anniebear: You live in Las Vegas and you run TuffLove Studios. What kind of stuff do you do there?
Well we’re a fetish and kink, dungeon themed studio. Our primary focus is bringing an educational facility to Las Vegas, someplace where we can not only create fetish art but get some education about the BDSM lifestyle.
So you teach classes and it’s a photos space and a play space?
Not a play space. Unfortunately it’s small and there’re too many city ordinances prohibiting play.
Yea I hear Vegas is pretty tough.
How long have you been there?
Well the space, we’ve been building out since late 2015. We actually opened in mid December.
Have you had a lot of support? Have people been generally excited about it? How has it been received?
We have gotten a ton of support; but it’s been really weird. It hasn’t come from the areas we expected.
So not necessarily hardcore community based folks but random civilians?
(Laughs) Not from social circles such as FetLife or Collarspace, the places you would expect to find the BDSM lifestylers. It’s actually come from general advertising, Facebook and word of mouth in the Burner (Burning Man) and other artistic communities.
That’s really cool, so you’re getting more of a variety of people it sounds like. Is it introducing people that might be relatively new to it?
Yes, it’s been a really balanced mix of people just learning about the lifestyle, and those who have been actively living in it.
Going back to how things are in Vegas, there seems to be a lot of interesting and unfortunate things going on at the moment there, centered around BDSM, the local law enforcement and governments and the subject of consent. Is that something you can speak on?
Most certainly, it has been very interesting for us. Las Vegas is broken into many different jurisdictions; we decided to set up our business in the actual city of Las Vegas proper and they have some very limiting laws within that jurisdiction. So it’s been a huge challenge just developing a business plan that lies within their guidelines.
Do they stop by the space to talk to you guys or is it just staying under the radar and not attracting too much attention?
We didn’t want to fly under the radar at all. Part of our business plan and model was to be completely up front about what we were doing; and a little bit in your face kind of a strategy rather than hiding. Initially our response from the city planning department was that everything that we were intending to do was perfectly within the law, and allowable in the jurisdiction where we’ve set up our business. Unfortunately what we’ve experienced has been quite the opposite; we did receive a visit from the city licensing department. They interrupted one of our classes based on a complaint that they heard we were running a sex shop, which couldn’t be further from the truth.
We have a zero tolerance policy at our facility on any sexual behavior whatsoever. They interrupted one of our classes and cited us, stating that we weren’t licensed to provide any type of education, that we weren’t an educational facility. They issued us a cease order and then left. They did not make any arrests. They informed us that we didn’t actually break any laws; that if they saw any more marketing targeting BDSM or if they came in and witnessed anything BDSM they would prosecute both criminal and civil so it’s become quite a challenge.
That sounds terrible.
Right, the city has their own definition of what sadomasochistic abuse is and what they told me verbally when they came in was that I can’t even simulate sadomasochism in the form of fettering, so tying anyone up, binding them, putting a collar on them putting them in a cage; Any type of flagellation, so flogging, spanking, paddling, caning and any type of torture. They told me even if I simulate these acts while producing visual media, or photography then I would be arrested for sadomasochistic abuse.
Got it. So do you guys have a game plan for circumventing this or what do you think the next steps are going to be?
Well our business model was to produce fetish, kink or BDSM themed imagery, coupled with a center that has education on those topics. We also have a small retail section in the store; however, with the city threatening both my loss of freedom and loss of finances I can’t continue with the business model. We have actually closed our doors. We’ve been closed for two weeks now [at the time of this interview]. We were open for business for a grand total of three weeks. We held three classes and I’m actually forced to rent, and sublease space from other studios in town to fulfill contracts that I have with clients. Which was amazing; we opened up and got some wonderful clients right out the gate, and picked up some great contracts. Unfortunately we can’t fulfill those contracts at that space, with the police threatening to come and harass us for doing so.
Right, do you think it was someone within the community that might have complained?
It’s hard to say. I know there are some well-established groups within the Las Vegas fetish community that are rather reluctant to help in any type of community effort to have governmental support of our BDSM lifestyle. They’d rather sit on the sidelines saying “They’re gonna get in trouble!” As soon as I announced my intent I started getting a lot of flak on the FetLife message boards and forums about opening up another “sex dungeon” or “sex shop” in Las Vegas. I’ve been fighting both the FetLife.com admin, and these other group owners to get these slanderous statements removed from the FetLife social community pages, and my efforts have failed. These statements have been allowed to stay on FetLife for months; I can’t help but suspect that those types of statements have contributed to the city’s suspicions that we were going to be operating a sex shop. They came in stating that they received a complaint and, used the exact same verbiage that we were seeing from these individuals from social media pages; so I can’t help but suspect that, that contributed to it. But we also can’t blame those people for it; Plain and simple, we did advertise that we were going to be teaching BDSM topics. We sell impact toys at our location. There’s enough in our advertising and marketing plan to validate the city believing that we were somehow affiliated with BDSM. It’s not a big stretch.
The problem we’re dealing with and the fight we’re planning on taking to the city and hopefully to the Supreme Court is; that we are not a play space, we are an artistic venue. We’re a photography studio, where we create art. We simulate acts for the artistic benefit, so that we can share these visual images with people. In our country we’re protected by our First Amendment rights to depict such forms of art and to create such forms of art; so for the city of Las Vegas to write ordinances-the ordinance itself doesn’t state anything about creating art. It’s actually the city business licensing office wrongfully using this ordinance as their reason and citing us based on this ordinance that’s written around sadomasochistic abuse and stating that by making this art we’re abusing people. We’re committing a crime.
So they’re sort of interpreting the ordinance to sort of suit this situation and its incorrect interpretation?
Correct. I don’t doubt that if I were charged with a crime and I sat in front of a judge, that judge would dismiss the charges based on my First Amendment rights. However, that doesn’t stop the city and the police department from coming in on a regular basis, harassing me, harassing my clients, interrupting photos shoots and classes, and no business can effectively operate that way. What they’re doing now is, harassing me to the point where I just have to shut down.
It’s more of a safety hazard in the end too. You don’t want to put yourself at risk or anybody else.
It’s mostly a privacy issue. Nobody wants to be harassed regularly by law enforcement and in the state of Nevada there isn’t a law protecting BDSM activities. There isn’t any law in the books in most states, I’ve found in my research. Most states don’t have any protection for people who participate in BDSM related activities. Since some of the things some people participate in are actually against the law in their jurisdictions, nobody wants to get that target put on their chest so to speak. So, even if they’re at a class on protocols, or something unrelated to a criminal activity, and the police walk in and take pictures and video of everyone in attendance it becomes a huge privacy issue that nobody wants to deal with. That’s exactly what happened when they came in. They came in, stated they were there for an inspection, it was 9:30pm on a Friday evening, they came in videotaping and they videoed everyone in the facility, did not announce they were videotaping, didn’t ask permission, and when people noticed they said “hey don’t video tape me.” They [the police] said “you don’t have to be here you can leave” but did not allow them the time to leave the space before they started videotaping. So it was really an uncomfortable situation.
Well keep us posted on how things progress and let us know if we can help in any way.
We’re reaching out to everyone we can right now. We’ve contacted the National Coalition of Sexual freedoms, we’ve contacted the Civil Liberties Union, and we’re just reaching out to everyone right now and saying “hey lets change some things around here.” One of the biggest issues that I see or rather the biggest hypocrisy I see, is when government bodies start interfering with BDSM activities, there’s an ordinance in the city of Las Vegas that actually describes sadomasochistic abuse by using the description of what the abuser is wearing, which is such an unconstitutional law; to say this law applies only to someone who is wearing this type of an outfit. Anyone else can do these things pretty much, is what it’s saying. I think the reason for that is, in the state of Nevada it’s legal to spank your child, and it’s legal to slap your child for discipline. If we can physically discipline our children, why can’t we physically discipline our partners who are consenting to it? Then you get the big argument from the courts that you can’t consent to harm; the hypocrisy there is when you look in professional sports, and Las Vegas has some of the most brutal professional sports on the planet. We have MMA contests here, and boxing events, where these adults consent to harm all of the time. So they allow these things to take place when it’s convenient for them, when they decide it’s socially acceptable but when consenting adults that decide they want to participate in activities where they actually find pleasure or grow from it; because the government bodies don’t understand these activities or don’t want to take the time to understand, they just violate our First Amendment rights. That’s just a softer easier way for them to deal with it. So we’re going to work on a national campaign to try and change this viewpoint of BDSM nationally, so we can start living our lives and not hiding.
That sounds great! We’re here to support! I think a lot of us here in Los Angeles take our lifestyle for granted because we can pretty much do whatever we want and we have a lot of really established dungeons and play spaces here. It pains me to think that the struggle is so hard in other areas of the US. On a personal level, how did you first get into the lifestyle?
It was actually a little bit comical; I was on a dating website and I was reading someone’s profile, they were describing that they were a baby girl and there were some BDSM undertones in their profile description. I contacted this person and shared that; I think I might be a Daddy, because my whole life I’ve had these very nurturing, mentoring qualities. I always just wanted to help people and guide people and when I read this profile it was the first time I had seen the counterpart to what I felt I was my whole life; but I never knew what it meant or what it was. This person responded and we started talking and exploring a little bit about what the Daddy/baby girl or little girl relationship was in the BDSM realm. It just really triggered the research on my end and I started diving in and learning everything there is about BDSM. My journey began very, very strictly from a nurturing viewpoint, I was just a Daddy and I was researching that part; then it started growing and evolving. I found out so much more about myself that I never knew. A lot of things that I think a lot of us repress throughout our lives because of the external moral and ethical influences we get from our families, communities, churches, schools and social media. Everywhere we go we have all this external influence telling us what’s good and bad. Because of meeting this person online I started breaking down those walls and barriers, and looking at things from an internal perspective of no longer letting people outside of me decide what was good and bad or right or wrong and really questioning from the inside. It began this wonderful journey for me.
That’s a really great story. I’ve never heard that version before. You know you hear everybody’s origin story so yours seems to be more of a gentler intro into it if you will.
It was quite beautiful.
And you seem to be into the leather scene quite a bit?
Once I started exploring, one of the things I really became attracted to was the philosophy of a group within a society that kind of has a higher level of accountability. In the kink society I really believe that the leather lifestylers are those people. They are the people who say; we’re going to hold ourselves and those around us accountable for our actions. We’re going to live and walk in honor, we’re going to create protocols and structure and we’re going to define what it is we do, even if it’s not a universal definition. I’ve found in the leather lifestylers a group of people who were more willing to say “Hey this is what I am and I’m going to dissect myself, define myself, and then regurgitate that all out for you, so you know exactly what to expect from me” and I really loved that concept in the leather lifestyle. The deep self-exploration and self-knowledge; they were the first people in any type of lifestyle situation that I ran across that you could walk up to, ask them specifically “what makes you tick?” and, they can answer with very detailed responses. You can walk away from that knowing exactly what to expect from that person. So that’s what really attracted me to the leather community at first.
What I’ve found unfortunately, in the Las Vegas area is, it’s more of a concept rather than an active application of lifestyle. I haven’t found the leather clubs in Las Vegas to be what leather clubs were introduced to me and defined to me as being, and what I’ve expected them to be, so I’m still a little bit on the edge. I love that high protocol structured type of living, but I haven’t quite found it. I haven’t found a leather club that I feel like I can be a part of; that I want to be a part of and put my name on and put their name on me. I have joined the National Leather Association International because they’re a large group, that is international and they have that level of accountability. I like the fact that my affiliation with them holds me accountable outside of my little group that I hang out with, outside of the typical Las Vegas community that I play with, outside of Nevada where I live. It’s more of a higher calling. If I do something I’m held to this level of accountability, and I really like that idea especially with what we do in the kink realm. I like the idea of having someone looking at us as individuals and saying hey, what you did here is not acceptable, even in the kink communities. We cross so many lines and we do so many things that are such taboo acts and questionable to begin with, that I think we need that level of accountability within our community just to protect people, especially new people. The Fifty Shades of Gray movement going on right now and the new waves of people coming in and exploring; it’s so easy for them to be taken advantage of and to be taught wrong, to be harmed both physically and emotionally. I just think it’s so important to have that higher level of accountability. It’s saying, “This was a malicious act that was done without consent, we’re not going to tolerate it.”
In that same vein what would you offer in the way of advice for people just starting out in the lifestyle?
Brand new people, take it slow! However old you are when you got into this and started exploring, I’m going to assume you’ve spent at least eighteen years of life before venturing off and exploring this. Take a bit more time. Don’t dive in headfirst. I think the biggest thing I would say is go out and find the people that you want to explore with and learn from, and stay away from the people that are trying to teach you and force feed you what BDSM and kink lifestyle is. I think those are big red flags. If someone is pursuing you as a newcomer and trying to tell you what is right and what is wrong and really customize your experience, those are the people you need to run away from. I believe that kink is something we’re attracted to. It’s not something that is done by emotion so it’s really important to find the things that attract you and the people you’re attracted to and you pursue them. Find your own path through asking questions, through creating experiences.
If you’re interested in helping Josh and Sarah fight discrimination please donate here. They are also seeking legal counsel. If you’re able to help, please email Tufflovetoys@gmail.com.