Friday, May 31, 2002

Cléo Dubois: “Secrets of Being a Good Top”

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #183, May 31, 2002)

PHOTO: Cléo Dubois

It is Thursday, May 2 at the Bedlam Theater on Cedar Avenue in Minneapolis, and there isn’t an empty seat in the house. Thunderous applause greets educator and “domina” Cléo Dubois as she steps onstage to present the evening’s seminar: “Secrets of Being a Good Top (and a Good Bottom, or even a Good Brat).” She is dressed in a black leather corset worn over a short black leather dress. Her legs are encased in black fishnet stockings and shiny black spike-heeled boots. She wears black leather gloves punctuated with a diamond bracelet on her wrist. There are red highlights in her black hair.

Speaking with a charming French accent, she tells us about herself. This is her first seminar ever in the Midwest, although she has presented seminars on both coasts for many years and is the proprietress of her own “Academy of SM Arts.” She has come to Minneapolis from her home in San Francisco for the screening of her first video, “The Pain Game,” as part of the Flaming Film Festival. (The video has just won an award from the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality.) Her second video, “Tie Me Up!” has just been released. “The Pain Game” is available at the back of the theater, but she wants to be clear that it is not about pornography and titillation; this video shows real play for the purposes of education, not simulated play for the purpose of fantasy. If it were porn, she says, it would have been a lot easier to get the movie made and distributed.

Dubois got into the San Francisco pre-AIDS gay male leather scene courtesy of a bisexual boyfriend who liked to frequent the Catacombs, the now-legendary fisting/sex club where every square inch of surface was permanently coated with Crisco. She took a liking to the action: “I was just like a kid in a candy store,” she says. Dubois’ mentors did more than teach her SM techniques—they showed her the psychic, mystic, ritualistic and spiritual dimensions of SM and other alternative sexualities which are now the raison d’être of her seminars.

In 1983 she organized what was only the second mixed SM play party in San Francisco’s history. She says she’s not sure she likes the word “pansexual”—“I’m more about taking the labels off altogether.” She has seen the qualities, values and attitudes that are common to everyone who is willing to explore alternative sexualities, no matter what their stated sexual orientation might be.

Enough talk. Dubois and a pre-arranged volunteer from the audience stage a spontaneous scene that is breathtaking—literally, because part of the scene involves breathplay using a hangman’s noose toy made of black velvet rope, and figuratively, because the energy connection between Dubois and the bottom is so vivid and intense.

This intense connection between a top and a bottom is what the evening’s seminar is all about, and Dubois tells us that the two most important factors for attaining and maintaining it are “trust, and staying present to the moment.” She talks about the importance of knowing what you want (which is negotiable), what you need (things that are definitely not negotiable, such as limits and boundaries), and knowing the difference between the two.

She describes ways of tuning in to your partner through centering and breathing techniques. She discusses ways that a top, having taken control, can flow with that control (“Have a plan, and then let go of it”). Here are a few of Dubois’ other tips for tops (I wish I had room for more):

• To find the rhythm of the scene: first, slow down. Then note how you feel and watch your body language. You’ll know if and when you can speed up again.

• Stay connected with your bottom through touch, verbalization and eye contact. Use all of these to reinforce your play space and the magic you’re creating there.

• Dubois has often seen this in public dungeons: “It’s just you and the whip—the bottom doesn’t even enter into the equation. Or with titclamps, it’s just you and the breast, not the person attached to the breast. Get and stay connected to your partner!”

• A good top knows the importance of nurturing a bottom after a scene. But tops need nurturing, too, especially when the play has been intense. Get the nurturing you need, and take time to process the scene.

In addition to this workshop on Thursday night and screening her video on Friday, Dubois rounded out her visit to Minneapolis by presenting a play piercing workshop on Saturday.

Dubois offers “personalized instruction and private coaching in the SM arts for adventurous couples and individuals.” To find out more, or to order her videos, visit her website at <>.

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