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Whip through a dominatrix den.

By Shelly Ridenour

MAY 26, 1998: 

Shelly Ridenour whips through a private BD/SM club

A voluptuous brunette in her early thirties, sporting round glasses and a friendly smile, Simone could easily pass for a suburban, minivan-driving mom. Cordial and even bubbly, she welcomes me into her den ("Sorry about the sofa," she shrugs toward the mauled cushions. "My dog can be a little rowdy.") and offers up a soda and snacks from a Tupperware serving bowl. Chips, dips, chains, whips, anyone? "William, get me a drink," she calmly but firmly orders her charge before granting him permission to speak with me.

This den is actually a back room at the private BD/SM (bondage and domination/sadomasochism) club, the Leather Rose. William is not her son; and Simone is no Maria Von Trapp: Girls in chain dresses with black leather sashes/rope whips that scar you with snap-crackle lashes/fire play and blood sport and play piercing stings - these are a few of her favorite things.

Simone - Mistress Simone to you, you filthy bastard - is a professional dominatrix. When not managing a sex toy store, she makes her living flogging, play piercing, and tying up men and women with a need to be dominated, as many as ten per week. She keeps a very private chamber somewhere on the Near West Side where clients - many of whom find out about her via word of mouth or through the Internet - can play out "mommy" or "nurse" scenes to their hearts' content.

Separate from her submissive clients, William - whom everyone else calls Bill - is her personal slave, a man who spends a good part of his days catering to Simone's every whim, be it fetching her a drink or massaging her feet. To hear William tell it, he is simply carrying on the torch of men like Ward Cleaver. "I do this because I believe in the old-fashioned ways. It used to be that a man was expected to totally take care of a woman, to give her everything she needed, and that was called chivalrous. There's not enough of that anymore."

Currently, Simone dominates William, her husband/lifestyle submissive Jim, and a girlfriend, though she's had some seven personal slaves during her seven years as a professional dominatrix, or pro-dom. "Some doms have a stable of slaves, but that would exhaust me," she says. "If I've been playing with three clients for six hours, then I come here and my slave wants to play, and I go home and my husband wants to play, I can't do it! It wears me out." "It's like having a bunch of pets who can do different tricks," sighs Mistress Crickett, a pro-dom in her early twenties with a long curtain of tangerine hair, perky features, and black leather stiletto boots ending just above her knee in a halo of needle-sharp spikes. "That's cool, but you still have to take care of each one of them."

INCOMPATIBILITY, n. In matrimony a similarity of tastes, particularly the taste for domination. Incompatibility may, however, consist of a meek-eyed matron living just around the corner. It has even been known to wear a moustache. - Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914), "The Devil's Dictionary"

Trevor is fidgety. Boyishly cute in a lanky way, his shaved head, chain-and-lock choker, leather vest and easy grin make him look like any Nine Inch Nails-loving, late-night goth club kid. He is in fact a military man - and the husband of Mistress Crickett. Wriggling around in his chair with an obvious pained look on his face, he seems to have an army of ants in his pants.

"What's wrong with you?" Simone snaps.

"Nothing," he murmurs sheepishly.

"What are you wearing that hurts so much?"

"Nothing." His cherry-red blush betrays his word.

"Crickett, your slave is lying to me!" Simone yells, drawing Crickett out from behind the bar and over to where her husband/slave now slumps. Simone fills her in, and Crickett yanks the chain tight around his neck. "If you're going to lie about it, you have to show them. Show 'em!" Obediently - and there's really no other word to describe it - Trevor rises to his jack boots, unlashes his leather belt, and drops trou. Turns out the ants in his pants were actually a new black leather cock-and-ball ring that had taken a turn for, well, the worse.

The happy couple has been married six months; typical newlyweds, they are can't-keep-their-hands-off-each-other affectionate, making plans for babies and asking themselves if Chicago is where they want to stay. Nonetheless, they both admit jealousy can be a problem.

"It was hard when we were first married," admits Trevor, who only really got into S&M as a lifestyle after meeting and falling in love with Crickett. "'Bye honey, I'm going off to work' meant 'I'm going to play with naked men,' and that wasn't easy for me. But I'm getting better about it. I've watched her enough at work [tending the soda bar at the Leather Rose] for it not to be a big deal. It's still hard when we have a fight and then she goes off to work. I'll feel like she's not paying enough attention to me, or playing with me enough, but she's going off to play with other guys. Of course I get jealous."

Jim and Simone can identify. Married for five years, they acknowledge their situation is unique in its possibilities for jealousy, but say that they're really like any other couple. "You go through that period of fucking all the time, and then it just naturally slows down," Simone says. "That happens to everybody. But with me I'm still being intimate - though not having sex with - other people. Sometimes that gets to your partner."

Crickett and Simone have their limits of what they will and will not do with clients, and those limits are largely defined by what their mates are comfortable with. "Some things you have to save to be special for them," Crickett says. "Plus, when it's blood sport and piercing, I don't wear gloves with my husband like I would with a client. You have that greater intimacy."

Unlike prostitution, the dominatrix/submissive relationship is all about intimacy. Trust is the key component when you are exposing not only your body but your psyche's deepest desires. Simone and Crickett have to be able to trust their submissives to be cooperative and discreet; they have to trust them not to take advantage of a vulnerable situation - to those ends they conduct extensive interviews before taking on new clients. "I won't be with anyone I don't want to be with," Simone states. And, in return, those clients must trust Simone and Crickett not to flog them so hard they'll bruise a kidney.

"S&M has become trendy and fashionable," Simone admits. "So you've got a lot of strippers who are now too old to dance, and they think they can make money as pro-doms. They think it's all just whipping someone and bossing them around. They don't know what they're doing, and that's extremely dangerous. You can't just go at someone with a whip."

Simone was trained in the ways of domination by "a little old lady who taught me well." Besides learning how to crack a whip and grind her boot heel, she studied anatomy and places a high premium on safety. And she sees herself providing much more than just a way for clients to get off.

"Dominatrixes are therapists, teachers and support groups all in one," Simone says. "A big part of it is talking to clients about why they have these desires and why they need to fill them." She got into the business to help other women get over their sexual repression. Simone herself says she has always been uninhibited; Crickett admits to having been repressed as a teenager, but says that drove her to "break down the doors and just keep running."

"We are not a commercial dungeon and there are no female dominants or submissives 'available' to play with or 'For Hire.' Everyone is on their own. If you meet someone here and that person is interested in playing, more power to you. I believe that S/M and B/D should be fun; it is play-time, nothing to take too serious. If you are dominant that is great but that does not mean that your shit don't stink, or that you have the right to dominate people that have not voluntarily submitted to you. If you are submissive, it doesn't mean that you are everyone's slave. You only submit to the individual you choose to submit to... If you wish to get barred from the club, go up to a submissive and ask her to dominate you, or ask her if you can show her your 'peepee.'" - The Leather Rose Rules of Engagement The interaction at the Leather Rose is legal, though it is admittedly a gray area. According to Officer Patrick Camden of the Chicago Police Department, the play that blossoms inside the club is within the law "so long as there is no open and notorious sex act taking place." The Leather Rose stays on the right side of the law because it is a members-only club, because no alcohol is served, and because no money is exchanged for sex. These people are very aware of what acts are and are not legal, and they're ready to toss out anyone unwilling to obey the law. It's not a swing club. And keep in mind that Simone and Crickett's business is a professional service rendered, just like a massage; sexual intercourse is not a factor. "It's more about power than anything else," Simone says. That quest for power is a worldwide obsession; a search through non-commercial directories of dominatrices on the web turns up whipcrackers from Barcelona (Domina Zara) to Atlanta (Precious Paine), Las Vegas (Princess Sabrina Jean Gates) to Logansport, Indiana (Mistress Rainy), Dusseldorf (Frau Von Bergen) to New York City (Empress Dominique) to Raleigh, North Carolina (Lady Avalon Wild). If your only familiarity with B/D is as an MTV fashion statement, the Leather Rose is a shock to the system. Not necessarily the toy store, crammed as it is with the same suede floggers and plush handcuffs and patent fetish stilettos you see on Belmont. (Though there is something disconcerting about the striped nylon "pleasure belts," which look like some sort of trendy North Face rock-climbing gear; not to mention a tiny, taffy pink, child's flip-flop attached to a long plastic stick - a kitschy fly-swatter normally found in the seasonal aisle at Walgreen's during the middle of August.) It's the play room - Simone's den - that is the land of the unexpected. Set up to look like a dungeon, it is dark and dank, with equipment that looks for all the world like it's straight off the set of a Soloflex commercial - only later do I realize it is actually a leather cross. Actually I'm not sure what I expected - I suppose androgynous types in head-to-toe black leather, cracking whips to thumping 110 bpm techno. I did not expect two middle-aged couples with middle-aged bodies going at it. I did not expect Nirvana blasting from a boombox. Nor did I expect the line of barflies watching the action like it is something they see every day (and maybe it is): middle-aged men who could pass for insurance salesmen and church deacons, wearing golf sweaters and jeans and the occasional wedding ring. These are not the fabled beautiful people - these are lawyers, teachers, your next-door neighbors. "There are three BD communities - hetero and bisexual, lesbian, and gay," Simone says. "They occasionally overlap. We welcome everyone of all interests [to the Leather Rose], though we usually only see hetero couples." The club does host a monthly women-only night, sponsored by the Chicago Leather Association for Women (CLAW); much of the homosexual BD/SM action centers around the Near North club Cell Block.

So what happens when you run into someone from your day job?

"I had this friend at my old job, and we were thick as thieves. Barbecued together, hung out all the time," William says. "But when I was fired and he said, 'Man, we'll still be friends,' I told him, 'No, we won't. We'll pretend we're going to stay in touch, but it will never be the same. I'll never see you again.' Then, eight years later I walk in here and there he is at the bar."

"Well, obviously they can't say 'What are you doing here,' since you could say the same to them," Trevor reasons. "But that happened to me, too. Jake here is part of my [military] unit."

Jake, who has been intently watching a video that involves clothespins in places they were never intended to be used, laughs. "What's weirder is seeing someone from here at a normal place during the day," Jeff confides. "Running into someone at Gurnee Mills and thinking, 'I saw you on a cross the other night, being whipped within an inch of your life.'"

Back out on the street, it is 1am on a balmy Chicago Friday. No marquee offers clues as to the true identity of the squat building that stands in the middle of the block, a lone light shining behind its covered storefront window. From all outward appearances it could be a dentist's office, an insurance agency, perhaps even something as sinister as a telemarketing operation. From here you can see the punk kids spilling out from the concert hall/bowling alley down the street, laughing and playfully shouting their way onto the busy avenue. Traffic zooms through the nearby intersection. A clan of young toughs in vibrant baseball caps and basketball jerseys hang out on the corner, their fists stuffed deep into the pockets of their enormous jeans as they scope out the passing cars, occasionally lifting their fuzzy chins in nods of recognition. The message is clear: they dominate this block.

Little do they know...

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