This BDSM Dominatrix Says Vanilla People Could Learn A Few Things From Kink

In the first episode of Mercy Mistress, an upcoming scripted web series that debuted in New York City this month, a character named Ken explores his foot fetish with the help of Mistress Yin (Poppy Liu), a BDSM dominatrix and sex worker. In a beautifully shot caning scene (in which Mistress Yin hits Ken's bottom with a thin, wooden stick), she shows Ken that there can be power in submission and helps him work through internal shame about his fetish. Later, Ken tells a sexual partner about his foot fetish for the first time and is finally able to have satisfying sex.
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“We live in a world where men can publicly prey upon and demean women and still become president, but if a man wants to kiss a woman’s foot and clean her apartment it’s considered deviant,” Mistress Yin says to Ken in one scene. This is the kind of subversive messaging Mercy Mistress creator Yin Quan was striving to promote with the show, which is based on her own experiences as a New York City dominatrix in the early 2000s. Mercy Mistress isn't just a show about BDSM (and certainly not the next version of 50 Shades Of Grey). It's a show that gives power back to those who need it: the submissive men, queer Asian-American women, the kink community, and many more. We sat down with Yin Quan, Poppy Liu, and Mercy Mistress director Amanda Madden to talk about demystifying BDSM, the healing power of art, and what vanilla people can learn from kink.
I know your blog about being a dominatrix was written in 2007, but I feel like it’s still such a fresh story. It’s still something people don’t talk about. Is that empowering for you, to bring this story to the forefront.
Yin: "Absolutely. It’s been empowering in so many ways to tell my story, but also to have an incredible team of mostly female-led crew and POC cast who really care about the story. It’s very much told through an authentic lens. So it’s no longer just my story: It’s the story of a family of people. And to get the reactions that we’ve been getting from anyone who has a different side of their sexuality — which is so many people — who have something that’s not necessarily the norm of what we’ve been seeing again and again in Hollywood... Speaking as an Asian-American queer femme, so many Asian-American women have been coming to us with tears in their eyes saying that this is what they’ve been thirsting for."
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Poppy: "On one hand when you don’t see yourself represented in media, you don’t feel like you exist and you don’t understand parts of yourself. I think it’s so important, because we’re in an age of media, that we understand that this is part of our consciousness. The images that we see shape and form how we think of ourselves and who we are. And when we don’t see ourselves out there, it’s so confusing.
"And then on the other hand, too, that is the basis for violence to happen. Sex workers, for instance, are so invisible and misrepresented in media, and violence against sex workers is so bad, things like SESTA and FOSTA get passed because people have so much misinformation. Being invisible is so damaging on an individual identity level and then on a larger scale it is damaging because people's lives are lost because of it. When you don’t see someone exist, their lives don’t matter. Tremendous amounts of violence can happen to people who we have no clue about, because their stories aren’t told."
It’s amazing to see this kind of story come up now, too. Stories about sex workers and especially sex workers of color still aren’t prominent. It’s amazing to see you all sharing their stories.
Amanda: "That’s how we’re feeling at the screenings too. Sex workers have told us that they’re really seeing themselves. This story is showing people as multifaceted humans."
Yin: "And we're also showing a story that doesn't completely make sex work into a fairytale. It needs to show the complications of when society shames sex work and sexuality all together, and what kind of violence is done to the mental health and physical safety of sex workers. So that’s definitely going to come in as a real issue, not like this is a whole happy thing where there’s absolutely no complications."
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So I think lots of people’s idea of what BDSM looks like comes from 50 Shades Of Grey, because that got such huge, wide-spread popularity. What would you want people to take away about BDSM from the show?
Yin: "I think the first word that comes to mind right now — because a lot of people are using it in media about BDSM and a lot of people are using it to excuse really abhorrent behavior (including the narrative that 50 Shades is based on, which is actually all about coercion and abuse) — is consent. In BDSM, one thing I learned that was the most empowering was coming in and learning how to say "yes" to it. And then also how to say no to certain things. What it is to have continuous consent and enthusiastic consent. And then, even if you’re saying 'Yes, I want to be placed into bondage,' it does not mean that you’re saying yes to all the different things that could happen to you while you’re in bondage. There has to be so much communication, so much really honest communication with your partner, which also gives you this sense of realization. If you’re having that conversation with your partner, then you’re able to actually realize that for yourself like ‘Oh these are the different things that I can say yes to or no to.’ And that’s an incredible sense of healing inside to be able to take full agency over your body."
Poppy: "We’ve been talking about how, if anything else, this project we have made is in solidarity with BDSM and kink communities. They are the people we care about the most — that they feel like this is a true and honest story they feel really represented in. And at the same time, this story is accessible also to vanilla folks and people who’ve never encountered kink and BDSM at all. This is an entry point for them. These things pertain to outside of BDSM entirely. Matters of body autonomy and choice and pleasure and consent and negotiating and communication, whether you’re kinky or vanilla or not. The vanilla world has a lot to learn from the kink world. Not to say that transgressions don’t happen also in kink communities. But rape culture exists because the vanilla world has normalized coercion, non-communication, deception, and following scripted narratives without questioning them. That’s the basis for a lot of rape culture."
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Yin: "And also victimhood of women. Always in media, in almost every movie out there, the female is being rescued. And also in every story that we’re told from an early age on. When I’m reading stories to my kids, I’m even trying to deconstruct fairy tales and say that no this is not actually love at first sight, this is an abusive relationship."
Poppy: "That person is sleeping, don’t kiss them. They can’t consent to being kissed."
Yin, do you feel that making Mercy Mistress has helped you heal from past trauma?
Yin: "I do. I feel like I have people holding my hands."
Poppy: "I feel like the question we ask ourselves a lot as story makers is ‘Who is this healing?’ In order to heal, you have to show that it’s not always going to be bubbly. It’s going to be dark sometimes, but we have to go through darkness to heal. But the healing has to be at the end. We’re not doing this to perpetuate more violence, but to dream of a future where we’re all liberated. We need to remember that future, and if we don’t, then we’ll keep repeating the same narratives of violence all over again."
Yin: "Everyone goes through trauma. It doesn’t have to be violence and rape. There’s trauma of just living in their bodies and not being heard or seen. And that does include the cis white male — where they are also stuck in a box. When masculinity wants to be vulnerable, or be submissive, or play with their own gender...that becomes deviant and ridiculed and how in media so much of the time the submissive man in BDSM play is not usually the stud or the guy you want to be with. So I want to show how, in this day and age of powerful women, dominatrix women who are sexy and powerful and have agency [and] how we also need that equality within men. Submissive men are sexy, let’s lift them up. There is strength in submission."
Watch the trailer for Mercy Mistress below:
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