time at the Archives — every time I go up there, I discover something awesome in the files. Today was no exception.
The box I went through was devoted to Outcasts, an San Francisco “Educational, Support and Social Group for all Women interested in SM between women including Lesbian, Bi-Sexual and Transgender Women”. Regrettably, it looks like Outcasts folded in 1997, but there’s some really smart writing in the file (no surprise for an organization that included Gayle Rubin, Pat Califia and Dorothy Allison).
The Outcasts’ newsletter was called “The Lunatic Fringe”, and the Leather Archives has two April Fools issues that are just hysterically funny. The following is excerpted from a “book review” in the 1991 April Fools issue ….
The Invisible Ring and Other Stories, by Ferdinand Bull. Vanilla Press, 1991.
Have you ever wondered what it might be like to be vanilla? We have all read the sensationalistic newspaper stories of vanilla sex rings uncovered by diligent vice squad officers, or watched the recent television special exposing the squalid vanilla sexual subculture operating in the bars and back alleys of Milwaukee. More than one family has discovered, while going through the personal belongings of a recently deceased uncle or sister, that the whips in the bedroom had never been used and that their relative’s true sex life was confined to a few well-thumbed vanilla porn paperbacks hidden under the mattress. If the contemplation of these more sordid aspects of life make you queasy, or if you approve of the recently passed legislation requiring the IRS to maintain lists of suspected sexual deviants based on those who fail for two consecutive years to claim a tax deduction for purposes of sexual toys and equipment, then perhaps you should ignore this book in favor of the latest blockbuster sadist-meets-masochist romance.
… Following the essay is a group of short stories set in a small Midwestern city. My personal favorite was the first of the group, the heroine of which is Leona, a middle-aged reference librarian at the local public library and a reluctantly closeted vanilla. When a controversy erupts within the library over whether to add a copy of Romeo and Juliet to the library’s collection, Leona finds her closet suddenly too small.
“I don’t see how we could possibly add it,” said Donna. “Our patrons would be upset, and rightfully so.”
Leona fingered her black leather collar and thought once again how she hated it. No matter how loosely she wore it around her neck, it always seemed to be choking her.
“There’s no way we could justify keeping something as disgusting as that,” added Paul.
They can’t do this, thought Leona. They can’t shut us out. They can’t ….
“Well,” she said, “I’m vanilla, and I don’t find it disgusting.”
There was a stunned silence.
Finally the director said, “I think this is a good question to refer to committee,” and turned away.
After her initial outburst, Leona is scared at her own temerity, but sticks to her guns. “I know it’s not great literature,” she pleads with Susan. “But it is a classic vanilla work.” In the end, she wins a qualified victory — the library adds the book but keeps it in a locked case. “And tell Sharon,” says the director, “that she is never to order the video.”
… Bull does his best to make his vanilla characters appealing, but the task of rendering vanillas sympathetically is an overwhelming one, at which Bull not surprisingly fails.
The collection concludes with a series of explicit vanilla fantasies, of which the less said the better.
If you feel you must buy this book a few alternative bookstores do carry it, or you may order it directly from the publisher.
I love this fake book review because it’s not merely hilarious — it also highlights the ways in which BDSM-identified people and media are routinely exoticized and censored. It reminds me of this funny blog post I read recently, which takes a similar tack; of course it also brings to mind Renegade Evolution’s now-widely-linked post on vanilla privilege (that one’s a must-read, if you missed it).
Pretty much the entirety of the Leather Archives is awesome, but if you’re interested in issues of BDSM-related organization and social justice, the Outcasts file is for you.