Wildcat Shadow

The kink performer

Wildcat Shadow is the rubber-clad feline leading you to your darkest desires. After moving to Chicago in 2010, the now 30-year-old kink performer and musician joined the queer nightlife scene, where he found new ways to use his talent for creating immersive experiences while inspiring people to realize their dreams. By night he’s a leader in the fetish community, particularly known for his role in the puppy play scene. He’s appeared in short films and music videos and been paid to host international parties. By day he’s a consultant on stress education, helping workplaces and schools develop trauma-informed, anti-racist projects and curricula. He also teaches dating and relationship skills to young people.

Interview by Micco Caporale

Photos by Eddie Quiñones

I grew up attending an arts school. I used to come to Chicago for drum corps competitions and tours. They call it drum corps, but the full term is drum and bugle corps. It’s a specific military marching band culture that uses just drums and horns. Instead of blindly following orders to enact war and advance colonialism, though, it’s to put on a big show. I don’t like the military. It’s very deplorable to me. But if there’s one thing we can’t deny, it’s the military’s precision and discipline. Those tools are very attractive to me, and I think that’s something beautiful that I carry into my creative practice now.

I did both drum corps and marching band for almost ten years as extracurriculars. In school, I pursued symphony and jazz. Making music as a group is one of the most fascinating feats of social engineering to me because it brings all these people together to do something really demanding simultaneously. Like in a band or symphony, there’s a conductor, and that conductor tells you when to start, how fast to go. They lead the group through this real-time experience of what the composer wrote. I think about that experience and those power dynamics a lot. 

My school was very artsy, but it wasn’t until my adult life, when I was doing less music, that I got interested in performing. Wildcat Shadow is based in the fetish community, but it’s informed by that early musical wisdom of leadership, discipline, atmosphere, and showmanship. Everyone has a role.

I was underage when I started in the kink scene. I started as a bondage model, which I found through the burlesque world in Colorado. That quickly came to include Chicago, too, because I was traveling here a lot for band. I would go to conferences and pass out flyers or do these live demos where they would rope you in front of a crowd. I think a lot of people’s early experiences with kink are about exploring their identity and sexuality. For me, I was exclusively trying to pay bills. I really hated it at first. Like I just thought it was weird. I had a fake ID and was living multiple lives. But there was a moment when I was doing International Mr. Leather here in Chicago that changed things for me. 

I had a really bad experience with my then employer, and I quit on the spot. I was panicking because my family thought I was at band camp, and the company was holding onto my train ticket home. I was sitting in the hotel lobby, and this guy came over to me. He gently tapped me on the shoulder and was like, “Hey, I sensed maybe you could use someone to check in on you.” And I turn around, and this guy—he’s gorgeous and so nice. He introduces himself. And he turns out to be the founder of a Black kink fraternity called Onyx. They were started here in Illinois, and now they’re international. He invited me to one of their gatherings.

I’m an evil cat who disciplines people and dogs. I find it very exciting.

Wildcat Shadow

So I go and I see all these people, mostly Black but also a few Brown folks. They’re all decked out in the coolest outfits and having a really nice time together. It was the first time I saw a concentration of people of color in kink, and I was like, “Oh, this is a group. And this is, like, the point of the group.” I started to look at the whole BDSM scene differently. The founder had a really cool name and outfit, and I was like, “Wow, I want that, too!” Before then I had never looked at a piece of leather and thought, “I want to wear a harness.” Like, the kinksters I’d met were basically on vacation at conventions where I was working, and my job was to wear a harness as part of making a great vacation for them.

The aesthetics at this Onyx party just got me, though. I’m an artsy nerd. I grew up going to anime and cosplay conventions, and suddenly I saw all these people who looked like superheroes and supervillains and stuff—not like the traditional leather look, which I wasn’t into. Eventually I was able to get my stuff and my train ticket from my ex-employer, but I left that party feeling very inspired.

Wildcat Shadow is a social worker and audio artist living his best life. Credit: Eddie Quiñones for Chicago Reader

The first person to actually explain BDSM to me was a Black bisexual woman who I call Daddy. So from the beginning, there was always a complication and queerness that’s not true of everyone’s experience with the scene. I’m very lucky that Black bisexual people taught me what I know. After I moved here for college, that woman adopted and trained me. 

One of my favorite things about queerness is feeling a sense of authorship over my life. I learned how to be multiple people in different spaces. I’m the same person no matter where I go, but I’m always calling on different pieces of myself. That separation is very important. Sometimes I work with young people, and I don’t need to talk about the fact that, say, on a Friday night, I was doing bondage scenes. It’s not relevant. I do that stuff as Wildcat Shadow. That separate naming isn’t about escaping something; it’s about world-building.

I’ve been into role-playing since I was a kid, so I see this as an evolution of that. I’d play role-play games in the elementary school library. I remember going from being a wizard to an owl. For a long time, I was really into elves and demons. 

I started using the name Wildcat Shadow in 2014, when I discovered pet play. I had seen it before, but I didn’t understand it till then. I saw puppy play and was like, “Oh, that’s kind of cool.” I tried to imagine myself as a puppy—like a submissive dog—but that didn’t fit my personality at all. As I learned more, I saw the pup handler interactions—like the guy telling the puppy he’s a good boy and all that—and I was like, “Oh, that’s really cute.” And then I had an aha moment, like, “Wow, this is about understanding how people work and getting them to do the things they need to do but with some help.” 

I realized I wanted to be a handler, but I didn’t want to be, like, the classic leather daddy with a puppy. That’s boring. At the time, I was looking at a lot of Tumblr, and I saw this Teen Titans reference where the character Raven was using her dark magic powers to put this telekinetic leash over Beast Boy. I was like, “That’s so fierce. I want to be a dark, badass character and have a pet.” Eventually I settled on being a cat because they can kind of look like owls but also be sort of demonic.

My friends and I joke that what I do is drag. There are a lot of similarities: We might be in the same shows, move our bodies in similar ways, wear crazy shoes and outfits and nails and things—but it’s for a different illusion. I was never interested in using my body to hyper-explore gender, but I like the idea of exploring personas. 

Gender can be really basic and silly, but in real life, it’s really complicated. And animals are like that, too. Being a cat helps me explore those complicated parts of myself. I tend to have a very stoic demeanor. I’m that person who’s just rolling my eyes and quietly plotting and scheming—all of these elements that we have fun associating with the evil of cats. I’m an evil cat who disciplines people and dogs. I find it very exciting.

As Wildcat Shadow, I guide others through feelings and experiences. In a theatrical sense, it’s like, “Oh, there’s this evil person who’s gonna beat you or massage you or whatever.” But the actual experience is somatic and rooted in creating a sense of belonging, of being cared for. When I was younger, I liked when someone watched over me and knew how to direct me to accomplish my goals. I like giving that to people in return now. I can create that sense of value. Now I’m interested in becoming a therapist, but when I think about my art-making and BDSM, it really comes down to: I’ve experienced the power of feeling like I belong and have a very specific purpose. I want to help others feel that, too.

Credit: Eddie Quiñones for Chicago Reader