Misty Luminais

Research Associate
Case Western Reserve University, U.S.A.

"Ritual Stripped of Religion, Infused with Spirituality: The Bricolage of Women’s Erotic Spirituality in a BDSM Community" 
Many people in Cactus, Texas BDSM (bondage-discipline/dominant-submissive/sado-masochist) community, where I performed my fieldwork, were raised in Christian churches but left at different points in their lives, some with more finality than others. In discussion, some people identified the dissonance between their kinky lifestyle and their church’s teachings as their reason for leaving. Many were unwilling to forego the feelings of community created by their participation in religion and instead began exploring an erotic spirituality. The BDSM community is immersed in ritual behaviors, many stitched together as bricolage from diverse cultural contexts. Whether they have intuited the underlying structure of ritual described by Victor Turner or consciously designed their interactions to reflect an anthropological understanding of ceremony, “play” in the community follows the flow predicted by classical ritual theory in an erotic setting. Women, in particular, engage in creatively directing energy toward a spiritual practice that is reflective of their own experiences. In their rejection of Christianity, some turn instead to New Age spirituality, perceived as friendlier to femininity, to interpret feelings elicited by moments of erotic crisis. One of the outstanding critiques of current, hetero-focused BDSM is its ahistorical appropriation of relationships, materials, and ideology. Situated within this context, it is unsurprising women would explore the relationship between their gender and their erotic spirituality through a conglomeration of pieces and parts of other religions, such as tantra and spirit animals, embroidered in structures borrowed from the social sciences. This paper will examine the tension of cultural borrowing to further one’s understanding of gender, eroticism, and spirituality in the context of one BDSM community.

Dr. Misty Luminais is a cultural anthropologist who specializes in gender, sexuality, and ritual practice. Currently, she is a Research Associate at the Social Justice Institute of Case Western Reserve University where she oversees a long term, community-based ethnographic project focused on the effects of racism in an urban setting. Her dissertation work was on the BDSM (bondage/discipline, dominance/submission, sadomasochism) subculture in Texas. Prior to that, she has worked with Garifuna women in Belize, voodoo practitioners in the French Quarter of New Orleans and an Evangelical Christian motorcycle club.