Twenty-one years old, Ivy-league educated, and rejected from dungeon employment, I did the next best thing to joining the ranks of “Venus” and “Pandora.” I wrote my senior thesis on BDSM–the theory of hurting people. I layered on the postmodern lingo, expounding on Freud and Foucault to justify the chain (both the symbolic fetish and the very real, metal one) I wrapped around my lover’s cock. I read Bataille to understand why I yanked that chain repeatedly, not stopping even while he was thrashing against the leather cuffs and cursing me out. And Masoch’s writing explained the reasons why my lover climaxed so violently and pleasurably in blood and sweat. It also explained why, in tears, my lover thanked me after.
I gained a sense of affirmation and comprehension for my own sado-masochism through the texts of psychosexual philosophy. I also deemed myself edgy, avant-garde, and so very daring with my paper on the theory of pain and power exchange. Through the recent years, however, I’ve met over a dozen, highly-educated dominas who toss around the name “Foucault” as if he were a Au Couture designer. The literature was empowering, but I craved more.
After I graduated (A+ on the senior thesis, of course), I moved to Oakland, CA. Living right outside of San Francisco, the exploded version of New York’s Christopher Street, I found my elementary BDSM school. This was The Shadows, a house of BDSM, where women were hired, trained and taught to conduct sessions. This time when I embarked on the interview, I dressed in a suit with my hair pulled back into a secretarial bun. I carried my resume and a note pad. The Shadows was a huge, three-story mansion that stood on a corner lot, covered by dark, green foliage and ivy, I noted, crawling up the sides of the shutters. I walked up the steps to the porch and thrust my shoulders back. A+ damnit, I thought to myself, I should have brought my transcript.
I was greeted at the door by a long-legged brunette dressed in jeans and a Patti Smith t-shirt, bare foot with perfectly painted, cherry-red toenails. She smiled and led me to the waiting room, an elegant library with ornate couches and dark wood shelves lined with books.
Oh good, books, I thought, I’m in the right place.
The brunette asked me if I wanted any water and told me to have a seat while she fetched the “Master” and “Mistress” of the house. Moments later a tall, lithe woman with a soft smile appeared between the sliding doors, followed by a slightly shorter, but just as handsome, dark-haired man. The couple sat themselves in the chairs to face me and began telling me about their house, how it was run, what they expected. They then took turns asking me questions about my interests in BDSM and the profession of Domination. I began repeating my senior thesis almost verbatim.
After a few minutes into my discourse on the fetish object as a substitute for the female phallus, the man interrupted me kindly and opened another set of sliding doors to reveal a room that took my breath away. My mouth fell open as if I were in looking through closet doors onto Narnia. Paddles, whips and rope (oh my!). I stepped through the portal into the room, where candlelight gleamed off the suspended chains and a leather punishment bench was positioned in the middle. Suddenly, the pretty brunette who greeted me at the door was brought forth by the Lady of the house and instructed to shed her clothes. She kneeled in front of me, her eyes lowered, lips open, breasts rising and falling with excitement. I couldn’t help staring at her plump, pink nipples. “Show us,” the man of the house said, and handed me a thick, long leather strap.
And that is how I began my career as a professional Dominatrix. The Shadows was a magnificent house with four dungeon rooms and a medical playroom. The Mistress and Master of the house resided there with the Master’s slave girl. Besides myself, there were seven other women employed as dominatrices, submissives and switches (those who do both top and bottom roles). I don’t know whether I was hired because they didn’t have another Asian woman on their staff, but I do know that it wasn’t because of Foucault. (I dropped his name once in conversation in the Ladies’ lounge and one girl replied, “Gesundheit!”). The Bay Area’s professional BDSM community reflected the general attitude of Northern California altogether. The women were, for the most part, supportive and sisterly–feminists who reveled in liberal sexuality, not a clan of catty super models.
Starting as a baby-Dom in that safe, family-like environment was the best educational experience I could have sought out. I learned about negotiations: talking with the submissive prior to the session to determine expectations, limits and health concerns. I learned how to screen calls and detect wankers who were just looking for a free phone session. Hint: when they ask if you are wearing your leather boots at that moment, just hang up. I learned how to inflict pain and yet not cause permanent damage: stay away from impact on the spine; avoid the kidneys; make sure the submissive can breathe while gagged. Some time later, I paid for an apprenticeship with some world-distinguished experts to learn intricate skills such as piercing and rope bondage. I became a member of Janus, the leather community organization that held classes and play parties. (It’s truly not a cult, but I will say that some of the meetings do resemble the comic book conventions I used to attend as a geeky, high school chick.)
There is no question that BDSM is very much a part of me and my lifestyle, the way dance is to a professional dancer. The professional side of BDSM offered me numerous partners to dance with and a wide variety of fetishes and dark desires for me to explore and lead them through. The enjoyment of and desire to play with multiple submissives is not necessarily the same as being sexually promiscuous. In professional sessions, there is no overt, sexual contact–at least by the conventional definition of sex. The dance is highly erotic, but it is still a dance; it is sexy, but it is not sex.
The profession of BDSM has also offered me an excellent lifestyle of travel and commerce. With a suitcase of select equipment and fetish wear, I am able to move at my discretion around the world and find sincere clientele in all the major cities. London is still known for formal etiquette and preference for the cane. Germany and Japan are both known for their extreme humiliation scenes. It still amazes me that BDSM is expressed in all cultures. Every culture has a different variation of style. But the intertwining of pain, pleasure and sexual power is universal.
Professional dominatrices charge anywhere from $150-$400 per session hour. Those who work in houses usually charge less and must pay the house a substantial cut for the use of the dungeon, advertising and receptionist. Independent dominas charge more depending on their level of experience and popularity. While I do not charge the highest fee (it is actually called a “tribute” in the industry to disguise the monetary aspect with gratitude), I do demand a two-hour minimum and a commitment to a lasting and meaningful relationship.
There are professional dominatrices who claim (or are claimed) to be in the industry for the money. I am very suspicious of this alibi. For one, ours is not an easy profession in which to make a sufficient living. Strippers and escorts make more with less effort and in my estimation are not quite as condemned. I have a serious concern for the women who enter this industry without consideration for the physical and mental responsibility they have over themselves and their clients.
I am a sadist. When I strike the cane to flesh and watch the red welt appear, a thrilling pulse shoots up my arm and down my spine to my crotch and I let out a murmur of pleasure. I get wet. If the person who is striking the cane does not feel this, the action can have damaging effects on their own moral fiber. They are doing something that they don’t feel good about and that society reviles. Therein lies the real danger of self destruction and detachment in the BDSM industry. I sometimes wonder if that is the reason why houses are known to be fraught with drug and alcohol usage. SSC is another rule I learned in the San Francisco leather scene: Safe, Sane and Consensual.
But what I found in the leather scene was more than the rules and proficient practices of this extreme exploration. I found a way of connecting to myself and to others in deeply moving, intensely focused, spiritual ways. After my first year of professionally whipping, spanking and binding others, I picked up the phone and made an appointment as a client to see my very first Dominatrix: Madame C.
Up next: I visit my first Dominatrix and open another door in the magical world of BDSM. Learning the practices of ritual, reclamation and flesh hooks, I look deeper into the roots of my personal need for pain–and disagree with Freud.