Feb 10, 2015 CITY PAPER
Sir Loyal Wolfe starts drawing across Kitten’s back with a dull butter knife. It leaves a red mark, but doesn’t appear to be painful. He draws one line straight down her spine this time, which makes her wiggle around and playfully squeak, “I hate you!” He’s kneeling beside her, and her arm is hanging down to hold his thigh. They agree that keeping in physical contact with each other throughout the demo is the key to preventing any unwanted harm. He reaches for a somewhat sharper blade and goes in deeper. “He works it in layers, that way it’s not so traumatic for my skin,” she says.
Sir Loyal Wolfe and Kitten
“I’m a former choir director for a church,” Sir Loyal Wolfe says. “Pretty much the only time I sing now is in the shower.” Kitten is a Wiccan but also a Sunday-school teacher. “It’s all because I’m trying to stay in the will to inherit my grandfather’s estate,” she says. She started cutting herself as a teenager to deal with the stress of her dismantled and unstable home life, but has since stopped self-cutting and relies on Sir Loyal Wolfe for the release. He believes knives have their own spirits. “Yeah,” he says, “I’ve been hurt by the same knife many times. I got rid of that knife.”
Between blade upgrades Kitten wiggles about, takes her hair out of a ponytail and puts it in a higher one, and removes her tail, which keeps getting in the way. “It’s my way of being able to handle the rest of it without it hurting, but the pain is my pleasure,” she says. “After we were talking in the kitchen, I went to the bathroom and realized I had come myself. Just talking about knife play got me that hyped up,” she says.
In the background Scott, one of the hosts, is explaining that some of the hooks along the walls can double as coat racks as needed to guests as they arrive at The Igloo.
The Igloo is a humble residence in Curtis Bay. It is a single-story, detached home with three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a dog named Mascot, and two cats. The four people who live there are hosting this play party which is scheduled to last from 7 p.m. until 3 a.m. or later. Halfway through, the crowd is picking up. A brawny man named Arcturus stands by the wall. “You’re much furrier than I am. Mmm,” says another man walking by.
Arcturus identifies as a polyamorous/primal. “[Primal] is more of a subculture than a fetish or kink,” he says. He explains that those into primal may identify with an animal, an element, or a concept. “Not only that, but also organizing friends into hierarchies.” He says that this practice naturally mirrors any point in society, listing alphas, betas, and omegas in social and work life. “If you look at a typical circle of friends, there’s usually one or two people who are the decision makers and then there are some people who usually follow along,” he says.
The invite for the play party heavily suggests bringing food, or a financial contribution for food. Fried chicken is emphasized. Alcohol is BYOB, but the invite reminds that only those who are 21 or older should partake. By 11 p.m., there isn’t a drop of booze to be found. Not a whiff of marijuana, either. “It’s not that we don’t drink,” Steve, one of the hosts and housemates, says, “It’s just that the crowd we have so far tonight isn’t that into it.”
The kitchen table is crowded with quickly diminishing 2-liter bottles of off-brand orange soda, triple-double-stuffed Oreos, a pot of homemade hamburger helper, an opened pack of individually wrapped string cheese, two store-bought rotisserie chickens, guacamole, and a bag of Tostito’s. The kitchen has anywhere from two to 10 people in it at any given time. In the living room, three people are intertwined on the couch. Lisa, housemate and hostess, is dressed in a strappy garter belt tied high around her waist, black panties and pumps, and a black laced bra, and she seems to be the center of attention. A larger man and a woman grab and grope her body and she takes it all in stride as they writhe against her with equal and non-competing attention.
Lisa and Steve, her partner, soon move to the back bedroom where they quietly fuck each other with the door open. Steve is smart and nerdy, and comes off like a character in a Christopher Guest movie when he gets serious. Eventually they rejoin the party where she sucks his dick in the living room. He arches his back as she gently bobs her head back and forth and back and forth.
When her mouth is no longer occupied, Lisa explains that the goal of The Igloo is to provide a safe, sane, and consensual space for play. “There are hard limits and soft limits. Hard limits—you don’t cross them—ever. Soft limits are usually limits that you might be willing to push. They’re like ‘I don’t really want to cross it, but if I feel safe enough, I might push it,’” she says as she explains the house rules. The safe word at The Igloo is “red.” Guests who attend the parties either need to know someone who knows someone, or have prior permission, to attend, which gives an added sense of accountability and safety to the guests and hosts. If someone in attendance causes a problem, or crosses a line, they are asked to leave and not return.
Lisa was abused by trusted adults in her life when she was a little girl. “They introduced me to sex and sexuality far younger than anybody should. Like, kindergarten, give or take a year or two,” she says. Lisa says she compartmentalizes the physical and emotional abuse, and she says that technique has worked. “I’m a lot better for it.” She graduated from college a few years ago and she started seeing an older man who became her father figure, took her in, and took care of her until he passed away.
Lisa has a strong and matter-of-fact demeanor. She started attending meet-ups and happy hours over the last year, but her experiences in the beginning weren’t always inviting. “When somebody goes against a rule—safe, sane, and consensual—there’s gonna be those people that do something about it and those people who try to ignore it,” she says.
She says she personally experienced a consent violation early on in her exploration of the scene, but didn’t want to go into details. She explains that consent violation draws a murky line at times, and it is exacerbated by those less experienced with the scene.
“Sexual freedom is not legal,” Steve says. “In the state of Maryland, BDSM is not legal. You can’t consent to be hit, it’s called coercion.”
“Remember that they’re a house party, and that opens them up to so much more liability,” says Silk, a former organizer of The Next Generation: Baltimore (TNG), a local social network for kinksters. He* is not at the party, but is familiar with and generally supportive of The Igloo. “So if society, or the city . . . you don’t want to give them any semi-reasonable cause to raid an event or compromise people.”
Lizzy, a 6-foot-tall woman with smooth brown skin and tremendous breasts who also attends TNG events, started hosting sex parties at The Igloo before it was called The Igloo or became occupied by its present residents. “We were just kinky people and we said ‘come over!’ and the next thing you know someone was like ‘I’ve got toys in my trunk’ and it was like, OK, let’s beat the shit out of each other,” she says. Eventually, she moved out and the current crew moved in, but she doesn’t attend their parties. “Me and my ex lived there together, and his mom passed away in the house, so it was hard to be there all the time.”
(An anonymous profile on FetLife, who goes by TruthInBaltimore, heard about this article and suggested that the current residents of The Igloo are squatting, but land records show the house was in pre-foreclosure last year, and has since been re-purchased in full by the original estate. The deceased owner’s son receives rent from those who live in the house and pays that to the actual owners monthly.)
Onnyx, another of the roommates, says that his interest in BDSM has never really freaked out any of his partners—but his 13-inch cock has. “Normally I don’t talk about my penis,” he says. “I wait until they find out. Their reaction is priceless.”
Onnyx says he’s done BDSM porn but because filming porn is only legal in New Hampshire and California, he’s had to travel to make any money at that. He has been living at The Igloo for a few months, but has attended events here for over a year and a half. “I don’t know if the girl I’m seeing is going to come out tonight,” he says, “she’s still kinda mad at me. I got into a fight with her stepdad. He hit her mother in front of me. I don’t like that.”
When Onnyx was 10 years old his stepfather straddled him and slapped him until he didn’t wake up. “He called the police. He said this bogus story and blamed somebody else.” He says he tried to tell his mother what really happened, but she didn’t believe him. “Me and him never got along, to say the least,” he says.
Then when Onnyx was 13 years old, he witnessed his stepfather beat his mother. “I took a chair to him and put him in the hospital and my mom threw me out. So I’ve been pretty much on my own since then,” he says. He lived under a bridge for about six months until he met a 43-year-old woman named Stephanie who took him in. “She was my girlfriend,” he says, “it was pretty good. To an extent I can see how people would think it’s wrong, but some people mature differently. I never really had a childhood, so I was an adult.”
Onnyx is 20 years old and stands close to 6 feet tall. Under his trucker cap, his big brown eyes and handsome features make him look like a young Johnny Depp. His jeans are fitted to show everything he’s packing, and he’s torn the sleeves off of his black T-shirt. His room has its own bathroom and there are hooks hanging from the ceiling with heavy chains attached. More hooks hang above his bed; intricately looped rope sways like a cartoon noose. A fluffy black and white cat is sitting next to him on a royal-purple satin comforter. He pulls one of the ropes down, releasing it slowly like a loose thread of yarn, and attaches the cat’s harness to it. The cat has free reign in the room, to its water and food and litter pan, but isn’t allowed into the rest of the house on party nights. A handwritten sign reads “If our pet friends are resting, please don’t fuck with them.”
Onnyx’s lady friend arrives a few minutes later. They sit on the edge of his bed petting the harnessed cat. She’s pretty with wide eyes, and her fluffy hair isn’t bound by rules. She’s got on a no-frills sports bra and jeans, and she looks perfectly comfortable in her own skin. He’s taken his shirt off and they’re listening to Nickelback loud enough for the whole house to hear, but their heads are just feet from the speakers.
Back in the living room, a robust woman is bounded by thick rope that is separating her large breasts to the left and right of center, cutting straight down her mid-section. She’s hanging from a contraption set up just feet from a threesome, but there is no audience. Everyone is focused on their own activities, or chatting over a smoke on the porch or a nibble in the kitchen.
Subspace, a state of psychological submersion in a scene that some people compare to a trance or orgasm, requires a submissive to have an intense trust in a dom. That space seems to be the common goal of the party, and the hosts are pleased with the way the evening is unfolding. Scott, a switch, or someone who will play both the submissive and dominant role, is the oldest member of the household.
Although Onnyx pays his share of the rent, Scott pays the majority for the other housemates. He provides food and other general goods, as well, but he doesn’t live there full-time. He spends the most of his time in a suburb, where he cares for his aging mother. But he says the cost is worth the investment and the time he gets to spend in the community. He looks lonely.
Scottholds his arms up, pulling his body away from the wall and asks his housemate, Lisa, to tickle him. He has all of his clothes on but he coos and caws at the slightest touch of her fingers. “For me it’s mostly about opportunity,” he says. “I’ve been interested in this my whole life. And when the internet came around, I thought, ‘Perfect. Now there’s a tool that allows us to find people.’”
Scott says he wanted to have a place to go for play, and Steve needed a place to live, so Scott set up the lease to preserve The Igloo. He describes another play-party group located in close proximity to The Igloo that competes for attendees by throwing last minute parties on conflicting days. He was banned from that house after a falling out with his ex-girlfriend who attends their parties, and feels the other house intentionally attempts to sabotage parties at The Igloo. “People don’t want you to know that the politics exist,” he says.
Scott remembers enjoying the idea of power during elementary school. “I remember anytime someone was being punished, everybody would jump for joy. Every time somebody got in trouble it was a celebration. The whole idea of school revolved around it,” he says. It’s difficult to imagine Scott getting into much trouble, however. He is quiet and awkward, kind and eager to please, although he is fixated on the politics and popularity games that go into being a part of a community like this. He explains that for some people this is a sexual experience, but for others it’s purely about power and hierarchy. “I would like this to be sexual for me,” he says. But he is still looking for someone to share that aspect of play with.
“My ideal night would be to bring someone home, put them on the equipment, work them over for several hours or most of the night, have sex, go to sleep, and wake up the next morning and repeat the process every day,” Scott says. Impact play includes spanking, flogging, and whipping, and he likes it all. His ideal woman would be average-looking, he says. “I actually am intimidated by someone who is extremely good-looking. Sometimes average-looking puts you at ease. I look for someone that the rest of the world would not be fighting over.” He says asking how often this ideal night works out in real life is like asking someone how often they rob a bank.
Steve says that he was charged with a second-degree assault following a series of domestic disputes. “In August of 2012,” he says, “I was given a probation before judgment. I was not convicted because there was no point going through with a trial that would have hurt my ex in the long run. I loved her and in a lot of ways still do. I reported to a probation officer for 18 months and attended very helpful classes at the House Of Ruth, a program I would recommend to anyone.”
Steve chimes in. “You’re asking the wrong person,” he says. “Lisa here is a female. Everybody wants her. Scott is a 53-year-old man and socially awkward. How much sex do you think he has?”
Scott replies, “I try not to think about it because I feel like a failure. It’s hard to describe something that you’ve been trying to do for a long time that just hasn’t happened.”
Though Lisa has her pick of partners at the party, there was a time in her life when she thought she would never be able to enjoy sex because of the abuse she suffered as a child. “It doesn’t seem like there’s any way to turn my sex into a positive after all the negative, but I always turn everything into a positive,” she says, “I’ve been through a lot. But it’s about allowing yourself to seek pleasure and it’s about being in control of a situation.”
Lauren Aycock Anderson, a Baltimore-area relational therapist, says that people get kinky for a variety of reasons. “We have to be careful not to assume that all people interested in kink have been sexually abused,” she says. “That can be stigmatizing on a variety of levels. Some people claim to be ‘born kink,’ having fantasized about BDSM-like situations since they were children.”
“Kink is a whole spectrum of interests depending on who you ask,” Scott says, “but what we do differently [at The Igloo] is we try to have fun with it, while the rest of that world tries to keep it under the radar.”
Shannon Cosgrove gave up working with corpses to deal with drunks
March 17 2015 STYLE WEEKLY
Shannon Cosgrove has a tattoo that runs across her chest, just under her collarbone, that reads, “I’ll sleep when you’re dead.” Her dark brown hair is cut straight across her shoulders and her harsh bangs hang above her brown eyes which sit curiously behind her thick, black, plastic frames. Hidden between her fingers are more symbols and markings, and a pair of brightly colored, inked ice cream cones poke out from under her sleeve on her forearm. She’s dressed all in black.
Cosgrove has been tending bar at Sticky Rice for the last two months. For two years before that, she was an occasional waitress and hostess at the hip sushi/rock ’n’ roll joint in Fells Point. She took on the second job purely for the fun factor. She’s known for her vegan cookie butter cookie sundae creation and good conversation. Her past career, as a mortician, or Funeral Director, was emotionally taxing in an unexpected way. She worked for a publicly traded, corporate funeral home for eight years before turning to bartending full time.
“I stopped embalming several years ago and started just doing sales,” Cosgrove says. “I hated it. I was very good at it, but I hated it. I felt like a car salesman for caskets.”
She says the last three or so years as a funeral director and sales rep started to wear on her. The work was commission-based and the focus, like many sales organizations, was on the upsell. “It was not about caring for people, or grieving, or helping them get through it,” she says. “I just became disgusted with what I was doing.” She says she liked the funeral home she worked at, and loved everyone she worked with, but she no longer agreed with the company’s principles and ideals.
Cosgrove first became interested in mortuary arts when her best childhood friend died of cystic fibrosis. They were 15. She says he spent that entire summer break at John’s Hopkins Hospital because his lung had collapsed and he was jaundiced. “He just didn’t look like himself,” she says, “and that was how I thought I was going to have to remember him.”
At the funeral, she was fascinated by how the funeral director was able to transform his body to a healthier look using science and chemistry. “The funeral director was very kind to me,” she says, “and didn’t dismiss me because I was a child.”
A couple of years later, when Cosgrove was 17 years old, she told her mother she planned to attend Community College of Baltimore County for mortuary arts, the only program of its kind in the state of Maryland. In an effort to deter her daughter, her mother set her up with a shadow day with a funeral director. “I came running home screaming, ‘I can’t wait to do this!’,” Cosgrove recalls. “She thought it would terrify me. But I just wanted to do it even more.”
Three of Cosgrove’s closest friends died before she graduated high school in Dundalk. “By the time I was 18, I had lost four of the most important people in my life, and I just wanted to be there for people who had dealt with loss,” she says.
She says she originally wanted to go to art school, but wasn’t confident she could make a steady living at it. “I convinced myself that going to mortuary school was my own way of doing art,” she says. “I would fix the body the best I could and display it for the family. Their response was a critique of whether it was good or not.”
Cosgrove took deep pride in her ability to make the deceased viewable. “The more messed up the body was, the more of a challenge it was for me to fix it and make it better for the family so they could find some kind of closure,” she says. For gunshots, she had to recreate parts of the deceased’s head, wounds, and holes. She has performed hair transplants to replace missing facial hair, and she even recreated an ear from wax for a man who had ear cancer and lost his. “His family couldn’t tell the difference between the real ear and the fake ear,” she says. “And that was really cool.” Overall, her experience made her feel at ease with death as a natural part of the life cycle. One man early on, however, struck her as confusing and sad. He shot himself in the head at 89 years old. She says he didn’t have much family. “I was so perplexed at why he waited so long to do it,” she says. “I couldn’t understand. He went this long. Why now? I didn’t want to go anywhere near him. It was one of the first gunshots I had.”
Embalming is a big part of a traditional mortician’s job, and early on in her career, Cosgrove had the opportunity to do the work. “It was almost like meditating,” she says.
She would put headphones on and play music and zone out for the hour and a half to two hours the process would take. The process starts with setting the features, cleaning out the nose and mouth, and resetting the body in a natural position. As rigor mortis sets in, the mortician needs to break, or stretch, the muscles in order to position the body naturally in the casket. Most establishments these days use a machine to drain and flush the blood, and replace it with a chemical through the carotid artery to preserve the body for some time. The mortician also treats the organs, washes the body, and takes care of the cosmetics.
As her career moved further away from the intimacy of embalming, she found refuge in tending bar, where she encountered an entirely different world. “There are no similarities between being a mortician and a bartender,” she says.
She is curious about people. She looks forward to chatting with whatever stranger might come sit at the bar and tell their tale. “I just want to make people happy,” she says. “Even if it’s just an outlet for an hour or a half an hour.”
Cosgrove points to a brightly colored tattoo on her inner bicep. It’s an urn with a blue candle, a flower, and the name Phyllis is written across a ribbon around it. “I do not know who Phyllis is,” she says. She and her best friend came across two urns a few years ago at a storage unit auction. They were to be thrown away, but instead, one took Phyllis and the other got Gladys. They tried to find out who they belonged to by contacting the family and funeral home, but didn’t get anywhere. “So, I kept them,” she says, “We kept them in our house.” She says they decided to have a séance with a cheap, glow-in-the-dark Ouija board and terrible, blueberry scented candles from the dollar store. “Obviously we did not connect with them,” she says, “but we gave them a proper burial. No one wanted them. No one wanted to give them a final goodbye. We always joke that the only names we have tattooed on us are ladies that we don’t even know. But I would hope that they were happy that someone cared enough to give them a proper send-off.”