It's Monday night around 10pm and the weekly Fun, Freaky, People (FFP) party is just getting underway. An assortment of dominatrices, slaves, fetish dancers, artists and musicians is gathered at Jeff's Bucket on Montford Drive. It's fitting that it feels like you're stepping into a dungeon as you walk down the steps to this funky, dark little space, for all kinds of out of the ordinary things are going on here.
My friend and I had just ordered our first round of drinks when the buxom, raven-haired Mistress LunaSea saunters over and dares me to touch what looks like a metal flyswatter. Being a dumb member of the male species, I do just that. Zap! Not too painful, but enough of a jolt that I wouldn't want to do it again. Mistress LunaSea starts teasing me about how she'd like to zap my penis. Thanks, but no, I say. In addition to the FFP parties, LunaSea oversees several Yahoo fetish groups, and is considered somewhat of a mother figure to Charlotte's BDSM (bondage, dominance, sadism & masochism) community. "I just like to dress up and be a freak," she says. "I live the dominatrix lifestyle; it's what I do."
The girl wearing a gas mask — which gives her an unsettling, alien-like appearance-is Mistress Sapphire. She eventually takes off the mask to reveal a pair of giant, almond-shaped eyes, set within a beautifully exotic young face, which she has adorned with numerous metal studs, including two in her upper lip, one through her tongue, and one through the bridge of her nose. Her head is shaved except for a single strand of reddish/orange hair that hangs across her forehead.
Mistress Sapphire brings Raven, 23, up on stage, where he assumes the policeman's "spread 'em" pose while Sapphire and LunaSea take turns working him over with an assortment of whips and flogs they pull from a black leather bag.
As I take in this crazy scene from behind a corner table that's covered with all kinds of whips, paddles, cuffs, restraints and other fetish toys, I realize how soon one becomes desensitized to it. While I'm chatting with "Bob," who looks every bit like the 34-year-old banker he is, I look up and realize, "Oh, yeah, they're still whipping Raven," whose back is now a tapestry of inflamed welts. Bob lives in a small town just outside Charlotte, and he defies the stereotype that all BDSM fans are black-clad, multi-pierced freak shows.
"I just like the music, the people, and the way some of the women dress," he says. "Everybody seems to get along; you go to some of the other uptown clubs and there are different factions or people getting into fights about one thing or another. You don't see that kind of drama here."
After hanging out for a few hours, my friend and I are getting ready to leave when Mistress LunaSea comes over and informs us that she's getting ready to shock some guy's dick. "Want to watch?" she asks us. Well...when in Rome. So we gather around as Rock Hill resident Ray White, 27, who's dressed in slacks and a tie, unzips his fly and produces his penis. Sure enough, Mistress LunaSea taps it with her electric flyswatter. As I watch through clenched eyes, I actually see a little spark fly from Ray's member. He jumps back, upsetting a table of drinks behind him, but then laughs it off and gives Mistress LunaSea a hug, and keeps right on partying.
Unbuckle your Bible belt, Charlotte, whatever your kink, fetish, or sexual orientation, there's a burgeoning BDSM culture in the Queen City that can accommodate just about every proclivity under the moon. To join in, all you need is an open mind and an adventurous spirit — and some black leather clothing never hurts.
Charlotte's Fetish Evolution
Charlotte's modern alternative/BDSM scene can be traced back to the mid-80s, when Jeff Lowery took over the Milestone Club in 1986. "When we first bought the club it was a lot of the early punk crowd," says Lowery. "We also got a lot of under-age kids with Mohawks who dressed in black." The following year Lowery opened the Pterodactyl Club. It had a more underground vibe compared to Charlotte's dance clubs, and over the years it became a mainstay for Charlotte's Goth/industrial crowd, as well as clean-cut yuppie types who showed up to "look at the freaks."
"It was a real strange quagmire," Lowery says.
At the time, a young guy named Matt Bolick was hanging out at clubs like Dixie Electric and listening to DJ Andy Kastanas, who would later help pioneer Charlotte's uptown nightlife. "I watched Kastanas every weekend and bought all the records he played," Bolick says. Bolick eventually started deejaying at the Pterodactyl in '87. "Back then it was a great place for anybody who was not into the mainstream. There were a lot of dark, subversive things going on, and I was always open to new experiences."
Looking for a bigger venue, Lowery next opened 13-13 in 1988. While 13-13 was pretty much a live music venue, it too became a hot spot for the Goth/industrial crowd, especially when groups like Marilyn Manson and NIN started to hit it big.
"When people like NIN and Manson broke in the 90s, it brought the darker, underground sound to the forefront," Bolick says. "More people in the mainstream started to explore it, and they sought out the parties that did that kind of thing."
Thrown in to the mix were underground clubs like the Septic Tank, which opened in the mid-90s and featured live sex shows. For awhile the fetish scene was alive and thriving. But then the Pterodactyl and 13-13 both closed. While the BaHa picked it up for awhile in late 90s and hosted Goth/industrial parties on Friday nights, the BDSM community started to flounder. This was precipitated by the rise of electronic/techno music and raves.
"Once the BaHa was gone and the Septic Tank got squashed, things went more underground and it wasn't as accessible," says Bolick, who started deejaying at Liquid Lounge in 1999. "And it didn't help that Charlotte was such a conservative, white-collar kind of town."
However, Charlotte was about to get to two new champions of the BDSM scene — a country boy named Torch, and a former Army grunt turned dominatrix.
Torch and Mistress Autumn Twilight met while Autumn was attending the NC School of Arts in Winston-Salem. The two immediately hit it off, and started dating. At the time Torch was already into the S&M lifestyle.
"I grew up on a farm looking at trees and cows, and just thinking, 'God, there has to be more to life than this,'" he says. "As I grew up my parents took me to church, and I just felt like most of the people were full of shit, and I wanted to see the other side. I went to these underground fetish clubs and met all these really good people — they just had different tastes." Autumn, on the other hand, explains that she had always been "a twisted fuck" and "into rough sex," but hadn't really explored the S&M lifestyle. That was about to change. The two got married in '97, and moved to Hawaii. While in Hawaii, they discovered huge fetish parties like the Dungeon, and really delved into the whole lifestyle. Inspired, the couple returned to Charlotte in early 2000, ready to tap into Charlotte's burgeoning alternative nightlife. Instead, they found a dead zone.
"There was nothing," Torch said. "It was a wasteland. I grew up in Charlotte and went clubbing in the 80s and 90s at places like Pterodactyl and Milestone. But when we came back from Hawaii, it was like someone had dropped a bomb — everything had stopped."
Undeterred, the couple forged ahead. Autumn started dancing and working as a dominatrix. "I wanted to do more creative things at the titty bars; put on skits and shows," she says. So Autumn entered exotic entertainer competitions. However, some of her shows were a little too extreme, particularly the one where she came out dressed like a demon in red vinyl and latex, drew 666 on her stomach with blood, and assumed the Jesus crucifixion pose. "Half the crowd got up and left, the other half was like, 'Yea, Rock On!'"
Autumn was banned for a year from all NC adult competitions. So she started looking for more permissive fetish stages in the region, and performed at places like The Chamber in Atlanta, as well as venues in Florida and Pennsylvania.
But soon the couple tired of traveling, and decided to do something on their own in Charlotte. They started Singlecell Entertainment, and launched the first Purgatory event on April 5, 2002. "We had about 150 people at the first one," Autumn says. "People seemed to like it, so we did one again."
Over the years, Purgatory grew into the largest BDSM event in Charlotte, and celebrates its three-year anniversary this weekend at Amos' Southend. In case you've never been, Purgatory is an adults-only, free-for-all celebration with fetish performers, go-go dancers, fire, blood and plenty of dominatrices on hand to punish all the bad boys and girls in attendance.
"There's a very hard, erotic, sexual undercurrent to it," Autumn says. "Sometimes it gets a little scary, but I think it's hot." The whole scene is fueled by plenty of booze and thundering, dark, industrial/Goth music. Torch and Autumn stress that all are welcome.
"We're not snobs," Autumn says. "There's no dress code. You should never be ostracized for what you're wearing — even if it's khakis and a polo shirt. We want all kinds to participate. It's open to exploration."
Friendly Neighborhood Dominatrix
Mistress LunaSea of the FFP events arrived in Charlotte from Ft. Lauderdale about 25 years ago. At the time she was married, and her husband worked for the now defunct Jim Bakker/Tammy Faye outfit PTL, and they were planning on opening a Bible college together. However, there was a slight change in plans.
"I left him for a woman," she explains.
Not only did Mistress LunaSea embark on a new lifestyle with her new partner, together they raised her two sons. However, the relationship didn't last. "We just didn't have the same interests," she says. "I like all kinds of creative, artistic things, and she was very conservative and just not into it."
LunaSea started frequenting some of Charlotte's gay bars like the Brass Rail and Scorpio's, and began getting more involved in the BDSM lifestyle, particularly her dominatrix persona. "I've always been very dominant and kinky in nature," she says.
She was a natural, and soon had a full-time submissive named boyscout, who now lives with her. "It's not a romantic relationship, just a total dominant/submissive relationship," she explains. "It makes him happy and me happy."
As Mistress LunaSea's full-time submissive, boyscout runs errands, does chores around the house, and whatever else it takes to make sure she's happy. "When she's happy it makes me feel like my life is good," says boyscout, 31, a diminutive, elfin-like man who, when not serving LunaSea, works as a software engineer. "She's helping me learn and focus on a number of aspects of my life that I need help with like organization and motivation. I've met a wonderful community of people because of her, and I have a constant companion."
Shortly after meeting boyscout, LunaSea started a group for artistic, creative people, which evolved into the Fun, Freaky People (FFP) events. LunaSea explains that in addition to a good time, the FFP events serve as great networking opportunities for Charlotte's "alternative types."
"I always tell people to bring their business cards, band flyers, or CDs," she says. "Everyone from music producers, filmmakers, strippers, witches, psychics, and writers attend."
It was through an FFP party that Mistress Sapphire — the dominatrix wearing the gas mask — was introduced to Charlotte's BDSM community. She arrived in Charlotte a little over a year ago, and was coming out of a bad relationship, and feeling a bit lonely and depressed. But then a friend took her to an FFP event. "Everyone just welcomed me," she says. "That night I was asked to perform at Purgatory."
Mistress Sapphire lives in a small, one-bedroom apartment in a dilapidated south Charlotte complex. Dominating her living room is a homemade, seven-foot tall wooden rack, to which she ties her slaves and clients. In one corner of the living room is a saggy couch with a blanket thrown over it, and in the other corner is an old chair and small stereo. Scattered about the room are various floggers, paddles and other instruments. Other than the seven-foot rack and various fetish toys, the living space has the same dingy look as a college apartment that's hosted one party too many.
She and her neighbors barely tolerate each other. Recently one of them showed up drunk, and started banging on her door shouting obscenities. When the cops arrived and saw Sapphire's whipping rack, they started giving her a hard time. During a recent trip to the complex's laundry room, a young mother walking with her child yelled out "El Diablo" when she caught a glimpse of Sapphire in her full-on dominatrix gear, and hustled her kid away. It's far from an ideal living situation, but hey, money is tight and it will have to do for now.
Sapphire grew up in Winston-Salem, and moved to Charlotte when she was 12. She was raised as a Jehovah's Witness, but rebelled at an early age. "Things like paganism and BDSM were always interesting to me," she says. "I always liked art and alternative people, but my family didn't talk about 'those things.'" Sapphire's outré interests eventually alienated her from her family, and when she turned 16 they sent her to Sacramento, California. They've had very little contact with her since.
While Sapphire was in California, she started dating a guy who was into the BDSM lifestyle, and "started experimenting" with whips and floggers. "I liked the headspace that it got me into," she says. "It gets the adrenaline and endorphins running in your system. It's euphoric. That's one of the reasons why I get piercings." (She has 14).
In addition to working as a dominatrix, Sapphire also performs as a fetish dancer at various SingleCell productions, including the upcoming Purgatory. However, in order to pay the bills, Sapphire works full-time at AEBN — one of the country's largest "pay-per-view" porn companies, which is based in Charlotte.
While Mistress Sapphire says she wishes she and her family were closer, she has no regrets about the life she's chosen. "This feels natural to me," she says. "I've tried to wear polo shirts and khakis and it was just like...what am I doing? I like entering a room as this larger than life character wearing vinyl with floggers and whips. I wish my parents were more open-minded, but Jehovah's Witnesses is very cult-like. Ironically, that's just what they think about me."
Just A Couple Next Door
Tucked away on a quiet cul-de-sac in east Charlotte lives a young couple. When I arrive at their home they're just finishing dinner, and it's the picture of domestic normalcy. Lots of ceramic unicorns are on display, a couple of movie posters adorn the wall, and two lazy cats snooze on the couch. However, all is not as it seems. I'm led upstairs to the couple's "playroom," where soft, red lights illuminate about a dozen whips and floggers hanging on the wall, each costing about $150 or more. The futon set against the wall doubles as a "spanking bench," I'm told. And I notice a dangerous looking pair of black stiletto heels near the closet. This is the lair of Mistress Genevieve, a professional in the financial field by day, and dominatrix by night.
Before she became a dominatrix, Mistress Genevieve was just a young girl living in Rock Hill who would drive up to Charlotte and party at clubs like the Pterodactyl. This was during the mid-90s when Marilyn Manson and the Goth scene were at their height. "The fetish/dominatrix aspect progressed naturally." she says.
One night while at the Pterodactyl, the Goth band that was playing needed an extra dancer, and they pulled her up on stage. "I was dressing in leather and I guess I looked the part," she says. "I really liked it. After that I started seeking it out a little more, and really explored the dominatrix thing."
She was also getting over a bad relationship. "What I had been doing up till then wasn't working," she says. "The guy I was engaged to ended up dumping me on Valentine's Day for his best friend's ex-wife. With him it had been like a traditional marriage. He'd come home from work and plop down on the couch, and I cooked dinner. I did all the things the 'good little wife' was supposed to, and it didn't work. So I was looking for something different. It's not that I'm a man hater, but I don't have the right personality for that kind of relationship. I like being in control. I like being dominant."
She got on the Internet and started looking for S&M groups, and eventually met up with folks like Mistress LunaSea, and started performing at various BDSM functions. About three years ago she and a business partner opened a dominatrix dungeon, where she sees about 15 regular clients every few months, and about 15 others who come in once or twice a year. These folks — typically men in their 30s and 40s — pay $150 for an hour-long session of domination.
"My clients are primarily looking for a vacation for the mind," says Mistress Genevieve. "A lot of them have very stressful careers. When they come to the dungeon they don't have to think, they don't have to make a single decision. All they have to do is lay there, do what I say, and be told what scum they are. There's no sexual contact. I'm not a prostitute. It's more about them being free and letting go."
If you're not into this scene, you're no doubt wondering: what's the attraction? What is it about this lifestyle that some people find so alluring? Realize that like in any subculture, there are varying degrees of intensity and commitment within the BDSM community. Some, for example, simply like to dress the part and perform on stage, whereas for others, it's truly a lifestyle, and they derive pleasure from giving or receiving mental or physical pain, from dominating or being dominated.
"There's just something about giving up power and control to someone else; to be at someone else's mercy," says White. "I like pain mixed with pleasure."
Indeed he does. If you remember, White is the guy who got his penis zapped with the electric flyswatter. (He later tells me it was the third time he'd had it done, and gave it a 7 on a pain scale of 1 to 10). Apparently he's now particularly into CBT, or Cock and Ball Torture. "I use clothes pins, floggers, and even a rat trap," he says. "I'm also into knife play; no cutting or blood, just kind of a threat. And I'm slowly but surely getting into needles. But I refuse to do anything anal." Hey, thanks for sharing.
"The mainstream public probably sees us as just a bunch of freaks dressed in leather beating on each other," says Raven, the guy who got worked over with the violet wand at the FFP party. "But it's so much more that that. A dominant and submissive have a very trusting relationship that I would almost equate with that of a marriage. A lot of times there isn't a romantic involvement between the two, but it's as close as it gets."
Conversely, the dominatrices talk about enjoying the feelings of control and power. As any good dominatrix will tell you, one can't simply decide to be one. As a general rule, you must first experience being a "bottom" (submissive) before you can be a "top" (dominant). This helps you learn the ropes (sometimes quite literally), as well as better understand what the other person is feeling.
"I like to take my clients to the edge, then bring them back down," explains Mistress Sapphire. "I know the kind of head space it puts you in. After a session, I hold them, wrap blankets around them, and make sure they feel safe. The last time I did a session I ended up cooking him food, and we were laughing by the end of the night."
While not all, most of the folks interviewed for this story had a few things in common. One was a broken heart, and the other was a somewhat rudderless childhood, where they spent years feeling lost and looking for something and someone to connect with. Of course, who hasn't had a broken heart or felt lost at one time or another? Are these folks punishing themselves? Did something happen in their childhood to make them act out sexually in such an unorthodox way? The popular psychological take on the whole S&M lifestyle is that it's a way to avoid intimacy — all the whips, costumes and extreme behavior help fill the void created by a lack of healthy relationships. Proponents of the lifestyle say that's a bunch of nonsense, and seem to agree that it's simply about expressing their sexuality a little differently than most people — OK, maybe a lot differently than most people. But that's OK, self-expression is a good thing. Different strokes, as they say, for different folks. But if you're curious, grab a cat-o-nine-tails, maybe a dog collar and a pair of cuffs, and always remember the BDSM mantra: "Safe, Sane and Consensual. Anything else is brutality."
BDSM Starter Kit
Curious? This should get you started:
Books and Films:
¨ Fetishes: An HBO documentary on the famous house of domination in Manhattan called Pandora's Box.
¨ Preaching To The Perverted: 1997 film about a minister who employs a young computer whizkid to infiltrate the London S&M scene.
¨ The Secretary: 2002 film about an executive's (James Spader) kinky relationship with his secretary (Maggie Gyllenhaal).
¨ The Story Of O: A classic BDSM story.
¨ Screw The Roses, Send Me The Thorns: The Romance and Sexual Sorcery of Sadomasochism, by Philip Miller.
¨ www.purgatory-theshow.comPurgatory is scheduled for Saturday, April 9 at Amos' Southend
¨ http://groups.yahoo.com/group/funfreakypeoplePromote yourself, your talent, business or organization. Network and socialize with people that have the same artistic interests as you. Currently patrons include people from the following communities: Witch, Artist, Music, Movie, Writer, Performance, LGBTP, Goth, Industrial, Fetish, etc.
¨ http://groups.yahoo.com/group/mistresslunasea"A place to discuss fetishes with the exception of children and animals. Humiliation, foot worship, sissification, domination and the exploration of role playing are some of the things we will talk about on this group. Safe, sane and consensual is the rule of thumb here."
¨ www.owk.cz/index.htm The Other World Kingdom (Women Supremacy)
Clothes and Accessories:
¨ Hysteric Glamour and Boris and Natasha, both on Thomas Avenue in Plaza/Midwood.
¨ Sadu Body Piercing on Central Avenue.
¨ www.stockroom.comOnline fetish stores with kinky apparel, bondage gear and corrective instruments.
Contact Sam Boykin at firstname.lastname@example.org.