Saturday, November 21, 2015

A Road Trip to Indiana

Last month the BDSM research team hosted a visit from our colleagues in Phoenix, Bert and Nadine Cutler (a.k.a., Master Bert and slave nadine). Bert expressed a desire to take a road trip to Indiana to visit the Kinsey Institute and the Carter/Johnson Leather Library.  He also thought it would good for the research team to make some connections with other sex researchers at Indiana University, and so we piled into a couple of cars and away we went.

Our first stop was the Kinsey Institute at Indiana University. Upon arrival, we were warmly greeted by Pat Lacy, the administrative secretary who had organized our tour times and meetings with the staff members. Liana Zhou, the Director of Archives, then took us on a tour of the Institute’s library stacks. We stood in amazement of the sheer volume of work that the institution has collected, both academic and non-academic. Liana graciously pulled out some very interesting things to show us, including some “Tijuana-bibles”, also known as “eight-pagers”- palm sized erotic comic books that were produced from the 1920’s to the 1960’s.
In the Kinsey stacks. 
(Top row from left to right: Brad Sagarin, Kathryn Klement, Jennifer Erickson, Michael Wagner, Bert Cutler, Paul Sarun;
Bottom row from left to right: Ellen Lee, Nadine Cutler )

We then visited with Catherine Johnson-Roehr, the Institute’s Curator of Art, Artifacts, and Photographs, who had spent time pulling out BDSM artwork from their collection just for us—so many incredible photographs and drawings! She also walked us through the halls explaining their exhibits and even let us tour one of the lab rooms used to study sexual arousal (complete with vaginal photolethysmographs and penile cuffs). We also met Dr. Tierney Lorenz, a visiting research scientist, who graciously lent us a set of heart rate monitors for one of our research projects.

The staff members at the Kinsey Institute were incredibly generous with their time. They were also very supportive of our work, which we found invigorating and validating. We got to hear about some of the challenges various researchers at Kinsey have experienced over the years, including problems securing funding and dealing with negative or faulty perceptions of sex research—things our team could relate to. This visit helped us to feel in touch with a community of scholars, a greater connection with others dedicated to sex research. It was amazing to visit such an historic place. We were so appreciative of their hospitality.

Across from the Kinsey Institute stands Ballantine Hall, home of the sociology department and where faculty member Martin S. Weinberg has taught since 1968 (he also served as a Senior Research Sociologist at the Kinsey Institute for 13 years). Immediately after our Kinsey visit, our large group squeezed into Dr. Weinberg’s office to have a chat about some of the challenges of being a sex researcher (and educator) and the future of the field. He talked about receiving death threats because of his work, and again we were humbled by the challenges that previous generations of researchers have faced. We appreciated his taking the time to talk with us; it was an honor meeting someone who has spent their career studying sexuality and forwarding the rights of sexual minorities. 

 Visiting with Dr. Weinberg. 
(From left to right: Bert Cutler, Brad Sagarin, Martin Weinberg, Michael Wagner, Nadine Cutler, Paul Sarun)

We then drove two hours south to visit with Vi Johnson and see the Carter/Johnson Leather Library, primarily located in Vi’s home. The library is a non-profit organization that collects all kinds of materials from the BDSM community, including books, magazines, posters, art, club and event pins, newspapers, event programs, and fetish clothing. She has also recently been collecting dissertations, theses, and academic journal articles on BDSM.

One of the first things Mama Vi (or Grandma Vi, she clarified, depending on your age) said to us was, “Welcome home”. And we indeed felt as if we were. We were treated to a delicious dinner and wonderful conversation with Vi, Gene, Robi, and Pulse. Vi has a great philosophy of “touch everything” in the library (even a book from 1701!); she believes this helps people connect and engage with the community’s history. And so each of us spent time browsing the shelves, pulling out various items, and marveling at the extent of this remarkable collection.

At the Carter/Johnson Leather Library. 
(Lower left to top left: Jennifer Erickson, Paul Sarun, Michael Wagner, Vi Johnson; top center: Brad Sagarin, middle center: Bert Cutler, lower center: Nadine Cutler, top right to left: Kathryn Klement, Robi, Pulse; lower right left: Ellen Lee, Gene)

The next morning before we left, Robi and Pulse took us to a 10’x20’ storage unit to see the rest of the library that doesn’t fit in Vi’s house. Among the things they showed us was a really cool exhibit called “We didn’t invent this”, which offers an historical look at the existence of BDSM across the ages, even dating back to ancient Roman culture.

We really enjoyed our visit to Vi’s home and the library, and we thank Robi, Pulse, and Gene for helping us have such a great time. In this short blog we cannot do justice to Vi’s personal story, her incredible knowledge, and the work she and her colleagues are doing to document and preserve the BDSM community’s history. We can, however, encourage you to visit the library anytime you are in Indiana or attending a BDSM conference hosting the library.

Our road trip to Indiana was both fun and educational. Again we would like to thank the staff at the Kinsey Institute, Dr. Weinberg, and Vi and her family for helping to make our trip so memorable.