RECESSION SEX WORKERS #9: The Refined Tyranny of Mistress Marzanna Katorga

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“The early messages in my family were that women are the source of power. They made the household decisions, held the purse strings, and if the woman of the house was not happy, no one was happy. “

In High school, Marzanna hung out with the geeky new wave crowd who smoked cloves, cut class and drank vodka. I was a blonde cheerleader who dated sexually ambiguous Mormon surfers. She was a year older so our social circles clashed, but I remember Marzanna’s black eyeliner, vintage coats and her hearty laugh. Marzanna and I’ve known each other our whole lives. We went to ballet together when we were five. Our Dads, both staunch Republicans, attend Rotary meetings in our small town. Hungry to escape the insulation of Humboldt County, Marzanna and I were both foreign exchange students. I found her twenty years later on Facebook and she agreed to do this interview about her career as a sadist, her personal relationships and her life as an ex-pat.

The Rumpus: You’ve always been a bright, theatrical person. Did you always know you would live a subversive lifestyle? How does a nice girl from Eureka, CA become a Pro Domme in Berlin?

Mme Marzanna Katorga: I didn’t know I would be a subversive person at all.  I was raised to be such a good girl. I had no real desires to be a particular thing when I grew up but I was instilled with a feeling that I was special and therefore something special would happen for me.  So, talk about a shattered illusion when I got out into the real world. I really feel like I was raised to be some sort of exiled aristocrat in a world where formality and aristocracy are mostly dead. I mostly wanted to be elegant and artistic and lauded for my creativity and loved. Either that or a veterinarian.  So I guess in a way I have become what I wanted. Without the animal doctor part, although I do use vet wrap and needles and I do enjoy treating men like dogs or pigs so maybe I got the best of both worlds. I knew the world was far larger than the few miles radius a small town offers.  Mostly I just kept pushing beyond those boundaries I felt in my household growing up.  I find fulfillment at the border or near the edge of society.

Rumpus: What were some messages you received about sex in your family and in our small town?

Katorga: The early messages in my family were that women are the source of power. They made the household decisions, held the purse strings, and if the woman of the house was not happy, no one was happy.  Things were done to assure the woman of the house was happy, comfortably situated, and she had the things around her just so.  Being raised that way and on ballet, opera, theater, and art as well as performing these things in the family living room for guests so that I could be praised for these skills raised me to understand a sense of power and control and femininity.  Feminine cruelty and fetishism came later. The messages I received early on were so deeply coded and hidden it was like trying to unravel the human genome.  Every hint of sexuality took on a spark for me, and those things that aren’t considered “sex” by most became my codex.  High heels that caught the eye of someone and made them double take, lipstick, the barest touch of one hand to another’s arm – these felt like “sex” because I was hyper-alert to human connection and like all young people I was seeking information I filled the gap in my knowledge with fantasy. I believe this has something to do with fetishism and fetishism has everything to do with my personal and professional life. Intimacy was a secret message to be decoded. Touch was electric.

Rumpus: What messages did you receive about beauty and desire? When did you discover you were sexually different than other people?

Katorga: Beauty was when my mother and my grandmother got dressed up to go out or had a dinner party with the table perfectly set and everything had a quality of elegance that masked any hostility or imperfections. There were conversations that were not about what was being said. True desire was hidden and finery replaced deeper urges. Beauty was a certain public appearance of being put together, of being comely.  Beauty was something classic and never garish.  Beauty was in control; out of control was bad. I spent hours and hours looking at records and photos of ladies in heels and hats and gloves and lipstick, at the heightened femininity of the 1950s. I took every kind of “lady” class imaginable. I was also playing baseball, mowed the lawn and was left to my own devices with mostly male playmates. I hated dolls; I loved army men. I was different from my friends.  I spoke using proper English for a start, I wore vintage clothing and I really didn’t know how to fit in very well so I often directed “we are going there” and “we are doing that”.  I discovered the power of fishnet stockings and high heels very young. When I was barely a teenager, my first experience with the reality of sexual intercourse was through an act of violence. This is where the strongest message about sex I have carried into my work came right through me, an undeniable message that sex was better as subtlety and under my control and that the act of being fucked lacked grace or complexity.

Rumpus: When and why did you begin doing sex work? What do you do now?

Katorga: People seem to think that if women spank someone or tie some boy up then, voila!  We became a Dominatrix!!  But that’s not true for me everything around me slowly alchemized to make me who I am.

I’m what I call a Lifestyle Professional Dominatrix.  This is what I consider my life’s work – this is my personal sexuality and also my trade.  In 1989, when I was 19, my dance instructor and I spoke about how we needed some extra money.  The conversation turned to stripping. This was in Portland, Oregon after all which was the strip club capital. Mostly, it was a bonding experience with this woman that I really thought was just the coolest person I’d ever met.  We practiced in her living room, drinking wine. This was the first time I had encountered a woman who was independent and empowered in her body.

She was about 15 years older than me.  This woman blew me away because she could say and do what she decided she wanted without worrying what others thought. We talked about sexuality and what men wanted and how to move our bodies. We went into “EJ’s” for an audition. I made the mistake of putting the 15 minute long dance mix of “Fascination Street” by the Cure on for my audition and had the longest and most wretched striptease of my life.  I really had no desire to get naked, let alone hustle, let alone dance that long to little praise or acclaim. There were about 6 guys in the bar and one of them maybe glanced my way.  She did a lot better, but the bartender told her she was too old.  Rather than it being a crushing experience, we had a great laugh. It was terrible; we weren’t strippers.  I’ve had respect for strippers ever since, it’s an artful skill. I discovered phone sex work in the back of a newspaper. In 1989 you could make some good money on the telephone.  I had a line at home and a switchboard sent calls to me.  I learned I was in control of their orgasm. I had an excellent memory for voices so I started making cards with details about each client that called me.  I learned how to keep them on the phone, how to get them confessing their secret lusts, to build the sexual tension to get to the release.  I paid for my apartment and bills this way while going to college. It was more than a little empowering.

Rumpus: How did you learn about BDSM?

Katorga: About this time, I began to think about power, control, sex, and it keyed into some of my interests in leather and I began seeking information about domination.  Thanks to some glorious leather men – the real Tom of Finland types – and an era where if you were into leather, it didn’t matter if you were queer or a heterosexual femme. I was just another person into leather and these men took me in. I was so fortunate.  I learned a great deal about bondage, sado-masochism, and the details that a skilled top needs to know. Leathermen became my family. I was able to fulfill my tomboyish side once again learning about whip throwing and leather bondage, hanging out with daddies and their boys.

Rumpus: How does Pro Domme work differ from other types of sex work? What do you hope to accomplish during a session?


Antonia Crane is a writer, teacher and performer in Los Angeles. She is the author of the memoir SPENT by Barnacle Books/Rare Bird Lit. Her other work can be found in Playboy, Dame Magazine, Salon, PANK magazine, Black Clock, The Believer, Frequencies, Slake, The Los Angeles Review The New Black, and lots of other places. She can be found running up Griffith Park mountain and here: http://antoniacrane.com. More from this author →