Maybe because female dominance can manifest in workplace assertiveness, creative boldness, or community advocacy.
I survey a room stacked high with coiled bundles of rope.
Tonight is the opening of ForteFemme, a weekend-long intensive during which women learn to elevate their “authentic inner femme power.” A display of books written by Midori sits just inside the door: Master Han’s Daughter: Tales from Depraved NeoTokyo; The Seductive Art of Japanese Bondage; The Toybag Guide to Foot and Shoe Worship; Wild Side Sex: The Book of Kink: Educational, Sensual, And Entertaining Essays. Those titles alone should begin to explain why Midori is a doyen of kinky sex discourse, and why I was so excited to podcast with her about female dominance.
Wild Side Sex in particular once had a profound effect on my concept of my sexual self. It reminds me vividly of my early twenties living in the Bay Area, where I would hungrily seek out the sexuality section in any bookstore from Dog Eared Books in the Mission to City Lights in North Beach. It was there I found the yellowing paperbacks and fetish art books that would transform my world, emboldening me to pursue a career exploring transgressive sex.
In the essay “Mirror Mirror: Finding the Power Femme,” I first encountered Midori’s exercise for getting in touch with your own personal feminine icons. She prompts you to make a list of characters from pop culture, public figures like politicians, even historical personalities. From there you explore what you need in order to embody everything these archetypes represent: how to bring the outside in and the inside out, as Midori puts it. It’s the kind of assignment she has developed for intensives like ForteFemme, Making Hot Play Happen, and Rope Dojo.
Initially, I found this process really difficult. I have always had a hard time getting in touch with my feminine energy. My heroes had always been men, because I associated the qualities I wanted to embody with masculinity. But when I decided I wanted to become a dominatrix, I needed to learn what aspects of femininity I could project. The Power Femme exercise helped me to realize the qualities I already possessed, and to identify those I wanted to practice.
I distinctly remember writing two names down in my notebook at the time: Tina Turner and Audrey Horne. Tina for her high-energy sequin-shimmering rock performance, her raw defiance of the patriarchy; Ms. Horne, from Twin Peaks, for her coy, lusty, seductive power.
Together, these role models taught me to embody qualities I never thought I could, in a distinctly feminine way. Channeling Tina Turner made me more confident moving quickly in spike heels and mini dresses; it taught me I could smile wide and toss my hair and treat every room like a stage. And any time I wanted to display a girlie precociousness (the kind I had never actually allowed myself to explore as a teenager) I just closed my eyes and thought of Audrey Horne, swaying to her own jukebox dreams.
And obviously, I took the exercise seriously enough to rename myself after my power femme icons.
By the time Midori emerges from the shower, fresh-faced and ready to podcast, I’m already in awe reflecting on everything she’s done for me. Midori was born in Japan, and has lived in San Francisco since the early 90s’ heydey of sex positivity and HIV activism. She is a woman of tremendous grace and gravity, even in comfortable daytime clothes. As we sit in front of my microphones, I find myself uncharacteristically quick to blush as she describes, in evocative detail, how she loves “a long flirtation stroking the crevices of the mind and the back alleys of the imagination.”
Midori is quick to clarify that she isn’t teaching people how to be Femme Dommes, a porn trope that she enjoys, but we can all agree isn’t very realistic on a daily basis. Femme Dommes in fetish porn are extreme exaggerations of what it might mean to be a powerful sexual woman.
They are hips bulging in latex pants, impossibly cinched corsets, lashes like alien wildflowers. They are waves and curls and claws and gloss. They are the juice of women compressed and expressed. They look like they smell: like a gourmet vanilla birthday cake, ripe for gorging, on a pedestal behind glass.
No, what Midori teaches is “topping from a femme space.” Everyday female dominance may manifest in workplace assertiveness, creative boldness, or community advocacy.
Of course, ForteFemme teaches skills to use “from the bedroom to the boardroom,” so sexual empowerment is certainly part of her pedagogy. Midori is a world-class expert in everything from bondage to fetish attire, dirty talk to flogging. In her own words, she is best known for teaching the “motivation and psychology to improve one’s quality of play.”
Female dominance might also be expressed as vulnerability. An orgasm, for example, represents pure exposure: when “your neurotransmitters are squirting all over the place,” as she colorfully puts it, you cannot protect yourself. So it takes real strength to cum with someone else.
“I choose vulnerability,” Midori intones. “You will be graced by that gift, and awed by it.”
Now can you see why I stayed so flustered?