Part of the Party

Part of the Party examines the experiences of Walter Houston III, a black gay male in a Bondage Discipline SadoMasochisms (BDSM) community in Chicago through written interviews and personal reflection through photographs, art, and digital art.


Walter and the Whip
“Walter and the Whip”  8.5 x 11″Erica Brooks -Digital Photography

For your Information 

Roles within BDSM:

  • Dominant– The person who is given control in a consensual exchange of power. This term can refer to any gender.
  • Submissive, Sub – One who surrenders control of his/her body and behavior (within pre-defined limitations) to another for erotic play.
  • Master – A male that takes the dominant role in SM role-play. (female term Mistress).
  • Slave – 1) In the scene community sometimes used loosely as another word for submissive.
    2) A submissive involved in a committed relationship incorporating a shared slave/master fantasy.

Closeness copy

This ethnography to explores blackness and the black identity through the experiences of one black gay man in a Bondage Discipline Sadomasochism (BDSM)community on the north side of Chicago. As an arts educator, ethnography allowed me to
have intimate conversations and reflections about the intersections of race and identity.

Through this project I asked questions such as: How does my participant navigate his own identity as a black person? What does black identity mean to my participant? Does his chosen community think about issues of representation as black individuals within wider society and BDSM communities? 

 Each week’s interview was broken down into a different topic each week: including family relationships, race, sexuality, BDSM history and community. At the end of every week of interviews, I created paintings, drawings, digital art, and digital photos as a way to reflect.

June 27 2014

Although Walter is the main individual I interview and communicate with I also talk to other members of his community through out the process. My decision to work with the BDSM community Onyx, the longest existing leather club for people of color, is inspired by their strength as a community, openness to work with me, and their sense of empowerment as black gay men in

July 2014

A week after my first meeting with Walter, I had the privilege of meeting with the Onyx brothers at his home.

Above is the original image of husbands in Onyx. The image below was my recreation of the image.

“Family is first. No matter what you do.Take care of home first. Always eat together. Always say that you love them. Show them not tell them”. – Walter J. Houston

A few people were sitting outside around the back table, eating and drinking.. Four of the people were new pledges of Onyx, hoping to become
members of the Onyx brotherhood. The pledges talked about few of the most important rules that they needed to know before beginning a BDSM relationship. It is important to discuss what partners want in a BDSM relationship.

This conversations with the pledges was the first time I was introduced to terms like play, domination, and submission in casual
conversation. When I had done research about BDSM communities, the information and terminology I read was always very academic. Conversations with the pledges and me brought BDSM terms like consent and power from the abstract, to concrete concepts that are important and necessary in BDSM relationships.

PlayisnotCasual copy

Play is not Casual (Figure 2) is the painting I created in response to the conversation on the back porch. I chose to make the painting pink to represent the lively and fun atmosphere and personality of Onyx. I placed the phrase ‘ Play is not casual’ in the middle with black bold letters to represent the very serious conversations about BDSM play and consent.

 August 22, 2014

Men Working copy

I met with Walter to do a photo shoot at Touché. Walter felt the most comfortable in this space, so we both agreed to meet there earlier in the afternoon when the bar would not be crowded. Walter arrived a few minutes after me, and led me back to a mid sized room in the back of Touché. This room was where many leather and BDSM groups meet to organize for their get monthly meetings.

Closeness copy

Walter Describes himself as a Dom or dominant within his BDSM relationship, and this influences the way that he acts and dresses within the group.

Along with the vest, many of the brothers wear leather hats, studded wristbands, and sunglasses. Walter brought a whip and used it in many of the photos. The whip is part of his play experience and shows his dominance within Onyx. Walter Describes himself as a Dom or dominant within his BDSM relationship, and this influences the way that he acts and dresses within the group.

Above image on the left is my recreation of the photograph on the right. The picture on the right shows some of Walters most important items. Leather wrist strap, leather hat, and aviator.

Walter and the Whip

Demonstrations are when the newest brothers accepted into Onyx demonstrate or act out BDSM play in small groups. This event included brother Cedric and a few others soon to be new Onyx brothers. On this night, I gathered in the large back room at Touch, and filmed and took photos at this demonstration. The first demonstration acted out was flogging. Cedric provided the introduction to the history and importance of flogging in BDSM play and Onyx. Flogging was described as a form of whipping or caning. It was also a form of judicial punishment based on the means of maintaining discipline in schools, prisons, military forces, and private homes.

While the demonstration took place, the older Onyx brothers talked about the importance of flogging safely. They directed the Dom to be gentle and to avoid using too
much force.

Dom’s and sub’s have to be conscious of this history of flogging used as a punishment for black people and make sure that flogging is not used as a means of
punishment but as an outlet for sexual pleasure. An Onyx brother can choose to be submissive and to be flogged by a Dom, while still having the power to stop when they feel uncomfortable.

Puppy Play : Someone who is a “puppy” is the person taking on a role with a canine personality.

In BDSM an individual has the option to determine different aspects of their identity through choosing their titles, their clothing, and their community based on their interest and level of comfort. In BDSM individuals choose their roles.

When roles are decided upon and all parties are in communication, each individual can focus on their limits and what they want to get out the experience.

Image above is my digital recreation of Puppy Play in Onyx.

Walter told me the terms that he felt were most important within BDSM were safe, secure, sane, and spiritual. When Walter chooses submissive partners that care about their health, mental and emotional well being before he chooses them as a BDSM partner.

Once a person has officially become an Onyx brother after a long initiation process, he is given the Onyx vest. This vest is black leather vest that with
the Onyx logo on the back of it

My last interview with Walter was a debrief on what this project meant to him. He told me that this project gave him a chance to have a dialogue about his experiences as a black man in BDSM. Walter told me that there were not many written stories or images focusing on black people in BDSM, and this was his chance to educate people about his culture. Walter felt that it was important for anyone reading his story to know that he and the men in Onyx have a rich life within in and outside of BDSM. They are more than just Doms or subs, or men dressed in leather. They have families and friends that they care about and are passionate about educating people about BDSM.

Thanks Walter ! Xoxo Erica Brooks


Walter explained to me that Onyx’s mission is about representation, not exclusion. Onyx is one of the first communities that Walter felt he has been represented as an individual, and not just his skin color. Walter talked about what Onyx provides black men in BDSM We want to represent more than just skin color. You are more than your skin color. You are more than just a black man. we fit into the culture beyond just being black”.I drew More Than Just a Black man (image below) because these words had a powerful impact.

We Represent More copy

Cigar copy

PlayisnotCasual copy

Toolsand Flowers copy 2



January 27th: Exhibition at The Leather Archives