Back in 2011, I volunteered semi-regularly at the Leather Archives & Museum in Chicago — the world’s only BDSM museum. The museum’s executive director, Rick Storer, knew that I had a strong interest in the history and culture of the BDSM community. He also knew that I was very interested in understanding different people’s experiences and perspectives on BDSM — the good, the bad, the surprising and fascinating.

So one day, Rick and I sat down and developed an oral history project that we named the Your Personal Kink project. Here’s how we described the project’s goals at the time:

The goal for the “Your Personal Kink Project” is to collect information about the experience of people who do not identify as part of the “BDSM community,” but who practice BDSM in their relationships. By “BDSM Community” we mean the wide network of dungeons, educational demonstrations, conventions, club nights, meetups, and other fora that function to socially network, educate, and acculturate many BDSMers.

We acknowledge the difficulty of describing the limits of the “BDSM community”, and we acknowledge that the degree to which individuals are “in the community” is different from person to person and even from day to day. The focus here, however, is on finding people who see themselves as specifically choosing not to take part in the BDSM community at all, yet who perform acts that would be recognized by most of the community as BDSM acts. BDSM stands for Bondage, Discipline, Dominance, Submission, Sadism and Masochism; BDSM acts often practiced by people who do not identify as BDSMers include spanking, choking, tying up with furry handcuffs or silk scarves, biting and scratching, roleplaying rape and/or slavery scenarios, and a host of others.

During the project, I did a number of interviews and took a number of recordings. The final step was to figure out transcripts of the audio interviews; I thought about doing it all myself, but transcription is a lot of work and I was hoping to find someone who could help me out, so I delayed … and then I broke my neck in an accident. So I was out of commission for a while, and the project got lost in the shuffle.

Recently, one of the people I interviewed checked in with me about what happened to the project. I still have all these recordings and press releases and stuff, and I’ve discovered that the Archives does not have everything. At the Archives’ request, I am sending them some DVDs containing all the work I did. I’m also posting one of the interviews publicly here.

Interview With An Independent BDSMer

I’m publicly posting the recording I took with “Molly K.” because, out of all the people I spoke to, Molly had the least exposure to the “formal” BDSM community. Thus, her answers reveal some particularly interesting ways that a person might practice BDSM without being involved in the scene at all.

Everyone I interviewed gave their full consent to being part of the oral history project, of course; Molly also gave consent for extra usage: “You have my permission to use what I said in the interview for your purposes. Be it transcription, publication, articles, books, whatever.”

Here’s Molly K.’s interview — it’s a sound clip on the audio sharing site SoundCloud. The audio quality is not perfect, sorry!

And here are her answers to the initial questions that I asked by email (PDF file).

The rest of the material that I gathered for the Your Personal Kink project is on file at the Leather Archives — or at least, it will be once those DVDs arrive. Other respondents had different reasons for keeping themselves apart from the community.

For example, some had experience in the community, but they didn’t like the people or social dynamics; many were female dominants and male submissives who felt that their local communities over-emphasized female submission and male dominance. Other people were geographically isolated, but they read all the books they could find. Everyone had interesting things to say, so if you’re ever at the Archives, check out the project!

Thanks again to everyone who participated. If anyone uses this material or has comments about it, please let me know. I’d love to know your thoughts!