“Make sure you check out our dungeon,” read the inserted flier in my free giveaway bag at Chicago’s Exxxotica expo, given to me upon entering the event space. Three years back was my first year as an Exxxotica exhibitor, my crash course into the adult world, and the dungeon seemed appealing to me.

The BDSM lifestyle wasn’t a way of life I was knowledgeable about (yet), but this expo would give me a quick lesson on some of its basics. I found myself wandering over to the carpeted dungeon area several times throughout the weekend to check out the activities going on there, and during one of my walkthroughs, I found myself entranced by a particular moment.

The music was high energy, and the area was crowded with people looking on at a scene. A petite yet dominating woman was in full command of a set of floggers that were attacking the back of a willing participant. She was a professional dominatrix, and the control she had over her submissive in this moment of play was impressive. Never had I seen a professional dominatrix in person, especially an African American.

After the scene was over, I had the pleasure of meeting the leather clad dom I couldn’t take my eyes off of. “I am Mistress C,” she said, reaching out her hand to shake mine. “Pleasure to meet you.” I didn’t get a chance to dig into her life and journey on that day, but we kept in touch throughout the years, and 2015 year brought us back together as my interest in kink started to increase. I recently had the chance to talk with Mistress C about her journey into BDSM, the differences between femme doms and professional dominatrixes, and her views on African Americans in the kink community.

Journey to the Lifestyle

The journey into the BDSM lifestyle began for 52-year-old Carmen Day early on in her life, and she contributes her love for the lifestyle to her grandmother. “The reason why I decided to become a femme dom and a dominatrix was due to things in my past as a young person in my grandmother’s house, who was a femme dom herself as quite as it’s kept,” says Carmen.

“She was a lady who controlled the household financially, she controlled her husband, and he loved every minute of it,” she continues. “I grew to understand a little more about relationships through watching her relationship with her husband, my grandfather. They were married 45 years before he passed.”

Mistress C has always been drawn to the lifestyle of being a dominant as a femme dom, so when her marriage turned out to be an improper fit for her lifestyle, she decided to make some life changes.

“I became a femme dom in 2009, due to the fact that I was in relationships that just didn’t work for me,” she says. “In traditional relationships, the male was dominant and the woman role was traditional, and I was in a marriage that just didn’t work for me at all. So when I decided to become a femme dom or a dominatrix, things began to change for me and I enjoyed being in control. I’ve always been that type of person. I have control over most of the things in my life in the vanilla world, and then of course coming over into the kink space, it was very comfortable. I became a dominatrix because I knew I would have better relationships.”

Professional Dom vs. Femme Dom

Scrolling through fetish and kink searches online, anyone would be met with the profiles of both femme doms and the professional dominatrix. Both have similar roles but different lifestyles. According to the Los Angeles transplant from Illinois, there is a difference between the two.

“Well, the word dominatrix in its self implies professional,” she said. “It implies someone who decides to do scenes or role reversals with men, or women who you will dominate. It’s doesn’t have to be a male-gendered situation. But most of the subs I have worked with as a dominatrix have been male. There is a role reversal going on in a scene that is consensual. The humiliation, the bondage, whatever it is you’re doing for a fee or a payment.”

When Mistress C begins to explain the role of a femme dom, her voice picks up.

“A femme dom is what I classify myself as 24/7,” she continues. “That’s a person who doesn’t do scenes for pay. That is a person that still wants to have the dynamic 24/7. A dominatrix is a woman who accepts payment for her services. A femme dom is not a professional. This is someone who decides this is the lifestyle she likes and she goes to play parties and does things that are conducive to the lifestyle.”

Professional dominatrixes work in what is called a dungeon: a professional playground for consenting adults, typically soundproofed and filled with toys and equipment to experiment with. From whips and restraints to crosses and cages, the dungeon is a place where only the serious BDSM lifestyle members go to play out their scenes. Professionals can make anywhere from $150 to $500 an hour for playing out their scenes—it all depends on the dom, her skillset and what the market will bring her.

Playing in this space as a woman is all about role reversal and giving men the training Mistress C feels they deserve. “I believe women are just being hit over the head with ‘they need to be submissive,’ and I don’t believe that,” she said. “I believe women are very powerful, and when they tap into that power, they are able to help direct men in a space where they are a little more loving, caring, empathetic. I think that’s what a lot of our men need, that type of training that they really don’t get at home, that makes them better men overall.”

African Americans Within BDSM lifestyle

There are many African Americans that play in the BDSM lifestyle space. But the typical depictions of those who enjoy kink are often of non-Blacks, which leads many in the vanilla space to wonder if African Americans practice this type of sexual expression at all. Mistress C explains the reason why Black representation hasn’t been prominent in the BDSM lifestyle, taking it back to the early ’60s.

“Before 1960, you really didn’t see many Black Americans doing BDSM,” she said. “You really didn’t see many images because people were underground and they enjoyed their anonymity, so they didn’t really come out as much before the ’60s. Then after 1960 or so, we began seeing more publications about Black Americans in BDSM. But that’s not to say that we were not there.

“Our images just weren’t depicted. And when they were depicted and people began to use our images, they used it to be highly sexualized and borderline criminalized. They really were not using our images in a favorable fashion. In the ’80s, you had more of us opening munches [kink events in vanilla settings] and groups in public places and whatnot. But now, online you can see so many African Americans in BDSM who practice it. But you won’t see that many Black male doms though.”

Mistress C believes the Black male dom isn’t embraced in the AA community because of how many still view BDSM. Those in the vanilla world who are unaware of the true nature of BDSM liken the play to abuse.

“For a Black man to be a dom, it walks the line of abuse,” she says. “They want you to liken this to being abusive. But we have to understand that if you practice it correctly, BDSM is all about consent. Both parties are consenting.”

As a way to have a better understanding of BDSM, Mistress C believes we have to look at our entertainers for more public displays of BDSM. In 1997, Janet Jackson introduced the world to BDSM and kink play through the release of The Velvet Rope. Possibly her best album, it played with role reversal and sadomasochism and brought with it full on domination scenes during live performances. She continued the theme years later on 2008’s Discipline.

“She has alluded to the fact that she enjoys the act of pushing levels of pleasure and pain,” said Mistress C. “We see it in different depictions on television. We are seeing this more in our entertainers. Rihanna and her ‘S&M’ video, that was really an eye-opener for people. So I see African Americans when I go to the dungeons and the play parties, but in general do I see it as much? No, I don’t see it as much as I would see Caucasian play.”

Who Is Playing Kinky?

The BDSM lifestyle attracts many people of all walks of life. Mothers, nephews, grandmothers, politicians, doctors and even judges can be seen playing in a dungeon or attending a kink event, but most of these people aren’t living out and in the open.

“I think most people aren’t as out there and in your face with it,” agrees Mistress C. “In L.A. where I live, I am out. Not a lot of people are out, and they can’t be for a number of reasons. Their jobs, their families, whatever the case may be, they may have to continue to practice underground. A lot of people still have to remain underground.”

I ask Mistress C about why the BDSM lifestyle appeals to so many; she believes it has a lot to do with the draw of anything considered to be taboo.

“I think what draws people are the taboo of the different things that we do,” she says. “We wear latex, spandex, leather, and all of these clothing options make this lifestyle fun.” She began to explain how even vanilla people practice forms of BDSM unknowingly. “If a person is in their bedroom doing a little spanking in their play, they may not know that that’s BDSM, but it is,” she said.

“Sometimes a spanking is just a spanking… meaning people out there are practicing forms of BDSM but they aren’t calling it that. The types of people who practice BDSM are in a cultural situation; we are acknowledging who we are. With the vanilla people out there getting these whips, chains and blindfolds, that’s stuff we use in the BDSM lifestyle. So people are practicing but they don’t even know who they are.”

There are many who can’t understand the correlation between pain being pleasurable and somewhat sexual, but according to Mistress C, BDSM is about more than just sex.

“People can’t accept that there are people who enjoy kink or get pleasure from pain,” she educates. “BDSM isn’t not about sex, once again, but it’s still a sexual experience causing a sexual sensation. People are consenting. Masochism is all about pushing the level of pleasure in that pain space that can induce endorphins and dopamine and changes of that nature in the body.

“That is really a natural high that people experience when they push their threshold of pain.  Abuse is when the other person is not consenting to the situation. Practicing BDSM is when people are giving consent to being spanked, humiliated, objectified. They are consenting to have these things to happen to them.”

Finding Playmates

As far as finding like-minded individuals to play with, there are communities like fetlife.com and darkconnections.com where African Americans can find groups of BDSM players like themselves and receive news about the events happening in the community. Getting into the lifestyle isn’t difficult in 2015, with so much information accessible to those who are interested.

Dozens of SFW videos on YouTube share ways to get into BDSM play, whether it’s rope tying for bondage or techniques for delivering the perfect spanking. Kink and BDSM are just other forms of sexual expression and ways to connect with the sexuality of others. Tea parties, play parties, munches and dress-up groups are scheduled across the nation for members of this community to have unforgettable experiences together.

Mistress C believes the decision to delve into the kink space is a matter of adult choice. “When we grow up as adults and we look at our lives, it’s a matter of choice,” she said. “Do you choose to experiment and to exercise your mind to see what’s on the other side of the veil? Or will you remain on the side of the veil that is very comfortable and normalized, yet still be unhap