There are questions more revealing than their answers themselves. This interview with the German art and culture magazine Ikonen Magazin, in example, suggests how just outside of our confines lies a whole world where extreme eroticism is lived in very different ways than in Italy…
Dear Ayzad, you are an activist in the Italian fetish and bdsm-subculture on various levels and with different media. Could you please tell our readers some basic facts about your background and your activities?
I was born in Italy in 1969. My two biggest passions are creative jobs (writing in particular) and BDSM, and I tackled them both from earlier than it’s safe to admit. Around the turn of the millennium my regular job as magazine editor took a bad hit from the bursting of the “new economy” bubble and I found myself with lots of free time to pursue my other interest. I took on the “Ayzad” pen name and I wrote a huge book called BDSM – A guide for explorers of extreme eroticism; this snowballed into a whole new series of activities which you can see in some detail on my personal website. To put it briefly, I am trying to get my country in touch with its pervy side in the nicest and most comprehensive way. While doing this the name, apparently, stuck.
When did you first get in touch with the Italian fetish/sm-scene? And how did this come about?
I had my first brush with it when I was about nineteen and a penniless rebel. I sought work as a freelance erotica writer, and I somehow managed to pay my bills with incredibly shoddy and ultra-extreme tales of depravity. In fact you can find some of them, unedited, on the website. That stint got me in touch with several publishers worldwide including the Italian “Edizioni Moderne”, which specialized in BDSM and such, and has been for many years the heart of the local Scene. Unfortunately the scene itself wasn’t anything to speak of – so I mostly pursued my interests abroad until 199X, when a girlfriend dragged me kicking and screaming in the “new” Italian scene, based around the Internet communities. Or were you asking about my personal interest? That, I suppose, was an early natural vocation.
How important a factor is fetish/sm for your personal life and your work as an artist?
Quite a lot, I’d say. I have a permanent live-in slavegirl and all of that, but I wouldn’t want to appear obsessed to your readers. It’s just that I see life as an exploration of sensuality and sensoriality, and alternative sexuality is a great way to pursue this path. As a matter of fact, I do have many other much more boring interests, but somehow nobody seems that interested in hearing me rant about comparative mythology, Japanese cuisine, tracking the Singularity or whatever! Speaking about my work, I also think that BDSM forces you to see the world in a very clear, honest and almost scientific kind of way. That kind of approach, always analyzing and questioning things, flows into every other area of your life, informs political and philosophical views, and of course whatever you are creating.
Italian society is still heavily influenced by catholic values. Is this still a problem when setting up a fetish/sm-event?
This is not really about catholic values, as everyone including me of course agrees on loving thy neighbour and aspiring to a nonmaterialistic lifestyle, which are the actual foundations of catholicism. The matter is really about the medieval, self-righteous moralistic litigiousness used by our politicians to drown anything “dangerous” to their establishment. It is a crowd-control, brainwashing tool. The fact that most of the power-that-be have to answer to bankers and puppetteers in Vatican City, that they are uniformly corrupted and that they completely own the media kind of complicates things up. We call them “the Caste” for something, you know? The final result is that expressing any “different” point of view or lifestyle unleashes a shower of censorships from everywhere, including from within – it’s something that is just ingrained in the Italian mindset. Let me make you a practical example: last June I was asked to hold a lecture at the Bicocca University of Milano, which should be a non-catholic institution. I was to appear with a very important sexologist and psychiatrist, to expose the very same co-authored study about BDSM we were applauded for by the International Congress of Sexology a few months before. It was your typical scientific paper, full of footnotes and charts, and absolutely non-titillating. Well, the university got so much pressure from the neocon groups that at the very last moment before the lesson it had the students forcibly removed from the classroom by armed guards – apparently the very mention of the word “BDSM” was enough to “gravely endanger the morality of the institution”. When a students’ group set another date for the lecture, in October, things went even more crazy: we had a senator thundering against us from a national newspaper, the self-appointed president of the Catholic Teachers Association screaming slanders from 20 (!) consecutive press releases and even a full “Anti-BDSM Lecture Committee” blossoming up from nowhere. I know this sounds like fiction, but you can see the whole media archive on my website (in the Italian area only, sorry!). In the end we held the lesson anyway without any real problem, just like I set up my events anyway. But of course you can imagine that this kind of atmosphere scares people a lot and keeps them away from enjoying these things openly. Things are slowly getting better, however. Very slowly.
Can you give some examples of this “getting better”?
I feel that there is a whole new generation of people coming up. They are Web literate, they know some English (by the way: sorry for my language mistakes!) and they generally distrust the conventional media, so they are somehow less prone to that mindset I mentioned earlier. I don’t think that most of them actually understand what fetish or BDSM is really about, but at least to them it is a pathology or a joke no more, but just a strange and acceptable alternative. In these days I am updating the links page of my website, and I am delighted to see that many exploitative online shops, events or communities have disappeared: at least the scalpers seem to be out of the way! Also, my events may be small if compared to other European realities, but I am very proud to see that the concept of “strictly dress code” has finally been accepted by everyone and I take it as a sign of a more mature attitude by the public. Most people still consider lifestyle players like incomprehensible extraterrestrial; getting the scene operators to gel and cooperate is still impossible; the online-offline gap is still immense… but on the other side I see fetish shops coming up (especially “classy” ones); events being launched everywhere; tentative fetish models and photographers booming. You have to keep thinking positive after all!
Does the fetish/sm-scene actively deal with Christian iconography in rituals and performances?
Not really. In fact we are so fed up with strumentalized christianity that we generally just ignore that whole area whenever we can enjoy some open-minded fun. Sometimes somebody dresses up as a nun or hangs a crucifix from his nipple piercings, but those are generally just shock tactics geared towards the mainstream media – which just ignore them in return as well.
How important are body modification techniques in the Italian scene?
Functiontal piercings are reasonably common between players. The larger towns usually have some bodymod scene, mostly of the tattoo/piercing kind. To my knowledge, heavier or more unusual body modifications and rituals are somewhat rare. As a matter of fact, in my country there is very little contact between the fetish/BDSM scene and the body arts field. It’s a pity; we could learn so much from each other, but I feel there is a strong case of “your kink is sicker than mine” going on from both parties.
In the English Torture Garden there is a heavy presence of Nazi era uniforms as sexual fetish. Is that also present in Italy?
I wouldn’t say so. I see very few uniform enthusiasts at various Italian events, and Nazi imagery isn’t very present at all. Even if those uniforms were aesthetically gorgeous, maybe we don’t sexualize them much because Italy unfortunately has a strong presence of real, violent neonazis among its most misguided youth, or maybe because this country was seriously traumatized during WWII. To avoid potential problems, we ask the guests of our events to please remove explicit insignias – but to be honest I only had to ask that once in so many years.
The bdsm/sm-scene is often subject to political discussions like the radical feminist perspective (“sm is sexual fascim”) or the left-wing aesthetical perspective (“the fetish-scene is host of fascist aesthetics”). Are such discussion also valid in Italy?
This is getting more and more like an interview in the negative… but no. I hope that part of the reason is that educators like me are doing a good job at explaining what these games really are. At the same time I am afraid that it’s just because Italy has long forgotten what political discussions are, in general.
Are there certain sexual techniques and rituals which are against the law in Italy?
For the moment we are enjoying a more relaxed legislation than many other countries, but things are threatening to change. In example, Italy just got a surreal “porn tax” which should be applied to any “representation of explicit, nonsimulated sexual acts between consenting adults” – which means that in order not to get taxed you’d just have to make rape porn, by the way. Luckily for us the definition of “sexual acts” has been left to the personal interpretation, on a case by case basis, by one single member of our parliament. Bet he’ll be a very busy and very hard member for quite a long time, I’d say. Of course all the usual laws against pedophilia, nonconsensual sex and whatever apply. Also, games leaving marks on the skin are subject to a slightly absurd legal quagmire which is best described on Wikipedia. I don’t think it has ever been enforced, however.
In the fetish/sm-context there has been a strong influence of gothic subculture over the years (beginning in the 1990ies). How is this like in Italy?
I know an ex-goth journalist (now a fetish model) who mantains that “Italian dark/goths just don’t fuck”, which may be part of the reason for my following answer. In my firsthand experience, however, there is in fact a big gap between the fetish/BDSM scene proper and the goth one: usually at the “mixed” events goths just ignore or make loud fun of the “sickos”, while the latter see them as posers. From a purely fashion standpoint, however, there is some contamination of attires – but I guess that’s universal.
The Italian cinema has a long tradition of sexploitationfilms like the ‘sadiconazista’-cycle, the inquisition- and witchhunt-films etc. dealing offensively with sadomasochistic imagery. Are these films important for the Italian subculture?
That would involve having an actual subculture! Italy has a somewhat snobbish clique of media professionals who love that kind of imagery in a prudish way, but once again: they wouldn’t dare getting close to “those filthy perverts” for real. On the other side, trying to interest the players to even sligthly cultural (even pop-cultural) stimuli and discussions keeps falling flat on its nose. Still, we keep on trying.
What is your own perspective on fetish/sm? Do you see that as a kind of sexual utopia?
I guess that it’s one of the many paths you can follow to celebrate being alive, while getting to know yourself very well in the process. I’m quite sure you could do the same by becoming a monk, studying philosophy or becoming a serious artist – but this sounds like much more fun and enjoyable to me. Sexuality itself has changed so much in so few decades… somebody say that these lifestyles are a way to shield yourself from AIDS and whatever, but I feel that being able to expand one’s horizons from the beastly monotony of “fuck-fuck-fuck” is a blessed way to let sensuality permeate much, much more of your time. In my latest book there is a little dialogue between two enemy characters: “After all, feticism is just being able to enjoy infinite beauty in the most common, everyday detail.” “That would be poetry. We were talking about something else entirely.” “Indeed we were, weren’t we?”
What are your current activities?
Let’s see… I keep organizing events in Milano, like Sadistique and Secret – and next week we’ll be testing the concept of “fetish bar nights”. I hold talks about alternative sexualities: in fact I am rushing right now to a night about Bettie Page and her significance for free speech, which is also the theme of a stage play I wrote some time ago and which got censored over and over again – that’s on my website too. On St. Valentine’s day will be published an anthology of “romantic tales” for which I was requested “the most pornographic story you can muster”. I am very proud of it, because in the end it will be a meditation on selling one’s sexuality and morals: a quite serious work. Shortly thereafter should come out the new edition of my BDSM book, and hopefully a novel where I am revealing the names, places, scandals and reality of the Italian BDSM world. All the publishers are saying it’s a great book, but they just can’t publish that kind of information – little surprise there, isn’t it?