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Emily Witt writes at www.nplusonemag.com/what-do-you-desire; For the sake of my readers, I edited out the first few paragraphs of this piece and some in the middle and end because they were as arduous and excruciating as the subject, highly irrelevant, and Witt, who offers a withering read to say the least, is still, obviously, trying to impress her English I college professor. I pick it up here:
Public Disgrace is an online pornography series that advertises itself as “women bound, stripped, and punished in public.” It is the creation of a 30-year-old San Francisco–based porn director and dominatrix named Princess Donna Dolore. Princess Donna conceived of the project in 2008, during her fourth year of working for the pornography company Kink.com. In addition to directing, Donna performs in the shoots, though she is not usually the lead.
When Princess Donna is scouting locations for Public Disgrace she looks for small windows (they need to be blacked out) and spaces (they need to look crowded). For outdoor shoots she usually works in Europe, where public obscenity laws are more forgiving.
Before each shoot, Princess Donna coordinates with the female lead to establish what she likes or doesn’t like and produces a checklist of what the performer will take from her civilian audience. Some models are happy only with groping, some have rules against slapping, and some are willing to go so far as to be fingered or spit on by the audience.
For female performers, the draw of Public Disgrace lies in Donna’s directorial prowess. Princess Donna is an experienced orchestrator of complicated fantasies of group sex, public sex, and violent sex. Such situations tend to be, as Princess Donna puts it, “kind of tricky to live out in real life.” She is also a deft manipulator of the human body. Female performers trust her to extend the boundaries of their physical capacities.
The job description for Public Disgrace, posted at Kink.com, reads: “Sex between male dominant and female submissive; domination by female and male dom; secure bondage, gags, hoods, fondling, flogging, and forced orgasms with vibrators.” For four to five hours of work, performers earn between $1,100 and $1,300, plus bonuses for extra sex acts with cameo performers who can show a clean bill of health.
A week after I arrived in San Francisco, I attended a Public Disgrace shoot. The shoots are open to the public, a public that’s encouraged to actively participate. Novelty is important to the world of porn, so audience members are recruited through the internet but restricted to attending one shoot a year.
The venue of the shoot I attended, a bar called Showdown, was on a side street haunted by drug addicts and the mentally ill just south of the Tenderloin, next to a Vietnamese sandwich shop and a flophouse called the Winsor Hotel (REASONABLE RATES DAILY-WEEKLY).
When I arrived, several people were standing under the red arrow outlined in yellow lightbulbs above the entrance, waiting to get in, including a group of young men and a heterosexual couple in their thirties. We signed releases, showed our photo IDs, and a production assistant took a mug shot of each of us holding our driver’s license next to our face. Then she gave us each two drink tickets that could be redeemed at the bar. “Depending on how wasted everyone seems to be I will give you more,” she promised.
That evening’s performer, a diminutive blonde who goes by the stage name Penny Pax, flew up to San Francisco from her home in Los Angeles especially for the Public Disgrace shoot. She had told Donna that one of the first pornos she ever watched was Public Disgrace, and since she got into the business herself she had been anxious to make one. Her personal request for the evening was that Princess Donna attempt to anally fist her.
Princess Donna arrived with a small entourage, wearing a vacuum-tight black minidress that flattered her exceptionally perfect breasts. Donna is an extraordinary physical presence in any group of people, and her stature plays integrally into her authority.
She is five foot seven with long, almost alarmingly thin limbs that make her seem taller. She has large, brown, Bambi-ish eyes that, the night of the shoot, were complexly shadowed and wreathed in fake eyelashes, which Kink purchases in quantities of several hundred at a time. Her long brown hair was tied up in a high ponytail.
Donna stood before the bar with the palindromically stage-named male performer, Ramon Nomar, surveying the room. He pointed up to several hooks on the ceiling and to a metal Juliet balcony over the bar. Donna nodded without a word. They retreated to the back. I asked a production assistant where the female performer was. Penny Pax, she said, was having “quiet time.”
Soon, the music was silenced (Kink had its own music, cleared of rights, to play). The bartender removed his gingham shirt and his tie and suddenly was wearing nothing but his waistcoat. Donna came out to make some announcements to the assembled crowd, which was well on its way to getting soused.
“You might think we are doing things to the model that are mean or humiliating, but don’t,” said Donna. “She’s signed an agreement.”
According to the agreement, the crowd had permission to poke the model, fondle her, and finger her, but only if they washed their hands and had neatly trimmed fingernails. A fingernail trimmer was available if necessary.
“I’m going to be watching you like a hawk to make sure you’re not doing degrading things to her pussy,” Donna said. She continued: “You’re allowed to spit on her chest but not her face. You can give her a hard spanking but you are not allowed to give her a hard smack.” She pulled her production assistant over to her physically. “If Kat is the model”—here Kat bent over obligingly—“this would be a reasonable distance from which to spank her.” Donna mimed responsible spanking practice.
The model, Donna went on to explain, could not leave the set bruised because she had another shoot coming up this week. Donna said that therefore at some point she might have to forbid certain practices to ensure Penny’s body remained unmarked.
Donna concluded her speech with a more theoretical exposition. The whole point of Public Disgrace, she explained, is that it’s supposed to seem spontaneous, and that “you guys are not supposed to know that we’re coming here.”
Taking video was forbidden, photographs with phones were fine, but the most important thing: “Don’t ignore us. I’m going to walk her in with a sign that says I’M A WORTHLESS CUNT. So react to that.” She repeated that nail clippers and files were available for anyone who wanted them and reminded the audience to wash their hands in the bathroom before touching the model. Then she returned to the back room.
A few minutes later Donna emerged with Penny Pax and Ramon in tow. Penny was small, just over five feet tall, with full natural breasts, milky white skin, and a chin-length bob of cornsilk blond.
Donna looked her over, then deftly pulled the straps of Penny’s tank top off her arms and folded them down. She spun Penny around, unhooked her white padded bra, and tossed it to one side. From a black duffel bag under a table Donna picked up and put back various coils of rope, judging the weight and length of each one.
Meanwhile Ramon stared—the only word for it is lovingly—at Penny’s breasts, which hung pendulously down, stretch marks visible. Grabbing them, Donna executed a complicated-looking tie, uplifting the breasts to bra elevation by winding the rope around each one. She pulled the straps of Penny’s tank top back over her shoulders, then tied Penny’s arms behind her back.
“Look at that,” said Donna, surveying her work and turning Penny around.
“You look gorgeous.” Meanwhile Ramon stepped in and looked over Penny with the tender carnivorousness of a dime-store bodice-ripper. He ran his hand over Penny’s body from behind, turned her around and examined her, kissed and inhaled her hair, then put his hand up her skirt and began feeling her while staring intently at her body. This was his way of preparing for the shoot.
Ramon was from Spain and had a sharp accent. He rarely smiled. He wore a tight black T-shirt that showed off his impressive pectorals, black pants, and black combat boots. He was just over six feet tall, tan, and sculpted like an Iberian Bruce Willis. This was an attractive couple. Donna hung a sign, which indeed read I’M A WORTHLESS CUNT, around Penny’s neck, then grabbed Penny roughly by the hair and took her out the door.
“Tell everybody why you’re here,” ordered Donna, as the people drinking at the bar feigned surprise. “I’m a worthless cunt!” said Penny. Using some kind of professional wrestling trick, Ramon lifted her up by her neck and sat her on the bar. Working together, Donna and Ramon stuffed a cocktail napkin in her mouth and taped it into a gag, taking turns slapping her on her face and her breasts. They ripped off her spotless white tank top. The rope had cut off circulation to Penny’s breasts and they looked painfully swollen.
“Who wants to touch it?” asked Donna. “Who wants to play with this worthless little cunt?” The bar patrons obligingly hit, fingered, and spanked her. From her handbag, from which the riding crop still menacingly protruded, Donna now withdrew a device that crepitated electric sparks and started shocking Penny with it. Ramon removed what remained of Penny’s clothes, then his belt, and began gently swiping it at Penny, who was soon pinioned on the floor.
“I thought it was your dream,” goaded Donna. “I thought it was your dream to shoot for this site. You didn’t come ready?” She looked around the room. “What’s her name?” she demanded. “Everyone knows what her name is.”
“Worthless cunt!” yelled the crowd.
“What pretty girl wants to grab her titties?” A woman in attendance obliged. Ramon took off his pants, balancing on each foot as he pulled them over his combat boots. He was not wearing any underwear; his penis looked like the trunk of a palm tree. The bar patrons burst into applause.
He picked Penny up and had sex with her against the bar as the extras continued to smack at her breasts. Penny, still gagged, was wide-eyed. Her mascara had begun to run in rivers down her face. She had the option of halting everything with verbal and nonverbal cues but she did not exercise it. Suddenly Donna stopped the show. “Everyone, I have an announcement,” Donna said, as she removed the ropes still tied around Penny’s breasts. “No more smacking this boob,” she said, pointing to the right one, which had red marks on it. They resumed shooting.
Ramon, who had biceps like cannons, hoisted Penny around the room and the crowd followed, vying with one another for a good sightline. He was able to walk around holding Penny in one arm, wielding the zapper in the other. “Zap me!” requested a male audience member. Ramon rolled his eyes and did so without breaking rhythm. “Ouch,” said the guy, looking sore. Ramon removed Penny’s gag and guided her into a blowjob, during which Penny theatrically gagged. Donna stood by, slapping and shocking, and then tag-teamed in. Using her hands, she made Penny ejaculate, to the delight of the crowd. After fifteen or twenty minutes, Donna called for a break.
Paused in the middle of his exertions Ramon looked up at the ceiling with a look of super-intense concentration. Penny was on the floor. He picked her up and sat her on the bar. He and Donna tenderly tucked her hair back from her face and wiped off her sweat and the grime from the floor with Cottonelles. Donna, like a trainer during a boxing match, removed Penny’s false eyelashes, gave her water, and kissed her on the cheek. During this reprieve from shooting, the crowd, which had been as verbally abusive as directed, seemed sheepish.
“You are beautiful and I’d take you to meet my mother!” yelled one man who had been particularly enthusiastic about yelling “worthless cunt.” Ramon asked for a drink. “What do you want?” said the bartender. “A soda,” said Ramon. “Porno guy wants a soda!” echoed the loud man.
When shooting resumed, a female audience member, heavily tattooed and wearing a miniskirt and a ragged T-shirt that had two skeletal hands printed across her breasts, had a go at Penny’s body. Things continued in this way for more than an hour. Chairs were knocked over. Drinks were spilled. The bartender had by now removed his vest and was shirtless. The crowd was drunk and excited, although not entirely unembarrassed. “Make that bitch choke,” shouted the shouty man. Then: “Sorry!”
Donna began to wind things down. “OK guys,” she said, to prepare the audience, “the pot shot’s not the end though.” The crowd cheered. With the cameras off, Ramon and Penny had vanilla missionary sex on a table to get to the point where he could ejaculate. He nodded when he was ready, then put Penny on the floor, and masturbated until he came on her face. Again the room burst into applause.
…I joined Donna at the bar. What was going to happen next?
“I want to get my hand all the way in her ass,” she said. “She’s never done that before and she wants to try it.”
Princess Donna sat Penny Pax down on a bar table. She had a Hitachi Magic Wand and a bottle of lubricant. “I need all the room that’s in her holes for my hand,” she announced, and the audience deferentially took a step back. After Donna accomplished her task, the crowd chanted, “Squirt, squirt, squirt, squirt,” and then Penny did. I watched all this from a corner, standing next to Ramon, who had a towel around his bronzed shoulders and was drinking a bottle of pilsner.
…Kink interviews its female performers before and after every shoot. It’s a de-escalation strategy that reminds the viewer—if he watches it (Kink does not release the demographics of its audience, but studies have found that 98 percent of paid porn is watched by men)—of the controlled conditions of what he just watched, and confirms that the activity was consensual and that the model has recovered.
Penny wandered out for her postgame interview wearing pink glasses, a gray bathrobe, and a pair of Uggs. But for her smeary mascara, she looked like a college student on her way to a dormitory bathroom. Donna arranged Penny’s bathrobe to reveal her breasts. Other than that, like most postgame interviews with athletes, this one was a little bland.
So, Penny, how did you enjoy the shoot this evening?
I had a great time, it was amazing. There was so much going on.
HECKLING AUDIENCE MEMBER #1
I actually want to take you out for lunch later!
HECKLING AUDIENCE MEMBER #2
You have really pretty eyes!
All right everybody, hold on. Tell me what your favorite parts were.
Probably, uh, just the getting handled by everyone and not really knowing how many hands were on me, or who was touching me . . . And then the—I don’t know, did you get your fist in my butt?
Well, that was awesome. Yay! I can’t wait to see it!
Yeah, that was rad. Round of applause for the anal fisting!
And you also said that you had never squirted like that before?
Yeah, that was ridiculous. How did you do that?
Magic fingers. Years of practice.
Yeah, it was amazing.
What were the most challenging parts?
Uh, probably putting your fist in my butt? That was pretty challenging. It felt really full.
On a scale of one to ten, how would you rate your happiness leaving the shoot?
So is it safe to say that you would come back and shoot for the site again?
Do you want a shower?
Penny Pax nods.
Let’s get you a shower!
MALE AUDIENCE MEMBER
A golden shower!
FEMALE AUDIENCE MEMBER
Can I come?
After this conclusion, Penny and I retreated to a stairwell behind the bar. Penny, I learned, is 23 years old. I asked if she had been working in the industry since she was 18. No, she said, she wishes. She had only been in the industry for six months. Before working in porn she was a lifeguard in Fort Lauderdale. Being a lifeguard in Fort Lauderdale had been pretty boring. I asked her about the shoot. I wanted to know how it had felt.
“It’s a little uncomfortable in the beginning, for the anal,” she said. (She was presumably referring to a moment early in the shoot when Ramon jumped up on the bar, stuffed a lemon in Penny’s mouth, and had anal sex with her.
“Nice boots, man!” someone in the audience yelled. Penny made a nonverbal cue to slow down and Donna jumped over and slathered her with lubricant.)
“But my body warms up pretty quickly and then there’s no discomfort.” Slightly incredulous, I asked if there were moments then of genuine pleasure. She looked at me like I was crazy. “Yeah. Like the whole thing! The whole thing.” She apologized for not being more articulate and explained she was in a state of delirium. “We call it ‘dick drunk.’”
I rode back to the Mission in a van with Donna and Penny and Ramon. Penny and Ramon were both sleeping over at the landmarked Moorish castle that houses Kink. They usually work in mainstream porn in San Fernando Valley, but enjoy coming to San Francisco. In the shoot he was doing tomorrow for New Sensations in Los Angeles, Ramon lamented, they wouldn’t even let him pull the girl’s hair. I surmised that making more extreme pornography if you’re a performer is like wanting to write like Beckett if you’re a writer.
…Over the course of the next several weeks I watched Princess Donna direct and star in more films. I watched her perform in a roller-derby-themed episode of a series called Fucking Machines where she wielded a drill retrofitted with a giant dildo. I watched her train for her new role as director of a Kink property called Ultimate Surrender, a girl-on-girl wrestling tournament.
For three eight-minute rounds, two women wrestled each other. The goal was for one woman to pin the other and molest her for as long as possible. For the fourth round, the winner has sex with the loser wearing a strap-on dildo. It’s one of Kink’s most popular properties and is sometimes shot before a live studio audience. Princess Donna also directs a series called Bound Gangbangs, and one day was inspired to do a shoot where all the men were dressed as panda bears. I watched this too, and was surprised to find it beautiful…
…The women at Kink came to porn for various reasons. Bobbi Starr, a 29-year-old who won Adult Video News’s Female Performer of the Year award in 2012, was raised in a Pentecostal Christian family in San Jose, California, and was homeschooled until middle school.
She trained as a swimmer, competed in the Junior Olympics, and earned a scholarship to study music at San Jose State University. Although she had always considered herself sexually adventurous, she was 22 years old and working as a classical musician when she watched porn for the first time. Sitting down with a male friend, who was surprised at her lack of awareness, she watched several videos, including one called Bong Water Butt Babes.
Very little needs to be said about this video except that the bedroom set is covered in sheets of plastic. Starr was mesmerized, applied for a job at Kink, enjoyed the bondage work, and within a year got an agent and moved to Los Angeles.
I asked her about pain. She recalled an “authentic BDSM experience” she had with a Kink dominatrix named Maitresse Madeline. “I had my head in the pit and she was flogging me and caning me and single-tailing me and doing all these really, really intense corporal activities with me and then she started tickling me and I just completely broke,” she said.
“At some point I came out and just cried on her chest and then she started crying.” She described the experience as cathartic. “Through her dominating me and me subbing to her we had this really unique experience. I think that she and I are better partners, we have a better working relationship because of it, I think we have a better friendship because of it, I think it’s easier for us to communicate.”
One day, I watched Princess Donna have her makeup done for a shoot with the porn phenom James Deen. (The first male porn star of the internet age to amass a vocally enthusiastic following among women, James Deen’s popularity seems explicable not by his slight physique but by the way he gazes at his partners and whispers urgently in their ears—he manages to convey genuine, ardent desire. In real life he reminded me of the boy in the eighth grade who went around snapping girls’ bra straps.)
Another model wandered in, a lanky woman wearing hot pants and a bra that enclosed each breast in its own beribboned dirndl. A tattooed tendril of morning glories climbed the length of her very long leg. Donna introduced her to me as Rain DeGrey, and told me that she, Donna, had directed Rain’s first shoot five years ago.
We went into a sort of lounge in the next room that had wall-to-wall carpeting and sofas. On one sofa a young woman with wet hair, wearing a gray bathrobe, barely out of adolescence if at all, sat painting her toenails a vivid sapphire. Her stage name was Katherine Cane. Rain DeGrey sat on a chair in front of me, applying sedimentary layers of Jergen’s bronzer as we talked.
Rain DeGrey described herself as a “24–7 lifestyle kinkster” and “pansexual.” She told me that for years she had denied the fact that bondage and flogging turned her on. She knew that even in the Bay Area it was not something you could just tell people, that she would be judged for her preference.
“Finally you’re like, ‘Hey, it’s OK if normies think I’m a freak,’” she told me. “And the day that I came out as kinky I felt fifty pounds lighter.” One day, she was tied up in her local dungeon, The Citadel, getting flogged by a friend, when someone suggested she try to do some of this stuff professionally.
Her first shoot was for the Kink site Wired Pussy, which at the time was under Donna’s direction. For the first scene they shot together, Donna stood over Rain DeGrey with a cattle prod. Donna told her if she moved the shoot would end.
“I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to sit still on your hands and knees and not move while someone cattle prods you,” said Rain.
Five years later, Rain DeGrey, who does not have a college degree, has bought herself a four-bedroom house with her earnings from Kink. She is very grateful to Donna for her counsel and support.
“I was actually on set for her Bound Gangbangs that she did, where she took on eight dicks.” Rain stood up. She proceeded to demonstrate a play-by-play of everything that had happened, which ended with Donna on the floor, “this little, limp, sweaty, fucked rag doll. James Deen’s just kicking her as hard as he can and she loves it.”
Rain DeGrey returned to her chair and resumed her ceaseless application of self-tanning lotion. The chemical baby-powder scent of it wafted over us. I said nothing.
“I don’t know if you’ve ever had cum in your eyes?” she asked.
“No,” I said.
“That’s like a super-duper hard limit for me,” said Katherine Cane, shaking her head in dismay.
“It blinds you,” said Rain.
“It stings horribly,” said Katherine.
“Do you realize the dedication that takes?” asked Rain. “That’s how committed she is.”
Committed to what? To getting guys sitting in their studio apartments to jerk off to you for $30 a month? Not an insignificant accomplishment, but enacting a fantasy of violence for personal reasons was one thing; doing so for money was another. I held my tongue, and Rain continued.
“We’re told our entire lives how fragile and delicate our bodies are,” she said. She adopted a tone of mock concern. “‘Don’t go out late at night, someone might mug you.’ ‘You’ve got to be careful, bad things will happen to you.’ And there’s a certain liberation in challenging your body, and getting beaten or distressed in some way and realizing you’re actually tougher than you realized.”
She looked over at Katherine, who had finished her pedicure and had her toes out in front of her. “Know what I mean?”
“Exactly,” Katherine responded.
“It is a very empowering experience to realize you’re not as fragile as you’ve been told your whole life,” said Rain.
“But it’s just as empowering to let yourself break down, in my opinion, because you go to a place that is so vulnerable and scary that a lot of people don’t want to acknowledge it because it’s your weakest point possible,” said Katherine.
“The vulnerability,” agreed Rain.
“Like you’re safe to be your completely base, your most broken-down, crying, you can’t even talk.”
I didn’t say anything, but here’s what I thought: there was no great truth about the human condition that I would discover through celibacy.
Princess Donna makes a lot of porn: on average she does a couple of shoots a week, and she’s been directing for eight years. Unsurprisingly, she sometimes gets bored and wants to try something different.
When Princess Donna proposes a project, her boss, Kink CEO Peter Acworth, must approve it. Sometimes there are conflicts. Early in her career Donna proposed doing a series called Dirty Girls, which she described to me as “like girl–girl sex, but like rough sex, but not with, like, a dom/sub relationship but just like going at it, with like fisting and spitting and dunking people’s heads in toilets, lots of anal, stuff like that.” Acworth decided not to give the green light, but Kink thought the request was interesting enough that they posted an online debate between Donna and Acworth.
So the fisting is really the most important thing to you.
Clearly a lot of people like fisting and girls dominating each other and spitting on each other. It’s still pretty extreme.
I don’t know how much for the male customers . . . you know for the male viewer I don’t know how much fisting actually adds to it.
I’ve had so many male viewers ask me for fisting. Like on Insex [Donna’s previous employer] when I worked there they were always like, yeah, “fisting fisting fisting fisting.” I think there’s a lot of guys who think fisting is hot. I think you don’t think it’s hot.
Donna then proposed a lesbian gangbang site, which also did not pass, and then started experimenting with the tactics that would go on to become Public Disgrace. She started while still filming Wired Pussy, doing a series of shoots in New York where she would wire up the performer and shock her under her clothes in public places. These were popular, so Donna did a Wired Pussy shoot where she invited members of the public. Eventually she got the go-ahead to make Public Disgrace a recurring series.
…The panda gangbang took place deep in the basement of the Kink armory, where rivulets of the long-suffocated Mission Creek still trace a path between moisture-eaten columns, and the air hangs heavy with a stony dampness. On the day of the shoot, a glow of warm light punctured the center of a cavernously empty space.
Bathed in this warm glow, a young woman named Ashli lay sleeping, impervious to the styg-ian immensity of her surroundings. Her sleek black hair was draped over her shoulder; a small silken bow of the palest pink pinned it away from her face into a girlish side part. The hem of her pink dotted-swiss dress had been carefully arranged to reveal a glimpse of her upper thigh through the gauze. On her feet she wore six-inch patent leather high heels embellished with lace. She slumbered on a bed of green leaves in a simulated bamboo forest beneath wraiths of mist produced by a Rosco Hazemaker puffing gently away beyond the circle of light, the sound of which seemed not to disturb her.
The panda bears approached her from behind. They waved their horrible paws and sniffed inquisitively. One stood over her nibbling at a frond of bamboo. Another gently stroked her hair.
“Now poke her or kick her,” ordered Donna from the darkness. The pandas fell upon her. The sound of ripping gauze and a snapped bra strap broke the quiet. They fondled and slapped at her now-exposed breasts. She awoke and screamed in fear. “But I love pandas, I love pandas!” she cried out.
The panda shoot was a taxing one. Donna hovered around the bears, using metal clamps to keep the furry folds of their costumes from hiding the action. They took turns with Ashli without conferring much. Finally the pandas retired to their bamboo bowers and the shoot was over.