May 2, 2002
Bedlam Theater, Cedar Avenue, Minneapolis
(This is an expanded version of a column that appeared in
Lavender Magazine, Issue 183, May 31-June 13, 2002.)
is Thursday, May 2 at the Bedlam Theater on Cedar Avenue in
Minneapolis, and there isnít an empty seat in the house. Thunderous
applause greets educator and "domina" Cléo
Dubois as she steps onstage to present the eveningís seminar:
"Secrets of Being a Good Top (and a Good Bottom, or even
a Good Brat)." She is dressed in a black leather corset
worn over a short black leather dress. Her legs are encased
in black fishnet stockings and shiny black spike-heeled boots.
She wears black leather gloves punctuated with a diamond bracelet
on her wrist. There are red highlights in her black hair.
with a charming French accent, she tells us about herself. This
is her first seminar ever in the Midwest, although she has presented
seminars on both coasts for many years and is the proprietress
of her own "Academy of SM Arts." She has come to Minneapolis
from her home in San Francisco for the screening of her first
video, "The Pain Game," as part of the Flaming Film
Festival. (The video has just won an award from the Society
for the Scientific Study of Sexuality.) Her second video, "Tie
Me Up!" has just been released. "The Pain Game"
is available at the back of the theater, but she wants to be
clear that it is not about pornography and titillation; this
video shows real play for the purposes of education, not simulated
play for the purpose of fantasy. If it were porn, she says,
it would have been a lot easier to get the movie made and distributed.
got into the San Francisco pre-AIDS gay male leather scene courtesy
of a bisexual boyfriend who liked to frequent the Catacombs,
the now-legendary fisting/sex club where every square inch of
surface was permanently coated with Crisco. She took a liking
to the action: "I was just like a kid in a candy store,"
she says. Duboisí mentors did more than teach her SM techniques-they
showed her the psychic, mystic, ritualistic and spiritual dimensions
of SM and other alternative sexualities which are now the raison
díêtre of her seminars.
1983 she organized what was only the second mixed SM play party
in San Franciscoís history. She says sheís not sure she likes
the word "pansexual"-"Iím more about taking the
labels off altogether." She has seen the qualities, values
and attitudes that are common to everyone who is willing to
explore alternative sexualities, no matter what their stated
sexual orientation might be.
talk. Dubois and a pre-arranged volunteer from the audience
stage a spontaneous scene that is breathtaking-literally, because
part of the scene involves breathplay using a hangmanís noose
toy made of black velvet rope, and figuratively, because the
energy connection between Dubois and the bottom is so vivid
intense connection between a top and a bottom is what the eveningís
seminar is all about. Itís worth noting that this workshop dealt
with head space and energy more than technique. My personal
feeling is that this is good, because I donít think head space
and energy are discussed enough. Itís also worth noting that
Dubois is a natural presenter, and she works well with people
from the audience. She could easily have her own reality TV
are the notes I took while listening to her presentation:
most important things in a scene are trust and staying present
to the moment.
yourself what you want. These are things that are negotiable
(remember the old Rolling Stones song: "You Canít Always
Get What You Want.")
yourself what you need. These are things that are not negotiable,
like limits and boundaries.
the difference between what you want and what you need.
are your limits (and remember, they can change) in terms
of physical, medical, psychological?
are your skills? Your turn-ons? What works for you?
start the scene by tuning in to your partner through centering
control-have a ritual pattern, including a safeword. Cléoís
medical safeword is "medical."
Flowing with the control-have a plan, and then let go of
find the rhythm of the scene: first, slow down. Then note
how you feel and watch your body language and the body language
of your bottom. Youíll know if, when and how much you can
speed up again.
transitions within the scene by using blindfolds, humor,
contrasts and by showing you care.
connected with your bottom through touch, verbalization
and eye contact. Use all of these to reinforce your play
space and the magic youíre creating there.
has often seen this in public dungeons: "When you get
disconnected, sometimes itís just you and the whip-the bottom
doesnít even enter into the equation. Or with titclamps,
itís just you and the breast, not the person attached to
the breast. Get and stay connected to your partner!"
yourself to cause pain-watch the bottomís body language,
announce your intentions, tell the bottom it will please
you for them to take the pain.
flogging, take a deep breath and send your energy out on
the swing. Stand straight up. To measure where you should
stand, take a look at where the end of the flogger lands.
your partner to the limit-Go Slow! Stay connected, breathe
together. This is even more important to do when you are
expanding your partnerís limits.
players want to push their limits if the trust is there.
calm, avoid panic. Fear is okay but panic is definitely
not okay and has no place in the dungeon.
good top knows the importance of nurturing a bottom and
showing appreciation after a scene. But tops, you need nurturing,
too, especially when the play has been intense and/or when
youíve pushed your own limits-psychic surprises may pop
up when you least expect them. Get the nurturing you need,
and take time to process the scene. Find whatever sources
of support you need, but remember that your bottom probably
is not an appropriate source for this.
a scene isnít working-if you feel bored, angry, frustrated
or manipulated-STOP! That is when bad stuff happens.
is a mutual gift.
addition to this workshop on Thursday night and screening her
video on Friday, Dubois rounded out her visit to Minneapolis
by presenting a play piercing workshop on Saturday.
offers "personalized instruction and private coaching in
the SM arts for adventurous couples and individuals." To
find out more, or to order her videos, visit her website at