“My background is in the arts, music … and kink,” Lady Rouge laughs when I ask her about her life before being a professional domme, kink activist and the founder of Fem Dom Philadelphia. She says that all these interests are connected. “It’s all about human expression, human therapy. I think it’s all necessary to live a life.”
To call her multifaceted would be an understatement. The holder of an MFA degree, she speaks three languages and is trained in 2D animation, fine art and classical music. Before emerging professionally on the scene in 2017, Lady Rouge (aka LR) spent time as a self-described “lurker” in the BDSM world. “I had been in the lifestyle, but I just wanted to watch,” she says. “I wanted to do my thesis on BDSM, I wanted to go into a dungeon somewhere in the city to be at the core.
“Then I wanted to be a practitioner, rather than someone who is a client. I wanted to learn how to do it,” the center city resident says. After approaching Philly kink staple Mxstress Lilith, Rouge received a mentorship in the art of protocol, role play, tease and denial. Lilith helped her get listed as a house domme at local dungeon Destiny’s Chamber and eventually she started her own “underground play world,” The Gallery R.
Her areas of expertise include impact play, like spanking, whipping and flogging. “Caning is also spectacular,” she says. She’s also proficient with amateur wrestling. “I grew up as a tomboy, I mostly wrestled with boys. I was very physical and have always been very physical. It’s easier for me to wrestle someone to the ground and laugh about it than to do the emotional stuff.”
It’s largely enjoyable work for her. “This triggers my deviant side, which I have to look out for. I do enjoy seeing people suffer, when they’re begging me to stop,” she says, comparing it to attending a haunted house. “You’re so scared and the person who is hired to scare you gets so much pleasure out of it, it’s so perverted. You get your satisfaction from their reaction and the client gets satisfaction from your reaction.”
While Rouge considers herself a bit of a sadist, safety is an utmost priority. “Healthy dynamics are always my focus. I won’t respond to someone who wants to be permanently injured. I don’t want to go out of my way to quench somebody’s fantasy and then have me be liable for the damages potentially, because you know this stuff is serious.”
Working with clients is fulfilling and challenging, but she also wanted to expand into activism and community leadership. She started Fem Dom Philadelphia because there was no institution or platform for the various workers in town and she was receiving an abundance of inquiries from people looking to get into the industry or simply to meet other kinksters. The organization touches on education, entertainment, legal, medical and psychological components of the work. To be effective as a domme, she says, “you have to be well versed in all of those.”
The nonprofit is only one of Lady Rouge’s accomplishments. Her bio cites a litany, including: starting the tradition of the Philadelphia Leather Walk, the Kinky Champagne Affair and Rouge Bash, as well as co-producing The Inversions Show. She’s now on the board of the Diabolique Ball, the huge fetish fundraiser and Philly institution. The event has plans to return this year, potentially with Philly Fetish Week featuring lectures, workshops, shows and parties.
The road hasn’t been entirely easy though, as she recalls the challenges of being trained in protocol at her first dungeon. There’s a lot to learn, aside from the skills of working with clients: screening, cleaning, safety, discretion, “and just how to handle myself.” She says she got yelled at several times. Her first day she lit a candle for a session, only to realize too late it was plastic. “Up until the day I left Destiny’s, I hadn’t really figured out how to lock the deadbolt.”
Despite these obstacles, she has grand plans for Philly’s fetish community. “Public education is critical,” she says, noting the need to end stigma in society at large and even among clients. Many people don’t recognize that being a domme and other forms of sex work are truly work, she says.
“Get to know the sex workers in your neighborhood — then you will perhaps change your mind about some of the laws that are … What is the word I’m looking for? Stupid.”
Based on her trajectory so far, I think she stands a good chance at defeating at least some of that stupidity. With her combination of tenacity, ambition and ability to bring people together, she’s a formidable warrior in the battle for sex positivity in Philly.