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.

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.

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.
Leidys and Jenica try out a spanking bench.
Ivon David Rojas
Leidys and Jenica try out a spanking bench.
In the wee hours of the morning, in a desolate warehouse, Nelson builds his bondage furniture while smoking cigarettes and drinking Red Bull.
Ivon David Rojas
In the wee hours of the morning, in a desolate warehouse, Nelson builds his bondage furniture while smoking cigarettes and drinking Red Bull.

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.

Nelson attended and dropped out of the University of Miami, Florida International University, and Miami Dade College. He started going to goth clubs, but tried to suppress urges to spank or pull hair.

He was pretty good with computers, and in 1997 began working for the county as a computer analyst. Then, at age 26, he married his teenage sweetheart, a girl named Sara, and channeled his creativity into making picnic benches for his family. "I was being what everyone else wanted me to be," he says.

A year later they divorced. Nelson began drinking often, going to fetish parties, and enjoying himself. He even spanked a girl — after she asked him. "I felt, I felt, um, intimidated," Nelson says. "I was like, 'Are you sure?' I was thinking, Isn't this wrong? I'm not supposed to like it."

But he did. A lot. The spanking had nothing to do with sex; it was just, well, pleasurable."It was like I could breathe better," he says.

Still he felt ashamed. In 2003 he married again — to a woman named Marcelle — and quickly had two children, a boy and a girl. They moved into a rental house in Miami Springs.

While fatherhood fulfilled something in Nelson, his relationship with Marcelle soon deteriorated. He realized that she — and perhaps anyone else — would never understand him.

At night, while his wife was asleep, he sketched plans for bondage furniture. There were spanking benches and crosses like those he had seen on the Internet and at fetish parties. He also played around with his own designs for stocks (the kind that clamp someone's head and wrists between two pieces of wood) and kinky sawhorses.

This past August, Nelson went into free-fall. He moved into a warehouse near Tamiami Airport, threw down a futon, stocked the fridge with Red Bull and Lean Cuisine pepperoni pizzas, and invested in wood-working tools. He spent a few hundred dollars on wood, mostly pine two-by-fours, and some black paint and cherry stain.

Nelson continued to work at his computer job during the day, but as small planes buzzed overhead in the night sky, he hammered together the cross that within a few weeks would become his first piece of fetish furniture. He posted it for sale on eBay (of course, he first tested it on a female friend), and a local fetish photographer won it for $100. "I like to say that all of my pieces are quality assured," Nelson jokes. They are also cheaper than some. Take, for instance, "The Spankmeister," a spanking contraption made in western Massachusetts. Cost: $1,000 ($1,800 with brass and bronze hardware).

Soon Nelson built a website to sell his furniture. He named it Azazel's Fetish, after a Biblical angel who was cast out of Heaven. He quickly sold two more crosses and a spanking bench.


Smoke Gallery is a grungy little space on a dodgy street in Wynwood. Owned by tow truck operator Esteban Corbo and construction worker Emilio Remoir, it was recently described by Ignore online magazine as "completely — emphasize completely — oblivious to and independent of the incestuous local [art] scene."

But Emilio, an intense-eyed, dark-haired artist, has known Nelson for years. The gallery owner first saw his friend's work while he was visiting the Tamiami Airport warehouse. "It's the whole Bruce Wayne/Batman thing with Nelson," Emilio says. "He can freak with the best of them, but he's also the kind of a clean-cut buddy you can bring home to meet your family."

So on November 11, Emilio invited Nelson to exhibit four of his pieces at Smoke. The gallery owner decided to station the fetish pieces in the gallery's back courtyard and have Nelson whip anyone who was willing to submit during the November Art Walk. "I just thought it would be interesting to mix the art and the fetish," Emilio says. "Fetish is very aesthetic-driven and image-oriented, and so is art."

Emilio, who's a construction worker when he's not curating art shows, also appreciated Nelson's woodworking skills. "Nelson's a very functional guy; he's always like, 'How can I make this piece function better?'"

So the artist donned his rubber apron and a gas mask. Within a half-hour of setting up, women he didn't know were asking him to rope them to one of two crosses and flick the leather tassel at their bodies.

Nelson didn't speak as he flogged a heavyset woman in a white miniskirt, black boots, and a black top. She had never been whipped before, but grinned widely as he cracked the leather whip on her backside.

Between lashes, Nelson explained his craft. "It's cheaper to buy the materials at Home Depot," he said. "These cost $500, $600, even $1,000 online. I can make one for less than $100 and sell it for two or three." He explained how the cross folds for easy storage and how it has a support leg attached to a chain so it won't tip over when someone is shackled to the wood.

As he ran his hands over the stock, Nelson showed off industrial-looking hinges.

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."

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."

Indeed most of the people at Nelson's party are like Raiza. They grew up in Hialeah or Westchester and never really fit in the salsa or hip-hop club scene. Take Aquiles, for example. He's a 37-year-old UPS driver who started out listening to Bauhaus, Nine Inch Nails, and Skinny Puppy as a teen in the late Eighties. He grew up but never wanted to stop being a goth, he says. "It's underground, still, here in Miami," he explains. "In a place like New York, you can walk around dressed like this."

Although he describes himself as being a "proud" goth, Aquiles admits he is reluctant to walk into stores fully dressed in black with eye makeup, dark lipstick, and white contacts (which he is wearing at the party). Unlike Nelson, Raiza, and several others at the party, Aquiles is not yet into the fetish scene, though his girlfriend, Laidys, is — she clearly enjoyed being paddled by Raiza. "She actually wants me to hit her," he says. He's considering it.

Just then a silver Volvo drives into the parking lot. Two girls in black emerge. There are some 25 people at the party now. A guy named Jeffrey walks up to Aquiles. "Hey, did you know that coffin actually transported a body from South America?"

Nelson peers at a chalkboard nailed to the wall inside the warehouse. It's kind of a scorecard of who wants what, where. There's a Dom column (for people who want to hit), a Sub column (for those who want to be hit), and a Piece column (so people can coordinate which piece of furniture they'd like to use).

There are lines and arrows connecting 10 names with the contraptions.

Later Nelson flogs Raiza on the cross and in the stocks. He also whips Marlen on the cross. Raiza flogs Marlen and Leidys, and Leidys gets her wish to have her boyfriend, Aquiles, paddle her on the spanking bench. At one point, a professional dominatrix named Jenica pulls down her shirt, places blue electrical tape on her nipples, and poses for photos on the spanking bench with a girl named Ashley. Jenica holds a knife to Ashley's throat. The fog machine pumps out some white smoke, and on the stereo, the band Athamay sings what could be a song from central casting on a BDSM porn shoot: "Sex, pain, pain, pleasure/Eternal torture lasts forever...." It all seems a little forced, even for Nelson — who watches Jenica and Ashley near-kiss while playing with the knife.

"It's cool, it's sexy, I guess," Nelson shrugs. "But they're just tourists. For me it's only a turn-on if I'm doing something and the girl is turned on too."

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