In the latest installment of Hopes&Fears’ anonymous interview series, we spoke with a couple who ran a homegrown S&M operation out of their apartment. For anonymity purposes, the girlfriend will simply be known as Dominatrix and the boyfriend as Master P.

Dominatrix: I come from a very Catholic background. My cousin once put up photos of herself wearing a mini skirt in London and my mom assumed she was an escort. It’s like, are you serious? This is how people dress. It’s ridiculous. She’s very conservative. I still feel like in many ways I'm trapped in her past.

We made bank running an indie BDSM dungeon. Image 1.

Elizabeth Sanchez

Illustrator

 

The squat

I got into the S&M scene before Master P. I got into it ten years ago, pretty much paying my way through college. I’d been living on my own since I was 17, and I couldn’t really hold a minimum wage job and still afford to live.

A friend and I were in Long Island City at the time, living in an illegal apartment. The landlord was absent. It was an unofficial squat but we still needed money to live. We had power and water, somehow we were on the grid, yet things weren’t official. My theory is that the people who lived there before us hooked it all up. Apparently, it was a family of vagabond gypsies. When they found out they were getting evicted, they got super spiteful and plugged up all the drains with doll heads.

One day, the place flooded really bad and we were buried in three feet of water. We realized these conditions were just too fucked up but decided to make the most of it because we couldn’t afford anything better. We decided to throw crazy parties and trash the place and to then have a slave come in and pay us to clean up after us. Then, you know, pay us for other stuff as well.

We wondered if this was possible. It turned out to be completely possible. One post on Craigslist and we were flooded with a million responses from a million guys named Mark Smith. They all used pseudonyms. Everything fell into place.

When we first started off, we didn’t have any of the equipment. We had a few corsets but we decided to make the most of what little we had. We would have them strip down completely naked and wear women's underwear. We would have them get down on the floor and clean the entire place in a thong and take out the garbage. The neighbors eventually began watching this from their fire escape.

We made money from the parties, but not nearly as much as we were making from the dom sessions. We would charge $200 an hour. We would eventually bring it up to $300 and ask them to buy us stuff.

We quickly established rules. They weren’t allowed to make eye contact with us. They constantly had to keep their eyes to the floor. If they even looked up they would have to go to the backyard, take a twig and we would punish them.

We made bank running an indie BDSM dungeon. Image 2.

 

A dungeon versus
your apartment

After the whole squat thing, I worked at a dungeon. That was wonderful because even though you are working for someone else, you have protection. You have more at your disposal. You have all the little fantasy rooms to work with. You have a lot more control. The clientele was completely up to us and our comfort level. It’s not sketchy at all. I think it’s actually a very sterile scene to be honest. If you’re doing this in dungeons, it’s very controlled. You’re not allowed to draw blood. Full on nudity is not allowed because that would enter the realms of prostitution. When you’re doing it at home on your own, it does get crazier. I had guys who came to me with knives and wanted to get stabbed. Or they would ask me to stab them with a fucking skewer. That one was actually a professor at the college I went to. I just avoided that department from then on. I never went by the geology department or rock class after that.

Master P: In those situations, I would actually hang around in our bedroom and she would use the kitchen.

Dominatrix: And the other way around, if Master P had clients that were only into being dominated by a dude. I would just sit in the bedroom with a weapon, just in case I needed to run out. We would never be in the house alone.

 

Bringing in Master P

Master P: When we first started dating, Dominatrix had told me the stories, but it wasn’t a confessional. It was just hilarious and private. Growing up in New York City, half of my friends had worked at dungeons and related places over the years. All of the places were in Midtown. I had a friend who by the end of high school was already working at Nutcracker. She would be at my doorstep at 7 in the morning and my parents would make her coffee. She would have thousands of dollars on her and usually some Ketamine. Now she's married with kids.

 

Rules

 

Dominatrix: We quickly established rules. They weren’t allowed to make eye contact with us. They constantly had to keep their eyes to the floor. If they even looked up they would have to go to the backyard, take a twig and we would punish them.

Master P: The most fun thing about that whole job was finding weird creative ways to hurt people. It’s a lot more fun if you improvise.

Dominatrix: We acted very quaint. I felt that was part of our charm, sort of like the aunt next door that abuses you.

It was easy to weed sketchy guys out through email. At first, it was the guys that sent the dick pics that immediatly raised red flags. But eventually, you learn to pick up things just from the tone of their email. The truly submissive, those who are truly into the S&M thing, will approach you with a sense of respect. And there would never be a paper trail.

Master P: This one guy would write me a check for $400, but he'd write the check out to “Cash.”

Dominatrix: I would have them all pay up front. We wouldn’t call it a payment though, we would call it a donation to the goddesses or a tribute.

Clientele

Dominatrix: A lot of these guys are just really lonely and this was sort of a way of making a connection. We wouldn’t hear from some of them for months after a session but would later get a message asking, “Maybe we can meet up for coffee or sometime?” It’s clearly coming out of loneliness.

Master P: We never had a woman.

Dominatrix: We almost did once, but I don’t think she was willing to pay. There were a lot of hasidic men. 

Master P: Nearly half of our clients were hasidic. Contractors.

We made bank running an indie BDSM dungeon. Image 3.

Gifts

Master P: We would advertise for ATM slaves which would mean literally their job was to go with us to an ATM and take all your money out. Those people exist. It’s like, if you find that unicorn, you ride that unicorn. We found people that had a lot of money. They literally got us through school.

Dominatrix: Master P was especially good at getting people to buy us stuff.

Master P: I decided I wanted some nice electronics. He was a middle aged social worker. The subject matter was heavy for him, so the S&M was a way to get out of it. I’ve never been really about tech but I told him to get me a Blackberry, an iPod touch, and a Macbook. The guy showed up two days later at my door with all three. The only thing this guy wanted to do was massage my feet and talk about literature. It wasn’t bad at all. I would smoke a joint and maybe listen to NPR.

Eventually, we actually had to cut him off because I felt like he was falling in love with me. I think a lot of people have their own sort of Pretty Woman fantasy.

 

We made bank running an indie BDSM dungeon. Image 4.

Cast

Dominatrix: I had this one guy who pretty much paid me to break his leg. I couldn’t do it. It’s really difficult to shatter a leg with a mallet. He was a high end lawyer so I went to his condo with a mallet in my bag. His whole thing was to get put in a cast. That was what he got off on. I never ended up shattering his leg. I was going into a frenzy trying to shatter a fucking bone. After an hour, it just ended up being super bruised and swollen, but he casted himself up anyway because that was kind of the whole point.

Psychology

Dominatrix: We did have this one dude that wanted to take it to this crazy psychological realm where he wanted us to dress all in black, like nuns.

Master P: He also wanted one of us in a military hat.

Dominatrix: A lot of them would tell me stories about their fucked up childhoods. This one dude was into being kidnapped. So he would come over as a delivery boy with lunch or whatever. We would take the lunch from him, trip him, kidnap him, tie him up. It got weird once they decided to share their lives with us, why he thinks he’s into this. This guy said friends would kidnap him as a child and dress him in women’s clothing and parade him around the neighborhood.

Master P: We'd hear a lot of fucked up stuff.

Dominatrix: In their personal or professional lives, a lot of these men are very dominant because a lot of them happen to be very wealthy. Since they are in positions of power, the S&M may be a balancing act for them. They need to exercise both sides, that’s important especially when you have the money.

There are a lot of people that are into the controlling parent situation, especially that one guy who was really into the whole military uniform thing. He was into one of us tormenting him while the other comforted him and told him that everything's okay. It gets into this weird sort of very classic Eastern European childhood scenario. One parent torments you while the other one tells you you're not allowed to go anywhere because everything will be fine. There’s an afterlife, there’s no need to flee.

These sessions would usually last from 45 minutes to a couple of hours. The guy who was into getting kidnapped, I would tie him up and leave him in the bathroom for hours. You know, go outside, come back, live my life, do my homework.

Chores

Master P: If they are doing your laundry, it’s gonna be three hours. They would do the dishes, clean our tiles with a toothbrush. A lot of things would get cleaned with toothbrushes. But here’s the thing; a lot of these guys would do a shitty job cleaning because they want to be punished. So you really need to make sure they actually clean things properly, otherwise you have to clean after them. So you would get people who would literally leave a glass dirty while they’re doing dishes so you punish them. If I was going to be doing something for three hours, for an hour I’d put them on their hands and knees and use them as a footstool. If I needed to ash my cigarette, I’d have them put out their hand for me.

Dominatrix: We used to have poker nights where we would have a few slaves come over and serve us as foot stools, or pour us glasses of wine.

Master P: We would play violin music. You either have really powerful gay men or a lot of sad sacks. I think you had more high power people.

Dominatrix: No, I definitely had a nice sampling of both.

Master P: When you work for tips, you're smiling at people you can’t stand. So I feel like in these kinds of situations when you’re playing a part that this person's paying you for, they are definitely attracted to you if you’re doing a good job. You’re giving them something that no one else is, so you become very special. I found that once people start pathologizing themselves to you, they’ll never turn back. The second they try to explain themselves to you, that says that they’ve gotten to a point where they actually see you as a person who they need to justify themselves to, and the whole power dynamic is gone.

Dominatrix: Or they take a break for a year or two and then text you out of the blue at 2 in the morning.

Master P: I got a Facebook friend request from one guy a year ago. He must have searched my phone number or something. I don’t even remember him as a client.

 

We would advertise for ATM slaves which would mean literally their job was to go with us to an ATM and take all your money out. Those people exist. It’s like, if you find that unicorn, you ride that unicorn.

We made bank running an indie BDSM dungeon. Image 5.

 

The Hungarian

Master P: I had one guy who bruised his hip in our shower. He had a weird Hungarian accent. He was 70 years old, a bachelor, and every night he was into some kind of weird sex thing. When he came to our place, neither of us liked him. The next day, he sent me an email saying how he bruised his hip in our shower.

Dominatrix: I just didn’t know what to make of it. Are you trying to file a lawsuit or something?

Master P: I responded that it’s not our responsibility. He’s like, "You know the reason I’m writing is that when I went to the doctor to get it looked at, he told me it turns out that I have high cholesterol, so thank you very much."

Master P: What was this man doing in my shower? I was peeing on him. It’s the easiest thing in the world, especially if you have a caffeinated existence. You don’t need to buy any equipment. You just need to shower, which most of us have. You don’t do it outside of the shower. That was a huge part of my repertoire.

Dominatrix: And you were really one of the few people to do it. That’s a line that a lot of people won’t cross.

London banker

Master P: I had this guy. He was British, a proper London banker type. He was really into shoes. He sends me an email he’s like, “First thing, listen, I know we will be able to work together if you open the door and immediately kick me in the balls.” Like, if before I’m even in your apartment, you kick me in the balls as hard as you can. And I’m like “okay.” So he gets there, opens the door, and I swiftly kick him in the balls. He says “thank you,” and comes inside and immediately assumes a force stance. I kick him in the balls for a good 30 minutes and I take him to the bathroom, tell him to strip and lie down in the shower, and I direct the cold water directly onto the balls where I had been kicking him. Then he says, "Please sir, please sir, where are your shoes?" So I take off one of my shoes and put it on his mouth and leave. When I come back five minutes later he hasn’t even moved. He asks, “Can you kick me some more?” So I kicked him for another five minutes and then I went, "I’m bored, pay me." So he gets his wallet, pays me, assumes the position, I kick him again and he goes back to London. He took a lot of abuse in a very short amount of time. I mean, I could've caused him permanent damage, you know? That was towards the end, that was when I got good at that stuff. I knew what I was doing, and that kind of freaked me out, that level of sadism. I used to be a hippie, I’m not trying to be that sadistic. The cold water, I mean, I pretty much sat and smoked a cigarette.

You’re giving them something that no one else is, so you become very special. I found that once people start pathologizing themselves to you, they’ll never turn back.

Velvet Cigars

Master P: You know Velvet Cigars on Christopher Street? The proprietor of that place was legendary to everyone who went high school in the city. You would go there and whip your dick out and get two packs of cigarettes. We had a friend who was kind of like his casting agent, and he would just go around and be like, “Hey, if you need cigarettes, money, come to Velvet Cigars.” Also, he would give you $300 for a hug, it was pretty great. It was a gyrating hug.

We were all sitting around reading Tim Carroll’s memoirs and we were making money that way. I remember there was still one guy in the Village who walked up to me and a friend of mine—we were 14—and offered us $100 each to spit in his mouth. It just happens, you know?

I used to know a lot of crusty kids who were always selling themselves to somebody in some way. There’s a cool kind of industry. Our friend used to mail his socks to this one guy in Indiana. My friend was into the train hopping thing, and wherever he was in the country he would just mail the socks he had been wearing for a couple months to this guy and would request a couple hundred bucks.

Stopping

Dominatrix: I stopped after a guy wanted to be comforted after the beatings. I was not willing to hug him. Hugs are for certain types of people. It wasn’t even the fact that he wanted a hug, but, it was when he tried to reason with us. When we first said “no,” his reaction was like, “Maybe we can all sit down and talk about this, maybe we can talk about why we’re uncomfortable in the first place, I feel like that’s a very interesting path for us to go down.” And I was like “Yeah, I don’t think so, this is just to make money not for, like, delving into our souls.”

Master P: It can be fun but sometimes it’s just pathetic. You’re dealing with all these really sad people. Eventually, I found another job that just seemed like less trouble.

We made bank running an indie BDSM dungeon. Image 6.

The Payoff

It paid for a great vacation to Jamaica. We also developed a really bad cocaine habit because of how much money we were making, but eventually that got sorted out.

Most of the people who work in the professional realm have PhDs and stuff. I met a woman who works as a dominatrix who has her PhD in Women’s Studies. She has no problem saying, "I’m a dominatrix.”

You can either sell drugs and risk your livelihood or you could do this. There’s only a few things you could do for that much money while you’re still in school. It basically enabled me to do internships that I would never have been able to do otherwise. No one was giving me any subsidies. But with S&M, I got to do awesome internships with amazing organizations.

Dominatrix: It allowed me to paint and put together a few art shows. Imagine working an eight to nine hour day at a diner making $50 a day six days a week and not having time for anything for anything else.

Art is in many ways a luxury, especially the practice of it. You can’t do it if you’re starving. I don’t believe in starving artists. Part of being an artist is finding a way to feed yourself to survive, so that you’re not constantly seeking the basics.

Dominatrix: It was fun, and I just love that we got to go to Jamaica for two weeks and fuck around, smoking weed and renting jet skis.

Master P: What we did was very successful. What made me stop was that it was almost kind of getting too successful. Everybody knew my name. Strangers were calling me.

Dominatrix: I’ve suppressed a lot of these memories but not even out of shame or anything, just to move on with life. It can be a huge distraction like, “Why don’t I just keep doing this,” but yeah, it definitely helped me through my apprenticeship. Sometimes, I think about doing it occasionally or something, you know Airbnb-ing our apartment and renting a hotel for a couple of days. Or renting a cabin in the adirondacks and making it its own dungeon.

I couldn’t do it. It’s really difficult to shatter a leg with a mallet.