The Society of Janus is the second BDSM organization founded in the United States (after The Eulenspiegel Society); it was founded in 1974 by Cynthia Slater and Larry Olsen. It is a San Francisco, California based BDSM education and support group. It publishes a bimonthly newsletter called Growing Pains.
According to the Leather Hall of Fame biography of Cynthia Slater, she said of the name of the Society of Janus:
“There were three basic reasons why we chose Janus. First of all, Janus has two faces, which we interpreted as the duality of SM (one’s dominant and submissive sides). Second, he’s the Roman god of portals, and more importantly, of beginnings and endings. To us, it represents the beginning of one’s acceptance of self, the beginning of freedom from guilt, and the eventual ending of self-loathing and fear over one’s SM desires. And third, Janus is the Roman god of war—the war we fight against stereotypes commonly held against us.”
Guy Baldwin was the first openly gay man to be part of the Society of Janus, and taught classes for them. Soon after Baldwin’s arrival in San Francisco in 1972, he spotted a tiny classified ad in the back pages of The Berkeley Barb, the infamous underground newspaper, and decided to attend the advertised meeting for “fans of S and M and B and D.” As it turned out, Slater was hosting a monthly “rap meeting” in her living room which was (at the time) the meeting of the Society of Janus. Baldwin and Slater became fast friends, and he was soon teaching classes for the Society of Janus.
Slater was an early proponent of S/M safety, and hosted Society of Janus safety demonstrations during the late 1970s.
A group called Cardea, a women’s discussion group within the Society of Janus, existed from 1977 to 1978 before discontinuing. A core of lesbian members of Cardea, including Gayle Rubin, Pat Califia (who identified as a lesbian at the time), and sixteen others, were inspired to start Samois on June 13, 1978, as an exclusively lesbian BDSM group. Samois was a lesbian-feminist BDSM organization based in San Francisco that existed from 1978 to 1983, and was the first lesbian BDSM group in the United States.
The Society of Janus was one of the founding coalition partners of the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom, which was founded in 1997.
In 2004, the Society of Janus’s Hall of Fame was established. Some of its inductees are: Guy Baldwin, Patrick Califia (formerly also known as Pat Califia and by the last name Califia-Rice), Janet Hardy, Viola Johnson, Midori, Fakir Musafar, Gayle Rubin, Cynthia Slater, Jim Ward, Mollena Williams-Haas, and Jay Wiseman.
In 2014, the Society of Janus held their 40th Anniversary Dinner, Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony & Play Party, which was awarded “Best Organization Anniversary Event” at The SF Leather Community Awards for that year.
In 2017, the art installation known as the San Francisco South of Market Leather History Alley was installed; in it Society of Janus cofounder Cynthia Slater is honored with a metal bootprint displaying her name and a short statement about her.
In 2018, the Society of Janus was inducted into the Leather Hall of Fame.