Mollena “Mo” Williams doesn’t know how to slow down. Just this year, she was crowned first Ms. San Francisco Leather and then International Ms. Leather 2010; wrote her first book, The Toybag Guide to Playing With Taboo (Greenery Press); staged a revival of 69 Stories, her one-woman show about her erotic self-discovery; participated in the San Francisco Gay Pride Parade; quit her old job and started a new one.
In the meantime, she’s made a reputation in the BDSM scene as a sought-after teacher and presenter on topics such as race play, as well as a prolific blogger at ALT.com and at her personal website, The Perverted Negress. It’s hard to believe that a mere three years ago, Mo was unemployed and fresh out of a stint in rehab for alcoholism. She took a rare afternoon off the day after San Francisco Pride to talk about her remarkable journey over tea.
You’ve been very open about your sobriety.
Yes. And I’m really glad, because part of what was difficult for me was that shame. I had the surety that if people knew how fucked up I was, they wouldn’t like me anymore.
The final—I was going to say nail in the coffin but no, this is the nail out of the coffin—was one morning I got up and I thought I was dying. Couldn’t stand up, weak, shaking, vision narrowing to a tiny pinpoint. So I went over to SF General—and I will tell you, I got triaged in an hour. They put me on an IV and ran all these tests. They gave me three bags of saline because I was severely dehydrated. And they ran a shitload of blood tests and said, “We can’t find anything.”
I walked out, and at this point it’s like 6:45 in the morning. I walk up to this bodega that opens at 7 a.m., and I stand and I wait. At 7:00, the dude comes out and opens the gate. I walked in, got a fifth of Jack Daniels, and I drank it. And I snapped back to normal. The shaking stopped, the nausea stopped, I was fine. I was going through withdrawal.
So, I went and I let myself into my friend’s house and curled up on her couch, and I said, “I need help. I’m afraid that I’m dying and I don’t know what to do.” So she and two of my friends found the only free inpatient medically-assisted rehab in California—one of three in the country that you don’t have to pay for—and brought me there. It’s not like the ones on TV. It’s not fancy; it’s definitely utilitarian. It felt very much like being in a low-security prison, which it kind of is, you know? I was there for three weeks.
Now you have a book out.
I’m still like, Oh, it’s just a little book. It’s not like a magnum opus. But I did manage to write it while working full-time and traveling an average of twice a month, and I’m proud of it because it was hard to write. Especially because, how do you present something that’s not core to your [own] sexuality, but is core to other people’s sexuality? It’s challenging.
The Toybag Guide came about because I didn’t see any books that dealt with this topic specifically. I wanted to give to those who struggle with feelings about judgment, about shame, and about self-worth a chance to see their desires in a different light. Taboo is about seeking things that are profane yet profound and often sacred. I talk about taboos on varying levels: taboos of body, taboos of interactions, social taboos. Some background, some anecdotal sharing, some thoughts on how to approach the topics. My main point? Don’t be so afraid of the dark you can’t enter it.
And again, specifically talking about issues of race play and other taboos around that, when I first started studying scene stuff and reading books, the first time I saw a depiction or an interview or anything from a submissive woman who was also black was one of the interviewees in Different Loving. And I said to myself, Okay, there’s one. I was, like, I don’t know where I fit here. So, if you don’t see the hero, do you need to be the hero? I feel that in some ways, that’s what I’ve done.
There were too many people discouraged by the lack of people of color, and people discouraged by the lack of submissives leading and teaching and presenting, and I said, Why don’t we do it, then?
How did you first discover that you were kinky?
I was 26, I was living in Los Angeles. I was sitting in this pub, Barney’s Beanery in West Hollywood, and this incredibly sexy green-eyed English musician with an amazing ass was totally hitting on me. As it turned out, he had just landed from the U.K., and was on tour with Van Morrison. He was staying at this incredibly expensive beautiful suite in Beverly Hills for a week.
So we went out on our date the next day, and at one point he basically dragged me into the bedroom and ripped off my clothes and slapped me around and had his belt around my neck and was saying all kinds of horrible things about what he was going to do to me, and the whole time I’m thinking, “On paper, this is sexual assault…” [But] I felt like there was something wrong with me because my reaction was, “Oh, my God! Yes, please! More, more, more!” I asked him later, “Is this how you are with chicks?” and he said, “Only when they want it…”
I was aware of BDSM. I grew up in New York City. So I went to this Munch, got invited to a game night, and met my first dominant there. And went from 0 to 60—went from never having anyone actually doing a negotiated, delineated scene with me to a service agreement in training in a formal poly leather household. Which, of course, is how I roll, because I never do any shit halfway.
I wanted to talk about your theater work, and the relationship between BDSM and theater in general.
It’s funny, when I first got involved with the scene and I was part of this household, the majordomo, as it were, kept “joking” about how whether my involvement with the scene was research for a book or play I was doing, and one day they would all show up in characters.
What having 35-plus years of training in theater really means is that you know how to let energy hit you, and to really absorb it and really be open to it. It also doesn’t hurt during roleplay. Which is good and bad: It’s good because it’s very intense, and it’s bad because it’s very intense.
I also love the fact that because of my background in theater, I can tell a story in a way that’s theatrical. This helps with my presentation and my classes, because no one doesn’t like to hear a message from the happy black lady. It’s like: “Hi, y’all, let me tell you all a little bit about the beatin’ and spankin’ ”.
What people forget is that even if people don’t have a direct connection to what you did, they have a connection to what you felt. We’ve all felt those moments where you feel like you’re the only person on the planet who feels like this. Where you’ve felt like if people knew what you really wanted, people would be repulsed or disgusted.
It’s why, when you’re talking to people about BDSM, it appeals to people because it’s different and it’s edgy—but we’ve all felt that way. Even if you’ve never actually been whipped, you’ve had days where you felt like you were. Even if you haven’t submitted to someone, you’ve had moments where you’ve wanted to. It’s a human thing. Everyone wants to be the button pusher or the pushee—or both.