The curious case of Gor and BDSM

Tarnsman of Gor

Tarnsman of Gor

The kinky world is multi-layered, with a multitude of traditions. Have you ever wondered what inspired many of the customs found in BDSM, some of which are taken as dogma? What if I told you that many of the practices found in kink were inspired by the longest running science fiction series in print history? Well it’s true. Here’s the curious case of BDSM and Gor.

In 1965 a college professor named John Frederick Lange assumed the pen name of John Norman and released the novel, “Tarnsman of Gor”. Serving as introduction to the world of Gor, the book was a mixture of science fiction, fantasy, social commentary, adventure and smut erotica.

Gor is the titular reference to the alternate world created by Norman and where all the events of the series takes place. Gor is also called Counter Earth, since its habitat is similar to Earth’s own. Humans come to inhabit Gor due to a slave trade perpetrated by the original insectoid rulers of Gor. As sci-Fi, Gor is Norman’s nod to classic pulp fiction. The influence of Robert E. Howard and Edgar Rice Burroughs is undeniable and Gor’s most persistent antagonist, Tarl Cabot bears a striking resemblance to John Carter of Mars. Many of the standard tenets of science fiction such as low gravity, space travel, high tech juxtaposed with medieval societies and aliens are all present in Norman’s Gor writings. The terms Gor and Gorean have interchangeably come to represent the fictional world and everything associated with it.

Map of Gor by Marcus of Ar

Map of Gor by Marcus of Ar

John Norman placed an incredible amount of detail into his description of Gor’s world. Norman developed his own science, biology, sociology, geography and theology for Gor. Many of Gor’s elements are analogous of classical literature and a heavy philosophic context is weaved into Norman’s prose. (Norman is still active to this day as a philosophy professor in New York).

A large amount of detail is also given to sex in Norman’s Gor fiction. When humans are transported to Gor, the new world divides men and women into natural roles (according to Norman) of master and slave. Almost exclusively, the sex that occurs on Gor centers on hyper dominant men subjugating submissive women. The theory and dynamic of master and slave relationships is central to the storyline of Gor. This sexual dynamic is treated with the same exhaustive, almost theological focus as everything else in Gor.

One reason Norman was able to craft such a detailed world is the fact that he’s had ample time to develop it. The Gorean saga was published from 1966 through 1988, there were 33 titles produced in all. The books were placed back in circulation in 2001 and are still widely available, in both print and Ebook versions.

Twenty years worth of novels is a long time, time enough for the tone of Norman’s writings to change markedly. At first, the sexual smut in the Gor books seemed to be of the tongue in cheek variety, and although sexual aggression and violence were  present in the earlier books, it took a back seat to the sci-fi action. Then the tone changed. The emphasis of Norman’s writing began, focusing instead on unrelenting masculine dominance and inevitable female submission.

In Gor, women don’t have a choice about their slavery. In fact, the Gorean philosophy teaches that women only arrive at true happiness and worth by

Outlaws of Gor

Outlaws of Gor

becoming slaves, or rather being returned to their “natural’ state of slavery. In one of the Gor books, a career woman from New York is transported (kidnapped) and deposited on Gor, to quickly be reduced to a state of complete slavery. Gorean female slaves are referred to as kajira and their slavery is all encompassing and often brutal. Branding, severe beatings, whippings, constant bondage are all common occurrences for a kajira. On Gor, a master even has the right to kill their slave.

There are free women on Gor, who are seen as fundamentally flawed for not being slaves. On Gor, if free women are embraced by a man, even one of a lower social class, they lose their status as free women and are reduced to being slaves. Freedom is a tenuous prospect for women on planet Gor.

As if Gor’s cavalier attitude toward murder weren’t disturbing enough, Gorean philosophy regarding rape is even more troubling. Rape, is constantly referred to, as kajira are expected to provide sexual service for their masters on demand. Rape in Gor is depicted as acceptable ravishment and not morally reprehensible criminal activity. On Gor, the needs of a male master supercede any agency a female slave has. Any benevolence a kajira receives is the purview of her master. “Rape me swiftly master, for I must be about my business” is a direct quote from Gor and typifies the power imbalance between master and slave. (The quote also typifies the cavalier way rape is regarded in Gor)

Despite the flaws in the Gor books, a curious thing began to happen. The Gorean philosophy appealed to a lot of people, for it’s depiction of mastery and slavery, as well as the Gorean code of honor. So much so, that followers began to adopt Gorean ideas as life principles. At some point, Gorean philosophy mixed with the BDSM community and each entity began to inform the other. Not all Goreans are into BDSM, nor is every member of the kink community a Gorean, but there has been a remarkable cross pollination between the two. Here are an example of practices which are common in BDSM which can be traced to Norman’s Gor novels

  • “Domspeak” grammar such as  writing W/we U/us Y/you
  • Dominants writing their names and role with capital letters, slaves and subs writing their names and role with small caps (Master/slave)
  • Slaves wearing collars to indicate ownership
  • Branding
  • Protocols, rules and tasks for slaves
  • Female slaves referring to all dominant men as Master, whether owned by them or not. Conversely in Gor, women are often referred to as “girl” slave or kajira by any dominant male, despite their dynamic.
  • Pleasure slaves and the concept of “slave training”
Real Gorean Slavegirl

Real Gorean Slavegirl

The internet played a role in the combining of BDSM and Gor. As the books were reissued in 2001, they were digested and discussed by a burgeoning online kink community. Usenet and Internet Chat Relay were some of the early adopters of the Gorean influenced BDSM community.  As time progressed through the aughts decade, the influence of Gor became more pervasive, to the point that many BDSM practitioners began to identify as Gorean and openly integrate the philosophy into their actual kink lives. There are currently multiple websites which offer study material to real life Goreans and there are Gor communities on Second Life. Meetup.com lists events for Goreans and Fetlife has kajira listed as a role that can be assumed. The name Gor literally means “home stone” and online communities became a home stone for those who wanted to study and implement Gorean philosophy. Because it’s so ritualized, Gor lends itself to online D/s relationships.

Besides creating the source material of the Gorean saga John Norman made another literary contribution toward the power exchange discourse. In 1974, Norman capitalized off  the success of the Gor series and wrote Imaginative Sex, a series of elaborate sexual fantasies designed to be reenacted by couples, presumably to spice up their sex lives. Most of the fantasies are male dominant although some feature female dominance as well. Some of the fantasies are familiar roleplay material, such as naughty secretary or captured secret agent. Others take a decidedly sci-fi bent which is certainly inspired by Gorean type space fare. The fantasies are mostly psychological in nature, as actual, physical expressions of BDSM aren’t explained. For example, Norman advocates that men clap to simulate whippings and women react as though they are being whipped. Imaginative Sex is currently ranked as number 250 in its category on Amazon.com, which is remarkable for a book that’s 40 years old.

The lack of practical knowledge about authentic BDSM is a fundamental problem. Gorean philosophy suggests a type of power exchange dynamic without offering any of the practical tools necessary to implement such a dynamic in the real world. Gor doesn’t mention safe words, negotiation, limits, or consent, the basic elements we signify with responsible adult kink.

The absence of practicality can be attributed to Norman himself. One would assume he appreciates the support the BDSM community has given to his

Red Silk Dancing Kajira The Gor Project by mrranum

Red Silk Dancing Kajira The Gor Project by mrranum

work, but this isn’t the case. In fact, he completely refutes the practice of BDSM, as he believes that anyone who wants to be whipped is in need of help. He doesn’t see anything practical in BDSM and disavows any connection , between Gor and kink. He downplays the frequent references to rape in Gor and contends that the misogyny of Gorean philosophy is simply feminist misunderstanding of his prose. At no point has Norman ever made an attempt to offer followers of the Gorean philosophy a realistic portrayal of BDSM. The result is a lot of people who use Gor as a basis for their BDSM life, even though Gor was never intended to be a manual for ethical, responsible kink. This is reminiscent of 50 Shades of Grey becoming a guide for kink, something even E.L James capitulates it was never intended to be.

The influence of Gorean philosophy is vast, to the degree that it’s probably one of the biggest influences on contemporary heterosexual kink. (Gor makes little mention of homosexuality and no mention of queerness.) Gor has offered some good things to the kink world, like the beauty and commitment of a collar or the relationship dynamics of protocols and rules. Many of the Gor books features artwork from the famous Boris Vallejo and depict strong male warriors with scantily clad, bound slavegirls. For kinky geeks images like this were the fantasy spark that ignited many people’s desire for kink.

But there are a lot of troubling things that Gor has imbued into the kink world. The lack of consent and unrelenting misogyny of Counter Earth is ugly in fiction and should be unacceptable in real life. Dominance and submission are choices which should be arrived at with negotiation, consent and mutual respect, not naturally assigned roles. A fictional world can’t define the wonderful diversity available in the real kink world. The anachronistic tech of Gor can’t compare with the skill and care of actual riggers and whip throwers. Any dominant who feels a submissive is alive due to their benevolence is a deranged abuser.

Gor offers a lesson for those who practice BDSM. Kink is a wonderful outlet for imagination and fantasy, as anyone who has ever role played or attended a themed party can attest. But the element of fantasy that makes kink an escape must be planted in reality, to truly be a safe and applicable lifestyle. Don’t accept any philosophy as blind dogma which is executed without reason. Instead embrace the fantastical parts of BDSM which are made possible by consent and skillful, risk aware play. Practice a kink philosophy is is best for you and your partners.

Whether you hit Starbucks before a trip to the dungeon or favor a blackwine served second slave (the Gorean name for black coffee) root your fantasy in reality and always keep it kinky.

 

 

 

Photo Credits

Featured Image: Gorean Red Silk Slave The Gor Project

  1. Map of Gor by Marcus of Ar The Gorean Library
  2. Artwork from Outlaws of Gor by John Norman/ Art by Boris Vallejo Gor Collection
  3. Chained, collared Gorean Slave girl Gorean Etiquette
  4. Dancing Kajira The Gor Project
  5. Tarnsman of Gor by John Norman/Art by Boris Vallejo Gor Collection
MrBLK

Author: MrBLK

MrBLK is a blogger, writer, bondage rigger, dominant and certified geek. I've been an event promoter, dungeon monitor and founded the B'more Munch, one of the longest running meetups in the Baltimore area. I draw on disparate experiences as a caregiver, martial artist and fitness trainer to craft scenes that are innovative and fun. When not crafting diabolical plans, I relax by reading comics or swinging kettlebells.

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1 Comment

  1. “This is reminiscent of 50 Shades of Grey becoming a guide for kink, something even E.L James capitulates it was never intended to be.”

    It’s funny that she claims that NOW, after her publisher and PR people spent months touting her series as a guide to spicing up your love life.

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