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194 CHAPTER NINE Tales from the OperatingTheater: Medical Fetishism and the Taboo Performative Power of Erotic Medical Play —London Brickley In late December 2009,in an alley packed into the back corners of NewYork’s West End, a man known simply as “The Physician” stands in the center of a room.1 Surrounding him is an unfolding spread of the cool steel of a hospital cot and its matching industrial light. In the bed there lies a body. The body’s face is occluded by an oxygen mask and the standing frame of the overseeing anesthesiologist. The skin of the body remains on display to the crowd— overly white beneath the industrial glow. The Physician calls to his assistant for the scalpel, which is presented to him alongside a bottle of iodine, cotton, and gauze. Snapping his own mask into place, The Physician takes the scalpel into his latex-covered fingers and prepares to cut. Those watching on do not know the body on the table. There is no glass separating the spectators from the operation, nor visitation hour restrictions. This is not a hospital, but a warehouse. The Physician is not a doctor, and the body on the table is not a patient. This is simply another night in the world of medical fetishism—a subculture whose participants find sexual eroticism in medical-related play, practices, procedures, roles, and aesthetics. The Physician, an active member of the medical fetish scene for over twenty-five years, had kindly invited me to join him and some of his medical enthusiast friends for an evening warehouse operation. This invite marked my thirty-first attended “live surgery” performance (a sort of medical fetish folk custom celebrating the days when operating rooms were called operating theaters and surgical procedures were performed in front of students and spectators).2 As I watched The Physician’s scalpel slice its way down the sternum of the anonymous torso with a steady Medical Fetishism,Taboo Performative Power of Erotic Medical Play 195 hand, the mirror above the bed reflected the opening skin to its onlookers. Those in attendance knew the cut was only the shallowest of slices, meant for show, symbolism, and sensation, but the blood as it ran was bright and real.3 The impromptu night of operation was not the first I had attended, but it was during that particular live surgery, surrounded by the enraptured women and men on The Physician’s guest list, that my casual flirtation with the scene transformed into my official descent into ethnographic work. This chapter is a select summation of my five years of formal folklore fieldwork among medical fetish communities,focusing primarily on both private parties and public medical clubs in the United States and the United Kingdom. Unlike the participant groups found within most traditional approaches to ethnographic research,the medical fetish community is not regionally (or even virtually) located in one place. Instead, a medical fetishist in the emic or cultural (as opposed to the psychiatric) use of the term is often a self-appointed identity by individuals who find erotic pleasure in objects and acts found in modern and historical medical practice. In order to create a sense of community, medical fetishists from all over the world have established conventions, night clubs, private gatherings, social networking sites, and online resources that cover a range of information from medical play advice, safety procedures, and links to specialty shops to purchase medical supplies. Out of this globalized community there has emerged a rich culture of art, fashion, and material; styles of performance; insider semantics; rituals; aesthetics; codes of conduct; and traditions. Outside the walls of fetish participation, sexual fetish subcultures can contain difficult lifestyle choices for nonfetishists to understand. Traditionally , sexual fetishism was understood by psychiatric practices during the turn of the century as an“abnormal attraction” to objects or situations (see KrafftEbing 1965). Fetishists themselves, on the other hand, tend to view these regulating restrictions on human sexuality as an invisible line produced by a given culture’s stigma and taboos. From the fetish culture’s viewpoint, what the medical literature defines as normal sexuality (or what fetishists refer to as vanilla sex) is simply a blinder technique against,or disavowal from,the components of the human body, culture, history, psychology, and medicine that the majority of society doesn’t want to acknowledge. In this way, from either side of the fetish insider/outsider divide, fetishism is more simply contextualized as a...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9781496804297
Related ISBN
9781496804259
MARC Record
OCLC
919202352
Pages
240
Launched on MUSE
2016-07-11
Language
English
Open Access
No
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