You can read parts one and two here.
Ernest Greene continues discussing how he cam to write his book, Master of O.
Obviously, there was some interesting writing to be had on this subject, but I guess I kept on reading other kinds of BDSM fiction and I just wasn’t finding anything much that felt real. I would say Jean de Berg’s “The Image” had that feeling and right so, as it turned out later to have been written by the legendary domina Catherine Robbe-Grillet, wife of the surrealist novelist Alain Robb-Grillet. Also, most of what I read was written from the submissive woman’s point of view. And I can easily understand why. The drama of that is obvious. It’s suspenseful; you don’t know what’s going to happen to her. How far is she going to go with this? Obviously it’s easy to identify with that character but the result of that is the guys for the most part were a bunch of stiffs in almost all of these things that I read. They just weren’t interesting. There was no insight into what makes a dominant guy. After a while, living in that desert, where I’d never recognized anyone who reminded me, not only of me, but of anyone I ever knew who was a dominant guy, I began to get discouraged by it. I mean, we have senses of humor, we like our partners and we’re not all products of terrible childhoods working out our DIY therapy here. We have personalities.
So I set out to take this book, this gateway book, this groundbreaking piece of literature and reimagine it in a modern setting where it would be told from the point of view of a dominant man, a point of view we haven’t heard much of. We don’t know what goes through the heads of these guys. They’re whipping machines. They might as well all be robots, from the way they’re commonly portrayed in fiction. I’ve known a few real ones, and I am one, so I set out to rewrite this book from Steven’s point of view, redesigning him from the cardboard cut-out he’d been in the original. And, again, set in a modern Los Angeles, and I think that works pretty well as such. I still think most people who read it are going to be more interested in O than they are in Steven, for obvious reasons. But I think many will find him appealing and younger readers in particular may relate better to his brother Ray, a younger generation dominant guy who’s a little looser and a little less stick-up-his-butt about it. But O in my book as much as she was in the original, is still the heart and soul of the story. The reason the guys could be flat and interchangeable in the story as first written was because that story was really about O and what she felt driven to do, which is never really explained. She makes a fine Rorschach test upon which almost any kind of motivation can be projected. The implied motives didn’t make sense when I first read it so I grounded my characters in more familiar emotional terrain. I won’t deny that I based some of these characters on people I know and there is a woman I know who, in many ways, meets the description of O as she’s portrayed in this book.
Dominant men are as emotionally vulnerable as any other human beings on earth. They can misread a signal from their partner and build a whole fantasy about something that can happen that might not really be what the other person has in mind. And the results can be just as unpredictable as in any other kind of relationship. A BDSM relationship is first and foremost a relationship. That’s at the core of my vision.
One thing for which “Master of O” has been criticized here and there is the frequency with which luxury goods possessed by the characters are described in excruciating detail. All kinds of silly motives have been attributed to this but there is, in fact, a narratively relevant reason why I placed such emphasis on objects, which I very deliberately eroticized. Taken from the original novel, which does quite a bit of the same thing, right down to name-checking a legendary Parisian scarf brand, is an underlying theme of fetishism beneath the D/s content. In a culture as thoroughly saturated with consumerism as our own, we tend to overlook the sexual component of our own consumerism. It’s hardly a thing that comes with bragging rights to observe that our society, including its BDSM element, has sexualized luxury goods to the point where the line blurs between advertising and erotica. In my effort to update the story to modern times, I very deliberately called attention to the fetishistic obsessions of the characters and how those overlapped with their sadomasochistic desires. What I set out to delineate was the overlap between the objectification of sex and the sexualization of objects. This is not a judgment of any kind so much as an observation. We talk about BDSM a lot more than we talk about fetishism these days, but the two are inseparable, more so now than ever before.
When you look back over the book itself, it affirms pretty much what you already knew, if you know anything about this, which is a submissive partner is submissive for exactly as long as they want to be. That’s it. And a dominant partner is dominant only as long they’re allowed to be. That’s also it. In the end, if people want to do D/s nothing can stop them and if they don’t, nothing can interest them in the idea. A dynamic holds up just as long as those in it want it to.
Nina: And not one second longer. (Laughs)
Ernest Greene: What is the definition of a hard limit? Something that will give you a big bad bruise on the side of your head when you hit it. That’s a hard limit. It can be about the strangest thing, you know, something you never negotiated, discussed or even considered but that turns out to be not only the hard limit, but also the deal breaker. It’s not necessarily anything physical, anything to do with sex, anything to do with BDSM.
Given my acceptance of these realities, because you can accept them or be blindsided by them, my agenda was to give us some insight into what that looks like from the other end of the whip. It’s easier in some respects to understand what a submissive partner gets out of BDSM because everything is done to them. They’re stimulated mentally, physically, and sexually in all kinds of other ways. What’s in it for the person doing that? Well, a lot of hot sex, and a lot of really ecstatic experiences that you just can’t have with anyone who doesn’t share this thing with you. I have experienced that, and I’ve experienced it, but considering how many partners I’ve had, that real connection has been fairly uncommon. It’s that kind of D/s relationship that really has a tremendous emotional impact on the lives of all involved. Usually people play for a while then discover the other person as they really are and the magic fades quickly.
Nina: Some physically move on. Some get married even into situations they know are less than perfect but they decide that monogamy is really where they’re at. And though I don’t think this is common, some of them grew out of their BDSM inclinations, which run deeper in some than others.
Ernest Greene: Some of our best former playmates are still our best friends!
Nina: Some of them are still occasional playmates too, with an itch that needs scratching once in a while. They may move far away, but when they are in town…
Ernest Green: They visit. (laughs)
Nina: They visit and we have a session.
Ernest Greene: We’re non-monogamous. That’s one of the reasons we got together.
Nina: That was a prerequisite.
Ernest Greene: You’re closer to being polyamorous than I am. I’m just a slut. I like to have lots of different experiences.
Nina: And I like to facilitate those experiences, whether or not I’m physically involved in them.
Ernest Greene: But you could conceivably have the emotional space in your life for another person.
Ernest Greene: Whereas for me, most of that desire belongs to an earlier time in my life, though I would never close the door on the possibility of expanding our relationship to include another woman. But there would have to be a very high level of compatibility among all of us. Hard enough to maintain intimacy with just one other person.
Nina: Romantically, you’re a one-woman kind of guy. People say, ‘Nina, aren’t you afraid he might fall in love with somebody else?’ You can’t stop a person’s heart from doing what it wants to but I don’t worry about what Ernest’s heart wants to do. After sixteen years together I’m pretty confident no outside force can pull us out of our current orbit.
Ernest Greene: I can’t guarantee that’s not going to happen, but it’s very unlikely. By my age you tend to know what you really value.
Nina: Honestly, no, I’m not afraid of him falling in love with someone else. It was hard enough for him to fall in love with me. (laughs)
Ernest Greene: Let me tell you that, at 65, I’ve been doing this for 40 years. I’ve had a lot of great experiences and opportunities, wonderful fantastic things, but still being able to enjoy those things when they come along, combined with the enduring love of someone I live with so comfortably, it’s hard to picture any fundamental changes. We both had to make some serious adjustments for one another, but that’s what we did and we’re happy with the outcome. I had a previous marriage that was largely based on our D/s dynamic, and it turned out, as my ex said, that our fantasy lives were perfect, it was our real life that sucked.” (laughs)
Dexx: Where did you guys meet?
Ernest Greene: At work!
Nina: He was the assistant director on a picture I starred in for a friend. He really helped me with a difficult scene. And looking back, if I knew then what I know now, after working on that movie, I would have gone home to my poly partners and said, “60 days notice, good for you?”
Ernest Greene: Because we really right away.
Nina: I was already deeply unhappy in my first marriage, and I couldn’t admit that it was deeply unsuitable. My partners were never going to change and it was my responsibility to do something about it.
Ernest Greene: We had a torrid romance and then she went back to them.
Nina: I missed the entire 90s with him.
Ernest Greene: And at the time, all I could say was, “if you think you’re doing anyone a favor with this, I doubt that’s true.”
Nina: He was right.
Ernest Greene: I went on and had a few more crazy, passionate, doomed romances with other wild, interesting women. It was really a lot of fun. But after every one of them would leave, or be asked to leave in some cases, I would tell my friends “you know it’s really a shame that thing with Nina didn’t work out because that really made sense. “ And they’d say “God when is he going to get over this” because this went on for 8 years. That’s how long we were separated. Then she called me up, one day…
Nina: Out of the blue.
“And says, “I’ve left my husband, are you free for lunch?” And I said, yes I am free for lunch, and for the rest of my life. I’m clearing my social calendar right now. That lunch is still going on.
Dexx: But there’s still a D/s element to the relationship. Nina’s wearing a collar.
Nina: Well, I’m going to say this in the most positive way: when it comes to sex, I’m a stem cell, and he’s a virus. That means the following: I am an adaptive person. I am cisgendered and female bodied and see myself as female but I like everyone: boys, girls, crossdressers. I like a wide variety of things with a wide variety of people. He concentrates on doing one thing really well. If you want the ultra-submissive-femme experience, oh my god, have I got the best one of those for you. I will loan him out. I know how exciting it was when I was first alone with him. Before Ernest, I liked sex, but I never had a profound ideation about D/s specifically. I really wanted him so I learned a new love language. It was a language in which he was fluent to say the least, exquisitely developed to do one thing perfectly well, which is to have incredibly out there, deeply D/s sadomasochistic sex with a woman and let both himself and the woman he’s with enjoy a really good time with it. His brute is on a really short, tight leash, and when it’s appropriate he lets it off just enough. My primary fetish is novelty. If I’m not going to be end up sick, injured or arrested I’m interested in sharing sexual space with anybody once, but for me with most men, once a year is plenty. Whenever you’re in town, call me. Meantime, don’t send flowers. The fact that I’ve lived with someone for 16 years and still want to fuck him all the time blows my mind. I’m not naturally that way with anyone else.
Ernest Green: Well, it’s still a little different every time.
Nina: I’m adaptive, but I’m not primarily D/s oriented. In that way, he’s still a bit of a stranger to me in his dom space. It’s not my native language, so I speak kink with an accent. My vocabulary is pretty good, but I still have an accent. Together we go to this fabulous place, which is his head, and there are still surprises there. Unlike a lot of women we know, I never dreamt of having master. It still amazes me that my long-term happiness turns out to be in a D/s situation, because I didn’t long for that.
Ernest Greene: You do have a surprisingly strong streak of physical masochism, which I felt was there. One develops an instinct for these things.
Nina: I was a massive nail biter growing up.
Ernest Greene: There are certain indicators you begin to realize when you’ve been doing this as long as I have, and she had some tells. She wouldn’t have been asking me so many questions about BDSM every time we saw each other casually if she hadn’t been called to it in more than a strictly intellectual way. There’s curiosity and there’s fascination, two very different things.
Nina: Being together really helped reconcile my feminism with my love of service and submission. It helped me see there’s no contradiction between being a feminist in the world and a sex slave at home. Ernest appreciates powerful women. He likes having a tiger at the end of his leash, not a housecat. When I talk to people about what we have together, I say “submit is a verb” and “doormat” is a noun. If there’s one thing I’m not it’s a doormat.
Ernest Greene: Nina accepts the collar from me, not for me.
Nina: I do it for me.
Ernest Greene: We do it for each other. There are so many strange ideas floating around the BDSM world right now that it’s hard to pin down which one I find the oddest, but there’s nothing I find quite so mysterious as the idea, very popular in some circles right now, that BDSM isn’t really about sex. Oh, it isn’t? Will you please explain to me if it isn’t really about sex what it is about that’s healthy? I do make judgments. Your kink may not be okay with me for any of a number of possible reasons. If it’s not based in erotic desire, what is its appeal? I will grant there can be logical answers to that question, but I remain skeptical about most of the answers I hear. I suspect sometimes people will say “my BDSM thing is non sexual” because they have a narrow conception of sex as PIV intercourse only. BDSM and/or fetishism can be erotic in unconventional ways, but I’m pretty sure that’s its motivation no matter how it’s expressed.
Dexx: So, the BDSM scenes that are in “Master of O, “ do they come out of personal experiences that you’ve had? One that comes to mind in particular is the poker evening, which was pretty iconic.
Nina: Everything sexual in that book is taken from life.
Ernest Greene: That’s absolutely true. There’s not one thing in there that I have not either done myself or seen someone else do. Or been a part of. I can guarantee that. The narrative is largely fictional but the people are mostly based on people I know.
Dexx: Would you say that it’s kind a realistic portrayal of how the D/s relationship might unfold?
Ernest Greene: One kind, absolutely. The relationship between Steven and O is very different from the relationship between Jacqui and Ray. It would be perfectly possible to build a satisfying BDSM relationship on either model. Ray and Jacquir are more a part of the TNG milieu. They love rope. They have a much more relaxed approach to protocol. Steven and O are more traditional and formal. Either approach can work fine if the individuals are truly compatible. Steven and O are really driven by their desires, which is what part of it makes their connection so electrifying and compelling.
Dexx: Do you think the book could have the makings of a major movie?
Ernest Greene: I actually think it would be a good cable series because cable has gotten much more daring and sophisticated while features have become increasingly bland and predictable. “Master of O” could work fine being no more explicit than, say, “Masters of Sex ,” which is a terrific series done in a very thoughtful way, or “Outlander,” which is a very gritty kind of romance. It’s adult entertainment in the best sense of the word. That’s the standard I try to hit. So far I don’t think BDSM has been well-served on film, though I do have some kind words for “Secretary,” which is misleading but good-natured, and the film version of “The Image,” which was shot by Radley Metzger who was perhaps the best erotic filmmaker of all time, is quite believable. It’s too bad that “Nine and a Half Weeks” was submarined by Mickey Rourke’s terrible performance, because the book is terribly underrated and the story was naturally cinematic. The first visual production that gets BDSM right is going to find a very large audience very quickly.
Ernest Greene: Definitely on the right track. You don’t have to show every explicit act to make a really good dramatic presentation of what BDSM people’s lives are about. So yes, I did have that in the back of my mind when I was writing “Master of O” because I do have a background in picture making and I tried to construct it so it could be adapted. We’ve haven’t shopped it aggressively, in part because I’ve wanted the hype from Brand X, as we call it, to fade some before we tried approaching producers with something more serious. I think we’re about there now, given the lack of controversy surrounding the most recent attempt. “Master of O” is really story-driven and it’s challenging to get that kind of material made whatever the subject.
Nina: There are no explosions, nobody gets killed, nobody cracks up, nobody’s life is ruined by sex. It doesn’t have the easy hooks for producers to hang a project on. But if the right person goes at it with the right attitude, the demand is already there and waiting. It develops its dramatic momentum by slowly winding the human connection tighter as it goes along to a point where you know that something is going to pop.
Ernest Greene: There is a point at which some decision has to be made about what the real long term implications of a relationship of such intensity would be. But I did want to present what I consider a basically positive portrayal of an M/Ss relationship, or a D/s relationship with a heterosexual male-dominant orientation that’s always suspect and always politically on the defensive. “Master of O” doesn’t pander to easy expectations about relationships of this kind, which can be as healthy as any other kind of relationship, or as unhealthy. It’s a relationship first. Then it’s a BDSM thing.
Ernest Greene has been the Executive Editor of Hustler’s flagship BDSM magazine Taboo since 1999 and of Taboo Illustrated since . He has performed in, written, produced, or directed over 500 adult titles, including the Nina Hartley’s Guide series, starring his wife and producing partner, noted porn star and sex educator Nina Hartley. Master of O may be purchased here.