The men who pay to worship her presence call her Queen Cynthia. For the last two years she has worked as a full-time professional dominatrix in Hong Kong, offering humiliation and pain to customers in search of sexual and emotional gratification.

Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

On her Twitter profile, Cynthia (her work name) posts videos and photos of her whipping, wrestling, stepping on and urinating on men sporting various kinds of bondage accessories. In one video, a man eats dogfood from a dish on the ground, while another crawls in public at the end of a leash she holds. Another is being kicked in the testicles by Cynthia’s black patent leather stiletto.

She counts men from all walks of life among her clients, “but the most common type of sub (submissive) men are men in high positions,” Cynthia told HKFP. They include company CEOs or board members, lawyers and financial professionals.

Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

“They’ll tell me how [stressed] they feel and how happy they are to see me, because they could relax for an hour, and after that they would immediately go back to their stressful mood.”

There is a very thin line between feeling relaxed and being submissive, she said. “It’s because they have to be in control of themselves all the time. And sometimes they just want to give it all up and let you be the lead.”

Yet to Cynthia, who describes herself as having a “domme personality,” offering the services of “bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, sadism and masochism” — know as BDSM — is more than a job or a fetish. Being a dominatrix is to her “a sexual preference.”

Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

The act of domination comes naturally to her but the job is by no means easy. Cynthia offers 90-minute sessions each costing several thousand Hong Kong dollars but never including penetrative sex. She declines to say exactly how much each session costs but the market price is around HK$3,000-5,000 a session.

The Hong Kong government’s HK$10,000 handout did not go unnoticed by Queen Cynthia.

She offers a maximum two sessions a day, five to eight sessions per week. Her remaining work hours are spent on researching and experimenting — sometimes on herself — with BDSM techniques and new tools she has acquired. Recently, she’s been practising piercing skin with needles without causing bleeding.

“I’m a 24/7 dominatrix, I’m in this as a lifestyle,” Cynthia said. When we met one evening at a hotel, she brought with her Mark, who does not want to be identified by his real name. Mark wore a stainless steel bracelet etched with the words, “Owned by Queen Cynthia.”

Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Mark is a client who sees Cynthia in and out of sessions, sometimes just for a meal, but she decides where and when they meet. When we met, he had just ended “Locktober” — a tradition in the BDSM community, in which submissive men wear chastity devices for a month and cannot climax without permission.

Unlike Cynthia’s other clients, Mark said he sought in her “a sense of belonging, someone I admire,” and “in charge of me in some way.” He prefers what he called female-led relationships in which the woman calls the shots.

Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

“When a woman is seeking this kind of relationship, it is normal, but when a man is seeking belonging, they’ll find it’s weird,” Cynthia said. “It’s society’s problem, right?”

Behaviours displaying patriarchal or sexist values may come to the fore in a BDSM relationship with subverted gender roles. “Before [working as a dominatrix], I always believed that all the subs are feminists,” but one of her clients showed her this may not be the case.

Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

As she was about to head out for a smoke after their session, “he said to me one thing, ‘Oh, be careful at night alone as a woman,'” she recalled. “I was very surprised. As a domme, I never thought that would come from a sub guy.”

Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

For some people, “being submissive is just a fantasy,” something that is independent from their personal values. “They see women, or dominant women, just as a means for their own pleasure,” Mark said. “They’re still having misogynist or patriarchal thoughts.”

One of Cynthia’s clients once noted the irony of the reversed roles, and boasted how easy it usually was for him to pick up any girl from the Lan Kwai Fong bar and club district. “I said, ‘Well I think you need to start respecting women, and not just me’,” Cynthia said. “He got really sexually aroused.”

Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

“It’s kind of like you have to educate them in session,” she said. “If you beat the shit out of someone just to feel that you’re better than the opposite gender, this is not healthy. This is not what BDSM is about.”

BDSM isn’t even about causing pain for the pleasure of the other person. To Cynthia and Mark, it’s a pursuit of mutual pleasure through pain.

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Selina Cheng

Selina Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist who previously worked with HK01, Quartz and AFP Beijing. She also covered the Umbrella Movement for AP and reported for a newspaper in France. Selina has studied investigative reporting at the Columbia Journalism School.