Mistress Velvet is a dominatrix with a syllabus.
The Chicago-based master’s graduate got her start in professional BDSM a few years ago. “I thought, well this could be something really fun, and it’s a lot of money, so why not try,” she told HuffPost.
Individuals hire Mistress Velvet to be their “Domme,” the person who takes the dominant role in a dominant/submissive relationship or arrangement. She says most of her clients are white, cisgender men.
Though initially driven by pride after her first client questioned whether she had the temperament for the gig, Mistress Velvet found the work personally rewarding, which motivated her to dive in long term.
Over time, Mistress Velvet said she began “doing a lot of theorizing” about the power dynamics of a black woman holding that kind of supremacy over a white cisgender man. She began introducing black feminist theory into her sessions with clients, who’ve told her their relationship in that space has impacted their behavior outside of it.
One client said he noticed he only held the door open for black women. Another, whom Mistress Velvet educated about the systemic oppression of black women, founded a nonprofit to support black mothers on Chicago’s South Side.
Mistress Velvet spoke with HuffPost about how her clients react to their assignments, BDSM as a space for black women’s healing, and diversity and privilege in sex work.
How did you get started as a dominatrix?
I got started a couple years ago when I was working full time. I was like, I need more money, or I’m going to get evicted. I had a friend who had done it for six years, and it seemed really interesting. I asked her more about it, and I thought, well this could be something really fun, and also it’s a lot of money, so why not try.
I was not good at it at all. My first client ― he was so nice. After a few attempts, he said, “Honestly, you will never be a Domme,” because I would apologize every time I hit him.
I think that him saying that ― it kind of felt like a challenge to myself: I can be a Domme, I can do this.
When did it go from that, from proving you had the ability, to something you were motivated to do for yourself?
My relationship with it has definitely changed. Of course, it provides economic stability first and foremost. When I started, I was engaging in survival sex essentially, because I needed to make money and not get evicted and get out of this relationship that I wasn’t enjoying.
Eventually, I realized, wow, I’m emotionally invested in my clients. They’re getting this safe space. The ways that patriarchy impacts men, they can’t really be submissive in a lot of contexts. They come to me looking for a safe space to explore the parts of them that may not be seen as masculine, or they might have a lot of shame around. They may not have opportunities to be their full selves in a lot of ways, including sexually, because of those societal constraints.
I really liked that aspect of it, and that’s what drew me to it more. Also, I was doing a lot of theorizing about it.
Photo credit: Braden Nesin, Hella Positive Pinup
Can you elaborate on that? When did you start to introduce theory about power dynamics into that power dynamic?
I would say, first and foremost, that I describe it as a form of reparations ― not in a systemic way like we’re getting land back, but definitely on an individual level, it provides me with an emotional sense of reparations. That’s because of the nature of the dynamic ― that [my clients] usually are white men, that they’re straight, and they’re usually pretty well-off to be able to sustain a relationship with a Domme.
I started to think more about my relationship with them. A lot of them were asking questions. Some people were saying, “This is really impacting me in terms of how I think outside of our sessions.” A client said he started to notice he would only hold the door open for black women. One client started an organization for black single mothers in the South Side of Chicago.
Just allowing them to be submissive doesn’t allow for the more drastic shift in the framework and thinking that I want. So I have to bring in my girls, like Audre Lorde and Patricia Hill Collins, and make these men actually read about black feminism.
It made me think. I am now given this platform to make white, cis men think about things in certain ways. Just allowing them to be submissive doesn’t always allow for the more drastic shift in the framework and thinking that I want. So I have to bring in my girls, like Audre Lorde and Patricia Hill Collins, and make these men actually read about black feminism. Then, it’s moving from them simply fetishizing black women, to realizing: This is a systemic issue I’m contributing to by the virtue of being a white man and being rich.
What kind of feedback do you get when you introduce that concept to the people who come to you? Are people usually up for it?
Well, I don’t usually ask their permission [laughs].
Oh right, that’s the point.
But truthfully I don’t know. They don’t ask, “How did I do today?” I just make them do it. The feedback is that they’re still there. And they come back. And they get very into reading the essays. When I give them permission to think through the readings, and we talk about it and they’ll say, “I’ve just never thought about these things, this was really helpful.”
I think it really makes them idolize me on a different level. They want to believe that you are a Domme 24/7. If I’m not only doing these physical things to them, but also saying, “Hey, my graduate education is also focused on BDSM as healing for black women, and I think about this all the time.” Then they’re like, “Whoa, yeah, she’s the real deal.” They kind of get terrified. But I think it makes it more real for them.
What are some specific readings you assign?
I usually start with Patricia Hill Collins’ Black Feminist Thought. It’s a bit old, some things have been contested, but it’s a really good book. She has this one chapter on controlling images that I’m obsessed with. So I make them read that.
The feedback is that they're still there. And they come back.
In terms of unpacking their way of fetishizing black women and stereotypes about black women, I ask them, “Why do you want to be in my presence, why do you find me attractive?” And sometimes they might say things that then remind me of stereotypes of black women ― like a jezebel or something ― so I’ll have them read a piece about how what they said is related to this historic phenomenon about thinking about black women. I say, “Here are its roots. Here’s why it’s problematic.” That way, I can say, you can idolize me, but we need to have it be done in a way that isn’t also problematic.
Other readings or passages come from Sister Outsiders by Audre Lorde, The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander, The Black Body In Ecstasy by Jennifer Nash, The Color of Kink by Ariane Cruz, and selections from the anthology This Bridge Called My Back.
Can you talk more about the idea of BDSM as healing for black women?
One of the chapters that I wrote [for my thesis] was a little bit about my work as a Domme, but also just generally the idea of BDSM as a space where we could really work through a lot of the stuff that we experience. So what I mean by that is what kind of emotional, mental and social benefits could be cultivated in a space where a black woman is dominant over a white man? What kind of benefits does that have in our lives?
What kind of emotional, mental, and social benefits could be cultivated in a space where a black woman is dominant over a white man?
I’m not arguing that it really has systemic benefits necessarily, but I’m arguing that, in the sense that there is so much black femme trauma, to be able to be in a space for an hour, then you leave that space and go back to being one of the most oppressed group ― in that hour, it can be really liberating. It can be a form of self-care.
I argue that because that’s certainly what I have experienced for the most part. Not to say it’s not without its complications.
What are some other effects the sessions have on you?
Without trying to romanticize it too much, it has a lot of effects. Honestly, I leave the session feeling completely exhausted. There’s just a lot of pre-work. I try to draft the scene based on the things that they tell me they like. You have to do something original every time.
And it’s not necessarily natural to me to be dominant, especially this level of dominant, the whole time. It is kind of role that I embody ― a role that I enjoy, but it is still a lot of work.
I don’t experience this that much anymore now that I work in a dungeon and I have a screening process, but there used to be a lot more fear just of people not treating me well, the general fears and anxieties that sex workers have.
What is the transition from a session back into regular life like?
When I leave the dungeon, if I don’t drive and I walk the few blocks to the train, I’ll get street harassed. So after an hour of beating someone and heaving this kind of dialogue, I leave that and I’m back in my regular clothes walking and minding my own business and someone street harasses me. I’m like, really? It’s so polarizing. It’s so jarring. I’m not saying that I need to beat every man that I see, but I also don’t understand why I can’t walk two blocks without being harassed.
Though there seems to be a more visible discussion of BDSM lately, it seems to revolve around white women. Are there more black women in this space than people might expect?
Coming from the perspective of a Domme that has a Domme community, I think there are actually a lot of black Dommes. The reason why we are erased is because ― the truth is ― most people who are looking for women are looking for white cis women. There are a lot of Dommes, there are a lot of black Dommes and we do a lot of things together. But when you think about us as a group versus our dom friends that are white, we are making much less money. We have much less traffic to our website. People aren’t looking for us as much, but we’re here.
I’m not saying that I need to beat every man that I see, but I also don’t understand why I can’t walk two blocks without being harassed.
I find domming and sex work to be such a microcosm of the overarching systems at play. The things you’ll see happening in other jobs and other industries, you’ll see happening in sex work.
How have your friends and family reacted to what you do?
I haven’t shared it with most of my family, except for my siblings. They’re just like, “You do you.” They trust that I’m doing something I like with which I will be safe and not go to jail for. In terms of friends, I have a really supportive community.
What are some of the biggest misconceptions about what you do?
I try to not bring 50 Shades Of Grey up, but it has definitely created a stereotype of BDSM. I mean, 50 Shades Of Grey is super problematic.
Beyond that, the misconceptions are: One, people think that you are probably wearing leather all the time. I am not. It’s not part of my aesthetic and I think it’s itchy. Another is that you don’t have any emotional investment, that you’re just really harsh and detached and cold, and you beat for no reason. But this actually involves a lot of skill. You have to really train yourself to use the different things, to use rope and to practice in a way that is ethical and safe.
I become very attached to my people, because we’re getting something emotionally out of this. I’m providing a service first and foremost, but I’m also getting a lot out of it. You see someone every week or every month and you can build a relationship with someone. I sometimes feel like I’m in a mini-relationship with my people. I didn’t know that was going to happen. I didn’t know I was going to care.
Does that make it harder or easier for you?
I think it makes it easier, because it makes it more genuine. There’s something really beautiful about being able to provide someone with pain, but in a way that fundamentally is loving. I’m going to spank you, but I know what your boundaries and pain levels are. I know what feels good for you. It’s a relationship, and that feels nice.
Are the relationships the most rewarding part of it for you?
Honestly, the most rewarding part is afterward. We all like to be affirmed. Of course I like to hear if they think it’s been a really great session. But I think what I like the most is, what I talked about earlier, that they come to trust me. People end up really growing and learning more about themselves in that space. I feel very honored that I can provide that.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article misspelled the word “Domme” and used incorrect punctuation for this context. A previous version of this story also misstated the author of The Color of Kink, which written by Ariane Cruz and not Adriene Cruz.