“American men prefer to be choked or beaten,” the dominatrix said. “European men like to be ridden like horses. Japanese men want to be treated as girls.”
“And what about bondage? Do your Japanese customers seek that out?”
“So. In Japan from childhood many of us are restrained and tied up so we enjoy it.”
Reader, what about you? Would you enjoy it, too? My interpreter did not. She was horrified first by the idea, next by what she learned she’d see, and later merely by the fact that they did it for an audience. (She certainly talked about it afterward; maybe she did enjoy it by then.)
The place was hot and narrow. It smelled like a locker room, which in a manner of speaking it was. Along the length of the far wall ran a stout metal grating from which ropes, nooses, and handcuffs of various colors and thicknesses neatly hung. We paid and sat down at a table. The man who had admitted us brought me whiskey in a water glass. As soon as I had drunk it up, he filled it back again. My interpreter preferred water.
The first thing the dominatrix did was to bring us a box of tissues, just in case. This prop, so convenient to both therapists and prostitutes, brought to mind Wordsworth’s formula:
The spontaneous overflow of feelings, recollected in tranquility
.* Although I was grateful that they deemed us qualified for the “couple’s discount” ($100 off), today there would be no overflow to collect, much less recollect; because, eschewing participation in the “golden course” (not to mention the “vomit course”), we had settled for reserving two seats at a pretty rope show.** But it seemed significant that the time we had bought came to 90 minutes, of which only 30 would be occupied by the performance. The box of tissues were one of several clues regarding the negotiatory possibilities of this first hour, which I preferred—forgive me!—to squander on merely linguistic illusions of communication.
“If I hurt somebody,” said the dominatrix, “then until the injury heals, I feel responsible for the person. But the relation between dominant and submissive is
”—and the interpreter later agreed that this important adjective might also have meant
. “Because I am a fully dominant person, not many submissives can follow me. They say they will do anything, but in the end, I ask something of them that they can’t do. Then I throw them away. When I was with my first boyfriend, I beat him without any reason. He did everything for me. He dried my hair, took me to the bathroom, and everything. If I didn’t like the air conditioning, he would fan me all night, and then he got so hot he would get sweaty, so I would kick him out, but then it got too hot, so I called him back. I would often trip when going up the stairs, so I allowed him to hold my hand. And if I didn’t like the position he took, I’d kick him.”
“What I want,” she explained, “is to
, so my boyfriend or girlfriend will follow to the end. Then I can love him or her. But most ones are the former type, the ones who can’t do all I ask. So I can’t love them. Basically, something hot or painful—to receive that makes me happy.”
Yes, she said
. You might have expected her to say
. But in consensual sadomasochism, polarized quantities frequently become their own opposites. Many years ago, an American friend of mine who took care of a number of slaves once asked me whom I supposed to be in charge, the top or the bottom, and I naively answered, “Well, the top,” to which he laughed: “Absolutely false! The submissive is the real dominant. I have to listen to what she says she wants and then find out what she
wants. I have to stay in control and be her babysitter, because she’s given up all control. I can’t just relax and enjoy myself. I can’t do whatever I want; that wouldn’t be ethical. I’m the one whose freedom is limited. Kind of interesting, isn’t it?”
In short, what this Japanese dominatrix was telling me was that the sensations of heat or pain she inflicted on her submissives were the gifts they offered back to her.
She had on occasion sewed the lips of her submissives shut to spice up a performance. After the show was over, she undid the stitches.
“What did the submissives think?”
“They loved it.”
She had been present at one show in the course of which a dominatrix had sliced the submissive’s labia off, cooked them, and eaten them. Still another colleague of hers (one local synonym for dominatrix, by the way, was
) had wished to separate from her submissive, who objected; so the
commanded: Either you separate from me or else you cut off the head of your penis. He chose the latter. Our dominatrix considered this too extreme, and afterward kept the other
at a distance.
Because I had recently been investigating procedures for the perfect death, and still retain high hopes for erotic asphyxia, I asked her how she supposed it might be to die that way.
The dominatrix clasped her hands on her fishnet stockings, giggling.
“Yes, I choke the other person, and he loses consciousness, and afterward I ask: Are you OK? and he says: I lose memory from that time. I just imagine that from ecstasy you won’t suffer so much.”
“What about hanging? People who are executed that way sometimes seem to experience pain—”
“Usually the position is no good. But if you died at that point, maybe you wouldn’t suffer so much.”
Her submissive smiled across the table at me and said: “If somebody I loved were choking me, it would be OK. Keep going!” Then she laughed.
The two of them retired to get ready, while I drank my whiskey and meditated on my favorite line of Hassan the Assassin’s:
Nothing is true; all is permissible
. After misspending half a century above the ground I might say:
All is true; all is permissible—but only when all is consensual
. Well, forget Hassan; forget Wordsworth! If I’d had my druthers, I would have wanted long-bearded old Walt Whitman sitting here between the interpreter and me, sharing water with her and whiskey with me, singing the body electric. What happy lines about work and sweat might he have added to “Song of Myself”?
O the dominant’s joys! To set forth nimbly with candle & lash, servile to none! And O the submissive’s joys! To be plenteous & cheerful & ready for anything!
As for me, being nothing but a literal-minded journalist, I’ll simply tell you what I saw.
* Slightly condensed and paraphrased (hence the absence of quotation marks), from David Perkins, ed., English Romantic Writers (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1967), pp. 321, 328 (preface to 2nd ed. of the Lyrical Ballads, 1800).
** Years ago an S&M porno actress in this city assured me that bondage as she practiced it derived from the Japanese art of wrapping up gifts. Today’s dominatrix rejected that. She insisted that bondage came from the tortures of the Edo period (ca. 1615-1867).
The dominatrix kissed the submissive on the neck, and the submissive closed her eyes and stood obediently. She was now wearing nothing but red panties, and her nipples were hard.*** As for the dominatrix, she had stripped down to her black latex corset, which was nicely striped with white laces—a befitting uniform for a bondage expert. Just then another young woman came in. She apologized for being late and sat on the other sofa, smoking a cigarette while the dominatrix wrapped the submissive round and round and round with coarse beige ropes, in parallels over and under the breasts until they were squeezed into gun-turret protrusions, the nipples now so engorged that they seemed on the verge of explosion.
Slowly the submissive began to fall forward, her long hair hanging over her face. The dominatrix stroked her, never pausing in the work of spiderwebbing her. Her wrists were now well lashed behind her back and the ropes rushed perpendicularly from the breast-stripes up across her collarbone and over her shoulders. Her face remained hidden behind that curtain of long brown hair. Where was her consciousness? The submissive experience can be the simultaneous perception of presence, communicated through intense physical sensation that is not necessarily unpleasant, and absence, as one surrenders trustingly to dependence, sensory deprivation, and speechlessness. Was it like that for her? The ropes whirled round and round across her upper arms, then around and diagonally between her straining breasts in a perfect X. Now she no longer needed to support her own weight at all, her waist being sturdily girdled with rope, which next sped diagonally between her thighs to outline the pubic triangle. Meanwhile the new arrival, beautiful, plump, and powdered, sat with her eyes forward, watching the spectacle with a sort of neutral interest, so that I finally realized that she must also work here (hence perhaps those fishnet stockings).
Once she got up to count receipts. My interpreter held her water glass without drinking from it. All this time the dominant had been threading rope through a carabiner on the ceiling so that a cone took shape above the submissive’s head. With the same spiderlike rapidity, she was now binding the girl’s knees. She seized a new coil, paying it out so fast that it flashed in the red light, whipping it neatly back and forth around the many kindred ropes that slanted upward to meet at the carabiner, until a pleasing belt came into being in imitation of the one that looped the submissive’s waist in ever so many perfect parallels. If the girl had been dead she couldn’t have dangled any more plausibly. Now from her knees the dominatrix rushed new ropes up into the carabiner, splaying the girl’s legs wide, drawing her sideways into the air, her left leg higher than her right. The dominant kissed her on the neck again. She kissed her lips. Then she leaped on top of her and for a moment rode her so happily through the air.
What makes the difference between the swaying of a punching bag, the spinning of a side of ham pawed by dogs, and this? Artistry, I guess.
The third woman had already lit some red candles. Smiling widely, the dominatrix began to drip the blood-red wax on her victim, sometimes pausing for an instant, smiling brilliantly, to muse on the place to apply the next drop—but for an instant only, because she truly was a lovely spider-woman, eternally busy in secreting, positioning, and enjoying her victim. Did I mention how tall and muscular she was? She poured ever so many gobs on the girl’s nipples and inner thighs. The submissive sobbed, writhed, and whined. Some submissives climax in the situation; others dramatize. Whatever she might have been doing just then was her business. Her falling hair caught the light like a curtain of fire. It hung down to her breasts. Her buttocks shone with sweat. She lay helpless and awkward in her cradle of ropes, her mons veneris as outlined and exaggerated as her breasts.
To me the voluptuous is the good, no matter whether mercenary considerations are involved. Sade’s pleasure in seeing and imagining a lovely body being abused is not mine—but a lovely body giving itself to what it calls pleasure, why not? “What if she didn’t enjoy it? Wouldn’t you be complicit in her exploitation if she hated it and did it only for financial survival?”—why does this question so rarely come up in relation to newscasters, morticians, lavatory attendants? For that matter, how would we regard the surgeon who said: “You can trust me; I truly enjoy the sight of blood!”? Under what circumstances is enjoyment necessary, relevant, distasteful, forbidden? And what about me? Do you want me to pretend that I wasn’t titillated? Of course I found it very pleasant to witness the dominatrix’s mixture of expertise and spontaneity.
She could have been the blond operagoer I used to know who enjoyed watering and pruning the roses in her backyard, humming arias to herself as the shears dangled from her pretty hand. Which stalk did she feel like perfecting next in this pretty garden that she had made? And as for the submissive, she reminded me of a certain statue I had seen in Kamakura, in the famous ocean-overlooking temple to Kannon called Hase-dera. Kannon is known as the goddess of mercy, but sometimes she is a god. Often she is crowned with 11 heads or sprouts 1,000 arms. In this temple’s treasury one can see her as the
Kannon Sanjusan Ogenshin
, meaning the 33 incarnations of the deity Avalokites´vara. All ages and sexes appear in these statues, which date from the Muromachi period (1333-1573). They are fashioned of colored wood, and they have crystal eyes. Among them stands one plump, round young girl, so obedient and sweet, who stares almost straight ahead, her head slightly lowered, the color scaling off her as if she suffers from eczema (or perhaps it’s only painted sweat that oozes off her, because her merciful bisexual goddess has been tenderly, skillfully, gently tormenting her). Probably life-size, she stands much shorter than I.
So she lay hanging on her side, with hardened wax glistening on her and her thighs spread wide—tuned to her use, Whitman would say. The dominatrix kissed her lips, then twirled her round and round. Now she was dripping wax on her from two candles at once. The girl moaned and sobbed like a champion.
Licking her nipples affectionately, the dominatrix now set up three candles in the ropes so that they dripped on the girl automatically, so to speak. After the girl had gasped and moaned sufficiently, the grinning dominatrix began to beat her with one of those fringe whips whose sound is so much more impressive than their sting, the third woman smiling all the while. It is no exaggeration to say that she beat her like thunder, the submissive weeping more than screaming. Every now and then the dominatrix kissed her, caressed her, comforted her; and I believed in them, not necessarily in the emotions they projected (although what do you or I know about that?) but in the honest work they did, the work of play, of fantasy, which any one of us has the right to call happiness. Sweet smell of wax in the hot room, shadow of ropes and carabiners, shadow of an arm, of long hair, whimpers and smiles, nude legs pimpled with wax, effusions, envelopments, and occasional silent endearments, what precisely did these have to do with gruesome tortures through whose envisioning Sade titillated away his years of imprisonment?
Now the one woman rapidly undid the other, lowering her as easily as an expert tree trimmer drops the last branch off the tree into his pickup truck, smiling at her with pleasure and pride, stroking her parallel rope marks that resembled the wrinkles on the trunk of a japonica tree, kissing her and caressing her long hair. When she kissed her crotch, the girl sobbed once. Lovingly, she broke the wax gobs off her and flicked them to the floor. The girl looked drugged. The thick pink rope marks across her breasts became her well. The dominatrix sat her down and kissed her mouth so sweetly, then smilingly commenced once more to drip wax on her thighs and nipples, then down her back. With both hands she opened the submissive’s mouth, dripped a gobbet onto her tongue, then sucked her nipples. Finally she half led, half carried her over to her friend at the other table, let her down on her knees, and laid her face in the other woman’s lap. Then she began to spank her, harder and harder, sometimes only clapping her hands to trick her, sometimes stroking her hair, delighting in her flinches. Sometimes the lady in whose lap she lay caressed her also.
When it was over the dominatrix kissed the submissive very lovingly on the mouth, holding her, supporting her, and honoring her. And then they bowed. I complimented them both. The submissive, dripping with sweat, blushed and smiled shyly. Her partner kissed her again.
The dominatrix expressed the hope that next time I’d be up for a good flogging. She assured me that as long as the rope burns marked me, I’d be clothed in and graced by the material proof of her affection.
To enlighten my interpreter, who had been gaping with horror, the dominatrix dripped a little red wax on each of our hands, thus establishing what I knew perfectly well, that it didn’t hurt a bit.
*** Context is everything, isn’t it? In isolation this sentence might be considered crass. But here in this genial, “literary” setting, it becomes not merely fit for a family publication, but a veritable jewel of “family values.”