Saturday, April 13, 2024
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Astonishing true story of lesbian’s international BDSM odyssey

Lesbian author Elizabeth Hendrick has written a scorcher of a memoir detailing her underground journey through pain, unrequited love, and healing in EXODAI.

Many LGBTQ folks who came out in the 1990s in any major metropolitan center around the world may remember thriving fetish scenes promising unparalleled nightlife, radical identities, and arguably the most intense embodiments of identity and desire. But there was also a dark and deadly side, now exposed by one lesbian’s memoir, EXODAI. From an early age, Elizabeth Hendrick, a British business executive, conflates lesbian love and religious service with pain and torture. From Dubai to Tokyo she explores her deepest desires but when she falls in love with a striking Japanese dominatrix whose abuse goes beyond, Hendrick must stop serving sadists and start to save herself. This is a riveting, eye-opening reminiscence of a unique time in one person’s life, but it also offers a view onto our community, in one of its most extreme forms. To find out more about this critically-acclaimed tell-all, we caught up with its author.

EXODAI author Elizabeth Hendrick today

Queer Forty: During the memoir, your religious faith seems inextricably linked with your BDSM — especially the paradigm of suffering and release/euphoria. Is this a paradigm that still works for you?

Elizabeth Hendrick: I used to be quite a devout Christian, and it was always a struggle to embrace my sexuality. As I look back, it’s clear that my lack of self-love originated because of my naïve and childish interpretation of the Bible, exacerbated by traditional societal values at the time. However, there’s also no doubt that it was my faith that eventually saved me and enabled me to find confidence in myself and conquer my internal disgust and self-hatred. That’s the Yin and Yang of my Christianity. 

I feel saddened that many religions seem to perpetuate the myth that being gay is an abomination to God, and frankly I’m staggered at how homophobic the evangelical right has become. In the end, while I try very much to be Christ-like, I can no longer embrace the core beliefs of Christianity, especially the idea that there is only one way to be “saved.” I believe Jesus was a highly enlightened individual, but the actual “Son of God”? – well, yes, I suppose if we are all sons and daughters of God. Nowadays, I think of myself as spiritual, not religious. I regard God to be in us and around us: love, consciousness, light, the universe, infinite intelligence, Mother Nature – whatever you want to call it. Einstein once said, “There are only two ways to live your life: One is as though nothing is a miracle; the other is as though everything is a miracle.” I adopt the latter approach. I do believe in karma and that everything has a reason. We are all souls on a journey that goes well beyond this life (and has been going on way before too!) 

As for the paradigm of suffering to release euphoria or reach a state of bliss, when I began practicing BDSM, I was very active at the local expatriate church in Tokyo. In fact, I was on the parish “prayer net” – a small group of individuals who prayed for healing for specific members of the congregation. I used to take those prayers with me to S&M bars in Tokyo to get whipped. Under the whip I would reach commune with God and offer those parish prayers heavenward. It seemed my prayers were most powerful under the whip. (I recount one such story in my book.) Indeed, I was practicing mortification of the flesh and, for a while, my faith and my BDSM activities were intrinsically linked. 

However, I no longer practice BDSM to enter into that spiritual state. I never liked pain and I’m not willing to endure it for the pleasure of someone else anymore. I’ve learnt to love myself! These days, I pursue much healthier pathways to the divine, such as yoga, meditation, breathwork, eating healthily and immersing myself in nature. I still go to church from time to time to support the community I once knew so well, but I cannot embrace the Christian liturgy anymore. It’s very conditioning. 

Dominant-Submissive as a paradigm reverberates throughout other LGBTQ relationship dynamics that we often don’t question and that we believe to ‘work’: codependent, top-bottom, butch-femme, narcissist-empath as a dynamic. Why is it so rare to find two happy and well-adjusted versatiles ever work together? Is there something in LGBTQ identity that draws us to a push-pull dynamic that can be toxic? Are we masochistic?

Elizabeth Hendrick: No matter how progressive we claim to be in the West, I think that members of the LGBTQ community are dealt a more difficult hand in life. Many of us still wrestle with layers of self-hatred, guilt, and shame as we go about our lives. Some of us live in complete denial that there is any internal problem (as I did for at least two decades). It’s this internal disconnect that, at a subconscious level, prompts us to enter into codependent and dysfunctional relationships.

Codependent partners tend to plug into each other’s internal demons and feel a euphoric fusion, but the reality is that they are both feeding the dark side of their psyches, pressing each other’s buttons and triggers. This is why I think we see so many top-bottom or butch-femme relationships eventually erupt and become toxic. 

Having said that, I often see the same sub-dom dynamic in fully stable “inter-dependent” relationships. Though they are few and far between, stable sub-dom relationships in the LGBTQ community do exist! Whereas, a codependent relationship is built on need, an “inter-dependent” relationship is built on love. Whatever the case, we all have a chance to grow in relationships, but that’s only if we apply love and forgiveness to all situations, rather than anger, distrust, and wilfulness. 

Your book’s time period fascinated me. I first went into LGBTQ journalism in the mid-1990s, and the BDSM scene was really taking off and was a visible part of the LGBTQ community globally, from Sydney to San Francisco. Leather and fetishwear were often quick ways to telegraph queerness even if one was relatively vanilla. Do you feel the LGBTQ community found a release through BDSM imagery after the horrors of AIDS and other forms of social ostracism?

Elizabeth Hendrick: The BDSM scene was also just getting going around that time in London with the instigation of Torture Garden by David Wood in 1990 – now a famous BDSM party brand. Similarly, I felt a sense of “new emergence” as I entered the BDSM scene in Tokyo in 2002. Now, although the fashion of fetishism is still very popular in Japan, the BDSM scene has become less vibrant. 

Meanwhile, I’ve always thought of the BDSM scene as multi-sexual and not especially embraced by the LGBTQ community. BDSM is multi-faceted. People begin practicing BDSM for all sorts of different reasons. I believe that fetishes or kinks tend to be innate. I always knew from a very young age that I was into bondage, even thought I had no name for it as a child. I’m pleased to say that many practitioners of BDSM are playing from a position of complete consent, confidence, and self-awareness. Relationships may be extreme but they are “safe” and inter-dependent, built on love, awareness, and trust. 

On the other hand, many people get involved with BDSM from a position of insecurity and self-loathing. This was mainly my case. I didn’t like pain, but when I discovered how much a dominatrix enjoyed torturing me, I willingly offered myself because I wanted to please her and be her hero – but it was a perilous way to express love. In cases like this, BDSM offers a dangerous framework for individuals who feel a deep need to be punished, to play out in real life the self-loathing and disgust that is going in their subconscious. In this regard, there is no doubt that members of a tormented and ostracized LGBTQ community would have found solace in BDSM: the guilt and shame individuals may have felt deep inside personally could be admonished physically through BDSM giving rise to a sense of redemption and vigour.

The most disturbing part of the book for me is what you put yourself through physically. From swimming with the intention of drowning yourself in Dubai to cutting and being whipped to the point of needing medical intervention. You invite and endure this suffering for women you love. Don’t you think that at the base of it, therefore, is not a preference/identity but an affliction? Controversial! Can you elaborate on this or where you feel you are now compared to then?

Elizabeth Hendrick: I was naturally interested in bondage, and that’s what led me to the BDSM scene, but it was my internal lack of self-love and desire to be “punished” that drove me to extreme S&M torture, (as well as once attempting suicide). As mentioned, I didn’t like pain, but enduring torture became my quintessential expression of love. Love and pain somehow fused together for me. Indeed, I think it was an affliction. In the thick of it, I became addicted to torture and deluded myself into thinking I had been called to “save” my dominatrix from her demons. That’s why I chose to stay in the toxic relationship thinking I had a noble path to follow. It’s amazing how the mind tricks itself to cling on to desperate situations. However, by staying in the relationship – because I consistently responded with love and forgiveness – the opportunity to save myself eventually materialized. When my dominatrix had condemned me to the absolute zero of submission, amazingly – without any crutches to sustain me – I found it inside me to start recognizing, accepting, and loving my true self.

To be honest, I’m still unpacking some of this. Writing the book was a very cathartic process, but I now feel healed. As I mentioned, I was in denial for two decades. I never thought I had a problem until I went through a very traumatic experience on a reality TV show back in 2007. I hit rock bottom after the filming, and it was only then that I acknowledged I had a problem: I did not love myself as a lesbian woman. Half of the solution to a problem is acknowledging that there is one in the first place! 

After recognizing that I had an issue, I began a seven-year journey of healing, and finding self-acceptance, which culminated in – what I call my “two-year boot camp” – my relationship with the sadistic Japanese dominatrix. Since 2014, when I finally learned to love and accept myself, my life has become so much happier. I’m now completely at one with my true self. I love myself as a lesbian woman in a way that I just did not ten years ago. I’m also in a very stable, happy, and loving relationship (with a Japanese woman).

There is no way I would put myself in a BDSM situation to endure pain for another person’s pleasure again. I don’t like pain. I’m not going to seek it out. I sometimes look back, jaw-agape, on the relationship I had with the dominatrix and the mission I believed I was pursuing. It was sheer lunacy and quite disturbing. I’m glad it’s over.

WebMD says: A 2016 study found that BDSM sex was slightly more prevalent in couples on the LGBTQ spectrum, but researchers otherwise determined that BDSM sex was practiced across different ages, genders, and ethnic backgrounds. Your book does show this. Are you worried about exposing anyone in straight, corporate, or Japanese cultures?

Elizabeth Hendrick: I can well believe these findings. It makes sense that individuals from any minority group might engage in BDSM from a position of insecurity, inviting unhealthy codependent relationships, and that would tip the statistical scales. But I would like to think that, where BDSM relationships are “inter-dependent” and healthy, there are no biases towards one age, gender, or ethnic grouping.  

As for exposing anyone, I am not concerned. I’ve written the book carefully to protect people’s identities. Besides, much of the story happened over ten years ago, and people have moved on. Having said that, I suppose I am outing what goes on behind closed doors in Japan. One person did mention that I make the Japanese look very cruel. But I don’t think this is the case. I made one Japanese dominatrix look very cruel. She was. But in general, I think I’ve painted a positive, exotic, and intriguing picture of Japan. 

When did you know you had this book in you to write, and how did you get it out of you — any routine, discipline, mentorship, encouragement, inspiration?

Elizabeth Hendrick: All through my life, I have kept diaries. When I was going through more stressful or traumatic experiences, I found the process of journaling to be extremely cathartic. Meanwhile, I always thought I would publish my stories one day, but it was not until my relationship with the sadistic Japanese dominatrix began that I finally felt compelled to turn my diaries into a book. 

Curiously, back in 2012, even before the relationship had started, I “knew” I should write the story. At the time, I was still a devout Christian living in Dubai. One day, I read a homily in my Bible study handbook that told me almost prophetically that I would have to go through a lot of suffering in order to help others by writing about my struggles. It was as if God was pointing his finger at me, and I knew intuitively that the suffering would come in my relationship with the Japanese dominatrix. This emboldened me to keep a careful record of events as they unfolded. I was with her for almost two years and, indeed, it did turn out to be an incredibly tortuous experience, both mentally and physically. 

The relationship ended in late 2014. I was exhausted and penniless, but the book was bursting out of me, and I was determined to start the process of turning hundreds of pages of diary notes into a readable manuscript. Once I made a commitment to produce the book, it was uncanny how doors started opening to assist me on my journey. At the time, I was sharing a tiny room at a friend’s house in central Tokyo, but I needed a proper retreat where I could concentrate on my book in peace. Miraculously, through the Tokyo Embassy Choir (I was a member of the Alto section), I was introduced to an Australian couple who owned a huge chalet in Yamanashi prefecture. Situated in the woods, high up from a mountain lake, the chalet had stunning views of Mount Fuji. The couple had repatriated to Australia and so the chalet was unoccupied and, if I covered my utility bills, they were happy for me to stay there for free for six months. It was such an amazing blessing, and offered me the perfect environment to get started on my masterpiece!  

In fact, writing EXODAI became very therapeutic. As the book evolved, it became clear I should expand the text to cover the whole story of why I didn’t love myself, why I allowed myself to be tortured, and how I finally came to terms with my sexuality.

Now that the book is written and published, I hope that EXODAI will give a relatable voice to the pain that many members of the LGBTQ community feel in living with their sexuality and learning to love themselves. I also want to raise awareness of what we are doing to our youth by alienating them, or by not allowing them to be true to themselves. Most of all, I want my book to give direction to people who are in situations of abuse, perhaps because they were ostracized or bullied at a young age. I want to bring light to those who are in denial and encourage them to embrace who they are.

 What has been the response so far? Any regrets? Any people from the old days reach out to you?

Elizabeth Hendrick: As it happens, the (straight) woman, who broke my heart in Dubai, contacted me through a mutual friend asking how she could get hold of the book. I made sure she received a copy, but I’ve since heard nothing. LOL! Apart from that, no one else has reached out, but it’s early days. 

As for the response so far, before launching EXODAI, I uploaded my book onto NetGalley – an ARC (advanced reader copy) review platform. My book is raw, honest, and brutal – I sell my soul. I wasn’t sure how EXODAI would be received, so I was using NetGalley to test the water. When the ARC reviews started coming in, I was both astonished and thrilled. Most ratings were five-star and the reviews themselves were better than I ever imagined. One reviewer called EXODAI “a work of art.” Another reviewer described EXODAI as a “blistering work.” This feedback emboldened me to go ahead and publish. 

EXODAI went live on all the global Amazon markets in September 2023. Now, of all the global ratings, I’m pleased to say that 60% are five-star and 30% are four-star. Apparently, that’s tremendous for a debut work. 

But what really makes it so worthwhile is that some of the written reviews thank me for sharing my story and for giving a voice to the struggles individuals from ostracized communities feel. Just this week, I received the following comment on one of my book promotion videos: “I’m mid-way reading your amazing book. As a disabled man who cross-dresses, this book is helping me to peel away the layers that I feel about who I am.”

With comments like that, it seems I have come full circle from that initial calling in 2012: “You book will help people.” So, do I have any regrets? No. Not at all.

Get EXODAI on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0CJDKPZMT | Visit: https://www.exodai.co.uk/ | YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/@exodai | Follow on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/exodainarrated/ 


Please enjoy this excerpt from EXODAI, Chapter 4, courtesy of the author:

The woman in the latex corset at the far end of the bar was not my type. Well-built and quite masculine for a Japanese woman, she stood out from the crowd. Her costume was immaculate, yet burlesque, and she exuded sexual confidence as she laughed with the people around her. This woman was out of my league. I would have never singled her out, but Aubriana wanted to meet her.

Aubriana Suzuki was a close friend from St Alban’s Church. She was half-Japanese, half-Cuban. I had been hanging out with her a lot recently. Her liberal perspective on the spiritual world was very refreshing. Like Father George, she had helped reassure me it was okay to be gay and Christian. Three months ago, to my great surprise, Aubriana had confided in me that she was bisexual, and I was the only lesbian she knew. She wanted me to introduce her to the gay scene, and in a moment of generosity, I had invited her to join me at Goldfinger.

Goldfinger was a monthly girls-only party that attracted a diverse and queer crowd, including plenty of foreigners. Occupying two whole floors of an old building in Shibuya, it was one of the few events where I could guarantee finding feminine lesbians. Since my break-up with Sayuri, I had been cruising the scene with renewed vigour. Typically, I went to Goldfinger alone. I didn’t like bringing people with me in case they cramped my style. Not that I had been having much success. Most of the girls I chatted up turned out to be straight, already taken, or looking for someone much more butch than me.

Contrary to what I’d feared, Aubriana hadn’t cramped my style at all. After circulating for a while on my own, I’d established there was nothing of interest from my side and gladly rejoined Aubriana in the lounge. Aubriana, however, was captivated by the woman in latex, but too shy to hit on her directly.

“She’s got such great energy,” said Aubriana.

“Okay, come on then. Let’s go and say hello!”

“No, no. You go first and I’ll join you in a bit.”

I had the maverick confidence to wade in and chat up any girl. I believed it was in the chemistry. It didn’t matter what you said, you either clicked or not. Hitting on someone for a friend was easier because you had nothing to lose. In this respect, I was a great wingman.

Telling Aubriana to give me a minute, I strolled up to the small crowd surrounding the latex woman at the end of the bar. She was seated on a bar stool holding court, like a celebrity. She was the best dressed person in the room. Anxious to make a striking impression, I walked tall and confident. I felt good. I was wearing my favourite leather trousers and boots, with a tight black T-shirt.

Conscious of my approach, the woman turned to look at me and beamed. Her face was meticulously decorated with make-up and large false eyelashes. Unintimidated, I made my opening gambit.

“Wow, your outfit is fabulous!” I said in broken Japanese.

She laughed and responded in fluent English. “You look great too! Where are you from?”

“I’m from London, but I live here in Tokyo.” I was eager to differentiate myself from the tourists. “What’s your name?”

“Junko. And you?” She reached out her hand and turned a shoulder to the girls who’d been engaged with her seconds earlier.

“Elizabeth.” I gave her a warm handshake. Junko offered me a cigarette which I declined. She lit one herself and then focused on me. She seemed glad I’d given her an escape route from the Japanese girls talking to her. Two of them lingered for a moment, perhaps hoping to meet a foreigner too, but soon got the message and backed away.

“How come you speak English so well?” I asked.

“I used to live in Boston when I was a kid.”

“Where do you live now?”

It turned out she had an apartment in the Kamiyacho neighbourhood of Tokyo, less than a kilometre from where I lived.

Right on cue, I noticed Aubriana gliding towards us. She had made a big effort to dress up for this party; her loose dress and chunky belt complimented her body well. She was wearing funky boots, which I never would have combined with a dress, but the ensemble worked. She looked terrific.

“Hey, Aubriana! Let me introduce you to Junko.”

Their eyes met, and there were sparks as soon as they shook hands.

“What are you drinking?” I asked Junko.

“A shochu with soda please,” she said, still looking at Aubriana.

“Aubriana?”

“I’ll have another shandy. Thank you.”

I twisted round to the bar and caught the attention of the bartender. I ordered our drinks and waited until they were delivered before turning back to Junko and Aubriana.

“Thank you,” said Junko as she took her glass from me. 

Unlike downstairs on the dance floor, the volume of the music in the lounge bar was conducive to conversation. I was conscious of a couple of women wearing plaid shirts and combat trousers checking the three of us out. No thank you, I thought and did my best to blank them.

“Did you come here alone?” I asked Junko.

“Yes, but I know the party organiser. I just popped in to say hi. I’m not staying long.”

I sipped my wine, leaving the stage clear for Aubriana to say something.Junko took a long drag on her cigarette and broke the silence.

“What do you both do?”

“I’m studying for a diploma in interior design,” said Aubriana. “But I also work at a flower shop to generate an income. It’s not much money, but I live at home with my mum, so there’s no rent to pay.” Aubriana’s mother was Japanese. Her family had lived in Cuba before relocating to Japan, and she was trilingual, her native tongue being Spanish. She spoke English with a delicious accent.

“I’m a headhunter in the financial services industry,” I said proudly.

“Nice,” said Junko. “Can you get me a job at a bank?”

I laughed. “What about you? What do you do?”

She said she was a freelancer working in a mixture of fashion design, media and theatre production. “I love the independence. But freelancing is so tough. You spend all your time worrying about where tomorrow’s paycheck will come from, but you’re too busy working on today’s project to do anything about it.”

I sympathised with her; in headhunting, it was easy to get completely consumed by one project and drop the ball on the others. The economy was in recession, and we were fighting hard at the office to win deals.

“But you’re on a salary,” she said. “You still get paid, even if you don’t close the deal, right?”

“True, but if I don’t line up enough deals, I won’t get a bonus and I’ll eventually get fired.”

“Nah!” said Junko. “Anyone would be mad to drop you.”

I was flattered, but I was aware that a lot of Japanese women tended to applaud me simply because I was a confident westerner.

As we talked, I was conscious of a parallel, silent conversation going on. Junko’s fingers had quietly positioned themselves on Aubriana’s waist. Sipping my wine, I inspected Junko’s dramatic costume. Visually, it turned me on. I could smell the scent of her latex corset. It was tight and dug into her waist, pushing up her breasts to form a seductive cleavage. Her silky shirt had baggy sleeves clutched at the wrist which gave the appearance of wings. She was wearing thigh-high boots laced to the top and tight black trousers made of a silky Lycra material. It was the kind of outfit usually seen only in fashion magazines.

“Why are you so dressed up?” I asked. “Are you in one of the shows tonight?”

“Of course not!” Junko laughed. “There’s a fetish party across the road. I’m going over there soon.”

“A fetish party? Wow. Is that the kind where everyone wears rubber?” I had heard about rubber parties in London. I’d been aching to go to one for years, but didn’t know the right people to get access.

Junko chuckled. “Not everyone wears rubber. People dress up in all sorts of costumes, but latex is by far the sexiest.”

The bar stool next to Junko became free, and Aubriana instantly sat down. Junko’s fingers soon found their way to the nape of Aubriana’s neck. Aubriana beamed and seemed content to leave the conversation to me. I noticed that the two women in combat trousers had disappeared, which surprisingly disappointed me. I guess I had been enjoying their attention.

“Do you often go to fetish parties?” I asked Junko.

“Yes. I organise some of them too.”

Good grief. We’d hit the jackpot. “You’re totally into the fetish scene then?”

“Oh my God, yes.” Junko’s eyes glazed over slightly. “I love fetishism and BDSM.” She was tickling Aubriana’s collar, and Aubriana had placed her hand subtly on Junko’s thigh. The chemistry between them was effervescent.

“I’m going across as soon as I’ve finished my drink,” Junko said. She twisted round and stubbed out her cigarette in an ashtray. “Why don’t you both join me?”

“Sure,” said Aubriana without hesitation. “Sounds like fun.”

Now it was my turn to be shy. This kind of spontaneity didn’t come so easily to me. I needed to prepare myself mentally to go to an event like that. It was 2.30 a.m., and I was ready to go home. I was supposed to be taking the Sunday School at church in a few hours.

“But I’m not dressed in fetish gear,” I said. It was a smokescreen.

“Doesn’t matter. You can come dressed like that. I know the organiser. I can get you both in.”

I was intrigued that Junko seemed to be so well connected. Aubriana had done well to single her out of the crowd. But I was starting to feel like a gooseberry. Aubriana’s hand had now slipped between Junko’s thighs.

“What goes on at a party like that, anyway?” I asked.

Junko took her hand off Aubriana’s neck to light a fresh cigarette and sucked on it hard. “Well, mostly people just hang out, chat, and dance. It depends on the mood. Sometimes people play.”

“Play? What do you mean?”

“S&M play. Like whipping and rope bondage and stuff.”

A bolt of electricity seemed to explode from my core, and I blushed. “Does that go on in public?”

“Yes.”

Wow. I was torn. I wanted to see rope bondage in action, but I felt hopelessly unprepared and intimidated. I backed out, but my curiosity was intense, and I asked Junko if we could keep in touch. Hoping I wasn’t looking a gift horse in the mouth, I swapped contact details with her. She and Aubriana continued working on their drinks as well as each other, while I glugged back the remnants of my wine and prepared to leave.

“You’re definitely not going to come?” asked Aubriana.

I couldn’t do it. I bade them farewell and left, ashamed of my lack of spontaneity. As I walked away, I could sense their energy erupt. When I reached the entrance, I glanced back. Sure enough, they were kissing passionately.


Queer Forty Staff

Queer Forty writing staff work hard to bring you all the latest articles to help inspire and inform.

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