A Brief History of Gimp
The word ‘Gimp’ is thought to have originated as American slang in the 1920s meaning a crippled or lame person, thus someone with a limp. It later started to carry a broader derogatory connotation for an inept, outcast or odd person and by the end of the 20th century was about to make another leap. In 1994’s seminal film Pulp Fiction, when Zed tells Maynard to “Bring out the gimp” he didn’t just let him out of his boxed cage, he unforgettably brought ‘the gimp’ into the mainstream. And he’s been a bit of a superstar ever since. As the image of this head-to-toe leather-clad man with a studded body harness and zipper hood allowing only his eyes to peer through – has been indelibly seared into our collective consciousness.
In fact so stamped in, Tarantino is often cited as having created the term. I think I can attest that this cannot be the case as I remember the term ‘gimp’ being used in BDSM play prior to 1994*. It was an uncommon bondage term like Jennings Gag or Mermaid (leg sack); a Gimp Suit was a full-body restrain harness that hobbled or bound the recipient – hindering movement, which brings us back to the original definition i.e. crippled or handicapped.
As so much of the BDSM scene was underground in the ’70s & ’80s it’s hard to find any written usage of the word gimp. I vaguely remember a client of mine bringing in a copy of Viz, a comic magazine, which must have been in the early ’90s and showing me a character called ‘Colonel Blimp the short-sighted gimp’ who due to his impairment always ended up in some kind of BDSM bondage predicament. It was a parody of Colonel Blink from The Beezer comic (a UK version of Mr Magoo).
*I am, however, prepared to accept my memory maybe incorrect and would be interested to know if anyone has any memories/knowledge/references pre-1994 of the term gimp in BDSM.
The Fall, Rise & Fail of the Gimp
The word gimp was always used pejoratively, but now its meaning has shifted and it is the new insult to belittle and disparage the fetishist. You see the mainstream gimp has far superseded his BDSM and Pulp Fiction origins and now is firmly fixed as a two-dimensional caricature used for grotesque, frightening or comical effect. He still wears his enclosure suit, with a few remnants like buckles or a collar, paying homage to its bondage past, his beady eyes gleaming out at us; but he’s no longer particularly servile or bound to a dungeon, as he’s a solitary creature.
This appropriation either makes him a palatable comic figure or a terrifying possibility, “Hey let’s laugh at the freaky gimp but be careful he’s probably a homicidal maniac!” A convenient media cliché, a stock character easily recognized and easily parodied. Much loved in the horror genre (8MM 1999; The Collection 2012; Cornered! 2009).
You see the gimp represents the mainstream’s own repression of their sexualities – their collective fear of the sexual unknown. The fear that their sexual desires will be ridiculed or that they will release dark impulses. So the gimp can be the receptacle of these projections and then outcast. A representation of otherness – Frankenstein for the modern world. The male counterpart to ‘whore’ to be viewed with contempt and scorned.
I’m rather fond of the notional gimp, he’d make a cute, though alternative cuddly toy but he doesn’t actually exist not even in the fetish world, he never did exist, he was just a bondage term personified by Tarantino, that’s taken on a life of its own. The gimp is not anything I recognize from my many years on the scene I’ve certainly never met one. The fetish scene usually comprises of creative and intelligent individuals who are able to explore and enjoy their sexual desires: sub, domme and everything in between – it’s all those repressed vanilla weirdos you need to worry about 😉
The World According to Gimp
Alas, the Gimp doesn’t actually exist
To lose one gimp may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose all of them looks like carelessness 🙂
5 Notable Gimps
1. Obviously topping our list is the slavish gimp from Pulp Fiction kept as the sex slave of two pawnbrokers in a subterranean dungeon below their innocent looking shop. I need say no more.
2. American Horror Story (Season 1 House) has a shiny, licentious latex man descending from the ceiling, he is frightening, not submissive and known as ‘the rubber man’. He represents anonymous sex and freedom from sexual repression. He’s the perfect personification of our darker impulses. I’m not keen on horror but I’ve loved all the AHS seasons.
3. The Gimp Man of Essex – A legend in his own lifetime! See here for more details.
One man’s shiny mission to address and vindicate the public fears and prejudices about D/s & fetishism.
4. Steve the Gimp is a character on the adult cartoon Mr Pickles [Adult Swim] which is known for its risqué and bizarre storylines, and I’d say rather crude, pubescent humour.
5. The supernatural comedy drama Being Human (Season 3 Ep2) has a coven of Welsh BDSM vampire swingers who keep a gimp as a pet and food source, complete with a row of graves in the back garden of their previous ‘former’ gimps.
I also noticed that in the recent Mad Max reboot – Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) gimps make an appearance as human battering rams, well the life of a gimp is not an easy one.