BloodSisters: Leather, Dykes, and Sadomasochism

BloodSisters: Leather, Dykes, and Sadomasochism

Not enough films feature dykes talking about fisting.

There's a special feeling when someone in a film, or the film itself, gives voice to your thoughts or feelings. When those thoughts and feelings come from someone real, someone who was speaking to a camera 25 years ago, it brings a sense of history. When those thoughts and feelings come from someone who shares identities with you, it brings a sense of community. We have always been here. I'm not alone.

Certainly, there's been an evolution in the language, the identities (...and hairstyles), the political landscape, but so much of it hasn't changed. We still use codes, sometimes out of necessity, sometimes out of simple continuity. Many of the words we use now were old back then, and it's clear we've found new ways to express the multitude of identities under the LGBTQ and kink umbrellas. There are those who would argue that a film so rooted in its time period would be "dated" as if that's a flaw, but this film is a document of a time and place. Split screen, soundtrack (snarly girl punk and industrial/goth--in part provided by major contributor to the film Monte Cazazza), and color filters do more to make this instantly recognizable as a product of the mid-90s than the fashion styles, but it all blends together to evoke something that screams 1995. At the same time, some moments could be anywhen, scenes of pain, pleasure, and leather that feel welcomingly familiar.

For me, personally, it hits in a sigificant way: this happened in my lifetime, when I was a young teenager, when I was lost and confused by my feelings, desires, identity. This would roughly have been around the time the first time it occurred to me I should could would be a woman. To have this era of my life evoked at the same time as my present day (well, outside of, you know, the pandemic) is evoked by the subject matter, the violent erotica, is a potent combination, a communion between my nascent sexuality and my more developed desires, between my first and second puberties, between my life in the closet and my life beyond. It emphasizes in both a bad and a good way that even back then, there were spaces for people like me.

Everyone finds their path to their own identities in their own ways. For me, in recent years, I have felt empowered and freed as I explore--finally--my desires for submission and loss of control in their varied manifestations. The leather community, the kink community, or at least a fragment of it, has become very dear to me in that journey. The first time I went to a play party, like many, I was terrified. By the end of the night, I had taken the advice of someone who would become a close friend of mine now but at the time was someone I had met briefly before. I did something that I still don't can't believe I did: I asked for what I wanted. And I got it. It was one of those lessons that you know all along but never truly understand til you experience it. So much of my life has been not getting what I want because I don't express my desire. From that moment on, from the time I made that step, I realized I couldn't live like that anymore. There is nothing wrong with my desires; there is nothing wrong with asking for them. So long as there is consent, as long as our boundaries are respected, we can fulfill our desires safely (or a consensually agreed upon level of unsafely), affirmingly, empoweringly, pleasurably.

There are moments in this film that I feel physically, sexually. Being on display, being a prop in a demonstration, certain moments of impact play, bondage, and humiliation stand out as arousing to me, and the portrayal of them in a way that actually elicits a response is a testament to the filmmakers' ability to capture authenticity. Perhaps my experiences in kink spaces have informed my reactions, the familiarity of these scenes putting my mind in the same state, evoking erotic memories, but the fact that this film can show, even briefly, moments that reflect my reality is both arousing and impressive. That this is a grainy, low-budget, experimental documentary doing so is even more so.

Beyond my own physical reactions, simply the collage of expressions of so many different kinks is in and of itself celebratory and alluring. The depictions of kink in this film repeatedly focus in on needle play, whips, and certain forms of bondage not often shown in any depiction of queer and kink film, not turning away from some of the more intense forms of play (this is not to say it could not have shown more or different often excluded expressions). While giving voice to leatherdykes from different generations, it does something many queer films fail at: it allows the rough edges, the sharp piercings, the messy and the calculated, the unflinchingly queer lives and perspectives. It doesn't sanitize it any way, and many of the dykes who speak, especially of the past, address this directly. The LGBTQ community is not a myth, but it is not monolithic; it perhaps should be more accurately called the LGTBQ communities. The fragmentation is as much a reflection of our diverse backgrounds and desires as it is the bourgeois power to divide us. What the leatherdykes in this film call for is not a separatist approach but a unifying one: they want to be themselves openly, without the patriarchal judgments and corruptions that excluded them from the liberatory movements that should include them.

What they express here is as much a defense of their desires as it is a defense of their right to be included in those liberatory movements. They speak of criminalization, of ostracization, of politicization of their thoughts, feelings, bodies, selves. They speak of the power of a scene, of a lifestyle, of a community, of a ruleset even. Though the film is not without moments of judgment, overall, it approaches from an inside out perspective on the kink scene, and the tone is often outright defensive. You feel their frustration and their determination. Though direct inteview documentaries often end up leaving the viewer too distanced from the subjects to connect, sacrificing character for narrative, this film is seeking to capture a sense of setting and of something more. There is no neat way the complexity of sexuality can be portrayed in a film, but this one manages to reveal insights rarely explored in cinema by letting a community, or at least some of a community, speak intimately.

It's not without flaw. They repeat the oft-repeated idea that coming out in and of itself is a poltical act, and it is, though I feel bound (heh) to stress that the path to full liberation is collective. It also features far more white and cis people than not, but there is more inclusion here than many other films of its era. Still, it leaves questions unanswered and a picture incomplete. My viewing experience was a powerful one, seeing myself in the kink, the dykes, the activists, but its message of inclusion is weakened by its limitations.

In spite of this, the rarity of historical views of queer communities makes this a precious piece of cinema. Even a narrow window into the past is more than we usually have. Exploring through every narrow window we can find is the best way we have available to understand, to witness, queer history through cinema. While of course deeper exploration through other media (archives, oral histories, etc.) is necessary, for those of us who find validation through representation, this is critical.

Now to find some paint sticks and fist fuck the system.

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