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Riley Hill/the Gauntlet

The Gauntlet goes to the Taboo sex show

A first-person account of our descent into the depths of debauchery

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I t’s Nov. 10 and here we are at the Taboo sex show, a yearly gathering of sexually-themed vendors and entertainment held at the BMO centre. I step past the coat check into a sea of flesh and earthly delights. The second I walk inside the amphetamines I popped earlier wear off and the dildos and butt plugs that suddenly appear in front of me seem like nothing more than the vulgar contraptions of bored monkeys. If I was ever interested in buying a butt plug, I’m not anymore.

Our team consists of four people. Curtis, the sports editor, with his black and red toque and daytrader’s smirk, silently blends into the crowd. So does my friend Cole, lugging around a flask filled with yeasty vodka. News editor Riley is waiting inside, already hefting his camera like a bazooka, pointing it at passersby with voyeuristic glee.

Our mission is to grab ahold of renowned pornstar Tori Black. It’s going to be tough to track down and steal a dance away from the belle of the ball, what with our wandering eyes and absent minds.

This is the 13th Taboo Naughty But Nice sex show. The website says we will enjoy “entertainment, provocative and educational seminars, unique shopping, fashion shows and live demostrations.” The show features celebrity meet-and-greets, titillating rituals and the means to appease all sorts of fetishes. So far I’ve only seen dildos.

Female vendors with pencilled-on eyebrows hawk their wares. More dildos, endless dildos, pink and purple tending to dominate. I walk past everything dazedly, good feelings draining out of my brain’s basin. Screams of laughter and delight bounce around us.

Riley says, “Let’s follow the noise.” We end up in front of a crowd of people staring at a high-resolution illustration of a vagina. The preacher riling the crowd is Dr. Jess O’Reilly, a sexologist. She offers encouragement (everyone can do this!) followed by tips (lick the glans slowly). I ambush her during a lull and ask her about her life. In short, she flies around the world teaching people how to screw better.

“Do you feel that the sexual education in this country is inadequate?”

“Hey! Are you recording this?”

“Oh, sorry. I probably should have told you that,” I mutter.

“Well, it’s better here than the States. But the Ontario curriculum hasn’t been updated since 1998, 1999 and so much has changed regarding treatment for STIs, like HIV.” O’Reilly doesn’t blame religion for frigidity — she says that people just aren’t willing to talk about sex.

We head towards the next large crowd. Maybe this is the lounge. A mass of onlookers stare silently as a drag queen on a red curtain stage announces the pole dancing squad. One by one, girls parade in and mount the shining phallus planted in centre stage. Some are better than others, but the best dancer doesn’t smile. She spins around the top of the 10-foot pole, twirled by her own inertia, a cold pout on her face and arms outstretched in easy defiance of gravity. Her name is Jenny Allan.

“I had two kids and I felt lost. Then my husband found a studio that offered a taster class, and I just got addicted [to pole dancing].”

“It looks like a workout.”

“It’s everything. It’s absolutely everything. You find muscles you didn’t even know you had.”

“Do you need to cross train?”

“No. Most people who are on-stage go once a week for one hour.Pole dancing is for any size. Anybody can do it.”

I click off the recorder and she flashes a smile. I discover that my team has vanished. Well, godspeed to them. I amble around, letting the mood lighting and pheromones cook me alive in my winter jacket.

I talk to a gaggle of drunk college girls about porn. They like to watch a lot of it, apparently. Their designated driver stares at me the way a farmer’s wife stares at a wolf sitting outside her stead, wondering if shooting it is worth the buckshot. They haven’t seen Black, so time to be on my way.

My amphetamine crash has died down and I take off in search of coffee. Turns out the shops aren’t all dildo stands. There are specialty foods, marijuana paraphernalia, lingerie, escort services, romantic gifts. Some attractions seem inexplicably out of place, like a pool full of floating rubber balls. There are people inside the balls and they careen off each other. This doesn’t look half as fun as it sounds, particularly when the balls open and foul, recycled air rushes out. Why is this here? I don’t know.

I watch a waifish, pale girl manipulate a silver sphere, her wrists and hands slithering back and forth whilst keeping the globe suspended perfectly still in the air. She calls it contact juggling and says that it helps pay her bills. I tell her she’s great and wonder how many bill-paying skills I could have acquired in the time I spent reading medieval poetry.

I expected a BMO centre packed with foul old men but there are a sizable number of young people wandering around in herds. A strange tension hangs in the air, a mixture of vital energy, insecure desire and haughty arrogance, inflamed by grins and winks exchanged with passersby.

Cole charges through the crowd up to me, having stripped off all but one of his four layers of clothing. He says, “Here,” and passes me a cup filled with juice and ethanol.

I say, “I’m driving.” I can’t afford to get drunk before an interview with a pornstar. I might try to kiss her if I do, and I’ve drank so much coffee I don’t know if my bladder will hold should her bodyguards taze me.

He says, “No, I just need you to keep it still,” and pours vodka out of his floppy plastic flask into the cup within plain sight of everybody.

Ten minutes later in the bondage, discipline, sadism and masochism dungeon, I stare at my dead phone’s screen while a girl in a tight corset electrifies Cole’s nipples with a device that resembles a welding torch, called a violet wand. Riley appears and happily volunteers to go next. I remind him that he’s holding an electronic camera but she zaps him anyway.

The BDSM lair is a dark, grimly lit space filled with nice people. Everyone whose face isn’t bound with black latex wears a smile. I talk to myself in the recorder and look like the craziest person there, even though somebody five feet away is being flogged while wearing a gimp suit. I was hoping for a Passion of the Christ style flogging with more screaming and hatred, but the whipping rituals seem playful. One girl says sorry to her partner after hitting her too hard. They both burst into giggles. Another gagged girl hangs partially upside down by her hands and feet, next to a half-clothed man holding a riding crop.

“She looks like a punching bag,” Cole says. Right you are, Cole. Or a shot kangaroo. I hunt down the nearest person with a nametag, a gal named Elbruce and start firing off questions. She presents me before her husband, Mark, a grizzled bear of a man who is apparently the dungeon’s patriarch.

“What are the biggest differences between the Fifty Shades of Grey books and reality?”

“Most of us aren’t millionaires? This is my slave here [Elbruce] and she works full time. We have a life outside of BDSM. I have bills to pay. I have a stupid Rottweiler that needs to be walked. I’m a steel worker. She’s a purchaser. There’s a chef. You’ve got photographers, accountants, electricians, welders. BDSM is not for the seedy underbelly of the world — it’s just something different.”

“Is [BDSM] expensive?”

“No. Do you have a wooden spoon?”

“What is the psychological essence of BDSM for you personally?”

“I like things done a certain way, and [Elbruce] likes to be told how to do things a certain way. It’s not like, ‘do it or else’. Think of it as a 1950s household, where the man was the king of the castle and the woman did everything.”

“The aesthetics appeal to you?”

“My play space in my home is actually powder blue and really well lit, because I like to see what the hell I’m doing. Everything that’s done up here is safe, sane and consensual.”

Elbruce chimes in, “People see the floggers and the furniture and the clothing and they think it’s expensive. You don’t need any of that stuff. It’s all up here.” She taps her skull. Too true, Elbruce. Whatever the hell that name means.

The coffee flowing through my veins has metabolized into resolution, rocketing me towards the lounge, past strutting painted bodies and body parts jiggling in suspended cages. Tori Black smiles and poses with fans beneath the silhouette of photography umbrellas and carefully accentuated beams of light. A stressed-looking man tries to fend off a platoon of fans, mostly young men, who have lined up to have their picture taken with the Catwoman of Batman XXX: A Porn Parody. I claw my way to the front to request an interview with Black, trying not to think about the semi-erections rubbing against my thighs. The stressed-looking man’s name is Sean Lebin. Turns out he is the vice-president of Canwest productions, which runs the entire Taboo show. I pop a mint.

Did we get an interview or not? Find out in next week’s Gauntlet.

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