True Story: I Attended A Luxury BDSM Weekend

The words “feminine dominant” inevitably conjure a specific image. Without fail, there in your mind is that hard-bitten woman, the one with all the cliched, head-to-toe pleather, and the stern, fixed aura.

I am in no way that woman. I am warm, I’m open, I’m loose-spirited. I’m messy. I am no ice-queen, the stern school-marm role never appealed to me and yet I sometimes like being the one in charge. I like directing people. I like to make rules and to see my rules followed feels like magic.

Queue my domme spirit quest.

Inside of a spacious light-filled Manhattan loft, one of the kink scene’s best kept secrets unfolds. ForteFemme is an intensive week-long workshop on feminine dominance taught by renowned sexuality educator, Midori. The workshop — which happens in locations all over the globe, on rare occasions — is limited to nine women. Seats fill fast.

“Tell your vanilla readers to think about it this way,” said Midori, when I told her I wanted to write about the workshop, “this is about sexually leaning into your power.”

FRIDAY

The sun was setting outside of the loft windows as the workshop attendees — none of whom embodied that Halloween Emporium femme dom image — began to trickle in. These were New York women, powerful women, women of all shapes and colors, ages ranging from late-twenties to mid-forties.

Immediately, we were thrown into the deep.

We began by talking about toxic models of femininity, about the modes of gender that society programs us with.

“It’s just so 20th century, but there is this sense among women of a learned helplessness. And this is a tool of female manipulation. When you appear to have no control … others can control you.”

I felt an airy stab in my chest. If I came in with any sense of being the removed and objective journalist, this notion had completely dissolved. This was why I was here. It was in my search for dominance that I was trying to rid myself of a certain doe-eyedness, of relying on men for emotional stability, of feeling inactive in my life. And yet I also knew that my thirst to “top” — without a proper outlet — had led me to toxic behavior, to leaving a series of broken hearts. To hurting people because I could.

Sitting in the loft, I let myself soften, writerly hardness be damned. This weekend would be an earnest endeavor. Whatever I would write would mirror this.

“Remember,” instructed Midori. “Our sexual liberation was built on the backs and bloody shoulders of women before us, women who fought, literally losing lives. It’s easy to fall back on being seen and not heard … but haven’t we fought hard enough? Why waste this?”

As we workshop attendees began to bond, we casually talked about our frustration with male partners. Many of us had experiences where a boyfriend, who liked the idea of feminine dominance, couldn’t handle the reality of enacting the fantasies. There were men who expected us to read their minds, men who didn’t want to negotiate.

“Well that comes from a place of privilege and an assumption of access to women’s bodies,” said Midori, settling into the conversation.

We talked about partners who had flattened ideas of female dominance — who had expressed a desire to never see us as vulnerable or needy. “Anyone who thinks that a dominant woman doesn’t need support is a coward,” said Midori. “There is learned helplessness and then there is genuine vulnerability — and that is a gift. You have to learn whether or not someone deserves your vulnerability.”

It’s about a sense of respect: because play with partners who don’t respect you can harden you into a person who resorts to manipulative, toxic behaviors.

I scribbled down all of this, taking notes about risks, about playing with all of your heart, and about this bringing bigger pay-offs.

“But can I still let a guy order for me at dinner?” I asked half-joking.

“Do you think Queen Elizabeth orders her own dinner?” answered Midori.

SATURDAY

When I talk with potential partners about BDSM I often find myself saying, “nothing is hotter than switching.” Switching, aka Box-Jumping aka changing up the dominant-submissive roles.

“The first thing we ask a partner in negotiation is: are you feeling more dominant or more submissive today?” explained Midori, “because none of us have the same appetite our entire lives. Tastes change.”

Yes, you can be feeling dominant but also masochistic. Yes, you can feel submissive and sadistic. Yes, vanilla appetites are valid and can be so affirming.

“There are two questions to always stop and ask yourself,” said Midori, scribbling the following on a whiteboard:

  1. What would please me now?
  2. How am I holding my space?

It all began to click with something I’d slowly been realizing about being a top. That it wasn’t about any act. It was only about being yourself. A version of yourself with certain magnified aspects, sure, but genuine nonetheless. Midori had us doing exercises that dug deep into our psyches, our memories, our childhood joy and from here the view was clear: My little girl self who wrote stories, who directed elaborate childhood roleplay, who created characters for my girl friends to then act out — she’s long known about my dominant space.

Saturday evening included an outing: All of us girls went out to dinner and a play. Afterward, over drinks, my wicked fairy pied piper domme began to show. “So there’s a queer play party tonight … if anyone is interested?”

It was already past midnight, but we ransacked a Forever 21 for new underwear and then piled into a cab. At the party, each girl’s kinky style came to life. I felt, for the dozenth time that weekend, sexually affirmed. Not only did I again remember the true giddy joy of “top space,” I again remembered my bisexuality — how I’d always enjoyed playing with girls. As a kid I preferred to play with girls. As an adult, it seemed somehow inherent to my sexuality.

In a cab on the way home, I thought about how easy it was for society to diminish these parts of myself as a feminine woman who likes men — the bisexual parts but also the dominant parts. I felt the cost of that erasure.

SUNDAY

Despite having hangovers, we all made it to the final day of the workshop, ready for the intensive lab-segment where we would negotiate a scene with an actual bottom.

It was the last stretch of our domme-spirit quest and Midori had us again digging deep. We made lists of our feminine dominant role models — fictional characters or women in our lives — and when I wrote “mom” I started crying, first silently, and then without ceasing. I had been raised by such strong women, I had been brought up with such a sense of strength. It might have been polluted throughout the twists life had taken — but it was inherent.

“Now,” Midori said. “I want you to close your eyes and picture ‘the femme domme’ — that pop culture image. Really see her. The outfit. The hair. See her entire body. Now imagine she is entering an elevator, going up to the penthouse. The doors open to a beautiful apartment. She walks toward the balcony. She leans on the balcony railing, taking in the view. Now. Push her off.”

We cackled.

“I’ve killed so many of those bitches,” laughed Midori.

After our (hot) real-life negotiations with bottoms, Midori presented us with certificates for having completed the course.

As she called our names, she asked that we “queen walk” to receive them.

The queen’s walk: It’s a way of pressing the weight on the back foot, chest out. A way of paying attention to your body, the way it moves, and what your presence gives off.

I found myself naturally doing it out on the streets of New York.

I queen’s walked down Sixth Avenue with those two questions in my head: What would please me now? How am I holding my space?

I queen’s walked and mostly it was women whose heads began to turn.

“Girl, I just have to tell you,” said one. “You are a star. You have shine. You got it.”

“Thanks” I said. “You too.”