Tied Up With Friends

Desert Dominion members enjoy a lifestyle that includes bondage and dominance while stressing safety and acceptance

When you think of the terms bondage, discipline, sadism and masochism, you probably don't think of your neighbor, your doctor or your accountant. You might think of people on some HBO special filmed in a far-away town.

Think again.

Meet the members of a local social club called Desert Dominion.

Desert Dominion is a 140-member club formed about five years ago. Members must be 18 or older and can be any sexual orientation, race, creed or religion. What brings them together: They all enjoy various kinks (legal activities involving consenting adults). The group has a clubhouse, board, committee chairs and bylaws; it even pays taxes. Members must sign terms of agreement and pay dues. They also sponsor the Southwest Fetish Ball, which was held Jan. 22.

Member Dawn explains the terminology. "Bondage and discipline is for people who like to be tied up. Dominance and submission is something that happens on a mental level. You can be in a (dominant/submissive) relationship without physical happenings."

But the explanation of S&M, sadism and masochism, gets a little more involved.

"This is where you get into the pain/pleasure syndrome" says Dawn. "It's the easiest to misunderstand. People think if you are a masochist, you like pain. I don't like pain. That's not really what the term means and how we use it. A masochist receives pain in given amounts in order to get the endorphins going. That's what they are looking for, the endorphin high. No one will come up and say, 'I want you to hurt me.'"

Member Jefferson further explains the S&M misconception. "You see a lot on TV that makes it look nonconsensual, and it isn't. We tell people: Don't do anything you don't want to do. It's important for us to know the difference between abuse and consensual domination."

What's also important for Desert Dominion members is to clear up other misconceptions about their club.

"This is a support group. ... These are people who, for one reason or another, live lifestyles or have feelings that are a little off the mainstream. Because of that, they may have felt isolated, unloved or bad. This is an opportunity for them to be with people who support them and make them feel good for who and what they are," says Tom, a member for the last two years.

The group offers a variety of activities including discussion groups, movie nights, parties and seminars. In a seminar, one may learn about dominance/submission dynamics, how to properly spank a partner or get tips on the process of mummification (wrapping a person in cling wrap so they can't move).

What you won't find is a sex club or dating service.

"Some people lead with the idea there's a lot of sexual content here, that it's a sex club. It isn't anything of the sort. A long, long time ago when I first went to this place, I said, 'This reminds me of a church social where people tie each other up,'" says Tom.

Tom's friend Mary agrees. "It's a lifestyle club with discussions not just about lifestyle things. We are real people. We talk about children, cooking, things that you would expect to talk about at a club get-together. We do have discussions that are specific to lifestyle issues, but it's not strictly that."

But when discussions do turn to BDSM lifestyle issues, there's a strong desire among members to educate and support each other.

"I am more interested in education," says Jefferson. "If they want to do something, I want to make sure they do it right. I like to teach people how to do things properly so they don't get hurt."

Jefferson is also passionate about freedom of expression.

"We are tired of society telling us this is how normal people behave. There is no such thing as normal. We are all individuals. We should worry more about treating people as individuals and making people happy rather than trying to fit into some mold society has made. ... Too many people take society and their parents into the bedroom. Base (your life) on your guidelines, not on what Dr. Phil or Dr. Ruth says."

While Jefferson stresses the importance of individuality, Dawn stresses acceptance.

"I remember how scared I was the first few times I went to a meeting. I was admitting in public, declaring that I have these feelings. Since the time I was a teenager, I had thoughts about people tying me up and having sex. I tried to hide it and didn't want to talk about it. ... I remember how liberating it was to find out I wasn't the only person with these thoughts. I began to realize that they were a part of me, a healthy part of me that could bring me pleasure. I want to tell people they are not alone in the world."

The comfort of members is key at Desert Dominion, especially at play parties--where members "do any kind of play they want to do"--from spanking to waxing. Blade play, needle play, cross-dressing, paddling, flogging and canning are other activities members may participate in. To ensure comfort and safety, members use "safe words" to keep play from getting out of hand.

"When a person is being taken to the edge of where they feel comfortable, there's a word they can say, for example 'red,' that tells the other person or monitor that this is as far as they want to go, this is over," explains Mary. A monitor is someone who watches the floor and makes sure any play that is happening is done safely.

Safety is an important issue for members, who stress that activities must be "safe, sane and consensual." If Desert Dominion were to have a motto, that would probably be it. Another strong theme is that of acceptance. Members want to be seen as normal, productive people.

"There tends to be a negative image," says Dawn. "People think of us as being weirdoes, but we are just like anyone walking down the street. We come from all parts of society. ... These are some of the kindest, gentlest, nicest people that I know."

While Tom explains that Desert Dominion is a "very heterogeneous group with lots of different kinks and fetishes," Jefferson agrees and adds the one similar ingredient of "accepting each other." That theme keeps the group together.

"You'll find cross-dressers, men in leather and transsexuals who are all friends," says Jefferson. "No matter how diverse we are, we all get along because we look at people as individuals. We should be proud of what we are."