R.I.P.: Gil Kessler

June 19, 2022

The sad news arrived this week that community treasure Gil Kessler, who for more than 25 years conducted an annual class for gay men interested in educating themselves about the skillful use of BDSM play, has left us. After a lengthy struggle with Parkinson’s disease and Lewy body dementia, he died at home in bed in the company of his devoted husband, Damani Moyd.

A retired college math professor, Kessler was very meticulous in his teaching and practice, which he developed largely under the auspices of the now-disbanded Gay Men’s S/M Association (GMSMA). Underneath his unassuming exterior, he was extremely knowledgeable not only about the mechanics of kinky play but also about the interpersonal dynamics that go into creating powerful BDSM scenes. The written handouts that he provided for his classes is exceptional. I’ve never seen more thorough, accessible instructions for BDSM practice.

I once asked Kessler to tell me how he became the repository of such an extraordinary body of knowledge about BDSM play. Did he have important mentors? Undergo transformative initiations? Read lots of books? “I didn’t find most books to be helpful,” he said, “with the major exception of Race Bannon’s Learning the Ropes, which is brief and to the point. There aren’t particular people I consider mentors, but I attended virtually all the workshops and programs that GMSMA offered, so I learned bits and pieces from many people (including Peter Boots, Bob Pesce, and Andrew Harwin). I also attended Inferno and Delta [annual gatherings of gay male BDSM aficionados] for many years, watched closely, and experimented carefully. The first GMSMA chairman, Ray Matienzo, was a general influence on me when I joined the board in 1984. He had the qualities that go into making a wonderful S/M practitioner: extensive knowledge, confidence, sense of humor, consideration of his bottom, etc.

“It’s hard to judge what was in my own personality and what I picked up from other people,” Kessler said. “I certainly learned to be patient and listen to my bottoms (I was never really a bottom myself), and to try to make them happy as my major goal. How much of that came from me or from other people? I don’t know. I seemed to simply learn as I went along and as I began teaching others what I knew.”

For me, Kessler exemplified what a community elder looks like – someone who has accumulated a wealth of knowledge and experience and found a way to transmit this information to younger men with generosity and grace. May his name and his history be a blessing.

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