Looking for My Inner Dom

She glides to the front of the room as 25 pairs of eyes follow her. My gaze is first drawn to her brimming breasts, which spill out of a jade green brocade corset. Making her generous curves even more pronounced, the corset hugs her waist close and tight like a possessive lover, eventually giving way to a long black slinky skirt. The skirt reveals only creamy white ankles and feet propped up in six-inch spiked patent leather heels. The black heels shine like her shoulder-length ebony hair, cut with sharp Betty Page bangs. The bangs frame her black cat-eye-shaped glasses. What a study in feminine detail and finesse! I feel honored to have the chance to learn from her.

The center of attention is Midori, instructor of "The Art of Feminine Dominance," a class she teaches around the country. This one recently convened at the Lower East Side sex shop Toys in Babeland. She is also known as MistressMidori to her clients—she works as a professional dominant, splitting her time between San Francisco and Washington, D.C. To fans, she is FetishDiva Midori (www.fetishdiva.com); she appears in photographer Steven Diet Goedde's sumptuous book The Beauty of Fetish (Edition Stemmle) as his compelling latex-clad muse and in s/m movies like Dark Paradise and Cruel Beauty (Bizarre Video). She also goes by the title Ma'am to her flock of loyal submissives, slaves, and houseboys.

Lately I have been interested in exploring my dominant side in a sexual context, which made the $25 admission to Midori's class a not-to-be-missed opportunity. (I say "in a sexual context" because I am a bossy, aggressive top all day, but not usually with my lovers.) As someone who has experienced the power of a dominant partner, I am always in awe of what it takes to be a successful top. I am also fascinated by what makes a dominatrix a dominatrix. Some women can simply walk into a room and instantly command your attention, your respect, your submission. What is it about them? Can anyone do it? Is it something you have inside you or can you learn to do it? I looked to Midori to find the answers.

Midori's approach to feminine dominance is careful, thoughtful, intelligent, and fascinating, as clear as her voice but also as mysterious as her smile. First, she encouraged students to free-associate to the words femme and feminine, and the responses revealed how complex the expressions (and the roles) are for women today: warm, curvy, fragile, seductive, powerful, nurturing, sensuous, lipstick, nails, garters, delicate, bitch, manipulative. Then we brainstormed the word dominant—decisive, intense, manipulative, insensitive, mean, powerful, nurturing, forceful, painful, strict, in charge. Some terms appeared on both lists, and some seemed to contradict one another.

Speaking of language, I asked Midori why she calls herself a professional dominant and not a dominatrix. "For me, dominatrix sounds harsh and reminds me of porn movies. Dominant is a gender-neutral term and works better for me. Dominatrix is a profession or a performance, whereas dominant is a state of being."

Midori has her own definition of what constitutes beauty. It's not custom-designed sexpotwear, manicured nails, Gucci shoes, or perfect hair and makeup (although she does have all those and then some). Beauty is confidence, grace, posture, and presentation, says Midori. So how does one go about finding her inner dominatrix? Midori has two methods for discovering the goddess within. "Outside-in" involves dressing the part, then doing the part—putting dom on like a costume, then acting accordingly. Midori recommends finding your own fetish object or objects that get you into femme dom—a particular pair of boots, a certain lipstick color, a leather bustier. She likes to make a ritual of becoming the femme dom in order to delineate herself from the everyday world. "Inside-out" is a deeper, more difficult path to dom, which reflects her emphasis on probing inward for that inner dominant, nurturing her, channeling her, then letting her come out and play.

One helpful way to find the femme dom in you is to search for dominant female archetypes with whom you identify. In class, we were asked to list women of mythology, history, and media that we can identify as female tops. The group nominated Joan of Arc, Helen of Troy, Medusa, Queen Elizabeth, Bette Davis, Marlene Dietrich, Marilyn Monroe, Mae West, Xena, and Madonna. Then there are pure archetypes: the exacting ballet teacher, the strict governess, the severe Mother Superior. Take a little from each archetype you identify with, then mix it up with role models from your own personal history. Midori told us about her grandmother, how she always had a quiet dominance that instilled in Midori a sense of respect and a desire to always please her. It rang true for at least one student who commented that she'd tried to be dominant with her lover before, but it didn't work out: "I did what I thought I was supposed to do, rather than what I wanted to, rather than being me."

Midori appears to live quite a charmed life, and I asked her, "What's the best thing about being a dominant?" She said it depends on the relationship; sometimes the dynamic is limited to sessions of play, other times she is in role with someone 24 hours a day. "I like to have control," she says, "but it is also the mutual satisfaction my partner and I get out of the power exchange." As a top, she sees herself as a leader, parental figure, nurturer, mentor, and role model.

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