By Sarah Downey
In 1982 Mike McDade paid his first visit to Chicago as a semifinalist in the International Mr. Leather contest. Last weekend, McDade made his second visit to speak about the spiritual side of sadomasochism during his class on master-slave relationships, "Path of the Obedient Heart I."
McDade, who is 53 and not surprisingly prefers the dominant position, brought his teachings to Ann Sather in Lakeview, where in a private room nearly two dozen potential slaves assembled support group style in a circle of chairs.
Slavery is a very, very, very high calling," said McDade. "It isn't intended to be for everybody. It's for people who can accept the power of the physical devices."
Though he stands an imposing six-foot-five in his boots--looking a lot like Jon Voight in Midnight Cowboy--McDade has an Oprah-like ability to make people feel accepted, something that helps his students shed their inhibitions. But he emphasizes that total submission isn't possible without a certain mind-set. "Being a slave is the quintessential obedience," he says. "If you work for me, I'll take care of you. I'll give you exactly what you need."
Gregg flew here from Columbus, Ohio, after reading about McDade on the Internet. After five years in the leather community, he wanted to take his S-M experience as a submissive one step further. "I don't get the impression that this was a shell game, and that's very refreshing," said Gregg, who's 36. "If there wasn't anything else, then this was going to be the end of the chapter for me. But I thought there was more, and this just confirms it."
McDade believes the spiritual side of bondage and other fetishes is only just beginning to gain prominence. "Typically, S-M devices are used to exchange power and for pain management," he says. "But we can also use those same devices to stimulate the body and awaken the spirit."
For the past year, he's brought that message to hundreds of slaves and potential slaves in classes around Los Angeles, where he works in computer programming. He started taking the course on the road last December, when he taught a class in New York. To prepare for his visit to Chicago, McDade called Slave Bob, a Hinsdale resident and college professor who's still in training but very eager to help. Slave Bob helped secure the space at Ann Sather, greeted arrivals with a hug, and handed out literature. For eight hours participants weighed how ready they were to explore the path of the obedient heart.
"I'm very pleased to hear what I've heard so far," said a man in a gray shirt named Tom. "But there's a piece of this that still makes me very anxious."
"All you have as a guide is your obedience," advised McDade. "That's moral certainty. That's what we're seeking, so that never, ever will there be a question about what we should do."
As SlaveMaster, McDade oversees a cadre of six slaves who underwent strenuous initiation before agreeing to serve him for life. All but one have their own homes, and some even have other masters. But McDade outranks them all. "We have a single soul that's expressed in multiple bodies," says McDade, who brought three of his slaves to Chicago.
"Even before I became a slave, my passion was linked to a sense of surrender," says David Hollen, also known as Slave Number Five. The 38-year-old environmental consultant hooked up with McDade three years ago after meeting him briefly in 1991. A tattoo of his slave designation covers most of his well-defined right shoulder.
Peter Hulit, who's 46, is Slave Number Four. Born in New Jersey, Slave Number Four worked as a shoe salesman, then quit a few years ago when his lover died. At that point, "somebody, somewhere, told me to say yes to everything," he says. Today he wears a nose ring and works in accounting and massage therapy. He lives with McDade, whom he met at a men's gathering in Malibu.
As for McDade, an Oregon native, he was "a dysfunctional heterosexual" for most of his 13-year marriage, which produced two children and ended in the late 70s. McDade bites into a sandwich served to him by Slave Number Four, smiles sheepishly, and recalls the day he figured out he was gay: he'd started out on a routine lunch-hour jog in Portland and ended up taking a detour into an adult bookstore.
"There was a magazine that showed gay leather men," he says. "I read it and shouted out, 'Yes! There I am!' It was such a moment that I think I disturbed everybody in the bookstore."
Similar tales flowed freely at Ann Sather. The range of S-M experience among the group varied from "totally involved" to one man who said he was hell-bent on losing his virginity by the end of the weekend. McDade and his slaves urged him not to move too quickly. Eventually the man agreed to try massage or some other, gentler form of sexual initiation.
"First, just get used to being naked. Get used to body work and breath work," suggested Jim Curtan, Slave Number Six, who says his understanding manner developed during a two-decade career as an actors' manager. "My ability to listen comes out of my hunger to be seen and heard for all those years. There's nothing these people are talking about today that I haven't had to deal with myself."
"You have an enormous contribution to make," he told Larry, a middle-aged man lamenting how long he'd been in the closet. "What's behind that door is a treasure. We're here to see if we can get a little more jet propulsion into your life." By the end of the day Larry was leering at McDade and saying things like, "Why don't you just kidnap me and take me with you when you go home?"
The subject of sex only came up a few times. A 29-year-old mother from Matteson was disappointed. "I wasn't expecting it to get quite so metaphysical," she said. "I was hoping to get a little more practical advice on S-M techniques."
Not that McDade isn't skilled at that too. He explains that techniques are addressed in "Path of the Obedient Heart II," which is offered only in Los Angeles: it would take a lot of money and planning to transport the 11 people required for the demonstrations.