People on the Irish fetish scene aren’t hurting anyone, except each other. As the strictly vanilla Joanna Kiernan leams the ropes of fetish dressing, she meets the Irish men who like to submit the women who dominate them, and the people who are partial to a little bit of pain on a night out Joanna’s portrait left, by Sarah Doyle, all other photography by Peter Buckley.
Come on, I look much sluttier than she does!” I found myself arguing the odds with the doorman of a citycentre nightclub last week, while jealously pointing to an unsuspecting individual who had just gained access. I was attempting to get into Nimhneach, a fetish and BDSM (bondage, domination and submission, sadism and masochism) night held regularly in The Academy on Abbey Street. Nimhneach has an incredibly strict dress code – presumably in order to keep out spectators like me – and I had just been informed that neither I nor my companion fitted the bill. “She has pink hair;’ the doorman said, in defence of his decision to let the less sluttily dressed punter in. ”What!” I screeched. “Is this some type of elitist snobbery? Am I too normal looking?” He nodded in acquiescense. “Yes. Too vanilla;’ A professional dominatrix who attends Nimhneach socially had assured me slutty would do for a girl “For a woman, it’s kind of easier;’ she had said ”The dress code is just kind of slutty – the sort of thing you’d be arrested for wearing, but in fact you’ll feel extremely comfortable:’ So I had taken her word for it, and I brought out the fishnets and the indecent little black dress, but to no avail. In fairness, my companions job was halfhearted: a pencil skirt, worn in the hope that she might be taken for a schoolmistress. In the end, it took a female Nimhneach organiser sporting glittery blue nipple tassels to get us in, by bringing us into a back room and making some ‘style adjustments’ My companion had further to go than I. Apparently, I had managed borderline fetish, but she was completely off the mark. Not one to be outdone, she quickly stripped to her bra and hiked her skirt up around her hips, while offering: “Sure, we’d wear less at the beach;’ Then I was kitted out with the apparent accessory dujourin the fetish scene: ropes. “All the bondage freaks will be over to you!” the organiser told me enthusiastically, as she tied me into my gear. I smiled politely and felt my heart begin to race. ”There goes my dream ofrunningfor president or the Rose of1talee;’ I thought to myself as the knots tightened. On enterlngNnnhneach, which is Irish for ‘sore’, or ‘painful’, two things became apparent. Firstly, I shouldn’t have bothered with the fake tan, and, secondly, we were still overdressed. Even with our new fetish makeovers, we looked as if we’d just turned up to the beach in ski suits. “What we provide is a space where alternative sexuality is allowed and encouraged and nurtured;’ Fig, one of the Nimhneach organisers, told me. “So if you want to lead your slave around on a leash, that’s fine. And if you want to dress up half naked, that’s also fine. Everybody is here to have a good time and also to express themselves in a sexual way. Though obviously there’s no sex and there’s also no full-frontal nudity allowed:’ I had met Fig for the first time two days befure the Nnnhneach event, and the contrast between his style on the two days was, to say the least, startling. On a Thursday evening in a cafe on South William Street, it was hard to pick him out from the crowd. I had presumed I’d know exactly who he was when I saw him, that he’d look like one of ‘them’, but he looked nothing like I had anticipated. Dressed in conservative office attire – a stark contrast to his fetish gear of an anklelength leather jacket, leather knee-high boots, black string vest and short, rubber skirt – Fig warned of what I might encounter during the following Saturday’s festivities. “Certain scenes will be taking place;’ he explained in a matter-of-fact manner, “and we provide equipment – like there’s an Aframe, scaffolding and stuff like that and some ropes. You can tie up your partner and there might be a bit of whipping. It might seem a bit harsh, but that’s all pre-negotiated ‘:As soon as somebody says that’s it, that’s consent withdrawn; the person who’s doing it has to stop. “Usually a couple will negotiate their own safe words. The general one is the traffic light system, where red is stop, yellow means dont stop, but just be mindful I’m actually approaching my limits; and green is fine:’ He became very philosophical when I enquired what exactly people get from all this whipping and PVC. “Human sexuality is an extraordinarily complex beast. For the most part, for most people, sexuality is fairly straightforward – you know, male, female, that’s it, job done. But for maybe 30 per cent of the population, sexuality is actually a little bit more complex. There are things like wanting to submit and wanting to dominate.Andnature is kind of amazing because it’s provided people who want to do this, and people who want to have it done to them:’ “In one sense it’s like the gays were so many years ago;’ Fig maintains. “They were suppressed, but now they’re accepted in mainstream society. Now the fetish people are going through the same process. There’s an awful lot of bias against it, misinformation and misunderstanding. People confuse it with all sorts ofunsavoury aspects -like, for example, people confuse fetish v.ith swinging, and that’s like confusing Australians with New Zealanders!” So, what type of people normally attend Nimhneach? ”You usually get business people and IT people. What you will find is either they’re very smart people or incredibly mad, or smart and mad. You’ve got to throw off what society has put around you: ‘Ye shall not do this, this is perverted: And you have to think: ‘Well, no, my feelings are actually telling me something different:” In Nimhneach, Fig showed me around almost proudly. “That’s Caroline, she can take a lot of pain;’ he says, pointing to a woman dressed as a schoolgirl being caned on the backside by a man, complete with cap and gown, who’s dressed as a schoolmaster. It’s uncomfortable viewing, but then that is, Fig reckons, typical of what a member of the vanilla contingent might say. Vanilla, as you can imagine, is the term used to describe the majority of non-fetish people. From a vanilla point of view, the fetish scene certainly has a very different outlook on sexuality and an alternative take on what is considered sexy. As to the clothing, regardless of size or gender, the rule seems to be the more outrageous, the better. The most outlandish thing I saw was a rope-style bra on a rather well-endowed woman, which looked so uncomfortable that what could possibly have been considered an enviable cleavage instead resembled sausage meat being put through a grinder. Fig estimates that the ratio of dominant males to submissive females in Ireland is about even, but “when you get down to ‘sub’ male and ‘dominant’ female, the ratio is something like 9:1. So, some women take advantage ofthat and offer a service.” And this is exactly what X, a professional dominatrix, decided to begin capitalising on five years ago. “1 was in a friend’s house and I don’t know how the conversation came about, but I managed to express my interest. They then introduced me to some people, professional dommes, who were just fantastic and gave me some pointers. What to do and what not to do and how to keep yourself safe;’ says the 39-year-old mother of one from South Dublin. “I had a boyfriend when I was in my teens who had a big influence on me and we did a lot of experimenting together. I was very lucky with him. Then we kind of went our separate ways, but 1 went off thinking that that’s what everybody did. So I scared off a couple of people. “Then I just put all that stuff in the cupboard and had a very normal life for a while, until I realised: ‘No, I can’t: I had to be true to who I am and explore this side of myself. “It was probably actually with the advent of the internet that I discovered I wasn’t the only person who was like this. You can feel very isolated when you think you’re the only person in the world who feels a particularway. And, then, when you find likeminded beings and like-minded souls, you can share ideas, and realise that you’re not alone;’ she explained. On the dangers involved, X says, jokingly: ”You do have to be careful, but so does everybody crossing the road.” you can imagine, is the tenn used to describe the majority of non-fetish people. From a vanilla point of view, the fetish scene certainly has a very different outlook on sexuality and an alternative take on what is considered sexy. As to the clothing, regardless of size or gender, the rule seems to be the more . outrageous, the better. The most outlandish thing 1 sawwas a rope-style bra on a rather well-endowed woman, which looked so uncomfortable that what could possibly have been considered an enviable cleavage instead resembled sausage meat being put through a grinder. Fig estimates that the ratio of dominant males to submissive females in Ireland is about even, but “when you get down to ‘sub’male and ‘dominant’ female, the ratio is something like 9:1. So, some women take advantage of that and offer a service.” And this is exactlywhatX, a professional dominatrix, decided to begin capitalising on five years ago. “I was in a friend’s house and I don’t know howthe conversation came about, but I managed to express my interest. They then introduced me to some people, professional dommes, who were just fantastic and gave me some pointers. What to do and what not to do and how to keep yourself safe,” says the 39-year-old mother of one from South Dublin. “I had a boyfriend when l’ was in my teens who had a bigintluence on me and we did a lot of experimenting together. 1 was very lucky with him. Then we kind of went our separate ways, but 1 went off thinking that that’s what everybody did So I scared off a couple of people. “Then 1 just put all that stuff in the cupboard and had a very nonnallife for a while, until 1 realised: ‘No, I can’t’ 1 had to be true to who 1 am and explore this side of myself. “It was probably actually with the advent of the internet that I discovered 1 wasn’t the only person who was like this. You can feel very isolated when you think you’re the only person in the world who feels a particularway. And, then, whenyou find likeminded beings and like-minded souls, you can share ideas, and realise that you’re not alone;’ she explained. Onthe dangers involved, Xsays,jokingly: “You do have to be careful, but so does everybody crossing the road. She giggles when I ask her about the job satisfaction she gets from domination – is it all about the power? “It is. It really is. And what woman doesn’t want to be told that she’s beautiful, she’s a goddess, worshipped, adored and that she is absolutely fantastic? You just can’t go wrong. I think everybody should do this. It is the most amazing thing, to be told that you are stunning, beautiful, wonderful, spectacular and that you look incredIble. You just feel 20-feet tall. It’s something I truly enjoy.” X’s customers are mostlymen but she does have some couples. “Acouplewould come to mewith something that theywant to explore, but they don’t know how. So it’s not really a session, it’s more of a training session. 1 just give them some pointers.” Of the type of individuals that make up X’s customer base, she explains: “I don’t ask them too many questions about; what they do. Quite a few seem to be involved in financial services. Sometimes, the workplace stresses take over and sometimes 1 think the same: ‘For goodness sake, would somebody just make it all go away and make decisions for me for the next hour: It is liberating. It is escapism. “I have some cross-dressers as well, who come to see me and for that hour, or whatever length of time, they can be true to themselves in a comfortable space.” So if it is more than a profession or a personal interest, but also a lifestyle, why does X have a fear of being outed? Is it the case that Ireland is not really ready for the fetish folk? “I don’t know if Ireland is ready, but my mother isn’t!” she says. “I have a family, I have neighbours, 1 have a child It is sometimes misunderstood. It is sometimes seen as bullying. It’s always the very extreme side that is portrayed – you know, some poor bloke is being thrashed to within an inch of his life. But it’s not that. Well, OK, sometimes it is, but most of it is just a power exchange between two people and it can be as subtle as a look. For a truly submissive man, it is his choice to worship and submit. It is somethingthat he is choosing to do and that he wants to do. It makes him feel good about himself; to look after and please a woman.” X admits that quite a few men in relationships seek her services and she appears to see her role as that of an alternative-style relationship therapist. “1 do prefer that they tell me if they are involved ornot,just in terms of whether they can be marked;’ she explains. “Sometimes, rn shave somebody, or maybe leave a small bruise or something like that, and 1 need to knowwhetherthey’regoingto get in trouble if someone sees a bruise or something. “People confide very intimate details in me, quite often intimate details of maybe a troubled marriage or a troubled relationship. If 1 can make that person feel a bit better about themselves, then they can try to repair some of the other things that aren’t working in their lives:’ Xhas a day job, but refuses to specify even an area. “I am self-employed, but this is not my full-time profession. 1 do have other activities that 1 would be involved in, all perfectly above board, which makes it easier, because then I don’t have to tell so many lies. That’s a big part of it, 1 tell lies all the time and 1 don’t like doing that:’ She also reveals that the recession is having an effect on her trade: “There has been a little bit of a slowdoWU:’ So what is the attraction for her clients? Can she pinpoint it? “They’re not attracted to me; they are attracted to my alter ego. I have had a few of them profess their undying love, but they love a person who doesn’t exist. I have to sometimes put them straight. But 1 genuinely care for everybody that comes to see me; 1 wouldn’t do it otherwise. There is a bond that is created between a mistress and her slave, and that bond is quite unique:’ But she’s quick to point out that even so, professional boundaries are maintained ‘~ybody in any profession, if you are working in an environment, let’s say you’re doing palliative care, you have to become immune, because otherwise you’d take it home. In all professions there are boundaries of professionalism and I respect the profession not to cross those boundaries:’ To those who equate being a dominatrix with being a prostitute, X says: “I’d say come and see me. It can be misconstrued Those who come and see me know the difference. You get the odd phone call from somebody andyou have to put them straight, and say: ‘Well, no, that’s not what 1 offer: If somebody asked me for more, Ijustwouldn’t have a clue, wouldn’t even know where to start. It’d be like going to the dentist and asking him to look at your feet. The differences are huge.” Of all of her services, X’s most popular service is the schoolmistress scenario. “I’m asked for that a lot, corporal punishment a lot, humiliation is another big one. Humiliation, I, personally find a bit strange. be commenting on somebody’s lack of something; you know: ‘You’re too small, you’re too fat, you’re worthless, you’re homble, you’re disgusting: And then physical is more when they are forced to carry out a task that would be demeaning. So, maybe a task that would be primarily feminine – having to clean a floor with a toothbrush on their hands and knees, while wearing a frilly apron with me standing over them. Or ‘comertime~ when theywantto be chastised and put in the corner with a dunce bat. 1 find that mindset very difficult to understand Whywouldsomebodywantthat? But 1 have to make a conscious decision to remove logic, because if 1 think about it too much, 1 think: ‘What on earth am 1 doing? This is mad;” However, X does argue that such practices are not inherentlydisrespectful or degrading. “I have the utmost respect for everybody who comes to see me, because they are being true to themselves. Being submissive doesn’t mean that you are being spineless, stupid or worthless; if anything, it’s the exact opposite. There is a strength in submissive men that is often not understood. “There’s a difference between being henpecked and being submissive. You know, being henpecked is where you are being bullied by somebody. But being submissive is where a man is making a conscious decision to serve a woman, to please her and to do things that please her, and what’s making him happy is her being happy. Whereas henpecking is a desire to make yourselffeel better by humiliating somebody else in a very negative way. That’s just bullying and that’s abuse;’ X is surprisingly aware of the oddity ofher after-hours nixer. “I do sometimes find it odd and some of the requests, 1 think: ‘Oh, heavens above;but then if that’s what you want, that’s what you want. It’s like somebody coming into the hairdresser saying: ‘Look, 1 want you to shave off half my hair; and the hairdresser is going: ‘What?’ But if that’s what the customer wants, it’s what the customer wants. “I have some basic rules. Everything is safe, sane and consensual, so that neither party is put at risk. If somebody is in difficulties in anyway, there is a safe word that they are free to use at any time, which means everything stops immediately. There is a difference between good pain and bad pain. Bad pain is where I’ve stood on him by mistake, or I’ve poked him in the eye, and good pain is when I am in control and they know that I’m in control and they feel safe;’ She’s quick to point out that she is a normal person, albeit with an unconventional profession. “The illusion is: ‘Gosh, you must never have to do your own ironing or clean your kitchen floor; but I’m a person at the end of it. I have to clean my own oven. Yes, I put my own dustbins out. No, I don’t live in an ivory tower. ‘ll:agically, I’m not surrounded by slaves who are at my beck and call, but in their heads they are. “You get: ‘Oh, let me live with you and I’ll drive you here and I’ll drive you there, 1 want to be your chauffeur, I’ll be your slave and I’ll be your this, that and the other: It’s all in their heads. They honestly would probably drive me bananas. Th have somebody under my feet 24 hours a day would drive me nuts. I need to put on my big, pink fluffy slippers and my huge pyjamas. 1 don’t sleep in PVC!” My enquiry as to whether or not she is in a relationship is met with searing honesty. “No, 1 keep scaring them off. I did have a husband but 1 gave him back. I was married for a while but 1 felt very repressed. It wasn’t him, he didn’t do anythingwrong. It was me, I was finding it difficult to express myself. “I’ve had a couple of relationships but it always comes down to the fact that I’m very nervous to be honest with them. So Ijust tell lies and then there’s only so long you can tell lies for before somebody realises: ‘Well, there’s a bit more to this!’ “I’m often asked the question would I give it up if I met the right person. But if I met the right person then I shouldn’t have to give it up,” she says frankly. One ofX’s clients was keen to speakto me about his mistress and to explain the powerful bond between them. “I find the shared dynamic between two people to be at its most intimate when shared through a forum of total power exchange;’hetells me. “From a submissive’s point of view, it is giving one’s trust to someone whom you admire, respect and are inherently fond of that gives a deep satisfaction. Herpresence is enough, even in a totally vanilla setting, to create a dynamic whereby I am inspired to serve her.” He becomes defensive when I ask what the attraction is. “What’s the attraction for vanilla people to hold hands? It’s the same inherent need to connect with another human being, in a wayin which both parties find some level of outward contentment. I won’t sayit hasn’t asexual element – ithas, just as all attractions have:’ X’s client is single, but said that he would continue to use her services even if he entered a relationship, adding that: “I am personally inclined towards submission in a practical, everyday sense. In other words, I would rather serve a mistress in ways that would benefit her life, rather than in a scene, for example in a dungeon, where I feel the domme is doing a lot of activities to pleasure the sub – that is really topping from the bottom, which defeats the purpose forme.” His family and friends are unaware of his inclination, the reasons for which, he says, “in this country are fairly obvious~ “Society generally tells us to stand up for yourself and bow to no one. Declaring oneself as a submissive would be seen by general society as a weakness, in spite of the fact that when the intricacies are understood and examined, it actually takes far greater strength to let go of the ego and express who you want to be.” The internet is awash with various fetish websites, featuring many Irish participants. One such website, www.slaveregister.com. allows subscribers to obtain slave ownership certificates, as well as posting photos of their various ‘tags: One such photo displays a barcode tattoo on the left cheek of the subject’s backside, with a caption which reads: “a gift from my wonderful mistress:’ Another, similar dominatrix website, www.femdommesociety.com. a “private society dedicated to female supremacy’~ has five Irish professional dominatrices listed as members. One of the Irish dominatrices advertised offers the following scenarios: “bathroom use control”; “closet play (locked inside)”; and “water torture” while she may also “accompany her piggies to events~ but, “mistress/submissive protocol will be adhered to at all times on all dates and at all events’: However, this maynot be a great idea for an office party, as being ordered to get down on all fours and bark is an event sure to outshine even the drunkest karaoke crooner. Another dominatrix, who refers to herself as “Dublin’s No 1 FemDom Goddess~ lists the interests “ball-busting” and “financial slavery” among her favourites – this last should be familiar to many of us, already feeling the pinch of the recession. And should anyone be considering a career change, there’s a camaraderie within the scene that would facilitate this. “Should any budding dommes wish to gain experience … contact the mistress as she can provide mentoring and asuitable guinea pig on which to practice,” reads one helpful website post. A huge number of registered users on www.collarme.com. the world’s largest BDSM online community, are Irish, with online user aliases such as IrishMaster27, Kerryslaveboy, Southsideminx and lilirishtart, all scoutingfor suitors. The fetish scene may still be small in Ireland, but not as small as you might think. Though petite, it seems perfectly formed and perfectly happy in its own skin. Aside from playing their part in the imminent peak-oil crisis courtesy of their penchant for rubber, thefetisbpeople don’t seem to be hurting anyone – except, of course, each other, in what is, apparently, a good way. II Cover and page 12 Joanna wears: latex corset dress and choker from Miss Fantasia, 25 Sth William St 02, tel: (01) 671-3734, or see wwwmissfantasiaie Velvet ribbon, A.Rubanesque, 27 Sth William St, 02, tel: (01) 672·9243 Photography by Sarah Doyle Assisted by Lydia Brow Styled by Uadan Hynes Joanna’s make-up by Vivien Pomeroy Trehy Hair by Tanya Power, both at Brown Sugar, 50 Sth William St 02, tel: (01) 616-9967, or see www.brownsugar.ie