Friday, May 18, 2001

Shiny Sharp Things: The erotic uses of knives

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #156, May 18, 2001)

Cristo Webb is a nationally-known knifemaker whose business, Cristo’s Blades of Indianapolis, IN (, sells his own custom-crafted knives as well as other knives, antique and modern straight razors, and all kinds of knife accessories. He is an expert in all aspects of knives and razors and has been featured in the pages of Blade Magazine and Knife Illustrated.

Cristo describes himself both as “a big lovable farmboy who refuses to leave the Midwest” and a “dyke tranny Sirboy switch who prefers male pronouns.” He is the Sir to his long-term bottom boy, Corky. His BDSM talents and interests include anything to do with knives, razors, blood, boots, mind-fucks, fisting, uniforms, interrogation, canes, single-tails and breath play.

Oh, and did I mention that he really, really likes knives?

Cristo has spent many weekends traveling to leather-community events around the country as an activist, presenter and vendor; he was brought to the Twin Cities recently by local kink group MSDB ( to present a knifeplay workshop that attracted a crowd of about 25. (This weekend he’s back in Minnesota, presenting seminars and workshops at the Knights of Leather’s Tournament 13 run.)

Knifeplay is generally regarded as an extreme form of BDSM play, even by many in the BDSM community. And it certainly can be intense (one breathtaking demonstration at this workshop involved using a knife to remove some temporary piercings by cutting them out—yes, really).

But knifeplay can also be stimulating without breaking the skin or drawing blood. Lightly dragging a sharp knifepoint across the skin can create intense sensations (and artistic welts). Different sensations come from dragging the edge of the blade across the skin at various angles, or thumping or scratching with the knife handle. For some people, something as simple as the feel of a cold, hard steel blade being rubbed flat against the skin can be a turn-on.

Just the sight of a knife can be intimidating. And then there are the sounds that go with knifeplay: the click-and-lock of a folding knife being snapped open, the whoosh of a fixed-blade knife being drawn from its sheath, the metallic scraping of blade against sharpening stone, or the splash of a knife going into (or coming out of) a jar of disinfectant solution.

A lot of the excitement of knifeplay comes from the head-trip generated by these sights, sounds and sensations. According to Cristo, “For scene purposes, a dull knife can be just as effective as a sharp one.” All sorts of tricks can be played once the appropriate mood has been created and a scene is underway, especially if the bottom is blindfolded; a letter opener, butter knife or even the edge of a credit card (Cristo asks, “Why do you think they call it MasterCard?”) can feel like the sharpest blade ever.

Cristo’s knifeplay workshop covered a wide range of knife-related topics, including different types of knives; how to buy a knife; knife care, storage and sharpening techniques; and knife safety, cleanliness and sterilization. Here are a few interesting things I learned:

• Where should you not do knifeplay? Avoid the area around the eyes (heed the voice of your mother: “It’s always fun until somebody loses an eye”) and ears, as well as areas of skin that have rashes. Be extra careful around key artery areas. And don’t start right off by working on erogenous areas; Cristo suggests you “explore your partner’s body—knives are wonderful objects for foreplay and teasing.”

• Buy knives that feel comfortable in your hand—that comfortable feeling translates into better control when you’re using them, whether you’re doing knifeplay or deboning a chicken breast.

• Don’t store a carbon-steel-blade knife in a leather sheath; the leather holds moisture, which will cause the blade to rust.

• Cleanliness and sterile procedure are absolutely essential for safe, sane, consensual knifeplay. Barbicide and other disinfectants are good stuff, but nothing kills hepatitis on a knife blade short of autoclaving—and many knives can’t be autoclaved without being ruined. So for safety’s sake, unless a knife can be properly sterilized it shouldn’t be shared. Cristo’s rule: “You get blood on it, you own it.”

• Serrated knifes are great for cutting off clothing during a scene, or as an emergency dungeon tool for cutting rope. But they are not recommended for knifeplay scenes. According to Cristo, a serrated blade is “a saw, basically, and it will maim a body.”

• Knife laws are confusing, chaotic and quirky. They vary from state to state, and state law is often overridden locally by cities or counties. Here are some highlights of the four-page knife law summary that was handed out at the workshop: In California, pens may be illegal because they are potential stabbing weapons; in Mississippi, threatening actions with a knife in the presence of fewer than three people may be acceptable; the one state people associate with Bowie knives (Texas) expressly forbids them; and Virginia state law 3.1-370 states that your knife must be cleaned daily.

• Before you ever touch a knife to someone else’s skin (or your own, for that matter), be absolutely sure you know what you’re doing—and polish your technique by practicing on inanimate objects. At the seminar, Cristo has us experiment on plum tomatoes, but you can also use skin-on chicken breasts. Or practice cutting the surface of a pan of clear gelatin, where you’ll easily be able to see how far the blade has penetrated.

The workshop ended with a hands-on exercise—a birthday surprise for bottom-boy Corky, who was not told about this beforehand and didn’t know what to expect. In a creative combination of hot wax play and knifeplay, Cristo and members of the audience first dripped hot wax on Corky’s back until the wax was about 1/8” thick. Then, guided by a stencil, they used their knives to carve “HAPPY BIRTHDAY” into the wax. A little aerosol whipped cream, a few birthday candles, and presto—a human birthday cake.

(Cristo also presented a similar workshop dealing with razors and the erotic aspects of shaving. I’ll write about that workshop next issue.)

Upcoming Leather Events (for Calendar section)

The Atons will be having their traditional IML Widows gathering on Sunday, May 27, for those who don’t go to Chicago for the International Mr. Leather contest.

Friday, May 4, 2001

Manifest Love Weekend

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #155, May 4, 2001)

“Not just to reclaim our sexuality, but to reclaim our hearts”

Recently in Lavender I wrote about an organization called Manifest Love. Its founder, David Nimmons, was in the Twin Cities in December and presented an evening seminar about the accomplishments and disappointments of queer culture and its prospects for the future.

One of the legacies of that speaking engagement was the formation of a Minnesota chapter of Manifest Love ( Several weeks ago this group held their first Manifest Love Minnesota weekend seminar at Whitewater State Park (near Rochester, Minnesota). Nimmons was again on hand as the weekend’s facilitator, along with co-facilitator Tom Dennison.

The seminar attracted a diverse group of 22 men who spent the weekend exploring their community’s past and present, and considering what they wanted the future of that community to be. The ages of the participants ranged from young to mature; some men were newly “out” while some came out before Stonewall. And none of them knew quite what to expect.

I was one of those 22 men. For me the weekend was intellectually and emotionally demanding — but also tremendously rewarding. Try as I might, the printed page will not do the weekend justice; anything I write here can only be a dim reflection of what I experienced. (If you really want to know what the weekend was like, you’ll just have to do the next one.)

The seminar started with a look at the amazing history and accomplishments of gay male culture in the last thirty years or so. As Nimmons explained, gay men have evolved a way of life marked by:

• Unprecedented male caretaking — men taking care of other men with whom they share no blood relation. (Historically women have been the caretakers both of men and of other women.)

• A high level of service and volunteerism. Gay men give 60% more volunteer time than heterosexual men, and the gay male community has innovated entirely new models of volunteer service such as Gay Men’s Health Crisis in New York City. Nimmons noted that many recent high-profile court cases involving the gay male community — Big Brothers, the Boy Scouts, military service, etc. — are about gay men actively demanding their right to volunteer and to serve.

• Extremely low rates of public violence. Today’s gay male community is arguably the least-violent group of men in the history of the planet.

• New styles of relationships with other men and with women. Nimmons refers to this as “diffuse intimacy,” as opposed to the traditional model of intimacy centered around a heterosexual couple or a nuclear family.

• New styles of pleasure, play and bliss-seeking, ranging from circuit dance parties and leatherfests to new and different ways of thinking and talking about (and having) sex.

These represent tremendous moral and ethical accomplishments; if any other group of people accomplished all this they would be hailed as heroes. But for some reason these accomplishments don’t seem to be noticed by the wider heterosexual society, or even for the most part by gay men themselves. What seems to be noticed instead are the areas where, for many gay men, their community falls short.

What does the stereotypical gay man do on a Saturday night? He goes to a gay bar. What does he experience there? Nimmons describes what too often happens: “He seeks connection and instead finds competition. He seeks affection and instead finds attitude. He seeks inclusion and belonging and instead finds exclusion, ‘A lists’ and body fascism. He wants tenderness but settles for sex. He is left hungry for intimacy, confused by sex and bereft of tenderness. He learns to distrust other gay men. He feels betrayed by his ‘community’ — the whole idea seems like a fraud.”

Nimmons continued, “If that’s what we believe, little by little that’s what we create. If we don’t celebrate the good things about our culture, they atrophy and disappear — and we become cynical.

“If we’re such a tribe of loving men, why have we given ourselves a shared culture that extinguishes the revolutionary love that called us to each other in the first place?”

But, as a sign on the wall of the cabin proclaims, we built queer culture — and we can rebuild it. In Nimmons’ words: “We created this all. No one gave it to us. We clawed it out of the rock of a homophobic society.

“Gay men’s truly radical act is not just to reclaim our sexuality, but to reclaim our hearts, with and for each other.

“Could we create a new kind of gay world where it’s cool to be loving? What would that look like?”

It was clear that if we as gay men want to see our culture change, we must be the ones to change it — no one else is going to do it for us. The rest of Saturday and all of Sunday were spent thinking about and responding to that challenge. What do we want? What would it look like? How could we get there? But the focus of our activities shifted from thinking and intellectualizing to experiencing.

We explored the ways we connect with each other by using the language of our eyes. In an exercise called “Requiem for a Bitchy Queen” we considered both the positive and negative attributes of that most infamous of gay archetypes (“She’s mean! She’s brutal! She’s nasty! She’s entertaining! She’s honest!”) as well as other archetypes such as the Knight, the Warrior, the Wizard, the Healer, the Fairy, and many more. In what was perhaps the most surprising event of the weekend, we even experienced a ten-minute-long circuit party (which profoundly altered the ideas and attitudes many of the participants held about these events).

As the weekend drew to a close on Sunday afternoon, we held a brainstorming session in which we considered actions we could take to create the kinds of changes we wanted to see. Nimmons refers to these actions as “loving disturbances,” and in the weeks and months ahead you just might hear about, witness or even participate in one. (Actually, what you’re reading right now qualifies as a loving disturbance.)

For a closing ceremony the entire group sat in a circle, and each man shared their thoughts and feelings about the weekend. Reaction was unanimously positive. I felt pleasantly, profoundly overwhelmed. And the overwhelming quality of the weekend even continued on the drive back to Minneapolis. I stopped at a gas station to refuel, and as I opened the car door I was met by the voice of singer Belinda Carlisle coming over the loudspeakers by the gas pumps. And here’s what she was singing:

In this world we’re just beginning/To understand the miracle of living
Baby I was afraid before/I’m not afraid/Anymore . . .
Oooh, baby do you know what that’s worth?
Oooh, heaven is a place on earth
They say in heaven/Love comes first
We’ll make heaven a place on earth
Oooh, heaven is a place on earth

Yep — it was that kind of a weekend.