Hellfire and khakis

By Christina Oxenberg

By Salon Staff
Published August 28, 2000 7:09PM (EDT)

Read the story

I find "Hellfire and Khakis" an absolutely horrible article. How patronizing and insulting ... and how offensive and totally untrue! I firmly believe both you and Christina Oxenberg don't have any concept of our leather, fetish and S/M community.

Our community is as diverse as its members, who are lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, heterosexuals, transsexuals and transvestites. We have professionals, doctors, lawyers, politicians, teachers, nurses, people in the arts, as well as many blue-collar workers. The body types are as varied as the education levels. However these people are decent, law-abiding citizens, who express love and affection for each other in a caring and compassionate manner. They are not criminals, social outcasts or sexual perverts.

Perhaps you are not aware of the many positive things our community provides. We support groups throughout the country and abroad which educate people about our lifestyle. We do fundraisers for many charities and support many AIDS organizations. We support our loved ones and families, pay taxes and vote.

As to the things Oxenberg describes in her article: There are those of us who have voyeuristic needs. There are exhibitionists, who need the voyeurs. I believe it is better for it to happen in a club such as Hellfire, where there are consenting adults, than exposing oneself in a children's playground.

Oxenberg writes: "'Ready to play?' says Lenny to a young, fat, bored whore in black pleather rigging." What gives Oxenberg the audacity to classify this woman as a "whore"? Did she see an exchange of money? Or is it just her perception and lack of knowledge of the scene?

I am Lenny Waller, the operator of Hellfire Club in New York City. Hellfire caters to everyone. We operate according to New York state safe sex guidelines, which strictly prohibit fellatio and anal or vaginal intercourse in a public establishment. We do not allow drugs. We do not sell or give away alcoholic beverages. We comply with all city, state and federal laws. We have a staff of in-scene people who are professionals in what they do as well as genuinely care about our customers. When you enter the club, you pay at the window. With your admission ticket you are also given a set of New York state safe sex guidelines, club rules and scene etiquette. The club rules and state safe sex guidelines are posted through out the club. Our monitors enforce them strictly, as does our security staff.

It is my belief that if you tell people, they must obey safe sex guidelines. We are responsible to give them a viable and enjoyable, safe and legal way to have fun. This is accomplished by the varied events we host.

I have been in the scene for about 35 years. Our community is growing and changing constantly. In order to write about us fairly, you must learn to understand us. Perhaps you would care to allot some time to join me through a tour of our community, and spend a day or so learning a little about our history.

Respectfully yours,

-- Lenny Waller

I have been a regular visitor to Hellfire for a number of years and have never seen anything remotely similar to what your reporter claims to have seen on her visit. As a former journalist and journalism professor, I have to wonder if she even entered the premises since her account diverges so widely from what I observed. Of more import, what she describes are serious violations of several laws, laws I happen to know are strictly enforced by the management.

-- John Warren, Ph.D.
Author, "The Loving Dominant: Safe, Sane, Consensual and Fun"

The writer responds:

As entertainment goes, the Hellfire club is on a par with miniature golf. Not for everyone, and easily ridiculed. I happen to be a big fan of miniature golf but I can never get anyone to play with me.

Each to his own.

As for sex in the sex clubs, I can only say that I saw what I saw, and it looked to me like the lady in question was having a hell of a good time.

-- Christina Oxenberg

Salon Staff

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