When she hung a man in a full latex suit by his ankles and flogged him onstage in front of 2,000 people 20 years ago, the Lady Grinning Soul was born.
Soul performs the first Friday of every month at 6th Street North. This Friday’s “Lace, Leather and Latex” event is Disney Villains versus Heroes. No full nudity or photography is allowed. All adults are welcome as long as they bring an open mind.
Between high school and going to college, she worked as a dance instructor where her boss groped her. A couple years later, when she interviewed for a job at a catering company, the owner offered her $150 and lingerie in exchange for sex with him. Then, while working as an electrician’s apprentice, she was stalked and harassed by another contractor.
"The whole time I’ve been a fetish performer, or worked in adult entertainment in that fashion, I’ve been treated with more respect than most women get treated at their day job,” Soul said.
In the era of “Me Too” movement, America is reckoning with the pervasiveness of sexual harassment in all workplaces. However, one workplace where this may be surprisingly absent is adult entertainment.
Soul was working in an adult store in 1998 when an old friend offered her an opportunity. He asked if she was interested in using her past experience as a go-go dancer to perform at Club 5’s Saturday Night Seduction. She decided to try it out.
Soul sat down with her husband and wrote an act. They presented it to the club owner who told them to be ready to perform it the next Saturday.
That’s how they ended up onstage with two other submissive men at the largest fetish event in Jacksonville. She’s been performing ever since.
The Lady Grinning Soul is her stage name. She keeps her personal life and fetish life entirely separate, as people don’t always understand the fetish or BDSM lifestyle. Soul has already suffered personal consequences because of this. She said it’s part of the reason she can no longer speak to her mother.
Soul thinks this is mostly because the community is misrepresented by the media. According to her, “Fifty Shades of Grey” got it all wrong. They took the lifestyle and twisted it to the point that it became an offensive rape fantasy.
“You don’t do that in (this) lifestyle,” Soul said. “We would never do that.”
Trust and communication are the two most important pillars of the community.
There are rules to the lifestyle: don’t touch somebody else’s person, always ask permission and always openly communicate. Everything must be consensual.
While America has a national conversation about defining gray areas of consent, this community has the rules spelled out plainly in black and white.
Anthony Grezlik, owner of 6th Street North, said if participants are intoxicated during consent negotiations, they can be blackballed from the community entirely. Because you can’t give consent unless you are 100 percent sober.
Partners lay out their ground rules and safe words with one another before any physical interaction takes place. Soul said if you don’t feel comfortable with something you simply need to speak up.
Grezlik has lived in Gainesville for 20 years. He has a passion for serving his community. After serving in the military for 10 years and 14 years in law enforcement, he tried to retire but said it was too boring. He decided to open a bar instead.
First, he opened Market Street Pub and Cabaret. It was too cumbersome for him to stay downtown though. In June 2016, when the bar closed, he moved on to 6th Street North.
At the same time Grezlik said he was evolving. He had an epiphany that monogamy was not for him.
“It’s not that I’m not committed to one partner,” Grezlik said. “It’s just that I don’t believe one partner can do everything for you.”
So he decided to explore this lifestyle in a more open fashion. Grezlik said that sometimes relationships that fulfill a need for an individual may not be sexual at all.
Soul agreed. In fact, she said that nine times out of 10, sex is entirely absent from BDSM partnerships.
According to Soul, it’s a healthy release because it’s between two consenting individuals. In her 20 years performing, she has seen the whole gamut of fetishes.
“Whatever that little kink is, that little fetish that turns them on, that they can’t express to anyone else,” she said.
Soul said some people are into candle wax or light spanking, some people want to be dressed and paraded around as ponies, some people want to be another person’s servant. Powerful men in business suits come in to be sissified, dominated and degraded by tiny women. She said she’s still surprised sometimes by the things she sees.
And Soul said no one would ever know. Those men put their suit and tie back on and go back to their corporate offices.
The society at large may judge fetishes. People in the community may never be able to fully express themselves to others in their day-to-day lives.
But the first Friday of every month, they can be safe to explore inside 6th Street North.
“At the end of the day we’re all giant dorks that just want to have fun,” Soul said.