RE/Search: Were there any early harbingers of your later SM life?
Bob Flanagan: My mother said that when I was a baby and really sick in the hospital, they had to stick needles in my chest to draw fluid out. I was always thrashing around and fighting (I was in pain), so the doctors tied my hands and feet to the bed so I wouldn’t hurt myself. And that’s still one of my favorite positions to be in: flat on the bed, tied up. For one whole year I didn’t go to school; I had a home teacher and was mostly in bed. I had a lot of time to fantasize, to watch TV, and to become increasingly aware of my body in one sense or another.
On top of that, I had a cousin two years older than I and we started playing what he called the “Slave/Master” game. This was right after we moved to California, in the first house we lived in in El Sereno. It’s such a strong memory that I’ve driven back to that house just to look at it and recall what we did. He was nine, his sister was my age (seven), and my brother Tim was five, so we were all pretty young to be playing this erotic “slave/master” game. I label it “erotic” now, but I don’t know what we called it then; we just knew it felt good.
I remember being locked in a tool shed with cobwebs and spiders (I still get turned on by dark confined spaces and the smell of wood). At some point he pretended to whip us with a belt as we swung back and forth on a swing set. It wasn’t hard enough to hurt, but I remember wanting it to be harder and wanting it to hurt. At the end of the day when it got dark, he passed out these paper tickets and said, “Be sure to bring these back with you tomorrow or else you will be punished.” The first thing I did when I got inside was rip them up and toss them away-I was thrilled at the thought of being punished! I have no idea where this thrill came from; I didn’t see it in movies or magazines (I was too young).
R/S: Did any of your ideas come from movies?…
BF: Lots of movies provided inspiration, but I think the bondage goes back to being tied up as an infant-it could be something as simple as that. I’m sure that while I was tied up as an infant in the hospital my parents felt really sorry for me and were overly (or justifiably) concerned, trying to comfort me as much as possible. While horrible things were happening to me, I was getting extra love and attention, so the two contradictory feelings probably fused together…the horrible things happening to me were made into something better; a sweetness was overlaid.
When I’m most turned on by SM, there’s a sweet sensation felt-a candy-kind of feeling, no matter how brutal it might look.
SM is the only area where “no” doesn’t mean no. In every other place, no means no. But you have to have some word that means no, so you say-the typical boring substitute would be “red” which means “Stop. This is past my limits. I swallowed a hairball and I’m going to choke.”…Whenever psychologically or physically you’re out of the scene, you say something like “red” to mean “stop.” Or you can say “yellow” which means “my hand’s asleep.” If you know someone the way Sheree and I know each other, we don’t have that-I know how far she’ll go and she knows how much I’m able to take, so there’s no communication loss that way. I can scream and yell and-usually if she stops, I’m disappointed afterwards. That’s a typical submissive behavior: you beg for it to stop, and then when it’s over, it’s never enough!
. . . an eloquent tour through the psychic terrain of SM, discussing the most severe sexual diversions with the humorous detachment of a shy, clean-living nerd. I came away from the book wanting to know this man.”
What Flanagan stands for and the powerful emotions he evokes in us are hard to forget.”
—San Francisco Chronicle