contributed by Yin Quan

To take pride in one’s sexuality is a rather odd concept if taken at the basic level.  It would be akin to being proud of an appetite for chocolate or harboring conceit for favoring the color blue.  When the LGBT movement declares pride, it is the struggle against discrimination that one takes pride in.  It is the perseverance against shame and violence that inspires dignity and courage.  As our country takes steps forward, albeit small and slow and sometimes many frustratingly backwards, in civil liberties of sexual freedom, coming out as queer and/or kinky is becoming…easier is not the word, but perhaps more optional.  Finding communities and people to connect with is certainly more convenient with use of the internet and the ever-growing amount of political and social outreach groups. 

Instead of donning colored hankies and leather chaps to cruise the local bars or attend leather workshops, kinksters can now connect via social media. Younger generations of kinksters are able to peruse an astounding menu of sexual interests and semantics of identity and “come out” as easily as it is to order a pizza.  Kink has also become more integrated into the mainstream.  “Fifty Shades of Grey,” written by EL James, brought the subject of BDSM to every suburban household in England and America. Though derided by those who believe themselves to be the proper authorities on kink, the book became a cultural phenomenon and it allowed this once hidden taboo to be acknowledged and validated. During my career as a dominatrix, I found that even clients of more conservative generations, who had spent most of their lives hiding their BDSM disposition, were finding the courage to come out to their wives, or if single, opting to date other kinksters. For many of us, it’s still a hard decision.  Who do we come out to and why? The details of our bedroom proclivities need not enter dining room conversation, but what if our sexual orientation extends into a lifestyle, an identity? Or career?  I finally had the courage to come out to my mother years ago about my leather lifestyle and profession and it ended in tears. 

When I was six years old my mother once brought me to her laboratory where she conducted all kinds of unfathomable deeds to the human chromosome.  We collected a small tube of rainwater from a puddle in the parking lot and squirted the liquid into a dish set under a microscope.  Within that drop of water, through the high power lens, I was able to see life wiggling, zooming, and flagellating about in the form of protozoans and amoebas. My mother tightened the focus and we looked at a single cell.  “This is us,” she stated.  “The nucleus, the mitochondria, everything is connected and everything works together.  From that cell, we are formed, and you and I are each part of that drop of water, part of the earth and universe beyond. We all have a purpose.”

My mother is my inspiration of strength, intelligence, and nurturing.  A genetic engineer, who is as skilled at extracting mono-clonal antibodies for AIDs research as she is at concocting a five course meal from her wok.  As a single working mother, she raised two kids with piano and violin lessons, homemade dumplings, and two cats and sent us off to Ivy League universities.  She stood by my side through my years of depression, when, struggling with sadomasochism, I had lost my purpose.  She is, in every way, a healer, a priestess, a matriarch.  When I hold her hand, I feel the completion of a heritage. 

When I began working as a professional dominatrix, I was living in the San Francisco Bay Area.  The continent divided me from my mother’s New Jersey home.  I remember cradling the phone against my ear and telling her that I had found a steady job in a law office, shuffling papers, editing.  I described a job so boring that it wasn’t worth discussing.  Meanwhile, I was hiding the avidity fueled by my new dominatrix job. I was learning a practice that I felt was as therapeutic and fulfilling for me as it was for the clients. I had found my purpose.

I was troubled by the chasm of deceit that I carved, but I let myself believe that it would be more hurtful to her to tell her the truth of my profession.  In other words, I felt I was protecting her when, in fact, I was also protecting myself from a shame I wasn’t ready to face.  I felt I would be a disappointment to my mother if she knew that I had chosen a career that, by society’s standards, seemed demoralized and even abusive. Though professional domination falls in the grey area of legalities, it is still considered sex work.  Sex worker. I don’t think I have to explain how hard it is to claim this identity, especially to one’s mother.

After my first few months of working as a professional dominatrix, I returned to New Jersey for a holiday visit and my mother noticed that something vital had changed in me.  I had started laughing more, smiling more.  I was embracing life with exuberance.  When she asked me how I had managed to climb out of my former depressive mind state, I attempted to describe the kink community and leather life style. Instead of an eloquent and enlightening discourse on the practices of consensual BDSM, jumbled words fell out of my mouth—words like: dungeons, leather community, bondage, fetish worship.  It was as if I was telling my mother that her daughter had gone to California to “find her self” and had ended up in a sadomasochistic, polygamist cult that worshiped feet. I could see the bewilderment in her eyes and I didn’t have the grounds to assuage those fears at the time, so I wrapped it up with the words “holistic healing…like acupuncture” to tie BDSM to something she could relate to.  It worked.  She sighed and patted me on the arm, near my teen angst cutting scars, and said, “As long as you’re not hurting yourself anymore…” I chose not to tell her about my rituals with flesh hooks. 

Over the years, as my involvement with BDSM deepened and my business thrived, I would allow more information to seep into our conversations– physical/psychological/holistic/trainer/guide/counselor.  I once uttered the word “dominatrix” to her and she replied, “My English isn’t very good. I don’t know that word.”  It was an obvious way for a smart woman like my mother to say, “I’m not ready to know.” 

So I let more years pass.  As more lies trickled out when I spoke of my career, the more disconcerted I felt.  I was no longer ashamed of the work; I was ashamed of the lies.  I was proud of my life.  I had found healing and reclamation in my BDSM practice and had created a solid business of it.  And I had found a life partner, someone as kinky and deeply immersed in the leather community as I. 

My partner was out to his parents about his kink and so I was, as well. When his mother eye’d my cage during an educational visit to my studio, she exclaimed in her open-vowel’d South African accent, “Ouy My!  Ai hope you don’t get mad at Robbie an’ put ‘im in there!” 

I explained, “Oh no.  That’s where he goes if I’m happy.  When I’m angry, he has to sit on the couch and watch television.” The family doesn’t need to know details, but that our lifestyle is not hidden allows ease for humor and a validation in identity. After that visit, I felt I was being unfair to my mother for not giving her the chance to know me, for not giving us the chance to be at ease.

I invited my mother to my studio.  From the subway, I held her hand as we walked down the street, like a little girl pulling her mother to the zoo.  As we entered my BDSM studio, I let her look around and I said nothing for a while.  Then I began to talk about bondage, about pain, about discipline, and fetish.  I told her that even though I didn’t have conventional sex with clients, it was still the sex industry.  I told her about the need for pain as a sadist and a masochist– she had seen me wrestle with it; she had been my lifeline.  She looked at the hemp ropes, the steel furniture.  Her eyes widened at the leather floggers and paddles.  Then she saw my alter and pointed to the Quan Yin statue, the Boddhivista of Mercy, that she had given me years ago and her body relaxed. 

We sat down and she said something like, “You have chosen a harder path that most people wouldn’t understand or accept.  But you help others find safety in the same need that you have.  It takes a lot of energy to deal with so much pain.”  

And then she said exactly these words, “I’m very proud of you.”  And that’s when I started to cry. 


photo: Quan Yin statue on Colette’s altar