Several months ago, I attended a fundraising event held by a dominatrix dungeon here in New York. The purpose was to raise money for an injured dominatrix without health insurance; the entrance fee bought the privilege of playing with a dominatrix (or several at once), along with a chance to mingle with a crowd from the BDSM community.
Like any curious corset-owning girl fond of Catwoman comic books, I checked it out.
Upon arrival, I wondered what a social event full of self-styled BDSM “lifestylers” would be like. Since I’m familiar with San Francisco’s Exotic Erotic ball and count a fetish photographer as an acquaintance, I knew the presence of latex, leather, and unforgettable characters was guaranteed. What truly stoked my curiosity was the chance to hang out with an unapologetic, unconventional sexual subculture, one routinely defined by mainstream America as deviant, weird, and taboo.
As the first handful of people trickled in, a dominatrix instantly personified my colorful expectation: Indica. Clad in a black latex corset that created an exaggerated hourglass figure and knee-high platform boots with steel tips, Indica towered over every single man and woman in the room. But even if she was outfitted in ordinary street clothes, Indica’s pale white skin and electric blue hair guaranteed a double take. Nor would anyone forget her soft-spoken request to be called “Domina” instead of mere “Mistress.”
Examining her latex corset, I said it looked great. With an excited giggle, Indica thanked me, then explained her corset had cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $500. Though the price was an astounding figure, I still marveled at the corset’s construction and smooth feel. However, Indica fretted over its dull appearance like a girl at the prom. She whipped out a small tube of lube and asked, “Can you help shine me?”
Of course, I obliged.
Moments later, a guy with the stoned, teenage look of a concert-going leftover approached Indica, and requested a small foot fetish session. My new acquaintance promptly stopped discussing fashion with me and personified the severity her appearance conveyed. Referring to him as “slave”, she commanded him to lie on the floor and take off her boot. Indica then pressed a perfectly pedicured blue toe on his cheek, circled her foot down to his arm, and stepped on him. Hard. When he yelped, she told him he didn’t have permission to do so.
“Yes, Mistress,” said the slave.
“Yes, Domina,” said Indica.
After watching Indica's slave comply to her every command, I then met a man with the kind demeanor of Andre the Giant, one who uttered the following magic words: "Would you like a foot massage?"
Promptly accepting, I listened as he explained that his favorite part of a woman’s body was her foot, but stopped paying complete attention as he pampered my feet with reverence and skill. As he rubbed each foot with perfect pressure, he surprised me when he said they were incredibly beautiful — from the shape of my toes to the shade of red they wore. Though I've known of foot fetishists for quite some time, he was the first I've ever met who seemed genuinely sincere instead of pornographically fiending for a kinky bump. For fifteen minutes, I was in langorous heaven from a kind sense of touch.
When I came back down to Earth, I thanked him for the unexpected gesture—and noticed a small, stuffed toy seal in his lap.
“Oh, that’s Sebastian the Seal,” said Foot Massage God.
“Okay,” I said.
“He comes with me everywhere. Do you mind if I take a picture of you with him?”
Somewhere on Myspace, my feet are choking Sebastian.
Close to a couple hours later, I was bored. Barely twenty people had shown up instead of the anticipated seventy or eighty; the gathering had the droopy feel of a wilted children’s party instead of a hip goth ball. But before I could make a diplomatic exit, my inner flirt decided to gamble—with a guy who had been watching me throughout the evening.
He was white, six-foot-two, and looked like he was in his mid-forties. Wearing slacks, a khaki trench coat, and a pair of black Prada glasses, he resembled an older model from GQ’s pages. The guy smiled, shook my hand—and introduced himself as Morpheus.
“Morpheus?” I squeaked, picturing Laurence Fishburne.
Not noticing my sense of plummeting stock, Morpheus nodded. He then proceeded to ask me how long I’ve been in the BDSM lifestyle. With the feeling of being unprepared for a job interview, I said that I had only just started exploring the lifestyle, and enjoyed what I saw so far.
“I totally understand,” Morpheus said. “I’ve totally given up vanilla dating.”
Vanilla dating. Right. Knew that.
Morpheus then told me he had been in the BDSM community for the last twelve years. Vanilla dating had never worked out for him. People didn’t talk enough. People didn’t tune into their sexuality honestly. Nor did they bother communicating what they really wanted.
“But heck, that’s vanilla dating for you.”
Vanilla dating. Right. Did BDSM dating require owning a whip as a prerequisite?
I never had the chance to ask Morpheus the question, for we knew we were a mutual mismatch. I probably reeked too much of BDSM newbie in his book; he’s got a name only Laurence Fishburne can pull off with any sense of cool. But as I walked away from our conversation, I couldn’t stop thinking, “They call us vanilla?”
They call us freaks?
Maybe I’m annoyed at the label because the very mention of the word makes me think of bad rap. Plus, I routinely eschew vanilla ice cream for other flavors. Perhaps I’m just reacting too personally at a word that wasn’t directed at me. But as someone who hasn’t totally embraced a BDSM lifestyle and lives creatively under mainstream culture, I resent it being so quickly and negatively written off. Spanking and foot play in sex doesn’t bother me, but a closed mind always does. Perhaps that's where the adjective originates, but I still don't agree.
Though the party turned out to be a bust, I liked mingling with the good, the bad, and the corseted. The BDSM community is not only titillating down to every little leather detail, but unexpectedly responsible in emphasizing informed consent and encouraging explicit discussion while playing with floggers and paddles. I didn't expect to notice more than a $500 latex corset, and definitely couldn't have predicted seeing a stuffed toy. Heck, I didn't think I'd walk away more than entertained, or to be clocked as an outsider dipping a toe in a kinky kiddie pool. But regardless of vanilla label or bondage baby write-off, I certainly agree with exercising sexuality as creative play, and doing so safely. I love the prospect of exploring desires in a healthy manner, and learning that what I think is taboo might simply be an easy practice.
However, until Laurence Fishburne asks me out, I'll never date a guy named Morpheus.
An expert in coloring outside the lines while reading between them, Alex B has a head for business, bod for sin, and weakness for ice cream during all seasons. Apart from watching Bravo marathons and enjoying haute bites here and there, she writes about TV, pop culture, and coloring outside even more lines. She sneaks Tweets via @lexistential.
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IF YOU LIKED THIS COLUMN...
4.25.07 @ 12:13a
I am a walking, talking, unapologic, unconventional sexual sub-culture of my own.
And you can spank me anytime. But only if you'll still respect me in the morning.
4.25.07 @ 12:17a
You're supposed to respect her, I think.
Still, I defy you to make a hot fudge sundae with any flavor other than vanilla and have it taste quite as good. It's the contrasts, you know.
Alex, you have a great talent for bringing us into your eyes.
4.25.07 @ 2:24a
Oh Dan! Take your pick with how you'd like your heinie spanked: paddled, flogged, whipped, or caned. (And for more entertainment value, throw in a role-play fantasy or two.)
Thanks Russ! Heh, respect is there all right- the holy shit, she whupped my ass kind. Especially when they have sore heinies in the morning, and don't regret it. At all.
For a proper hot fudge sundae, there is no getting around that vanilla is the first, very necessary ingredient. I don't think a sundae is one without it. BDSM is an entirely different dessert revolving around nuts, whipped cream and cherries. Though sampling it is generally interesting, a vanilla hot fudge sundae is always the place to start.
4.25.07 @ 4:31a
If I ever get the chance to get to the city again we'll have to hook up and I'll take you to some of the more fun places.
I know what it's like to be a first timer. My first orgy was a similar experience. Not what I expected. Sort of fun, I learned a few lessons and was ready for my second time around.
After having played in several of fields of kink I would like a vanilla relationship. May be one with a few kink sprinkles tossed in for flavor.
4.25.07 @ 10:06a
I like to think of myself as vanilla with multi-colored sprinkles, thank you very much.
4.25.07 @ 12:39p
Hiya Robert! We'll have to go get a drink. I'm definitely up for checking out an interesting place, but hopefully it isn't a a BDSM social that works out like this one did. I'm also up for having a vanilla relationship with fun kink sprinkles- it's great to enhance vanilla with 'em.
At heart, I'm actually quite sure that everyone- even the leather and latex kiddies- needs vanilla. You can get as creative and kinky all you want, but without the vanilla- the basic skills of interacting and caring for each other- it's just novelty.
Heh, Tracey, though some smartie-pants might call me a Twinkie or butterscotch, I like to think I'm vanilla- with some chocolate chip cookie dough, and a little raspberry sauce swizzled on the plate.
4.26.07 @ 3:44a
I think you hit on something in this column about the BDSM or really any fetish community when you realized you and Morpheus were a mismatch.
In every type of relationship there is a lot of work, but when there is such an emphasis placed on the fetish that makes things even harder. I think that's why so many people either forego their full pleasure or cheat because you can't find someone who will meet your every desire. It's easier to just settle for that almost perfect rather than go for the impossible perfection.
4.26.07 @ 4:52a
Robert, I absolutely agree with your point that emphasizing BDSM/fetish will make things harder in a relationship, and I also think it guarantees its failure. By emphasizing fetish as a relationship root, it places a very subjective focus on whether you're "with it" or "in the club" instead of intimately capable (empathic, honest, good at communicating). Someone may as well qualify me as suitable for a relationship just because of pot smoking or cult membership. Quite frankly, I'd like someone to just dig me for me, and I'd rather that come from having been a good friend, and not because I've got a neat little alias going on.
That said, I also understand Morpheus's points about vanilla dating. A lot of folk don't talk about their desires, tune into them deeply, or consider what they like having done terrible or awful. Relationships fall apart for just about every reason these days, but an open mind is one of the things that'll keep it together.
As with many organized communities, BDSM folk seem to be made up of people who are there to celebrate sexual freedom, or look at it as a solution for (or from) some sort of disappointment. I've met a couple of BDSM lifestylers with loving relationships, and am surprised to see it. But some folks seem to be there just so they can say they have a sense of power or control. I think it's the latter that get a little fascist in the corset and end up emphasizing BDSM and fetish instead of intimacy skills, and are a still a little lost as a result.
4.26.07 @ 10:08a
But that's going to be true whenever you try and hang a relationship on just one thing. It's a bit of an oversimplification, I suppose, to consider it in this way, but to some extent BDSM (or squaredancing, or *cough*ren-fairing*cough* or whatever kink you care to substitute) is a hobby; it's something you get some enjoyment in, you can find other people who are also into it... but really, if that's all you have in common, is it enough to base a meaningful relationship around? Nope.
You're always going to be better off with a relationship that's anchored on more substantial interactions -- to say nothing of emotions -- than one or two shared interests. That's great for friendships, but not so much for loving partnerships.
Of course, when the peccadillo is sexual in nature, it's not quite as easy to tell your partner/spouse, "Okay, honey, I'm off to my monthly Leather Bears Club meeting" as it is "I'm off to my local Starfleet Chapter meeting." Your SO might (let me stress MIGHT) not mind when you strap on a phaser and some Spock ears with a group of likeminded strangers; they might mind when you strap on... well, a strap-on, and go off to get your itch scratched.
4.26.07 @ 10:56a
I agree that BDSM is a hobby- an unorthodox practice to play with now and again for thrills and kicks. But unlike square-dancing, BDSM carries the thrill of confronting the forbidden. A ton of people flock to it for the prospect of spanking ass as Mistress Nightshade, or calling yourself Morpheus and thinking, "damn the mainstream."
I actually do know a married 40-something dominatrix/porn star who actually does say, "Oh honey, I'm making a movie this month. It's Laci Goes Black," or "I'm off to the bondage seminar." But if she didn't have intimacy skills- trust, respect, empathy, honesty, etc- she wouldn't be able to say that. That's where it starts.
That's beyond awesome. Ren Faire couples disturb me the way super-Christian ones do. Olde English minstrel boyfriends in pincushion pants with fluffy faerie girlfriends are much more frightening than latex!
4.26.07 @ 8:30p
I don't know if I agree that BDSM fits entirely into a hobby category. There are aspects of it that are hobby-ish. However, BDSM connects on some levels to sexual satisfaction, and that takes it beyond hobby. It is really a lifestyle. Just like people who have to listen to political speeches while having sex in order to achieve orgasm. If something about a hobby is that directly connected to gratification then it goes to a whole new level.
Of course for a healthy sex life one would hope that being tied to a cross or over a sawhorse, or wearing fishnets and a corset aren't required for every orgasm. Although part of the dress up is like foreplay. The excitement of slipping on the leather, or latex, or whatever, the pre-show prep is almost as exciting as the actual event.
I haven't been to an event in a long time due to circumstances beyond my control, but there is an air of freedom that I think can occur at any group event where people of common interests gather, be it BDSM, Ren Faire, or NASCAR.
I have a friend, actually he had joined this site a while back, Erik Schriber, who is a photographer and he has done a couple photo shoots at BDSM parties and at something called Wicked Ren Faire, a kind of BDSM Ren Faire.
And watch out Juli will smack you with a mackerel if you knock the Rennies.
4.27.07 @ 5:18a
Though I agree that BDSM isn't a hobby one picks up for stress relief right off the bat and that sexuality makes it very personal, people can practice BDSM as either a lifestyle or as an occasional hobby. I preferred making my own choice with as much info as possible. The fantasy role is a lot of fun, but some of the ultra-hardcore practices (such as sounds and piercings) are waaaay outside my needs and desires. I'm not a hardcore lifestyler, most likely never will be, but I like BDSM's creativity.
People don't have to be into BDSM for a healthy sex life, but I think they could apply a couple BDSM principles for one- emphasizing sexuality as "play" for the sake of trying something new, and encouraging explicit discussion.
Where sex lives veer outside of normal and into some warped territory is if someone can't enjoy sex without a specific circumstance- tied to a cross, etc. But some people have unhealthy sex lives without BDSM as a factor- we've got porn addicts, sex addicts, pedophiles, and fetishists who require lovers to be a certain age/race. Checking out new things with a partner's informed consent doesn't make one a sexual liability; it happens when a kick turns into a secret little habit, and in turn changes one's sexual practice and affects a partner negatively.
And okay, I won't entirely knock the Rennies. I will, however, mention that the person who motivated my comment is a little organic vegan Jewish girl who had an abnormal obsession with pink and would pipe around in a high voice saying she was a faerie. (You wonder why I like latex better...)