Friday, November 29, 2002

Lessons From a Scene Gone Wrong

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #196, November 29, 2002)

An unfortunate leather/BDSM-related tragedy that happened recently in St. Paul has become national news, and in the process has cast both the local and national leather/BDSM community in a very unflattering light.

Here’s what we know: Maceo Brodnax, who lived in West Hollywood, Calif., is dead. St. Paul resident Steven Bailey, a/k/a “The True Master” (his internet handle), is in police custody, charged with second-degree manslaughter in Brodnax’s death. Bailey is facing a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, a $20,000 fine, or both.

Here’s a condensed version of what apparently led to this outcome: Bailey and Brodnax hooked up over the internet, and on Nov. 2 Brodnax traveled from West Hollywood to Bailey’s apartment in St. Paul. He apparently died there that same day, but Bailey waited several days before trying to dispose of the body. According to a St. Paul Police report, on Nov. 6 at 3:17 AM officers responding to a report of “suspicious activities” found Bailey trying to load Brodnax’s body into his car so he could “dispose of the body in the river.”

The police report states that Bailey originally told police that he and Brodnax “had gotten together to engage in strangulation sex,” but Brodnax had begun to choke him too hard and he then struck Brodnax with an ashtray. When autopsy reports cast doubt on this cause of death, Bailey “admitted he had fabricated his earlier accounting of the incident.” He then said that as part of their activities he had put a gas mask on Brodnax and covered the end of the mask with a plastic bag containing a rag soaked in chloroform. At this point, again from the police report, “the phone rang and he must have lost track of time”. When he realized Brodnax was no longer breathing “he ran back into the bedroom and took the mask off and tried to revive” Brodnax to no avail.

This official recounting of the tragic tale of Brodnax and Bailey raises many questions, to most of which we will probably never know the answers. To anyone at all familiar with the leather/BDSM community the situation as reported presents several “red flags”—elements of the story that make no sense. I was unsuccessful in my attempts to arrange an interview with Bailey for this column, but if I could have talked to him these are a few of the questions I would have asked him:

• How can a top “lose track of time” talking on the phone while a sub is in the next room in a chloroform-filled gas mask? Why would anyone even answer the phone in such circumstances? Why would anyone leave the sub and go to the next room?

• If one’s own efforts at reviving someone failed, why wasn’t 911 called?

• Why wait several days before attempting to dispose of the body? And why, in the middle of a major metropolitan area, would anyone think they could haul a body out to a car at 3 AM without attracting attention?

Since this story came to light I have heard many theories and scenarios trying to explain what went on, and especially the seemingly nonsensical elements, but I don’t think it’s appropriate to recount them here. At this writing they must be regarded at best as only speculation—we’ll probably never know exactly what happened or why, or who’s to blame for what. Maybe more information will come to light during Bailey’s trial, and then more conclusions can be properly drawn. Or maybe not.

That said, what can the rest of us learn from this tragic turn of events? Plenty. For starters, remember that edgeplay is risky. (SM is risky. Sex is risky. Life is risky. But I digress.) If you’re an edgeplayer, the risk is one of the things that makes it exciting and stimulating. Sometimes things go wrong. Sometimes accidents happen. Usually by accepting that risk one acknowledges that something unpleasant might eventually happen, and one therefore needs to prepares as best one can to deal with it when it happens.

If your definition of edgeplay is “whatever I think is too risky,” that’s an example of YKINOK (Your Kink Is Not OK) thinking, and it’s an attitude that is not helpful to anyone. Remember that something you enjoy might be someone else’s idea of edgeplay. Much of the media seems to think that anything beyond the missionary position qualifies as edgeplay and is having a field day using this story as a bludgeon against kink in general.

A lesson we can draw from Bailey’s plight is to realize that what happened to him could happen to almost anyone. Edgeplay scenes can go wrong. So can less-extreme SM activities. So can vanilla sex, for that matter. What happens if you bring a trick home who subsequently has a heart attack or a stroke? No matter what the emergency, it’s good to be prepared to deal with it by thinking about the possibilities and planning for them beforehand:

• Have appropriate safety equipment available (condoms, gloves, first aid kit, fire extinguisher, bolt cutters, whatever the scene calls for) and a working phone. Another safety idea: MSDB periodically sponsors kink-friendly CPR/first-aid courses; visit their website at for more information.

• Don’t play either top or bottom while angry, under the influence of substances, or when your judgment is otherwise impaired.

• If something goes wrong, don’t panic—panic will keep you from dealing with the situation effectively. Remain calm, stop the action immediately and deal with the problem.

• Don’t be afraid to call 911—someone’s life may depend on your making that call.

Tops, remember that you are responsible for your bottom’s safety. If something goes wrong the bottom might suffer physical, mental or emotional consequences—but most likely you will suffer any legal consequences.

We can also draw a lesson or two from Brodnax’s fate. Foremost among those lessons would probably be the value of getting to know people in your local community (through whom you can check the background and references of potential play partners) and the value of caution when meeting people over the internet (where checking references is not as easy—you can still ask for references, but how does one check the references’ references?).

A good scene starts with trust between the partners, but trust takes time to develop. Meeting someone for the first time and “trusting them immediately” is naive at best and dangerously delusional at worst.

If you’re meeting someone for the first time, especially in an unfamiliar place or another city, don’t meet them alone. If that’s not practical, set up a “safe-call” buddy system—bring a cell phone with you and check in with your buddy at pre-assigned times to let them know you’re okay and how things are progressing. Any resistance to this idea from the person you’re meeting should trigger major warning sirens about their trustworthiness. (For more information about safe-calls visit

Trust your gut. If something doesn’t seem right, it probably isn’t—walk away rather than risk further involvement. If you’re already in a bad situation, get out of it by any means necessary. Do whatever you need to do. Remember these ultimate safewords: “NO!”, “HELP!” and “9-1-1!”, screamed at the top of your lungs if necessary.

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