sabato 5 aprile 2008

My life as Miss Whiplash

Susan Winemaker was a chef who worked all over the world before ending up on a building site.

Her experiences in male-dominated jobs led her to radically change professions – so she set up business as a dominatrix. For the next five years in the trade, she whipped, flogged and humiliated a wide range of men.

I had been a chef for six years in Canada, America and then London. It was a very male-dominated environment – testosterone-driven, slavish, badly paid and not very feminine. I was fed up and looking for some sort of role reversal.

When I was at university in Montreal, I knew a woman who was a literary agent by day and a dominatrix by night, while another one of my friends wrote porn for a living. That kind of profession was in my social sphere. I'm open-minded, I wanted to earn more money, regain some control over my life and explore a different facet of my personality, so I took advantage of my anonymity in London by becoming a dominatrix.

No sex, just fantasy

I don't have sex with my clients. I don't have to touch them if I don't want to. I don't have to touch their genitals and they definitely don't touch me. My body is protected and I'm in control in that respect. They're naked. I'm clothed. They're hands-off, while I can be hands-on. It's a fantasy service, not sex. You can't compare a dominatrix and prostitute. A more appropriate comparison would be that of dominatrix and sex therapist.

I contacted a dominatrix through an advert in a fetish magazine. She was looking to train an apprentice to take over her business. She told me she'd show me the ropes but she really just threw me into it – it was a baptism by fire. You have to learn how to suss a person out in a couple of minutes, anticipate what they want and learn how to create a fantasy with a beginning, middle and end in a one-hour session.

There were some terrible sessions at first and a lot of embarrassment: I'd try to spank or cane someone and miss; tie them up in bondage, get the knots wrong and have to undo and tie them again; turn on the electrics to shock people and discover it wasn't working. I offered people refunds if they stopped the session halfway through. You want to say sorry but, obviously, as a dominatrix, you're not supposed to. It was six months before I became comfortable with it. My perfectionism kept me going. I want to be the best at whatever I do and the more pleasure I found myself able to give someone, the more satisfying it became.

The first time I knew I was good was when I had a man who wanted to be dressed up as a little girl. I put him in a pink satin dress and, after an hour, he shouted: 'You are magnificent!' as the session climaxed.

The buzz of a client's appreciation can go to your head. You need to remember they aren't worshipping you as an individual, it's just part of the session. You see dominatrixes who have 'dom disease' – they lose perspective of the fact it's a job and they honestly believe the clients think they're goddesses and worship the ground they walk on.

There were things I was asked to do but wouldn't – unsafe things such as putting needles through a customer's testicles or performing dental work. I'd sometimes stop the session when men would try to 'top me from the bottom' or take over. They'd come in and say 'I'm so submissive', but the minute I'd tell them to get down on the floor, they'd laugh or roll their eyes and try to undermine my power. It would then be up to me to put them in their place. It isn't easy but it's a skill a dominatrix acquires.

Daily grind

Inevitably, it becomes mundane like any job. Your mind wanders, whether you're sitting in an office staring at a computer or sitting in a dungeon suffocating someone. When I'd get a client who liked to be locked in a cupboard for an hour, I'd spend the time thinking about what I'd have for dinner. When I began to start the day thinking: 'Oh God, not another angora fetishist', I thought maybe I'd had enough of the job.

I had approached it as a project, thinking it may open my eyes to a more sophisticated form of sexuality. But I realised an hour was just an hour. Who was I affecting? What was I really doing? There was no moment of epiphany but, after five years, I knew I'd come to the end of my time as a dominatrix. The lesson I learned was that I was a poster child for having a double life. I didn't look or act like a typical dominatrix when I wasn't working. Just because someone doesn't look a certain way doesn't mean you know what they do behind closed doors.

The Life And Loves Of A Dominatrix by Susan Winemaker (Simon & Schuster) is out now, priced £10.

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