Christmas, Bondage-Style

Spend the holidays happily tied up.

Emilio, dressed as a circus barker, in a top hat and coattails, asked several people how they liked Nelson's show.

"What do you mean?" replied one woman leaving the gallery. "I was the show! I was the one getting flogged."

Emilio bought one of Nelson's crosses and painted over the black-lacquered two-by-fours with a montage of fleshy, sexy hands, mouths, breasts, and feet. "I wanted to dissect what fetish is," the gallery owner says. "I turn everything into sex."

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.

In some ways, Nelson's furniture works better as art. It hearkens to the the scratching and biting in the Kama Sutra and the rituals of Japanese shibari rope bondage. It transcends sex and delves into the political (think Abu Ghraib in Iraq), the societal (eroding civil rights and lack of free speech), and the religious (the British teacher in Sudan who was nearly flogged by Islamic clerics for naming a teddy bear Muhammad).

Or maybe it's just a way for Nelson to forget about his boring job, and the divorce paperwork packet sitting on his desk.

"Art is found when you see something, anything, and get some emotional rise one way or another from it," Nelson says. "So if someone saw a piece of mine as something political, then that's exactly what it is.... Who am I to say what is or isn't art?

"To me, these pieces are therapy," he continues. "I enjoy staying up till 3 in the morning building them.... I guess the most accurate interpretation of these pieces is [that they're] really about a guy who, just like everyone else, has problems, and instead of drowning his sorrows with alcohol, he drowns them out with the scream of a circular saw."


It's a Saturday night in November. A full moon peeks through a haze of clouds, casting a spooky aura in the industrial park a few blocks west of the Tamiami Airport entrance. The only thing that sets Bay 108 apart is the sign out front: Azazel's Fetish, in black scroll letters.

Nelson is anxious. He has set up food, drinks, one of his crosses, and a coffin with a cooler and ice inside. He has borrowed a movie projector and a fog machine, and has rented Nosferatu. He also has downloaded an endless loop of industrial music onto his iPod.

By 9 p.m., about a dozen goths in their early to midthirties, all dressed in black, all wearing exaggerated makeup, are downing rum and Cokes.

Raiza, who doesn't want her last name used in this article, has the most commanding presence. The 35-year-old computer specialist and mother of one is a dead ringer for Bettie Page, wearing tall black boots, a black PVC skirt, and a lace-up corset. Her long, dark hair is styled in two ponytails. She wears lots of makeup — dark eyes, pale skin, ruby-red lips.

Raiza and Leidys — a thin 25-year-old brunette dressed in a corset, fishnets, and a short, black, flippy skirt — are the first to try Nelson's furniture. Leidys, who has come to the party with her boyfriend, climbs onto a spanking bench; it looks similar to a chair, but instead of a seat there are two planks in a V shape. She waits on all fours as Raiza clips her wrists into the handcuffs attached to each side of the bench.

Leidys leans on her forearms and sticks her butt in the air like a stretching cat. Raiza flicks a fringed whip at Leidys's bottom and then pauses. "I'm going to get a paddle," she says. Raiza paddles Leidys for a minute or so, and Leidys responds by wiggling her butt in the air.

Nelson and a few other guys watch. No one says anything. When Raiza finishes, she is sweating so much that her hair sticks to her neck and back. As she drinks from a bottle of water, she explains what turns her on about bondage. "It's not so much to do with sex as physical pleasure," she says. "I get high off giving and receiving the pain."

Raiza has been a goth girl since she was a teenager, and began going to fetish parties about 10 years ago. She met Nelson a few years back through a friend, but it took several months before she allowed a flogging. She enjoys being hit by Nelson, she says, because she trusts him. "Nelson is very genuine," she adds. "He's very honest. There's a certain fakeness of people who try to conform to what the norm is."

Nelson, Raiza says, is her "best friend." She enjoys pain. Others in the bondage scene get off on the mental gymnastics of power, control, and submission. "This is not at all about sex," Raiza says. "I've never done drugs, but I suspect it's close to that kind of rush. I get a rush from this."

Raiza was born in Havana but moved to the United States as a toddler. She went to San Francisco for a vacation a few years ago, and although she said it "felt like home," she realized she missed being in Miami, even though she doesn't really fit in here. "I like that — being strange, standing out."

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