A taste of the whip for Saddam

U.N. weapons inspector Jack McGeorge's leadership role in the Washington S/M scene isn't a liability, says a friend -- it'll help him distinguish between fantasy and reality.

By Kerry Lauerman
Published December 4, 2002 1:21AM (EST)

The private predilections of Harvey John "Jack" McGeorge, a United Nations weapons inspector to be sent to Iraq, probably were the tawdry subject of more Thanksgiving Day dinners than he'd care to know about. His enthusiastic taste for S/M made the front page of the Washington Post and, as a slow holiday news weekend lurched into gear, spread quickly to the cable news channels.

McGeorge, president of Public Safety Group Inc., which offers bioterrorism research, analysis and training to different governments, is a former Marine and Secret Service specialist. He is also, the Post revealed, "the co-founder and past president of Black Rose, a Washington-area pansexual S&M group, and the former chairman of the board of the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom," and "a founding officer of the Leather Leadership Conference Inc., which 'produces training sessions for current and potential leaders of the sadomasochism/leather/fetish community,'" according to its Web site. Not only that, but his seminars mysteriously "involve various acts conducted with knives and ropes."

There was immediate posturing. The State Department, which passed the résume´s of McGeorge and other candidates over to the U.N. -- without a security check -- grew defensive. McGeorge offered his resignation, but chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix refused it. "We believe that Mr. McGeorge is a highly qualified and competent technical expert," Ewen Buchanan, Blix's spokesman, told the Post. And so McGeorge remains in New York, preparing to square off with Saddam.

McGeorge politely declined Salon's request for an interview. But a friend and colleague in various S/M groups, Jonathan Krall, agreed to talk about McGeorge and his role in the D.C. S/M community. Krall is the founder and director of District of Columbia Sexual Minority Advocates, where McGeorge is co-chair of the education program. He says he has known McGeorge for more than 15 years through his very public participation in various S/M clubs.

In the process, Krall believes, he's routinely witnessed the "leadership qualities" that will make McGeorge a fine arms inspector.

What was your reaction when the Post broke the story about McGeorge's participation in Black Rose, and the S/M?

Well, I was not at all happy about it. The story itself is about background checks of U.N. weapons inspectors, and there's no problem with that. But the S/M aspect of it was completely irrelevant to counterterrorism. One has nothing to do with the other, first. And second, all Jack's work in volunteer organizations or not-for-profit organizations is somehow a bad thing, and I don't get how leadership in a volunteer organization is a bad thing.

Wait. Volunteering for organizations like Black Rose?

Well, and the Leather Leadership Council and National Coalition for Sexual Freedom. Those are all volunteer organizations. NCSF has one paid staffer.

He should be getting credit for having leadership capabilities. But the fact is it's really not relevant. It's his background in counterterrorism.

Were you surprised that he offered to resign?

No. I mean, this is a difficult thing. This speaks to whether someone's S/M life is relevant to their work life ... Lots of us have jobs where we work in public with a company's name tag, and the question is: Is that the only public persona you're allowed to have? And lots of people have lives outside of work, where they also appear in public doing volunteer work or some such thing, and that should be perfectly legitimate. And there's no reason to mix the two up.

But I think a lot of people assume that your work identity is your identity, and that your identity everywhere should reflect positively on your work identity.

Right. Though he's a government employee, and I think there are critics on the right, say, the Christian right ...

They don't like anybody having fun.

Right, but even some on the left who might say: Look, a private life is one thing, but McGeorge has made this a very public part of his life, and that makes it more complicated. Fair?

No. I think people really should be allowed to separate their professional lives and their private lives. And by their private lives, I guess I mean their nonprofessional lives, even if your nonprofessional life is public.

If Jack was really closeted about his S/M work, then he could be the subject of blackmail. The big issue would be if he tried to hide it from anybody whom he applied to a job for, and he didn't, as far as I understand it.

But the reason this is news is not because he was open about just any hobby. To a lot of people, there's something a little menacing about the idea of S/M, there's a ...

A stigma, yes.

And where do you think that comes from?

Oh, I think there's always a stigma on whatever the sexual cutting edge is. I'm old enough to remember when full frontal nudity in the movies was a big issue of public debate.

Except there's violence involved, and the idea that violence is sexy makes people uncomfortable.

Which, of course, if you watch any network television show and watch the advertising for the movies you see violence and sex all the time. Sexy villains are there all the time. It's like "Batman" -- nobody wants to play Batman because the villains are sexier.

I think what's happening with S/M, in part because of the Internet, in part because it was taken out of the Diagnostic Statistical Manual [of Mental Disorders of the American Psychiatric Association] -- it was rewritten [described here] in such a way a typical S/M'er is no longer considered mentally ill, that people are freer to do it, freer to find each other, and it's just become more apparent. And I just think it's showing up in more places that are surprising people, you know.

This will change as more S/M'ers come out of the closet.

So it's a movement?

Well, I don't think the intent is a movement. That term is probably pushing it, but the effect is getting kind of like that. I mean, there's a huge number of people and huge number of gatherings, which is all great because of the Internet, because people can hook up, and if people can hook up without learning what they're doing they can get into all sorts of dangerous situations.

So ... you'd call it a hobby?

Everybody's different. I mean, you take a spectrum of people, from the hobbyist who is into the equipment, to someone who has had fantasies since they were very young, and for whom it is, for all intents and purposes, a sexual orientation.

That's -- anecdotally -- what I've run into.

When you say it's a sexual orientation, there's an implication that it's like gay rights, and should be treated as such.

Yes. Any personal-freedom issue, this is the equivalent to it.

I think the problem here is that the community has a habit of being closeted, and it's done a very good job of that. But the fact is, the S/M lifestyle isn't news, it's just one more choice.

But when people rely solely on the "personal freedom" argument, there's always someone who will ask: What's next, bestiality?

The thing about the S/M community is that there's standards. It really is a community, and you have standards for a number of things. They talk about safe, sane and consensual ... What's safe, which is a very fuzzy boundary. What's sane? Which, if you follow what's in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, sane basically means functional, if you're able to function in life and it's not messing up your life. And consensual is very important. Animals, children can't consent.

And the community has these standards for a number of reasons. [For example,] in the S/M community a standard for an event is to have dungeon monitors in the play area, and to have things closed off so the public can't get in, so people can feel like they can be safe and comfortable there.

Are these codified somewhere? Is there a manual?

Yeah, for the most part it's just sort of understood. It's very local. The S/M community is very local. Individual groups will have these things standardized in a sense to have dungeon monitor manuals explaining what's appropriate and what's not appropriate and they'll have rules.

McGeorge threw these seminars on these sorts of rules, and standards, right?

Yeah, he was a real proponent of these things.

He also has gotten some attention for other seminars, though. Like the one on "knife play." Can you explain that?

Well, I mean, picking up a knife and rubbing it across your lover's body to titillate them doesn't sound nearly as dangerous to me as bungee jumping. I mean, seriously.

Hmmm. It sounds more menacing, though.

Well, but the whole part about role playing is that you're trying to create a fantasy environment, and for a lot of people, a fantasy environment is really something that gets their adrenaline going and is kind of edgy, exciting.

So you have lots of buzzwords. And the S/M community is full of buzzwords that have [nothing] to do with reality. I mean, "slavery" [is one]. Someone can say, "Oh, I'm a sex slave." But they're not a sex slave. They're somebody who is married and has kids and a mortgage in some suburbia.

But could there be a concern that someone like McGeorge, whose professional duties we could come to depend on to keep us out -- or throw us in -- to a war, could be too engaged with his fantasy life, especially when he engages in it so publicly?

Well, I'd say that someone who has been as successful, who has worked to become a U.N. inspector, would have a pretty good handle on the difference between fantasy and reality.

But, speaking about the whole "slave" thing ...

Oh yeah, yeah. Jack has been very interested in the psychology of people who get into service-oriented submission vs. just fantasy playing vs. a number of other things.

Well, but it looks like he posted his own ad for a slave [referenced here] that was up until fairly recently.

Yeah, right. He's a real person and has a personal life.

OK, but you're saying he wasn't, obviously, really looking for a slave. What was he looking for?

It means you set aside a part of your life to play a fantasy role, and if you're doing that you're doing it in a very service-oriented way, so not only are you doing your fantasy, you're doing something useful for the person who is your master. Or mistress. It's a private role-play.

I mean, the one thing you have to realize with Jack is his public stuff is education, leadership, lobbying, like with the NCSF, and his private stuff is sex. It's not like he's having sex in public -- he's advocating in public. And advocating for personal freedoms is a very acceptable thing to do.

But some of the things he's advocating for, like how to handle a female slave in public, [see "Out in the Streets: Private Play in Public With Jack McGeorge"] makes a lot of people uncomfortable, especially since we would be sending him over to a country of Muslims, where women are routinely oppressed. That's essentially why some feminist groups, like NOW, have been critical of the S/M movement, right? The power dynamics?

He was teaching sexual freedom. Sexual freedom is not about oppression.

People [in NOW] have the right to their own sexual determination. Women who are members of NOW, and I know plenty of them, like having sex lives. And it's their personal choice how they do that.

So his going over there isn't, at least, awkward to you?


The fact is that people in the S/M community lose jobs and sometimes they lose custody of their children over their private lifestyle. It happens.

And it happened to Jack in the past; he's lost contracts because somebody at some agency couldn't handle his private life. And it's sad to see that happen. These are capable people.

The fact is, someone who is really capable enough to have the range of skills to do the U.N. inspection job is not going to be your average Joe, and that type of person is probably going to have an interesting private life as well as an interesting professional life. Go for it. Take it. Take advantage of it.

It's a bonus?

It's a bonus that you have the type of person who can do leadership things, who can step outside the mainstream, who has done a certain amount of self-exploration.

And if this works out, if he's sent over, is it a victory of sorts for the S/M community?

Oh, definitely. The Post story was absurd ... but what I would like to see is a lot of people write letters to the Post and say this was not appropriate. I mean, if a former chairman of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force was given similar treatment, I don't think people would put up with it.

So yeah, if he continues, it will be a victory, and it would be one more public person who is known to have an interesting social life.

One last, pedantic question. In one of McGeorge's bios, he's identified as a "het switch." Translation?

You can identify yourself as a dominant, a submissive or a switch, which means you play top sometimes and you play bottom sometimes. And "het" means he's a heterosexual.


A lot of people say heterosexual to distinguish from gay, of course, and personally I don't like the word "straight" so I use heterosexual, or "het."

Kerry Lauerman

Kerry Lauerman is Salon's Editor in Chief. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

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