We start off this column with Martin, a man who just likes to be referred to as Martin.
Who is Martin, you ask? Martin is the owner/manager of DareWare, the popular fetish/bondage/sex retail palace on Westheimer. "People just know me as Martin from DareWare," he claims. The same goes for Travis, the chairman of HPEP (Houston People Exchanging Power), a club devoted to those who enjoy bondage, domination, submission -- you know, the good stuff. As you can probably guess, people tend to forget their last names when they take part in events that require straps, whips and dungeons -- particularly when some nosy-ass club reporter inquires about what kind of freaky-sneaky, hanky-spanky shit they're into.
But Martin and Travis are just two decent, law-abiding men looking to bring out Houston's inner Marquis de Sade. In fact, they used to collaborate in throwing the Houston S&M Ball. Since its inception in 1995 at the long-gone Tantra Lounge, Martin and his shop have shared sponsorship with Travis and his HPEP clan on the annual whips-and-chains extravaganza. But with organizing duties bordering on minimal in recent years, Martin broke off ties with the official ball last year. This year he received a call from the nouveau riche night owls over at Prague (402 Main) to start his own freak-in.
The idea surprised him, "because their normal clientele is not what you would expect an S&M or fetish crowd to be," says Martin. Whatever reservations he had about the audience were quashed the night of the event. His party, also called the S&M Ball, was held in March at Prague on the weekend before Travis's annual Houston S&M Ball at Club Chicago (6305 Skyline). Martin says the turnout was so amazing, he's planning another one in September. One person, however, wasn't so thrilled about Martin's latest leather adventure: his former collaborator. "They are using a name I wish they would not use, but that's not my job to tell them what they need," says Travis. "They can call it whatever they want. I wish they wouldn't call it the S&M Ball."
But these dueling bondage balls aren't the only examples of how salacious this city can get when the freaks come out at night. The once-private S&M underworld is surfacing in a very public way. Along with organizing their own big-time S&M shindigs, both Martin and Travis also host special nights aimed at fetish fanatics. Martin puts his night on over at the Rubber Room (3101 Fountainview), while Travis holds his at the reliable Club Chicago; both break out the handcuffs on Saturday evenings.
There is also the occasional erotic party, like the Fantasy Ball, which takes place Saturday, May 12, at Privilege (2100 Rusk). In January the multipurpose complex Bella Terrazza (2840 Chimney Rock) hosted the Wildside Fetish Fantasy Ball, mostly organized by folks at this paper. Chris Hull, who tended bar at the throwdown, says the party had a reasonable turnout. But in terms of debauchery, the event was pretty tame. "Everybody seemed to have a good time," says Hull. "Nobody got too wild. They just had their party and they left."
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With all these ultra-fashionable freakdowns, aren't there those who just want to prove that they too can look good in liquid latex? Doesn't the hip quotient diminish the thrill, the rush of S&M for those who seriously indulge? "It's gotten very trendy, hasn't it?" asks Martin. "I think, at least in Houston, there are balls where they take it too loosely." His partner-in-pain Travis agrees that there are some parties peopled by mere dilettantes. He adds: "Most of the people that you see at most of these balls are just enjoying the fantasy."
Both men insist that S&M balls are there so people can just have a good time -- that's all. And even if the hip crowd moves on to the Next Big Thing, they shouldn't be scared to plumb S&M's erotic/exotic depths -- the "terrors of pleasure," if we may be so bold. "I hope it's not seen as taboo," says Travis. "I hope [now] the 'fashionable' will read enough about it and see enough about it to understand that it's adults doing things that are safe, sane and consensual."
In keeping with our bondage theme, we must report on yet another S&M-related event. On Friday, May 11, the Engine Room (1515 Pease) will host the hit traveling road show that's sweeping the nation, Ron Jeremy's S&M Sideshow. Yes, Virginia, there is a freakshow coming to town hosted by that chubby, hirsute lucky SOB porn king. You can't make this stuff up, ladies and gentlemen. There will be some female, possibly surgically enhanced talent on hand to help the host with the proceedings, mostly in the go-go dancing and oil-wrestling departments. The main attraction will be audience-participation contests like "Spit or Swallow" and the "Banana Eating Contest." If you really wanna know the actual factuals of this all-too-sordid affair, you can go to the show's Web site, www.ringsideryan.com, or call (713)654-7846.