"I don't have sex with any of my clients, I should probably address that misconception first," she says, running her hands down the front of her bright red latex dress.
It's a hot Wednesday afternoon and I've arrived with a photographer to meet the city's foremost dominatrix - a title bestowed on someone who makes their living as a "psycho-dramatist" (that's the occupation she uses on her tax return). Maitresse Renee is about five-foot-nine in heels, her bright blue eyes shadowed in thick lashes. She greets us with a friendly smile and a greasy handshake. Her hand is covered in lube.
"I use it to get the dress on," she says. Immediately, a slave appears with a tissue from another room. Conventional is not a word I would use to describe our visit. In the hour we spent touring her dungeon, she laughs easily, speaks warmly of the kinkster community, and doesn't once reveal a strict or controlling nature. She's tough, but she's open; she's opinionated, but warm. We're just two women chatting about how she makes a living and how passionate she is about the industry.
"I do this because it's fun," she says. "I grew up in an environment that valued strong, confident women and this is an expression of that in a lot of ways."
Of course, her version of a power outfit isn't a pant suit and a briefcase; Maitresse Renee wears knee high boots and carries a whip.
The front half of her space is where she does her "entertaining." In this case, we're talking the non-kinky entertaining. It's an oversized room, with an open kitchen at the back, several sitting areas, a gothic chandelier over a dining table and an antique bar, fully stocked with martini glasses and liquor.
"When I throw my parties, this is where we all mingle at first and get to know each other," she says, leading us through to the patio, where there are several tables surrounded by chairs. "People can be out here if they smoke, but it's just too hot today. Let's go into the dungeon."
What started as an interest in a kinky personal life developed into a career as Renee found the perfect combination of sweetness and sadism. She started by buying herself toys and whips and eventually collected tools of the trade, which include handcuffs, bird cages, leather, bondage and for the braver clients, situations that involve medical, electrical and "mind fuck" play. Certainly, the situations are by nature sexual, but there isn't actually any sex happening in her nearly 7,000 square foot dungeon.
Despite the blistering sun outside, inside the dungeon it's dark and cool. There is a basket of water bottles on one side of the first room, directly across from a small metal cage. Above my head, there's a contraption that looks straight out of a medieval picture or movie. She lowers it and demonstrates that the larger metal ball covers the head and the smaller two cover each hand.
"This is for complete sensory deprivation," she explains. "There's really no way to take this off on your own. You can chew through leather, but when there's a large piece of metal covering your head you just have to surrender."
The practice of BDSM traces back centuries and when psychology became ubiquitous in the 20th century we began offering explanations for this behavior. All the early explanations implied that people who practiced it were perverse or maladjusted. More recent studies are implying just the opposite. In 2013, researchers at Tilburg University in The Netherlands discovered that BDSM enthusiasts score higher on personality and psychology surveys than those that don't practice. They were more extroverted and less neurotic.
"It's a cliche to say that we get a lot of lawyers and doctors and people who want to let go of responsibilities at our parties, but we really do," Renee says. "It's not just about enjoying pain, it's about letting go and working and through it. Plus, we have a lot of fun."
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Her dungeon is not technically underground, but it feels like we're underneath a castle in the Middle Ages, filled with various torture devices. At the center of one room, there's a human hamster wheel. Down the hall, there's a medical room and an office. Scenario play is a big part of her business, although she's hesitant to discuss the commerce aspect of the dungeon -she's clearly not worried what I'll write, instead she's just too polite to discuss money. When I press her about the investment she's made into the toys, the equipment, the space, she simply says, "It's been expensive, but it also pays the bills."
There really isn't anyone like her in town. Not that there aren't people throwing BDSM parties, but those are typically just places for people looking to become swingers. Without casting shade on any specific organizations, she points out that she creates a very different environment. She earned a reputation, thanks to her True Desires event, as a dom who keeps things fun, but wields a dangerous whip.
Renee is quick to note that she is one of the youngest board members of Dom Con - "The World's Premier Professional and Lifestyle Domination Convention." She's also quick to note other doms whom she respects.
"It's my 24/7 life and career," she says. "So in that regard, I have to respect the community. People here may not know it, but the Dallas community is a great one. Is a lot of what I do intertwined with sexual desires? Sure. But we have good, clean fun. Well, maybe not clean, but legal."