I was absolutely freaking delighted to interview Tina Horn about her life and her podcast and her upcoming book for my column “Dispatches from a Dark Corner” at Nerve.com… but I had to cut out SO MUCH good stuff for publication! You guys deserve to know all the awesome stuff that didn’t make the cut. So here’s what you really want to read about scary/sexy clowns, consent, BDSM, and tribbing!
Oh, PS, there’s a second installment of “Dispatches from a Dark Corner” coming soon at Nerve.com!
Lynsey: So you said you just typed “dominatrix” into Craigslist. I have also done this, so I guess it’s a silly question, but… How do you just start being a dominatrix?
Tina: I guess I like leaping before I look, to a certain degree.
In the Bay—and this is true in other places, but it was definitely my experience in the Bay—there were several houses. And when I say “house” I mean like… “Brothel” is sort of the wrong word. “Dungeon” is a misnomer because none of them were below the ground. They were like houses and apartments. In New York, they’re like, actually subterranean. In Berlin, they’re subterranean. But in Oakland, they’re just in a fucking house. But you know, so BDSM houses or bondage houses or whatever you want to call them.
The two that I worked in were both owned and run by women, which was extraordinary. It’s always extraordinary, especially in the sex industry, to work for another woman. And these women had systems. I mean, you always need—pardon the expression—you always need “fresh blood.” And there are so women who would stay. I mean, I was there for four years at the second one I ended up at. Sometimes people are there for a shift and sometimes people are there for a decade.
But it’s good to continue to have new people to appeal to different clientele, so at the place I worked, we would train the new girls. So, first you learn how to tie a square knot. You learn how to give a spanking. Then you start learning how to throw a single tail. And you shadow with different ladies and you pick up some things on also the extra-session stuff, like how handle clients, how to read a client, how to manage unruly clients—which are not actually as common in my experience as I think people are scared of. And then, you know, you also have to learn what the system of the house is, as far as your paperwork and your cut and the house cut, and how to get along with the other women you’re working with, and how to work together so you all make more money and have better session.
But you know, I’m also a pervert. Working there was like… I’m going to make up this metaphor right now. It’s like being someone who had always loved sweets, but had never quite known how to figure out what all kinds of different candies they liked… who then got to, like, work in a candy store and try it all. Or a candy factory? I don’t know. Anyway.
So, yeah, I learned a lot about myself and my identity. Like, “Yeah, I’ve always been curious about this.” And getting paid is a really good incentive to try things out. And I liked more things than I didn’t like. For sure.
Lynsey: The idea of having to feel strong in your core identity, and be able to put on those personas [in professional BDSM seettings] is really daunting to me.
Tina: I mean, we do it whatever our jobs are. We do it. I guess I liked the sexual nature, the erotic nature, of the way that it happens as a dominatrix and in the sex industry. It feels like it’s more all out there. I was always a professional switch, so, like, if I’m being degraded or humiliated or spanked by a client with whom I’ve negotiated the scene, what it is and isn’t ok for them to say, where it is and isn’t ok for them to touch me, and then we get to play out this power exchange, then at the end of it, I have money and they have whatever satisfaction they were after… As opposed to other jobs that I’ve had, and other jobs that I’m sure you’ve had, that everyone has, where there is a nonconsensual power exchange going on, and you are actually degraded and humiliated by your boss… And you don’t have the opportunity to negotiate that.
…Whereas, if I am playing a scene with somebody I know, we are going to have negotiation, we’re going to have a safeword, we’re going to have inner-scene communication, and we’re going to have after-care. But with a client, who may be a total stranger, and who I might be playing with in a way that… it’s their scene, you know? They need to tell me what their desire is, and I need to tell them what my boundaries are. And of course they have boundaries as well. And so I’ve learned from that, that so much satisfaction is possible when you really are in touch with your desires and needs and boundaries and can communicate them. So that’s really the fundamental thing that I am teaching in all of my classes. No matter what you’re doing—it doesn’t matter. You can be doing the most vanilla thing there is, but the fundamental principles of negotiation and inner-scene continued consent and communication and then after care helps everybody have a better time and get what they want.
Tina: Clowns really scare me. But Kitty Stryker wants to come on [the podcast] and talk about sexy clowns, and I’m like… deep breath Okay. Cause I don’t know. Off the top of my head I could totally figure out… It’s just right there. If they’re scary, fear is sexy for a lot of people, so… Period, end of story. But I’m sure there’s lots of other stuff going on there, as well.
Lynsey: I’m interested in why it is that clowns are so scary for so many people. Is it because our generation was just very young when we all first saw the movie It? And now it’s a cultural thing that we’re terrified of clowns? Or is it deeper than that?
Tina: I think that the reason we’re terrified of clowns is probably the reason that some people find clowns erotic, which has to do with the obliteration of the face. I mean, I know that’s why I don’t like clowns. I also don’t like the fucking anthropomorphic Elmos in Times Square. I haven’t, like, since I was a little kid. All that shit always fucking freaked me out.
I don’t like masks of any kind. I don’t like face paint. On Halloween all my friends would put on the Dia de los Muertos skeleton faces and I was just like, “Ah, god, no.” I really don’t like it. It freaks me out. And yet, like, masks are a huge sexy thing. Whether it’s the Fifty Shades of Grey, or The Story of O masquerade ball thing, or like full-encasement leather hoods, you obliterate your identity and then all of a sudden you can do or be whoever you want to be, or you feel totally objectified, or powerful, or free, or whatever. But that’s also why it’s so scary.
Lynsey: I wonder if you could even do a podcast about why things that scare us also turn us on.
Tina: I just did “Why Are People Into Fear” with Mickey Mod.
Lynsey: Oooh, fun! Yeah, he’s done some things that would scare me.
Tina: Yeah, yeah. But he’s still such a charming fellow.
Lynsey: I read your piece on Nerve about scissoring, and I was so happy to find out that somebody else thinks it’s a real thing. I have definitely been lesbian-shamed for saying I enjoy it.
Tina: As have I. That article was like the perfect article in terms of my experience of writing, because I really wanted to write about it, I pitched it and got the assignment, and then in my research for it, I actually really learned. There was a personal element to it, but I really learned something new. The main thing that I learned was from Sinn Sage, who is really a person who should be giving workshops on this topic. Her distinction was that “tribbing,” which is the sex act that she’s really known for, which is basically like any intercourse position that you can imagine, but without any phallic penetration—basically dry-humping, but wet… doesn’t really have the same ring to it, I guess—and “scissoring,” which, in her definition, is the position in which two ladies are laying on their backs and rubbing their pussies together. And that’s fine, but it is really, definitely a position that is designed with the voyeur in mind. Nothing wrong with that, but if you really want get into it, and grind on people, and get each other off, then that’s what tribbing is all about.
I love tribbing. It hadn’t actually occurred to me to teach a class on it. I guess I think of it as something a little more personal, that I’m not used to actually sharing or teaching about, as much. But yeah, if I was going to teach a class on it, it would be just like my other classes. A partial social discussion about why it’s stigmatized, even within queer communities, and why it’s totally an awesome, super-feminist way to have sex, and it’s just really fucking hot, and why people would be into tribbing. And various techniques. Although, probably, I’d just have us watch Sinn Sage videos, to be honest.
Lynsey: That works, because honestly, it’s not the easiest thing in the world to figure out in the moment. Like, ok, you put one leg here, another leg there… It can be a little complicated.
Tina: Well, it totally depends on people’s bodies and flexibility. And also, definitely, fluid-bondedness. I mean you could do it with dental dams, but it would be pretty challenging to keep the dental dams in place. So, yeah, I would definitely want to talk about all of that. It would be a fun one to have a demo. It would basically look like wrestling class.