The tight leather corset was crushing my ribs. I straightened my back and let out a sigh, checking myself in the mirror.
"Hurry up," my new boss yelled from the room next door. "We have a client in less than 30 minutes. And this guy is always on time."
The mistress who had recently hired me as a dominatrix was a five-foot-tall Cuban woman with long, manicured nails and a tattoo of a dragon crawling down her back. She wore a full-body fishnet stocking with a latex cincher.
Standing five feet 11 inches, with an athletic build, I towered over her petite frame, even when she was wearing the highest of heels. "The corset is way too tight," I screamed back, gasping for air. "I can't breathe." I wasn't used to wearing clothing this restrictive, but beauty is pain. I had to look great for my first session.
Here I was, barely 20 years old, a penniless student trying out for my first real job, unless you count lifeguarding at the community pool back home in suburban Staten Island. What in hell was I doing? A month ago, I had been sitting in a classroom surrounded by gel-haired meatheads named Vinnie and Frankie, living in what seemed like an endless rerun of MTV's Jersey Shore. The boredom was overwhelming. Sure, I'd had kinky fantasies about becoming a femme fatale, the sort of woman who could control a man with a flick of her wrist. Late at night in my pink bedroom at my parents' house, I would imagine what it would be like to be Wanda, the lead female character in Leopold von Sacher-Masoch's 19th-century novel, Venus in Furs, the story of a cruel mistress who initially recoils at dominating her submissive lover but grows to love it.
Now fantasy had become reality. I wondered what my mom would say if she knew men were willing to pay up to $250 an hour to worship me.
The mistress rushed into the bathroom where I was applying makeup and handed me a pair of fishnet stockings. I had no money to invest in costumes, so I had to borrow hers. "Here, wear these," she said. "And fix your makeup. You look like a hippie chick. Make it darker. You're a dominatrix, for Christ's sake."
The client would be here at any minute. I sat on a bondage table next to the mistress. We were ready for the session.
I looked up at the surveillance monitor and saw the client's car pull into the driveway of the tidy ranch house that doubled as a dungeon. It was 11 a.m. on the dot. The mistress explained the client was a sad, older man still mourning his recently deceased wife. I knew it was a difficult time for him and that seeing a mistress was a way for him to cope with pain and loss. Of course, I put all of that out of my head. Sensitivity isn't part of the job.
He quickly undressed in the bathroom and then came out and kneeled before us, asking how he could serve these "two beautiful women." The mistress looked at me and smiled. It was my session, and it was up to me to decide what to do with this worthless slug. She was there just to observe.
I glanced around the room at the instruments of torture hanging from the red-painted walls. The assortment was bewildering. I wanted to use them all — floggers, canes, riding crops, paddles, electric wands, nipple clamps, ropes, clothespins, and all manner of leather restraints. A cage stood in the corner next to a dusty cabinet that contained rubber gloves, lubricants, metal rods, and needles for so-called medical play.
A framed picture of a woman's intimate parts hung next to a variety of ball gags. The mistress had told me the client enjoyed having his nipples tortured, so I grabbed a pair of clamps with metallic crocodile teeth.
I pulled him closer and whispered in his ear: "I think I found something you would enjoy, you little subbie."
He quivered at the sight of the clamps. I squeezed his round nipples between my thumb and index finger. He winced; clear liquid leaked out. "Oh, you're pathetic," I screamed at him and turned to the mistress. "Look what we've got here! His nipples are lactating, and I'm just getting started."
I am a pervert to some and a goddess to others. I am a professional dominatrix, and I entered this unusual line of work after arriving in Miami last August, fresh off a Greyhound from New York. My only possessions were a bag full of sex toys and a well-thumbed paperback copy of the Marquis de Sade's The 120 Days of Sodom. Stepping off the bus that day after a grueling 36-hour journey, I was blasted by the punishing heat like a furnace had hit me. Jesus, it was sticky. This was my first time in Miami. Actually, this was my first time anywhere outside of New York since my family emigrated from Uzbekistan in 2002.
If I was going to stay, I needed a job fast. I applied for every straight gig imaginable — office receptionist, supermarket cashier, Russian interpreter, live-in nanny, lifeguard — but soon it became clear there wasn't much demand for a 20-year-old with an associate's degree in journalism and no real work experience.
Miami, I discovered, was a city in economic free fall. Everywhere there were signs: the stalled construction sites; the homeless camped out on cardboard boxes in deserted parking lots next to half-vacant apartment buildings; the mostly empty high-end fashion stores; the down-on-their-luck party girls prowling the clubs, batting fake eyelashes in search of the dwindling population of SoBe playboys. On Washington Avenue, the only places doing real business were tattoo parlors and pizza joints.
Desperate for money to pay the bills, I resorted to the Adult Gigs section of Craigslist, the place to go for those in dire need of quick cash. I ignored the obvious cons — such as the posts seeking women for X-rated web cam sessions that demanded a social security number. Then there were the creeps: One man was looking for "young, attractive females to wrestle" and offering $1,000 per day. I replied, citing my five years as a trained martial artist. He wrote back and said I was too qualified and too old. But if I knew any girls under age 18 who were willing to wrestle him and his friends in the nude at his private residence, I should send them over. He would give me a finder's fee. I replied that it sounded more like a gangbang than a wrestling match, and he was lucky I didn't call the police.
Another post was titled "Submissive Assistant to Make Executive Salary." A man claiming to be a CEO of a midsize company on Brickell wanted to hire a secretary. Duties included not only typing and filing but also being spanked when no one else was in the office. The starting pay was $85,000. We set up a meeting, but I pulled out at the last minute when he asked whether I would also mind anal intercourse.
One man I met through Craigslist was a stubby Asian in his 40s who said he was a photographer for a tasteful erotic magazine similar to Playboy that was headquartered in North Korea. North Korea has skin mags? I remember thinking. But I was seduced by the $12,000 offered for a day's work. I realized I was being scammed when he took me not to a professional photo studio but to a shabby motel with stained carpets in Dadeland South. He asked me to strip for test shots and then tried to finger me. I pushed him away and told him to drive me back to the Metrorail right away. Then I threatened to call the cops, and the phony photographer obliged.
Finally, I found a posting that seemed semilegitimate: "Extras Wanted Now 4 Club Scene Shoot. WHITE/LATINA FEMALES ONLY! No Sex. No Nude. Just watching and being comfortable around Sexual activitys."
The company was recruiting models for a Girls Gone Wild-style video. Or so it claimed. For $500, all I had to do was flash my boobs. Only when I arrived at the studio in a nondescript two-story office building near Miami International Airport did I realize I would need to do more to earn the money. It was actually a porn shoot. And there was a price list. Bare your chest for $100. A hand job earned $50 more. There was $250 to get down on your knees and blow.
When the shoot began, a male stripper dressed like Indiana Jones — complete with pith helmet and whip but sans trousers — jumped on top of me. When he began shaking his rear in my face, I — well — let's just say I assaulted his nether region. He yelped like a scolded puppy, which disrupted the whole shoot. That put an end to my porn career. I was blackballed by the industry.
I was running out of options and growing tired of Miami. Far from being the glamorous city of legend, it seemed more like a mecca for scammers, liars, and sleazebags. I felt like I couldn't trust anyone.
Then I decided to take control of my destiny. I had a friend who worked as a dominatrix in New York. She had described a lifestyle rife with adventure and money. So I did a Google search for dommes in South Florida and found Lady Regina, owner of a well-established dungeon called Command Performance in Pompano Beach. She put me in touch with a woman who owned a dungeon in Miami and was looking to hire new girls.
The fetish scene attracted me for several reasons. First, I had no problem inflicting pain on another human as long as it was consensual. It sounded like fun, certainly more than bagging groceries at Publix. Another was the money: Though Miami's subculture is relatively small, I had heard you could earn as much as $250 an hour, with 50 percent going to the dungeon owner.
But my main reason was personal. I've always been kinky, ever since as a 5-year-old kindergartner I forced classmates to strip down to their underwear, locked them in the bathroom, and made them kiss each other. I was a strange child. Everybody said so. Boys in my neighborhood in Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan, would run crying across the street to avoid me. My father was a strict Russian, and like all men of this ilk, he believed in corporal punishment to control wayward children. But when I was 6 years old, my mother put a stop to that. She had noticed me squirming on his lap as he spanked me with a hairbrush. I was enjoying it. After that, my parents' penalties changed to locking me in the bedroom and making me read books.
And I had some strange compulsions. One time, when I was a child, I ended up killing a blind kitten after using him as a sex toy. Lost in erotic reverie, I became so excited I accidently closed my legs and squashed the poor thing to death. For years, I thought I had gotten away with the crime, but later I learned my parents had figured out what had happened. More than anyone, they knew how weird I was.
My family and I immigrated to Staten Island in 2002 when I was 13. Back then, Schindler's List was a big favorite. There was something that really turned me on about Ralph Fiennes in full Nazi regalia. Then I began dating, but few of the relationships lasted beyond a date or two. It was hard finding a nice boy on Staten Island who was willing to strangle me. Usually, they cursed me out and rushed for the door once they heard what I wanted.
Like Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita, I was an "exasperating brat" prone to "fits of disorganized boredom" and "vehement and intense griping." Males of my age could not handle me, so just like the tiny beauty created by the Russian genius, I became attracted to older men. Only they would put up with my caprices. Indeed, mature guys turned me on, so the sight of sagging skin and hanging paunches didn't bother me as it would most girls my age.
Given my biography, becoming a professional domme seemed like the perfect career choice.
As I placed the nipple clamps on the sorrowful widower, he dared to speak. "Mistress, I want to be punched in the stomach. Please. A bad boy like me deserves to be in pain."
"All right then," I replied. So I dragged him across the room by the collar. Then I tied both of his ankles and one wrist to an x-shaped, wooden contraption known as a Saint Andrew's cross and put on a pair of boxing gloves.
But I hesitated to throw the first punch. I'm not some South Beach stick chick, more a broad-shouldered Xena Warrior Princess type. The sub — short for submissive, a term commonly used in the trade — was in his 60s. I was afraid I might hurt him. What if he had a heart attack? The safety of the client is a constant worry for the professional domme. I didn't want to end up in the newspapers like Massachusetts dominatrix Lauren Asher, AKA Mistress Lauren, who was arrested for manslaughter in 2006 after one of her clients died of a heart attack during a session. Although she was eventually acquitted, the case sent a shock wave through the bondage/discipline/sadomasochism scene. I comforted myself with the knowledge that at least I knew CPR.
I turned around and looked at the head mistress. She seemed satisfied so far but was waiting for me to show I had what it takes. "Go on — hit him," she said.
I took a deep breath, swung my arm back as far as it would go, and threw the hardest punch I could muster into his solar plexus. The sub cried out in agony but did not call "red" — the code word kinky people use when the pain is too much and they want to stop the session. So I threw another punch. Then another. This aroused him. He smiled and smiled some more. Then it was over.
I left the dungeon to smoke a cigarette. I was exhausted. My muscles ached. Being a dominatrix was hard physical labor.
The head mistress followed me outside. "You did great," she said. She pulled a roll of money from her cleavage and handed me a hundred bucks. My first session was a success.
I quickly learned my new profession. There were a number of rules, the most important of which was no sexual intercourse. That counts as prostitution, which is illegal. No direct genital-to-genital contact is permitted, but you can tie up a client and shock him with an electric wand. Go figure.
Strap-on dildos, I was told, occupy a legal gray area. A court might construe their use as sodomy, which could earn you a fine and jail time. But the law is rarely enforced, so a lot of girls do it. Urination, defecation, and vomiting on a client are all things never done on a first visit. There's no way to know who's a cop.
Then there's the psychology of it. Submissives — sometimes called slaves — are allowed to address the domme only as "mistress" and are punished accordingly if they fail to do so. Clients are forbidden from looking the mistress directly in the eye; that's a sign of disrespect. There is, of course, a sexual element.
Rules in the place where I worked are strictly enforced. After the client leaves, the mistress is expected to clean sex toys and dispose of any rubber gloves. She also must wipe down the surfaces of the equipment with paper towels in preparation for the next customer.
Over six months, I saw male sexuality in all its kinky variety: from guys into light spanking and sensual sweet talk to those who are into hard-core caning and lashings of humiliation.
During the recent Winter Music Conference, my boss received a call from a drunken tourist who requested a severe double-domme corporal-punishment session. He left the level of severity up to us. He was an odd fish, a long and lean 70-year-old who was covered in liver spots and enjoyed partying to techno music. He arrived at the dungeon early Friday morning, two hours after the scheduled appointment at midnight. We were not pleased, so we strapped his naked body to the bondage table and caned him in the rear for a full hour. There was even some blood. He begged us to stop, but he didn't use the code word red, so we refused. When I poured salt and alcohol onto his wounded flesh, there was still no code red. He cried like a little baby.
The dungeon's owner taunted him: "We thought you could handle corporal punishment. I guess not." He lay on the table sobbing for ten minutes. Then, suddenly, he stopped. "It was more than I expected," he stuttered, looking drained. "I really enjoyed it."
The meticulous fantasies that some men have are often comical, and the fact that they are willing to pay to fulfill those fantasies is even funnier.
A recent client walked into the dungeon with a plastic bag full of props — a clown nose, a ballet tutu, and a butt plug with a piggy tail attached to it. I dressed him in the tutu while he attached the clown nose with a tube of superglue. He knelt before me and began sniffing as if he were searching for truffles. "Oink, oink," he grunted.
Annoyed at his porcine impertinence, I slapped his face and grabbed his hair, which, much to my surprise, came off in my hand. It was a toupee. He re-attached it with the same tube of glue he had used for the clown nose, while I tried to suppress my giggles.
Men seek refuge in a dungeon for a variety of reasons, but one of the most obvious ones is they are afraid to share their deepest and darkest fantasies with their wives or girlfriends. One such guy — one of the few clients I developed an emotional bond with — was a tall, handsome European businessman who visited me every Tuesday. He loved me as a submissive should love a mistress. He couldn't get enough of my insults.
And I loved him as a dominatrix loves her human pet. He was a creative man who always amused me and showered me with gifts such as bottles of fine wine and dresses, as well as very generous tips. Every week, it would be something new with him. One week, I would be a cruel mistress; the next, I would be a sensual goddess who would whisper naughty things in his ear and gently spank his bottom. Our fantasy play came to an abrupt end when his wife discovered evidence of our weekly assignations.
I was heartbroken when I learned our sadomasochistic relationship was over. Not only were the gifts and money gone, but so was a rare intimacy at work. Maybe it was just the kind of low-level sexual tension a handsome executive shares with his sexy secretary — but more twisted.
It's Wednesday night at Graziano's, an Argentine steak house in Coral Gables, and the place is packed. Sitting before me, squirming, is a scrawny young man in his late 20s with acne and a jutting overbite. He wants to be publicly humiliated. He's sitting on a vibrating butt plug that's operated by remote control. As the waiter approaches, my boss reaches under the table and presses a button. The subbie muffles a squeal of delight. The waiter is puzzled: "What's that buzzing sound?"
I look at the head mistress and chuckle. The man has no idea what we we're up to.
"I never thought I'd do this," the client whispers after the waiter leaves. This is his first session in public, and he's red-faced with pleasure.
"You must really love what you do," he says.
I think for a moment and realize he's right. I began doing this for the money but continue for the thrill. This is not the case with every client, but there's something about seeing a man in total submission that's a turn-on. That might seem unhealthy to some people, but having grown up in a Muslim-majority country where you can be prosecuted for even thinking about doing what I do for a living, I find it strangely liberating.
Being a dominatrix is not for the faint of heart. You need to be part nurse, part actress, and part psychologist. And the job certainly has its drawbacks. Having someone suck your toes for 60 minutes requires a lot of patience.
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But when it's good, it's so good that I sometimes think I should be paying the clients. In the heat of a session, something comes over me that makes me higher than any drug. It's as if I am possessed by pure id, a surge of untrammeled sexual electricity. Looking down at a slave's prostrate body, I cackle like a B-movie villain and feel intoxicated with my own power.
I've always been an exhibitionist, and at these moments, I feel most alive, most like me.
I can't see myself doing this for the rest of my life. My true dream is to become a professional writer, penning provocative articles and best-selling books about the dark side of human sexuality, the one field that, despite my tender years, I know something about.
But for the time being, at least until the economy picks up, it's more than fine, providing me insight into how — to paraphrase the Marquis de Sade — it is through pain that one comes to fully appreciate pleasure.