SCENEprofiles Interview with Cleo Dubois

by Sensuous Sadie

Cleo Dubois is a BDSM Educator, maker of educational/play BDSM videos, and Teacher of the BDSM arts. Having begun exploring the SM frontiers in the San Francisco Leather Community in the early 80’s, she sees fantasy/mind/body explorations as powerful venues for intimacy, erotic fulfillment and self-discovery. Her Academy of SM Arts, created in 1995, teaches bondage and SM to couples, Dominants, and switches both privately and in regularly held seminars. Her first documentary film, The Pain Game, toured alternative film festivals nationwide and abroad after popular screenings at the San Francisco Frameline Film Festival 2001, LadyFest 2002, the 2nd Annual S/M Film Festival in New York and Festival de l’Etrange in Paris. It received an award from the Society for Scientific Study of Sexuality.SENSUOUS SADIE: You have been in the lifestyle for twenty years. How has your practice changed over this time?CLEO DUBOUS: “When I first discovered my sadistic Dominant side, I was very ‘raw.’ My enthusiasm probably scared a number of submissives. In fact, many years later when I got on the Internet, men wrote me that they never forgot me and told me just that. ‘You scared me but now I am ready for your intensity!'”While I am still an intense player, I have also become more nurturing, more intuitive and more understanding of people’s need to be accepted for their fantasies and kinks, regardless of how bizarre they might think they are. I have expanded my boundaries and explored practices that I never thought I would enjoy when I began this journey 20 years ago. I feel I have grown and embraced all the various facets of who I am. Perhaps the most important on-going lesson for me is to come from a place of integrity and compassion. This has helped greatly in my transition from Domina to Kink Educator and Private Coach.”

Sadie: Many people think of the “Mistress” as someone who wants a serving submissive, someone to clean the house, do massage, and so on. Yet you are oriented more toward training them to become better masochists. Can you explain this a little bit?

Cleo: “Perhaps because I came out in the early 80’s as an S/M player with both a playful Dominant sadistic and masochistic streak. I did not identify as a lifestyle 24/7 Mistress. I still don’t – although my husband could argue the point! In scenes I want to be called Madame not Mistress. That comes from my French background. And for me service is very personal, not something I wanted from clients. I keep tight boundaries between my private and public life. I am amazed at the number of inquiries from would-be slaves, from folks I had not even met. Sometimes I also puzzle at how quickly a Master or Mistress will collar this or that ‘slave.’

“A few months later I see that same submissive with a new ‘owner.’ Some folks do succeed in creating a leather family. Bravo! As for me I have gotten better at accepting service lately. I now have a part-time boi and a submissive woman friend/lover/play partner whose service I enjoy and value. Perhaps it is because I look at these roles as sacred and I am not willing to accept service from someone with whom I do not have a heart space connection. I have a play circle of friends. It works for my partner and me. In this culture we have so much Judeo-Christian monogamous training to overcome to give a chance to non-traditional relationships to blossom.”

Sadie: “You write, “If somebody is in inescapable bondage an outsider might think, ‘Poor them! They’re totally helpless!’ But they might be having a great time, feeling very free about their desire, their emotions, their vulnerability, their catharsis, their sexuality.” This seems contradictory on the surface. What is it about this kind of bondage that allows the mind to fly?

Cleo: “It’s all about letting go. Surrendering control. When the ropes on my body tighten, the bonds inside loosen. Knowing that you are taken care of, and the illusion of having NO CHOICE allows you to focus on inner experience and to quiet your mind. Providing the bondage is comfortable enough for your body, yet tight enough to enclose you, you can truly let go and surrender to the experience. That is very liberating.”

Sadie: “You’ve commented that your real enjoyment comes from being sadistic, that you get aroused from pushing limits in that area. What is it about sadism that does it for you?

Cleo: “It is the energy exchange, how holding the control/power makes me powerful and connected to those who submit to my loving cruelty. Watching one suffering beautifully, giving me the gift of surrender to my measured and mischievous sadism turns me on. I am emphatic and I value the gift good bottoms offer me. S/M play could be called ritualized violence with a peaceful loving intent.

“Don’t forget, I’m a sado-masochist, not only a caring sadist! I cherish my experiences on both side of the whip. My masochistic side however does stay in my private life. Once, at the hands of a gifted Top, I was ordered to stay completely quiet and still as he hit my back over and over with a stingy whip. Once I got to that place of ‘suffering beautifully, ‘pain disappeared and I felt vibrant, calm and very turned on. I experienced surrender and power at the same time. Being both empty and full. Alignment is another word that comes to my mind. In that space one feels at ‘core’ and beautiful regardless of what the situation looks like, receiving intense blows of a whip or paddle or groveling on all fours like a dog.

“Some of my play experiences, when I bottom, have the quality of reflection I sense as praying. Isn’t service devotion? Isn’t devotion a gift of self? Isn’t it what folks who are in D/s explorations seek? To grow in connection, in trust and surrender?”

Sadie: Many of the people who visit you want a big or shamanistic experience. How do you go about bringing this aspect of BDSM play into a scene?

Cleo: “Well, SM players do not often call it a ‘shamanic experience.’ They simply want a great scene; they want to get out of their head. In a way, when we enter scene space, we can potentially have a spiritual body experience. Let me give you just one example. My first video, The Pain Game, received much acclaim in the Leather and Queer community because the piercing and clothespins scenes resonated with many kinksters. The connection between Creed (my beautiful masochist) and me allowed both of us to fly in shamanic S/M play. When I pulled a feathered zipper off her back, Kali energy was running through me. I felt the destructive energy that is also loving. I also felt the symbolic removal of her ‘skin’ as a necessary part of growth and transformation.

“When I am in charge of a scene, the exchange of energy makes me feel powerful. I stay in control but at the same time, I like to step out of my ego and tune into archetypal energies. And all the while I keep my sense of humor about it all. As the Sadist, I am Kali’s servant. And when I am in synch with someone I am whipping, caning, or piercing, I often feel a shift of energy. The room becomes electric. I, as the Top, step aside of my normal ego space and let Her tell me intuitively what to do to provide the biggest possible experience for my ‘bottom.’ Of course, I can go on the ride too because that’s the way the energy works!”

Sadie: When did you first start exploring the connection between BDSM & spirituality? Was there a particular experience or moment that set you on this path?

Cleo: “Yes, my first private experience as a fantasy slave girl connected my sexuality and my budding spirituality. The man that initiating me in ritual bottoming was Jay Magus. I had met him, his wife and his slavegirl at the Society of Janus. I became friend with both women. The day of my big Scene, he started by ordering me to draw a Tarot card from a desk he had been involved in creating. He was trained in Gestalt work and transpersonal analysis from the famous Esalen Institute. He was very sensitive, kind and sexy. I picked the Queen of Swords. He placed two of his swords in my hands and had me hold them like the image on the card for as long as I could while looking at myself in the mirror of a dimly lit room. When I finally put the swords down, I was ready to submit to him. My long meditation on the Queen of Swords ended when the pain of holding the swords had become unbearable. I was in a trance then, ready to learn and give up control. He was strict, gentle and practiced service to the Lady; the Goddess Archetype. His Dominance was also part of his spiritual path. If you can find the classic early SM magazine, Woman/Slave (Loving SM Productions, Russell Bud and Jay Magus Editors), you will see who I am talking about.”

Sadie: “What spiritual or BDSM practices help take you there? For example: yoga, meditation, Kundalini, Tantra etc

Cleo: “Centering! Being fully present! Breathing! Breathing! Breathing! And guiding my bottom to do the same.”

Sadie: You have said in an interview that, “I will play with men or women of any sexual orientation–gay, lesbian, straight, bisexual, transsexual. It doesn’t really matter to me in terms of the S&M play. “How do you differentiate between the erotic of making love, and the erotic of BDSM play? Why does a partner’s gender matter less when it comes to BDSM?

Cleo: “SM for me is not ONLY about sexuality. It is also about personal growth, healing, intimacy and spirituality. Energy is energy. Energy has no gender or sexual orientation. Energy cycling between players can be a big turn on. We need big pleasure that connects us to ourselves and to the Divine. That pleasure (or should I call it pain/pleasure/surrender) I have found in the erotic rituals we call S/M. Intense sensations, experienced in trust and respect, can not only increase intimacy with our partner(s) but also open the door to our inner spaces and allow our spirit to soar.

“About sex, I do not have sex with my clients. In professional scenes, I feel it is always appropriate for me to hold on to the turn on and not cross my sexual boundaries. In private play it is a personal choice. It is not a question of a partner’s gender mattering more or less as much as it is a question about what is erotic. And that is very personal for each of us. I identify as a bi-kinky queer. OK, that is a California concept! I love playing with men and women and transfolks. I began my own BDSM path in the Catacombs of San Francisco, introduced to the gay Leathermen ‘s world by my bisexual boyfriend, Mark. He and I were one of the very first organizers of mixed play parties before they were called pansexual parties. In fact Cynthia Slater, the founder of Janus, was the first woman to put on such play parties. We followed in her steps. This was in 1981/82.”

Sadie: “You offer a variety of training to couples. What do you find they most need from you as a coach? What are some of the high points and challenges of working with couples?

Cleo: “What I mostly find is needed from me is acceptance, encouragement and reassurance. As a result of what I’ve learned in my 15 years as a Professional Domina, I encourage people to come out to their partners. I provide them with some of the tools to do so. I encourage them to share their fantasies, get over their fears, might it be performance anxiety or hurting each other. I also share breathing techniques, play dynamics, and of course, ways to use various ‘toys.’ I absolutely love to see a woman discover that, with a little guidance, not only can she take control but also enjoy herself in the process. It is very satisfying to see the change from ‘afraid and nervous’ to ’empowered and smiling’ after an afternoon of guided playtime.

“There are challenges, of course, like a man who expects his wife to have the same scene expertise as the Mistress he has secretly seen. Another challenge is for me to find a way to empower the new Top who may feel repercussions if Her/His scene does not go so well. I help them to discover what boundaries can be gently pushed and how to communicate effectively during play. I also focus on parity, not only on the enjoyment of the Dominant but also on the needs of the submissive who enables the power exchange. I am convinced that it is an important factor to keep in mind in regard to BDSM explorations. The parity is different when money is exchanged! A satisfying, sexy balance needs to be found to make it work for both partners.”

Sadie: “What kind of couples do you accept into training? What do you look for as far as personality characteristics?

Cleo: “People are people and if they are willing to negotiate, so am I. I negotiate with all, straight, bi, lesbian, transfolks. I am very honored that both heterosexual and queer lesbian couples are seeking my services. In fact a few gay men also visit my dungeon for ritualized energy play, be it flogging or piercing. I think that the sadistic and yet caring Mother archetype calls to them in the privacy of my Dungeon/Temple.”

Sadie: What are the advantages and challenges of training another Dominant side by side? Do you find that they are sometimes shy? How do you help them get over their fears?

Cleo: “I am a safety net for a new Dominant, a guide. I encourage Her/Him to deal with nervousness by grounding themselves and finding their own rhythm. I encourage both partners to be fully present. Once they get over their fears, it’s a liberating, exhilarating experience. Even those that are not shy come with concerns, fears and expectations. I listen a lot and work on guiding their play towards a sexy, connected energy exchange. In my community, many classes are offered on all aspects of kinky play but that is not the case everywhere. Furthermore, some people are very private about their interests. I do respect that and provide safe guidance for them.”

Sadie: “You have recently completed your second documentary/play film. Do you feel that the film fully captures the magic of the experience? How do you express the more spiritual sides of things in your teaching?

Cleo: “The intent of ‘Tie Me Up’ is to shed some light on the why and how of bondage play. It is more an entry-level video, designed to demonstrate techniques that couples are constantly asking me to teach them. The energy exchange is also very palpable in that video. Explaining the spiritual isn’t as valuable, let alone as much fun, as demonstrating it, letting everyone feel it! I am also proud of the message it contains because a man who identifies as a Master does bottom to me. He states that he too, needs to be taken down sometimes. I could not agree more. It can make you a better Top as well. All kinds of people, from reviewers to alternate film festivalgoers perceived The Pain Game to be not only hot but spiritual in nature. I felt it depicted marvelously intimate play that turned me on and touched me emotionally.”

Sadie: You write on your website that, “Multiple temporary piercings release endorphins, are beautiful, virtually bloodless, and can be done safely. An extended piercing scene will take you and your partner on a beautiful journey you won’t soon forget. “Do you feel that more “invasive” practices such as piercing add something to the BDSM experience that cannot be found in regular, “non-invasive” play?

Cleo: “I do not consider play piercing to be an invasive practice but more of a shamanic ritual and quite subtle indeed. Flogging and whipping can induce the same, or similar, shift in consciousness. Indeed, bondage can release those endorphins too if your headspace allows! There are many ways to get ‘shamanic’ in play space. Ram Das said: ‘there are many paths to the top of the mountain, but once you reach the top, the view is the same.’ ”

Sadie: “One of the things you offer in your training is to help heal sexual shame, something which is common in our culture. How do you do this?

Cleo: “I encourage people to pursue their body explorations freely, always pointing out the beauty of their vulnerability, sluttiness or masochism. I truly find it beautiful in a world of distrust and repression to let someone guide you to these places. Erotic energy is good. I remember in 1968 during the French student revolution we wrote on the walls in Paris make love not war. I still believe that.”

Sadie: You also have an interest in embarrassment and humiliation, and playing with those psychologically. Do you think there are risks around using humiliation with submissives? For example, someone with an already low self-esteem might internalize the humiliation and bring that back into their daily life.

Cleo: “Well there’s a difference between degradation and erotic embarrassment. I do not play with degradation. That is really diminishing someone with insults and name calling and keeping them wallowing in their muck. I play with erotic embarrassment. In these scenes I feel that there needs to be really good negotiation, as well as a clearly defined beginning and end. A non- politically correct scene can be very hot, provided the participants know that when the scene is over, it’s over. Both Top and bottom might experience very extreme emotions and may be in great need of aftercare. Do take the time to process later. It is important.”

Sadie: You once said that “SM can bring healing into my life as well as other people’s lives by releasing emotions that are hidden, by giving permission for erotic feelings that society says are bad, by letting light show on fantasies one is ashamed of, by releasing trauma – sometimes something happened to the person in the past and through SM they are able to release grief about it. “How has SM healed your life? In what ways have you observed it healing others? How do you explain this apparent contradiction?

Cleo: “SM allows us to look in all the dark places in a consensual environment. Philosophically, S/M is quite Jungian in that what lives in the dark spaces of our minds and psyches run us. I feel it is helpful to go there and play in the shadows erotically and consensually. I find a lot of healing there. For me, it is not apparent contradiction. Release truly letting go is a very important part of healing. S/M isn’t therapy, but can be quite therapeutic. As leatherfolk we can become healers. The Sadistic Healer can appear, using the whip, pushing one to accept more, closing the hood’s eye and mouth piece while encouraging the nervous bottom to breathe while giving a gentle caress and a word of praise. Often, we are wounded healers. We have been there, or in some ways we are still there. We have found strength within; others have helped us.”

Sadie: Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

Cleo: “It has been a wonderfully productive year for my partner, Fakir, and me. We have yet some important events to come before 2003! Our next ritual will be at Black Rose at the beginning of November. You see, in the last 15 years I danced once a year with bells sewn on my body or pulled against hooks pierced through the skin of my upper chest (the heart Chakra) centering on the sensations and letting them take me where they will. I found that by pushing my body and embracing intense input I reach a place of stillness where I am bigger than my everyday reality. Burdens of my busy mind stop and I experience a feeling of oneness with life. It is a great privilege to share these experiences with others. I have become a ritualist.

“We are honored to facilitate this ritual not only Black Rose in November but also next year in San Francisco and in Denver for Thunder in the Mountains. As for other new activities, My Academy of SM Arts will also be offering weekend intensives: The Erotic Dominance Workshop for Women with my long time friend Sybil Holiday, both in January and February in San Francisco. Of course, you can get all the details from my website:, and you can also order either video, ‘The Pain Game,’ or ‘Tie Me Up!’ right there online. I am planning on making more educational/play videos and am keeping my eyes open for a co-producer who shares my vision. I am an entrepreneur. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to toot my horn and share my truth.”

Sadie: It’s been a pleasure hearing about what you’re doing!

If you enjoyed this interview, read more SCENEprofiles with BDSM personalities on Sadie’s website at www.sensuoussadie.comSensuous Sadie is a BDSM columnist and edits SCENEsubmissions, a free e-newsletter for the New England area and beyond. She is the founder and leader (1999 – 2001) of Rose & Thorn, Vermont’s first BDSM group. Comments, compliments and complaints, as well as requests for reprinting can be addressed to her at or visit her website at believes the universe is abundant, and that sharing information freely is part of this abundance, so she allows reprints of her writing in most venues.© 2002

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