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Freedom by bondage 

Colorado Springs teems with kink that cares

There's a yin to the yang of our city's conservative nature, and it sometimes wears leather and it loves to be spanked.

Or to spank; or to wear women's stockings; or to ritually kick a man in the testicles. There are consequences for all this white-collar repression floating around, and they're just what you'd imagine ... or well beyond it.

"I think that some communities that are known as very politically conservative have a very interesting group of subcultures," says Brent Heinze, a 37-year-old Colorado College graduate. "I think [it's] fair to say of cities of comparable size, Colorado Springs really does have a larger-than-average fetish community."

Sure, Erika Leonard's trashy Fifty Shades of Grey — with more than 20 million copies sold in the U.S. alone — proves there are fans of fixation everywhere. But there's something to be said for the Pikes Peak Library District receiving more than a thousand hold requests for its 361 copies.

Then there's FetLife.com, the Canada-based social-networking site that acts as a hub for the worldwide community. It alone boasts roughly 2,500 people who have identified as living in the Colorado Springs metropolitan area, which is more than similarly sized cities Toledo, Ohio; Columbia, S.C.; or Syracuse, N.Y.

These days Heinze, who went to high school in Pueblo, mostly spends his time in Denver, working as a counselor and advocate for gay men. But as recently as last year, Mr. Leather Colorado 2010 was the promoter for Ascension, a BDSM blowout that he created for the sexy and twisted.

"It started out huge," Heinze says. "I wasn't really expecting it to be as huge, but it was. Each one — there's been a total of five — each one has been attended [by] between 500 to 600 people."

Ascension attracted kinksters from across the state to downtown's Underground club, and featured people decoratively suspended by ropes over a throbbing dance floor, with other "over-the-top" demonstrations unfolding in the background.

"We've also done hook suspensions, where it's hooked through the skin and people are lifted off the ground," Heinze says. "It can be somewhat shocking to people. But the idea is to tantalize and to turn people on."

The event ran for the last time under that name in September but was reborn May 12 as the Rapture Fetish Ball. Anthony Graham continues to refer to it as the "Lollapalooza for fetish," where "a lot of folks could gather together and see these things happening in an environment that was very safe."

He knows because his Broken Glass Photography is the event's official documentarian, capturing (almost) every grin, grimace and bead of sweat. Among other projects, Graham also shoots performances by the local Peaks and Pasties burlesque troupe, which commonly features dancers who have a stockinged presence in the fetish community as well.

"You have a lot of folks who are kind of on the peripheral edges of society, who would be attracted to [kink] just because of how accepting, overall, the community tends to be," he says. "Even if they don't participate in all the 'Reindeer Games,' as it was — they just want to be there because people are not gonna judge 'em for anything."

Especially around here. Says the 43-year-old photographer: "I think especially in Colorado Springs, being as conservative a town as it is [perceived], it is more across the board than I think a lot of people really, on its face, really, fully realize."

Power to the passive

So, in the words of Faith No More: "What is 'it'?"

Of course, BDSM itself has its own meaning, a series of overlapping definitions of the acronym: bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, sadomasochism.

Outside of that, people are too freaky to list every little thing that turns them on. But take a contract between local dominatrix Mistress Carla (yourmistressc.com) and her potential submissive partner. Documents like these are common when the relationship has an expectation of longevity, as opposed to the oral agreements two people would come to before simply starting a scene, as it's called. It seems that putting your fate in the hands of another — for a minute or a month — requires full disclosure.

"The satisfaction of Her wants, desires, and whims are consistent with my desire as a submissive to be found pleasing to Her," the contract reads. "To that end, I offer Her use of my time, talents, and abilities."

The exchange of power is a thrill underlying a lot of what goes on in the fetish scene; the differing capitalization of pronouns only serves to further the point. But it's not the only point, and the exchange certainly goes both ways.

"The submissive gives up the responsibility for making those decisions and doing things," says Carla, over tea and a tuna-steak sandwich at Nosh. She's a tall woman with thin, reddish-brown hair, and a soft and gentle nature belying her sexual role. "But, on the other hand, the submissive is the one who is primarily in control, because they set the limits going in as to what kind of play can take place."

There's all kinds of "play." FetLife.com recognizes hundreds of fetishes, with a Top 100 list that includes hair-pulling, handcuffs and oral sex as some of the most common. Consider that the list also includes the previously mentioned power exchanges, sensory deprivation and electro-torture, and you begin to see the range.

"Where most people begin, which is probably not really the best place to begin, is with bondage; rope bondage, or they use a silk scarf to tie somebody's hands to the headboard of the bed, or things like that," Carla says. "Bondage is not a good place to start, because there are dangers if you don't know what you're doing. Almost everything in BDSM has some danger if you don't know what you're doing."

To that end, there are two accepted philosophies enthusiasts tend to follow: Safe, Sane and Consensual, which is what it sounds like; and a fairly new model with a little more edge to it.

"It's called RACK, which stands for Risk-Aware Consensual Kink," says Carla. "And in the RACK model, you recognize that anything you do has some risk. And the idea is that the parties going in have explored and understand well enough that they know what the risks are — whether they're minor or significant — and are willing to assume those risks. And consent is still a key element in that model as well."

Either way, the safety effort is deliberate. Here's anthropologist Margot Weiss talking to salon.com's Tracy Clark-Flory in January:

"People outside of the scene tend to think that S/M is totally wild, there are no rules, people are just doing whatever they feel like doing," says the author of Techniques of Pleasure: BDSM and the Circuits of Sexuality, "but if you show them a 10-page negotiation form or a checklist or the 20-minute safety lecture that goes into almost any kind of play, people are amazed."

All of this rigidity and communication may or may not be relevant to the experimenting couple at home, but it's huge for those serious enough about BDSM to venture out in public.

"It's maybe 60 or 70 percent women," Carla says of that group. "There's also definitely more submissives than dominants. I think that applies to both sexes as well — I think there's more submissive men than dominant men."

And as far as a local trend, the dominatrix says in a follow-up e-mail that she's seeing the same thing as everybody else: "I am sometimes surprised Myself how many people in Colorado Springs are kinky," she writes. "As a percentage of the population, this is the kinkiest town I know."

Support-wise, groups designed to help people get more involved abound: the League of Extraordinary Ladies, Colorado Springs BDSM, et cetera. But the most prominent is Celebration of Power, "a pansexual, non-profit, social and educational organization" that began in 2001. The group frequently holds get-to-know-you "munches" on the first Friday of the month (see "This might sting a little") and is active in events like PrideFest.

"It's a lot less intimidating and weird if people see what actually goes on," says Carla, who, while not a COP board member, is as involved in the scene as any, and more than most. "I mean, don't get me wrong: There's often pain involved, but everything we do is totally consensual. Everybody is enjoying it and having a good time — that's all what it's about, is having a good time, and being happy, and [experiencing] personal growth."

Soft landing

Liz Green knows exactly what that means. The 59-year-old came to Colorado from Kentucky, where, locked in an unhappy marriage, she'd play the Facebook game Farm Town late into the night. In 2009, she met a 20-something gaming partner. They started messaging back and forth, friendly interest became something more, and he eventually changed everything for Green when he asked if she'd heard of BDSM.

"So the next night, we find each other online again," Green says during an interview at the Independent. "And he said, 'Well, what do you think?' And I said, 'I'm curious.'

"And he said, 'Well, then if you want to do this, I will be your master, you will be my slave, and I will collar you."

Green — a smiling woman with dark blond hair, who describes herself as "not a big pain slut, [but] a little bit of one" — says her submissive tendencies fit perfectly with this role, which itself fit perfectly with her desire to escape.

"Session would be when he was master and I was slave; my only concern during session was making master happy," she says with a grin. "I didn't have to think about the bills, the dishes, the laundry, cleaning the litter boxes, nothing. Master was all I had to think about — it was wonderful."

However, eventually both her daily and digital relationships ended, leading her to Colorado following a stopover in Texas. She ended up in the Springs, where she went right to work finding out how to get more of what she got.

"I was born to please and to serve — to be needed. I need to be needed. Whether it's to fold laundry, I need to serve," Green says determinedly. "And I contacted the Celebration of Power, and I had a couple of e-mails and [they] said, 'I would highly suggest that you get on FetLife.com.' And I have not looked back."

Today she says 99 percent of her friends are from the kink community, and it's not just because of like-minded interests. Though a world of whips and chains carries its own impressions of menace, she found just the opposite.

"They're very accepting," Green says. "Society told me my entire life that I was ugly and unlovable because I'm heavy."

The community trumpets the values of trust, respect and honesty. And that extends across the board.

"One of the basic rules at munches is, you don't touch what does not belong to you without permission," says Mistress Carla. "And someone who did that would be properly 'chastised'; the community self-regulates, and takes care of people that do things that they shouldn't."

For example, Carla — who often ends her e-mails with "kisses" — talks of the time a lone submissive attendee to a munch was being touched and harassed by an aggressive dominant. "And there were about 10 real serious sadists there that taught him the error of his ways," she says with a grin. "It was not consensual, and that's not acceptable. They explained what the problem was, and helped him find the door — he might have accidently bumped the door frame on his way out."

So it's in this community that Green says she feels like she's "59 going on 43."

"The test I took on Facebook said I'm 21," she says. "So now I have this whole new life."

Ain't broke

Of course, one person's pursuit of happiness is another's mental disorder.

In one interaction, I spent a bizarre hour with local counselors Robert and Kathryn Wenzel, who are fans of Colorado Springs' Heart to Heart Counseling Center. The latter's a place where, at one time, therapists advocated that patients wear rubber-bands on the wrist, and snap themselves when feeling aroused. (As an aside, its executive director, Douglas Weiss, has appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show, Good Morning America and 20/20, and once told Glamour magazine, "When a guy's looking for diverse forms of stimulation, you can't compete.")

The Wenzels took me and three of their interns upstairs in their North Academy Boulevard office into an open space, where out came a full-sized white board. Soon, despite the request to chat about our local kink scene, a lecture on the looming menace of sex addiction began, complete with diagrams displaying the potential consequences — an interest in pedophilia or necrophilia — that await the individual who either masturbates, or seeks sexual gratification outside of a committed, spiritual relationship.

You can see why Heinze says coming out as kinky is the new coming out as homosexual.

"There's a lot of judgment, because I think a lot of people feel that fetish is dark, and spooky, and violent, and seedy," he says. "For someone like me — as, like, a gay man — it's not that big of a deal. But if you are a suburban housewife and you have three kids, and you like to be tied up and flogged, that gets to some of the concerns about getting your kids taken away. Are you a bad parent?"

Absolutely not, says local therapist Kamara Gallagher.

"[A colleague] looked at a propensity of mental illness correlated with people that are in the BDSM and fetish community, and there's absolutely none," she says, adding: "I know lots of people in the BDSM community, over the years, and there's not a higher rate of dysfunction. If anything, there's a little higher rate of knowing who they are and what they want."

That colleague was Denver sex therapist Dr. Neil Cannon, whose 2006 study looked at 142 self-described BDSM practitioners. "As a group, they had no psychopathology," he says in a conversation with the Indy. "And they had IQs that were significantly higher than the general population.

"People, they get this notion of whips and chains and violence and rage, and it's actually none of that," Cannon says. "And I have a lot of clients that participate in BDSM, which isn't surprising when you consider that 11 percent of women, and 14 percent of men, report having participated in S/M activities."

Cannon says he gets lots of Springs residents driving to Denver seeking counseling with a little more grounding, a little less religious interference, and a lot less telling you why you're turned on. After all, he says with emphasis, "We don't know.

"And so, people will make — even clinicians, psychologists — will jump to these wild conclusions, that somebody likes something because of something that happens," he says. "But there's so many variables as people are growing up that we truly rarely know why somebody has a fetish, or why somebody is into BDSM."

Take flogging. Though the first inclination is to consider it a sex act based on a desire to suffer, some people describe it more like therapy.

"It's a release," agrees Graham, the photographer. "It's a way to get something that you didn't know was in you, out of you."

Green remembers a time she was flogged by somebody she met on alt.com. "He brought his flogger over, and he had very good rhythm. And you almost get into a trance. And I was waiting to have him do this harder, because I still have some demons inside me I'd like to get out. And all I could see was that with the harder flogging, with this rhythm, how I could possibly get rid of a lot of these demons.

"I truly believe that in each of us there is some kind of kink; the majority of people are afraid to accept it and let it out," Green says. "But you're a consenting adult with another consenting adult. And it's respect, agreement, choice. I find it amazing."

bryce@csindy.com

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