Gloria Brame

SCENEprofiles Interview with Gloria Brame: Author, Counselor & Sex Expert

Gloria Brame is the author of numerous books, as well as poetry and other works of fiction. (listed after the interview) She has worked with hundreds of people, first as a peer counselor and, since 2000, as a clinical sexologist (member, American College of Sexologist). As a journalist and author specializing in sex and relationships, she has fielded thousands of sex questions over the years.

SENSUOUS SADIE: You have a tattoo of a quill pen and whip crossed, representing the two paths of your life: writing and SM. What was the point when you realized that these to paths were inextricably linked, and powerful enough to direct your life?

GLORIA: “I asked my husband Will Brame to draw the design for me back in 1991, when we had just begun working on our book, Different Loving. Although I’d been publishing SM erotica before then (under a variety of pseudonyms), the bulk of my writing had been mainstream journalism, poetry and literary short fiction; and while my private life was all about SM, I wasn’t sure how much, if any, of that would be spilling over into the work I published under my real name. When I began work on Different Loving, I knew that forever after my identity as a writer would be altered (and I was right). So at that moment, the paths converged. I wanted to honor and mark that turning point with the tattoo.

“An amusing anecdote: shortly after getting the tat, I attended a very straight, mainstream/academic literary conference (the Sewanee Writer’s Conference, where I’d been awarded the Tennessee Williams poetry scholarship for 1991). The tat caused a minor sensation among my more conservative colleagues. One writer finally screwed up the courage to ask me what it meant and I flippantly answered, ‘the discipline of writing.’ Actually, I kind of like that explanation too. Writing is definitely a masochistic enterprise which requires LOTS of stern discipline.

Sadie: You describe yourself as “writer and editor, gardener, siren and serene bohemian, slave to none and Mistress of Her Own Destiny.” Do you find that people are attracted to, or confused by your clear sense of self? What about your upbringing seeded your personality?

Gloria: “I find, to my never-ending chagrin, that people are often frightened by my clear sense of self. Those who aren’t, though, are sometimes fascinated and attracted. I can honestly say that nothing about the way my parents raised me made me who and what I am today. What they did give me, though, were certain core values that later transmuted into the ethical and political views I maintain. Among other things, they always believed women were equal (on every level) to men. They encouraged me to go to museums and theaters and to read good books. They were leftist/liberal Holocaust Survivors with passionate feelings about civil rights, social equality, and humanitarianism. For a variety of reasons they didn’t act on many of the beliefs they instilled in me but I’m glad that they at least preached the things I now try my best to practice.”

Sadie: Men have apparently had a strange fascination with you since you were quite young. It is my theory that people either have that sexual identity thing, or they don’t. Would you agree with this? What are the physical and personal attributes about you that project this identity to others?

Gloria: “You mean aside from big tits? Ahem.

“I was very sexually precocious, and can remember acting out fetishistic fantasies (alone, of course) as early as age four or five. Because I was so sexually aware so young, perhaps I communicated that awareness simply by being my own pervy self. Long before I was in touch with my true sexual nature, people responded to me as if they were aware of it, something that was deeply confusing to me until my 20s, when I first began to put it all together. I’m also friendly and chatty (under the right circumstances) and shy and reserved (under most social circumstances). So I guess I send off two contradictory vibes that intrigue people: on one hand, I’m very easy to talk to and playful, on the other I prefer solitude and find it difficult to chit-chat at parties (or even to attend parties, where you’re always more likely to find me standing by the front door, chain-smoking). I guess the combination makes people see me as someone who’d be fun to be with, sexually and otherwise, yet elusive and hard to get to. Works for me! :-)”

Sadie: Have you had any challenges in accepting and glorying in your own sexual identity?

Gloria: “After a lifetime of never being able to make vanilla relationships work, or satisfy me emotionally the way I craved to be satisfied, realizing I was a sadomasochist was like a huge psychic enema. Almost from the moment I hooked up with other SMers I felt incredibly empowered and liberated. More than anything, I felt that I’d finally connected with my true self. Lots of old bad feelings just fell away and my self-esteem spiraled up.

“Throughout my early adulthood, I consistently had this nagging sense that I was not leading my ‘real life.’ I had no idea what that real life was or should be, I just knew I wasn’t leading it. Straight job, straight friends, straight lovers, straight everything: I felt like I was dying inside a small cardboard box. Accepting my SM sexual identity was like burning down that box and emerging with super-powers. In other words, it was pretty damn cool.

“Now I did have some other demons to deal with. First and foremost, I went through the ‘why am I like this?’ stage. I worried that maybe SM was some kind of a need to replay old abuse experiences. So I dug as deep as I could back into my own childhood and that was inutterably painful, on a personal level.”

Sadie: For the record, how would you describe your BDSM orientation?

Gloria: “Lifestyle dominant.”

Sadie: Your husband is a Dominant as well. How have you worked out the dynamics of your relationship to allow you both freedom to explore?

Gloria: “We tried switching early in the marriage but soon discovered that neither of us really liked bottoming to the other and the dom role became pretty tedious because as doms we were working with grumbling, control-freak, do-me subs. So we changed strategies and decided to include others in our household. That too has evolved: initially our outside relationships were casual play relationships, whereas for the past 10 years, we’ve both emphasized long-term, committed, romantic master/slave relationships. I’d very clearly told Will before marriage that I had no intention of ever being monogamous again in my life. At the time, he was disappointed. Now he’s even more aggressively polyamorous than me. It’s just been a beautiful compromise for us, and we consider ourselves very blessed.”

Sadie: You’ve written about needing to enter Domspace on a regular basis because it maintains your emotional equilibrium. How does it do this?

Gloria: “Simply put, I get stressed out when I go too long without doing SM.”

Sadie: You write about what you call “SM of the Mind,” as a “combined emotional and spiritual state in which we feel as if we have journeyed away from our ordinary reality and into a realer, more vivid land, a place where we feel more at home, and intoxicated by intense, pleasurable emotions and sensations. ” What do you think are the key elements that are necessary to achieve this space?

Gloria: “That complicated theory is predicated on the most simple principle in the world: know thyself. I’ll add to that one of the simplest principles of good psychological stability: accept yourself as you are. When you can open the doors to your true self without shame or fear, you can experience the spiritual ecstasy of being at home in your sexual identity.”

Sadie: You add that “SM of the Mind is filled with paradoxes, and those paradoxes delight us: we may feel extraordinarily loved in a moment of giving or receiving intense pain; we may feel liberated by binding or being bound; subs may feel powerful when giving obedient service; doms may feel humble when receiving exceptional service.” How do you explain these apparent and extraordinary contradictions?

Gloria: “Those innate contradictions and paradoxes are what makes each person an individual. I’d say that, on many levels, the profound experience of SM (when you do have a profound experience of it, meaning you are at the edge of your limits, emotionally or physically) celebrates the paradoxes. Yes, I’m sexually sadistic and like to hurt men; and yes, I am tender and maternal, and love to dote on them. In SM, there’s no conflict between being your complete self; everyone who gets SM gets why a dominatrix bitch can also be a loving friend. I can be my fully integrated paradoxical self in SM.”

Sadie: You believe “that personal happiness cannot come until an individual is at peace with his or her sexual identity.” Do you find that people of the BDSM persuasion have more or less difficulty coming to terms with their identity than those who are vanilla? What are the most common issues you see?

Gloria: “All minorities (making a sweeping generalization now) have difficulty coming to terms with their identity. Society is not set up to accommodate individuals or biological diversity. Those of us who don’t fit social pigeonholes suffer a wide range of problems, including low self-esteem and self-hatred, guilt, shame, and repression. I’d say the number one issue that comes up in my practice is that women and men don’t feel they are entitled to sexual happiness and thus do not give themselves permission to explore (much less fight for) the things that would make them happy.”

Sadie: Your counseling approach is holistic and individualistic, looking at the whole person and not just their problems. How does this differ, and improve on the traditional approach of counseling?

Gloria: “In a word, it’s more dynamic–meaning that I press for change and advocate pro-active approaches to problems that can be solved. I don’t allow long silences; I expect my clients to be committed to change. I also don’t have any group agendas: I treat each client as a unique individual and tailor the counseling to his or her specific needs, weaknesses, and goals. So even as we work on the goals and issues they bring to sex therapy, I am apt to make lots of practical suggestions.

“For example, if I’m working with someone on self-esteem issues and I know the person is upset about his weight, I will recommend exercise and sensible diets, or have him keep a food journal, because I know shaving off a few pounds will boost his esteem the next time he goes to a play party. To clients who are both good candidates for them and are amenable to the idea, I may recommend they ask their MD about anti-depressants; to clients who hate drugs, I’ll recommend yoga, meditation and other holistic approaches. I’ve recommended community volunteer work to one client who spent too much time at home alone, obsessing over SM, and a creative writing class to another who clearly needed outlets for his creativity. I see myself as someone whose job it is to help a client affect positive personal change. Usually that change involves more just fixing one little problem. A person is the sum of all his issues, and all of them interconnect. Of course, I’m always happy when people who do have only one little problem come to me. We can usually complete therapy very quickly in those cases.”

Sadie: As a licensed clinical sexologist and a long-time BDSM player, how does your knowledge of the community help with counseling others?

Gloria: “Knowledge of the community doesn’t enter into my practice very often, except when clients are coming to me because they just got fucked over by a member of the community. Sadly, I do see a fair number of male clients who were exploited by dominants and a fair number of female clients who were abused by dominants. As an experienced player, I can also create new models for them and show them they can make better choices. Perhaps the most helpful part of being so well-acquainted with the Scene is that I can recommend reliable resources, books, websites, organizations and other kink-friendly helping professionals (I do not vouch for other players in my practice: I consider that unethical).

“Still, obviously, most of my clients come to me from the community. In their eyes, I think that knowing I am like them, not an outsider looking in, is a huge benefit. They know that I ‘get it’ and they won’t have to explain all the terminology and all the permutations of BDSM sex and relationships. It makes them much more comfortable to know they can reveal even their darkest most embarrassing secrets with a guarantee that I won’t blink. (Ok, I blink sometimes. But it’s usually because I’ve gotten something in my eye.)”

Sadie: You do not offer professional domination, psychodrama or phonesex of any kind. Do you find that many people mix up BDSM professionals like yourself with ProDommes? What do you suppose that’s about?

Gloria: “People have been mixing me up with prodoms since I first came out. I think there are a whole lot of people out there who still cannot quite believe a nice woman (I do operate under a mantle of niceness) would really want to humiliate and torment a man purely for the fun of it.

“It doesn’t really bother me. It just tells me right off that they have a very limited sexist mind to imagine that women would only do SM if they could get paid for it.”

Sadie: There is a huge emphasis in the scene on equipment and toys, particularly among the male Dominant set (who in my opinion are genetically wired to collect toys). My feeling is that this emphasis creates scenes that are about the toys, the clothes, and the superficial of BDSM instead of deeper connections. How do you find partners who have a deeper awareness of the emotional and spiritual elements of BDSM?

Gloria: “At present I’m afraid I’d have to answer that one by saying ‘With the Hubbel telescope.'”

Sadie: Do you integrate a spiritual approach into your play? If so, what techniques do you use?

Gloria: “I tell them to say their prayers as I reach for my whip.

“Ohhhh, you want a serious answer. This interview is so long I’m getting giddy. I don’t employ any techniques. I don’t like rituals. I don’t follow any gurus. If my partner is spiritual, I can be spiritual. (It would turn me on to humiliate a priest or a rabbi, I confess!) If he isn’t spiritually oriented, I do just fine with the flesh. It’s the total spontaneity of SM that thrills me.”

Sadie: You write that “You don’t need the high heels, or the corsets. They’re lovely decorations, the frou-frou of female dominance. But they aren’t important. What is important is knowing who you are and taking joy and pleasure from who you are.” Obviously the scene puts a lot of energy into the fashion part. How much do you engage in the dressing-up part of being a Dominant? Where do you draw the line?

Gloria: “The older I get, the less I dress. I don’t like super-high heels, and leather and latex are hell in warm weather (I live in Georgia, which is warm eight or nine months a year). I never liked lacy things or restrictive undergarments. My basic rule of thumb: I dress when I feel like reducing someone to his knees. I never dress FOR someone. That’s a hard limit. Most of the time, I wear jeans. I dress fetishistically purely to make myself look as divine as I can. What can I say? I like having people gaze upon me longingly. You could say I dress up as a mind fuck, for my own wicked purposes.”

Sadie: You write that “SM isn’t just “spice” in one’s sex-life; it’s a new meal every time.” People who do BDSM primarily as a spice-up their sex life actually comprise a large, but fairly silent part of our community. Do you feel that this style is simply a different flavor, or do you put it in an entirely different category than the committed Domination and submission that you write about?

Gloria: “I think BDSM is all about free sexual choice. There is no one right way to do it, and one kind is not better than another kind. In my opinion what belongs in a different and negative category is dishonesty–people who pretend to be things they are not and who end up hurting the people around them by leading them to believe in those false images. If you’re a bedroom person only, be proud of it and find other bedroom players; don’t lead a lifestyler on. If you’re a lifestyler, don’t try to convert a bedroom player or try to convince him/her that ‘true’ BDSM means you have to be in a master/slave relationship. If you’re a sub, don’t masquerade as a dom. See above: know thyself. Then stick to what you know and seek partners who want the same things.”

Sadie: You’ve written, “that the best SM springs naturally from your relationship dynamic, and takes playful but aggressive advantage of opportunities as they arise.” How do you reconcile this with the popularity of play parties, where there may only be a few minutes of that “relationship dynamic?”

Gloria: “I think play parties are great fun if you’re into play parties. Sometimes I am; certainly if I’m going to attend one, I’m going to play my ass off. For the most part, though, they don’t satisfy my deeper, emotional needs, so I tend to avoid them. As I get older, quality means a lot more to me than quantity. I can’t speak to what others get out of it but assume that some do it for all the right reasons and some do it for all the wrong ones. Vague enough?”

Sadie: You comment further on this: “Ideally you should if you wished be able to stand before each other stark naked and utterly bereft of toys, without the power dynamic seeming less real; you should be who you are, at least when you are with each other, and you should feel a spark of recognition.” This is beautifully said. What advice would you give to people looking for this dynamic?

Gloria: “Don’t compromise. Don’t settle. Don’t sell yourself short. Don’t be impressed by the outside: wait until you really get to know the person as a complete human being, not just someone who can satisfy your sexual needs, before you fully extend your trust. But once you do, once you know ‘this is someone who knows exactly who I am and loves me for who I am,’ go for it with your whole heart and don’t hold back.”

Sadie: Thank you very much!

BOOKS BY GLORIA BRAME COME HITHER: A Commonsense Guide to Kinky Sex By Dr. Gloria Gloria. Brame

DIFFERENT LOVING: The World of Sexual Dominance & Submission By Gloria Gloria. Brame, William D. Brame and Jon Jacobs

DOMINA: THE SEXTOPIANS By Gloria Gloria. Brame

WHERE THE BOYS ARE By Gloria Gloria. Brame

OTHER BOOKS TO WHICH GLORIA’S CONTRIBUTED: Poetry contributor: Blood to Remember: American poets on the Holocaust Poetry contributor: Between the Cracks: The Daedalus Anthology of Kinky Verse Introduction by Gloria Brame: Consensual Sadomasochism: How to Talk about It and How to Do It Safely By William A. Henkin, PhD, and Sybil Holiday Price: $16.95 Story contributor: Life on the Line: Selections on Words and Healing

About the Author