On the far reaches of Jacksonville’s Westside, deep in the bowels of a neighborhood off Fouraker Road, there is a dungeon.

A real, honest-to-de Sade dungeon, stocked with whips and chains, ropes and paddles, knives and gags, and dozens of other torture devices. The room, off a hallway next to the kitchen in a humble, ranch-style home, has seen all sorts of unimaginable nastiness. Here subjects are stripped and bound, whipped and flogged, sliced and pierced, and much, much worse. Or much, much better, depending on your disposition. The home and its dungeon belong to Lady J, a woman who looks like she can beat the living snot out of you and might, given half a chance. Lady J — a “short, fat, bald-headed bitch” by her own estimation — is a skilled dominatrix whose rich history of inflicting pain is rivaled only by her love of animals, nature and, yes, people. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
In order to understand Lady J, you have to understand a bit about the bondage community in general, and that’s not easy for those whose most deviant sexual fantasies involve little more than fur handcuffs or a threeway. The underground world of bondage, discipline and sadomasochism — BDSM for short — is a dark, labyrinthine place, where experimentation and perversion is not only accepted, but encouraged. A place where one kink leads to another until boundaries evaporate. Imagination and the physical limitations of the human body are the only things that stand in the way. Even then, those limits are tested. Despite common perceptions, BDSM is not just about sex. For many in the BDSM community, it’s about enlightenment and mind-expansion, about spirituality and personal growth. Sometimes it’s about recovery and survival. For Lady J, known to us “vanillas” or “normals” as Jackie Abbey, BDSM is a lifestyle. More accurately, it’s her life. For the past 25 years, she has been involved in BDSM at different levels. Once a pro dom, or dominatrix for hire, she now practices strictly for personal enjoyment and the pleasure of her subjects. Lady J is what is commonly referred to as a “ma’am,” kind of a den mother for pain freaks. She is married to a man (legally) and a woman (spiritually), and keeps a “household” of more than 100 members. Within this household resides a healthy mix of misfits who indulge a variety of kinks and fetishes. There are singles and couples, heterosexuals and bisexuals, slaves and submissives, and doms-in-training. It’s a family tree with branches stretching across the country. Lady J’s household could be considered a microcosm of the larger Northeast Florida BDSM community. To avoid persecution, most fetishists, including many of those under Lady J’s watchful eye, keep their kinks to themselves, sharing only with likeminded individuals. Even public gathering places, like leather bars, remain underground, and their patrons protect each other with codes of anonymity and silence. Some curiosity seekers attend theatrical fetish shows, dressed-up, public versions of what goes on in private dungeons. But the real sadomasochists roam among us incognito. They’re bank tellers and lawyers and plumbers and cops. They’re your neighbors, your co-workers, your relatives. They’re just like you, only they enjoy a good beating every once in a while.

House of Pain
BY JOHN E. CITRONE jcitrone@folioweekly.com PHOTOS BY WALTER COKER

Mike, a slender, clean-shaven man of 62, slides off his T-shirt and jeans to reveal a nearly hairless body. Aside from a slight five o’clock shadow and hints of gray stubble on his pate, he is smooth. Yes, even down there. Mike’s nipples are pierced with prominent silver studs. A ring pierces the tip of his penis. He explains in deliberate but placid tones that although he prefers unorthodox forms of stimulation — some that would make a proctologist blanch — today, for demonstration purposes, things will be kept simple. He adds that he will not enter “sub-space,” the heightened state of consciousness submissives hope to achieve. That, he emphasizes, is too personal for an outsider to witness. It also requires hours to reach and involves a lengthy comedown period

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House of Pain
as well, not unlike the trajectory of a yogi just right. It’s a gift more permanent Grabbing the first of several floggers returning from deep meditation. than a wedding ring, an insurance policy — this one a leather cat o’ nine tails with Standing barefoot and nude on the more painful than a pre-nup. a substantial handle — Lady J steps concrete floor of Lady J’s dungeon, Mike Lady J releases Mike from St. about four feet from her Alpha Boy’s seems right at home. He is. He’s Lady J’s Andrew’s Cross, and he removes his back and begins twirling the leather ends husband and business partner (he’s a blindfold. His countenance is oddly in a large figure eight. The resulting mechanical engineer, and they own an air swooshes recall the cheesy sound effects peaceful. He looks more like a man conditioning service together). He is also who’s just awoken from a Sunday afterof ’70s martial arts films. She moves Lady J’s “Alpha Boy” and under her com- closer, and soon contact is made, softly at noon nap than one who has been pulmand at all times. first, then harder. Mike stretches his arms verized. He shuffles toward his wife, and Lady J’s dungeon is less threatening skyward, and the cracks of leather against like two school kids on a playground, than one might expect, at least at first they kiss. A little peck on the lips is all, flesh increase in volume. With a slight glance. The small room could easily be a grin, Lady J unleashes four swift whacks then an embrace. workout area or rec room. In some Lady J puts away her toys. Mike across Mike’s shoulders. His head snaps respects, it’s both. Exposed two-by-fours back in pain. gets dressed. and electrical wiring suggest a room Lady J goes soft again, lightly touchunder construction, and Lady J confirms ing the rosy patches on Mike’s upper her dungeon is a work in progress. To back with her fingertips. Then, without the immediate left of the doorway hangs warning, she digs her fingernails into his a sex sling, a black-leather swing supreddening flesh. He gasps and cranes his In the most basic terms, Lady J began ported at the corners by chains attached her journey into the BDSM lifestyle as a neck. She grabs another, heavier flogger to metal pipes. Directly ahead are a cusprostitute. Well, sort of. and the process begins anew. This time, tom-built spanking horse and a waxing Married at 16 in what she calls a the rhythm of the whipping leather is bed, complete with eyehooks for “very vanilla relationship,” Lady J soon louder, matching the intensity of “The restraints. It’s draped with a sheet covfound herself stifled by a domineering Omen”-esque strains of “O Fortuna,” ered with images from the animated mate, a man whose idea of marriage was which now leap from the CD player. Disney film “Aladdin.” different than his wife’s. “What brought Again, she approaches slowly, allowing In the far corner of the dungeon it to an end is he couldn’t keep his dick the strands to just nip the skin. Then stands St. Andrew’s Cross, a black, in his pants,” Lady J says with a grimace. harder, faster and closer, culminating in 7-foot-tall “X” affixed with wrist and Consequently, after 17 years, she found four vicious, impossible whacks across ankle restraints. There is a chair, a small herself divorced with a 12-year-old son his ruby shoulders. table and, over by the sling, rows and to care for. Finally, with a sinister smile, Lady J rows of plastic storage bins containing Though she was employed by a takes several solid swipes at Mike’s ass everything from needles and sterile gauze major health insurance company, where with an ultra-thin, whip-like flogger. to lubricants and giant dildos. From she worked for 30 years, in her late 20s, The snaps are alarming, and Mike hooks on the wall hang all manner of she found she needed money to support moans as they connect. Nearly 20 minflogging devices: paddles, whips, riding her son. That’s when a friend employed utes have passed, and the once-pale figcrops. Some are custom-made and quite by Hertz car rental at Jacksonville ure is a deep, throbing throbbing red. elaborate. A few cost more than $1,500. International Airport suggested she As Lady J completes the session, she Several are purple, Lady J’s favorite color. work as a professional dom for well-topoints out the letters J and D — her Lady J, dressed in non-threatening do traveling businessmen. “He said, first initial and that of their shared wife, sweatpants and a purple T-shirt with her Lady D — etched in the flesh of Mike’s ‘Jackie, you would be great,’” says Lady name emblazoned across the chest, flips J. “‘You’ve already got a dominant perbuttocks, one letter per cheek. It took on a wall-mounted CD player. Ambient several cuttings to achieve the desired sonality. It won’t take me long to teach orchestral music spills into the room. you to use the equipment safely, and effect. Slicing the outline of the letters, She’s mid-sentence, showing off one of you won’t have to sleep with any allowing them to heal, cutting into the her favorite flogging devices, when of them.’” scab, healing and cutting again, then Mike, pulling on a blindfold and snapapplying ink so the initials would scar ping himself into the cross’ wrist restraints, asks, “May I speak openly?” “Yes,” Lady J responds. “No more talking,” requests Mike. He’s fastened to the cross, his face buried in the center of the “X” with his back and rear end exposed. “No more talking,” Lady J concurs. The session begins. With her bare palm, Lady J strokes Mike’s back softly, then places a small bandage over a mole on his right shoulder. Though she is about to brutalize her Alpha Boy, Lady J insists on doing it safely. Moles tear easily and bleed heavily, and that’s a kind of pain she’s not interested in inflicting. She retrieves two plush animal pelts and uses them to caress Mike’s back and buttocks. He’s silent. She follows with industrial-grade, textured rubber gloves in a similar pattern. Lady J, as she later explains, is prepping the skin, gradually building to greater levels of stimulation. Mike’s Lady J flogs Jen, a woman recovering from back surgery. Oddly, Jen considers her flogging sessions part of her recovery. shoulders slowly turn pink.

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18 FOLIO WEEKLY March 11-17, 2008

Mistress Kitten prepares to whip a naughty schoolgirl at the 10th anniversary Saturday Night Seduction performance, a theatrical version of what goes on in bedrooms — and dungeons — across America.

After a lengthy training period, Lady J spent two years as a pro dom, making up to $1,500 an hour. She put her son through college while whipping, flogging and caning high-dollar clients as they passed through town. It was shortlived, dangerous and illegal, but Lady J was good at it. She enjoyed the hell out of it, too. When she finally got out of the game, her interest was so piqued that she “went looking” for a more personal connection to the BDSM scene. Her quest brought her into Jacksonville’s leather underground, where she infiltrated a local gay Levi-leather club (so named for the denim and leather worn by patrons) called The Stilettos. Lady J was the first woman admitted to the club. She eventually served as president of the group for two years, during which time she attracted females in such numbers that The Stilettos was finally opened to women. “They let the short, fat, bald-headed bitch in,” boasts Lady J. “And then I started kickin’ down doors.” Lady J is indeed balding, has been since she was 15, and she’s overweight — two characteristics she makes no effort to downplay. She smokes a lot and cusses like a sailor. But for all her masculine affect, there is a palpable compassion about the woman. A practicing Wiccan, she loves the outdoors, and she cares for animals both domestic and wild. She maintains a mini-menagerie inside her house, and feeds the squirrels and birds that frequent her backyard. A trained nurses’ aid and health-care professional, she tends to the ill as well. In response to the growing AIDS epidemic, Lady J was operative in establish-

ing the leather-oriented fundraising group Santa Pals in 1993. She also spent agonizing days and nights at many bedsides caring for loved ones with the disease, watching them die protracted and painful deaths. She wells up when recounting those stories. It was from this base in the gay and bisexual leather community that Lady J built her own group, the North Florida Leather Association, which morphed into her current household, called The Round Square Hole. Though Lady J is open about her lifestyle, other members of her household prefer anonymity. It’s understandable, considering the region’s overwhelming conservatism, but even in the most progressive metropolises, leather and bondage fans keep a low profile. Domestic abuse, prostitution and weapons laws can be liberally interpreted to put these folks in jail. They may enjoy being chained up every now and again, but being shackled and handcuffed by Johnny Law isn’t necessarily what they have in mind. So, for the most part, the sadomasochists among us keep their mouths shut and their heads down, at least until they’re in friendly company. Bondage conventions — like the upcoming Southeast Erotic Art Conference scheduled for Nov. 7-9 in Jacksonville — and on-line message boards are common meeting places. Leather clubs, too. But the safest hookups come by way of personal references. Word-of-mouth connections ensure mutual trust and respect, and enhance the likelihood of finding doms and subs suited to each other’s tastes.
March 11-17, 2008 FOLIO WEEKLY 19

House of Pain
Though the lifestyle involves a violent intimate connection, BDSM adherents tout the importance of respect and trust. Openness enhances comfort, which, in turn, increases arousal. Though Lady J insists she never has sex with any of her subs (she even saves sex with her husband and wife for the bedroom, away from her dungeon), some of her subjects are sexually gratified by the end of their sessions. More important than sexual arousal, says Lady J and members of her household, is the bond they establish. The deep relationships between doms and subs are integral to the healing aspect of BDSM. “I’ve smoked grass, more than my share, more than I needed,” says Mike of his early attempts at escapism. He says the endorphins produced in a session are similar to those released as a result of taking certain drugs. “[Lady J] activates them. She’s the catalyst that allows me to go [inside] and repair pain.” To illustrate the point, Mike and Lady J recount a session during which a submissive had an emotional breakdown. On a recent Sunday night, with a halfdozen observers present, Lady J worked on a woman who had suffered domestic violence in her past. Though the woman has since moved on and remarried, she’s still having trouble dealing with the psychological fallout. The session was the last of three that evening, and was lengthy and extreme. “Nobody wiggled, nobody spoke,” says Lady J. “There were people there with tears streaming down their eyes. And the only thing you could hear was the thud of floggers hitting this lady. She let loose of this demon, physically and vocally. It was a cleansing flogging. I knew what I was doing, and she knew where she wanted to go.” “My bride has the ability to excise those demons through playing with her and abusing her,” adds Mike. “Physically abusing her, that’s what it amounts to. She takes the demons, and she gets rid of them. When this girl left, 20 years of hurt, pain, agony and psychological violence was gone. Whether it will stay gone is entirely up to her. “We’re all broken, or we have demons,” Mike continues. “We [lifestylers] openly address them, and try to remove them, which makes us better. How we do it is unorthodox to people in the mainstream, but there’s no hocuspocus. We repair ourselves.”

It’s 1:45 a.m., and the cast of the Saturday Night Seduction fetish show is in full swing. On stage at Murray Hill nightclub Martini’s, the cast members are in the middle of their very last performance, a celebration of 10 years of titillating fetish and bondage shows. Mistress Ravynn, a bleached-blonde bombshell in full leather gear, is spreadeagle in a sling suspended from the ceiling by a large spring. She snatches a corseted female between her legs and lashes at her with a leather flogger. Her victim writhes in mock pleasure. Around them other dominants and submissives engage in various sinful acts, simulating oral sex, fondling breasts, spanking bottoms and generally abusing each other. Dark industrial music is all around. The stage is bathed in red light and a fog machine periodically pumps out lung-searing white clouds, turning the whip-wielding creatures into demonic silhouettes. Boys with horns on their heads and tattoos of skulls on their bare arms and chests are tortured by girls with bust-boosting brassieres and lots of black eyeliner. The audience plays along, alternately groping each other and cheering for more. It’s like an orgy in hell if Will Ferrell were Satan.

The trappings of bondage — leather gear, spiked collars, oxygen masks — are the tools of the trade at Jacksonville’s popular Seduction shows.

20 FOLIO WEEKLY March 11-17, 2008

Lady J is proud of her collection of “toys,” which includes the “pleasure ball,” a small sphere adorned with carpet tacks that she rolls up and down her subjects’ bodies.

prepared for the physical and mental requirements it takes to pull it off,” he says. “In the type of shows we do, the performers also must know and understand the pain threshold and tolerance levels of the rest of the cast. This way no one gets hurt.” If Michaels and Lady J agree on one thing, it’s that when inexperienced people start knocking on each other with whips and chains, someone is going to get injured. “With [the BDSM] scene becoming more accessible to a wider and more commercial audience, it is impossible to keep everyone safe,” he says. “[People] go out and buy a whip at a sex shop and suddenly, overnight, they’re printing up business cards that say ‘professional’ dominatrix.” He considers the trend both irresponsible and dangerous. “It can cause devastating and possibly irreversible mental or physical damage to anyone foolish enough to let themselves get into a situation with one of these amateurs,” he cautions. “Buyer beware.”

It’s all in good fun, but a far cry from the lifestyle the show portrays. And that’s the point, says Seduction founder Max Michaels. Michaels conceived of Saturday Night Seduction in 1998 when he was approached by now-deceased promoter and then-Club 5 owner Bruce Chambers. “We were hanging out [in downtown Jacksonville], and being new to the area he asked me ‘Where’s the best fetish night?’” explains Michaels. “I said, ‘Atlanta.’ He laughed and said, ‘Let’s change that.’” Six months later they started Seduction. A theatrical take on bondage and fetish culture, Saturday Night Seduction places the trappings and practices of the BDSM culture in front of anyone curious enough to show up and open-minded enough to keep watching. Michaels says he has always called Seduction the “Top 40 of the fetish world, mild by comparison to the extent the lifestylers go to.” Michaels and Seduction players use themed shows — from naughty schoolgirls to Roman orgies to bondage scenarios — to dramatize what might take place in bedrooms (and dungeons) across the country. But it’s just a show, stresses Michaels, a sentiment echoed by cast members. Anonymity is insisted upon by many of the players, a number of whom draw a clear distinction between their stage personas and their private lives. In fact, all of the Seduction members contacted for this story refused a personal interview and preferred to correspond by e-mail, requesting that only their stage names be used. All of those interviewed insisted that they do not practice bondage in their personal relationships. For Mistress Kitten, a 10-year veteran of fetish shows and Seduction member since 1999, the attraction is more rock star than bondage queen. “I am a performer,” she wrote in an e-mail to Folio

Weekly. “I grew up idolizing entertainers like Alice Cooper, KISS and Ozzy Osbourne. So like them, I get dressed up in my character, go out and put on a performance. “Many people out there seem to be under the impression that what we do involves sex,” she continued. “It does not. We love to look sexy, but we do not have sex in our performances. Our goal in Seduction is to put together themed performances and have fun while entertaining the audience.” As might be expected, Seduction has had its share of problems, including a vice-squad shutdown of one performance. “They made an example of Seduction,” says Michaels of the raid. “All suited up in ski masks, bulletproof vests and guns, they raided the club and arrested the club dancers, members of the troupe and our female impressionist MC.” All charges were eventually dropped, Michaels says, “but the example was made.” Some in the BDSM community take issue with Seduction. Lady J says the performances can be unsafe, particularly during segments involving audience participation. She claims audience members, who may not realize what they’re getting into, are at risk. As an example, she recalls being approached by a young woman in Riverside who was injured during fire play at a Seduction performance. She says the woman lifted her shirt to expose several serious burns on her back. Michaels insists all possible safety precautions are observed during Seduction shows, and dismisses such criticisms as falsehoods and rumors. The rumors he can handle. He’s even somewhat proud of the bigger-than-life version that lives in some people’s heads. But he takes offense at the thought of his shows being dangerous. “All of the players sign agreements that they understand and respect the parameters of their role in the show, and are

Mike lumbers, shirtless, into the kitchen in search of painkillers. He’s just had extensive oral surgery and is in obvious discomfort. “There is good pain and bad pain,” Mike mumbles through clenched teeth. “This is bad pain.” Coming from a man who enjoys having his scrotum pinched, his ass-flesh sliced, his urethra pierced and objects jammed into his most intimate places, the irony cracks like one of Lady J’s whips. The definition of pain and pleasure is different for each person, and the gray area where the two intermingle is where BDSM practitioners find purchase. For some, sessions are soft and tender with just a little light discipline to get them off. For others, the outer edge of sensation becomes a test of physical and mental endurance. The deeper you go, the stranger it gets. Basic bondage practice may involve anything from simple ligatures, a blindfold and soft flogging. As the sessions or “scenes” increase in severity and thematic complexity, so does the pain. Bindings become more elaborate, and floggings grow longer and more intense. Degradation and humiliation, piercings and cuttings, bloodletting and fire play, sensory deprivation, electro-stimulation, genital torture — the list goes on. As Lady J says, if you can think it, you can do it. But for all the physical interaction, BDSM is mainly a psychological pursuit, especially for the “bottom” or submissive. Many submissives claim to have hyperconscious experiences, entering a trancelike state, known as “subspace,” when sessions reach intense levels. Mike, who refers to himself as a “pain pig,” achieves his deepest subspace when physical torment is nearly unbearable. “I am a little extreme, a little over the top,” says Mike.

March 11-17, 2008 FOLIO WEEKLY 21

House of Pain

“Sometimes I’m a lot over the top. I Lady J relishes the absolute control she think I’ve used my safe word once.” maintains of her household. Says Lady J, A “safe word” is a word or phrase with just a hint of a smile, “The power is unique to each participant that indicates always in my hands.” when they’ve left their comfort zone. If a person is gagged, a hand gesture may be used. The safe word is important not only for the submissive, but for the domi- Jen is secured to St. Andrew’s Cross, her nant as well, since she or he can also enter tattooed back receiving rhythmic blows a transcendental headspace and may from Lady J’s floggers. Along her spine, need to be jarred back to reality to end between two growing red patches, runs a the session. lengthy scar, the aftermath of painful Lady J says that every possible safety back surgery. A submissive for three years precaution is observed in her dungeon. now, Jen considers her tattoos and her For the uninitiated, she offers reading involvement in BDSM part of her recovmaterials detailing safe bondage practices ery. Since her surgery, Jen has had proband dungeon etiquette. Her restraining lems allowing her husband (also known devices are equipped with quick-release as her “sir” or male dominant) to touch mechanisms, so at any time during a her back. scene, if something goes awry, a Lady J relies on her skill with floggers subject may escape. and her knowledge of anatomy to avoid The universal slogan of BDSM — the sensitive parts of Jen’s back, focusing “safe, sane and consensual” — is of utmost importance to Lady J. When interviewSo, for the most part, the sadoing a potential member of The Round Square Hole, masochists among us keep their she may spend a full day mouths shut and their heads with the candidate. Sometimes the interview down, at least until they’re in lasts an entire weekend. friendly company. She also offers a lengthy training program for both doms and subs. Her rigor is, in a way, intended to intimidate as on the shoulder muscles rather than the well as inform. “Many are tourists, lumbar, where the kidneys are especially wannabes,” she says. “I’ll put them vulnerable. These sessions, with both through their paces, and normally [the Lady J and her own husband, have poseurs] don’t come back.” brought Jen out of what she calls “paraThose who are accepted into the noia” about being touched. household are treated like family. Lady J Of course, truth be told, Jen gets off keeps records on all members and club on it, too. “I knew from the time I activities, which include meetings at Fuel started to hit puberty that I was differCoffeehouse in Riverside. A number of ent,” she says. “As a kid, hitting puberty, members even have a key to her home. you have fantasies, and mine weren’t norOnce admitted into Lady J’s fold, you mal. I knew that. Mine were very violent are, in a word, protected. “Eyes will be and had a lot to do with being tied up on you to make sure no one abuses you against [my] will.” sexually or mentally,” says Mike. To mainstreamers, fantasies of rape “Nobody will ever [mess] with you.” and bondage remain just that — fanThere are also various levels of tasies. But for those involved in BDSM, dom/sub relationships within the BDSM fantasy is reality, an arousing, violent, lifestyle. Some subs are part-time while mind-expanding reality. It’s the mainothers are full-on slaves. Lady J doesn’t stream’s fear and ignorance that keeps keep slaves because, frankly, she says, BDSMers in the closet, says Jen. they’re too much trouble, requiring Lady J would like to change that. She instructions as specific as, “Get out of wishes more people would be open to the bed, put on your clothes, eat your breakideas embraced by the BDSM commufast.” Make no mistake: Lady J’s subs are nity, or at least would be more accepting at her disposal — she makes a demand, of the people who live it. That’s why she they follow through or suffer the consemakes education one of her objectives. quences at her hand — but they also For Lady J, what two or more consensual come and go freely. adults do behind the doors of their own As Lady J’s Alpha Boy, Mike lives dungeons is their own business. every waking moment under her control. “I don’t care what you do, and I don’t Aside from decisions pertaining to their care how you do it,” says Lady J. “The business, Lady J decides what, when, way I figure, as long as two people come where and how they do things. (Mike out of a scene, and they’re able to walk enjoys the same relationship with their out the door, and they’re both alive, it shared wife, Lady D, also a dom, at her was a good scene.” home across town.) Mike says he’s “nothing more than a piece of chattel.”

March 11-17, 2008 FOLIO WEEKLY 23

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