Christmas, Bondage-Style

Spend the holidays happily tied up.

Check out a slideshow of a fetish event with Nelson Suarez.

Nelson Suarez stands in a desolate warehouse off Florida's Turnpike. He's in the middle of a small room painted the color of blood and illuminated by an oversize candelabra with nine flickering red candles. Shirtless, Nelson wears black boots, black jeans, and a black rubber apron that hangs to his ankles. He has muscular arms and bat tattoos on each shoulder.

Ivon David Rojas
X marks the spot: Nelson Suarez, age 32, makes wooden bondage furniture.
Ivon David Rojas
X marks the spot: Nelson Suarez, age 32, makes wooden bondage furniture.

A short, doe-eyed woman with long blue-black hair stands nearby. She wears a long black skirt and corset ensemble made of PVC rubber. There are also black leather boots and fishnet stockings, which peek out from the high-cut slit in the back of the skirt.

Nelson grins. "Do you want a rope or do you want shackles?" he asks.

"Shackles," she responds.

The woman is 34-year-old Marlen Palmero. She steps over to a large wooden structure that's seven feet tall, painted black, and shaped like an X. A dozen inch-long silver hooks jut from the outer edges; black leather handcuffs dangle from the top of the contraption. Marlen raises her arms so Nelson can strap her to the wood. She faces away from him.

"Can you spread your legs for me?" he asks.

She moves her feet about three feet apart until her body is aligned with the wooden X.

Nelson, age 32, steps back to take it all in. He made the rough-hewn, medieval-looking cross and nearly a dozen other pieces of bondage furniture strewn about the warehouse. In the past three months, he has sold three pieces at $100 a pop to a fetish photographer, a Wynwood gallery owner, and a used-car salesman. He recently crafted another piece — a giant rocking horse — that can be used for riding, whipping, or fucking. But he's not pleased with the construction, not yet anyway.

Now is not the time to think about art, though. He walks to a nearby rack that holds a paddle, a riding crop, a long dog chain, and a leather-fringed whip. "Do you wanna get a little bit hurt?"

Marlen nods. It's difficult to hear if she actually says anything because of the loud industrial music grinding in the background, but Nelson seems to understand.

"I won't make you black-and-blue," he says, taking the foot-long whip from the wall.

Holding it in his right hand, Nelson traces a figure eight. The fringe barely touches Marlen's ass, legs, and back. It's a tease. She's not moving, speaking, or writhing. He brushes her with the whip for a few minutes and then — crack — hits her left buttock hard. She still doesn't react. He returns to the light brushing.

By this time, Nelson and Marlen aren't alone. Six or seven people stand nearby, silently watching. Some snap photos with cell phone cameras. Nelson pays them no heed; he's flogging Marlen over and over, his blows becoming heavier. Crack. Crack. Crack. He's sweaty and flushed. Marlen doesn't move. After 10 minutes, he stops, approaches her, and rests his hand on her shoulder. He whispers something and she nods. He unshackles her. They smile at each other — there's no kissing, hugging, or sex.

Once Marlen steps away from the cross, everyone in the room can see her face is red. She's sweating a bit, too, and grinning. "It's like a stinging, but an exciting stinging," she says to a few onlookers. "He was tough, but gentle."

One woman, who's dressed almost identically like Marlen in a black corset and skirt, says, "You have welts on your back." Indeed there are several dozen raised, pink streaks criss-crossing Marlen's pale shoulder blades.

"I do?" she asks, looking as if she's received an unexpected Christmas gift. "It feels good. It feels good."


In some ways Nelson Suarez is a typical Miamian. He's the child of Cuban immigrants, bilingual, and suburban. His dad works for the county, and his mom runs a daycare center.

When Nelson was eight years old, however, he began to suspect something was different about him. "I had fantasies of taking a big-titted girl and putting her in a bag filled with snakes," he says. "I didn't know what I'd do with her once I got her in the bag. But the thought of it turned me on."

From then on, he always seemed to have dark thoughts that inspired morbid artwork. He learned to draw from his family. His father was a good draftsman, his uncle worked as an architect, and his mother had painted rainbows, balloons, and clowns on the walls of her daycare.

But Nelson always preferred to draw rotting ships or angels fighting demons. "Nelson has always had a unique eye," says his brother, 33-year-old Nestor Suarez. "I wish I could tell you I understood it all, but Nelson's art always came from a darker side."

As a teen, Nelson listened to industrial music and punk rock. He wanted to be a mortician or a priest. "I figured that being a priest was one of the best, morally good jobs you could ever get," he says. His dad wanted him to be a doctor or lawyer.

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