Miss Georgia is mad, so she grabs David by his face and starts pushing him.
He looks genuinely scared, and can only stammer a bit as Georgia presses him for an explanation. "Your travel plans got changed?" she suggests. "The dog ate your homework? Your grandma died?"
She slaps him around a bit, nothing too hard. David has only medium pain tolerance, and once she really lays into him, huge red splotches will appear on his bare back. Miss Georgia (who asked to use a pseudonym) isn't actually mad that David, a professorial 48-year-old with salt-and-pepper hair, failed to bring her a Sephora gift card as promised, or that he canceled his last session here at her independent Manhattan sex dungeon. That adds up to a $300 loss for her, true, but at least now she gets to have fun. David wants punishment and she's eager to deliver it, because being a dominatrix is Miss Georgia's dream job.
Georgia stands six feet tall without her size-10 shoes, hipless and muscular, yet overwhelmingly feminine. She's a purple belt in karate who wears Queen-sized stockings over her muscular thighs, drinks Powers on the rocks, and chases it with Stella Artois. Intelligent and enthusiastic, when she agrees with you, she says so four times fast: yeahyeahyeahyeah.
Georgia took a meandering path to her untraditional career. She graduated from college with a psychology degree in 2000 and moved to Seattle, where she started dabbling in the scene.
"I started out as a submissive. I knew I wanted to be spanked. I had never been spanked in my life, by my parents or anybody. It was just this drive that I had, so I went to a club that had a screening process," she says from inside her dungeon. "You had to go through an orientation period and learn certain rules, and then they would let you in and let you play."
Georgia had a relationship with a vanilla (non-kinky) partner that took her out of the lifestyle for three years. But when she moved back to New York six years ago (she's originally from Westchester-ish), she jumped right into the professional domination scene, finding a gig at a commercial dungeon in Midtown West.
In February 2008, a 67-year-old retired math professor named Richard Benjamin slipped into a coma at a dungeon called the Nutcracker Suite, causing then-Attorney General Eliot Spitzer to crack down on commercial BDSM houses. In one of those sweeps, six of Georgia's fellow dominatrices at the dungeon where she worked were arrested for offering sex to undercover cops.
Rather than risk a similar fate, Georgia turned entrepreneur. As an independent dominatrix, she requires letters of recommendation from other professionals and a pre-interview, precautions which have protected her from arrest so far. (While performing as a dominatrix is not illegal, she sometimes performs illegal activities involving anal penetration. But cops looking to make a quick bust are unlikely to go through these hoops, she says, and lack the acting skills to make it through an interview full of BDSM jargon.) Georgia is interested in building relationships with her clients, so she doesn't accept spur-of-the-moment appointments. This also helps her maintain a sense of normalcy. "A lot of people expect to call you up like you're sitting in your Spandex," she says. "But no—I'm in my jeans and about to go to a birthday party."
She makes more money, too: $250 per hour-long session versus the $60 she would pocket at the commercial dungeon after the house took its cut. Her business has few costs besides her $1,500 per month rent, and thus a fairly high profit margin. Her biggest expenses outside of room and board are the incidentals—she spends about $200 a month on paper towels. She even files taxes as an independent entertainment contractor, writing off dildos, taxi rides, and wigs, although she notes, "Dommes are always in danger of being audited."
Keeping things discreet serves David's best interests, too. (And David is only the name he uses with dommes.) He's a married freelance writer, and since he quit drinking 15 years ago, he's sessioned with more than 200 women, all without his wife's knowledge. He's been fixated on masochism ever since a memorable prostate exam in his teen years, but long ago decided that he'd rather have a great vanilla wife than one who merely shared his kink. Visiting independent dominatrices is a safer option for someone who wants to keep things under wraps.
"I've never tried to justify it by convincing myself that since I'm not having affairs or intercourse, I'm not cheating," David, who even leaves his wedding ring on during the session, says. "I find the whole thing to be secret, unhealthy, and a betrayal of not just marriage, but a family. Yet here I am."
In an ideal world, Georgia says, her clients would all be open with their partners. However, she sees her job as part business, part philanthropy. She provides catharsis, much like a therapist.
"I think this is a real need that people have, and if they're not getting it from their partner, then it really plays a mind-fuck on them if they can't have it," she says.
Surveying Georgia's apartment, you might think a college kid lives here. It's sparsely furnished, with Café Bustelo coating the kitchen counters and Foucault lining the living room. There's also thick foam covering every door, window and peep-hole, for soundproofing. The only closet that isn't concealed stores a double-digit collection of strap-on dildos and various other "WADs" (weapons of ass destruction.)
Georgia tells clients that she doesn't live here, just rents it out to other dominatrices for sessions. The truth is, it contains both a secret bedroom and a hidden closet of baggy jeans and Converse sneakers, her uniform off-hours. She had a run-in with a stalker a few years back, so maintaining an air of distance is preferable.
"None of my clients know who I am completely," she says. "There's always an air of fantasy and mystery." Most clients only see the wood vinyl floors and the maroon area rug of the session room, maybe noting the silver-painted walls for a second before being forced into a leather facemask or told to stare at themselves in one of five mirrors.
There's no trace of Georgia's name anywhere in the building—both the downstairs directory and her apartment door say nothing. Her sister's name is on the lease. "You can't trust people," says Georgia, citing friends who have been served and accused of running prostitution dens.
Georgia is a lifestyle domme (meaning sadism and masochism are her personal sexual practices), as well as a professional one. She loves her job, but many other professional dominatrices are in it for the money.
"There are a lot of people out there who just want to make a buck off of it and just get out of the scene," Georgia says of wannabe dommes. "That's probably the majority of people."
Danielle thought she was set when Steve signed the contract.
She had researched BDSM for months before moving to New York, where her goal was to enter a Total Power Exchange. In an exchange, a man gives a dominatrix control over all aspects of his life, from computer passwords to credit cards to diet.