Our Reporter Goes Undercover in the South Florida Fetish Scene
Leather Lee explained that I was the one in control, even though — being a dom — he was about to take charge. He has been whipping people for 25 years. He even makes his own whips. We were in a small back room of Club X-it, back in February 2011, before the club closed for good. A row of whips hung on the wall.
Chad — friendly Chad in the black fishnet top — brought me to Lee as soon as the master was free. Lee had me face the corner and bend over the spanking bench, which was covered with a burgundy cloth. The plum-colored wall in front of me had a dark stain on it. The lower half of the wall was paneled: grungy and brown, with white specks like quartz. Two of my friends sat on the sleek, black, leather couch nearby. Another stood and got the camera ready. We had done nothing close to this before.
The party that night had a Stanley Kubrick theme. "A Clockwork Orgy" is hosted yearly by the adult-party team called Electrolust that's headed by Josepher Ringleader. Through the dark, smoke-filled rooms, people were being walked on leashes. The bar had three rooms, and the crowd was small. Under neon-green swiveling circles and stars, young raver girls giggled. Burly men in bomb gear and giant, buckled boots stomped on the main dance floor. A mirror lined the wall.
Leather Lee has a flying dragon tattooed on the forearm of the hand he uses to whip people. He started with a few upper strokes, hitting my shoulder blades, whipping to the speed of the hard-hitting, bass-thumping techno. The whip went down my back. Then the whip bounced off of my ass. When the song had a serious oontz, the whip nailed the terrain between my legs. The whipping left no welts and didn't break the skin, but it would leave my skin red for a couple of hours. Lee stopped and said: "It was a pleasure to beat you."
He took turns on my friends next. Then he grabbed a heavier whip. He lifted the back of my shirt, unsnapped my bra, and threw my lime-green tutu up. After the whipping, I was still lying down on the bench. He reached over me and, while breathing heavily, asked me how I enjoyed it.
That was my first foray into the world of S&M. Over the next year, I went headlong into the South Florida fetish community, which locals say is one of the world's most active. It's not for hedonists. It's not scenesters. Here, we have true rubberists. We're glam fetishists, and we're playful. If you have a fetish, you'll find it here.
These parties mock how sexually repressed our society is. They liberate. But they're not a done deal like other kinky joints. At a swingers club, you know what it all leads up to. At a strip club, you know who will be on the poles; you can buy yourself a lap dance. The beauty of the fetish party is that anything can happen. Maybe nothing does. But maybe you discover you have a fetish or two. Wouldn't that be a kick in the 'nads?
There seemed to be a method to the madness, a pattern to follow when you spank someone. Onstage, a woman smacked another woman's butt with her hands. The other woman hung onto a railing for support. The spanker used fast taps, pushing the bottom of the other woman's ass cheeks up. After that came hard, dead-on, in-the-middle-of-the-cheeks slaps. Perfume filled the air.
More than half a thousand fetishists were here in September for the party called the "Fetish Apocalypse," inside the Fort Lauderdale Ramada Inn. The party took over Coco Locos, the hotel bar. Everyone was celebrating: The previous night, the Broward Sheriff's Office had shut down the nightclub where the Fetish Apocalypse was supposed to be held. The prima donna of fetish retailers, Fetish Factory, had found a new venue by midafternoon.
A circular steel cage was on the corner of the dance floor right when you walked in. Behind the dance floor were a couple of benches and a scaffold, the one used for the paddling. People hid along the wall, creating a hanky-panky station.
It was thick energy — a safe, chaotic, carnal frenzy. People dressed pretty funkily: silver-coned brassieres and chain kilts. Some wore army gear, guns, gas masks, a hockey mask, a belt full of machine-gun bullets. One had a vibrating mitten. Guys dressed as women. But there were also guys in leather panties not dressed as women. All ages wore latex outfits, including full-head latex masks that hid everything. Parting the dance floor was an exotic alien/sea creature, the hot male version of the opera singer in one of Bruce Willis' many outer-space movies, The Fifth Element. On faces, the green lights looked like laser beams shooting out of machine guns. On the ceiling, lights formed flowery stars.
At the back bar by a spanking bench, a boyish man with blue eyes and dirty-blond hair that fell to his ears wore a black mask with silver bars that covered his mouth. I'll call him Leather Mask. He kissed my hand as if he didn't have something covering his face. He looked up at me. There is a reason the opening image of the love story in Titanic shows only Leonardo DiCaprio's eyes. It was piercing to look through the mask. He twisted the whip he kept against his shoulder, as if asking to play.
Leather Mask and I sat in the cove behind the stage. He took off his mask and said, "See." He had an untrimmed patch of hair on his chin, like a farmer. In 1942. "Listen," Leather Mask continued, "if I didn't like you, I wouldn't take the time out to talk to you." He told me that his whole family goes to these fetish parties, primarily his uncle, and that the intrigue of the mask is that you don't know if that person is smiling or not. He said the mouth holds more power than the eyes.
Leather Mask's isn't the only family that could hold its reunion at these fetish clubs. But it wasn't always this easy for fetishists to find one another. Most people agree that the local fetish scene grew largely because of the work of Glenn and his fiancé, Donna, owners of a Fort Lauderdale store called the Fetish Factory. There, you can buy high-end latex fashion, vibrators, ball gags, masks, whips — everything a newbie or a seasoned fetishist might desire.
Glenn and Donna, who won't use their last names when being connected to Fetish Factory, have been hosting what's now billed as the longest-running fetish-wear party in the United States, called "Alter Ego." The anniversary, which takes place every Memorial Day weekend, brings in thousands of attendees from upward of 30 countries and includes kink superstars. An entire hotel is taken over. This year, it will be the Fort Lauderdale Marriott North. Over the course of four days, there will be seven parties, including three full-scale fetish balls: the "Beat & Greet" party, the 17th-anniversary "Fetish Ball," and the "Extreme Players Party," all at different venues, as well as a "Pervy Pool Party" at the hotel.
Glenn and Donna opened the Fort Lauderdale store in 1995 because Glenn loved latex clothing but couldn't find it anywhere in South Florida. Shortly after the store opened, the two flew to London to attend the "Skin Two Rubber Ball," one of the world's premier BDSM/fetish events. Glenn then decided to try to start a fetish scene from scratch.
Around the Fetish Factory, a sexually liberated community has grown. In the second year, the "Alter Ego" parties drew 200 people. By the third year, there were 500 to 600 people. Now, the monthly parties average about 600 to 800, topping 2,000 for the annual Halloween Fetish Ball.
Fetish Factory enforces a dress code. Everyone must don fetish wear. Just dressing goth isn't enough. Think kilts, tutus, fishnets, lingerie, crazy amounts of zippers — anything that would make you feel out of place at a regular club. The majority of attendees have a disposable income: They have to, because latex is expensive. Public officials play here because no outside photography is allowed. Doctors, lawyers, politicians, blue-collar peeps, and strippers — at these parties, everybody is dressed and treated the same. Many people attend the parties because they enjoy the fashion. Others need a change. They get to become who they want to be. Put a whip in an introvert's hand and he turns into a dom.
Other regular fetish parties are more lenient, such as "Submission" and "Electrolust," since they don't require strict fetish wear. Anybody can get in. We call them vanillas. You're a vanilla if you're there solely for the shock-and-awe effect. This glamorous counterculture — being true rubberists — is what makes this lifestyle not feel like a giant web-cam party.
At "Fetish Apocalypse," Leather Mask asked me to help him get back in costume. As I pushed the straps over his head and ears, the oil from his greasy hair coated my fingers. I felt his arm. All of his skin was sticky. He hadn't showered for days.
He grabbed my arm and escorted me for a bathroom break. When I exited the stall, he was there, flirting with another woman in front of the mirror. I passed by quickly. But he grabbed me in the hallway and led me to what he said were booths. It was a three-walled room, complete with scaffolding to hold on to and a spanking/whipping bench. It was all very open.
We moved over to the bench. Without warning, Leather Mask threw my legs in the restraints. He locked my right arm in another. He said not to worry because they don't really work. He showed how it didn't actually lock. He dropped the whip and came closer and spanked my ass with his hands.
He brought me to the back corner of the inside bar, where a wooden bench was attached to the wall. We sat down next to two ladies intensely locking lips. A man in a full-length, leather Renaissance outfit and his two friends stood in front of us drinking and chatting.
Leather Mask never explained his fetish. But we began kissing, and he placed my arm on the shoulder of one of the women on the bench. Suddenly, his eyes lit up.
The Husband, I'll call him, had left his wife in the bathroom. He explained that I wasn't wearing my latex correctly. You're not supposed to lube your body, as I had done, causing bunched panties and uncomfortable stretches. You lube the latex itself, he explained as we stood at the Fetish Factory's New Year's Eve "Extreme Players Party." He fetched his wife's purse from behind the bar so he could improve my situation.
The Husband pulled out a bottle of lube. He handed it to me but then closed his hand around it. "Shall I?" he asked. "Or do you want to?" They say you act differently in latex.
The secret Miami venue that held this party was a lush one. All over the walls hung red drapes, mirrors with thick gold frames, paintings of robust women. A gorgeous chandelier and two giant swings with plush seats and thick ropes to hang on to dropped from the ceiling. People in their New Year's latex best twirled on the poles on the black platforms and mingled on the red-velvet loveseats and tiger-striped sofas in orange and black. Two white couches that had a plastic-like covering were upstairs.
The Husband rubbed lube on the outside of my miniskirt. He rubbed the front and moved across the curves of my hips to the back. His hands rubbed the lube over my butt. "Now, I have to get the inside," he said as he poured more lube into his hands. He curled his fingers to get the inside of my skirt wet and then stretched out the latex to reach the fabric further up on my front thighs. The bunched panties had been shed, and he sensed my weariness.
"Don't worry. I'm not going to do anything. I won't get near there." He chuckled.
He handed over the lube. Without a word, it was clear that he wanted the favor returned. I bent down, trying to get all of his legs. Latex covered his entire body, and in a rushed manner, I did his front and back. "Don't worry, you'll get better at this," he said. The Husband then told me what came next: It's customary for me to now go thank his wife for letting her husband rub lube on me.
Like the Husband and his missing wife, many of the attendees at fetish parties are couples who have been going to these shindigs for years. For most newbies, they usually have to go to their first fetish party alone because it's hard to persuade friends to go. But watching the couples in this open environment makes finding a mate more appealing. No one ever dreams of meeting his wife inside a bar, but at a fetish party?
Glenn says the Fetish Factory has received gift baskets from marriage counselors, thanking these parties for helping their clients stay together. Or for finding the strength to get divorced — it helps finding out that there are others like you out there.
At the sexually charged New Year's Eve party, I left the Husband behind and went upstairs to a more private room. That was when a WASPy man in a little latex commander-in-chief ensemble ran up. His hat would make any pilot or sailor envious — it was black with red trim on the top, sparkly silver on the bottom, and a big silver star in between. He calls himself Matt Havoc. "Get up," he warned. Apparently I had sat in piss.
He remarked at my latex. "It's like you're goddamned naked in the middle of the party," said Havoc. "It's fantastic. And only rubber does that. Only rubber takes on your body temperature."
Havoc explained that he didn't know he had a fetish until he found out about the scene. When he saw he could use his sexuality as a weapon, he made his switch from sub to dom. "Fetishes are not a symptom," he explained. "They're a release."
He first met his fiancé, Robin, at a Fetish Factory party. Robin, the man with the chiseled face and thick red eye shadow, is a sub and a Peruvian who likes bondage play. Robin was not yet ready to be in a gay relationship when he met Havoc, who changed that. Havoc has developed a fetish for getting straight boys to do gay things. "He helped me be comfortable with who I am," said Robin.
Havoc chimed in: "Because I was so comfortable with who I was."
Heading back downstairs, I ran into my latest fuck buddy, Foreign Pirate, at the bottom of the stairwell, where he was talking to a friend. We had been hooking up for a few months, but oddly never during one of these parties. His dark, Middle Eastern features were emphasized by what he wore: black latex pants and a black, sleeveless shirt. Black eyeliner wrapped thickly around his dark-brown eyes, his black hair tied back. What caught my breath was the black mask with silver, jeweled studs that covered most of his face. He grabbed me and pressed my arms against the scaffold near the stairwell. We moved back upstairs.
He whipped me first. Then he rubbed my latex, and I didn't mention the pee from earlier. We went to the mattress-like sitting area and stared for a moment at the other bodies, which wore bits of latex and leather as they gave in to carnal pleasures. Suddenly, Foreign Pirate pulled me into a steel cage. He pulled me on top of him on the swing. He yanked me under him on the couch, where he unzipped and my latex miniskirt slid up as he moved forward. A man stood in front of the cage, next to the couch, a few feet from my face.
We went downstairs and off in separate directions. A couple of minutes later, I approached Robin, who had just been talking to Foreign Pirate and was now staring with intense lust at him as he walked away. "Is he really a virgin?" Robin asked.
Floor Mat lives in a guesthouse, so the place has a studio setup: the couch, table, and bed, all in one room. We had become friends on Facebook, where I discovered this description on his "About Me" page: "Stand on my face while you buy a drink at the bar with my money."
Floor Mat asked me over to his house one morning. He seemed solid: a 23-year-old with two jobs. He's working on a degree in musical theater. He wanted something in exchange for an interview. He asked me to put on flats and run in them with no socks. He wanted dirty, smelly, and sweaty feet. "If possible," he said.
When he answered the door, he wore pajama pants. He had an acorn-shaped face. He began by talking about his thoughts on why he had fetishes.
"It's kind of like asking a homosexual why he is gay," he said. He mentioned parental upbringing. "It can be psychological, but I have both my mom and dad, so it's not psychological."
Maybe he had been molested, raped, or bullied? Maybe a traumatic incident led him to it? Nope. "I just came across it," he said. "One day I saw a really dominant woman, and I liked it."
The causes of fetishism are not clearly understood. People in the scene have told me that they just happened to stumble upon their fetishes. Something inexplicable connected in their mind. There was no exact memory to explain why they would have obtained the fetish. Sure, some can: One man had parents who yelled at him growing up. Now, he enjoys being verbally humiliated in the bedroom. It's dealing with the past, embracing it, and letting go.
Have a fetish for inanimate objects like shoes? Plenty of psychologists will bring it back to masturbation, that when you were a kid, you saw that certain object at the moment of an intense climax. Not one person I have met thought this masturbatory connection makes sense.
Floor Mat went to his bed and threw back his comforter to show me the dent he and his ex-girlfriend had made from all the great sex they had. There, unexpectedly, lay a lone, black stiletto boot in the middle of his mattress. He explained that the previous night, he went to a regular club and picked up a girl he had just met. When they left, they swung by her place to pick up a whip, but they didn't get too into it. He told me he had no marks. He laughed. "That's just a coincidence too. I didn't even play with that shoe. I just took it off."
His fetishes started the same time his hormones sprung up. He noticed that he was attracted to feet: not sexually aroused but attracted. Just the same way he's attracted to piercings or to a dom-looking woman. Back then, he already wanted answers, so he researched foot attraction on his computer. He thinks that you're born to love or hate something but that you have to acquire it. He compared his peculiar fetishes to beer drinking: "At first, you thought it was gross, right? But you kept trying it." He kept direct eye contact. "But eventually, your mind has to say 'You want it.' " In the next few years, he discovered that he had "every fetish underneath the sun" — besides any fetish that has to do with bodily fluids.
Floor Mat was baptized less than a year ago. He describes himself as very Christian, but he said he ponders how sinful his fetishes must be. He shrugged. What he doesn't believe in is paying for dom sessions. This type of role play should just be for kicks and for the love of the scene. About being a slave: "It's total mind submission," he said, still making solid eye contact. "You're giving your life to make someone else happy without expecting any sexual gratification."
To him, these fetishes aren't sexual — it's more of a mental orgasm. He got close to me when he showed me stuff on his phone: fetish websites, images of naked body parts, pictures of women he has hooked up with. He started hitting my knee each time he made a point. By the end, he had asked me out on a date. His dom was leaving town soon and he would have an open slot. "You should try playing," he said. "If you like it and if you like me, we should do it."
He awkwardly asked if I had brought heels. While I took off my boots and dirty socks, he asked how good my balance was. Would I need to hold on to something when I stepped on him?
As I stood on his torso, one of my heels dug in under his rib cage, and the other crushed his lower abdomen. They were tall heels, over five inches. He concentrated on breathing like it was a yoga class. When he asked me to get off — about a minute later — he lifted his shirt to show me the dents.
I sat on the couch, and he lay face up on the floor. I took off my shoes. My feet were sweaty, and I put them on his stomach and then his face. He kissed the side of one foot, then switched to the other. He kissed the bottoms of my heels. He kissed my toes. "Right now," he said, "if I was your slave, you could be eating the dinner I cooked for you. Your house would be clean." He grabbed a chunk of the bottom part of my heel and made out with it. He licked the bottoms of my feet and sucked on my toes. His tongue moved in between them. "I am going to be flat-out honest," he said. "I worship you now."
He kissed my feet in between sentences. "Wouldn't I be the perfect boyfriend?" he said as I used his face as a footrest. "You come home every day, and your dinner is already made and you get this. I don't care if you hook up with other men." He added one caveat: Because he enjoys humiliation, the other guys must have bigger dicks, which is another of his fetishes. "Don't you deserve that?"
He said he could stay like this for ten hours, but he had to go to work. He felt bad he didn't have time to wash my car.
Matt Havoc made his Miami debut at "Submission," currently the only fetish party on South Beach. He is the mouth of Fetish Factory, its MC, and this was his first time going to a fetish party in Miami. For the special occasion, he cross-dressed. He had on a long, blond wig and light blue-white contacts and latex. Robin was shirtless — his abs making a nice accessory — besides the rubber upper harness he had made at home. These two, who have been together for seven years, aren't exclusive: "Not until the looks give out, at least," Havoc said.
This "Submission" party was one of the newer in the scene, just over a year old. It's run by a scene promoter who goes by Robert Frost. Many there were those who want to make money in the scene, the web-cam owners, the doms, the go-go dancers, and people who want to be paid for fetish performance art. One girl was dunking another girl violently into a bucket of water, and she's available to be hired for your next party.
The walls of the Treehouse bar were covered in wooden boards. There were numerous paintings on the walls: a horse, a boy, the beach, vases of flowers. The theme was "Militar Resistanz," and people strutted about the club in military uniforms.
By the bar in the front, a man wearing black latex shorts with suspenders told me he had bought his outfit that day. It was his first fetish party. A Vancouver expat who finds out about fetish parties through fetlife.com wore his outfit of vibrating straps (with lights) that he had custom made. He goes by Vibrato.
Since liquor is served at these parties, sex is forbidden. Swinger clubs get away with swapping spouses in the back because those are private clubs that are BYOB. But at any bar that sells booze, you're not supposed to show nipples or ass cheeks or genitals or even a clothed erection. Don't even think about masturbating. You can buy whips, play with them, be tied up, and worship feet.
"South Florida, most liberal scene in the United States," Havoc said at the bar. "Close to us, London. And Montreal, highbrow scene for sure. They are even bluer blood than we are." He said he doesn't own enough good latex to wear in Montreal. "Dallas, us with Down syndrome. New York, too club-kiddy. L.A., club-kid scenesters, not as fetish as we are. Boston, their scene sucks; horrible laws."
On the dance floor, a black, dom-looking woman in an army two-piece fancied me and asked if I was gay. When I said I was straight, she grabbed my hand and jammed my finger inside her like a torpedo. "Not so much anymore," she sneered. She looked me in my eyes and sucked on the finger. She handed me her business card and said, "I'm a mistress. See, my slave's right over there." She pointed to a tall, white, plump man wearing a leash and collar who stood a few feet away, waiting for any word from his master.
This wasn't my first run-in with the slave-master setup. Earlier that day, I had watched a session with Floor Mat's dominatrix, Tripp. She turned Floor Mat into her first slave when she was 13. She's 18 now, keeps another girl as a live-in pet, and charges for regular dom sessions for slaves. She recently dumped her boyfriend, who wanted to define the rules of the dom sessions. He forbade her from allowing clients to suck her toes. Tripp didn't want to change, so that was the end of that. For the session I watched, Tripp had her pet and a slave. She put her pet through everything. She handcuffed, ball-gagged, and paddled her. Then it was the slave's turn. He even drank Tripp's pee. She squatted over him, using him as a human toilet.
At fetish parties, there are rules about what you can do to a stranger, so in many ways, these parties are safer than going to regular bars. You're generally not supposed to bother other people during bondage play. If anything, a man or woman may approach and ask if he or she or both can join.
Those who don't follow the rules — particularly about safety — are kicked out, with Fetish Factory maintaining a list of banned offenders. One such exile is an older man who goes by James Bondage, who has a rope tied to his junk that he wants people to use like a leash. In the S&M world, the sub picks a safe word — and when it's used, the dom ceases. The problem with James Bondage is, he doesn't follow safety protocol: Even when he's bruised and broken, he never utters the safe word.
Back at "Submission," a beautiful, Puerto Rican woman in latex rubbed my torso and legs as she danced behind me. Her husband stood behind her. They've been together for eight years, and he told me that she has free rein with girls and that he has no desire to hook up with another woman or man. He said he used to bring a flogger to parties, and if a girl asked him to use it, he would always ask his wife for permission first. At one party, a blond newbie who wore next to nothing asked him to spank her. Although his wife didn't seem to care at the party, a few months later, when they ran into that blond again, his wife was standoffish. So now he doesn't bring the flogger with him anymore.
Robin came by and said he had lost Havoc somewhere in the crowd. We conducted a search. Robin had me call and text Havoc. We made plans for Robin to come home with me. Robin worried because he didn't have any condoms.
Finally, Havoc, still dressed like a hot woman, reappeared. Robin told him what we were going to do. Havoc didn't seem to care. Since he's not involved, there was no worry.
Editor's note: James Bondage contacted us to say: "I do use the safe word when I deem it necessary and always have and will. Sometimes it is not honored promptly as it should be, but that is another matter."
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