Q&A: Mistress Velvet on Being a Black Femme in the Revolution
After 2018, Mistress Velvet (a.k.a @missvchicago) practically became a household name after word caught on that the dominatrix uses a radical form of race play to get reparations from her clients. Using a syllabus full of Black feminist theory, Mistress Velvet has found a way to use the system and pay it forward by educating the white cis men that seek her progressive services. Now that she's stabilized her practice, she's been linking and building with apprentices to train in the field as well.
During the coronavirus pandemic, Mistress Velvet has been getting back in touch with her body by listening to what it needs and shutting out unsustainable productivity narratives. "How I'm taking care of myself is by being gentle with myself and really embodying harm reduction when I think about what I need to do," she explains. "I've had a lot of internalized body shaming and fatphobia because I saw things like 'You really have to be productive, here's how you can keep a workout routine.' My brain is just not there."
Mistress Velvet has also been attending massive protests in Chicago to fight system racism and police brutality. As you can imagine, that's a whole lot of emotional labor for one person to handle which is why the domme is being flexible with herself during the ongoing revolution. She's figuring out how to maintain structure in a way that doesn't feel confining and setting intentions that feel good for her in the present.
BDSM is full of boundaries, but the pandemic has taught Mistress Velvet discipline in ways that she never could have predicted such as her newfound appreciation for her home. "It's really changed my relationship with my home and taught me how to have structure in different ways outside of the capitalist nine to five that I've created," she says.
Learn more about Mistress Velvet's unique experience as a Black femme in the interview below.
What has it been like to be a sex worker during a global pandemic? How have you been affected by the crisis? How have you managed to adapt?
Mistress Velvet: The pandemic obviously shifted the way that in-person sex work looks like. I am not one that's really good at online like Only Fans. That's not really where my strengths are so that's really been an adjustment as well as also trying to push back against narratives that say that online sex work is really easy because it's not... My dungeon never fully closed because the owner wanted to give people the right to still have access to it. We are very limited in how many people can use the space and all of the factors that we do to take care of health guidelines. We've gone through these phases so we're entering phase three in terms of opening so my own practice is paralleling that in terms of seeing people. According to our phase, I'm like "What kinds of fluids are exchanged and what kind of things can we do together?"
How has the uprising directly impacted your work?
Mistress Velvet: The uprising has really put my specific brand of sex work, which is really involved in race play, Black feminism, and Marxist literature, it has really put it into perspective. I talk with my clients so much, but at the end of the day, there's still a level of secrecy that they have in their lives because they don't want to be out as a person procuring sexual services. This uprising has really put these conversations to the forefront to the point that you're talking about it at the dinner table so a lot of them have really been able to put our work in the context of the national and global systems of oppression in a way that has really been monumental for a lot of my clients and then life-changing for me. I don't want to give people in positions of privilege a lot of credit, but it is really amazing to witness my clients' growth and awareness in a very catastrophic way.
I think one of the underlying issues in regards to everything that's been going on is the lack of respect for Black womxn and girls. We continue to be treated as if we are inferior. There's this bell hooks quote from Salvation about how "it has not been easy for black women to maintain faith in love is a society that has systematically devalued our bodies and beings." How exactly can that damage be repaired?
Mistress Velvet: I mean, that's the thing I struggle with in all areas of my life whether it's vanilla job or sex work or even just family and friend relationships. There's no solution because if I don't do it or take a break from it, it's still in the back of my mind of "These people need these resources" or like "I might be the only person that this person will listen to: or whatever sort of burden you end up taking as a Black femme. Obviously, to the point of what you're making, also that work is so tiring and unforgiving. I truly don't know what rest and rejuvenation looks like or means. I have not been able to find it in a sustainable way.
Has there been any improvement regarding diversity and inclusion within the BDSM community?
Mistress Velvet: I want to say yes, and no. Some of the benefits to collective organization are that sometimes there can be forces of people that can call for accountability in ways that communities kind of go from individuals. I've encountered plant of like racist, fucked up sex workers that maybe we'll all cancel, but they still exist in the sex work community. They're not ousted from the community or something like that. If they don't want to be held accountable to change they don't have to. Sometimes I think the burden is less on Black femmes to call for inclusivity, but then do you hold people accountable to it? How do you get people to join that work? I think it's very hard when we're just individuals when in reality the thing that binds us as a collective is the fact that we are working.
So I am now the Managing Director of Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP) and I have seen the past couple years this really concerted effort for "minority hire" where they've pushed out all of the white workers and it's now almost exclusively Black and Brown sex workers. I'm kind of a pessimist sometimes because on one hand, I'm like, " This has to be for optics." Nevertheless, it has brought in really dope people, myself included, that I truly admire who are like "Okay, fuck how white and problematic SWOP has been. As the largest sex workers organization, we need to change shit and center folks of color." I think that's really important in terms of the reach and the number of resources that SWOP has as sex workers specific organization.
I'm hoping that the changes we made on the national level will be mirrored to like the Chicago branch level. Ideologically, we've had some issues where individual chapters have fucked up people that won't use people's pronouns correctly... I'm hoping that we as a higher board of folks of color can now really implement accountability and be like "Just because we're sex workers doesn't mean that we're on the same page and if you're not going to be down with honoring the most oppressed then we're not here for you and this is not for you."
You've always been involved with fighting for the rights of sex workers so what are some actionable steps that people can take to support Black sex workers long term?
Mistress Velvet: Mutual aid especially because we tend to treat mutual aid as a one-off thing, like if you donated $25 once that's enough, but we need sustainable resources. I was looking at a mutual aid fund for Black trans womxn this morning that had raised a bunch of money, but also it's generating the conversation of "How do we continue that ongoing support?" I would say that's the biggest thing. It's hard to figure out ways to plug into sex worker activism going on in cities, but finding those organizations and figuring out what they need is really important.
Emotional labor is a component of your work that many people overlook. How have you been dealing with this now in light of the recent uprising against systemic racism?
Mistress Velvet: I'm not doing a lot of it on a very individual basis. Unless my clients are paying me for a Zoom call or something I am having important, but minimal conversations with them and just kind of nodding... In terms of community, a lot of people have picked up the slack. There's a lot of people doing the work so I'm just doing my social media thing, but I am not doing individual emotional labor because I literally can't. We've done this so many times with every person that gets murdered by police. This time I think folks are really galvanized, there's something about this uprising that has had even more impact. There's a lot of other people out there doing work that I don't want to take credit for, I'm just sharing their shit.
I exhausted myself from sharing sources the first couple of days because I wanted to help people just access information, but then I realized that I needed to figure out another way to get involved that wouldn't leave me running on E.
Mistress Velvet: I've really appreciated conversations around ableism because folks literally can't be walking in the streets. Not putting a hierarchy on what your involvement in the struggle looks like, but then also ableism in terms of really inclusive of mental health. I have to remember to be gentle with myself like it's okay if I'm not going to go out in the streets today... Anything I do is important. I think it's really interesting the way that this year has been and the fact that this uprising has come after a pandemic where in the United States it's been very clear that if our leaders had addressed this earlier we would not be still dealing with this in the way that we are.
Seeing that on a global scale has probably pushed people to rethink, it's radicalized some people. We have this collective trauma of wellness and Trump and people not taking it seriously, and then we see this murder... I think people are just fed up so more people are showing up which is why I feel like "Let other people's voices be heard." There are a lot more people in the movement.
What are some real, tangible changes that you want to see happen in your lifetime?
Mistress Velvet: Definitely a disbanding of the police, the abolishing of the police. At my vanilla non-profit agency, we are writing a report on defunding the police and using their services for social services. Ultimately, I would hope that one day we also move from funding institutional social services to community services that are not rooted in these institutions, but we have to take it one step at a time. If someone had told me a month ago that my boss would entertain conversations about defunding the police, I would have laughed and now that's where we are at. I am so ecstatic about that and I love seeing a lot of the blueprints and toolkits that people are writing across the country around how this could look.
I'm really hoping that this spurs a very comprehensive conversation about the ways that our healthcare is flawed, the ways that we do not have housing for people... Really intersectional in terms of how everything is connected because of capitalism. I'm hopeful that a revolution will happen in my lifetime because I think that we're getting closer to it.
My mom believes that our generation is really going to make the changes happen because we're not willing to accept this corruption as our reality.
Mistress Velvet: There's a really good meme that was like "Gen Z won't ask the waiter for more ketchup, but will body slam a police officer."
What's on your reading list right now?
Mistress Velvet: I am reading Hood Feminism by Mikki Kendall, she's a black feminist from Chicago and talks about a breadth of things that feel particularly applicable given that she talks about Chicago a lot. I'm rereading in sections The End of Policing, I read it earlier this year and it's great. I'm reading Decriminalizing Domestic Violence: A Balanced Policy Approach to Intimate Partner Violence because I'm working on what the funding for the Chicago police would look like in terms of putting the money in for social services. I'm looking through and reading sections of Our Enemies in Blue: Police and Power in America by Andrea Ritchie, who is a professor here in Chicago and she's amazing.
I really wanted to arm myself with a better understanding of the history of policing. I always say police came from slave patriots and they were disciplining communities of color, but it's really interesting to get a better understanding of what role the police have and supplementing it to the end of policing that I mentioned. I'm kind of thinking about broken window policing and warrior mentalities and the reason why all of them are bad apples... It's very good, very poignant, and very timely.
Any final words for your fellow Black femmes?
Mistress Velvet: Sometimes I feel disconnected from all of us, but I think we all see each other. I think that the universe has it in some weird way where we are still cosmically tied. This time around with all of this stuff I feel connected to my sisters that I haven't even ever met. When people die, like if the police kill a person, for example, the media tries to show them as deserving of death. And we have to push back on it and sometimes get into this space of respectability where we're only showing the most respectable parts of a person. I don't think we even get that when sex workers die.
Oluwatoyin Salau's death has really touched me because she was an activist and she had talked about the sexual violence and harassment she was experiencing, nothing happened, and now she's gone. All of the deaths that we are seeing are sad, but this particular one has really been on my heart... We are all in this together and not in the very awkward way that corporations are saying, but every single one of us being out in the streets or doing anything is creating this giant map of revolutionary strength. It's been really comforting to remember that this is bigger than just me.