Perched on a small stage in the back room of Boston's Ramrod nightclub, David examines his fleshy target. He wields his cane deftly, spanking his titillated assistant, Jen (not her real name), in all the right places. Swathed all in black, her long, curly hair framing her face like an ebony halo, Jen coos at each well-placed thwack of David's disciplinary stick and calls him "Daddy." She's rewarded for this obedience — with another swat to her rear, which even through her long skirt quivers visibly with excitement.
In just a few hours, next door at Machine, the monthly Sin-O-matic party — a 21-plus fetish night — will whip up a full-scale carnal buffet, where hungry, horny hedonists can pick and choose from a little of latex-clad this, a little of glam/goth that. But in the early evening here at Ramrod, before a bevy of gay bears begin grinding cheek to furry cheek, the action is limited to the rear of the club, where a man dressed head to toe in Renaissance Faire attire (garnished with a swashbuckling plumed leather hat) is waving people through a barrier of 50-gallon drums into a back room. Inside, "Daddy" and Jen are holding court near a leather swing, mounted by chains from a free-standing wooden frame.
A small audience settles in to a few rows of plastic chairs to watch Jen get her spanking — but not as voyeurs. They're students.
And this is Sadomasochism 101.
The mechanics of spanking are much more complicated than your wooden-spoon-wielding grandmother ever let on. David, who resembles the strapping love child of actor Anthony Edwards and wrestler Stone Cold Steve Austin — his bald head and gently nerdy nature accessorized by wire-rimmed glasses, a button-down shirt, jeans, and, of course, chaps — is teaching these eager pupils how to wallop safely, pointing out the fleshy sweet spots on Jen's bod and the nerve centers and joints to avoid, for the sake of injury prevention. The leather-clad lecturer reminds his audience never to strike their "subs" (submissives) on the backs of the knees, the crooks of the elbows, the face, or the head — areas that would produce a hurt-so-bad vibe, rather than one that's hurt-so-good.
SM 101 is one of a slew of lectures sponsored by the New England Leather Alliance (NELA), a nonprofit organization that promotes safety and education in the realm of bondage, discipline, sadism, and masochism (BDSM). NELA is a community of self-proclaimed "kinksters" who get hot under the dog collar at the thought of being bound, gagged, flogged, or spanked.
The commonwealth of kink is broader than one might suspect. In fact, say a number of insiders, Boston boasts a thriving underground community of people who identify as "kinky." The challenge for local practitioners, however, is that the ethos of the kink lifestyle — especially for those who engage in BDSM — stands in direct contrast with the Bay State's puritanical, priggish laws and general attitudes. Massachusetts's notorious "blue laws" (designed by our Proctor Goody-two-shoes forefathers to force locals into religious zealotry) prohibit all the fun stuff — instruments of "self-abuse," adultery, buying booze before noon on Sundays. Seriously, there goes the weekend.
But proponents of BDSM insist that, under the proper consensual conditions, nobody gets harmed having kinky sex. "There's this idea that kinky people are out of control, that we're somehow hurting people," says Susan Wright, of the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom (NCSF). "And that's not true, particularly when it comes to SM. It's consensual. Anybody can stop anything at any time. We're all consenting adults; we're not interested in educating or engaging people who are not adults. The biggest thing is that we're part of your community. We're your neighbors and co-workers — you just don't know it."
Joy and pain
Special thanks to Mister Sister and Phoebe Pitassi.
"Kink" generally refers to sexual activity that deviates from the norm — though it isn't necessarily about sexual gratification. Often, rather, it's about power play, gender and social role reversals, and the relinquishment (or acquisition) of control. The vanilla community (as non-kinks are known by their kinky peers) has a gamut of preconceived judgments about kinks and fetishists, ranging from innocuous amusement to uppity outrage, the latter of which surely provide the primary reason why, especially in Boston, kinks tend to stay underground. Being outed can cost people their jobs and general social standing.
"There is no shortage of kinksters in Boston," says "Dee," a professional dominatrix who asked that her real name not be used. Having worked (and played) for several years in the Greater Boston area, Dee knows the ins and outs of the local kink scene as well as anyone can know a community of people who tend to tightly shield their sexual alter-egos. She says that her clients are largely clean-cut, respectful people who'd rather not let their freak flags fly; instead, they prefer to keep their private lives to themselves, their mistress, and, on occasion, even their partner.