Secret Lives

Den of the Dominatrix

A former Catholic schoolgirl from the South finds her calling in the big city, fulfilling one fetishistic fantasy after another.

Den of the Dominatrix

“Yesterday, a middle-school math teacher asked me to castrate him, and last week an engineer asked me to hang him with a noose,” Mistress Josie says.

It’s a crisp July day, and Mistress Josie is sitting in the back garden of a quaint vegan café tucked on an East Village side street. Under a canopy of bamboo trees with a large statue of Buddha to our left, she
talks about her relatively new job as an independent high-end dominatrix. A striking young woman, she is lean and muscular, with long legs that give the illusion of her being taller than 5’ 9”. Her demeanor is laid back, a kind of California cool, but she exudes a visceral sexual energy that belies her manner, an energy that compels people to stop and look. The waitress, the busboy, the wiry haired woman at the table next to us – all at some point pause
to stare. If Josie notices, she does not let on or she does not care. At the moment, in her skinny cotton pants, ballerina flats and gauzy top, it is hard to imagine that this soft-spoken 24-year-old, who advocates against animal cruelty and lives her life by the principles of non-violence, makes her living by physically and verbally abusing men. But she does, and when asked how, her response is straightforward: “My job is an extension of who I am.”

In her relatively short life, Josie (who requested that her real name, as well as those of her clients, not be revealed because of the confidential nature of her job) has worn many hats. She has worked in retail sales, as an au pair, promoter and waitress. However, it was her longing to work as an advocate for abused animals and on behalf of women’s rights that brought her from Virginia to New York City four years ago. But her plans to pursue her passion soon began to crumble.

“I was broke and working three jobs. Advocating during the day, waitressing and babysitting at night and on the weekends, and the money still wasn’t enough,” she says, her pitch rising slightly. Living in a tiny room with her giant grey tabby and struggling to pay the bills, she eventually gave up activism because “the hours were long, and it didn’t pay.” Soon after, she started waitressing full-time at a swanky downtown café.

Mistress Josie in a Manhattan apartment.
Mistress Josie in a Manhattan apartment.

From the moment she walked into the cafe, with its ambient
lighting and seductive lounge music, Josie knew this was not the place for her. But the money was good, real good. So against her better judgment, the staunch vegan began waiting tables—serving models and young jet-setting Europeans one avant-garde hamburger after another. “I felt sick,” she says. “Sick that someone would eat it and sick that I was betraying my own beliefs.”

While trying to decide whether to go back to school, move back home or get yet another activist gig, she continued to take orders and refill salt and pepper shakers. “If there is anything that will make you feel degraded and make you hate people, it’s the food service industry,” she declares, her voice laced with indignation.

Six months into waiting tables, her grandmother, “who was like a second mother,” passed away. She begged her manager, whom she sums up as a haughty twenty-something, to give her three days off to fly to Florida for the funeral. Reluctantly, he agreed, but during the wake, he sent her a text: Someone quit. Can u come back
early?

She never went back.

The death and the text message “were a wake-up call to reassess my life and my priorities,” Josie says. “I couldn’t believe how I had compromised myself. I felt cheap and used.” She knew she wanted to do something radically different, something that tapped into her feminist sensibilities, her belief that women should be empowered, strong, and financially stable. She began thinking about the sex industry, a profession that had always held her fascination. “As a hypersexual person, the idea of having a job in the sex industry seemed exciting,” she says, tucking a loose strand of blonde hair
behind her ear. “And of course there was money. I mean, getting paid to fulfill people’s desire. What could be better?”

While the animal rights business could not provide Josie with a
financially stable existence, it did provide her with the means toward
attaining one. Between some college friends, who were stripping in New York, and some activism friends, also strippers and dancers, Josie had garnered a firm understanding of that line of work. But the bodily exposure and the fawning men made her uncomfortable. “I wanted something more intimate, something that gave me control of who I was seeing,” she says. “I didn’t want random drunk guys throwing money at me.”

By chance one evening she bumped into an old friend from the activism community who mentioned that she was making a lot of money as an independent dominatrix. The two women spoke at length, and what Josie heard piqued her interest. Feeling optimistic, she returned to her small Brooklyn room and immediately began researching online the different aspects of the job, from dungeons to salary to equipment.

As she clicked through articles and images, she became captivated
by the leading dommes in the industry whose success did not depend on any type of penetration or exchange of bodily fluids. Rather, it depended solely “on ordering men around, beating them, peeing on them, punishing them—and for that they were being worshiped. It was perfect,” she says.

The next day she responded to an ad that, as she remembers, read
something like:

Attractive young women wanted for Domination. Fetish. Role Play. No sex. No experience necessary. Top $$$.

“Can you come in now?” asked the woman who answered the phone.

An hour later, Josie was shaking hands with the mistress of the
house, a gorgeous, slender woman slightly older than her.

“She basically undressed me with these big black eyes,” Josie
says, “and she told me to sit down and complete this long questionnaire filled with hypothetical situations and my feelings toward men.” Following a quick interview, the mistress took her on a tour of the dungeon’s rooms, which were lined along both sides of a long, low-lit hallway. “All the doors opened into these massive rooms, each one filled with different equipment—straight-jackets, leather masks, human-sized cages, bondage tables, fake electric chairs, you name it, it was there,” Josie says. “In some, things like blindfolds, cuffs, whips, floggers, ropes and canes hung from the walls in neat rows. It was extraordinary.”

“Pick a pseudonym and come back tomorrow,” the young mistress told her. “Trial basis. This job will forever change the way you think about men.”

And the following day, Josie found herself sitting in the sprawling living room of one of New York’s premiere domme houses (a dungeon run out of the mistress’s home) waiting for her first client. “I was nervous and excited. I had no idea what to expect,” she says.

“There is no stereotype of who visits a domme,” Josie says. “I see teachers, politicians, bankers, surgeons, religious figures, fathers, you name it. Each one wants to me to validate their fetish.” Some want to bleed, some want to be peed on, some want to be mummified, and some seek a more subdued erotica, “a type of absolution, like Samuel,” she says, wiping some random crumbs off the table.

Samuel is a shy Hasidic Jew with sad blue eyes and a lisp, who has an insatiable desire to be smothered in her armpit. At 27, he is married with six children, and has a rabid fear of God, but none of that prevents him from seeking relief for a fetish which, as he has told Josie, “is on [his] mind all day long.” Twice a week, during his lunch hour, he slips away from the family business and meets Josie in a midtown dungeon. Unlike some other Hasids who wear street clothes to visit dommes, Samuel prefers to wear his traditional garb—the clothes, she points out, are symbols of his transgression, pushing the fantasy into a psychological realm. But despite his longing for sexual prowess, his actions show otherwise—“he undresses so slowly, never looking up, and he’s constantly fidgeting, crossing his legs, trying to hide his body, which is really white and skinny and hairless, like a kid. I feel bad that he’s so scared, but he wants to do it, so we do it,” she says.

Josie becomes more animated as she discloses the more explicit details of the fantasy, such as her verbal humiliation of him while he stands in his boxers and yarmulke beside a wall adorned with hooks, shackles and suspension equipment.

“I begin circling him and shouting in his face that he’s pitiful little prick,” she says. “A joke, an ugly, scrawny fool. A quivering, hairless sissy. I spit at him and tell him that he’s absurd and deserves to be caught.”

After her tirade, she lays down on the couch and watches him “standing there, totally frozen, with his head bowed, apologizing for being such a weak and bad boy.” When she is satisfied with his remorse, she opens her arms wide and the young Hasid “falls to his knees and crawls to me, gasping and repeating ‘thank you my goddess,’” she says, a slight smirk playing at her lips.

Samuel spends the remaining time with his face buried in her armpit, inhaling and sighing, stopping only occasionally to readjust his yarmulke. Josie reveals that he often likes to talk while being smothered. Sometimes he talks about his wife, who refuses to hear about his fetish, sometimes about his Rabbi who condemns his visits and tells him to pray harder, and sometimes about how difficult it
is to ride the subway in the summer because of all the sleeveless women.

Her response to all his confessions is laughter, followed by more sentiments of emasculation: “I tell him that real men want more than armpits. That he’s ridiculous, an embarrassment to your wife and community.” To which he responds with heavier inhalations and
an erection.

While dressing, which is nervous and hurried, he thanks her again and reminds her that she must ignore him if she ever were to see
him in the street. “If anyone finds out that he sees a domme, he will be banished from his community, and he claims he’ll lose his wife and kids and identity,” she says. For now, however, the sense of release and fulfillment trump the possibilities of being expelled. But men like Samuel, who are willing to risk everything, can often begin to blur the lines between reality and fantasy—one afternoon, he confessed to Josie that at night he imagines her lying next to him, smothering him. This time she did not laugh. “I reminded him that his time was up. He craves that kind of intimacy, and sometimes he needs to be told that we don’t have any relationship beyond the fulfillment of the fantasy,” she says. “He may not like it, but he listens because his happiness
depends on it.”

Secret transgressions and terrors of God are not unfamiliar to Josie, who was raised in a Catholic-turned-Evangelical home in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. An only child whose parents divorced when she was nine, she was raised by her mother, whom she describes as “a good mom. A kind, pious and loving person who also had her demons.”

Despite bouts of depression and drinking, her mother, a nurse, always worked hard. She took the Catholic mission to help those in need beyond people and extended it to animals, turning their small home into a sanctuary for neglected and abused cats. “My mother spent hours caring for them, even the ones that were really screwed up—missing tails, broken paws, burnt whiskers. She thought she could save them all,” Josie says, her voice breaking from the weight of the memory.

Her father was present, but in “short bursts. We really didn’t have a relationship. It was all my mom, my grandmother, and her sisters,” she explains, adding, “The female influence was tremendous. They taught me to be strong, independent, and proud. They told me I could do anything.” But there was a hiccup in their message of female equality and strength: Catholic school dogma.

Josie sums up her time in Catholic school as years “filled with a constant fear of going to hell.” Her face does not hide the disdain when she recalls the principal, an old portly man with a raspy voice, telling her that “her skirt was too short and she was tempting the boys.” She was in second grade. Later that year, a nun reinforced the message of women as temptresses.

These incidents proved to be pivotal moments in Josie’s life—but not in the way her teachers had intended. They forced her to think about God outside of the Catholic school box.

“I saw my mom helping people and animals, and I couldn’t understand why God would think she was evil,” Josie recalls. “I remember thinking, ‘maybe God is wrong.’” This doubt grew as she began accompanying her mother to the shelters and seeing first-hand the horrific results of people who intentionally burned, maimed and beat animals.

By 13, “I didn’t identify as a Catholic or anything at all. I had no spirituality,” she says. Becoming an avowed atheist, she took her first step toward freeing herself from, as she puts it, “the toxic messages of the church” that attacked her burgeoning sexuality. Now when she goes home and accompanies her family to church—they do not support her atheism, let alone know of her profession—“I look at the pews full of men and think how these guys are probably seeing a
domme, or if they’re not, then they would love to,” she says and laughs.

Without the heavy cloak of religious dogma, Josie felt free to do good on her own terms. Vowing not to eat any animal, she became a vegetarian, then a vegan, and went to college intending to become
a veterinarian—a profession she had considered since childhood. But in her sophomore year, a volunteer position providing information to victims at a rape crisis center changed the direction of her life.

“That job showed me that my voice mattered, that I could make a difference,” she says. “It gave me a confidence that I lacked.” Realizing that veterinary medicine was not the right choice, she left school and her childhood world of churches and creed and, at 19, she moved to New York City to do advocacy work.

Josie’s own childhood experiences of humiliation and repression always seemed to hover on the periphery of her life, and helped her make sense of some of the more strange and erotic fetishes she encountered. “Although I don’t understand their fetishes, I can understand them feeling ashamed and bad,” she says. “Everyone
deserves kindness and nurturing, even the person with a most extreme or unusual fantasy.

“Some things are really, really out there. They can freak people out,” she adds, looking for the waitress. Her face grows pensive. “But, you know, I don’t find the more outlandish things all that strange…do you?” she asks. And then she proceeds to tell me about some of her
more eccentric clients. An athlete who revels in licking the bottom of her dirty shoes. A 40-something husband who loves to reenact the moment his mother caught him sniffing her garters and masturbating. The cross-dressing neurosurgeon who looks like “everyone’s grandfather” and delights in wearing his wife’s lacy thongs. Big Baby Timmy, the disabled senior citizen who sucks a pacifier and adores being spanked because he peed in his diaper.

And then there is the human footstool, one of her favorites, mainly “because he’s one of the kindest and sweetest people I know,” she says.

Middle-aged, with horn-rimmed glasses, the human footstool is a prominent landscape artist who lives in a multi-level penthouse. Twice a week, before sundown, he sends a stretch limo to bring Josie uptown. On his terrace, “filled with trees and exotic plants, I will command the pig to get naked and put on a thong,” she says. “Then I’ll bind his hands and feet and make him into a piece of human
furniture.” For the next two hours, he will remain on all fours with Josie’s high-heeled feet propped on his back.

During this time, this sought-after landscaper, who owns his own company, relinquishes all control of his life and becomes completely submissive to her. “He feels useful, valuable, needed, things he lacks in his daily life,” she says. To further please him, she will often pay
bills or shop with his credit card because that “makes him happy and aroused.”

As for getting tired, it happens. “When his back starts to droop, I give him a break. We play a game: I kick him, pretending to break his legs and he collapses, then I put him back together again by kicking him some more and shouting at him to ‘stop being a pathetic footstool!’” she says with an air of detachment.

That her matter-of-fact delivery could be perceived as callousness or an intrinsic desire to inflict harm does not slip by her. She is quick to point out that it is neither. “That’s the classic domme myth, that we don’t care about our clients, that we just go in whip them and get paid. It’s completely untrue. Any good domme will tell you it’s the opposite. Sure, you’re pretending, but you have to like the people you are playing with, and you have to be in-tune with what they want and how they are reacting to you, especially the ones who want corporal punishment, otherwise it just won’t work,” she says.

The corporal punishment fantasies, which she “finds thrilling and enjoyable,” are also the ones that demand the most from her. They are, as she explains, psychologically exhausting, because the fantasy takes the physical aspect of arousal to daring and frightening levels that transcend what most of us consider normal. For example, many of her punishment clients are whipped until the area is black and
blue and crisscrossed with bloody welts. “You have to know where you are hitting,” she says, “because you don’t want to damage an organ or a limb.” Seeing the finale of a hard-core whipping fantasy sometimes shocks her, inciting doubt and reservations about what she does. In those moments, she reminds herself “that the pain and degradation is completely consensual. It’s what they want and what makes them feel whole.” She also remembers that whatever transpires during a fantasy, including ejaculation, has been meticulously planned out and talked about at length beforehand. “There are no surprises,” she says. “None.”

Last year, the prospect of sitting in a multi-million dollar penthouse with her feet resting on the back of a prominent landscaper or playing spy games with an old banker would have elicited “a ridiculous amount of laughter, and maybe calling someone crazy,” she says. But right now, the only crazy thing may be how quickly this novice has become a professional. In just one year, she has secured a steady clientele whom she has carefully selected through interviews and in-person meetings; she has gone from sleeping on her friend’s couches to signing a lease on a Chelsea apartment; and, at last, she enjoys financial security. “For the first time in my life, I can think ahead,” she says. “I have possibilities.”

But, at the moment, thinking about all her possibilities—opening a dungeon or a vegan restaurant or traveling the world—is somewhat daunting. A month into her new job, her mother died suddenly, from complications related to addiction. A year later, she is still processing
the grief and devastation of being motherless. “Suddenly she was gone. Just like that, she was gone,” Josie says, looking away. “It’s hard to think too far ahead right now.”

She does think about how death, her experiences with abused animals and her daily encounters with obsessive sexual compulsions have compelled her into looking at people, and her own life, in a different way.

“You know, I really do believe that everyone has good inside them, even if they don’t show it,” Josie says. “We are taught so many messed up things about sex and love and how we should act and who
we should be that people become cruel and malicious,” she says. “I mean who cares if the guy next door likes to wear diapers and be spanked. Really? I realize now that there is no right or wrong way to be. As long as no one is getting hurt, it’s all okay.”