Anatomy of Desire

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

There's a leather horse's bridle for "part of the dehumanization." She finds these things on travels to larger cities at weekend events, buying from specialty vendors. She shows off a new mink glove with metallic claws hidden in the fur.

The safety shears are for emergencies. To "cut through anything, to be able to get undone very quickly," is important. She picks up a metallic object called a Japanese clover clamp, which attaches to the flesh -- the nipples, say -- and, when pulled, tightens and clasps more firmly.

There's a plastic spatula for "scraping off wax." The salad tongs, or what look like salad tongs, are for "testicle torture."

Rose Johnson

In a basket are spools of veterinary wrap, used to restrain limbs. Kali says it won't pull hair yet it clings to the skin: "It's really great. It's good stuff."

The room next door is spare -- she uses it for changing -- but she's considering setting up a medical table in there: "I get calls for that. It's a big fantasy, I want to tell you." In such scenes, Kali would literally play doctor to the bound, frightened, aroused patient.

The allure of the exotic paraphernalia can distract from understanding of their purpose, Kali cautions. "There's so much more to picking up a paddle and spanking someone's bottom with it," she says. "I think if people don't know that, then they don't understand the communication that goes on between a submissive and a dominant.

"It's filling an emotional void. It's all about emotion to me. Giving up control and allowing yourself to be vulnerable is a very difficult thing to do. To be able to just surrender to another person is refreshing -- that's not a good word -- restorative."

Her life wouldn't be very different, she imagines, if she didn't have to keep her fetish behind closed doors: "I don't think I would be a different person. I would still be very private, because that's just who I am. I would have the same friends." She doesn't necessarily long for the openness she might enjoy in New York City or the Bay Area.

She wishes, sometimes, that she could call her sister and tell her how psyched she felt after three days in New York attending whip seminars, or about that former NFL player, who arrived in "6-inch stripper shoes" and a bad wig and then threw a fit because he forgot to put his pocketbook in his purse.

She'd like to brag about her skills as a businesswoman and about how clients who have tried other prodoms have come back to her, "but I can't take that chance. So I let my family imagine that I'm an extremely dull person."

But she isn't alone. There are local organizations such as PEP, Leather and Lace, FLOG. The novelty shop Barbdwyr supplies implements and custom-made apparel -- and a discreet backdoor through which to enter and exit. A weekend event, Beat Me in St. Louis, is held each spring, filling a local hotel with some 400 participants from Kansas City, Omaha, Chicago and Detroit, as well as country folks from the rural Midwest. For the holidays, Spanksgiving's coming up.

Even in conservative St. Louis, people find ways to overcome the stigmas and perceptions: that they are sick, pathetic, the perverse offspring of abusive parents.

Before she became Mistress Kali, there were years of married life, raising a child, full immersion in the American mainstream.

But the fantasies of control, the teenage experimentation -- those returned to her consciousness like an invitation to a new life.

"Desire," she discovered, "doesn't go away."

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