Rolling Stone Slanders The Transgender S&M Community

It's pretty sad when the magazine responsible for much of the best creative non-fiction ever published decides to go the way of a right-wing tabloid rag.
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And some experts believe that men who want to be women also tend to be what Larry Wachowski appears to be: a guy with a jones for technology. - Peter Wilkinson for Rolling Stone, January 12, 2006


I'll save you reading this week's Rolling Stone feature on Matrix director Larry Wachowski. Here's the rundown: Larry left his wife, hooked up with a woman who used to work as a professional dominatrix named Ilsa Strix, and is possibly undergoing hormone treatment to become a woman himself. Ilsa left her partner as well. Larry's into Sado-masochism, as is Ilsa. They've been together seven years and things seem to be going pretty well for them.

If it doesn't sound like an interesting article it's because well, it isn't. The couple hasn't done anything wrong, but you might not know that from this piece, which focuses on the couple's former partners as well as recent Matrix films which were less successful than the original - the one made before Larry ran off with his dominatrix to live in gender-fucky bliss. If you didn't know any better, after reading this you might think that people practicing alternative sex and confronting their gender identity had a disease to be cured, kind of the way we used to look at homosexuality (and some people in Bush country still do). You might think that investigating your gender would destroy your career. It's pretty sad when the magazine responsible for much of the best creative non-fiction ever published, the magazine that married music and politics, decides to go the way of a right-wing tabloid rag.

You could also read this article and wonder at the point of it. Why are we interested in Larry Wachowski's sexual proclivities anyway? Why is it news that a man would show up at a party wearing a hood and dressed as a woman. You might wonder why, in this day and age, in this free country, anyone would care what gets people off. You might miss altogether the story of Ilsa's ex-partner, Buck Angel, a female to male transgender referred to sometimes as a he and sometimes as a she, and all of the factually inaccurate information presented surrounding Buck.(1)

By trying to offer us a simplified version of the world of BDSM the author instead presents a place that doesn't exist. Here the reader is let in on some of the rules of this secret society: "Larry must have represented the ultimate sugar daddy. Why else, they wondered, had Ilsa suddenly decided not to play by the BDSM rules (against a dominatrix dating her clients)?" It's interesting that people into bondage have rules but the straight world doesn't. I've been practicing BDSM my entire sexual life and I'm still waiting for my handbook to arrive in the mail.

These sweeping statements assume a rigid hierarchical society as opposed to one comprised of individuals with many different philosophies on how to live safely, prosperously, and free of shame within their lifestyle. There is no group this large that conforms to such easy categorization. There are of course many dominatrixes that date their clients, some of them are very much in love. People in every industry, adult and non, date one another. After all, a third of all relationships begin in the work place.

In order to help us understand Larry and Ilsa we're not just given the rules of the S&M community, we also receive a quick course in traits specific to men who want to be women. They tend to be men with "a jones for technology." The proof for this is a study of 769 patients considering gender reassignment. It turns out the patients had a proficiency for math.

In 1998 I did a photo shoot with Ilsa. I know a dozen people who are close to her and have nothing but nice things to say. I also know people who were clients of Ilsa and refer to her as nurturing and tender, as opposed to how she is presented in the Rolling Stone article as someone who's "greatest accomplishment was putting 333 needles into a single penis." I also know a lot of women who have worked as professional dominants and dated their clients, sometimes successfully and sometimes not. I guess they also don't know "the rules of the BDSM world." But then, no one really does.

There are millions of men and women practicing alternative sex and millions more unhappily in the closet and afraid to come out because of articles like this that talk about them like they are freaks. All of which helps to explain why Larry and Ilsa dropped out of the public scene after they got together, because as a society we're not willing to accept these people's desires and allow them to be happy and comfortable in public.

By breaking S&M and gender roles down to a simple code, as if it was some cult with fifty members, Peter Wilkinson will undoubtedly own the dubious distinction of penning the least intelligent discussion of S&M likely to be published this year. It would have taken a lot of work to get this article right. It would have required hanging out with transgender people, going to munches and parties in the S&M community, and interacting with them as equals living valuable lives, not freaks under glass throwing it all away. But understanding gender and S&M is not the purpose here. The point is to provoke, to write something salacious about somebody famous, and if it discriminates and disparages a huge swath of population so be it. The problem with sensationalist journalism like this is that there is no effort to educate or add depth to ones understanding of the world. The article is meaninglessness but the meaninglessness is also the goal, which would be fine if it was just entertainment. Unfortunately there are consequences for this type of stereotyping and objectifying and we are worse off not better for it. Articles like this perpetuate shame, which leads to deep dissatisfaction among a very large number of people who are less productive with the burden they shouldn't have to carry. People who swallow such shallow investigations end up less informed than when they started. Because in the end, if you really want to understand people, the first thing to assume is that they are as complicated in their motives and composition as you are. Then go from there.(2)

1. In one of the most egregious and insulting passages Buck is referred to as a "partial" transsexual because Buck does not have a penis. It wouldn't have taken much for the author to know that most female to male transgender people don't have phalloplasties as they are expensive and there's no sure thing that they will even be functional. You could even lose your ability to have an orgasm, which would be terrible with all that testosterone coursing through you. F to M transgenders take testosterone to help them with the transition. We're told that Buck takes testosterone to build up his muscles, which is simply not true. Buck is referred to at different points as a he and a she.

2. I've received a slew of comments since writing this editorial from people who think there are more important matters to be concerned with. I disagree. Discriminating against people is an important issue. Sexual freedom is important and sexual intolerance is a factor behind many of the world's problems. To my critics I say if someone was getting in the way of you fucking you might also be inspired to do something about it.

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