Business is booming for Mistress Odette. The 26-year old was living in New York and working in a dungeon with a number of other dominatrixes, and eventually, like many New Yorkers do, she grew tired of the stresses that came with sharing space.She moved out to Austin, Texas four years ago to try and make it as an independent mistress. Her first space was a tiny quartered-off room in a house with two of her friends.
“I had no professional tools, just stuff I made myself,” says Odette. “but I was immediately inundated with clients and now I have the best set-up of my career.”
Mistress Odette was working hard and making good money, slowly building herself a solid career and reputation. These days she sports a full supply of modern kink equipment and a moving truck converted into mobile dungeon she calls “The Whale.” Her new digs have a startup aesthetic, accidentally reflecting the brand new demographic of clients paying for her services
“At first it was mostly older clients who were really seasoned in the scene,” says Odette. “But then I got this wave of young guys and I was like ‘What? How are you affording this? Oh, I see.’”
Austin is in the midst of a massive tech explosion. Since 2001, Austin has seen a 41 percent increase in tech-related employment, with 11,000 more jobs expected to be created within the next few years. The city used to be defined by its ramshackle hippie ethos, but these days it’s hard to find a street that hasn’t been touched by development, gentrification, and all the other positives and negatives that come when a sudden influx of young, urban money sweeps through an unsuspecting town. Ancient scene staples like Emo’s and Red 7 have retreated to the lower rents on the east side, subsequently displacing the mostly Latino families that have lived there for generations. It’s a trickle-down effect that starts with the condos that stand in the plots of demolished pinata shops.
The traditional image of someone who hires dominatrixes is an older man with an unbreakable kink who’s willing to put up the money to get what he needs. But Mistress Odette now routinely finds herself working with men around her age, whose investment is much more casual.
“I still get the old regulars, but I’m flooded with requests with guys in their late 20s and early 30s. It’s always the same kind of thing,” she says. “It’s a half-bored curiosity and a longstanding fetish that they’ve never been able to execute. I was not at all used to it. Before it was once in a blue moon you got anyone under 50.”
Charlotte Black has a background in neuroscience but has worked as a dominatrix for seven years. She started after a vanilla relationship drove her to find an outlet, and now does this professionally. She’s a lifelong resident of the Bay Area and today works in San Francisco, another city that’s become notorious for its skyrocketing housing prices and infestation of tech money. Between 2010 and 2013 the tech sector grew over 50 percent, some parts of of the Bay Area have seen rent increases of 83 percent in only five years, She tells me that while her usual clients are still the older, business-traveling lifers, she’s had more and more yuppies hiring her services over the last few years.
“Honestly, it’s a lot hotter when I’m working with someone closer to my age,” she says. “When I’m playing with a 32-year-old obviously it’s going to be a lot more fun for me. Especially because the conversations we have are going to be better. They pay the same amount of money, but the younger guys aren’t married, so they come more frequently, they aren’t as weird about contact.”
Black is a lifestyle domme. This is something she enjoys outside of work, and at the end of the day she’s able to relate with her younger tech-bro clients more than she can with someone in their 50s.
“I feel like I have stuff in common with them,” she says. “They’re gearheads and I’m a bit of a geek so we click on that level. We get to recommend restaurants, shows and bands. Every January I travel to the CES [The Consumer Electronics Show] and I play pretty much nonstop for four days, but I also get to go incognito to the tradeshow.”
Black might like working with younger clients, but she isn’t particularly keen on the direction her city is going. From her perspective the tech industry invading San Francisco is creating a noxious new class that’s not being held accountable for the destruction it’s wreaking on communities.
“I personally feel that having a very large, very over-privileged class of young people with no time to develop a sense of ethics or morals is dangerous,” says Black. “They take real umbrage with that notion, but nobody likes the snotty douchebag rich kid. I mean, if you’re rich and in your 20s, you’re probably going to be an asshole. They’re completely blind to their privilege.”
Mistress Morgana agrees. She’s worked as a dominatrix in San Francisco for 20 years and remembers the first tech boom in ‘99 and 2000, when she was booked to the gills with clueless kids looking to do something with their newfound money before the dotcom bust scared them off. This is the second time she’s watched the city she loves get more expensive and less weird.
“It’s a homogenization,” says Morgana. “There’s a tremendous wealth disparity. Honestly, I don’t have the money to live in the city right now, but I got here early and own my own property, so I can live alongside folks who are in their early 30s and spend a third of it on their rent. That impacts everything from how much your burrito costs to mental health and substance abuse facilities shutting down. I’ve got someone visiting me from New York right now and he’s absolutely horrified by how the city doesn’t take care of itself.”
Morgana is an older domme, and tells me she hasn’t seen a spike in young tech-bro clients recently. She chalks that up to domination becoming more palatable in private lives—which she says is a victory—as well as the likelihood that this specific clientele would look for a “highly-fetishizable model escort-domme” type, a category that Morgana does not count herself in, but speculates is currently doing great. The change that she has seen in her clientele involves a number of her longtime visitors, people people with a much deeper attachment to to the scene than the tech-boom casuals, getting priced out of the city—as well as some dommes themselves.
“I like to say that if your trickle-down economics aren’t working for sex workers than it’s not working,” says Morgana. “There’s a huge element of self-care when you visit a pro domme. There’s a huge amount of trust. I hear from people all the time that their domme has been pushed out of the city, which is really devastating because you’re talking about someone you’ve found a perfect match with that you can no longer see.”
This isn’t to say that young men hiring dominatrixes are taking kink for granted. The sexual curiosity of the average tech bro may well be very genuine, if perhaps applied along startup-esque lines of efficiency. But it’s unfortunate to think that some bored, rich men are taking the place of people—both workers and customers—who come to kink for more authentic physical and emotional needs.
Especially when some lines are being crossed. Mistress Odette tells me that working with young, privileged men has caused some issues of boundaries, something she never really had to worry about with the older scenesters who already knew the deal.
“I’m a domme, not an escort. I don’t do anything remotely related to actual sex. It’s on my website, ‘no sex, ever.’ Usually that’s enough, but younger clients think that there’s some nuance to make that happen,” she says.
“It’s especially prevalent when you’re talking about a young attractive man. They have a lot of entitlement, because they’re attractive and rich and used to getting their way with women. I had an email from one client who was like, ‘Hey I’m a young, white, attractive successful man,’ and I’m like, ‘I didn’t need to know any of that.’ I do not care if you’re white, I do not care if you’re attractive, I don’t care if you’re young, and you’re clearly thinking that that’s going to get you something extra. It doesn’t have any sway with me.”
For Odette, however, she finds that this level of privilege can weave into her humiliation-centered work in some fun ways. The trite explanation for why people seek out dominatrixes is that they need an inverse from the power dynamic in their daily life, and Odette believes that to be at least partially true in regards to her yuppie clients.
“The way these guys got rich and successful is so abstract and bizarre. It’s internet-based, it’s not like they worked hard their whole life and pulled themselves up by their bootstraps,” she says. “They fucked around and made a stupid app and now they have a ton of money. It’s such a weird version of reality, that I think they might seek out a sensible power to embrace.”
“I developed a theory about it,” says Morgana, reflecting on young clients she saw during San Francisco’s first tech boom. “They didn’t know a thing about S&M. They saw their bosses see an escort and go skiing on the weekends, so they’d go snowboarding and see me because they thought that was just what they were supposed to do. They were well-meaning, they were all a little socially awkward and wanted to take me out to cocktail parties because they didn’t know how to socialize. It was something all of my colleagues noticed. ‘These boys are adorable, they’re paying for everything, but they’re not lifestyle kinksters,’ people would say.”
The dommes I talked to had very different perspectives on the state of their cities and the state of their careers. Charlotte Black gets turned on when she works with young money; Morgana is hoping to get her world back; Odette doesn’t seem to care either way. Another domme, Domina Josephine, who’s worked in San Francisco for 10 years, says the tech boom brought her love.
“He was a client of mine for four years or so,” says Josephine. “When I first met him I thought he wasn’t my type. He didn’t have any gentleman-like manners in any way, he had terrible taste in music, he saw a lot of sex workers, and he didn’t have any emotional intelligence. Then he moved out to Tokyo, got a girlfriend, and he invited me out to Bali last year. I said yes. We did acid and fell in love.”
Josephine’s rate has gone up progressively since the boom. She’s now making more money than she ever has as a domme. She tells me she likes working with younger guys because “she likes to be there first”—to be their initial introduction to the world of S&M. Along the way, she got some personal fulfillment too.
“I think me and him are soulmates,” says Josephine. “I think what I’ve seen in the industry is that pro-dommes kept up with the times. We use Twitter and social media; there’s a dynamic aesthetic to us.” She pauses. “We’re all appealing to millennials because we’re millennials too.”
Illustration by Jim Cooke
Luke Winkie is a journalist and former pizza maker living in Los Angeles. He writes and reports for Red Bull, Sports Illustrated, Vice, Daily Dot, Buzzfeed, and where ever else good content can be found. Follow him on Twitter @luke_winkie.