"Welcome to Pervertibles," says teacher and sadomasochist Drake Ferguson, who on this scorching October morning in Fort Lauderdale wears tiny, fatigue-style shorts and a black tank top that display his prodigious belly. "After this class, you'll never look at Home Depot or the Dollar Store the same way again."
He dumps clothespins, wooden skewers, wallpaper brushes, tape, massage gloves, Chore Boy bristle pads, a blow torch, and a 100,000-volt stun gun onto the carpet. Then he picks up a skewer. "You can poke someone with this, or you can use it with rubber bands to squeeze the fuck out of someone's balls," he explains. "And the best part is, if you draw blood, you can throw it away, because it only costs a penny." Giggles and cheers erupt from the dozen or so people gathered before him. The group is clustered in the ballroom of the Airport Inn, a place that seems more suited to business meetings and bar mitzvahs.
Next, Ferguson demonstrates how to turn a wooden paint stirrer, along with some tape, into a whipping paddle. "You can also rub the abrasive side over sensitive areas of the body," he explains. He follows this by picking up a wallpaper brush ("Rub it over someone's asshole and genitals lightly"), a metal pet brush ("Make someone masturbate with this"), drumsticks ("Play one area all night, and by the end, your sub [submissive one] will be so bruised, they'll love it!"), and a gas mask ("Black out the eyes and you have sensory deprivation. You can also use it for breath control -- just put a finger over the nose hole").
Then Ferguson exhibits more-dangerous tools. He flips on a crème brulée torch, sprays alcohol from a tiny spray bottle into the flame, and an impressive burst of fire appears. "This feels great just above the skin," he says. "It brings new meaning to the phrase 'playing with fire.'"
He pulls out an electronic dog training collar, which he suggests using as a remote-control cock ring capable of zinging its wearer up to a mile away.
Finally, Ferguson reaches the pièce de résistance: an electric-powered, violet wand device invented in the 1930s to cure everything from hiccups to the common cold. "I got this from a CIA friend of mine," he explains with a wicked laugh. "I know lots of government employees into the scene."
Ferguson's so-called "class" this morning is part of Dungeon 701, one of the country's premier sadomasochism events, designed to teach fans of all things kinky how to play safely, sanely, and consensually. More than 100 hard-core leather folks from as far away as Canada, England, and Germany paid $250, not including hotel, for the opportunity to safely learn the newest, most titillating ways to get off. The annual weekend party of pleasure and pain was initiated seven years ago by the folks at Fort Lauderdale's Leather University, a nonprofit organization committed to educating the area's leather community. "Fort Leatherdale," as it has been dubbed by the kinky crowd, has seven leather organizations, making it one of the country's largest hubs.
Class titles range from Wax and Bondage 101 to Anal Fisting, Punching/Bruising, Mummification, and Blood Sports (which could include sewing, or "lacing," beads into the skin). Then there's Female Genitorture, Breath Control, and Branding. In some of the seminars, such as CBT (cock and ball torture), students even become intimate and, at times, nude.
After Ferguson's class, feeling like an Olsen twin in a land of Marilyn Mansons, I head out to the pool, where I meet CJ, a nursing instructor from Fort Lauderdale; her bisexual boyfriend, Charles; and Juliane, a lesbian from Chicago who explains that she enjoys bondage and vaginal fisting. "You get to explore fantasies," Juliane says. "You can strap on a dildo, and it's like, now I have a dick."
Upon hearing this, CJ grins devilishly and wraps an arm around Charles. "Ah, the look on his face when I strap one on -- his eyes just glaze over," she says. CJ is a large black woman who is into bondage, CBT, flogging, and caning. She says she steers clear of blood sports, scat play (defecation), and golden showers (urination).
As she tells me this, Charles, who is white, remains silent, a dreamy look on his face.
"In this lifestyle, you can be black, white, gay, or straight," she says. "You can walk around pinned up in latex and we won't say a word -- except maybe that you missed a spot."
Next I strike up a conversation with Karen Matroni, an instructor and zaftig redhead. Flanked by several effeminate boys in tiny shorts, she says she is a technical fetishist. In other words, she enjoys SM that is mentally exacting and precise, such as temporary piercing and cutting with straight razors. She also plays with fire, wax, electricity, and single-tail whips. Later I look up her website and see that she ain't lying. Her www.lovelifeleather.com shows astoundingly graphic photos of her clipping clothespins and inserting needles into penises, carving designs into a friend's back with a scalpel as blood pours out, and wrapping a woman head to toe in leather.
Matroni insists she prefers the gay leather scene to the "vanilla," straight-laced world because it has more structure and discipline. "With straight people, it's more swinging and more slap and tickle," she says. "The gay community taught me the more extreme SM." Matroni has two subs -- one male, one female -- whom she provides with order and discipline. "The girl needs a protector, while the boy needs help with procrastination issues," she explains. "I nurture them and provide structure. I'm like a parent -- they call me Mommy."
Master/slave (or domme/sub) relationships are sacred in the SM community. Sometimes, formal contracts are signed. "In my relationships, we negotiate what we expect from each other every six months," Matroni says. She won't accept just anyone as a slave -- applicants must provide a personal history in writing. "I require this because what I do is work," she says.
Next, I head to Bondage 101, where the conversation turns spiritual. A group of ten sits in a half circle in a hotel room to discuss the highs of flogging someone. Our group includes a master-and-slave couple (a well-built black guy in jeans and a frail white man in little black shorts and vest, with a lock and chain around his neck); there's also a pale redhead who looks like she should be home baking brownies, a couple of cute leather boys, and a guy who looks like John Cougar Mellencamp.
"SM changes your whole outlook on life," says teacher Parker Perry, a large bald man with a handlebar mustache. "God is in your body, and your body is your temple." Perry is sitting on a large, wooden bondage rack. "There is something spiritual about having someone beat your back into mincemeat -- there is a rush. When you play with someone, the endorphins go, and there is a release."
When he asks his students whether anyone else has experienced an altered state of consciousness (a.k.a. "seeing white"), Ellen, a chunky woman with the words "Keep the Lesson" literally carved into her chest, raises her hand. (She recuts her three-word scab and drowns it in vinegar every six days.) Ellen explains in a timid voice that once, after she was tied to a cross and beaten on the breasts, she "saw white."
SM is all about searching for deeper meaning in life, Perry explains. "You can achieve great success in your life, and still you look for more. I'm talking about spiritual desire."
Nonetheless, it can be daunting to inexperienced folk. "Let me ask you a question," Parker says, turning to me. I feel my face burn. "Have you ever given or gotten a hickey?" I admit that I have. "Have you ever nibbled someone's ear?" he asks. Well, yeah. "Have you ever scratched down someone's back during sex?" I plead the fifth. "Then you're into SM." The classroom of students applauds as I seek a hole in which to crawl. "Everyone is into it -- they just don't know it."
My embarrassment seems to have piqued another classmate's courage. Stephen, who lives in Fort Lauderdale and was raised a fundamentalist, admits that he often finds himself torn between desire and disgust. "I've been grossed out by some of the stuff I've seen this weekend, but I'm trying to stay open-minded," he tells the teacher. Stephen seems almost ashamed of this admission.
Perry assures Stephen that it's perfectly natural to get turned off by certain things. "Hell, there are some things even I won't do," he admits.
So, what won't the teacher do? "Castration. Also, I would never do scrotum inflation," he says. "This is where you put saline in your scrotum and then look like a cow walking around."
Next, I head to Refined Service Movement, a class on how to be the perfect slave. The students include at least two confirmed veteran slaves, several future dominatrixes, and a handful of curious folk. The teacher, Catherine Gross, seems more like a charm school teacher than a renowned domme. "Your grandmother was right when she told you to stand up straight," she says. "It's a sign of respect for your master."
Gross calls upon Heather, who appears to be Gross' sub, to demonstrate the proper way to stand at attention. Heather, a pretty brunette, is wearing a black, micromini leather skirt, black leather bra, and high-heeled black sandals. Her lips, fingernails, and toenails are painted bright red. Her legs sport several purple welts. She stands with the posture of a boot camp trainee eager to please her sergeant -- back straight, chin up, eyes staring straight ahead, and hands clasped behind her back, palms up.
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"Ooh," Gross coos, her voice becoming raspy. "You can see she is completely open to me. Heather has very nice hands." She slaps Heather's ass. "You may sit down now, sweetie," she tells her. "Yes, ma'am," the slave responds respectfully, then obeys.
After lessons in nodding ("Look up, make eye contact, and then look down meekly"), walking ("Keep one foot in front of the other and sashay"), bowing ("You must always keep eye contact"), and crying ("You open your eyes a certain way so tears pool and drop in cascades"), Heather once again is summoned. This time, she demonstrates how to be the ideal footstool. She is told to kneel on the floor and stick her buttocks in the air. She appears reticent, presumably because she'd rather not have the entire class view her ass, but nonetheless obeys. Once on all fours, forehead on the floor, Gross sits back in her chair and props up her feet. "It's like a Lazyboy for me, and it's a comfortable position for the slave," she says. She looks up Heather's skirt and smiles.
Gross' last lesson of the day is seduction. "Some slaves are allowed to seduce their masters. But," she warns, "you better be able to read your master properly. You might get laid, or you might get slapped. It's a crapshoot."
She instructs a butch lesbian with short brown hair and long shorts to sit in the chair across from her. "Allow me to demonstrate," she says. Then she drops to the floor, crawls seductively toward the woman, bows -- and spreads her own legs as wide as they go. "This tells you that I am your sexual property," she explains. The red-faced woman shifts in her chair and actually moans. Seeing the effect she's had on her, Gross flirts with the woman. "I may have to help you with your homework after class," she tells her. The woman moans again.