Even in a profession defined by unconventionality, the Chicago dominatrix Mistress Velvet stood out. To the domme’s traditional arsenal of high heels, whips, and spanking paddles, Velvet added a new sort of weapon: critical race theory and Black feminist literature.

Velvet, who was born Danielle Achiaa Boachie and used gender-neutral pronouns, found their calling while a graduate student at the University of North Carolina Greensboro, where they focused on women’s and gender studies. Unable to pay their rent, they turned to dominating submissive men for money. In their early days, they instinctively apologized after whipping their clients, the equivalent of a chef spitting in the soup. One “slave” told them, very politely, that they weren’t hitting him hard enough and that perhaps they should hang up the whip and try more traditional sex work. It only made them more determined to succeed.