No Pain, No Gain

The Enclave has Commerce City fit to be tied.

Through websites like www.alt.com, she found others into the same thing -- including Michael.

A Catholic-raised Minnesota farm boy who ended up in Denver two dozen years ago after a stint in the Army, Michael started exploring the local BDSM scene a couple of years before Deb. He had worked as a security guard, a safety inspector, a business manager, even a cop, and had a wife and a family -- but something was wrong, he remembers: "I would find myself wanting to spank someone, and I was thinking, 'You are a wife-beater.'"

Ultimately, he concluded that there was a difference between being respectfully dominant and selfishly domineering, between consensually hurting someone and thoughtlessly harming her. "I have always been a controlling person," he says. "The trick was finding someone like Deb, who I wanted to be in charge of and who was willing to give me that responsibility. I take the responsibility very seriously and thrive on that responsibility."

Deb heads toward subspace as she hangs from a suspension rack at the Enclave; Love Slave (bottom) says her Denver BDSM club is completely legal.
Anthony Camera
Deb heads toward subspace as she hangs from a suspension rack at the Enclave; Love Slave (bottom) says her Denver BDSM club is completely legal.

In many ways, the couple's relationship looks old-fashioned -- "When you think of Leave It to Beaver, the truth is Ward was the dominant," Michael says. "He had that veto in his pocket" -- except for one thing: Deb and Michael communicate.

"I don't know of a single vanilla couple that has the openness and transparency that we have. I need to trust that she's telling me what is good and what is bad," says Michael. "It feels right, it is consensual, it makes her happy. If our relationship is flourishing within this power exchange, why is this bad?"

But many people have told them that their lifestyle is indeed bad -- very bad. Michael partially ascribes the failure of his earlier, fifteen-year marriage to a growing interest in BDSM, and he's afraid that his involvement in the Enclave could cost him his day job. (He asked that his last name not appear in this story.)

One day two years ago, Deb received an e-mail from her father and stepmother. They'd heard about what she was doing with the club, and it disgusted them. They didn't want anything to do with her ever again, they said, and she hasn't heard from them since. "If I could choose to not have this part of my life, I would, because I would still have my family," says Deb, tearing up. "But I can't choose. I would not be honest with myself. I carried about so much shame, and I don't do that anymore."

They don't think other people should have to, either. "Wouldn't it be great," says Deb, "if people who were into this could go somewhere where they would not be ashamed, that was not under the radar?"

Enter the Enclave.

In 2002, after looking everywhere from Montana to New Mexico, eyeing properties from bed-and-breakfasts to defunct ski resorts, Deb and Michael found the perfect place to create a BDSM club: a conveniently located, attractively priced warehouse at 6040 East 50th Avenue in Commerce City that had once been a fertilizer plant and an armored-truck garage. They weren't the only ones buying up real estate in the once-stagnant community crammed between oil refineries and a former chemical-weapons plant. Commerce City is now one of the fastest-growing municipalities in the metro area. The Colorado Rapids Major League Soccer stadium just opened there, part of the city's ongoing development of former Rocky Mountain Arsenal land.

But Michael and Deb set up shop in the gritty, industrial part of town, the section that civic boosters were trying to forget. "Adult entertainment is a workable business in this zone," says Michael, and their facility would be far from schools and churches, as well as prying neighbors. Outsiders would never imagine what the nondescript building held: a new kind of BDSM club, one that -- from the detailed woodwork around the stage to the marble countertops in the bathrooms -- looked much more upscale than other club locations around town.

"Many of the places people were going to were dank and dirty," says Deb. "It reminded me of how I felt when I first found out about it: a dark and shameful thing."

At her club, shame would be left at the door.

The common denominator in BDSM isn't sex or even pain; it's trust. Submissives trust their partners to put them in potentially dangerous situations in ways that will not harm them, only help them, and dominants get off on that trust.

The entire community is built on trust. At a time when many are still scared that the whips and chains in their closets could cost them their jobs, their friends or their children, it takes a lot of communal faith for everyone to come together and let their kinky sides hang out at an event like this fundraiser for LeatherMagick, a local BDSM charity.

It looks like the Stock Show for the whips-and-paddles set. More than a hundred people fill the Enclave this Saturday night, when holiday lights dangle from the eaves. Men in leather vests and caps converse with women in fishnet stockings. An elegantly dressed lady leads another on a leash, past booths of leather-scented candles and whipping canes. On the stage, corseted women writhe in ecstasy to Nine Inch Nails as Deb hawks her videos: "It's like Abbott and Costello meets BDSM."

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