Anatomy of Desire

A St. Louis dominatrix instructs the uninitiated in bondage, domination, sadomasochism, masters, slaves, dungeons and other pleasures and pains

Mistress Kali sits on the bondage table, a solidly constructed piece of custom-built furniture, specially designed to hold an array of binding equipment -- handcuffs, ropes.

Wooden stocks, strangely appealing in a purely aesthetic sense, stolidly take up one part of the room. There's a spanking bench. Tools of the trade hang from a wall -- paddles, whips, canes, clothespins, clamps, a German gas mask, something that looks like salad tongs.

In one corner of the dungeon is a dog cage, with a cushion on top where a person can sit.

"Bad dogs go in there," she notes.

"This reflects me," she says of her private workspace/playpen. "I'm comfortable in this room. I don't want fake stones painted on the walls. It's just what I'm comfortable with." Regarding the warmth of the space, she says, "It's been my experience that there are a lot of prodoms who feel they need to be mean and cold to be effective. I don't believe that. Maybe that is reflected in the environment."

Sitting beside her on the bondage table is a white box, opened to reveal five metal objects, each tapered to a sharp point. These are talons that fit onto the fingers and thumb, made of hammered nickel.

"One of the things I like is the tactile sense," she says, slipping the talons on her fingers. "Imagine being blindfolded and feeling this on your bare back," the warmth of the flesh of her hand and then the cold, threatening metal. "I have a lot of toys, very tactile things." She says she first saw talons in use at a private play party. She got the phone number of the novelty store in New York where they came from and called immediately: "Send me some of those. I must have them!" She laughs at her mock exuberance.

A criticism of BDSM culture -- other than the standard judgment that its participants are just sick -- is that these are pathetic people, so desensitized that they need to go to extremes to experience any sensation. Yet as Mistress Kali describes the "tactile sense" she explores, there's the impression of a sensualist attuned to the illogical pleasures of the body. She handles a paddle -- leather on one side, fur on the other -- and describes how she'll spank a bare bottom until it's pink and highly sensate, then rub the fur across it.

"Clothespins are one of the basics of SM," she says, "on genitals or nipples or anywhere on the skin." Lock a clothespin on flesh, leave it for some time and then remove it -- the blood rushes back, she says, "and it really hurts."

She talks about the cross-dressers, whom she adores: "For the most part they haven't shared this with anyone, their desire to do this. I find two main reasons that men want to dress as women: It feels good to wear silk panties; also, humiliation -- to be treated as a bad girl, as a slut.

"The cross-dresser who wants to feel the silk panties, and spend time and money on his wardrobe, buying his own wig and falsies .... I enjoy the first time a man has mascara put on him, heavy on the eyelids; put lipstick on and it's slippery on the lips. That's sensation.

"It's the opposite of being desensitized, from where you don't feel anything to becoming ultrasensitive. It's like becoming more alive.

If there were a BDSM lobby, she'd be an influential advocate: "I think I'm doing a service for my clients. I did a lot of introspection before I started doing this professionally. If I was somehow preying on another person's weakness, I couldn't sleep at night. I still ask this question (of myself) occasionally, and if I found I was taking advantage of someone, I'd stop doing it."

Although the idea of giving the boot to some CEOs and lawyers might be inviting to a lot of people who would otherwise never consider themselves to be into BDSM, Mistress Kali says class distinctions aren't part of her work: "I have a variety of clients, from blue-collar to corporate. They all get treated the same. They all get my same sneer and haughty attitude. 'On the floor, you slave!'" she bellows good-naturedly.

She won't play the role of a Nazi, though, and with one client, the issue of race became problematic: "I played with a young black man one time, a submissive I met with other people. I had a hard time whipping him. He desperately wanted it, and I couldn't do it."

She has a list of don'ts: no blood, no feces or urine, no permanent scarring, no kissing, no sex. She gives prospective clients a questionnaire on which they indicate their level of interest, zero through five (zero means no interest, five means intense interest), in various activities: affectionate discipline, cock-and-ball torture, face-slapping, humiliation, pony training, smothering, spreader bars, and so on. She's learned to avoid "someone who's looking for sex, or someone who has an interest in everything -- everything from binding to genital torture to affectionate discipline. Nobody wants it all."

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