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FEATURE 200503 - Opportunity of a Lifestyle: How Three Web Businesses Grew Out of the Darkest Desire

FEATURE 200503 - Opportunity of a Lifestyle: How Three Web Businesses Grew Out of the Darkest Desire

The road to sexual freedom is longer for some people than others. It’s longer – and, yes, harder – and craggier, twistier, steeper and scarier; but once accomplished, the personal and private rewards are enormous.

When financial reward gets thrown into the mix, what was once (too often) a “dirty secret” and then an identity keystone becomes a 24/7 proposition, with attendant blurry boundaries, burn-out, potential legal quagmires... and the exhilaration of getting to do what you love for a living.

Black and Blue and Read All Over

Black and Blue USA evolved out of the primordial soup of the personal, lifestyle, and business inclinations of artist Jay Moyes and Domina Lady Bastette. The site’s a one-stop “for BDSM, Leather, Fetish and Pansexual class, club and event listings from across the U.S. and Beyond!”

“Black and Blue USA started because there’s a lot of good people looking for information on the alternative lifestyle, and having problems finding it,” Lady Bastette says. Moyes’ “Black List” at CrossroadsEdge.com, from which Black and Blue grew, provided a template, and DJ Wankus at KSEXradio encouraged Black and Blue’s development, giving Bastette airtime as “The Voice of Black and Blue USA” during The Wanker Show.

Moyes has been making a Lifestyle living for “10 years, on and off, starting with a calendar of my Dominatrix artwork a long time ago”; and while Bastette doesn’t cast herself as someone who’s “making a living off of something I do naturally,” Moyes is quick to point out that she has a credentialed history in the professional “scene.”

So what’s it like to make a living in “something [one does] naturally”?

“We don’t need an accountant for our private lifestyle,” Moyes laughs. “Seriously, BlackAndBlueUSA.com is hard work, and is a job unto itself. In terms of profit, what we are ‘getting in return’ is a return on our sweat and tears. There’s no intention to take advantage of the community for the sake of our personal profit.”

“We give a lot of love and we get a lot of love in return,” Bastette adds.

As with anything else, a successful site “takes a village,” as Bastette verifies: “People like Wankus of KSEXradio.com, Virtual Bob who supplies our hosting, and ThornGarden.net who helped us get started – a lot of people in the community have helped us to get where we are. We couldn’t do it alone.

“All we did was fill a need.”

BlackAndBlueUSA.com’s future is undoubtedly one of exponential growth. Which is good, because “I’m bent on world Domination,” Bastette hoots.

“I’d like to see [it] become is what it is already, only in a larger scope – probably the most complete and up-to-date BDSM and fetish event resource on the Net. We provide a service that, to my knowledge, no one else has attempted in this format.”

“There’s no doubt in my mind that the events listing itself may become larger,” Moyes says; “our original focus was on the ‘trinity’ – San Francisco, New York, and Los Angeles. However, we’re noticing the community is not only much more widespread, but may be even larger or better organized in regions people wouldn’t think of.

“Our next big step for the Website itself really will be to find a way to address the needs of cities like St. Louis, Washington D.C., and Portland, without detracting from the focus of the site.”

For those who might want to step out of the personal and into the professional, she advises, “There’s no such thing as too much education. Take every class. Go to every seminar. Read every book. Even then, know that you know nothing. Each and every scene is organic, and you have to have the ability to learn as you do it.”

Moyes advocates a tangible plan. “If it’s not written down, it doesn’t exist. Work out things and ideas in advance. If it doesn’t look good on paper, think about trying something else. What we’re doing is pretty elementary, and we’re going for long-term goals. We didn’t just pull this out of our hat. We worked it out on paper first... and are still tweaking and learning.”

I See London, I See France

Ms. Alexis Stewart, Webmistress at the House of Sissify, oversees a Lifestyle-originating Internet operation that “represents decades of desire and obsession,” she describes, “and the insatiable appetite for new information on the subject.” Her stake in her Lifestyle is beautifully representative: “Being a post-op transsexual, one can say I have been ‘immersed’ in the scene since my Momma’s nightie as a toddler.”

Sissify.com has been around for quite a while, and incorporates humor as well as sexuality. The site is fantastic and funny, “providing the tools and personalized guidance to sissify, feminize, transition or otherwise create that little girl your princess is waiting to become.”

Its reach is worldwide.

“We have had over 10 million unique visitors to just our front page in the last seven and a half years,” Stewart states.

Running the site is a reflection of Stewart’s private Lifestyle in some ways, though she holds her work at arms’ length in others: “I believe that training and working with [a sissy’s] emotional demands daily in my private life would make me too overwhelmed to work online with as many girls as I do.”

Stewart is able to accomplish as much as she does with the multitudes that are part and parcel of an Internet operation because she has found that “[One] girl’s self-discovery follows a very similar scope and trend as her sisters’.

“While I may not be currently participating in some of the activities that I had when I had first come out, they are still etched permanently into my being... thus I can still have a great time sharing the discovery with each new girl.”

She and her partner, another post-op transsexual, still have plenty of real time relationships. “We have had, as friends and family, sissies in every [stage] of their explorations.”

Stewart has a bigger-picture ethic similar to Moyes’ and Bastette’s about her community; she attributes taking care of this community as the thing she’s done to become a successful Lifestyle businessperson.

“It’s important that a few of the people who have walked the yellow brick road stand by the sidelines after they reach Oz to help the new travelers, as I was so helped.... It’s not a new concept, but one that bears great fruit.”

The Lick of the Irish

Porn Slut/Directrix/Web Chick Kylie Ireland and director/writer/editor Eli Cross not only run a Lifestyle Internet business out of their home, their home is their Lifestyle Internet business – in more ways than one.

AVN Award winner for Best New Starlet in 1994 and a 2005 inductee into the AVN Hall of Fame, Ireland now runs her own Website, and does Web consulting and PR for other Adult actresses. She and partner Cross (and their five cats) can be seen live at any given time on the Webcams in their home.

Said 10,000-square-foot home occupies cyberspace in its own right as “The Fallout Shelter”, “a renovated, 1930s red-brick warehouse in downtown Los Angeles” that can be rented out as a location for film shoots and other events.

Ireland’s site reflects her life interests. As she began experimenting with different sexual experiences, she says, “BDSM just sort of clicked.

“I began discovering I enjoyed rougher sex, but it wasn’t until I hooked up with [Cross] in 2002 that I became active in the Lifestyle on a regular basis. My Website has reflected my changes... and during my recent time as a director for Platinum X Pictures, I added many elements of the Lifestyle into my moviemaking.”

Cross, ever the Gen X curmudgeon, objects to the “Lifestyle” label in general. “‘Lifestyle’ is a section in the newspaper that tells you how to make seven-layer dip. Do I make a living from being a pervert? No. I make a living from having connections with people who make a living exploiting perverts. It’s a palpable difference.” Another difference, in Cross’s opinion, between Lifestyle as a personal predilection and Lifestyle for profit, is that “One is great fun. The other makes money. Rarely do the twain meet.”

“I never formed a ‘Lifestyle’ business plan,” Ireland admits. “I simply do what I find to be a turn-on and share it with the world.”

“I’ve expended enormous amounts of energy that might have been better spent on more creative endeavors,” Cross laments over the subject of his business m.o. “Largely, this [adult Internet] DMZ exploits either your public persona or your real one. We’ve done the latter.”

The mixing of business and pleasure increases the rate of burnout for the denizens of The Shelter, certainly. Ireland recharges by making an extra effort to take time out for herself. Cross observes that for him, “The burnout doesn’t come from anything Lifestyle oriented; it comes from the day-to-day bullshit of trying to run a business which depends on an entire boatload of dysfunctional children to operate.”

Then comes the time when the cameras finally get turned off. Between the site and Kylie Live, her weekly show on KSEXradio.com, Ireland lives most of her life in public. “Every now and then I deserve some time that is just for my enjoyment only,” she says.

“The vacation [starts] when you can turn off the phone and not check e-mail for a week. That’s lovely,” Cross agrees.

Both professionals see KylieIreland.com as a work-in-progress, changing as Ireland herself changes. Cross imagines its next transformation will revolve around Ireland’s evolution from performer to director.

As for TheFalloutShelter.com, “That site is a tool,” Cross says, “and a good one. It lets people who want to rent our space see what’s available. As long as the site stays current, it’s doing its job.”

Netcentric

“Could there be a better medium than the Internet for self-expression?” Sissify.com Webmistress Stewart queries.

“I don’t think the House could appropriately exist as brick-and-mortar, as our girls are international. The Net allows a community to grow [where, geographically, there] are only small percentages of the population.”

As such, the Internet is the necessary foundation for all of these businesses.

“For instance, say we were located in Seattle,” Stewart elaborates; “we would be lucky to have 10 girls show up a week at an affair. Now we have over 100 people online at all times, day and night, to share with. It’s amazing to us still. We think of what 3,500 people a day [literally] knocking on our front door would be like.”

Stewart expresses a general truth of the Fetish community when she reveals “Telecommunications has been a part of my lifestyle as a transgendered being since the 2400-baud modem.” The Internet was the much-needed but barely imagined “zipless fuck” of information exchange and exploration for a marginalized, persecuted and diasporic subculture.

Black and Blue USA’s Moyes adds that the dangers for Lifestyle professionals in real time can often be avoided online. “I started a couple of print newsletters, using addresses and phone numbers,” he describes. “LA Xpress [a local sex/swinger’s weekly] got a hold of it and published the phone numbers as dungeons and sessions houses. With e-mails and Websites, that sort of ‘outing’ isn’t as much of a threat.”

Ireland says that “My Website is a much more liberal venue to share my Lifestyle experiences. [It] allows me the freedom to create and share activities I enjoy, including fisting, pissing – acts that are not featured [due to community standards issues] in mainstream Adult movie making.”

“The Internet is the cheapest, most easily available medium yet created, and as such, it allows unparalleled access to a targeted audience,” Cross observes.

“Kylie had a mail-order fan club before the Internet became porn central, and in a good month, it made a 20th of what the Website makes.”

Ireland says, “The Internet has always been the key angle in my business, especially in the area of publicity; it is definitely a way to reach more people than conventional advertising does. The Internet also allows consumers to enjoy, search out and expand their tastes in the comfort of their own homes.”

Working within the realm of the Internet comes with its own pitfalls, as well; Bastette describes how the scope of the WWW can affect a business: “The biggest mistake we made was underestimating the sheer amount of data to process.”

The foibles of free hosting also made for a setback. “We thought ThornGarden.net could hold out,” Moyes says of their ill-fated choice for a site provider, “but a serious hacker attack convinced them to close up shop for good. We’ve since gone over to a pay host who not only has been in business for years, but is close enough that we shake hands at least once a month.”

Stewart sees the anonymity and subsequent psychological power of the Internet as a double-edged sword. Webmasters who “get very caught up in the desires that can suddenly be fulfilled” and chase after their models, and “many a Mistress who [believes her] ‘cult of personality,’ and the pedestal wobbles with each personal attachment and subsequent drama.... it is important to not get caught up in, say, the gossip in chat.”

She also allows that there are some differences in the way her business operates as an online concern versus real time, “but online is, nonetheless, as real.

“In actuality, the Internet gives better opportunities for possible [sissy] candidates, as it throws a larger Net [Stewart assures me the pun is intended] to find the cream of the crop.

“In person, one meets some pretty rough diamonds, and it’s rather inappropriate to hand the girl a pamphlet and ask her to come back next week. The Internet, on the other hand, allows us to point the girls to what they need in their training, and allows them to learn at their own pace.”

Ireland offers this formula for success on the Net in general: “A good Webmaster, regular updates, and good publicity.” And a Lifestyle-centered Adult site, in her experience, changed her numbers for the better. “The addition of Lifestyle video clips and photos to my Website has definitely expanded my fan base to include a clientele that I didn’t have as a porn ‘talent’ Website.”

The greatest strength of a Net-based adult Lifestyle business is well described by Stewart. “Cyberspace knows no gender. A girl can be anything she wants to be online, and go back to her ‘vanilla’ life when she shuts her machine off. That gives a lot of flexibility for growth and self discovery, without destroying her life in the process.”

Legal-ease

Steering your ship of Lifestyle profit through those Internet seas can still be rocky. Regression to the norm is the way society survives, and those who deviate from it are usually at the mercy of the “shoot first and ask questions later” attitude pervasive among humans.

On Lifestyle-bashing, Ireland says, “I just need to remember, as [others] should, that different people like different things; that just cuz you don’t see how something might be exciting and a turn-on doesn’t make it wrong. The great thing about porn and the Internet is that there’s something for everyone!”

To protect their interests, Cross follows all 2257 guidelines and makes sure the model/talent release forms on record have i’s dotted and t’s crossed. He also encourages Webmasters to keep Lifestyle scenes in a controlled (read: private) environment, and adds, “Keep a weather eye on the new Inquisition,” referring to the Bush regime.

With Black and Blue USA, Moyes iterates, “What we do to add a layer of privacy is to list only e-mail addresses, or Websites to contact. It’s a layer of security we didn’t have the luxury of 10 years ago. Those reading the site still have a little legwork to do, and those honestly seeking the scene will find it.”

“[Our] motto is based on Lew Welsh’s quote, ‘Guard the secrets: constantly reveal them.’”

Part of a Lifestyle Webmaster’s liability is dealing with the pretender sites, run by those who don’t understand or have had very limited – or zero – exposure to the scene.

“It’s evident to a Lifestyler when a site is out for exploitation, or is rigged,” Stewart says. “One can’t keep it up if they don’t live it.

“We have been copied by so many that I am amazed newbies think they can get away with it. They don’t realize how small the Internet is, or how much effort and time goes into a popular online community.

“The Internet has a habit of racing to the bottom.”

Bastette describes a site that claims to be a national organization for Lifestylers, with resources listings and more. “When you get there, it’s a front for paid phone Domination and pop-up hell,” she groans.

“As for vanilla exploitation of the scene,” Moyes says, “you’ve got to be kidding me. We’re so used to being stereotyped in the movies, print, and even the evening news – what’s one more bent media source? Those in the scene know a fucking fraud when they see it, and move on... to BlackAndBlueUSA.com, we hope!”

The chances of success with a Lifestyle-site-for-profit will probably increase for those who follow Cross’s advice.

“Carefully examine why you want to go pro. Does it sound like a fun way to make some extra cash on the side? Great. Are you planning on retiring to the Caymans in five years? Bad idea.

“Beyond that, define your niche, your target market, and then go all-out to get them. Stay away from revshare crap and the like until you’re ready to actually exploit them. Know what your site is going to be before you even attempt to make money with it.”

For the genuine Lifestyler still considering the leap, Ireland cops, “Although I usually advise people looking to get into porn in any fashion to rethink and reconsider, I would [offer] that you should do your research, and portray the Lifestyle in a positive way. We certainly don’t need to be adding to the misinformed masses out there. Also, while trying to be a wise businessperson, don’t lose sight of the real reason you’re doing it, the passion you have for it – that’s what keeps it hot, fresh, and interesting.”

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