Just like at ski resorts, polka festivals, and Miranda Lambert concerts, you won’t find many black people in a sex dungeon. We tend to avoid places where white people are holding whips. If asked to list all the things I find sexy, “treat me like a slave” would show up a few spots after “give a bear cunnilingus.” Even if I met Sofia Vergara at an industry event, and then, later in the night, she wrapped her arm around mine and whispered, “Zaron, I am so horny. I have the next two days free. I want you to be my sex slave for the whole weekend.” I can tell you two things I wouldn’t be doing that weekend. (Sorry, Sofia.)

You may be thinking: What’s up, black people? Why you gotta be such killjoys about bondage? You still touchy about that whole slavery thing? Yes. Many black people still don’t think slavery is sexy. I mean, sure, it does seem fun to whip someone you find attractive. We’re just not there yet. We have a few historical hang-ups. Whatever. Look, it’s not about us. But our aversion to bondage made me wonder: Who wants to be a slave?

After hopping online, I found there is a small, but growing, community of black BDSM enthusiasts. One of these sexual pioneers, Feminista Jones, writes about her experience in an article for Ebony:

Some groups of Black BDSMers regularly get together and go to dungeons, nightclub type of places set up with rooms that contain various devices and toys/instruments to engage in this type of play. We often meet at local restaurants for food and conversation (you never know who’s sitting next to you at the soul food joint!), then head to these dungeons for an exciting, adventurous night.

Reading her words, I thought: Wait, hold up! We have a black president. There are black NASCAR drivers. Black professional hockey players. Could bondage be our new frontier? Can we remix slavery?

I tend to be open-minded. (Not about slavery. I mean about remixes… and sex.) Everyone should do whatever the hell they want as long as no one’s getting hurt who doesn’t want to be hurt.

Curious about BDSM, I searched online and found the Den of Iniquity, a dungeon in LA, about to celebrate its twentieth anniversary with a kinky birthday party. Perfect! Guests were encouraged to dress-up like superheroes. Imagining a dude being whipped by a dominatrix while wine-drunk Superman cheered for more pain, I bought a ticket. Then I waited anxiously for the day to arrive. Kinda like Christmas. Only my presents wouldn’t be opened and played with; they would be beaten and bruised. What? Things change in adulthood. And still, it felt like Christmas.

Zaron Burnett III

Zaron Burnett III

In a downtown loft building, I take a freight elevator up to the dungeon. With so many bodies crowded into so little space, the Den of Iniquity is jungle hot. Approximately 200 people are spread throughout the main room, private rooms, hallway, bathroom, and changing area. It’s an even mix of women and men, ethnicities and creeds, tops and bottoms, superheroes and citizens: overall, a good turn-out to see some men get mistreated tonight. I push through the crowd and grab a front row spot for the next show.

Standing like a tower of freedom, a drag-queen Sarah Palin looms over a bearded terrorist, who is handcuffed to an exam table. Speakers blast a song with the lyrics, “I got the pussy, I got the power…” Sarah Palin is lip-syncing with a serene gaze, as she begins smothering her prisoner with a black towel, then empties a two-gallon jug and waterboards him. Next to me, Captain America and Wonder Women applaud the torture scene. If only Rush Limbaugh could see this.

The enduring allure of BDSM (bondage, domination, sadism and masochism) seems to come from how everything’s inverted. Pain is good. Slaves love masters. Sarah Palin tortures a terrorist? That’s sexy as fuck. We’re clearly on the other side of the looking glass.

Next to the stage, there’s a spread of S&M sex toys, covering two tables. Selling the stuff is Lalo, a Latino dude in his thirties or forties.

“How much for a leather face mask with all the zippers?”

He laughs. “The range I sell runs from $165 to $220.”
I pick up a small whip. Leather spaghetti falls around my hand. I ask, “How much for the… um…”

Zaron Burnett III

Zaron Burnett III

“That’s a pussy flogger.”

I whip the air with the leather spaghetti. A pussy flogger?
“Which of your products do you like to use?”

He chuckles hard like I just asked if I could have sex with his car. “My wife … she likes the sting of wood.”

The next show is about to begin—it’s like a sexual circus of pain. An Asian woman wearing a tall, feathered Indian headdress parts the crowd. Is Pocahontas considered a superhero?

A naked white man follows her, he lies down on what look like baby diapers. Pocahontas shimmies her panties down, hikes up her buckskin leather-fringed skirt and squats over his face. But her vagina has stage fright.

“I’m sorry, you guys, it might take me a second.”

Luckily, Pocahontas is a pro. Her stream starts—it’s like she has a sports bottle between her thighs and gave it a good squeeze. She aims and urinates on his tongue.

The crowd chants, “Drink it! Drink it! Drink it!”

After the watersports, the naked man hops up, refreshed. He’s ready to be beaten. Cute Mistress An Li—an Asian dominatrix with a tattooed star on her ass cheek—who takes over for Sexy Pocahontas. She calls the piss-drinking dungeon regular, Esteban.

Wearing a wicked gleeful smile, she whips him like it’s good for him. Like it’s vitamins. Occasionally, she pauses the beating, not for his sake, instead, she pushes Esteban into a better position or demands he spread his legs or present his ass. After a few minutes, Mistress An Li raises a crisscross pattern of welts. Like she’s finger-painting on his back with shades of pink and red pain.

“That’s a pretty color on you,” she says. The crowd laughs. “Esteban thinks it’s all about him.” He’s quick to correct the woman holding the whip, “No, it’s all about you, mistress.”

I see how a slave could fall in love with a mistress like her. Underneath her persona, I glimpse a genuine warmth, a desire for connection. She just uses suffering to connect with others. (Which is basically how most dating sites work, right?)

As Esteban quivers in agony, her whip falls silent. She draws close. She rubs fingers down his raw red skin. Then slaps the same flesh she just soothed. It’s a bewildering cascade of sensations. Esteban yowls.

“Oh, he’s a sensitive little bitch,” Mistress An Li announces. “How tough are you feeling?”

Esteban confesses, “Like …like a fucking pussy.”

There’s a joke often wrongly attributed to Betty White: Who wants to grow balls to be tough? Those things are sensitive as hell. Tell someone to grow a vagina. Those things can take a pounding.

Esteban can take a pounding. Mistress An Li asks if anyone wants a turn at the whip. A line forms of women eager to hurt a naked, middle-aged white man. The sense of catharsis in the room feels like Oprah sponsored Beat-A-White-Man-Day. (“And you get a white man! And you get a white man!”)

One of the Wonder Women is a whip-cracking badass. She could knock a horsefly out of midair. With a flick of the wrist, she snaps a tiny sonic boom and stings Esteban’s back. He quivers like horseflesh. She strikes again. And again.

Crack, sting, slap! Crack, sting, slap!

Zaron Burnett III

Zaron Burnett III

Every two seconds, Esteban shrieks. Meanwhile, Wonder Woman laughs with cocky delight. We all enjoy it because she’s enjoying it. Through his screams, even Esteban is enjoying it. Like the kinky superhero she is, Wonder Woman unites us … in pain.

For twenty minutes, different women take turns whipping Esteban. The dude is a steel-belted pussy. I nearly faint when a woman whips his naked testicles. Like Gary Oldman in True Romance. I wanna ask, “Is it white boy day?” But I know, it’s not white boy day.

Finally, attendants lower the restraints. Esteban collapses to the floor, beaten and humiliated, semi-coherent. One mistress spits on him. Another rubs his back like a mother soothing a sick child. It’s a mind-fuck. Head Mistress Tara Indiana tends to him, ensuring he’s okay. Mistress An Li rolls a cold bottle of water across the fresh wounds on his back.

“Are you in sub-space?” she asks. Sub-space is the feeling that follows the rush of endorphins; it’s like shock’s kissing cousin.

He nods. Yes, he is.

Once he recovers, I ask Esteban what I’ve been wondering for three hours
“Why do you want to get beaten in public, man?”
“I’ve had a really comfortable life. I’m an attorney. Really successful.”
“Is this a way to cope with social guilt or a shame about how well you—“

He interrupts my amateur psychoanalysis. “No, I’ve always been into S&M. I was married, but she left after the divorce. It was the money. But we were kinky. A little tame for my taste. It’s marriage. One person is never gonna do everything you like. When she left, I explored ways to fulfill my tastes. I tried vanilla (non-kinky) relationships. But they didn’t work. A mutual friend knows these ladies—introduced me to their dungeon. Now, every weekend, I come party. Sometimes, I go further than tonight.”

Does anyone at his office notice Esteban can never sit down on Mondays?

Now fully dressed, Esteban is about to leave, but first he threatens me: If I use his real name or a picture where his face is clearly seen, it will be the last thing I ever do. He wishes me luck and heads off to enjoy subspace’s warm afterglow.

I watched him drink piss and get whipped naked. Yet, I missed something that I now see in his street clothes. I finally grasp why he’d think slavery is hot.

Zaron Burnett III

Zaron Burnett III

Esteban thinks it’s all about him,” Mistress An Li had said. Tonight, women lined up to whip him. Humiliate him. With faces alight with fiendish glee. But all those women serviced him. Esteban controlled it all. He had the power even if she held the whip. Roles are flipped, women are “Daddy,” men are pussies, citizens are superheroes, and white men are slaves, but the game was still the same. It was all about him.

What’s it like if you’re not a white man, then? By my count, tonight, there are six black people in the dungeon—three of us are working. Besides me, there’s the brother who took tickets at the door, and a black dominatrix who took a turn beating Esteban.

She’d taunted, “I want you to think of all those slaves in the South and what they went through.” It’s the only mention of race I heard the whole night. But she went big with it. The black mistress even quoted Roots. Like the white overseer, she demanded Esteban speak, “What’s your name, boy? … Your name is Toby!” Then she whipped him.

(And yes, I was kinda disappointed when Esteban didn’t reply, “Kunta. …Kunta Kinte.”)

Besides the Den of Iniquity employees, one of the other six black people in the dungeon is a woman with a white slave sitting at her feet like a well-trained dog. When the attractive young black mistress steps away, I approach her unattended slave. In his late-twenties, reasonably fit, and attractive like a grown-up altar boy, he tells me he’s also a journalist.

Zaron Burnett III

Zaron Burnett III

“How long have you and your dom been together?”

“We met tonight.”

“Really? You seem like a couple. How did you two meet?”

“She talked to me,” he says, with a hint of pride in his answer. “We have similar long-term goals. She’s dominant, and I’m not. …It’s sort of like meeting a girl in a bar. I’m looking for a prospective mate. I want to see if we have similar interests and objectives.” He looks past me, scanning the crowd for his missing master, “But I don’t know how long it’ll last.”

To him, slavery is a “committed relationship.” White people are funny. I wonder if his master will also make racialized comments when beating him. That spike of racial tension does seem super kinky, but how would it feel if it’s a white lady beating a black guy?

After my night in a dungeon, I’m pretty sure I’m lining up for either end of the whip, slave or a master. But it’s not because I’m black. The BDSM performances weren’t about racial narratives. It’s likely that many in the crowd didn’t find that sexy in the least, and didn’t really care that it was an Asian woman or a black woman who was treating Esteban like a welcome mat. The unifying aspect for the BDSM community seems to be the games of power. That’s the real story.

Henry Kissinger said, “power is the ultimate aphrodisiac.” But I disagree with Kissinger. Or, at least, how one uses power. The Sarah Palin drag queen got it right when she lip-synced “I got the pussy, I got the power.” I love the power of pussy, and I love the power of pleasing a pussy. Everyone has power. I like when they feel free to use it. That’s sexy as fuck, to me.

Like many people, black folks included, I’ll get kinky with you. Go ahead, pour hot wax on me, slap me around, scratch me, claw me, bite me till I bleed, hit me with shit, (well, not literally shit… I’m not into that). Use whatever’s at hand that’s reasonable, I can handle it. I’m down to play. But I’m not cool with labels like master because of, yes, “the whole slavery thing.” But that’s me.

Maybe in the near future, whips won’t be an ugly reminder of the past. Instead, they’ll be part of “an exciting, adventurous night” out, as black BDSM-er Feminsta Jones wrote. Maybe, after hitting the club, black folks will wanna get beat in the dungeon. Remember, Kanye West stole the Confederate flag and put it on his back. He’s predicted the future before, and I imagine that he’s totally right: we are the new (sex) slaves.