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Gor - a Subset of BDSM? No! but

Oct 28, 2003

Seemingly, a favorite topic on discussion boards dedicated to matters "Gorean" is the argument "Gor - vs. - BDSM." This is often variously phrased as "Gor is like - or comes from - Old Guard" or "Gor is just a flavor of Total Power Exchange (TPE)" or "The practices of Goreans are extremely akin to those of other BDSM practitioners" and the list could go on. There are Goreans who struggle and loudly proclaim that Gor is not in any way shape or form related to BDSM - often in the very terms that defeat their argument - i.e., slavery, mastery, discipline, submission and surrender. There are also (though seldom heard from) BDSMers who denounce Gor as roleplay and being "just another Trekkie fad with a BDSM twist." Finally, there exists a middling group consisting of Goreans who enjoy and acknowledge BDSM and BDSMers with an understanding of Gor.

What is the answer - does Gor belong as a subset of the umbrella Bondage/discipline, Dominance/submission, Sado-Masochism? Absolutely not! Don't be misled - I do enjoy some BDSM activities and I do consider myself to be Gorean. The two are not mutually exclusive, but neither are they the same. One may be completely Gorean, fully subscribe to the tenets of the Gorean philosophy and yet never own or desire to own (or be owned the case depending) a slave. One may fully adhere to "natural order" and being a man not discipline a woman for failure to adequately "submit" (some would prefer "surrender") or being a woman not worry about being found pleasing whether as a slave or Free Woman. Gor(ean) is, in brief, a philosophical approach to life - one with very high standards - standards that, if truly adhered to, provide the fodder for a continual struggle to be the best one can be. It is exacting and when one claims to be Gorean - it sets up an expectation - at least among Goreans.

What creates confusion is the BDSM externals that are embedded in Gorean communities both on and off-line. Neither the depth of nor the reason behind/purpose of voluntary slavery/submission/surrender nor the manner in which it is enforced/rewarded separate the Gorean practices from counterparts in BDSM. Use of hands or "tools" to discipline does not differ whether one is Gorean or a BDSM lifestyler. What matters, however, is that one can be Gorean and never engage in these practices - but one cannot be a BDSM lifestyler and not partake of one or another of them.

It has been argued (by some of the Goreans opposed to BDSM) that BDSM is all about sexual gratification - but that is a misinformed opinion. While true for many - it does not describe the motivations of all BDSM lifestylers. Many Goreans will point to "John Norman's" writings as though that provides a truly distinct point of separation. However, there are a host of writers providing material for subsets of the BDSM community among which are: Anne Rice's "Sleeping Beauty" series and "Interview with a Vampire" series; as well as a plethora of how-to books. Some say "well Gor is a philosophy and BDSM does not have a philosophy." Another misinformation. That BDSM as a whole does not have a uniform philosophy is valid, but again it is not true for all facets. (One must remember that BDSM is an acronym covering a plethora of activities and lifestyle subsets.)

Some would argue that Gorean protocols provide the point of demarcation; however, yet again, that is not true across the board. Certain styles (or forms if you will) of the BDSM lifestyle can be even more stringent than the most strenuous of Gorean protocols. I have seen it argued that Gorean slavery cannot be compared to BDSM TPE because the kajira gets nothing in return for her submission. This is a fallacious viewpoint. If we will allow that a kajira has an intrinsic need to serve then she is getting that need met in exchange.

By now the reader may be thinking - - "hey, I thought you were going to argue that Gor is not a subset of BDSM but all you have done is show that it is. What gives?" (Or something similar.)

Gor is not only about the male-female dynamic (nor same gender dynamics either). It is not only about dominance/submission - - and one can be truly Gorean without entering into that dynamic. If that is all that Gor is to a specific individual - then that one is not Gorean but a BDSM lifestyler adding a bit of Gorean flavoring.

I have been active in the BDSM community in Las Vegas for the past 3 years. I was introduced to BDSM back in the early 1990s in Los Angeles and wanted nothing of it - BDSM in and of itself does not interest me. I am not a sadist nor a masochist. I derive no specific pleasure from employing discipline nor bondage. I find no thrill in bending someone to my will. I have no intrinsic need to be proven dominant nor having others submit to me. I particularly find the use of humiliation for one's pleasure repugnant. All of these things are found in the BDSM community, though not in each and every lifestyler. I became involved in the community because I found a number of Goreans and others that I could agree with philosophically.

My involvement and experiences with BDSM lifestylers causes me to shake my head at many of the Goreans who proclaim so loudly that they are not "BDSMers." The very loud cry - Gorean slavery is not like other forms of D/s submission because the Gorean dominant (free man, free woman) is truly in control - rather than the "subbie with a safe word". In the words of Ebenezer Scrooge "Bah, humbug" - - that is the cry of a D/s Dom who just has to be proven dominant. How often has a Gorean written to the effect "I can humiliate a slave simply because it gives me pleasure to do so?" Again a BDSM practice.

I have not found a philosophical basis in BDSM that can be separated from the D/s dynamic. Gor can be so separated. The philosophical approaches that appropriately fall under the umbrella of BDSM do not singularly hold up a way of life to be striven for with the understanding that one can be shunned for failure to live up to the "code". I have seen it in Gor. Certainly one may claim to be Gorean and not live up to a community standard, but it is also argued that not living up to the standard will bet one shunned. That a common standard is not fully developed (despite the claims of some to have been living Gorean for more than 20 years and the existence of a number of Gorean communities) does not belie the fact that this concept of a standard to live up to is what separates Gor from BDSM.

Within the Gorean philosophy are concepts of "caste," "home stone," and "codes." Failure in these certainly should provide stronger grounds for dismissal as an "honorable" Gorean than whether one is actively involved in or concerned with male-female dynamics. Such, however, is not part and parcel of BDSM. However the strongest decriers of "Gor is not BDSM" while exhibiting and practicing BDSM proclivities ignore these greater issues. Thereby providing fodder for those they argue against.

Who determines who and what is Gorean? The "community" - who determines who and what is BDSM? The "activity". I've heard it said that BDSM is much concerned with the credo "Safe, Sane, Consensual" (SSC) - - and for most that is true. I've also heard SSC disparaged in one breath while with the next it is simply rephrased and girls "warned" in Gor - by Goreans. Yet, the reality in BDSM - SSC while preached - choosing not to follow it - will not necessarily result in a "community" sanctioning - though play-partners may not be as readily available and there may be individual outcry.

Community exists as a "club" (so to speak) among BDSM but it is easily splintered. If it falls apart, all is not lost to the BDSM lifestyler - not as readily so to the Gorean. Certainly there tends to not be as many groups of Goreans off-line - - for reasons that others need to examine - - but as to the philosophy - - without the community - there can be no "home stone." The "home stone" goes beyond one's intimate community in ever widening circles of influence up to and including loyalty to one's nation. Something that BDSM does not concern itself with.

Honor is always good and welcomed in any endeavor to include BDSM but in Gor one stands or falls on one's honor - without personal honor (however that may be defined - - so far attempts to define honor for Goreans has not been fully satisfying for all involved in the discussion) one is clearly denigrated as not being Gorean - or at best a very poor example of a Gorean. Along the line of discussion of honor comes the concept of "slave failure" - something that is absent in D/s discussions.

"Caste" as portrayed in JN's writings does not find a ready acceptance in our general culture - but it is something that every Gorean seems to find a way back to discussing. Unfortunately - some will roleplay with "caste" claiming to be one or another ("warrior" predominantly). How does or should "caste" be expressed in the Gorean ethos? Good question and one that some are starting to examine.

I am reminded of a scene in the movie Armageddon. There is a discussion between the "hero" and some cronies about the man's daughter and pending engagement to another young man - who is of the same trade and skills as the father. While those skills were now in great demand to save the world - the father says (in effect) "my daughter will not marry one of us - she is better than that, she is better than we are." From a Gorean perspective - that is clearly anti-caste sentiment. True - one always wishes one's offspring a better life than one has had - but if "caste" is taken where it may be taken - one needs to have a great deal of pride in what one does for a living and the specific subculture created around it.

Once again - a mark of distinction between Gor and BDSM - - - a lack of loyalty to one's profession and a lack of trying to establish a code to live by based on that profession.

Is Gor a subset of BDSM? Clearly the answer is no . but. It is the "but" that causes the arguments. It is the very clear practices and protocols that mirror closely if not in some cases identically practices and protocols found in the various BDSM sub-communities. It is the over loud decriers of BDSM by those that clearly demand that BDSM practices and protocols be fully observed in Gorean realms "just don't call them BDSM" that create the confusion. Gor is clearly demarcated from BDSM - but not because of the practices shared by some - but rather because one can be clearly Gorean without the trappings Dominance/submission or Master/slave.

Jon Watt aka Ariston 2003

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