Elaine Miller keeps a coffin in her basement. Okay, maybe it’s more of a “tickle trunk of delights” than a full-fledged corpse container, but one thing is certain: Mr Dress-Up would never approve.
Then again the guy did like to roleplay, something Miller says is an intrinsic part of her kinky life.
Miller, a self-professed uber-geek leatherdyke, is spending a Monday night relaxing in her eastside home with fellow kinkstresses, Kona and Arleigh. The women are gathered around a teapot, a bowl of heart-shaped Belgium chocolates and a very friendly cat, discussing the world of bondage and discipline, domination and submission, sadism and masochism (BDSM).
It’s an alternative stitch ’n’ bitch of sorts and I am surprised to notice the abundance of sweatshirts and yoga pants rather than PVC push-up bras and crotchless barbed wire panties.
The energy in the room grows thick and reeks of sweet estrogen as the women begin to talk about the lure of kinky sex.
“It’s [about] sensation, it’s masochism, it’s powerlessness, it’s getting dressed up, it’s public sex, it’s bathroom sex, it’s dirty sex. It’s intimate and sometimes it’s just fast and dirty and great,” Arleigh replies enthusiastically when asked why kink is the Cadillac of sex for her.
Arleigh (who asked to go by her first name only in a society still only lukewarm at best to BDSM) is a curvaceous bottom with a Catholic fetish. She is happy to share the intimate details of her bedroom and dungeon activities.
However, while all three women seem to ooze sexuality from every pore, they also seem more preoccupied with tying up loose ends for this weekend’s groundbreaking leatherdyke conference than tying up each other.
And understandably so, considering the plan to host Vancouver’s first-ever women-only three-day smorgasbord of BDSM workshops and play parties was only conceived in early January.
“Most conferences have a two-year lead time,” explains Miller. “We do not have a two-year lead time. We decided to put it together in five months.”
The conference, fittingly titled Mayhem, will mark the first BDSM gathering run by women for women to hit Vancouver in over 15 years, and the first of its magnitude ever.
In 1993, a group of West Coast leatherdykes held a weekend called Allies In Diversity in a mansion in an affluent part of Vancouver. It brought together 100 participants.
This weekend’s conference promises to be bigger — and hotter.
“We host some of the best goddamned parties,” says Miller who, with the Mayhem gang, has been organizing Vancouver’s Bride of Pride play parties and other kinky events for the last few years.
“We are all very experienced partygoers. We’ve spent a lot of time going to [BDSM] parties and going to events and going to conferences and our goal is to make the very best party we can,” she promises. “We are crazy motherfuckers. We play hard, we play well, we are friendly and we are outgoing.”
“It is an international assembly of women that are coming here,” says Kona (who simply doesn’t use a last name), adding that one participant is even travelling from Nepal to attend.
Mayhem, which is expected to draw about 200 women to its workshops and nightly play parties, is being marketed as an event for past, present and future leatherwomen — including queer, bi and trans-identified women. Even straight women interested in woman-to-woman SM are welcome to attend, Miller says. “We love to recruit people to play.”
“The only people excluded from the party guest list are males who live their lives as men,” says Arleigh.
Mary (who also requested that her last name not be used) is going to Mayhem and her excitement about the conference and her BDSM community is apparent by the way she easily slips into talking sex.
She announces that she has no problem talking about kink in public and I can’t help but wonder if the patrons sitting closest to us aren’t getting more than the wontons they bargained for.
“I fell into kink accidentally,” the 29-year old says, explaining how she was invited to a public sauna party a few years ago by a stranger she had met on a BDSM website.
“I just thought I was going to put my bathing suit on and get some steam and that was it. Instead it was this crazy pandemonium and people were getting smacked in the change room area and there was porn and there was all this crazy stuff going on. It was chaotic and crazy and really overwhelming and a little bit frightening but also very kinky,” she says.
It was then that Mary knew she had found her community.
“I felt I could exhale for the first time,” she says. “Even though it was frightening it was also really exhilarating and really refreshing. It just resonated. It just felt right.”
Mary, who calls herself a “bratty bottom,” says ethnicity influences the intricate power dynamics of BDSM more than people realize.
Mary is Asian and says growing up with a set of strict mores — different from western society’s norms and expectations — has had an impact on how she communicates and plays with her tops or doms.
“Cultural differences do play into things and it’s something people are afraid to talk about. It’s the big white elephant in the room,” she says.
“My cultural heritage is very strongly rooted in me [and] a lot of my thought patterns are very traditional which makes some of the negotiating quite challenging,” she admits. Issues of a perceived or ascribed power dynamic between partners often come up in multicultural BDSM play and effective communication is the only tool to lessen the confusion when cultural codes of conduct become challenged, she concludes.
In addition to addressing the complexities of ethnicity in BDSM, the queer and kinky must also dodge judgments from the anti-kinky.
“A lot of people think that SM is crazy. That we are all just sick in the head,” says Mary. “All people know of BDSM is this sensationalized stuff that they see on television and in newsprint [but] it is such a complicated construct that it is really, really easy to be misrepresented — and it generally is.”
In the world of hitting, slapping, bruising, biting and such, there is a strict code of conduct that all participants engaged in risky play must follow. It is the code of consent and everyone in the scene knows it is the number one rule and must be followed.
Consent is huge, says Mary.
“If you are wanting to beat the crap out of me and I say, ‘No,’ you can’t do that,” she explains. “In public spaces there are dungeon monitors that walk around to make sure that that kind of crap isn’t happening,” she adds.
King, a bottom, tells me that for her last birthday she was happily gangbanged by a group of leatherdyke friends.
Like many involved with BDSM, King has a fetish for consensual non-consent, and likes being fucked against her will. Quick to not call it a rape fetish — as King says she doesn’t want to associate her sexual gratification with the realities of sexual abuse — she explains that when she says, “No,” her tops understand that her refusal of the things she has already agreed to is all part of the game.
“Terror play is an aspect of edge play, which is going to the edge of what you think you’re capable of in a very specific way,” explains River, a local BDSM educator.
“It is playing with fear,” she says simply.
River, who is a polyamorous top/switch, says the attraction to fear and terror play is physical and psychological and can often be both sexually stimulating and cathartic.
“Kink can be therapeutic. It’s not therapy, though. It doesn’t take the place of therapy,” she cautions.
But “you can empower yourself in the situation because you get to stop it. You get to change the outcome,” River asserts. “As long as everyone that’s involved is consenting, then people should be able to explore their sexuality however that unfolds.”
Along with fear and terror play seminars, River has taught numerous workshops that explore the use of the body as a sex toy and has guided bottoms on how to “care and feed” their tops.
If delving into phobias and playing with sharp pointy objects is not yet your cup of tea, perhaps starting with something a little lighter on the kink scale may seem more appealing.
If marijuana is considered the gateway drug of the contraband culture, then spanking is very much the gateway kink. While many people in the BDSM community like harder play, they also acknowledge spanking, nibbling and role play to be kinky actions unto themselves.
“There are a lot of people who are just into spanking and they are happy,” says Miller. “Spanking is what they do and they don’t go really, really heavy into anything, and that’s okay.”
“My experience is that people who are into spanking may not consider themselves kinky. In the same token that someone who ties someone up with the belt from their bathrobe may not think they are into bondage,” says Silva Tenenbein, BDSM dyke, writer and academic. “[But] I think when you tie someone up it’s bondage.”
Tenenbein, now in New Mexico after living and teaching for years in Vancouver, says the BDSM scene has become more mainstream in the last 10 years, in part due to the internet. She says the information highway has attracted kink groupies that have watered down the culture.
“It’s more than an activity. There is a culture,” Tenenbein emphasizes.
“There is a distinction to be made between activity and identity,” she explains. “It [the internet] brought in all kinds of people who are just kind of driven. The bricolage doesn’t necessarily denote a lifestyle. You can get leather pants from the Gap [and] you can buy fake single tail whips at Dress Sew for Halloween.
“There’s the legend of BDSM and then there’s the actual thing,” Tenenbein says. “People who are involved in BDSM are just looking for new ways to connect with each other that they can’t find in vanilla sex.”
For Elaine, Arleigh and Kona, their first tastes of BDSM came early.
“I was spanked for the first time in Grade 1 by my little friend,” says Arleigh. “We decided we would take turns spanking each other. I spanked her first and she cried and cried. Then I felt bad and rubbed her bum and said she could spank me. So she spanked me and I felt better.
“You know how when someone says, ‘If you do that again I will spank you?’ Well I would do it again,” says Arleigh.
“I was a bad little girl,” says Kona. “I was always a bossy girl and could always get my friends to do things they wanted to do or didn’t want to do. I was doing those power kinds of things from the time I was really young.”
“I was tying up my neighbours with skipping ropes when I was an infant,” smiles Miller. “Other people had Barbie dolls and I had a doll that I made leather outfits for.”
By their early 20s all three woman had not only solidified their sexualities as dykes but also pushed their preferences for all things naughty to the forefront of their sexualities.
Asked why she is drawn to kink, Miller’s reply is simple. “It makes my cunt wet and I have determined that what I do and what I like to do causes no harm to myself or the people I play with,” she says.
Speaking of play, Miller takes me to her personal dungeonette and gives me a glimpse into her world.
The room is small yet large enough to house a wooden cross for impact play, a large wardrobe for toys and a gyno table for playing doctor.
Miller says she will eventually bring the velvet-lined coffin into the room for play partners who desire sensory deprivation.
She also points to the sling hanging from her ceiling and suggests some light summer reading might take place ensconced in its depths. Yeah, right.
Photos by Rosamond Norbury.