Mercury takes presentation very seriously. Impeccably dressed in a dark suit and tie, he keeps his hair cropped close, and the narrow gap between his two front teeth underscores his symmetrical features. He folds his long hands into each other when he's listening, and he moves them in circles around his wrists when he's making a point.
Right now, his point is safety, which he says is the most important thing about this place. But later, he'll show off his pommel horse and the 700-pound stainless steel surgical table he keeps in the back room. By then, his point will be pure seductive theater.
"What you'll find," he explains, "is that our crowd is interested in symmetry. We are educated in the physiology of safe play. So we're not going to strike joints — the knees, the ankles, the wrists, the spine — because that's where you cause harm. In S&M play, we don't mind hurting, but we don't like to harm. There's a huge difference."
The Mark is Nashville's BDSM dungeon, and Mercury is its executive director. It is, according to Mercury, inarguably one of the top 10 dungeons in the United States, and arguably among the top five.
In the old days before the Internet, you had to snoop around to find a club like The Mark. You had to answer cryptic personal ads in the newspaper, or scour seedy adult bookstores for clues. These days, the Internet, including social media websites like FetLife, seems tailor-made for BDSM. FetLife has a subgroup dedicated to The Mark, which counts more than 1,900 among its members.
But if you really want to know more about his lifestyle, Mercury says, all you have to do is ask.
"We have, in the Nashville area, at least six munches that meet a month." Mercury says, his demeanor both guarded and charismatic. A munch, in BDSM terms, is a casual social gathering in a public place where people can be introduced to the lifestyle over food. After the munch, sometimes play parties are scheduled.
"Play" is simply the act of engaging in a scene. A "scene," another BDSM term borrowed from the theater, is the fantasy that the participants are enacting. You can decide whether you're a dom (the dominant player) or a sub (the submissive) in any given scene. People who like to play both roles are called a "switch." The top hits, and the bottom takes it.
After some basic etiquette, he leads the way to the dungeon doorway and gives a final warning: No drugs, minors or solicitation. Then, with the gravitas of a film-noir hit man, he swings the doors wide and walks into a room drenched in red light, Led Zeppelin echoing off the concrete walls.
There is 3,000 square feet of immaculate space, at least between sessions. Think of a luxe gym with sanitizer and first-aid kits everywhere, a defibrillator installed on one wall, a series of small lockers on the other. The pièce de résistance sits propped in a corner, lit from overhead. By the way Mercury modestly downplays its significance, you can tell it's one of the pieces he's most proud of.
"The Saint Andrew's Cross is in every dungeon anywhere in the United States," he says. "I think you probably can't be officially a dungeon unless you have one. Ours is a little different — because it's 440 pounds. It's Southern yellow pine. It's a good example of why people play here. You can have a Saint Andrew's Cross at home, but typically they're made out of 2-by-4s, they fold up and go under your bed. Something like that is going to wiggle, wobble, but 440 pounds isn't going to go anywhere."
The cross is an oversized, unwieldy "X" with metal cuffs on each of its four ends. Named after the diagonal crucifix that Saint Andrew was said to have been killed on, it's a popular kinky contraption because of its versatility. It forces participants into a spread-eagle position, while placing them at eye level with the dom.
"Our membership crosses completely the socioeconomic rainbow," Mercury says. "We are just a subset and a sampling of the entire population. Our landlord has asked us in the past, 'What kind of people do you have down there?' And I say, 'Well, have you ever been to Kroger?' And he says yeah. And I say, 'We're the same people that you find at Kroger.' And he says, 'Really? ... Which Kroger?' "
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