Deep in the Valley among a sea of beige warehouses is a lush "dungeon" with cherry-colored walls and crystal chandeliers. Within it, one can find leather harnesses, assorted restraints, man-size padded cages and the mistress of the manor: Snow Mercy.
Six feet of Latex fury in a pageboy haircut, Snow has been doling out punishment in the Los Angeles area for more than a decade. But the dominatrix is more than just the embodiment of female power. With her doctorate, her activism and her entrepreneurial activities (including her own perfume), Snow transcends labels.
"I think people find it unexpected that I got a Ph.D. in biochemistry and then continued to be a dominatrix after I graduated. Most people retire," she says. "They use becoming a dominatrix as a way of getting to their next career, but you can do what you want. You don't have to follow a formula."
As a professor, she became a lecturer in biochemistry at a local college but discovered she didn't like it. "It was very male-dominated, and I wasn't getting paid well. Being a dominatrix was more fun, more flexible, and it felt more natural to me," she says.
"I was teaching and a domme on the side, but before I knew it, I was less of a teacher and more of a domme. And then I just took the plunge."
Some people may think she's wasting her degree, but that's not the case. "I use my degree every day. It wasn't just about what I learned in the books but how to organize my time, how to speak in public, how to research."
Giving up her day job allowed Snow more freedom to explore her humanitarian side. Her altruistic treks first started in 2009 when she went to Pisco, Peru, which had been devastated by the 8.0 earthquake that hit in 2007.
"I wanted to go into the Peace Corps back when I finished grad school, but the timing didn't work out," Snow says. "I always wanted to do something for other people."
She went to Peru with the Burners Without Borders organization, which was made up of people involved with Burning Man. "Through those friends, I went to help Haiti in 2010. I went three times that year."
Two years later, Snow went to Nepal with fellow dominatrix Bella Bathory to help construct housing and clear rubble for the locals. "During that trip, someone called us Mistresses Without Borders and we just embraced it."
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Snow continued with Mistresses Without Borders — she and other L.A.-area dominatrixes crafted street survival gear for the homeless on Skid Row. The bundles included backpacks, underwear, socks, warm clothes, tampons, needles and donated Metro cards.
She also works with Hollywood's Food on Foot, which distributes food to the dispossessed, as well as Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, which attempts to keep a record of L.A.'s displaced population so it can distribute aid. She also raises funds for the Humane Society to help animals affected by fires. For each dollar donated, Snow offered clients a discount on their sessions.
"Being a dominatrix is not my only identity. I do the charity work. I do have a social life outside of BDSM," she says. "I love men. I don't hate them. And I don't do this for the money — I do it because it is who I am."
Snow Mercy is currently working on two books, a history of the dominatrix and a guide to spanking, and can be found at Mercy Studios L.A. But please, make an appointment. She doesn't take walk-ins.