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Work the Kinks Out: Pittsburgh’s BDSM community has a place for everyone

By February 5, 2019 No Comments

There was an artic chill in the air as I turned into the parking lot of the club, the snow crunching beneath my tires. A figure emerged from the front door, smiling widely, gesturing for me to hurry in from the cold.

Gelsomino, the club owner, greeted me with a hug. “Sorry it’s a bit chilly. We keep the heat down when we aren’t open,” he said. It made sense. The place was huge, caveneverous even, with hallways going every which way, lined with rooms along each side. That’s not where we were headed though. “Don’t worry,” he said, as we hustled down to a door at the end. “The heat is on in here.” And with that, he flung open the door to the sex dungeon.

I was greeted by four kinksters, or people who participate in the BDSM lifestyle. They came together, with very short notice, on this very cold night to talk to a complete stranger about their very personal business. Which, as I got to know them more, and others in and around the community, I discovered is par for the course. They want to talk about it. They want people to know about it. They are people you know; people you love; maybe even the person sitting next to you right now. And they are incredibly happy to talk about a lifestyle and a community that brings them so much joy.

BDSM itself means bondage, discipline, sadism and masochism, but it’s understood to cover a lot of different kinks and fetishes. Jay, a board member at Pittsburgh Bridge, an organization that holds events and educational classes for the local BDSM community, ticks off some of the kinks they see around.

Role-play, hypnosis, grappling and tickling come to mind,” Jay said. “Polyamory, while not a kink but more of a relationship style, is also well-represented. BDSM is a broad term though, and it encompasses much more than most people realize. Any form of consensual power exchange falls under the BDSM umbrella.”

If your only exposure to BDSM has been 50 Shades of Grey, well, let’s just say you’ve had a partial view, at best. If you mention 50 Shades of Grey to folks in the community, they tend to roll their eyes. To the purists, it wasn’t a good or accurate representation at all. But, as Mistress Kye, a Pro Domme, points out, it did push BDSM into the mainstream. “People in the community bitch, but I think it’s a good thing,” she said. “It put it out there that this isn’t some disgusting thing.” If the popularity of the 50 Shades franchise, both books and movies, are any indication, people were most definitely not disgusted.

“In reality, almost everyone in some shape way or form has some sort of kink or fetish or deviant thought,” Gelsomino said. “I think the movie allowed people to feel more open about it. There wasn’t a mad rush of people because of it, but I think in general, it opened people’s eyes to the fact that we’re all kind of the same.”

The Body Shop is a private, members-only lifestyle club that caters to consenting adults of all backgrounds, shape, sizes, kinks, desires, you name it. The only thing you have to be is accepting. And yes, sex does happen there. A lot.

A neon sign reads “Spank It’ as you enter the sex dungeon

That’s a common refrain throughout the community, though, one of wanting acceptance. When asked what’s one misconception they would like to lay to rest about BDSM it’s that people stop thinking of them as ‘other’ or weird. As Gelsomino said, most people feel something deviant. “It’s okay to feel the way you’re feeling,” Mistress Kye said. “There are places you can go, and our community is so welcoming. I always suggest people attend a munch to learn more.”

Munches are informal gatherings of local kinksters, usually at a bar or coffee shop, and chances are you’ve walked past them many, many times and didn’t even realize it. Munches are focused on chatting, getting to know people and learning in a relaxed environment. If Munch got you intrigued to learn more, happy hours and Sloshes follow. Both are more party-like, usually involve booze at a bar or club, can get a bit more wild, but you’re still in public, so it’s a tad more restrained than say, Freaky Friday at The Body Shop.

Russ, one of the four kinksters I met at The Body Shop, runs Freaky Friday (their once-a-month kink and fetish night, held in the aforementioned sex dungeon,) and Phoenix, organizer of Pittsburgh’s Bondage Ball, runs the DJ booth. R, a petite brunette in a latex catsuit, and an older gentleman named Pete completed the group that evening. Each were effusive in their stories of the BDSM community, none more so than Pete.

Looking more like a 60-some-year-old humanities professor than a kinkster, Pete started his tale.

“I came into the community about two years ago,” Pete said. “I’m a little weathered, compared to most. Rope is my main thing, it’s been in my soul my whole life, I just didn’t know it. I still watch a lot. To watch people enjoy their whole selves is absolutely remarkable. They’re reaching out, they’re reaching inside. It’s changed my life.”

Gelsomino is quick to point out that the dungeon is also available for event rentals. “I would love to host a wedding,” he said wistfully. “I can imagine a bondage wedding, officiated by a dominatrix…” He is so passionate about this, that The Body Shop is actually giving away a wedding to one lucky couple. You just have to convince them that you are worthy of the kink wedding of your dreams. (visit thekinkspace.com or kinkweddings.com for details.)

The internet has also done a lot to connect, and in some way, destigmatize, the kink and fetish community. It has its own social networking site, FetLife. Launched in 2007 and since then has racked up over seven million members, from all around the world (including six people in Antarctica, which is either bullshit or an incredibly hopping research station.) It’s free to use, you just set up your profile, upload your picture, pick your interests and you are off and running. It’s like Facebook for kinksters, but without those annoying Friendaversary montages.

It was through FetLife that I met CheekyBad, AKA LaLa. She is one of the lead organizers of, Pittsburgh Kinksters of Color (PKOC.) When asked if the scene is as inclusive as I’d been led to believe, she doesn’t hesitate. “No. There are microaggressions, tokenism, being fetishized, frequent enough that we had to create this space.” And it’s not like she hasn’t tried to talk about it with others in the community. “Often, it’s not even like talking to a brick wall. It’s like having a brick wall talk back to you.”

Coming into BDSM as a person of color carries its own set of unique issues. “It is incredibly more difficult to come in from a black perspective, to accept that violence and pain is something that can be accepted and good is so foreign, to think of it as something positive..” her voice trails off. “If we keep trying to convince ourselves we are so inclusive, we will never become inclusive.

“I want to get people to open their hearts and listen to what people are saying. Not be a circle jerk of help, but listen. Because you can’t listen and not feel.”

Despite all of the differences that run through the community, one thing is universal: their dedication to safety. Mistress Kye sums it up in three words, “Communication, trust, consent. Safety in our community is always our top priority.” And when you’re dealing with hanging from ropes, being flogged, tied up, tied down, and any other number of potentially dangerous activities, safety doesn’t just mean consent, it means training.

R, who is about to get suspended by Russ for our photo shoot, is fine with just being suspended for now, but might want to branch out in the future. She’ll wait, though. Until she knows she’s ready. “It’s daunting to know that you have that level of responsibility and that level of control over someone else’s body,” R said. “If you don’t do something exactly correctly, they can end up with nerve damage for the rest of their lives.”

This is why education is so important, because despite what you might have heard, BDSM isn’t all about pain.

“I hear people say, I’m not into pain, but pain is a very, very small part of what I do, probably five to ten percent of this lifestyle,” Mistress Kye said. “This lifestyle is about pleasure.”

There is also a lot of looking out for each other. Any reputable dungeon party will have monitors, and as Jay from Pittsburgh Bridge points out, “We act as a system of references for each other. Obviously, meeting random people from the internet carries a certain amount of risk; meeting someone and playing at one of our parties provides a safer option. If someone is unsafe or problematic, word gets around, and that person won’t last long in this community.”

Another good entry point to the lifestyle is Bondage Ball, now in its fifth year. Phoenix, the event organizer, designs the event to appeal to both the utter novice and the absolute pros. For many people, it’s their first experience with kink and fetish. It was R’s first taste of it.

I went eyes wide open,” R said. “You don’t know where to look and you’re so excited and you want to tell everybody, but you don’t know who you can talk to about it. And that’s why the community is so awesome. You have friends who are excited with you and want to tell you more about their things.”

And if you put down the leather, the chains, the St. Andrew’s Cross (Google it,) the true foundation of the community is acceptance, love, belonging and okayness. You are okay, you are seen, and you are loved. As I was getting ready to leave the Body Shop, Pete, the gray haired professor-type, pulled me aside.

“I want to tell you something,” he said. “My very first BDSM class I went to, there was a woman there. She had very obvious OCD issues, she had to be so far apart from the garbage cans, she was touching the wall so many times… and she was embraced. She wasn’t any different in the eyes of the people there. And I thought to myself, this is what church is supposed to be like. This. And I feel like that every time I’m around my community. This is my church. Here, we all belong.”

It’s not perfect. It’s a scene and lifestyle made up of humans, and we are notorious for fucking things up. But we’re also pretty good at not quitting. And LaLa is hopeful that the issues that divide them, that divide all of us, really, aren’t insurmountable. “In the end we are all in this journey together,” LaLa said.

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