A few miles outside of Berkeley is a quaint, two-story home with a white picket fence and an American flag on its front porch. A few blocks to the left is an elementary school, and a few blocks to the right is a small church. The neighborhood is quiet – perfect for a small family, or a retired couple, or even fitting for a newly married couple. But this is the house where women tie-up, whip, wrestle, spank men, get spanked… and get paid for it.
This is the job of a professional dominatrix or submissive, and this white picket-fenced house is full of them. The adult playhouse is called Fantasy Makers, otherwise known as a cooperative of performance artists, and it is a place for one to come with his or her own preferences of roleplay, fetishes, masturbation shows, crossdressing, and sensory play. In this unique form of personal theater, any safe and legal scenario that you can think of is yours. At Fantasy Makers, clients enter a world where, for a little while, they can change anything – gender, age, country (or planet) of origin – even species. It is the strangest, sexiest improv imaginable.
Patience Morgan, twenty-four, has been working at Fantasy Makers as a professional dominatrix for about a year and a half now. Patience, who previously worked as a saleswoman at Clarks shoes, now works at Fantasy Makers doing what she says she was called to do.
“I had a very liberal upbringing,” says Patience. “I got Screw the Roses, Send Me the Thorns when I was fifteen. On that same birthday I got Good Vibrations: Guide to Sex, and three months later I got The Topping Book and The Bottoming Book. So pretty much from the moment beginning my sexual exploration, I was into BDSM. I knew it was a part of things.”
BDSM is a mix of bondage and discipline, sadism and masochism — a variety of erotic practices involving a dominant “top” (partner who controls the activity) and a submissive “bottom” (partner who is being controlled). It uses role-playing, restraint, and other interpersonal dynamics without penetration.
This is the role of a Fantasy Maker lady: the client requests to be submissive or dominant and then gets to choose how they want to play or be played with. Not all the women at Fantasy Makers say they are professional dominatrixes, some of them say they simply work as submissives or dominants.
Fantasy Makers is not a business or a brothel—it is a cooperative where cash only transactions are made for privacy reasons. Negotiable rates make the transactions more of a donation rather than a direct purchase. Maintaining a low barrier of entry is a high priority at Fantasy Makers, that is why their rates are the lowest in the Bay Area. Competitors like The Gates, a playhouse similar to Fantasy Makers, charges upwards of $180 per hour whereas Fantasy Makers negotiates rates with clients based on what they can afford. “You don’t have to be rich to play here,” says Lorett, the owner of Fantasy Makers.
The difference between a brothel and Fantasy Makers is there is no sex with clients. “Anything safe, sane, and legal” is their motto.
According to Patience, the most popular clients to walk through the doors of Fantasy Makers are policemen and lawyers. Because Fantasy Makers is a legal cooperative, this gives the clients the incentive that whatever happens in the house stays in the house.
Ruby Morgan, fifty-seven, is one of the newest members to the Fantasy Makers family, and was recruited by Patience, her daughter.
“I had been working here for maybe six months and I’ve been telling mom how awesome it is,” says Patience. “And I was like okay, that’s it, you have to apply. They will love you here. Mom was like, ‘I’m too old, I’m too fat, I couldn’t do it.’ And I was like mom, just come in.”
Ruby and Patience both work at Fantasy Makers a few days a week. Ruby even lives across the street, which makes it easy for her to help out at the playhouse, answering phones and doing laundry.
While Ruby and Patience do not “work” together in sessions, they say working under the same roof is as good as it gets.
“[My mom] and I have always been really close,” says Patience. “She was always really good about learning how to treat me like an adult, and not her child. As I got older we turned into best friends as well as mother and daughter and working with her is literally like having my best friend around all the time.”
Family seems to be a common theme of the Fantasy Makers playhouse. And if the women are the children of the house, Lorrett is their mother. Lorrett, seventy-one, opened the Fantasy Makers doors in 1990 with the help of her mentor, who she called Master Robin, who got her into the business back in 1966 where she started doing bondage modeling. At that time, Master Robin owned the Backdrop Club which served the same purpose as Fantasy Makers. Fantasy Makers became like an extension of the Backdrop Club and eventually started to float on its own.
“I can’t do boss,” says Lorrett. “I have no desire to do boss. But I can do mom. I didn’t get to raise my own kids and now I’m getting remedial motherhood 101.”
While Lorrett used to work both the business side of the house and do sessions herself, nowadays, she is in the office, doing behind-the-scenes work like answering phones. However, every so often she does her share of “sub” sessions.
Lorrett has watched upwards of three hundred staff members come and go over the years. Right now, there are about thirty women on staff. Even though the turnover rate is high, she says she is proud of all her “children” because each one of them brought what she had, took what she needed, and kept on going.
“They’ll probably have to persuade me once I do leave this body that I’m gone,” says Lorrett. “I’ll probably be answering the phones at least two weeks after I die.”
Even though the women look out for each other like family, that does not stop them from doing sessions together for clients.
“Do you know how awesome it is to get paid to give your friends orgasms?” says Patience.
But according to Patience, it is more than the sexual experience that brings clients in. The sexual aspect is only a component to get at the psychological aspect of a client. As a Fantasy Maker lady, they are figuring out what their clients want based on what they say and what they do not.
Lorrett described fantasies as a subject that society decides not to talk about. And by creating this space for people, their fantasies can come to life; a space is created for acceptance and friendship in a rather unique way.
Bacchus, sixty-three, has been a client at Fantasy Makers for about ten years now. Bacchus was born with a condition called Hypospadias, a birth defect in which the opening of the urethra is on the underside of the penis. This condition made regular sex impossible for him. “I built a whole fantasy world of my own. As I grew up, it was real hard to date. I had trouble expressing my desire for women the way that they expected it,” says Bacchus. “So I kinda gave up.”
Bacchus had been to countless high-end therapists, sex therapists, and sex surrogates. But when a friend told him about Fantasy Makers, Bacchus said that even with all the therapy sessions he had been to in his life, they did not do for him as much as his first time at Fantasy Makers.
“It was like going to a travel agent with an idea of where you want to go, and coming out having discovered a whole new country you didn’t even know existed,” says Bacchus. “It changed my life.”
Fantasy Makers aims to provide a place where people can be absolutely accepted at their most vulnerable in a way that they cannot experience anywhere else. Their mission is to make it all about you.
“This is a school. It’s a place for people to learn about themselves, learn about other people, learn about communication, learn about trust.” says Lorrett.
The women at Fantasy Makers say they have met the wounded, the lonely, the confused, the frightened, and the shamed, but regardless of the fantasy, fetish, or type of play the client wants, the women’s job are to be there for them. At Fantasy Makers, it is about more than sex. It is about connection, acceptance, and creativity.
“Going through the front door is very scary the first time,” says Bacchus. “And that door opens, and you see a person and the smile on her face. She welcomes you in, and offers you something to drink, and sits you down. And then the person you are going to play with comes in and talks to you, interviews you shortly, and then- that fear is gone. I have never felt more welcomed, more comfortable in a place as quickly as Fantasy Makers.”