House of Pain

I recently received an e-mail asking me, somewhat impatiently, for the exact addresses of Seattle's "professional dominance centers." The writer wished to begin employment at one right away and found it annoying that she was unable to locate them easily.

A professional dominance center? That sounds like a nonprofit corporation with folding chairs and support groups. This writer was seeking what I call "a pro-domme house," which is a place outfitted for commercial BDSM use, with dungeon furniture and toys, where a staff of women waits for clients to walk in off the street.

The abundance of kink references in pop culture might suggest that such places are as common as strip clubs and massage parlors, but that's not true. Not that we have that many strip clubs or massage parlors in Seattle, either. But we had a pro-domme house once—about 12 years ago. A woman styling herself "Mistress Kat" blew into town and made a big noise in the BDSM community about her grand plans for a multiroom dungeon. She rented an industrial space off an alley in Interbay, painted it an odd shade of aquamarine, and "hired" a bunch of local kinksters. Trouble was, they never got any clients. People just sat waiting around in the windowless, echoing blue rooms, tapping their riding crops and getting bitchy with one another. After a few months, Mistress Kat unexpectedly departed Seattle, leaving her employees unpaid and unhappy. I spoke to her landlord, posing as a prospective (vanilla) tenant. He said he'd "had some strange people in there." They never paid their rent after the initial deposit, he said, so if they hadn't left, he'd have evicted them anyway.

As far as I know, that was Seattle's only according-to-Hoyle pro-domme house. But a lot of women—many of whom aren't kink-identified—ask me how to get employed by one. I understand why. There's an illusion that dominatrices remain more physically distant and emotionally detached from their clients than strippers and escorts, and that the overt power dynamic keeps you safer.

None of which is true, but that's beside the point. In Seattle, you have a better chance of finding a well-made corset off the rack at Metro than you do of finding a job in someone else's dungeon. Aside from the business challenges of running such a place, there's the legal hassle. Some cities are more tolerant of organized sex workers—as long as they stay in the de facto red-light districts—and thus the outlay of cash required to equip and market a dungeon can pencil out in the long run. But in liberal Seattle, people get all freaked out about bikini espresso stands. Something resembling a BDSM version of Seth Warshavsky's old Club warehouse would send local newscasters and neighborhood activists into a tight-lipped, Norwegian tizzy.

So the precise location of Seattle's pro-domme houses? New York. Maybe you should Google Map it before you leave, though. recommended