Sexpress

The Black Dominatrix Who Gets Reparations From Her Clients

By Sydney Gore

Mistress Velvet isn't like the other dominatrixes in the BDSM community. When clients enter her dungeon, not only are they paying for sexual pleasure, but they're also getting a lesson in Black feminist theory because she has a Master's in interdisciplinary studies.

At first glance, it might seem like the whole arrangement glorifies racial fetishism. Mistress Velvet initially felt conflicted about the idea when a client phrased her services as "reparations" because for her, the term has always been a meaningful, material thing that involves a redistribution of wealth.

"I started to think about expanding what reparations could look like besides this concept of 40 acres and mule — that reparations could be on a spectrum and have value," she says. "As a person that experiences a lot of racism, white supremacist things, and is always combating white cis heteronormativity, it started to feel really good to be sustaining my life and survival from the funds I was getting from white men."

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Now, domming has become a way for Mistress Velvet to maintain control in a society that continues to leave Black women at the bottom. She adds, "The idea of even being able to have self care as a Black femme is radical and that that self care was being contributed to by white men, it isn't wrong to think of that as a form of reparations."

Learn more about the inner workings of Mistress Velvet's dungeon, her experience as a Black femme in the BDSM community and how she uses this as a form of self care during these dark times of heightened racial tension.

What was your introduction to BDSM?

I became a domme four years ago this year, but the process took a while [because] it wasn't necessarily that natural to me. My very first domme client was like, "You are not really that good and you won't really ever be able to be a domme," and that intrigued me to figure out why it was hard for me, and if it was something I could learn to do. I had to do a lot of research and watching videos of dominatrixes, and reading stuff on pain and why people would want it. I hadn't ever thought about these power dynamics. I had a pretty vanilla understanding of things until that point.

What was the early learning process like?

It took a lot of trial and error. I had a partner that I would practice things on. If I got a new toy like a new paddle or the violet wand, I was like. "Can I practice this on you and also have you use it one me so that I know what it feels like?" I feel like even after four years, I'm still always learning. We're all really good, and a lot of clients are always very like welcoming too, if there's something that I haven't tried before, them being someone I could practice on.

What were you doing before you got your Master's?

My Master's is interdisciplinary. I did gender studies and African studies. My undergraduate is also in women's studies, so I was already on a trajectory of being pretty big into feminism, and became much more leftist, and anti-capitalist. I took a lot of really awesome classes around queer theory, and critical sexuality. Several of the books that I use when I have people read them are actually books that I read in school.

What did you anticipate your career looking like?

In terms of trajectory, domming hasn't replaced where I thought I would be. I knew I wanted to get my Master's to be in a nonprofit, and work in that way professionally. I'm doing those things, it just also coincided in grad school with talking more about Black women's sexuality, and the challenges that Black women face in being sexual. I was reading about those things alongside growing as a domme because I had a lot of curiosity. And as I did more school, I started to see that there are a lot more parallels in all aspects of my life. I was like, "Oh, there are interesting themes going on with the things that I'm doing." It started to become a big part of my identity in school and I started to write about it more. Now it kind of propagated, but it coexists alongside my vanilla professional life, as well. It's certainly fluid within it, but I'm not in a nonprofit that's focused on things around sex work. I do a lot of contract workshops and stuff in the city, not as Mistress Velvet, and then I talk about sex work.

Where did the name Mistress Velvet come from? How did you decide on that?

It took me forever. I always tell people the hardest part of my Master's thesis was coming up with a title. I'm really not good at coming up with names for things. I don't know how long it took me between the time where I was like, "OK, I'm gonna need to make a persona, to use a name," and the time that I actually came up with a name. But I remember the day — I was on my couch reading heavy theory, and kind of bored, and I had gotten some really fancy lotions. I was rubbing my legs in the lotion while reading, and I was like, "Oh, my skin's kind of like velvet, or like chocolate." But I didn't want to call myself chocolate cause that's so boring. I was like, "My skin's velvet, let's go with that." I thought it was very cheesy, but it kind of stuck with me.

How are the power dynamics amplified when you are domme?

It's definitely sometimes unreal. I think about [how] my professional life in the nonprofit is going really well, but there's also circumstances of being in very white spaces. For example, even if I'm at my job, everyone's a woman, but when I first started working there I was the only person of color. I'm just constantly thinking about race, and constantly thinking about being a woman, or being femme, and my place in these sort of contexts. I certainly have to think about race, [which is] in some ways very heightened, in sessions, but also I don't have to think about it because I getting to really just exert power, in this almost kind of fantastical [way] — like it's a fantasy for both of us, you know.

In the real world, maybe your goal is to move up in the nonprofit, and in the dungeon my goal is to have complete ownership and power over the CEO. They're kind of different circumstances, but I think coming from the same place of this eternal desire to combat different oppressions. I think it's almost cartoonish, the kind of experiences I have as a domme, in terms of what that power dynamic looks like. It's a very exaggerated power dynamic, but its roots I think for me, emotionally, are coming from a need of being tired of navigating oppression, and wanting to feel some sort of power that's in my hands, even if it's just for one hour.

It seems very empowering and healing in certain aspects.

Yeah, I also don't want to romanticize it — it's also a lot of work and you get a lot really shitty things said to you. Especially when I wasn't working in the dungeon, there were issues of safety. Sometimes I have to take breaks, like a month or two, and I really need my domme friends when I have a really weird or exhausting session. People don't really know what you're experiencing, but you can talk to your other domme friends about it. Even if they're [white] — like one of my really good domme friends is a white femme and she's really fat, so when I'm talking about colorism, she's asking me things about that and talking about fatness. I had a situation last week where someone wanted to do duos and I wanted to do it with her, and I showed him the picture of her and he was like, "I don't want to do it with her" with this underlying understanding that he was fatphobic. I was able to support her and be like, "I'm sorry that happened and you're beautiful." It's definitely not without its difficulties.

How do you go about maintaining a safe space within this role and your dungeon?

I do intense screenings, and there's also a lot of good resources for sex workers. If someone's weird, or maybe has harassed someone in a session, there's certain groups and forms where you can write about that person so other sex workers will know not to engage with them. Or when people fill out my forms, I ask for references so that I can reach out to that domme. There's a long, tedious process. In terms of the dungeon, the one that I work at is owned by this really wonderful woman with a background in women and gender studies. She's created these really beautiful spaces and there's always someone there. She and her assistant are there for my safety, as well as the safety of the client. We also had to get trained in what it's like to be in that space. We need to know what's legal and what's not legal, so that we're making sure we're doing what's legal in the space. There's lots of things that go into being a dom. It really is a business; it's more than just whipping someone.

Why do you think that being a domme and BDSM in general continues to get a bad rep?

I think there's a lot shade and stigma around BDSM. Our society is so hella vanilla, and monogamous, and straight, and white, so anything that is outside of that is seen as bad. I think that there's also weird things in media about BDSM, like tropes and stereotypes, that don't contribute to a more comprehensive understanding. Because there's lots of shame, there's lots of other risks. Sex workers in general, and particularly with BDSM, don't get a voice to talk about their experiences. Even when we do, I find myself in situations where people are interested in only certain aspects of my experiences. Even my voice is cultivated to fit mainstream needs or the needs of audiences. It's not always a well-rounded or comprehensive platform to talk. There's shame and risks associated, so we have to be discreet.

How do you feel about representation within the BDSM community?

Something that was really sad to me when I first moved to Chicago, and first really started posting ads and being more visible, was that I was like the only Black domme. Which is why after a while I felt comfortable taking the title, and calling myself Chicago's premiere African dominatrix. There's lots of doms that are Black, but in order to get visibility you have to have an income to also sustain a website. There has to be an investment in order to make a profit. That's something that's unacceptable to most people. I know that if I didn't have $150 to post an ad because I was gonna pay rent, or something, I also wasn't gonna make any money.

In terms of some of the more popular dommes, it's pretty white cause it's white people that generally have more access to the money, funds, capacity, and time to invest in really putting themselves out there and doing that marketing. Things like backpage, before the places where people posted were shut down, a lot of people were posting there, so I saw a lot more people of color on backpage cause you could post there for free, or like $5. But then that's an avenue that's been cut off, so there goes a lot of representation of Black people. I think, if we're speaking outside of domming, just sex work in general, I would say a lot of Black sex workers, and Black trans sex workers, are maybe doing more street-based work.

For whatever reason our society glorifies strippers, but is still super weird about BDSM.

I also think in terms of what is threatening to hegemony. A man going to strip club with women, probably most likely cis women, doesn't necessarily challenge or veer away from patriarchal norms of gender expectations. That doesn't seem that threatening to talk about; a dad could feel completely fine with going to a strip club, and it could not even be seen as anything out of the ordinary. I think within BDSM, not even intentionally, but by virtue, it challenges the norms sometimes, I think that's why they get pushed to the radar. I think it threatens hegemony.

How do you go about informing people in your life that this is something that you do?

I'm a Scorpio, so I'm pretty aggressive with things that I believe to be true or important. I have the privilege of never really experiencing any shame around this. Even before I was able to really conceptualize it, it was really exciting. The experiences are hilarious, and make for good stories. Certainly with the conceptualization, it allows me to validate more in this abstract way why this is important.

I don't also know if that's always necessary. I am being informed by things that I've learned, and talked about in academia, and I don't want to value that as the only way to justify yourself. It's very easy now to justify being a domme cause I think about racial dynamics and reparations, but I don't have to justify it in anyway besides saying it's something I like. You don't have to understand that, and I don't have to always use this often inaccessible academic language to justify it, especially because other people may not always have access to language like that and still be able to justify what they're doing.

What privileges do you have as a dominatrix?

There's a lot of privilege with being a domme, particularly around legal things — that I have the capacity to create boundaries with clients, so that everything I'm doing is legal. If you're a sex worker doing full service, that also has that additional risk of criminalization and morality. It becomes even harder, if there are more layers to put onto it, to justify. So I guess I just have to say that there are privileges in the sex work that I choose to do that affords me room to justify, and to have my justification be affirmed. I think if I was not with a Master's degree, and doing full service work, the conversation wouldn't be happening as much.

Photography: Savina Nyx

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