Jade Steel sits at her kitchen table squeezing a phone between her shoulder and ear, talking between bites of custard and rice. The half Chinese, half Thai 32-year-old is dressed in a casual ankle-length jersey dress and a pair of flip-flops. Her face is bare of makeup, her hair piled up and secured with a comb. Black dragon tattoos, power symbols in Chinese culture, extend from shoulder to elbow on both her arms.

Between swallows of custard, she says into the phone, “So, Frank, do I know you? What can I do for you?”

As she listens, Mistress Jade, as she prefers to be called, scrunches up her face and whispers, “I don’t particularly like Asian men.” Her feelings may be a reaction to her adolescence in Bangkok, when a boyfriend gave her a beating. Or it may only be that, as she insists, “I get bored with everything the same. I like to try new things.”

She slams the receiver down, the conversation apparently over. “He just stopped talking, probably so he could use both hands. Usually I try to interview people over the phone to see if they’re into bondage and stuff. That way I know they’re not a stroker who just wants to talk to a dominatrix for fun.”

There are plenty of people out there who take calling Mistress Jade for a session in her dungeon quite seriously. Dressed in full leather regalia–boots, chaps, bra, hat, gauntlets on her forearms–she uses bullwhips, buggy whips, floggers, chains, canes, paddles, electrical prods, ropes, and more mundane devices to inflict what she calls “good pain,” tying her clients down to a table, up on a rack, or upside down. Many cry and beg her to stop, but until they utter code words like “mercy” or “yellow” she continues to take them to ever higher planes of pain and sensory stimulation.

“Mostly I don’t listen to them, I listen to their bodies,” she says. That’s important, she explains, because “some need more pain than they think they can take, and others want more than they can handle.” Safety is a big concern. She’s stopped a few sessions when she’s sensed the client didn’t realize things had gone far enough.

In the four years Mistress Jade has lived in Chicago, her collection of bondage toys has kept pace with her growing customer base, mostly prosperous 40-something men. “The hardest are the repeat clients,” she says. “You have to continually come up with something new. That’s why some people in this business suffer burnout.” She keeps Saran Wrap, duct tape, paddles, wooden spoons, and clothespins on hand, stocking up at Kmart and Home Depot. Other implements are more specialized.

She thumbs through a Mr. S. Leather Company catalog and considers a cock ring with handcuffs. “Now that’s really nice.” Then there’s the chastity belt, the iron “gloves”–small globes with cuffs around the wrist–and the ankle binder, which she remarks is “very nice, all real leather, $179.”

“I don’t like cheap stuff,” she adds. “The good electrical toys”–for stunning–“are about $350.”

Long fingernails are essential, “because men love the feel on their skin,” she says. Knowing how to tie knots is important too. Mistress Jade takes pride in her “rope work” and pulls out photographs of a man held fast in an elaborate web connecting two posts. At the very center of the web is the man’s penis. One false move suggests serious consequences. Is he OK?

“Yes,” says Mistress Jade. “He’s very happy. He loves this. Many people think: ‘Dominatrix? She must hate men.’ We don’t hate men. We love them. We just love to tease and play with them.”

Michael Dayne, who helps manage Mistress Jade’s business and leads S-M sessions of his own, points out that male clients who explore fetishes–including cross-dressing–with a dominatrix must be willing to make themselves vulnerable if they expect to get anything out of the experience. “You get a guy in six-inch heels, a corset, and wig,” says Dayne. “He’s being totally honest.”

Even so, some submissives will occasionally try to upset the power balance, says Mistress Jade. “They ask, ‘Will you take your clothes off?’ I say, ‘No. Want to screw me? Go to escort service!'”

And some get on her nerves. Once a client asked her not to use a particular tool. She chose another. “Not that one either,” he told her. She responded by slamming his head into the padded restraint table. “I asked how he liked that one,” she says.

He must have liked it; he made another appointment. “They always do,” she says. “I’m really good into bitching when it’s PMS time. Some men like me more then. They even want to know my cycle.”

For women who want to learn that kind of power over men, Mistress Jade is offering a class, “The Passion of the Dominatrix–For Women Only!” “I like to live life on the edge,” she says. “You’re only born once. You should at least try this once.” It’s from 6 to 9 PM on Monday, September 11, in her private dungeon, the location of which will be revealed only to registrants. The class covers the basics of domination and offers hands-on opportunities to try out bondage equipment. The class fee is $29. To sign up, call the Discovery Center at 773-348-8120 or check out www.discoverycenter.cc.

–Susan DeGrane

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Lloyd DeGrane.