Samois was a lesbian
Lesbian is a term most widely used in the English language to describe sexual and romantic desire between females. The word may be used as a noun, to refer to women who identify themselves or who are characterized by others as having the primary attribute of female homosexuality, or as an...

-feminist BDSM
BDSM is an erotic preference and a form of sexual expression involving the consensual use of restraint, intense sensory stimulation, and fantasy power role-play. The compound acronym BDSM is derived from the terms bondage and discipline , dominance and submission , and sadism and masochism...

 organization based in San Francisco that existed from 1978 to 1983. It took its name from the fictional estate of Anne-Marie, a lesbian dominatrix
Dominatrix or mistress is a woman or women who takes the dominant role in bondage, discipline and sadomasochism, or BDSM. A common form of address for a submissive to a dominatrix is "mistress", "ma'am", "domina" or "maîtresse"...

 character in Story of O
Story of O
Story of O is an erotic novel published in 1954 about love, dominance and submission by French author Anne Desclos under the pen name Pauline Réage.Desclos did not reveal herself as the author for forty years after the initial publication...

, who pierces and brands O. Well-known members of the group included the writer Pat Califia
Patrick Califia
Patrick Califia , born 1954 near Corpus Christi, Texas is a writer of nonfiction essays about sexuality and of erotic fiction and poetry. Califia is a bisexual trans man.-Biography:...

 and feminist academic Gayle Rubin
Gayle Rubin
Gayle S. Rubin is a cultural anthropologist best known as an activist and influential theorist of sex and gender politics. She has written on a range of subjects including feminism, sadomasochism, prostitution, pedophilia, pornography and lesbian literature, as well as anthropological studies and...


The roots of Samois were in a group called Cardea, a women's discussion group within the mixed-gender S/M group, the Society of Janus
Society of Janus
The Society of Janus is a San Francisco, California based BDSM education and support group, and is the second oldest BDSM organization in the US. It was founded in August 1974 by the late Cynthia Slater and Larry Olsen....

. Cardea existed only briefly, from 1977 to 1978 before discontinuing, but a core of lesbian members, including Califia and Rubin, were inspired to start Samois, an exclusively lesbian BDSM group.

Samois was strongly rebuked (and sometimes picketed) by Women Against Violence in Pornography and Media
Women Against Violence in Pornography and Media
Women Against Violence in Pornography and Media was a radical feminist anti-pornography activist group based in San Francisco and an influential force in the larger feminist anti-pornography movement of the late 1970s and 1980s....

 (WAVPM), an early anti-pornography feminist group. WAVPM, like later anti-pornography feminists, was very strongly opposed to sadomasochism, seeing it as ritualized violence against women
Violence against women
Violence against women is a technical term used to collectively refer to violent acts that are primarily or exclusively committed against women...

. Samois members felt strongly that their way of practicing SM was entirely compatible with feminism, and held that the kind of feminist sexuality advocated by WAVPM was conservative and puritanical. Samois openly confronted WAVPM with their position, and the exchanges between the two groups were among the earliest battles of what later became known as the Feminist Sex Wars
Feminist Sex Wars
The Feminist Sex Wars and Lesbian Sex Wars, or simply the Sex Wars or Porn Wars, were the acrimonious debates within the feminist movement and lesbian community in the late 1970s through the 1980s around the issues of feminist strategies regarding sexuality, sexual representation, pornography,...

, with Samois being among the very earliest advocates of what came to be known as sex-positive feminism
Sex-positive feminism
Sex-positive feminism, also known as pro-sex feminism, sex-radical feminism, or sexually liberal feminism is a movement that began in the early 1980s...


Samois split up in 1983 amid personal infighting; however, in 1984 Gayle Rubin went on to form another organization called The Outcasts. The Outcasts lasted until 1997, until they too split due to infighting. A breakaway group, The Exiles, is still extant as of 2010 and carries on in the tradition of Samois and The Outcasts. In 1996, Pat Califia and Robin Sweeny published an anthology titled The Second Coming: A Leatherdyke Reader that also contained historical information on The Outcasts, as well as other lesbian BDSM groups such as the Lesbian Sex Mafia
Lesbian Sex Mafia
The Lesbian Sex Mafia, founded in 1981, is an information and support group in New York City for lesbian, bisexual, heterosexual, and transexual women. The group's focus is to help promote fantasy role playing, bondage, discipline, sadomasochism, fetishes, costumes, alternate gender identities,...

 and Briar Rose.

External links

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