The BDSM community is divided on the ethics of public kink after a photo of the special moment at Erewhon made the rounds on Twitter.
October 21, 2020, 3:38am
Erewhon Market is a Los Angeles-based luxury grocer, the kind of place that offers an organic adaptogenic bone broth cleanse, sells four hard-boiled eggs for $7, and has written its own Juice Cleanse Manual to accompany a two-day serving of Hardcore Greens. And although it seems hard to shock a store full of people who’d drop $140 to give themselves loose stools, it is possible—just ask Mistress Lark.Sex
The 21-year-old dominatrix went either the best or the worst kind of viral after a picture of her with her leash-wearing submissive client was posted on Twitter. “Spotted at Erewhon today,” the post read, accompanied by a photo of Lark walking the man, who was on all fours and wearing a full latex dog hood. It wasn’t supposed to be a big deal—at least not in L.A.—but it’s hard to be interested in ethically produced pumpkins when a man is literally being dog-walked past the produce section.
It also started a largely one-sided conversation on social media about consent, BDSM, and whether it’s appropriate to bring the general public into your kink scenes. This wasn’t the first time that Lark had put this client on his leash and taken him out, but it was the first time that she’s faced significant criticism, or that she’s been stopped by the retail cops. (She admitted that she’d had to paddle the man for misbehaving shortly before she met with Erewhon’s equivalent of Paul Blart.)
“We were asked to leave by security after we had checked out, and they said, ‘You know, we respect what you’re trying to do but we’re going to have to ask you to leave,'” she said. “We left immediately, but we did have to walk back to the store to get to the valet, which was kind of funny. I’m always willing to leave if there’s any kind of offense, but not because [I think] what I’m doing is wrong. My willingness to leave is because I respect other people’s space and because I just don’t want to be where I’m not wanted.”
Lark said that she’s both aware of and sensitive to the other shoppers’ concerns. No, they didn’t consent to taking part in her scene, but she also said that there was nothing “pornographic” occurring: it was just a woman walking her slightly unconventional dog through a store. (VICE reached out to Erewhon for comment but, as of this writing, they have not yet responded).
According to Dr. Julie Fennell, an associate professor of sociology at Gallaudet University who has done extensive research into the BDSM subculture and community, the formal and informal norms of BDSM can be hotly debated, even among avid kinksters—and Lark’s role as a professional dom can further complicate things, because she’s working both with and for the benefit of her client.
“There is a formal norm in the scene that ‘audiences must consent, too,'” Fennell said. “The idea is that you should not actively try to piss people watching off without their consent. This norm is hotly contested, and blatantly violates another formal norm at most BDSM events which is ‘if you see something that offends you, bothers you, or grosses you out that you are reasonably certain is consensual, just move along.’ Many BDSM events try to reconcile these two rules with a formal rule of ‘don’t be a dick,’ meaning that if you’re going to do a public scene that many people would object to, warn people.”Health
Fennell also points out that it can be very difficult to determine how to apply these public behavioral norms in ‘vanilla’ contexts outside of BDSM subcultural events, parties, and spaces. “There are plenty of kinksters who say, ‘as long as it’s legal, go ahead,’“ she said. “There are [also] plenty of other kinksters who say, ‘why are you trying to piss other people off?'”
Those who participate in pet play say that they aren’t necessarily doing it for the “kink” as much as it’s a “more complex” form of adult costuming, she added. “Many pet players argue that children are the people least likely to be offended by pet play because they’re the most likely to view it as a silly or cool adult dressed in a very fancy costume playing a role,” she said. “I also note that I’m hard pressed to imagine why anyone would feel threatened by this woman leading this man on a leash in a store, but I think it’s very reasonable for people to feel threatened by someone wearing a Trump hat or T-shirt. But the former is socially unacceptable and the latter is not.” Tech
The motivations for engaging in pet play tracks with what Lark said about the client she was with at Erewhon, and about other clients who have taken their commitment to pet play even further. “It’s bigger than just roleplay. Calling it roleplay is removing ourselves from the fact that this is deeper than that for a lot of people,” she said. “It can be about the opposite of sexual release, because a lot of these people want to be in chastity for the rest of their lives. They vow never to have sex, they’re usually cucks, and they’re usually more interested in watching the woman be empowered with who she wants to be with.”
Lark says becoming a domme has given her a kind of power and confidence that she hadn’t previously experienced. She was 18 years old, homeless, and trying to process the trauma of a sexual assault, when she read a Craigslist ad for a dungeon. “It said you could live there if you ended up qualifying, and I really needed somewhere to go,” she said. “Once I allowed myself to embody it, I felt like some of the traumas that I went through were sort of alleviated. It was very therapeutic. I felt like I’d always been disrespected and taken advantage of, and I felt very bitter towards the way that women are treated in society. This has been… I think it’s more than any type of sexual release. It’s an emotional release.”
After three years of domming, Lark says that she’s lost some of her initial reservations and has worked to find new ways to keep things interesting for herself and her clients. She started to take her subs on what she calls “lifestyle adventures,” taking them to fetish parties, when she goes out with her friends, or occasionally to the mall or a grocery store. “At the end of the day, I stand beside my decision to do this publicly,” she said. “And I respect other sex workers’ opinions on it… In the future, I might not go as far as to bring out the paddle again, but I do think we can be more open-minded about these things.”
It’s still complicated, and hard to know what the right approach is in some public spaces. “Personally, I prefer to challenge people’s thinking more than their sensibilities when it comes to their attitudes toward kink,” Fennell said. “I think most of the social science research I have ever seen on changing people’s attitudes and beliefs suggests that making them angry or offending them is generally a very bad strategy for doing so. That said, this kind of controversy can generate more knowledge and exposure among people with more neutral attitudes, which might mean that they move from being ‘neutral’ to ‘slightly positive.'”
But still: if you see a leashed man crawling past a Silver Lake supermarket’s in-store tonic bar, maybe just mind your own business.