Interview Copyright © 1999 by William A. Henkin, Ph.D.
Originally published in Spectator
WAH: As you know, my interest today is to allow Spectator readers behind the magic curtain of the image they can see in your ad to learn a little something about the real woman who is Mistress Kira. For starters, then, tell me something about your background: where were you born? what was your family like?
Mst. Kira: I was born in New York City 26 years ago to a very glamorous artist mother, and a father who was poetic: a little tragic, a little dreamy. My parents are both Korean, but they met in New York: my mother was coming into the country with so many furs there was some question about whether they would have to be taxed, and my father was the customs agent who could speak her language. She was beautiful, and he was attracted to her and began courting her, but she was interested in him mostly because he had a Coupe de Ville. My mother is very willful, very untraditional for a Korean woman: she never learned how to cook, and she likes to argue. She left home to be an artist in New York and became a textile designer. She was also very good at making money, so she was the main breadwinner in the house. Sheís a very dominant woman.
WAH: Do you think you learned some of your trade at your motherís knee?
Mst Kira: [laughs] Yes, Iím sure I did.
WAH: How did you grow up?
Mst. Kira: I had the typical New York City education for a precocious, intelligent kid: I never learned to drive, never learned to ride a bike, but I saw lots of art. My mother took me to MOMA [the Museum of Modern Art WAH], and by the time I was 10 Iíd seen Picassos, Miros all the modern masters. As a small-time art dealer herself my mother imported some of that work to Korea lithographs and so forth. So on the one hand I had a very sophisticated childhood, on the other I had no childhood at all. Instead of playing in the sandbox I played with books.
Thirteen was the pivotal year in my growing up. As I said, my mother wasnít a traditional Korean wife, so finally my parents split up and my father went back there to look for someone whoíd do what he said. I went back with him for a year. In Korea, even though I was with kids of the same race, I was the outsider because I was American. I was very different from everyone else in this homogeneous society, and I was accepted as being different, so I could be as outrageous as I wanted. I didnít become a teen-age exhibitionist or anything, but I did become quite willful. When I returned to New York I was the only atheist in my Catholic school, I liked punk rock and bad boys I was my motherís worry for awhile, even though I still maintained straight Aís.
I probably also picked up my military fetish in Korea. The schools there were very militaristic. If you were late you spent 15 minutes kneeling on a bamboo mat with your arms raised, then got a swat with a bamboo cane that makes my mistress canes seem tame. I can see how I might have become interested in tests of endurance.
After high school I would have gone to NYU, but Barnard offered me more money so I went to college there. Well, thatís not the entire reason [laughs]. I wanted to stay in New York to be a punk rocker and take advantage of the scene, and I could major in art history and womenís studies at Barnard. A lot of womenís thinking has been channeled through that school, and I wanted the womenís studies major to learn a means, not an end. I wanted to be able to stand up in a classroom and argue points without being intimidated by boys I think boys are generally favored in schools, and at that age I was still intimidated. But not at a womenís college. Then too, Columbia the menís school associated with Barnard was where it was happening in terms of art history, so as an artist I could lead a double life, doing art downtown in the Village and studying theory uptown.
I even had my first exposure to SM in a "Women and Deviance" class at Barnard: I read Coming to Power. I was sort of poking around in the petrie dish trying to understand why women would want to beat each other up. I still like the academic environment. When I was in New York last November I addressed Conversio Virium, the SM support group at Columbia. From what I hear, Columbiaís administration fought vigorously against approving the organization, but the students got it through. I was also asked to speak to the student SM group at Rutgers University in New Jersey, but out schedules couldnít mesh.
WAH: How did you get from 116th Street in Manhattan to San Francisco?
Mst. Kira: I did the Great American Road Trip. I read Kerouac when I was in high school, and I thought he was, you know, insufferably clichéd [laughs], but I figured everybody has to experience the Great American Road Trip once in her life, so I left New York, got on a Greyhound bus with a friend of mine down in Nashville, and made a tour of the South. We went through New Orleans and Texas, came up through Death Valley and arrived in San Francisco July 4th, 1994. Then we went down to watch the fireworks at Fishermenís Wharf.
WAH: Welcome to California.
Mst. Kira: It was a cinematic moment, without a doubt. I thought Iíd be bored and stay only about six months, but I grew really attached to the multiculturalism here.
WAH: I remember New York as pretty multicultural. What was the difference here?
Mst. Kira: I think itís simply a different kind of proximity what the cities are close to. The West Coast is influenced by the nations of the Pacific Rim the way the East Coast is influenced by Europe. Both coasts are also influenced by different traditions of the particular people who immigrated from those places. The general literacy or cultural level is far greater in New York, but New York is very aggressive and confrontational like all those stereotypes about what people love and hate about it. I was involved with queer politics in New York and I felt very discriminated against, which made me angry. I think New Yorkers generally feel angry, and they generally feel marginalized well, they are maginalized. Itís a brutal city to live in. [laughs]
WAH: How did you become involved with queer politics?
Mst. Kira: When I was in New York, in college, you were either a lesbian/ separatist/ feminist or you were straight. It was extremely black and white. I knew I wasnít straight, but I wasnít quite a lesbian/ separatist/ feminist either, though that was the camp I leaned toward. I didnít really have a name for what I was, which is primarily a straight but bi-friendly, kinky woman. Once I started doing SM I better understood the number of possibilities that are available, but the sexual variety I found in San Francisco was still quite a shock. I could be a woman and a feminist and still like dick. I also found that exploring my submissive and masochistic sides didnít mean I was a submissive or a masochistic person. In fact, I found it ironic that exploring my masochistic side actually shored up my positive self-image I like endurance games, as I say, both as a top and as a bottom. Since Iíve been here Iíve come closer to defining myself correctly than I ever have been able to do before with the umbrella term "queer."
WAH: Apart from reading Coming to Power, how did you find SM, or how did it find you?
Mst. Kira: [laughs] I was looking for a job. I wish I could say a fabulous lover introduced me to it, but I was looking for a job.
Soon after I arrived in San Francisco I was evicted from the studio Iíd been painting in every day, and it really shook me to have no place to do my work. I went traveling to sort myself out, and I got severe sensory overload in Hong Kong. Kai Tak, the international airport there, was a one-runway affair right across a four-lane street from 30-story highrise apartment buildings, so landing was like flying down, say, Valencia Street looking into peopleís windows and watching their washing out on the line get blown about by the wind from the passing plane. And the market! Iíd never seen so many people at once jostling each other in so crowded a space full of noises and smells, with huge piles of chicken feet, duck eggs open and bloody, piles of meat right next to huge piles of electronic goods, hundreds of alarm clocks going off at once --- .
I came back realizing I needed a real job, some kind of career path, and art-making wasnít going to be it. I was fully intent on getting a job in some office. I called a bunch of temp agencies, and one day when I was looking in the back of the paper I saw an ad that said something like, "Elegant SM house looking for submissive switches, will train, novices welcome." It piqued my interest and I called. I meant it as an adventure, maybe even a prank. I wasnít planning to really pursue it. But the person who called me back was extremely friendly and articulate over the phone. She was very straightforward, and invited me to come to the space.
Well! I was scared to death. I was 22 years old, I had never done any SM before. When she picked me up at the Bart station I thought I was going to get killed. Instead she drove me to the house, which was a beautiful mansion. I had my first play scene the next day it was kind of an audition and I felt like Iíd found the missing link. There had been a kind of a hole in my sexual life something like, "Why canít I get off? Why donít I ever find this blissful experience people keep talking about regarding sex?" That day it just fell into place. It was a revelation. I really, really loved it. Iíd never realized what I needed before.
WAH: You worked primarily as a submissive?
Mst. Kira: For the first six months. I found I had a masochistic streak that wouldnít quit. [laughs]
WAH: Did your friends outside the SM community know about your SM?
Mst. Kira: Oh, absolutely.
WAH: And do they now?
Mst. Kira: Absolutely.
WAH: How do you like being Mistress Kira?
Mst. Kira: [laughs] I do, but I donít really like to be called Mistress. I prefer to just be addressed as Kira, even in some scenes. It depends who Iím playing with, whoís addressing me. Oftentimes I play with masochists where there is no power exchange whatsoever, and then it would be a misnomer for that person to call me Maíam or Mistress.
WAH: I find that unusual for someone in your profession. What do those terms Maíam and Mistress mean to you?
Mst. Kira: I see dominance and submission on the one hand, and sadomasochism on the other, as two different subsets. Sometimes they overlap and sometimes they donít. Dominance and submission is a mental and emotional subset where Maíam and Mistress are appropriate honorifics that denote an exchange of power. If somebody says, "I want to be submissive to you, I want to serve you," I take him literally and seriously. I am prepared for the moment when he transitions from his outside or everyday side into the person whoís going to serve me in the play space. He may do that by a change of name, he may do it in a collaring ritual, by symbolic bondage, or by symbolic and utilitarian bondage. All these modes help separate who that person is in his public life from who he is in his private life. And they help me as well, because I too want a delineation between who I am in the play space as a mistress and who I am in my everyday world.
WAH: How do you see the differences between who you are as a mistress and who you are in your everyday life?
Mst. Kira: Iím much more bossy in my scenes, more self-centered, more interested in getting what I want on every level.
WAH: Donít you want to get what you want as a submissive, too?
Mst. Kira: [laughs]Yes, I want to get what I want as a bottom, without a doubt. I suppose that every human being wants to get what they want. When my own desires entail submission I want to serve, and Iím getting what I want by serving. And so I feel I have a level of empathy for my clients that can only be achieved through personal experience. A great deal of submission is about love, about giving selflessly: doing my dishes, driving me somewhere, even leaving me alone because I canít see you right now all those things, I think, are gestures of love. My own experience helps me give a submissive space to be understood. I can hear him when he says he wants to give something back.
WAH: What kind of training did you receive at the house where you worked?
Mst. Kira: I learned a lot about the nuts and bolts from the other women who worked there: how to tie knots, how to whip and be whipped. I read. I went to classes for personal enrichment. And I actually learned a lot from the clients on both positive and negative levels. Essentially, I was trained by the clients, who were very good mentors in that when I first started working they had a lot of experience and I had very little. After awhile my learning curve plateaued and I wasnít learning much from them any more. Meanwhile I had been put in some situations that were really dangerous, not because of malevolence on the part of the client or anyone in the house, but by simple ineptitude. I wasnít actually subbing, but oftentimes I was bottoming to somebody who didnít know what he was doing, so from the standpoint of being a submissive trying to lead the top to top me well, I had the task of training him to be a better top.
WAH: Well, at that point you were the person with greater experience, so you were doing a kind of service.
Mst. Kira: Thatís true. And I have to say it varies. There were also a number of really great, experienced tops, switches, and submissives who visited the house. And after about a year I wanted further training, and I went to Sybil Holiday Mistress Cybelle. She did a full feminization on me. [laughs] I was the original androgynous boy/girl when Sybil got her hands on me and she taught me a great deal about makeup, as she does with many of her cross-dressing clients. She taught me about my femininity.
WAH: Did you like that?
Mst. Kira: I did. I did. I turned into a girl. Then Sybil introduced me to Cléo [Dubois] in 1997, who took my bondage training to the next level a level I almost didnít dare dream of when I first started. I still work with Cléo regularly, as her helper and submissive. We have a very established, trusting relationship.
WAH: Are you in training now?
Mst. Kira: Iím always in training. I always want to learn more. I always have more to learn.
WAH: Whatís your favorite scene youíve done so far?
Mst. Kira: One scene I really enjoyed involved a client who wanted to be dragged off the street, thrown into the back of a car, and shipped away to an undisclosed location. That was a blast: I loved doing it, I loved choreographing it, I loved the level of public play not public like a play party where everybodyís having SM together, but public at the random, on-the-street level. It almost seemed like street theater to me.
WAH: What did you do with him?
Mst. Kira: I grabbed him at a pay phone and threw him in the back of my cohortís car, then while I was putting a burlap bag over his head, handcuffing him, sitting on him, and threatening him, she drove away at about 50 miles an hour to the Jackson Five playing on the radio. [laughs] It was a very Reservoir Dogs moment. Thatís one scene that stood out, but itís hard to say I have one single favorite because there have been so many quiet moments of interaction between myself and a partner that have been extremely intimate.
WAH: What about scenes you did not like? What stands out as the worst scene youíve been in?
Mst. Kira: In the worst scene I remember I was subbing and the top tried to suspend me without negotiating by the ankles, using cuffs that were not designed for suspension, and that were so loose my foot was slipping through. I said "No," but he did not honor my objection. He said something like, "Well, somebody else here let me do that." And I got very firm. I told him, "Red. Stop the scene. You canít do this. Let me down. Right now." And that he honored. He understood I was really getting angry and that I was not enjoying the scene. But first he tried to push me into something that was incredibly unsafe and unnegotiated. Thatís probably the all-time worst moment I can think of. Itís very hard when youíre in a house scenario to prevent things like that from happening.
WAH: What makes it hard in a house?
Mst. Kira: Simply that clients with a questionable amount of experience are allowed to make appointments as tops with house submissives. Somebody could say he is experienced and not be experienced, and the truth of the matter is only for the sub to realize after youíre already in the play room. Thereís a clear power imbalance when you are naked, tied up, perhaps youíve been beaten, and youíre in a submissive head space. To then have to turn around and say, "Youíre doing this wrong," or "Youíre endangering me," is ridiculous. Now, I understand itís expensive for a client to see a top and a bottom together, and that a top would prefer just to see the submissive alone. But thatís exactly what leads to situations where the bottom isnít safe. I liked bottoming professionally because a number of the clients were really great. But finally I was not willing to be in a room by myself with a top unless I knew without a doubt that he was trustworthy and good at what he did.
WAH: Can you distinguish what you like to do as a top from what you like to do as a bottom?
Mst. Kira: As a bottom I let go of control and go with my body. I enjoy my body, Iím completely there in it. As a top I control the universe. I control the room, the lighting, every level of input for the bottom. As a top my favorite scene is putting the bottom through a physical ordeal at the end of which he emerges stronger, emotionally purer, and more sure of himself.
WAH: What do you mean by a physical ordeal? Do you make people do push-ups?
Mst. Kira: Not necessarily. [laughs] I suspend one person by his ankles safely and have him do sit-ups while suspended, to the point of exhaustion. Heís in very good physical shape so he can actually do that.
There seems to be a continuum of pain. When you begin to learn about SM you learn that there are other kinds of pain besides the usual ones, and you can also find different stages of pain in SM. But to get to them, first itís necessary to get past the hard-on. Then Iíve found that pain takes two roads: it can turn into cathartic pain or it can turn into pain that is a violation. I try not to violate limits. I want people to walk away from our sessions saying, "Iíve never done that before and I was afraid to do it, but now that Iíve done it I find myself a better person."
WAH: What youíre talking about is taking people beyond what would normally be their limits.
Mst. Kira: Consensually. "Limit" is sometimes a porous concept. There is a space between yellow and red [traditional SM safewords for "slow down" and "stop" WAH] that is probably the most potent space one could be in. Physically or emotionally itís really hot, and itís often what Iím trying to find.
You can approach limits in all sorts of sometimes unexpected ways. For example, I try to be very clear that Iím a switch. I once had a client who never wanted to see me bottom because he wanted me to be some perfect, unapproachable being and he didnít want to be disillusioned: he didnít want to destroy his fantasies. If somebody says to me, "I know you bottom and thatís great, but I just donít want to see it," Iíll honor that. But this man didnít even want to know that I bottom. So I sort of directed him to watch, and it was cathartic for him. My public persona is about providing a certain level of emotional sincerity, and that is real. Thereís a difference between the private me and the public me, of course, but I canít play with people who want me to say "I am an invincible goddess at the highest heights, and you are the lowliest worm down there, and I would never bottom because bottoming would make me like you." Thatís utterly alien to me.
WAH: So what you really like is a kind of edge play. You like to find the clientís edge, or perhaps your own.
Mst. Kira: Yes. The orange. I like to find the orange.
WAH: The place between yellow and red. Do you think you have a particular play style?
Mst. Kira: Iím caring, yet I keep a bit of a distance as a mistress because I like to disappear on a certain level. As a top Iím very voyeuristic. I like to be the director; I like to make the submissive move around so I can see what happens. Iím interested in the quirks of human nature. I donít like the scenario in which someone might be polishing my leather and I have to say to them, "Do that grommet a little more." I often like to take away a clientís sight, because most men are visually oriented and I want to reserve that. I want to be able to say, "If youíre really, really good then you might get to see " whatever it might be. Taking away a clientís sight automatically takes the focus away from How many toys are in this room, and What is Mistress wearing, and lets him pay attention to the way his body feels.
WAH: What other aspects of SM are of special interest to you?
Mst. Kira: I love bondage. I love bondage so much. [laughs] I love all forms of bondage. Bondage is the ultimate tinker toy. I like to make it look beautiful. Itís a source of artistic fulfillment especially if that chain is attached to something extremely painful.
WAH: Such as?
Mst. Kira: Oh, nipple clamps, weights, cock-and-ball torture, you know, devices. My favorite bondage activity is putting the submissive in a position where he has to choose between the lesser of two evils, or between two sources of stimulation: like the bondage is tied to certain parts of the body nipples or balls or vagina and the bottom has to pull on the bondage in order not to get hit by the cane. Itís very informative for me to know: What do you want to avoid more? Would you rather rip the clamps off your nipples or get hit one more time? I find that fascinating. [laughs] I like to know what the ranking is, what makes a human being tick. I like to know exactly how hard I can push somebody and which areas I can push him in. I like to know exactly whatís punishment and whatís reward, too.
WAH: At the beginning of this interview we talked about how you were looking for a career path and found yourself working as a submissive. I suppose in ancient Japanese society submission might have been a career path, but how does working as a pro dom become a career path in 21st Century America?
Mst. Kira: Well, it took awhile to realize that it was. For about a year I just thought, Everybody needs a job and I might as well have fun while Iím working. But there was a point where I realized that SM fulfills so many of my needs my interest in human sexuality, my interest in human psychology, my creative self-expression, my ongoing thirst for new skills that I could keep going. I have an insatiable curiosity, and this is a perfect vehicle for me. Itís a job where after youíve done it all you still have more to do. Thereís never an end to achieving mastery. I can learn until the day Iím dead. I can continue to grow, I think it is really beautiful artistically, and itís sexy! Itís a big deal, and making a big deal about sex is good. And if it turns out that this is not the vocation for the rest of my life, at least it is my vocation for my wild years. [laughs]
Mistress Kira can be reached by telephone at (415) 436-9669, or on the web at http://www.asianatrix.com.
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