Thursday, September 26, 2013

Leather Literature Review: Sexual Outsiders by David Ortmann and Richard Sprott

(Published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #478, September 26, 2013)

When your humble columnist was getting into leather (many, many years ago), the go-to book for newly minted gay leathermen was Larry Townsend’s The Leatherman’s Handbook. This book was, to say the least, enlightening. But I would not have wanted to show it to my therapist at the time, to say nothing of my parents or other family members.

My, how times have changed. Sexual Outsiders: Understanding BDSM Sexualities and Communities is a great new resource suitable for multiple audiences including those curious about or newly into leather, BDSM, fetish and kink—and, perhaps, their therapists and loved ones as well. For all these readers, authors David M. Ortmann and Richard A. Sprott have written a book that is a modern, reasoned, evenhanded introduction to the alternative sexual worlds of leather, BDSM, fetish and kink.

Ortmann and Sprott have a wealth of expertise to share. Ortmann is a psychotherapist and sex therapist in private practice, and much of the book consists of fascinating personal stories of some of his patients. In many instances, these stories are presented in the patient’s own words.

Sprott is a research psychologist and the executive director of the Community-Academic Consortium for Research on Alternative Sexualities (CARAS), an organization dedicated to furthering scientific investigation and scholarly analysis of understudied sexualities. And indeed, the book makes the very clear point that leather, BDSM, fetish and kink are woefully understudied, and that the many gaps in society’s understanding of these alternative sexualities have many negative consequences.

The authors use the personal stories in the book to illustrate the tremendous variety of people who make up the leather/BDSM/fetish/kink community, as well as to show how that community works. A large part of Ortmann’s and Sprott’s message is that this community has, in fact, developed around these alternative sexualities. This community is large, widespread and sophisticated—and a tremendously valuable resource for its members. Several times throughout the book, the authors stress the undesirability of trying to do BDSM in isolation and the desirability of participating in this community as a way of enhancing one’s kink journey.

Sexual Outsiders is written to appeal to several different audiences:

• The book could serve as a good basic introduction to leather, BDSM, fetish and kink for people new to, or curious about, these alternative sexualities.

• It could serve the same purpose for therapists and other health professionals responsible for the care and treatment of kinky people.

• Readers who do not identify as kinky, but who have a family member or friend who does, will find answers to many of the questions they may have.

• Finally, longtime members of the leather/BDSM/fetish community will enjoy reading the personal stories of the people profiled in the book, and will find the authors’ commentary throughout the book thought-provoking.

(Here’s a private tip for longtime community members: As you read this book, try to put yourself in the position of someone new to the community, or even outside the community. Your empathy, as well as your appreciation for what the authors have created, will increase greatly.)

Because the book is addressed to so many different audiences, however, some readers might encounter challenges. Although the authors’ writing style is generally approachable, readers who are not therapists or mental-health professionals may be put off by instances of therapist-speak sprinkled throughout the text. Similarly, readers not acquainted with the basics of Freudian, or especially Jungian, psychology may occasionally feel out of their depth.

But these are, in the end, minor quibbles. In Sexual Outsiders Ortmann and Sprott have created a worthwhile addition to the leather/BDSM/fetish/kink community’s canon of literature about itself, as well as a useful contribution to the scholarly and academic literature about alternative sexualities.

(Sexual Outsiders: Understanding BDSM Sexualities and Communities by David M. Ortmann and Richard A. Sprott. 173 pp. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.)