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Dominatrix Community Condemns Netflix Show ‘Bonding’ As ‘Inauthentic’ and ‘Problematic’

Netflix's new comedy follows a gay man assisting a dominatrix. Sex workers say the show is stigmatizing and unrealistic.

“Bonding”

Netflix

Netflix scored big with bawdy teen comedy “Sex Education” at the start of the year, but it appears its latest attempt at a sex positive comedy was a misstep. Created by actor Rightor Doyle, “Bonding” centers around a gay stand-up comic who comes into his sexuality when he takes on a gig as an assistant to a dominatrix. In a creator’s statement posted to Instagram, Doyle explained that the show is based on his personal experience as a struggling comedian in New York.

“As a young gay man still struggling with my own sexuality, guarding the door while one of my best friends from home tied a naked man to a four poster bed and whipped him was jarring to say the least,” wrote Doyle, while also touting “influences ranging from Pedro Almodóvar to Terry Zwigoff.”

Although many fans chimed in with messages of support, not all were convinced that Doyle’s experience gave him the right to tell this particular story. (IndieWire has reached out to Netflix for a response.)

“I understand how this show is loosely based on a personal experience but it does cast a bad shadow and stigma on professional domination,” Mistress Synful Pleasure wrote in response. “The inaccuracies feed the stigma of bdsm & it doesn’t really show what the life of a dominatrix is like at all. Why is she a bitch 24/7? Why is she wearing a collar with an O ring? Why does her corset not fit her right? She doesn’t screen her clients? … The lack of negotiation & consent? Come on, even loosely based there should be a better representation of bdsm in here.”

Jessica Nicole Smith, a dominatrix working in Montreal, where it is legal to sell sex but not to purchase, got through the first three episodes before a storyline about sexual assault became too much.

“It has this horrible line — ‘I’m this way because I was assaulted.’ Cool, what a shitty thing to say because that’s often how I feel as a sex worker who was assaulted, and are people gonna think I do this because I was assaulted? I didn’t like the conflation storyline. Yes, let’s talk about trauma…but it’s not like she’s dealing with her trauma, she’s projecting it onto everyone else,” she said.

Aside from the triggering storylines, she said the script didn’t do justice to the sex worker character, making the subject matter feel even more exploitative.

“None of it felt real to me. It wasn’t a real story of a complex, beautiful sex worker who has a real story of abuse at work. That just didn’t feel right to me at all, having been there myself,” said Smith.

Smith was not moved by fans who say the series is a half hour comedy and not meant to encompass the entirety of the dominatrix experience.

“Don’t fucking write a comedy where you haven’t consulted sex workers clearly on the writing. No sex worker would write comedy like that. You want a funny comedy? Get a bunch of sex workers to write down the shit they talk about in strip clubs. Sex workers are fucking funny, you don’t have to not include them to make a fucking comedy.”

Other responses from sex workers and the dominatrix community on Twitter are embedded below.

In a format that has become standard for Netflix, the show’s Twitter account is written from the perspective of the fictional Mistress May, the main dominatrix character played by Zoe Levin. For many sex workers who have been removed from or “shadowbanned” by Twitter, meaning their content is restricted and their profiles hidden from searches, Netflix’s marketing scheme was a slap in the face.

There were some playing devil’s advocate, however:

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