Okay, maybe spending an evening with people wearing vinyl, chains, latex paint, nipple clamps and other assorted trinkets, doing God-knows-what to each other, isn't your idea of a swingin' Saturday night, but don't say you aren't just a wee bit curious. This is the kind of thing you've probably seen only in Mapplethorpe photos, J.G. Ballard novels and that playhouse for the perverted, HBO's Real Sex. Well, the folk who are putting on Houston S&M Ball VIIare hoping your curiosity will lure you into their party pit.
"I think it's a lot of fun," says Travis, just Travis, chairman of the ball and Houston PEP (People Exchanging Power), a local "fetish support group" of 500 members that organizes the ball. Along with the local array of dominating males and females, Travis expects fetishists from all over the country to come down and strap up. "We have registrations from New Hampshire, California, Florida, Colorado, all over the country," he says. "We will have people here for the whole weekend, and the ball itself is a lot of fun."
Did he just say "weekend"? Is this more than an evening of outright decadent kinkiness? You bet your butt plug it is. What began as just one night of freaky-sneaky fun has expanded into a full-fledged weekend excursion. The first ball took place over at Tantra in December 1995, with 450 people. As years passed, the growing number of spectators, fetishists and whoever else wanted to join the party swelled to the point where, by the fifth S&M Ball, they had to move the shindig over to the much wider spaces of Club Chicago. Now, Travis is projecting that 1,000 people will convene to check out the sadomasochistic sights.
An exclusive "play party" for serious fetishists will be held at the club the night before, but Travis insists that less adventurous souls can attend the other events in relative safety. All day Saturday national vendors will be outside the club hawking their whips and leather in a free fetish market. Inside the club, S&M seminars, featuring many widely known practitioners, will explain how to better use those instruments. (One of the experts is Sheree Rose, the widow of S&M performance artist Bob Flanagan, who was the subject of the suitably named 1997 documentary Sick: The Life and Times of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist.) On Sunday morning you can have bacon and eggs with these folk at a four-hour breakfast at the Shoney's over on Hillcroft at the Southwest Freeway. Presumably the barbwire and handcuffs will remain at home.
Still, the main attraction is the ball, where there will be plenty of things for people to submit to. For starters, there will be a drag-queen MC who, in Travis's words, "looks like Reba McEntire." There will also be erotic tattoo artists, fetish DJs, an S&M fashion show/ contest, amateur performances and enough freaky stuff to keep Marilyn Manson entertained for hours. But this isn't all about spanking and wanking. Believe it or not, this is all for a good cause. Over the years, most of the proceeds have gone to charitable organizations, some of which Travis won't mention by name because -- well, as he puts it: "A couple of them we don't talk about because possibly some of the donors may be right-wing and might not like being associated with this."
Ultimately Travis hopes that anyone with a bit of curiosity for the wild side will pay a visit. Unless, of course, they happen to be tied up -- obligated to other engagements, that is. Jeez, get your heads out the gutter! Houston S&M Ball VII takes place Saturday, March 25, at Club Chicago, 6305 Skyline. 8 p.m. Tickets are $20 and can be purchased at Erotic Cabaret. For ticket information, call (713)528-4565. For other information, call (713)781-1989 or go to www.hpep.org or www.houstonbdsm.com.