I first met dominatrix Charlotte Taillor in February at her home in Ditmas Park, Brooklyn, where her male submissives were curating pastry spreads and rolling her spliffs. While she usually sports a leather catsuit, this day she wore sweatpants and a t-shirt reading “sex worker rights are human rights.”
Charlotte runs The Taillor Group, a feminist kink collective that encourages explorations of BDSM and other fetishes. The operation is entirely female-centric, comprised of about 30 dommes, and rather an anomaly in the world of kink; dominatrixes usually fly solo. “BDSM is the only way I’ve found for women to achieve the agency we’ve been striving for,” Charlotte told me confidently, before bellowing at one of her subs: “Roll me more spliffs!”
Much has changed since that first encounter. In March, abiding by shelter-in-place mandates, the Taillors made the decision to cancel in-person workshops and sessions. While pro-dommes worried how they would get by financially, the mood stayed optimistic. Charlotte’s newsletter read: “This is the perfect time to show your devotion by sending [dommes] a tribute, or booking a phone, video or, text session.”
As the city now begins to reopen, the Department of Health has loosened its guidelines for safe sex practices. Still, some professional BDSM practitioners worry it’s too soon to open the dungeon doors, as play parties are often transient spaces; much of the appeal is that they are open to all, an intersection that heightens the risk of Covid. The new DoH guidelines still advise against group gatherings— and also stress that those who are over 65 or immunocompromised should avoid any sexual contact whatsoever.
So while the Taillors usually host events like “Pet Play” and “Finding Prostate” at their rented dungeon in Bushwick, they’ve adapted to Zoom domination. I joined one of the initial online workshops, well-attended with over 50 patrons, including many couples and aspiring dommes. The Taillors sat in their leather fetishwear on separate screens, as Charlotte led observers in BDSM Basics: the history of kink, intro to flogging, and common fetishes. This new project is called the Kinkstitute, held every Saturday for practitioners and those simply curious about BDSM. Each week focuses on a new topic or skill, which Charlotte demonstrates onscreen. In “Ropes,” onlookers follow her direction for tying knots. Some have partners quarantined with them to practice on, while others use their own limbs or even attach themselves to furniture (safety measures advised on this if you’re quarantining alone).
I grew interested in the collective because like many women, I spend a great deal of time avoiding precarious situations with men. I’d also grown jaded by the concept of “empowerment,” that commercialized brand of pop feminism. I was seeking a woman exuding straight-up power that men respect and fear— and who better than the domme?
“I saw comfort and safety in the femdom BDSM world,” Charlotte told me, “because the women are powerful and men are on their knees. And I have no problem with that. But I’m also not a humiliatrix.” She started the collective, and a domme mentorship program, as a way to make money and put women back in power.
Charlotte additionally counsels couples interested in BDSM, and problem-solves their sexual frustrations— a potentially useful consultation for quarantined lovers. She keeps an Excel sheet of her case studies. In one, a partner has a fetish for elevator sex, the other, an intense claustrophobia. How can they create a fantasy scene that’s enjoyable and safe for both parties? Charlotte’s role is exploring the roots of desire and facilitating solutions. Was it really the elevator or is it an exhibitionist fetish, the risk of being discovered, that turns the partner on? Could they experiment in a different kind of enclosed space? “The beauty of this industry is that it’s very classically human,” she says. “Sex. I could literally talk about what I do to anyone in a way that makes sense to them.”
After meeting Charlotte, and more intrigued than ever, I created an account on Fetlife— a website where kinksters post local events and play sessions. I attended a workshop at the Taillors’ dungeon, met the collective’s permanent thralls, and saw how empathetic and skilled the dommes were in their work. The collective works much like a chosen family, in a time when kink is often still stigmatized; as New York psychoanlyst Muriel Dimen said, “Perversion can be described as the sex you like and I don’t.”
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about an elderly sub that I met at a workshop in early spring. He differed from the others, who had fit the bill of business moguls looking to relinquish power. There was a stark contrast between his slow movements and those of the other men, their young, toned bodies bending easily at the crack of a whip. When I told him I was there writing a story, he metamorphosed back into a giddy boy.
“I can’t believe this is something people are finally normalizing,” he said, scooting closer to me. “How long do you have?” I realized kink had been a part of his life he’d had to cover up for so long, something that made him strange, ostracized; and now that it’s more accepted, he is much older. He had finally found his place with the Taillors.
For this tight-knit community so heavily aligned with physical touch, the coronavirus stole a safe space. But while you lose the sting of the whip when going digital, some say this challenge is what separates the prodomme from the rest. It is far more difficult to mentally manipulate a submissive than to strike a blow. It requires a deep knowledge of psyche to get into someone’s head, and an adept understanding of when to stop.
Subs who previously scheduled one-on-one sessions with different dommes from the collective can still do so via digital mediums. Dommes control their clients through a screen— ordering them not to climax, or through sissification. The domme might also have a sub show his devotion by wearing a lock around his neck, to which she has the key.
Charlotte says financial domination practices are on the rise as well, a relationship in which “finsubs” or “paypigs” send money to “findoms” over the internet. A more capitalistic approach, men get satisfaction from watching beautiful women take their money. I first saw the practice while scrolling through Instagram, noticing the bios of dommes requesting monetary tributes before accepting follower requests. As Charlotte states, “It’s the ‘fuck you, pay me’ mentality.”
One domme who found success in digital sessions, Mistress Tomie (@mxtomie), was a lifestyle practitioner until college, and then trained professionally at The Taillor collective in 2019. Even before the pandemic, she practiced digital surveillance and data collection. Sometimes called tech domination, these practices mean subs allow the domme to take control of their devices with remote-access software. Some dommes might even download a key-logger to gain access to passwords.
Mistress Tomie says the quarantine has made this type of control more intense. “I have a sub who now no longer has privacy— I have the logins to all his social media, emails, texts, and there are cameras monitoring every inch of his home. He’s on a schedule that I monitor with clear rewards and punishments. He refers to me as a tech ghost that exists just as powerfully without a body.”
Mistress Tomie is also adapting to the situation by making custom clips and working on fetish and cosplay content. She says while some play is more difficult, things like humiliation, foot fetishes, and tease are actually easier digitally. She posits, “It also goes without saying that sex workers and pro-dommes who do not have access to proper technology will find this transition more difficult.”
Her Instagram feedback is a deluge of praise from men saying she brought them stress relief through her skillful control. Many use the word “escape.” Her regulars have remained consistent, and the use of social media has appealed to additional clientele. While she believes dommes will continue using online platforms post-pandemic, she quips “but nothing quite beats the flesh.”
When it comes to sex, virtual can only go so far; but the kink community’s foundation is stronger than the virus. Founder Charlotte’s energy and enthusiasm is ceaseless, as is her ability to adapt. I once asked how she grew to be so passionate. She gently reminded me that she was once a little girl in Rio de Janeiro, a world steeped in Iberian patriarchy. On Sunday afternoons the future domme sat in front of a TV showing “best female ass” competitions, knowing girls like her were killed every two hours, and raped every ten minutes, at least. In 2018, Brazil registered over 66,000 rape cases. Nearly 54 percent of victims were girls under 13 years old.
“Isn’t it only natural,” she wrote me, “for one to try to turn that world upside-down, every single day of their life?” Her work in Brooklyn is a contagious reclamation of power; while the dungeon is vacant for now, the spirit of the collective remains.