From Issue 2.2 - October/November 1995
The following is an excerpt from a longer essay entitled "Shiny Sharp Things."
In San Francisco's leather community, cutting is so identified with women that a gay man I know who likes playing with blades frequently has other men dismiss his blood fetish as "that lesbian thing." While I generally resent world views that divide things up according to gender, it does seem that sharp objects and blood have very different meanings for men and women.
Bleeding is something that I have in common with most other women. Not all women, but some of us, share an instinctive understanding of its significance, and a love for the sensation of skin parting, blood flowing, the way it smells when you put your face in it, and the odd itching, puckering sensation of it drying on our hands and cheeks. Talking about this around men makes me wary. Not because it will detract from the power of the ritual -- men don't have the ability to disrupt the magic that women do with each other. No, I am reluctant to talk about or do blood sports with men because I don't think they get it. Blood doesn't mean the same thing to a man that it means to me. We might share the same fears that all human beings have of being wounded, losing the fuel that keeps our hearts pumping. But I also see blood as food and a blessing. Because I bleed once a month and I don't die, I know that even when I do die, it won't be the end of me. I will come back here, in a different form, or go someplace else to do another kind of work. And I do not have the same ambivalence that men have about being entombed/enwombed. I am clear in my intention, when I fuck another woman, to get as much of myself back into her body as I possibly can.
But for reasons I don't really understand, it seems to be part of my path in life to talk to and about men. I have been placed in situations of unusual intimacy with men who love other men, and I have learned things from those encounters that women were not doing or saying to each other, at least not at that point in time. Men have come to me for advice or commentary upon their lives, and sometimes listened to what I have to say. I am always leery of being used or misunderstood by men, because even the most humble, sensitive, woman-loving man on the planet still contains an unbelievable amount of arrogance, privilege, and potential harm for women. Despite that, it seems to be my spiritual and sexual vocation to be a dyke who has allies who are not dykes. So I have decided to write some of this down, despite the fact that I am trying to describe experiences that we don't have a vocabulary to express, despite the fact that I am not sure these disclosures will be comprehensible, let alone have value, to other people. It is private material that I hardly ever examine even with fellow vampires. We watch that scene in Dune where the Baron Harkonnen loses his heart plug, and we rub ourselves, all-over goose bumps like junkies who have just fixed, but we hardly ever talk about it.
In the realm of magic, blood is the most powerful product of the human body. It is a potent symbol of both life and death, healing and pain. When people bleed, they let things go, but blood is also a binding substance, a pledge as well as a purge. It seals oaths and cements connections between people. Lady Macbeth was right, once you get somebody's blood on your hands, you can't wash it off again. The person who holds the blade and cuts someone else is also being marked, perhaps even more deeply and permanently than the one who bleeds.
Obviously, the person who is being carved has to feel an immense amount of trust for the hand that cradles the blade. But the cutter must also trust. You are saying to the person you decorate, "I trust your constancy. I trust that you have told me the truth, and this is something you really want, not just for your life today, but for the person you will be in ten years, twenty, thirty. I trust that you will wear this with pride and affection, and never cloud my memory with shame or anger because I was the one who gave you these scars to wear." That is a lot to ask of anyone, that much loyalty and foreknowledge.