No Pain, No Gain

The Enclave has Commerce City fit to be tied.

"It is not really a sexually oriented business, but I know Commerce City has forced them into that distinction," says Master Lee, grand master and president of FOLD, Denver's fraternal order for lifestyle dominants. "I see this as a very positive step, because it will give a classification for a type of business that has forever been thrown onto the heap of depravity. I would hope it would be used beyond the walls of Commerce City, some sort of precedent that could assist other communities."

Still, some members of the local BDSM community worry that all these precedents won't help their cause. They're afraid that once the Enclave's struggles go public, it will be like the Labyrinth all over again. "Personally, it's their fight. But on the other hand, my membership is concerned about the media attention this fight is going to bring," says Love Slave. "It is going to have an effect on my attendance, and I can't afford to have that. We don't want to force this down anybody's throats."

Even Enclave members are wary of the fight. "I am one of those who has to keep my interests hidden from the world I live in," says Kathleen, a club regular. "No one likes to be vulnerable, at least within the club's walls. Letting someone from the 'outside' into that cozy world of protection is frightening, to say the least."

Anthony Camera
Deb O’Keefe and Michael R., the Enclave’s owners, enjoy their family ties.
Anthony Camera
Deb O’Keefe and Michael R., the Enclave’s owners, enjoy their family ties.


To hear oral arguments in Enclave v. Commerce, click here.

But no pain, no gain. "I believe that what Deb and Michael are doing is very, very beneficial to all BDSM communities, both in the U.S. and abroad," says Lew Rubens, the San Francisco-based owner of "I liken us BDSM communities to the gay-rights movements of the '60s. In the long run, I believe that exposure, exposure, exposure is the way to make the best progress. As the shock and novelty of what we do wears off, people will grow to accept the fact that we are here, we are okay and we should be able to do what we want as long as no one gets hurt...who doesn't want to be!"

Deb looks pale and worried, like she's about to submit herself to something painful -- painful in a bad way. "I am getting nervous," she admits, standing with Michael outside the Colorado Court of Appeals on March 27, waiting for their appeal's oral arguments to begin.

Michael is full of nervous energy, too, his hands jittery without their customary cigarette. "I'm sure it will be educational for all of us," he cracks jadedly. "It may be the most boring fifteen minutes of our lives."

But the hearing is far from boring. The moment it begins, the gloves come off and Commerce City is slapped around. One after another, the appeals judges spank the city's lawyer. Hadn't the city made mistakes processing the adult-license application? Could the city have used these mistakes to its advantage, changing its reasons for the license denial at the last minute so that the applicants didn't have enough time or information to respond? If the residence next door had involved professional uses, would that not terminate its residential status?

"What is the point of going through this whole process if the city council can simply do whatever it wants?" asks Judge Jerry Jones. "Where is the due process there?"

After the hearing, Deb and Michael are jubilant. "I think we won," Deb says. But their zoning lawyer, Bob Bruce, tries to calm them down. "You can't have any expectations," he warns. They won't know the judges' decision for several weeks, maybe longer. And even if they win, Commerce City could appeal to the state Supreme Court -- more hoops, more legal fees.

"No matter the way the Court of Appeals goes, either party may ask the Supreme Court to hear the case," hints Assistant City Attorney Merrigan.

That doesn't frighten Michael and Deb. They're ready to go the distance. "I'm not Rosa Parks," Michael says. "I'm not Martin Luther King. But you know what? It's wrong."

Deb can see it now: judicial vindication, an official license and then, the final step -- a legal definition that applies specifically to BDSM clubs, paving the way for similar clubs in Colorado and beyond. That would make them official. That would make them legitimate.

"I'm feeling great," she gushes. But "great" doesn't cut it; there's a better way to describe how she's feeling. "Subspace. I'm in subspace, baby!"

There, in those austere chambers, while Commerce City bent over, they could hear that delicious sound they know so well: whack, whack, whack.

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