The subjects in this story will be referred to by their stage names.
In BDSM, it is actually the submissive — not the dominant — who holds the power,” a worldly friend informed my innocence many years ago. “It’s the submissive who determines how far you can go, how much he/she is willing to take, and when you stop.”
This is a good thing to keep in mind if, like me, you’re not familiar with the BDSM scene and are about to witness live whipping, flogging, and humiliation, among other things — that there is consent, clear communication, and risk awareness shared between those who participate.
Last year, I had a soft introduction to BDSM via Pineapple Lab’s Friday Freakshow—a bondage performance by rope artist and “muse of the underworld,” Joyen Santos. Hours before the performance, she patiently and articulately gave me a primer on bondage, BDSM, and the local kink community.
“We’re the people you commute with, go to work with, and see at bars. Nasa loob ang kulo, kumbaga,” she said.
But the show she put on back then felt more geared towards the general public and making them aware that these forms of fringe art existed. Thus, people in the audience dressed and behaved decently. And when Joyen opened up the floor for audience members to drip hot wax on her model’s body, a few of them were apprehensive.
An event for the kink community
This year’s Kink Karnival was starkly different in that it was clearly for the kink community. Here, each segment was unabashedly intended to elicit sexual pleasure. Women in the audience walked around in nothing but garters and nipple pasties, even if they weren’t performing. There was a lot of tulle, corsets, and black eyeliner. “Sarap,” a petite, bespectacled morena in a low ponytail said under her breath as a whip cracked crisply, repeatedly against a hooded man’s back. We later found out she was pregnant.
Sex toys and lube were raffled off between performances, and tables of kinky merchandise were set up outside — including a spanking booth that raised money for Love Yourself, an organization that works towards HIV awareness. At the end of the night, a girl who had been wearing a generic all-black outfit was at the booth with her skirt hiked up, squealing as a man pressed his face to her bottom after giving her a good spanking. Pineapple Lab had effectively turned into a safe space where everybody could let their freak flags fly in otherwise conservative Manila.
It’s true what Joyen said about the community. If you think it’s a far removed, underground group where you won’t recognize anybody, you’re probably wrong. I saw a few familiar faces, and there were people from all walks of life — including monogamous married couples. Even here, Manila proves to be small.
“What time can I swing by your house tonight?” Pink Lace and Leather asked softly as she sank into Master Red’s arms, closing her falsied eyes.
We had just watched him tie her half naked body up and suspend her in the air. He then whispered in her ear that he would whip her as well. “No! No!” she screamed and struggled fruitlessly. The whips were brought out. She continued to protest and kick. You could tell that she enjoyed being so helpless. Towards the end, she was begging for “More! More!” her eyes shut tight with pleasure.
Fifteen minutes later, I had managed to pull Master Red out to the sidewalk for a short interview. It was now 11 in the evening, and the Kink Karnival was coming to a close. Even out here it was a bit of a struggle talking to him, as everybody wanted to congratulate and thank him for co-presenting the event with Joyen. And now there was a woman in his arms.
“After three,” he answered Pink Lace and Leather, dealing with her tenderly now. She savored their embrace a few moments more before finally extracting herself. “And the fridge is full of beer and ribs,” he called out to her as she affectionately looked back, walking off into the night.
“It wildly varies,” he says of his relationships with the people he ties up, turning his attention back to me, the pesky journalist in front of him. “I’ve been doing this a long, long time. Twenty years out like this in the community. So there are people I tie up who are just models. There are people who are friends. There are people I’m intimate with,” he motions in the direction Pink Lace and Leather walked. “Actually today, I suspended a girl who had never been to a kinky event, ever. She had a ball.”
Why the Pseudonyms?
Master Red, who hails from Phoenix, Arizona, never used a stage name before coming to Manila, where he currently works as a financial risk analyst. He also owns a construction company, writes and paints, among many other things. “I was out, oh yes,” he says of his life in the US.
He describes his rope artistry as “pushing the female form until it’s under tension, and then painting it as a snapshot” (although he also ties up men). “I’ve always been kinky. Probably since I was 5 or 6. I always wanted to be the bad guy when we were playing cops and robbers. And I always wanted to tie up girls. Always,” he smiles. He was 13 the first time a girl let him tie her up. “And you know you’re getting good at it when they let you tie them up again.”
Today, Master Red has been instrumental in pushing the local kink community. He started The Manila Gap, a kink group that has almost 500 members now and is the local version of his original group in the States called The Gap. He’s met many more people in the process, eventually bumping into Joyen at a rope event.
“I’ve been pushing her for almost two years that we can do stuff like this. And now she’s off like a rocket, right? We’ve been working together for a couple of years now. As a foreigner, it’s pretty hard for me to put on my own event. I could have. I have the money. But it wouldn’t have had the same feel,” he says of pushing one of our own to hold the flag.
His wife, Valerian Blu, is a Filipina born and raised in the States. “She’s normally very, very shy and I am not. But she just joined into a conversation with me and some friends at a coffee shop, and six years later, 10,000 miles away here we are. She’s also here. She’s inside.”
“We’re going to be doing more events,” Master Red tells us. “This is a huge city. And there’s just not enough for people to do besides go to bars, clubs, or go to the mall. So the main thing is, let’s give people something to do.”
What do you want?
“At least we have an excuse to be here. We’re covering it,” I heard fellow media practitioners say at theKink Karnival after running into people they knew. It’s an understandable sentiment. When there is a dichotomy between “normal” and “kinky,” there’s usually an automatic instinct to want to be associated with the former. It provides a sense of safety and certainty, and I’ve been guilty of it myself. But I find it’s not the most productive disposition to have if you want to make the most out of interacting with this world.
“What do you want?” a Tinder guy who was openly into BDSM once asked me.
I panicked, piece of vanilla spice that I was, so I asked him to answer the question first. He gave me a menu that mostly freaked me out. Whipping, collars, and a host of humiliating and torturous things.
“OK, I’m not into any of that,” I quickly replied.
“I didn’t ask you what you didn’t want,” he answered. “I said, ‘What do you want?’”
I took too long to answer and he unmatched. We never met. But in a dark room full of freaks, as I watched a woman get whipped and scream “No! No!” I remembered his question. I didn’t want my blood vessels rupturing under leather, and that was cool. No one was asking me to.
“But what do I want?” I asked myself as I leaned into the show, a deep, subtle smile slowly spreading and relaxing my whole body. A new self-awareness and self-possession. In that moment, I suddenly knew myself better.
Photos by Regine David