BDSM is in the headlines of late thanks to E.L. James' Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy, an out-of-nowhere hit book. Book One is No. 1 on Amazon's top-sellers as of last Friday, with Books Two and Three holding the No. 6 spot and the No. 7 spot, respectively. The New York Times has covered the phenomenon with a Page 1 story and columnist Maureen Dowd's take on the front of the Sunday Review. The story of a college student swept off her feet and into submission by a billionaire entrepreneur has been widely panned as literature, but credited with touching some sort of cultural nerve. It's the most mainstream attention that whips and handcuffs have gotten since Mickey Rourke and Kim Basinger played Who's the Boss? in the film 9 1/2 Weeks back in the 1980s. With the film rights to the Fifty Shades series sold off for a reported $5 million, there's big money behind the idea that this pop culture phenomenon hasn't run its course. And where both Fifty Shades — and 9 1/2 Weeks before it — featured women as subs, maybe someday there'll be a hit with a lady dom. Meanwhile, as Travis R. Wright, MT's arts and culture editor found out spending time with one dominatrix and one of her slaves, things can get far darker than what's been described as the "mommy porn" of Fifty Shades. Our dungeon reality check isn't for the faint of heart.
—W. Kim Heron, editor
At a quarter to 9 on a Wednesday night, the dominatrix Castratta Lady of Pain is at home, a couple blocks north of Detroit, awaiting one of her slaves. Snake is a guy in his mid-40s known in Detroit S&M circles as not only willing to receive fistings but unthinkably fond of them. Footings too.
The first time Pain indulged him in the latter, her foot got stuck. Involuntary muscle contractions. No matter how much he'd mentally yearned for this, his body balked. And so it stayed there, her foot, for 25 minutes as they concocted stories for the emergency room staff. They weren't even sure how they'd manage getting into the ambulance. But a trip to the ER was averted with ample time and abundant lube.
Married with kids (she knows, they don't), Snake runs a small family business. On this night, he's running late. Perhaps on purpose, surmises Pain. Checking her cell phone for a possible missed call or text, and the time, she says, "He must really want it rough tonight."
The Lady of Pain maintains a rotating cast of submissives or subs: clients, apprentices and slaves — men and women — each with a unique set of fetishes, limits and personal baggage. Mostly black leather baggage, but sometimes latex.
Clients pay for play time, and when there's money on the table, genital contact — let alone penetration — is verboten. But there are no such boundaries for ever-submissive "slaves" and for "apprentices" who aspire to become doms like Pain herself.
Clients, slaves and apprentices all dutifully follow orders to clean her house, to wash and massage her feet, to fetch her mail and submit to floggings, canings, croppings and whippings. They often dress in fetish formal: black leather masks or collars and leashes, often while restrained and contorted with ropes or cuffs and chains. (The sight of a topless, handcuffed submissive with a ball-gag stuffed in his mouth recently prompted an inquisitive visit from local police.)
Pain said that men in positions of power tend to hire her services: lawyers, doctors, judges, politicians, CEOs — men who want to relinquish control, to become nothing. If they achieve nothingness, even for an hour or two, they feel freed from the great weight of the responsibilities attendant upon their professional and public lives.
With such a high-profile clientele, it's a potentially lucrative business. "I get paid more per hour than my attorney does," Pain says.
Apprentices, she says, are drawn into the lifestyle by the bankroll more so than the bondage. She was. Not that she doesn't say her work is fulfilling. There are both physical (tying knots, where and how to use a flogger) and theatrical (what words and roles work best with specific types of submissives) techniques that must be acquired to successfully administer professional domination.
As for Pain's slaves, some are students and others are successful business people and political types. This relationship hinges on hitting it off with Pain, and sometimes their ability to perform live at fetish events and erotic art shows like the Dirty Show.
Beyond the ultimate shedding of responsibilities, there's something else that the submissives seek, Pain explains. They're after a sensation referred to as subspace, also known as headspace, floating or flying.
Subspace is thought to be caused by the release of adrenaline, endorphins and enkephalins (chemicals that block pain receptors). Whatever the biochemistry, it's what keeps some submissives coming back for more.
When Lady of Pain receives the text she's been waiting for, her patience has worn a bit thin, as it's nearing 9:30 p.m.
"Some submissives want you to be mean — yet seductive," Pain says, finishing her sentence with the reverb of a phone-sex operator. "Either that or — drill sergeant." This time her voice carries palpable cruelty. "It's all psychodrama; I have to be a chameleon. Tonight I'm going to be mean, but fun. It's been a long week and it's only Wednesday."
Pain is a daunting chameleon.
Around 6 feet tall, her posture is vertically intense, as if rebar has been surgically grafted to her spine. With ponderous breasts swelling over the top of a magenta corset, her carriage is arresting and commanding. Her leather and metal studded biker cap hides a dirty blond head of hair. Leather boots rise to her knees, housing well-manicured size 10 feet, sweating in soft, wool socks. She's 36 but could pass for 30 as easily she could 42; a chameleon in form and function. Whatever you need her to be.
S&M can be as hokey as it can be, well, pokey. The fetish shop Noir Leather puts on Hellbound parties, for instance, that are more about theatrics and fashion than orgies out of Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut. But that's not to say you won't find plenty of flesh being paddled. Events like those provide an opportunity for gawkers to test the waters. And Castratta Lady of Pain is a frequent performer. In more private settings, she's a more extreme and imaginative dominatrix. Public performance versus private is, for slaves and apprentices, the difference between acting and action.
You might wonder what's in it for Castratta if slaves like Snake don't pay for sessions. The time doms and subs spend together can be viewed as an ongoing project of depraved self-betterment. "Slaves want shock and awe. That's just what Snake wants. But they want therapy too," Pain says.
And later in the evening, as Pain's latex-wrapped fist disappears inside of him, Snake will say as much. It's no secret some submissives are trying to work through violent histories.
"Growing up, I witnessed some serious abuse," he says, before going silent, with Lady Pain narrating like a tour guide: "There he goes. His eyes basically roll back into his head like he's on something — subspace."
But that's getting ahead of ourselves.
Still waiting for Snake, Pain explains that she recently had to dismiss one of her slaves, a Chaldean woman in her mid-20s who, Pain says, "Could take a beating better than most men I know, could take a two-by-four-to-her-back beating."
They'd met with each other for over a year and had gotten to a place very close to complete trust. "My slaves follow every single step that I lay out for them or else there's a consequence," says Pain. "Even for something like washing a plate, I'll write down a 20-step process for the plate to be cleaned the way I want it to be cleaned. She started fucking up on purpose to get a beating. And when we'd go to the dungeon, which is what she wanted in the first place, she'd shift her ass around to fight against the paddle, which she knew would result in a harder punishment. This is what you call a submissive smartass," Pain says. "I'd had enough of that shit. I'm not just going to have you walk in the door and beat you till you leave, that's not how this works."
Pain doesn't take shit — figuratively or literally.
For instance, there's no infantilism in her dungeon; she has no use for submissives who want to suck on bottles and wear (and use) diapers. "That's just a little too creepy for me," Pain says. "Too weirdly regressive. And no poop."
With that, Pain slips a Virginia Slims cigarette into a practiced pout.
She then admits that she's not opposed in principle to urinating on someone (a "golden shower"), but "this shy bladder of mine holds me back. Probably my only shy characteristic, really."
Snake is downstairs waiting to be let in. Pain knows it. She doesn't move.
"That little fucker's going to get what's coming to him," she says with a grin.
Instead of answering the door, she ruminates on popular fetishes: foot worship, medical play, electrostimulation and edgeplay, the last of which might include bloodletting or simulated rape.
"No matter what you're doing, you gotta now what you're doing — the physiology of it," Pain says. "When I was just starting out, I'm pretty sure I broke a dick. I hit a guy's dick and he came back to me a few days later telling me he couldn't get it hard. I told him to go to a fucking doctor! What'd he think I was going to do? You make mistakes. You learn," she says.
And with that, she fetches her slave from the front door and orders him to her upstairs dungeon.
Drowned in red light, the dungeon is adorned with multiples of everything you'd find at a respectable fetish shop. A shelving unit holds glass and rubber dildos, plugs, candles, condoms, lube, lotion and latex gloves. Floggers, whips, chains, cuffs, paddles, riding crops and bites are on all on display and at the ready. A plush, throne-like chair sits across from a contraption dubbed the Motor City Spanking Bench. "Because of all the seatbelt straps," Pain says. A couple Viking swords are propped in another corner of the room "just in case some fucker tries to pull some shit."
"Take your fucking clothes off," she demands.
Promptly, Snake does just that, revealing a Prince Albert piercing: a chrome barbell jutting from the tip of his penis. "I just adore chrome," he tells Pain, and smiles, looking at her and fluffing himself.
A black leather ball-stretcher cuffs Snake's scrotum, choking it taut to the point of discoloration.
With the backside of her hand, she slaps it. "Did I say you could touch yourself?" she asks, rhetorically. His smile gives way to a grimace. He didn't see it coming. Even for those who love it, pain is pain.
Snake is strapped and ratcheted into the Motor City Spanking Bench, immobile on his hands and knees, as the Lady of Pain touches his bare skin with an electro-stimulation device, which glows light blue as it gives off its bright white spark upon contact. Talking down to him and telling him what he has in store that evening, she sends small electrocutions to his backside flesh, sending pulses to his most sensitive parts.
The shocks give out because the device hasn't charged long enough. A frustrated Castratta Lady of Pain runs her hands across a bevy of paddles, setting two on Snake's back, and commences with thwacking his bare ass with a third.
"You're already sweating?" she says with a laugh. "We're just getting warmed up."
Wallops continue with emergent force.
She picks up a second paddle (hard black rubber on one side and what looks to be hundreds of thin metal nails on the other) and finally a third, for 100 counted strikes. On 101, she hesitates briefly and administers a carefully placed punch to his testicles.
He lunges forward the best he can with a muted moan, and wonders once more if a puke bucket should be fetched.
The aromas of candles, lube, cigarette smoke, perfume and nether-region sweat permeate the room.
The dominatrix goes back to her arsenal and retrieves a blackjack, a lead weight wrapped in leather. She proceeds to use one hand to spread his cheeks while the other clubs his rectum.
There are some things you can't unsee.
And more follow.
"Slap your dick as hard as you can!" Pain orders. Complying, Snake winces with pain, amazing even himself.
Snake then contentedly and carefully preps himself for Pain's appendages.
While his dominatrix sets condoms, lube and surgical scissors (to cut packets of lube) on a small white towel, Snake splays a purple velvet blanket on the floor and then lies on it on his back. He tucks his knees to the top of his torso and holds his ankles as high in the air as he can manage. The bottoms of his feet go red pink from a quick caning.
She squats on his face, temporarily making it hard for him to breathe, as she circles white rope around his wrists and knees, cinching lines together in a series of expert knots.
Then comes the lube-doused chrome butt-plug.
After that, with a lubed-up latex glove, one, then three, then five fingers, and then Pain's whole right hand finds its way into him and out of him until she says he is relaxed.
"I think I can get my foot in there now," she says, and takes off her boots. She smushes a woolen socked foot into his face, pushing it into his nostrils and mouth. After taking her socks off, she stuffs a foot into his mouth and calls him her "dirty little foot slut." Then she sits back in front of her slave and rolls a condom onto her right foot.
More lube. ...
By the time her entire foot, up to its arch, is inside, Snake asks for a break "to take poppers" — alkyl nitrites — which are inhaled to relax the sphincter muscles and provide a few minutes of a euphoric high. (Their use and sale are questionable for legal and health issues.)
Pain gives permission, unties a hand, passes him his popper bottle, and lights another cig.
"They send me into subspace, sometimes immediately," Snake says, seeming oddly clinical for the situation. "They lower what inhibitions I have left and get me past the breaking point."
Then he sniffs a small bottle and fades away.
When the foot session ended, the dominatrix disposes of the condom and then sticks her foot (yes, that one) into Snake's mouth.
She moves onto the clothespins. Twenty of them are attached to his scrotum, which is then struck with a riding crop before the pins are fervently knocked off.
It is his ultimate and perhaps most violent punishment of the night.
Castratta Lady of Pain then leaves the room for a moment and comes back naked, save for the small black silk robe that just covers her crotch.
She sits in her throne and orders her slave to attend to her feet for the rest of the night, lighting another Virginia Slim, running her other hand through her hair, exhaling deeply.
It is almost midnight.
He kneels before her and does as she says, following every step meticulously and in silence. Rubbing her feet just so. Sucking her toes just so.
Every now and then Snake begs to rub the inner thigh of his master.
Pain blows smoke in his face and tells her slave that if he tries she'll kick him in the balls before he knows what hit him.
What do you think he does?
Travis R. Wright is arts and culture editor of Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.