With fetish fashion now firmly rooted in mainstream culture — in Macy's catalogs, perfume advertisements, and MTV — it was only a matter of time before San Francisco's nightclubs started cashing in on the oversaturated “fuck me like an animal” thing. Even established venues like the Warfield have decided that fetish is lucrative. The Sextasy Ball, which featured Prick, My Life With the Thrill Kill Cult, and Lords of Acid, pulled a crowd identical to that of a club that has been cashing in on the phenomenon for a couple of years now: Bondage a Go-Go.
Bondage a Go-Go started at the Trocadero Transfer in February of '93 with a small, fairly intimate crowd of regulars. Through special events, such as appearances by the Torture King and The Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black, live demonstrations involving cock-and-ball torture and body piercing, and simple consistency (the club has been running longer than almost any other fetish event in the city), the clientele has grown by leaps and bounds to now include around 800 people on any given Wednesday night.
As people bump and grind away to music downstairs, the upper level is Hawk's domain. “He makes sure that the 'right' things happen in the ring,” explains co-founder Damon Boyle. The “right things” include any form of light bondage and discipline, as long as it's consensual among all parties involved. Hawk initiates the evening with several of his usual players, most of them former spectators who now call in advance to request time slots. Using cat-o'-nine-tails and paddles, they begin the festivities with light whipping and spanking. As the subjects stretch out over straddle horses or hang from hooks in the ceiling, the voyeurs push forward, craning for a better glimpse. The crowd ranges from 18 to late 40s in age, a mixture of latex models, queens, goths, punks, skins, and your average Joes. To the great annoyance of the more hard-core B&D proponents, for the most part everyone just watches.
“They should really reserve a room for people that plan on participating, or, at the very least, a room for people with proper attire,” suggests one queen. “You know, [these spectators] just ruin the ambience.” But Boyle disagrees with the elitist attitude: “We leave it wide open because you can come however you want,” he says. “You can be whoever you want on this one night: You can wear a wig, you can wear a costume, or you can be yourself. If people don't want to dress up or participate, that's OK, too. Just being exposed [to it] can help to demystify the whole thing.” Easy words coming from the man who's reaping the club's financial rewards, but there is a kernel of truth in them.
Over the course of the evening, many newcomers take things in with differing, if mostly positive, results. An ESL class, along with its instructor, watches the display anxiously before finally just getting bored and moving downstairs to dance. A lesbian couple from the Peninsula relates that they enjoy the “sensuality” of the display and are inspired enough to start a little one of their own. An EMP (Emergency Medical Personnel) for the Navy gets spanked on a dare, and later vehemently proclaims that he “loved it.” Dressed to the nines, a stunning 25-year-old Oakland woman and her very tense, handsome young boyfriend inform me that they are new to the game.
“I've come here every week, but it's the first time I've dressed up,” she admits. The boyfriend clenches his jaw. “This is my second time here,” he says. “I don't know quite what to make of it yet. I made her put some clothes back on.” He looks around the club like a protective animal.
“Yeah, I had less on at first,” she explains nervously.
“I made her,” he says, eyes snapping onto hers.
She softens visibly: “I love that.”
He slips his arm around her waist and manages a small smile before maneuvering her to the front of the ring.
By Silke Tudor