Friday, March 2nd, 2007
I spent the Chinese New Year with my family, arriving two days ahead at my mother’s home with bags of oranges and orchids for good fortune. During the celebratory feast, we ate the traditional, whole fish symbolizing togetherness (my mother and I split the glutinous head); rice noodles that represent longevity; and Peking style duck devoid of meaning, but just damn delicious.
Dinner conversation was easy and joyous. We talked about the movies we had seen (loved The History Boys) and books we were reading. I didn’t mention The Pleasure’s All Mine, a memoir I had just finished by Joan Kelly, a professional submissive I knew from the BDSM industry. Instead, I talked about the boxing book by Joyce Carol Oates that I’ve been intrigued with as of late. (Interesting how ritualized violence as sport is so much more accepted than ritualized violence as sex).
My family knows a little about my lifestyle. I see my brother and mother often and try to not flat-out lie about what is going on in my life. However, there is much left unsaid. I have friends in the profession who are completely out to their families. I envy that; but I still struggle with the idea of exposing my mother to something that could scare and/or hurt her. I had tried to discuss BDSM with her years ago. I wanted to explain how I had shifted from being extremely self-destructive and abusive to leading an obviously saner and happier life. I told her that I had connected others who felt the same need for pain by ritualizing the actions. I am not sure what she took away from that conversation, but she concluded with, “As long as you’re not hurting yourself anymore” and urged me to eat more scallion dumplings.
I don’t know what the family knows or doesn’t know about my profession. They are all highly educated, intelligent individuals who admit to using Google to dig dirt on their colleagues. The “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy is employed. But silence does not necessarily create distance in this case. When my mother hands me the huong-bau, the Chinese holiday gift, and says, “I love you,” I know she means all of me, even the Domina she doesn’t know. We ended the Chinese New Year eve by playing Ma-Jong, shifting stones between us in a circle, conjuring the four elements and the four dragon spirits with laughter and game.
It is Sunday evening and I am on the 6 o’clock train from mall-town, New Jersey heading back to Manhattan. When I get to Penn Station, I will take the subway to my BDSM studio instead of returning to my apartment. There I will find a man padlocked in my cage, wearing a leather head harness with blindfold and mouth-piece buckled into place. His ankles are locked and chained to the bars, his wrists in heavy, German-made hand-cuffs. The hard surface of the cage and the steel bars are cool against his skin. Cold and solid. Even as I write this diary, I excite (and reassure) myself by reaching into my purse every so often to finger the keys. Just touching them is like pushing directly against my clit for a moment. Though I am not with him yet, I am completely aware of my lover. I cannot wait to fuck him.
In my studio there is an altar with Quan Yin, the Boddhivista of Mercy, holding sanctuary. Flowers, oranges, and chocolates are offered in small dishes with candles. My knife, blood still on the blade, is wrapped in a red, silk scarf and placed in a mother-of-pearl bowl. The blood on the knife will be washed away on the fifteenth day, the full moon, of the Chinese New Year.
Since childhood, I have been surrounded and familiar with the powers of ritual and the rituals of power. When I began training as a Dominatrix, I felt a great surge in my ability to express and contain the combination of physical, mental, and spiritual energies. There was more I wanted from the work than the erotic and the taboo. I wanted to cause pain, not only to have it be felt, but to transcend it. I wanted to peel back the scars to let healing begin and transformation progress. And I knew that to be a guide to such intensity, I first had to peel my own skin back.
After seven months of learning the ropes at the Shadows, I graduated my sorority house of BDSM by “going independent.” I now controlled my own business. I purchased a cell phone and set up a web site. I focused my skills of attention to detail and disciplined learning on screening clients, stacking appointments, and meeting each individual with gusto and integrity. The other perks to being independent were the avoidance of moody catfights when the alpha-ladies were all co-menstrual and lashing verbal whips. There were also no more wasted days of waiting around for a session and going home at the end in the negative. However, I did miss the camaraderie. Many of those slow days were spent bonding with the women through serious discussions; trying out various dungeon implements on one another; and then breaking out into giddy, latex-lube wrestling. (I think it’s a universal, house-Dom experience that all the kinkiest moments happen without clients. Sorry fellas, you just can’t Mastercard girl fun).
Claiming independence gave me an even greater sense of pride in my work. I truly felt that I understood each person who came to me. Why they needed to kneel and why they craved to be hurt. I had a trunk full of handwritten journals that dated back to eighth grade, all expressing hurt, anger, and a deep, deep relationship to pain. Throughout my childhood, I was in the midst of a turbulent family. Pain translated to attention, to intimacy, and to love. I did not wish to stagnate on regressive pain and loathed the idea of reenacting memories of abuse. I craved pain as a celebration of what my body could feel, not as punishment. I contacted Madame Cleo DuBois and made an appointment to be beaten.
Madame Cleo Dubois is a professional Dominatrix and founder of the Academy of the S&M Arts. She and her partner, Fakir Musafar, are icons in the worldwide leather community. Their lives and work have shaped a tangent BDSM lifestyle that connects with spirituality in reference to Eastern and American Indian practices of rites of passage. That is how one sunny afternoon, I found myself with flesh hooks (basically the same three-inch, 8 gauge, fishing hooks that are used to catch sharks), pierced through my chest and along my shoulder blades, tied and pulled from a tree. I was delirious, sweating lava and communing with the passion, the pain, and the aliveness of my own blood. With a thin, silver spear shoved through one cheek and exiting out the other, I really couldn’t say much to anyone else besides the spirits. Madame Cleo walked around me in her twinkling, purple skirt, ringing Buddhist chimes on her fingers, and carrying a pot of burning sage. She was guardian to the sacred circle as I wrestled with my angels and demons. The skin on my back burned from the whips that she had welted me with earlier. My nipples still ached from the clamps and weights that had tested my endurance. But the flesh hooks now dug in deep below the fascia and pulled a searing energy out of the openings they made. They tapped into hidden fear and anger and confusion and made one thing clear. I was alive. Powerfully and beautifully alive.
I found affirmation to my pain and to my acceptance and guidance of others’ pain that was and is resolute. I confronted all the years of shame and depression that pain had led me through: the nights of violent and dangerous sex; the self-inflicted abuse of blades, drugs, demonic characters; and the terrified child who didn’t know how to stop the pain, couldn’t stop it, and was victim to it. I faced all those things and embraced them as my past. That same pain would serve as knowledge. I understood my need for pain, where it came from, and I chose to take my experience to help others.
Now, the paradox. The crazed fury of pain was fantastic, but it was not the answer to my journey. The answer was “Mercy.” I was screaming in agony as the single tail lashed my back with red. My feet planted on the floor, I breathed in and gathered strength. The whipping was relentless. Madame Cleo is a sadist, like myself, and would not stop for the sake of my scream, not for the sake of the tears pouring down my cheeks and into my open mouth. But when I broke, “Mercy, please Madame.” She stopped. She stopped the whip. I had stopped her. And all the care of humanity was in that cease of pain.
I tell people now when they come to me, “You must say Mercy for both our sakes. I am a sadist and will keep pushing the pain beyond your limit. When you say Mercy, you learn to accept yourself. I give you mercy and I give mercy to myself. The cease proves to me that I am not your abuser, I am your guide.”
The train pulls into Penn Station where greenish, florescent lights blare over head. Passengers button their coats and pick up their bags, readying for the cold, winter city streets. I’ll walk through the hub of grimy corridors, transfer to the #1 subway train, and tunnel down to my studio, where it’s safe and warm inside. And he is waiting.
Up Next: The dominatrix kidnaps her slave for 24 hours.