Bambi has this trick of seceding from her actions to become her own audience. She's been character-izing herself this way at least since college: "I wasn't a good girl joining a sorority; I was like a crazy crackpot who wanted to infiltrate it and go to all the costume parties at the frat houses."
Carol (not her actual real name) wasn't really the sorority type. Nor was she really a stripper, and becoming Bambi (her actual fake name) put some more distance there. "I was dabbling in it," she says of stripping. "I'm more of a performance artist than a lifestyle pervert." Was the art form dance? "No, more like acting, acting like a stripper, infiltrating their world. It's a work in progress of a voyeuristic artist actually living the life of a stripper, living a fantasy."
The acts in the Bambi pageant so far include stripping, fetish modeling, mermaid geeking, pantyless cheerleading and what she calls her "professional psychosexual role-play sessions." Even after the bombshell years are over, she plans to keep making her life her art, joining the venerable tradition of kooky ladies who spice up the demimonde with outre stunts and costumes. Bambi also has company in her mid-30s cohorts, where lots of extroverts blend dissociation and irony the same way she does. The seniors of the Gen X class are the demographic Most Likely to Call Embarrassing Stuff Performance Art -- that includes not just sexual exhibitionism, but aerobics classes, job interviews and dating.
For a while, fetish photographer Doris Kloster was the perfect mentor for a gal who wanted to be art. Kloster dressed Bambi up like a baby and put her in coffee table books as well as men's magazines. Looking at the Boschian tableaux in the 1995 book, "Doris Kloster," it's clear why the photographer was so taken with Bambi. The pictures that feature her are funnier and lighter than most of Kloster's somber oeuvre.
"I became a fetish starlet," Bambi says. "People were coming from Europe to photograph me ... Doris and I would go to all these fetish balls in London and Paris and Amsterdam." Bambi's boyfriend of four years got fed up with Doris and gave Bambi a "her or me" ultimatum, which prompted no great agonizing. "I said, 'See ya!'" says Bambi blithely. "Doris and I had this great photographer-muse thing going, and it was so fun."
Bambi began piping up more at shoots. "I'd be like, 'Instead of just bringing my red latex dress to Venice, how about I bring my blue latex baby outfit and you can shoot me as a baby!' And I was bringing my own props and costumes and my ideas; it was a collaboration and I loved it and I loved her so much."
But when Bambi the baby began taking steps alone, Kloster cracked the whip. The older woman bristled, Bambi says, when other photographers and HBO's "Real Sex" wanted to shoot Bambi themselves. The tension exploded one night at a dinner party at which Kloster stood up and yelled, "I created you, Bambi!"
Bambi says, "I realized I was giving so much; why shouldn't I own this stuff because it's really me ... my soul, my self-expression." So, some time around her 30th birthday, she began shooting her own self-portraits. "It was the perfect melding of wanting to be the photographer and model."
The omniBambiness of the project reminds me of the scene in "Being John Malkovich" where the actor travels into his own head and everyone has his face. And like that scene, Bambi's "Cornstar" pinups are hysterical and creepy. She keeps them in a huge pink scrapbook whose cover says "Bambi" in glitter.
Shot at Coney Island, the photos all star Bambi as a sexy freak -- naked or skimpily dressed wearing a chicken head, a Dalmatian head, a clown head. In the most unsettling image, Bambi is slumped like a little girl in pigtails, pinafore and anklets. On her face is a Jo-Jo the Dog-Faced Girl mask she made out of a blond wig. The photos are being shown this fall in a Soho gallery.
Through Kloster, Bambi met dominatrixes and began to work with one Mistress Venus. One of Mistress Venus' specialties is diapering, scolding and administering the occasional enema to men whose kink is infantilism. Venus folded Bambi into these scenes as "the baby sister." Being a baby pushes Bambi's buttons in that arm's-length way of hers. "I was always interested in that baby stuff; I used to steal money from my grandmother to buy real pacifiers and real baby bottles and drink out of them. I don't masturbate to that fantasy or anything, but it is sort of a fantasy, but more like art."
"Being a baby," she explains, "is a very sensual state. You're very protected; you're not jaded yet or ruined by any ideas. Everything's about pure hedonism and being touched." Baby-sistering is her favorite work activity. Her least favorite is "torture, like putting 100 clothespins on a guy's cock or beating him till his butt is literally blue ... I couldn't control a session like that myself, but I've helped Venus."
"I don't understand any of that, why men want that," she says, but she's breezily tolerant even of the desires that disturb her most. One client, a married Westchester County lawyer, "wants to be a toilet slave, drink piss and eat shit." Because she's disgusted by that prospect, she's never obliged. "I just threaten to make him do it ... I would never be able to do that no matter how much I loved someone."
If a person really wants to ingest feces, surely he can track some down, can't he? Bambi patiently answers, just a hint of "no-duh" in her voice, "Well, yeah, but he wants to eat my shit because I'm his mistress."
One of the perks of professional dominating is that the customer has to please you. So Bambi's solved her distaste about the lawyer's appetites by "steering him to dildo training and other areas . . . At first he wasn't into anything in his ass, so I started examining him with a rubber glove and saying, you know, the typical stuff: 'I have to check you out and make sure all your parts are in order because you're going to be my slut and I'm going to turn you out for tricks and people are going to fuck you. And I'm going to have to stretch you out and make you bloody and you're gonna do anything I say because it'll make people happy at my big party, don't you want me to be happy?'"
Bambi recites this bizarre monologue in the blasi tone of a telemarketer parading her spiel. She says such a speech is generally well-received -- a happy "Yes Mistress, anything you want" -- because it incorporates many of "the key fantasies. All my cross-dressers want to be turned out as prostitutes."
Surprisingly, Bambi's new husband minds the nonsexual connection with her clients more than the kinky stuff. "Larry's cool," Bambi says, "but I downplay that they're relationships, some of them for like four or five years. There's this one slave who used to take me on trips to Hawaii and Cancun and Grand Cayman before I was really serious with Larry. I told Larry, 'Look, he's only a shoe and foot guy; I would never have sex with him.' We're not intimate, he doesn't even touch my feet.
"He's a huge pump slave. I would just take a bag and call out 'Pumps!' and he'd be on his way. He's all about staring at the shoe, polishing the show, drinking from the shoe. Then I eventually force him to jerk off into the shoe or fuck the shoe.
"We really got along great as real people on a trip; we were only role-playing 10 percent of the time. Larry was threatened by that, so I would never do that anymore. I would never push my freedom to the point it threatened him."
Bambi's been doing sessions for five or sex years and charges $250-300 an hour. "I really do believe it's therapy. It's a big benevolent goddess act ... I don't get off on using a man for his money; I really like the fact that it's equal, that I'm contributing energy and emotion into making it a good session for them, understanding something that no one else in their whole life understands."
She's never had sex with a client because "they don't really want that. There's been a couple times when I've almost wanted to have sex with them, because they're good-looking guys with good bodies and big, perfect-looking dicks and they're naked, and it would be this perverted thing for me to take advantage of them and force them to fuck me."
As Bambi explains her professional code of ethics, I can see how her exhibitionism and self-absorption make her a good dominatrix. Though she craves something less specific than her clients -- attention -- she understands impersonal passion and how people fulfill it while leaving their "real" selves outside. And she's grateful for the chance to perform as she ministers to the men.
She says she'd never command a client to fuck her "because it would change the dynamic too much. Guys in session would never ever expect to be able to do that, or even want to. It's very focused on the role-play. I mean in a human kind of way, they would love to date me outside the session. But the session is about them needing a nurse to put a thermometer in their ass or whatever . . . It's about them being used or disciplined. Having sex with them would just be me getting my cheap thrills."