“In every American there is a Boston Strangler longing to break a neck during orgasm.”

Gore Vidal, Myra Breckenidge

Austin was hot as blazes. I spent three days there, relaxing in the home of a friend of the couple I had stayed with in Colorado Springs. My host was out of town for the week and had left me a key—without ever having met me—and an email telling me to make myself comfortable. So I read Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury and organized my confused travel notes for a few hot, wet, lethargic days.

Austin is famous for a few things, and I visited a few of the local highlights while I was there, but spent most of my time relaxing in the house. That might sound dull, but it turned out to be serendipitous, because otherwise I never would have come to meet the dominatrix.

Let us just call her Mistress Sophia. I met her on the second day of my stay, when she let herself in. My absent host had asked her to water the houseplants, but apparently forgotten to inform her that I was staying there. She was a statuesque woman with short blonde hair in her late thirties, dressed in sweatpants and a baggy T-shirt. I rose to greet her as she opened the door, and she jumped back in surprise.

I hastily explained my presence.

“Oh,” she gasped, recovering her composure, “I hope I didn’t disturb you. I just came to water the plants.”

“No, don’t worry,” I explained as she walked past me with a jug, “I was just reading.”

“Yeah?” she said with interest, looking at me over her shoulder. “What were you reading?”

“Um…William Faulkner,” I responded. “The Sound and the Fury. Have you read it?”

“Yes,” she said, with an appreciative smile. “A long time ago. It’s a classic.”

I introduced myself, and she told me her name.

“So, are you just passing through Texas, or what?” she asked, looking me up and down for a moment.

I quickly told her my story: the years on the road, the writing, the travel plans. She listened and refilled the jug at the kitchen sink.

“So, do you know of any interesting, off the beaten track scenes here in Austin?” I inquired, in all innocence.

She raised her eyebrows for a moment before responding, “Well… yeah, I’ve been living in Austin forever, so I guess I know a few interesting places. I live just across the street, so feel free to look me up if you want to hang out.”

She gave me her address and left me to my reading. A bit later I sent my host an email informing her that I had met her neighbor and joked about having frightened her at the door.

I contemplated going by Mistress Sophia’s place later, but got so into the book I was reading that I wound up spending the night in Faulkner’s world of mental deviance, incest and sexual promiscuity.

It seemed like a pretty intense book to have been published in the 1920s, I thought, and tried to imagine my neighbor’s shock as she thumbed the pages in her innocent youth. Just before going to bed, I checked my email and had received a response from my host. It went something like this:

I’m so glad you met up with Mistress Sophia! Sorry I didn’t let her know you were there! (awkward smiley) She is a really interesting person and I hope you get a chance to meet her again. She used to be one of Austin’s most famous dominatrixes, and she has directed a bunch of porn films too! Ask her about it! She’s very open and doesn’t mind talking about her work.

Take care and enjoy your stay!

Quite an email to receive right before hitting the sack. I was more than a bit surprised, and wondered if maybe my host was not pulling my leg. The woman I had met was tall and kind of attractive, in an austere kind of way that I supposed would make her a good candidate for the job she supposedly did, but I had only seen her in sweats and a T-shirt. It took an especially pliable imagination to imagine her committing unsavory acts.

Fortunately, being an aspiring writer of outstanding ability, I had cultivated just such a prodigious imagination. I resolved to pay her a visit the following morning.

I rang her doorbell around ten a.m. It was a Sunday, so I hoped she would be in. After a few seconds she came to the door, in jeans and a loose shirt.

“Hey,” I said. “I was wondering if you were doing anything today.”

“No,” she responded with a ready smile. “Come in! I was just making some tea. Do you want a cup?”

I told her I did, and stepped over the threshold as she retreated to the kitchen. The living room, I noticed with appreciation, was lined with books. Floor to ceiling, wall to wall. I scanned the titles: Sociology, History, Comparative Religion, literary classics. An impressive collection.

She invited me into the dining room and handed me a cup of Earl Grey. We sat down and she looked at me for a moment in silence over the table.

“So…” I began awkwardly. “Not working today?”

“No,” she said, “I just got back, actually.”

There was a pause.

“What is it you do, if you don’t mind me asking?”

“Oh, this and that,” she responded with an amused grin. “Recently I’ve been working as a dog walker.”

I wondered if she was being facetious.

We chatted for a while about some of the books in her library. She turned out to be―pardon the pun―whip smart, and had educated herself on various subjects we shared a common interest in. And besides her obvious intelligence, she was also a woman with very undeniable presence. She was tall, muscular and self confident, and it was not too much of a stretch to imagine her beating tied up men with a riding crop.

She was telling me how she had never worked for anyone else in her life.

“That’s pretty impressive,” I said, then faltered for a moment before plunging ahead. “Um, I hope I won’t offend you, but I heard from our mutual friend that you used to work as a… as a dominatrix. Is that true?”

She smiled for a moment, then slowly raised the cup to her curling lips to take a sip before responding.

“Yes,” she admitted, “That’s right. I retired a while ago though. She told you that, did she?”

I looked down at the table.

“Don’t worry,” she added, “I don’t mind. I don’t get embarrassed easily.”

“Do you mind talking about it?” I queried tentatively.

“Not at all, it was my life for years, and I don’t regret anything. What do you want to know?”

“Well… what was it like?”

She told me a bit about her work. How men from across the country, and even from Europe, would fly in Austin and pay thousands of dollars just to be tied up by her. Usually she did not even have to have sex with them, she said.

“They often came from very specific professions,” she explained, “cops, firemen, adrenaline junkies…”

Did she think that America was a sexually repressed society?

“Oh, hugely!” she said with a roll of the eyes. “I spent almost more time with my clients counselling them than performing.”

“Counselling?”

“You know, telling them that it was OK to have the desires they did, helping them accept their kinks, that sort of thing.”

I tried to imagine her counselling contorted naked men in bondage positions.

“And the porn industry, it’s even weirder,” she continued. “I used to be a pornographer, so I can tell you there are some pretty strange hang-ups out there.”

“No kidding?” I said, finding it interesting that someone would consider “hang-ups,” instead of sex acts, as deviations.

“For example,” she continued, “In America it is perfectly legal to make films of people being tied up, or films of people being penetrated, but if they are both tied up and penetrated at the same time, oh no, that’s a federal offence!”

I asked what kind of pornography she did.

She was never a porn actress, she clarified immediately. She was a director. Mostly for stuff on internet pay sites. She said she specialized in putting up websites with the most over the top content imaginable.

“Like what?” I asked.

“Well, things like menstruating, lactating girls dressed as nuns in bondage,” she elaborated. “It was the dawn of the ‘gonzo’ era. And it was what people wanted. It still works today too.”

“That’s what I have heard,” I commented.

“Oh, like you wouldn’t believe. And the more extreme the better! You just need to keep creating new sites with unique hooks every month to make sure the money keeps rolling in. Guys will scramble for their credit cards to pay for the first month, but then practically nobody pays for the second. They always discontinue payment after they get their fill of the people screwing in rabbit costumes, or whatever it was they felt like checking out.”

“Yeah,” I commented, “I can see how the rabbit costumes would get old pretty quick.”

She laughed, and I joined her, as images of the set popped unbidden to my mind.

“Legs a bit wider, Trix!” I imagine the director shouting while the cameras rolled. “Get those floppy ears out of your face, Thumper!”

I told her how, when I had lived in Colombia, the woman in the apartment next to mine was a “cyber prostitute,” who lived by doing web-cam sex.

“Yeah,” she said, nodding sagely. “It’s becoming a big thing these days. It’s super easy to set up a website. The guys just pay by credit card and the girls talk to them and do some harmless heavy breathing or whatever. It’s a hell of a lot safer than working the streets.”

Then she went on to talk about how media technology has been fuelled for decades by porn site designers, and has given birth to all kinds of stuff, like VCR videotapes, internet streaming, content delivery networks and bottleneck avoidance systems. Mistress Sophia really sounded like she knew her stuff.

Then we chatted about online dating websites like plentyoffish.com, which receive tens of millions of hits a day and are gradually converting human relationships into search engines. She told me that there is even a popular site called redlightcenter.com that has an entire virtual pick-up world, where the user can choose a face and body type to serve as avatar, then enter non-existent virtual reality cities full of clubs, beaches and concerts to meet other people hiding behind avatars, and even have interactive cartoon sex with them.

“But all that is really pretty harmless stuff,” she declared. “Not everything out there is as innocuous as cartoon sex. Particularly these days. And I’m speaking as someone who has had what I consider to be a pretty active sex life.”

She went on to list some of the various fetish industries: The transvestite fetish, the clown fetishes (where participants dress up in clown costumes), the fruit crushing fetish (where women crush pulpy fruits between their legs), the gag fetish (where women are made to vomit during the act), the “swirlies” fetish (sex with the woman’s head in the toilet), the horse fetish,[1] and the ever popular “two-girls-one-cup” genre (which has spawned a whole range of esoteric sex acts with code names like “Rusty Trombone,” “Cleveland Steamer,” and “Dirty Sanchez”).

“It’s hard to imagine things getting any more extreme than they already are,” she declared with a touch of disdain.

I told her about a guy I had met in Nicaragua a few months before. He told me that he had come to America as an illegal immigrant and struck it big almost immediately as a porn star in the San Fernando Valley.[2]

“He told me he started out stocked shelves in a factory in California,” I said. “One day he was working away in the back room when his boss came up to him and—apropos of nothing—asked him how big his penis was. The Nicaraguan was shocked, of course, but then his employer explained that he ran a side business producing low-grade porn flicks with girls from local bars. He was suspicious about it, but eventually went in the bathroom and I showed his boss the goods. The guy was more than satisfied, and they shot their first film that weekend.”

She said the story was not uncommon, and told me that John Holmes, the “Elvis of porn,” had been discovered at a urinal while working in a meat packing plant.

“So anyway, this Nicagaruan guy,” I continued, “he said it was unbelievably easy to find co-stars. He was short and kind of fat, but apparently he had what it took! He said the American girls were crazy for Latinos! He would go into bars with his boss and they would start chatting up the ladies. After exchanging a few pleasantries, they would ask the girls point blank if they wanted to make five hundred dollars that night by having sex with him on camera. And, according to him at least, they didn’t usually need much persuading. He was in hog heaven, he told me. Blondes, redheads, all kinds of women he never had a chance with back home. And he was probably making money hand over fist too!”

“Oh, I doubt that,” Mistress Sophia observed dryly. “It’s the girls who make the real money in the industry. The guys usually get next to nothing—a bag of chips on the way out the door, or something like that. It’s a male-oriented industry after all. People are buying the videos to see the women.”

I asked her if she thought women’s body image was being affected by the industry.

“Of course,” she acknowledged. “And men’s sexuality too. They used to fall all over themselves to pay a week’s salary to see a woman dance the can-can. Now a girl has to spend $20,000 on plastic surgery to turn a guy’s head.”

I recounted the plan I had made in San Diego to visit a company called Abyss Creations, which is world renowned for the manufacture of intricately designed, life sized sex dolls. They are called Realdolls, with silicon bodies, stainless steel skeletons capable of enduring 400 pounds of pressure, and custom made tongues, teeth, eyes, and genitalia. They cost around seven thousand dollars apiece, and come with their own make-up for you to apply daily, as well as a whole variety of wigs, faces and pubic hair you can put on them. Abyss Creations had been charging $100 for a tour of the factory, so I had decided against it.

“I saw a documentary about the dolls,” I told her. “Some guys stockpile dozens of the things. They spend hundreds of thousands of dollars!”

She laughed.

“Well, women that look like dolls are becoming more and more what people want,” she observed. Then she told me about Houston, a porn star famous for having non-stop sex with 620 men.

“She’s had so many operations she looks like Jessica Rabbit!” she exclaimed. “She looks like a sideshow!”

“Wait a minute,” I interrupted. “Did you just say she slept with 620 men? Non-stop?”

She nodded. “Well 620 guys ejaculated on screen anyway. It wasn’t 620 penetrations. It was a pretty famous film a few years ago. A major undertaking. She had a whole team of about a dozen naked girls—they call them ‘fluffers’—who worked as assistants hired to get the men hard for their scenes. They hobbled around in kneepads doing the pre-scene stimulation, like an Indy 500 pit-team, screaming ‘lube!’ and ‘next!’ all day long. She took the guys on four at a time for about five hours I think.”

“That sounds pretty messed up,” I admitted.

“And she earned $10,000 a little later,” Mistress Sophia continued, “by selling her labia on eBay. She had them sliced away in a labioplasty procedure and hocked them for ten grand in an online auction.”

I was stunned for a moment. Then I slowly regained my composure and said, “So let me get this straight. Somewhere out there some guy has this woman’s labia—in a jar, in formaldehyde or something—and he’s doing what with them?”

“God only knows,” she sighed, rolling her eyes and tossing her hands up in exasperation. “Welcome to the United States!”

It was one of the most bizarre conversations imaginable, and I had it with a woman who was effectively a complete stranger. I had already made an appointment to meet someone in Houston that night, so unfortunately I had to move on, but Mistress Sophia gave me a book on the way out the door: Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell, which turned out to be full of interesting Americana that helped in my research.

As a writer, I suppose I am required to somehow articulate an opinion now about the American sex industry. Well, no way. Not this time. Far be it from me to pass judgment on anyone’s sexuality. America is, after all, a country defined by its entrepreneurs, and if nobody was buying this stuff, nobody would be producing it.

The irony, however, is a bit much. Although it is illegal to buy a nineteen year-old woman in the United States a glass of beer, it is perfectly legal for someone to pay that same woman a few hundred dollars to be filmed menstruating in a nun’s costume while being anally gang-banged by a cavalcade of rabbit-costumed hermaphrodites in a mock up of the furnace room at Auschwitz.

But who am I to say that is fucked up?


[1] The story of the recent death of Kenneth Pinyan in Washington State is just one example of how extreme things are getting with this particular kink. Pinyan was a Boeing aerospace engineer who died of a ruptured colon after being penetrated by a full-grown Arabian stallion. Investigations soon revealed a whole colony of people across the United States who had been visiting the Washington farm where it happened for years for similar services. The state eventually passed a bill prohibiting such sex acts.

[2] When I asked the Nicaraguan why he was not still in the United States, he told me that he had been caught and deported after a drunken incident that turned into an armed robbery. America, whose prisons are overflowing faster than they can be built, has a policy of giving its immigrant criminals the option of either years in U.S. prison or free passage to freedom in their home countries. Naturally, they generally choose freedom, and Central America and Mexico are constantly being flooded with recycled gangsters whose free tickets home are bought by acts of extreme violence abroad.

In Central America it usually costs the equivalent of around $5,000 to pay a coyote (illegal human transporter) to transport one person across the American border. Smugglers often hide their cargo in oil drums or hollowed out tree trunks, and many die of suffocation on the way. Bear in mind that the daily minimum wage in Nicaragua and much of Central America is currently around three dollars a day, and Latinos are paying the equivalent of hundreds of thousands of dollars for this privilege.

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