Andrea Scrima: Saskia, you’ve written a book that invites us into the BDSM community to explore the complicated emotional landscape lying at the heart of its negotiations over consent and—as the title you chose for your book underscores—permission. When the book begins, Echo, the young narrator, is submerged in a fog of emotional blunting following her father’s accidental death; she trusts bodies and the language they engage in more than emotional intimacy. We’re in southern California: the milieu is wealth and privilege, Hollywood beckons, and the narrative is full of gleaming surfaces. Can aspects of Permission be read as a social commentary?
Saskia Vogel: Thank you for that introduction, Andrea! The book certainly came from questions I had about the society I encountered when I moved back to LA after spending most of high school in Sweden and university in London. LA, where I was born and raised, was suddenly new to me. I could legally drink, which meant access to new spaces, and I finally had a driver’s license. I was also carrying years of distance and encounters with new cultures with me. Nothing about LA life was a given anymore. I thought it would feel like free space. However, when I arrived in LA as an adult, in my early twenties, I became aware of a strong current that asked me to conform to certain norms as a woman, for instance in how I presented myself. Dating culture was oddly formal, like we were supposed to demonstrate our skill in performing a script rather than make a connection. Looking back, I might suggest that the kind of abuse of power that was happening in the upper echelons of Hollywood, and I’m thinking of Weinstein here, trickled down into parts of society, creating a dishonest economy of sex and power. Very soon I found a group of friends who were deeply involved in the kink community. Half of myself, shall we say, was in that community, and the other was trying to navigate life outside of that community. There was quite a stark contrast between the BDSM community I knew—informed by mutual respect and consent, articulated boundaries, and an awareness of power dynamics—and my life outside it, which I experienced as far more patriarchal and conventional than my imagination of life in LA had been. Those two worlds left me with questions about the roles available to women in society, about who benefits from the existing power structures, and if there was a way out. I dropped my main character Echo right into the middle of these questions. Read more »