MORE

Mistress Cyan, the Most Respected Dominatrix in Los Angeles

Mistress Cyan, right, is by far the most successful transgender dominatrix in the country.
Mistress Cyan, right, is by far the most successful transgender dominatrix in the country.
Carolyn Stimson

This piece is part of our series on the L.A. dominatrix industry. See also:

*How a Dominatrix Does Her Taxes

*Inside the L.A. Dominatrix Industry

*The Perils of Dating a Dominatrix

Mistress Cyan first encountered BDSM at a party in the early '80s, following months of correspondence with the hostess, whose PO Box she found in a personal ad in a long-defunct fetish magazine called Encore.

"It was like, wow," she recalls. "There's loads of people tied up. They've got this woman inverted, okay, and this guy's dropping hot wax between her legs, and she's screaming, and I'm thinking, I gotta go... my God, how am I ever gonna explain if this place gets raided?"

But she stayed. Or rather, he stayed, and fell down the rabbit hole. Back then, Cyan was a married man, the director of operations for a $3.5 billion corporation that manufactured housewares and woodenware, with a company car, an expense account and two young sons. Thirty years later, at age 58, this stunning transgender powerhouse is the most respected professional dominatrix in Los Angeles, plus the founder and executive producer of DomCon, an annual convention in LA and Atlanta; a bondage model who has appeared on shows like Nip/Tuck and Las Vegas; a regular guest speaker at UCLA; a community leader commended by the city of West Hollywood for her Thanksgiving and Christmas charity slave auctions; and the owner of Sanctuary, a 7,000-square-foot commercial dungeon near LAX, which employs forty women and boasts nine themed playrooms named after Greek goddesses.

Circulating one of Sanctuary's weekly fetish parties a few Saturdays ago, she embraces old friends and giggles with newcomers, surveying the tattoos, corsets, feathers, nudity and meaningful stares. A spaghetti-strap dress in black crushed velvet rests on her slight, 124-lb frame as she monitors activity that can be sexual but can't be sex, resolving problems swiftly and calmly, with a soothing but firm poise, her patent leather red platforms amplifying the authority of her usual five feet ten inches.

The night before she'd gone to bed at 4 a.m., and at 5:30 a.m. her phone erupted with Hole's "Celebrity Skin" (I'm all I wanna be / a walking study / in demonology). When she picked up, she learned her sister-in-law was going into labor. After spending the entire day at the hospital, Cyan wonders aloud whether she's too tired to "play" with anyone tonight.

And yet fifteen minutes later she leads a young man in a sideways baseball cap to the stage, helping him tug his sagging black pants to his ankles to reveal grey boxer briefs. The crowd hoots and whoops as Cyan rubs the boy's buttocks and scratches them with her long, fake black fingernails before breaking into a barrage of slaps. After ten minutes, the boy begins humping the stage in excitement and then twerking, rhythmically rubbing his backside into Cyan's pelvis.

"Tell me, does it hurt?" she likes to ask her clients.

"Oh yes, Mistress," the customer will respond.

"And you're doing that for who?"

"For you, Mistress. I'm taking the pain for you, Mistress."

Cyan wields a single-tail bull whip, her preferred weapon, so expertly that she can approximate the feeling of both a finger grazing your shoulder and a knife cutting your skin. Feces play grosses her out, and she doesn't like being urinated on, but she's willing to urinate on other people. She once arranged a mock firing squad of dommes brandishing paintball guns to fulfill a client's fantasy, but he chickened out at the last minute. A decade ago, a customer removed his jacket to reveal arms swaddled in over twenty wristwatches; he wanted Cyan and another domme to wear them while they spanked him, but the women balked when they couldn't keep a straight face.

Cyan is a dominant, not a sadist, meaning that rather than taking pleasure in other people's agony she gets off on the control, carefully watching her client's body and using what most of us might consider painful sensations to create pleasure and tease him into "sub-space."

"Sex will give somebody an orgasm for that moment, and then they come down," she explains, "[but] sub-space [is] more of a psychological orgasm that can stay with you for two days. You feel like you're walking two feet off the ground... glowing."

By July of 2010, Cyan had been running a private dungeon in Reseda for twelve years when Passive Arts, the commercial dungeon that had occupied Sanctuary's current space for decades, was burned down by a disgruntled former employee, who shot both owner John Lavine and his pet wolf, Koda. When Lavine's estate contacted Cyan about taking over, she wanted to use the opportunity to establish a different kind of dungeon, where girls are not treated "like they're expendable."

Up next: how working in a dungeon is like working at McDonald's

One domme compared working at a typical commercial dungeon to fast food, to an assembly line, where girls keep only 50 percent of what clients are paying and have little control over whom they see and how they are marketed. There is high turnover, especially in Los Angeles, as the smart ones tend to leave and establish their own spaces while the naïve flounder and quit. Cyan, however, closely mentors her dommes, submissives and switches, creating a more supportive environment. Sanctuary allows girls to keep a minimum of 52 percent, but Cyan offers additional financial incentives for girls to bring in their own clients and promote themselves, two things most other club owners do not allow, especially with newer girls.

Perhaps as a holdover from the corporate ethos of her previous life, Cyan created and espouses a typed, framed list of the dungeon's Core Values.

"One thing I won't have here is cliques," she says (Core Value #1: Treat everyone with respect). "If we see somebody treated unfairly or feel like they're being rude to somebody, we deal with it."

Cyan spent the first seven years of her life in New Orleans, and she exudes Southern civility. Just a few years ago, the dungeons in L.A. competed viciously; back in the '80s, one club owner went to jail for taking a contract out on a rival's life. But when Cyan reopened Passive Arts as Sanctuary, she called Lady Hillary, the owner of a competing dungeon called the Dominion, to say, "I'm not gonna have no shit talking, and I'm not going to let anybody say anything bad about the Dominion or any place else." (Core Value #3: First class business starts with a first class attitude.)

Back at the fetish party, the dominatrix who organized the event, Mistress Tetra, has her hands on her hips, frustrated, as Mistress Mina De Sade Fatale is now refusing to perform her promised fire dance.

"[Mina] just quit!" Tetra says, incredulous. "She didn't like that we have a fire extinguisher [in case of emergency]. She's being pissy." Tetra pauses. "She is kind of pissy."

Ten minutes later, Cyan walks by looking frazzled, and I ask what's happening with Mina.

"I don't even know," she says, pacing. "And I was all ready to go play!" She explains the conflict arose because Mina wanted a different type of fire extinguisher, not because she didn't want one at all.

"It's just childish behavior," she sighs, crossing her arms. "I'll deal with the two of them tomorrow." (Core Value #5: Work as a team, win as a team)

Soon the candlelit performance begins, with Mina sensually rubbing a flaming torch all over a topless woman as the two dance in a slow, synchronized ritual to what sounds like the soundtrack to a ponderous, epic film.

Yes, there were fire extinguishers. (Core Value #2: Commitment to safety.)

As Cyan says, "We're not a bunch of crazy psychopaths."

Mistress Cyan will be performing BDSM scenes at House of Blues during the spring of 2013.

This piece is part of our series on the L.A. dominatrix industry. See also:

*How a Dominatrix Does Her Taxes

*Inside the L.A. Dominatrix Industry

*The Perils of Dating a Dominatrix

Follow me on Twitter at @adelaidelaments, and for more arts news follow us at @LAWeeklyArts and like us on Facebook.