The Asian Dominatrix: An Interview

Gwan Ying, the 22-year-old Chinese-American dominatrix and editor of Pandora’s Box magazine, reaches down and removes one of the glistening implements from the table. She speaks matter-of-factly: “This is for restraining the tongue when it’s ready for piercing.” She sticks out her tongue to show me the three fixtures embedded in it. I am in the “Medical Room,” a room she informs me the folks at Pandora’s Box, House of Domination, are very proud of. And why not? It looks as if at least as much pain and humiliation can be inflicted on people in this room as in any far more expensive New York hospital room. And if these implements don’t do the job, there are always the St. Andrew’s Cross and Catherine Wheel and cages and switches, canes and paddles, straps and whips and quirts and riding crops and myriad restraints in the adjacent chambers.

The Versailles Room is off limits at the moment as it is “occupied” and someone is being made up as a woman in the Taboo area but, in the next room, Gwan Ying introduces me to a young man who is to edit a new gay magazine, presumably by the same publisher who publishes Pandora’s Box, Black and Blue, and the Vault, all unique magazines in their own fetishistic way, to be sure. The young man seems impressed. I’m not certain why until he turns to Gwan Ying and asks, “Is he one of your submissives?”

Well, no, I’m not actually. I’m one of those incurably old-fashioned, out of date, Neanderthal fossils who still regard taking a beautiful woman to bed as a normal if not noble goal. Spanking, paddling, whatever - it’s all OK with me - as long as it’s part of the preliminaries. Here, of course, what is referred to - not without a tinge of horror or humor - as “straight sex” or “vanilla sex” is definitely not on the menu. Nevertheless, I do confess to Gwan Ying that I find a woman with a whip very erotic; not because I want to be whipped but because I regard her whip as an extension of her female sexuality, and a woman who is aware of her sexual power is far more interesting than one who isn’t. Gwan Ying looks at me thoughtfully and asks if I’ve ever thought of becoming a submissive. As she makes her living by the sword rather than by the pen, she doesn’t understand that being a writer in modern American society is punishment and humiliation enough.

Pandora’s Box is often described as one of New York’s “leading” houses of domination. I’m not quite sure how one defines “leading” in this case. Number of whippings per week? Number of welts per whipping? Average number of slaves per mistress? Quality of torture equipment? In any case, my brief encounter with a House of Humiliation began innocently enough. An independent L.A. producer thought the Golden Triangle scene in my Chinese Godfather filmscript too “drug-related” and wanted something really different. While I pondered what that might be, a dominatrix was murdered in Manhattan and a local headline blared out, “West Side Whipper Gets Whacked.” And there it was. A murder inside a house of domination! I began my research into the S&M world on the web and then moved on to check out anything in print. My research went well, the Pakistani news vendor loved the business I gave him, the producer loved the new scene, and that should have been that. But, as the fates would decree, the first issue of Pandora’s Box magazine was out with a Chinese woman as editor. One of the pages even had Chinese characters and a theme suggesting the superiority of Chinese women.

Having lived in Asia for 20 years and been married to a Cantonese woman who could have passed for a dominatrix in fact if not in name, I feel I know quite a bit about Chinese women. Rushing in where angels and wiser men fear to tread, I call the magazine. A woman says I’d better speak to “Richard.”

Richard AKA Tony Barnett is the publisher of the magazines and owner of Pandora’s Box, proud husband to the famous (HBO film) and quite lovely Mistress Raven and proud owner of a new house in New Jersey. Richard is doing OK, thank you very much.

I explain to Richard that in the late Ch’ing dynasty, viz. 1860's, there really were Chinese women combatants, part of the Taiping Rebellion, intrepid female warriors dressed in colorful silk outfits, known as the “silken armies,” who sometimes fought as independent units; and you can be sure nobody dared bind their feet. Maybe I could write a series of articles about one of the men from Frederick Townsend Ward’s Ever Victorious Army being captured and enslaved by beautiful Taiping women. Written as if he had actually kept a journal of his (erotic) experiences. To his credit, Richard doesn’t dismiss me as a madman, says it sounds interesting and to send something in.

I had written a great deal about the Ch’ing Dynasty over the years but never tried my hand at erotica: this, I thought should be fun. I sat down to write:

...Sunlight illuminated dozens of young Chinese women dressed in shimmering silk uniforms, above whom silk banners floated in the breeze. A few were on horseback and those wore wide riding jackets over baggy trousers while those on foot were swathed in tighter fitting silk clothes which clearly revealed the contours of their curvaceous young bodies...Another tough bamboo cord, several feet long, was tied to my wrist bindings and this leash was held by the young woman who apparently had been placed in charge of me. This woman - barely more than a girl, really - had a rose-tinted complexion, fine black hair spilling out from beneath her scarf, and beautiful dark brown eyes. In front of the others she had the same stern expression on her face, but, as she passed directly before me, I noticed a brief flicker of playfulness and curiosity cross those brown eyes; qualities of youth that would one day cause us both great pain...”

I send the material in to Richard, suggesting a price of about one-tenth my last rate and reminding him that copyright must remain with me. After all, it’s the book that counts and with Pandora’s Box deadlines supplying the “discipline,” I would have to write two or three thousand words 13 times a year and that will insure my book gets finished. I wait. Richard calls back and praises the writing. Only one problem. Yes? “We don’t pay writers.” But, I ask, in that case, how do you get all the stories in your magazines? His reply reveals why the man should be spoken of in the same breath with Screw magazine publisher, Al Goldstein: “Our mistresses order our slaves to write them.”

As I used to publish magazines myself I suddenly realize this is an idea that could revolutionize the magazine industry to a greater extent than PageMaker or QuarkXPress. After all, all great ideas are simple. Why hadn’t I thought of that?! While I’m groping for a way to respond to this, Richard suggests he pay me half the fee I had requested, then into the silence says, “let’s see what the response is to the first issue.”

I assume he means at which time we will discuss the price of that and subsequent installments; he assumes the first installment is free. But, no matter, an honest misunderstanding. His concern is illustration. I assure him I can drop off some appropriate material. Only after I hang up does it occur to me that most men (and women) who patronize a House of Domination are not likely to write in saying how much they enjoyed the latest article. How then do we get feedback?

No matter. The next day, on my message machine, Gwan Ying’s voice says she would love to meet me and have me contribute something to the magazine. I count four “love’s” in the message; I like her already. I make an appointment with her and arrive at Pandora’s Box three days later. I am buzzed up to the second floor. I see a small room with men and women working intently at three computers and a wall behind them decorated with magazine covers picturing men being dominated by women clad in various combinations of flesh-revealing leather or silk or satin or fur and even more exotic fabrics I know nothing about.

A young black woman introduces herself as Solitaire. In the magazine pictures I have seen of her, she is posed as Mistress Solitaire, an erotic fantasy of feline black power known as the “Black Widow,” both erotic and athletic. In person, though not unattractive, she is so young and so unassuming by comparison to her mistress persona, I had failed to recognize her. She calls Gwan Ying and hands me the phone. Gwan Ying is sick and, anyway, completely forgot the appointment. I assure her it’s all right and we make another appointment. Mistress Solitaire confirms that slaves write articles but that the quality of stories varies, reminding me of a British m’em sahib in Hong Kong who once complained to me about how hard it was to get good help.

She shows me which magazine is being done on which computer then quickly snatches up a bottle of Cepacol. She sticks out her tongue to show me the whatchamacallits imbedded in it. (Women at Pandora’s Box are always sticking out their pierced tongues to show them off.) She has just had her second piercing and, after politely pushing the elevator button for me, rushes off to the bathroom to apply the Cepacol to her newly pierced tongue.

I return home and, along with my faithful writing collaborator, Wild Turkey on the rocks, continue to write what will eventually be titled Mistress of the East: “...Barely an hour before, I had been a proud lieutenant in Frederick Ward’s much feared Ever Victorious Army; now I was completely naked and being ridden by a beautiful Chinese woman to my place of punishment. Already, other women had begun tying bamboo strips to the lower branches of a tree. Her sister was dead but, whoever had actually shot her, I was the one about to pay for it...” To be continued.

“There!” I say to my nearly empty glass of Kentucky Straight Bourbon: If that doesn’t make them abandon Anne Rice and pick up “The Journal of Robert Drake” instead, nothing will.

I send the material off to Richard. A week or so later I am again buzzed up. This time it is Gwan Ying I completely fail to recognize. She too is attractive but totally different from her persona as a mistress. If ever a man needed a lesson on what makeup, clothes and attitude can do for a woman he need only visit behind the scenes of an S&M parlor. If real estate is all about finance and location, domination is all about psychology and packaging.

Gwan Ying takes me into her office and we discuss my material. I can barely control my excitement. I explain that, as a writer and playwright, I can see all kinds of possibilities for the magazine. If Richard will open his wallet just a bit, we could get college art students to illustrate my articles for very little money. Beyond that, as this “Mistress thing” is moving more and more into the mainstream, the magazine might begin to include reports on theater that relates to the theme of domination. The playwright David Henry Huang has written an S&M play called “Bondage”; there is a play going on in the East Village about go-go-dancing and women’s empowerment; certain Hard Rock bands have long flirted with the S&M scene and last Halloween several stores sold leather mistress outfits complete with boots and whips. Hell, with the wonderful sets up there on the 10th floor, we could bring in a few lights and actually stage small cast plays right here!

My mind boggles at the possibilities of combining sexual theater with real theater. After all, theater started thousands of years ago from religious rituals and, sure enough, here we have masters and mistresses, gods and goddesses! The power of religion, rituals, sex and theater all in one! In a city liberal enough to appreciate our efforts! Thinking of what this magazine might become makes me almost giddy. We’ll start out with Anne Rice and move on to Cynthia Ozick. With just a bit of effort, we could move the magazine from the level of pornography to the level of erotica and, eventually, we might even approach the esoteric realm of literature! And by next Christmas, we could have a line of tiny dominatrixes to replace angels on the Christmas trees, and their whips could be candy-cane colored and wrap around the tree and light up and-

Gwan Ying responds: “Richard thinks it’s a magazine for men to take into the bathroom and jack off.”

Oh. OK, sure, at its (hard) core it will always be, to borrow an immortal phrase of Lenny Bruce, “stroke material” but, with a bit of vision and imagination, it can be so much more! Gwan Ying sticks out her tongue. She too has lots of doohickeys embedded. Richard, she says, won’t spend money; he’s the “macho” type. I suddenly feel I am playing the role of the vaudeville impresario in the musical “Sideshow” trying to convince people that the Siamese twins can make it in the Big Time.

Gwan Ying informs me that the latest issue just came out and, lo and behold, under the heading, “China’s Warrioress” there is my article: “The Journal of Robert Drake - Slave of Taiping Women Warriors.” “By Dean Barrett.” The one thing I had specified was that my name not appear as author of the article. Not because I care where my name appears (I’m not running for president) but because I wanted the reader to wonder if this was in fact an actual 19th century journal written by someone who had been captured by Taiping women warriors. Which is why I wrote at the top that “his memoirs were recently sold by a New York auction house.” Giving my name as writer destroys the illusion. Furthermore, although the design has improved, both the cover and the inside contents seem to have gone decidedly down-market. No matter; creative vision and money will transform what is into what can be. I leave my brief letter-of-agreement with her and ask that she look it over, sign it, and get it back to me.

After which Gwan Ying shows me around the tenth floor - the sets, the torture implements, etc., and introduces me to a few other mistresses. Some are working, some are bored, one is asleep. Gwan Ying agrees that so much of this is about acting and I have no doubt some of these young women are very fine actresses indeed. Although she also makes it very clear that the feeling of empowerment a mistress gets from watching a naked CEO grovel and writhe about on the floor is very real. I reflect that a lot of stockholders might also enjoy watching exactly that very scene.

We return to the second floor, and she pushes the elevator button for me, but we notice Richard in the office. I shake hands, say hello, thank Gwan Ying for the tour and leave. Richard might best be described as a big teddy bear or, perhaps, as somewhere between stolid and bovine. The type who will not be interested in expanding the magazine into the arts but who will simply go on making lots of money as things are. Let sleeping dogs lie; let beautiful dominatrixes whip.

I return home and, in a subsequent phone call, learn from Gwan Ying that she is not authorized to sign my letter of agreement and that I should send it to Richard. I send Richard a polite letter suggesting we have a chat about my articles and about the magazine.

Time passes. Richard has not replied but the travails of Robert Drake continue unabated:

“...Just when I’d dared hope the beating was over, Golden Lily stood before me and I watched her hand the whip to Tiam Moi. Her name in Hakka dialect meant “Sweet Little Sister” but I could already tell she had the devil in her. Golden Lily took an even deadlier weapon from another woman warrior: a straight polished length of bamboo, the branches cut away. She held the rod by the smaller end as prescribed in the Ch’ing Dynasty Penal Code of China. The Taipings might be trying to take the higher moral ground in their cataclysmic war with the Manchus, but both sides were equally fond of exquisite torture and painful punishment. She gently wiped my tears from my eyes and spoke in mandarin: “I must teach our foreign horse that it is best to obey our commands...”

When I call Gwan Ying, a woman asks what time I would like to see her. She mistakenly assumes I want to see Mistress Gwan Ying for a session. When I explain that I’m writing for Pandora’s Box, she gives me another number to call. But it dawns on me that when these women are called by a client, they leave their world of magazine design, fonts, layout, photographs and editorial identity and slip seamlessly into their sexy outfits and “Your-Ass-Is-Mine” Mistress persona. And then back again. I wonder how many people could make that kind of psychological transition several times a week without complications.

Gwan Ying comes on but there is something strange about her voice and I can’t quite catch what she says. When I say it’s me, she says, “Oh, sorry, one of my slaves has called me three times tonight. I thought it was him again.” Pesky creatures, to be sure. When I mention that I have no word from Richard she says, “I don’t think Richard is going to sign the letter-of-agreement. Frankly, I’m not getting along with him and I may not be here much longer.”

Lest the reader think I am betraying a woman’s confidence, Gwan Ying is too honest to hide her emotions. On the editorial page of the first issue of Pandora’s Box she credits: “Whip-Cracker & General Nuisance - Richard.” By the second issue she refers to Richard as: “Giver of Mental Anguish to staff and General Annoyance/nuisance!!” By the third issue, her feelings have escalated still further: “Pain in my ass/I’d really like to hurt him - Richard.” I begin to worry about Richard. Perhaps he doesn’t realize Pandora in Greek means “all gifts” or “all gifted” because the Greek gods each bestowed upon Pandora the ability to bring about the downfall of man. But as for Richard there seems no question that the idea of actually paying a writer for an article was far too radical and outlandish a step and, perhaps from his point of view, probably obscene.

I tell Gwan Ying not to worry; that although I cannot continue to write without the agreement I will now simply work on the material at my own speed - Pandora’s Box installments or no. But I need to stop by to pick up a book on China and some other material I left with her. She says it will be on the tenth floor - just ask the women there. She probably suspects that I am upset with Richard. Actually, I’m not. If it hadn’t been for his magazine with Gwan Ying as editor, I might never have realized I have an erotic Chinese novel inside me crying--or rather-- throbbing to get out. Besides, in an era in which everyone from Muslims to Hispanics ridicule American men as wimps, Richard stands alone--not only can he control women, he can dominate dominatrixes! Surely, he deserves a bust or a statue or a ballad or an off-Broadway sung-thru musical. Richard may in fact be the genuine Promise Keeper who could make American men strong again.

A few days later, I take the elevator to the tenth floor. A woman with a Germanic accent welcomes me and starts to lead me into a room. I explain that I’m not here for a session; just here to pick up something Gwan Ying left. Neither she nor the other two strangely dressed women in the room know anything about it. I head for the inner elevator, past the bicycle and jugs of bottled water. I feel as if I am backstage at a theater just before showtime. I am still amazed at how much a House of Domination resembles a theatrical stage. Chinese traditionally lumped actors with criminals and slaves and forbade them to take the Imperial Examination. I can find no Chinese records specifying whether or not dominatrixes could take the Imperial Exam, but since the exams were held only for men, it’s doubtful.

When the elevator doors open on the second floor, a young woman I have not seen before happens to be passing by. She is dressed in black leather with thigh-high boots and is holding a long, mean-looking whip. She looks at me with a strange expression as if wondering why I’m not tied down somewhere and being disciplined in some way. I very politely explain that I need to find the computer room. (Call me a coward if you will, but it seems to me that being especially polite to women with whips in their hands makes lots of sense.)

She asks me to follow her. And so now, because an L.A. Indy wanted something “different” for a filmscript, I am following a leather-clad dominatrix down a dark corridor inside a House of Domination. Yes, Virginia, how one thing does lead to another. It suddenly occurs to me that Pandora’s Box might put up a picture of Bill Clinton that customers can see on their way out. Beneath his picture would be the words, “I Feel your Pain.”

I try to suppress my hilarity because I’m not sure how the woman with the whip would react so I say nothing. But I wonder what I would do if she suddenly threw me into a room, stripped me of my clothes, tied me up and whipped me. Should I regard it as punishment or reward? Should I be grateful or outraged? Yes, I know, society punishes those who deviate from its norms but who here is the deviator? What is the norm? Who says so? And, when it comes to defining the ‘norm,’ who’s guarding the guards? Modern psychological wisdom insists that acting out fantasies in a controlled environment is a good thing. Ch’ing dynasty wisdom said that a pagoda is known by the length of its shadow. But what is the shadow known by?

My increasingly bizarre speculations end as the dominatrix leaves me at the door of the computer room. Inside is a young man who looks like he is from Iran or Armenia or somewhere in between. We shake hands. In broken English he tells me he is from Turkey. A Turk in a place with whips and torture equipment. No wonder I’ve been having dreams involving Lawrence of Arabia. As I hear the film theme music swell, in my mind’s eye I see one-hump Arabian camels slowly ambling over heat-distorted desert sands, heading for an oasis where lovely women in revealing leather outfits lounge by the purest pools of water as their slaves serve them.

My reverie is interrupted as a drop dead beautiful woman enters the room. She is Mistress Dakota and in my hopelessly outdated, petite bourgeois, sexist pig musings, I think that she is the type of woman I would like to take to a candlelit dinner and send a dozen red roses to and, eventually, after something of a courtship, smother with kisses from head to toe. At the moment, however, she doesn’t seem to be able to figure out how to use the phone to call out so my Turkish friend shows her how.

He says his name is “Z” pronounced the European way as “zed,” and when he learns I am the writer of the “Journal of Robert Drake, Slave of Taiping Women Warriors” his eyes light up and he shakes my hand again. “Very good,” he says, “I like that.” He hands me the latest copy of Pandora’s Box with my second and final article inside. I compliment him on his design of the magazine but we are interrupted by an apologetic Mistress Dakota again as she still has trouble calling out.

Z says he is listed on the masthead as “Slave Z” but I’m not certain whose slave he is if he is in fact anyone’s. We talk a bit about which computer program he uses for the magazine then, as does everyone at Pandora’s Box, he politely pushes the elevator button for me.

Later I check out the latest issue. On the editorial page Gwan Ying has written, “We also have to bid adieu to three members of our writing staff...And ciao to the Taiping slave, we could not find the rest of the manuscripts as they were destroyed in the fire far too long ago.” An interesting tale as it was precisely because man had accepted fire that Zeus punished him by sending Pandora in the first place. I turn to the article to see how the tale ends or rather abruptly stops:

“...Hanging naked and helpless and humiliated beside beautiful and self-assured Chinese women singing Christian hymns is something that must be experienced to be appreciated...Siu Fah or Pretty Flower was taller than Tiam Moi, slender and possessed what the Chinese call a ‘willow waist.’ As she looked at me I could see the hatred and loathing in her eyes for foreigners. I was not certain how much of Sweet Little Sister’s daring actions she had seen, but her gaze drifted downward to my rapidly shriveling manhood and I watched as her hand moved to the knife in her waist sash.”

During my brief encounters with mistresses at Pandora's Box, they were unfailingly polite and courteous. I did often wonder, however, how much power they actually have. The women are there because men have financial power; the men come because the women have sexual power. Inside the room, the man is still physically stronger but not if he is tied up. It’s a puzzlement. But not for poor Robert Drake. He has been given his pink slip (although, considering all the cross dressing going on about the place, that may not be an appropriate term). Richard the Iron-Hearted has in fact left Robert Drake of Frederick Ward’s Ever Victorious Army in an incredibly precarious position, still tied up and at the mercy of Taiping women warriors; and the readers forever in suspense. Now that’s cruelty.

The End

Read a sample chapter of Mistress of the East

(Now published as A LOVE STORY: THE CHINA MEMOIRS OF THOMAS ROWLEY)

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