I recently went against all common sense and accepted an invitation from my high school health teacher to come to her human sexuality class to speak about my experiences as a person with HIV and as a mistress. Dominatrix, that is. Mistress Mercy Payne’s the name.

As a woman who is HIV positive, I am often asked to speak at high schools, prisons, drug-rehabilitation centers and universities, but rarely if ever do I mention The Dungeon, my place of employment during my glory days as a dominatrix. The reason’s simple: The lay reaction to my former profession is to immediately assume that I contracted HIV through such, even though my clients and I never exchanged any bodily fluids. Then they make the next moralistic leap that even if I did not contract HIV as a dominatrix, I sure as hell deserved to.

I have read student evaluations of my talks about dominance: “She is not a human being.” “I wanted to throw up.” “I hope she dies soon.” “She is worse than those homosexuals.” Did I not learn anything from these experiences? I guess not, because I accepted the latest invitation.

What could I possibly have been thinking?

So here I am, 7:30 in the morning, describing to 16-year-olds how to perform the perfect branding of a slave. A look of horror and disbelief claims all those young faces. Still, they move forward on their seats as someone asks, “What was the most freakiest thing you ever did?” I disappoint them when I say I don’t think that anything I did was what I would call freaky.

I try to explain, as best I can, that many situations and experiences (not to mention karma) shape and influence our sexuality. What turns on one person can leave another screaming and grabbing for his testicles. I refer specifically to a particular suspension method involving said testicles. Matter of fact, I reveal, in detail, that suspension method to the first class. Naturally, each successive class insists on every detail as well. I oblige: “Wrap the testicles with rubber tubing, and then wrap the tubing around the penis, which by now should be in all its stiff glory. Attach the rubber tubing to a pulley system connected to a crossbeam above a four-poster bed frame. For added effect, insert thirty straight pins into the shaft of the penis” -- here, always a chorus of groans from the students -- “and proceed to crank the body up by the testicles.” A few of the weak-hearted run from the room. Most just flail their hands screaming, “Stop, Mistress, stop!”

Oh well, some people just don’t know how to have fun.

Class after class, a student says, “You don’t think this is freaky, let alone wrong? This is sick!”

“Look,” I respond, “when you masturbate -- ” Every sphincter in the room slams shut and a look of denial shadows every face. “OK, when your neighbor masturbates -- ” The chairs slide eerily farther apart. “OK, when your father masturbates, or the principal of the school, or the President of the United States, they usually think about something -- and that something is not a wedding scene or a banner that says ’Abstinence Is the Only Safer Sex.’ People fantasize. Fantasies may encompass a very broad range. So when slave number 456 -- and I number all my slaves -- comes to me and wants to wear a tutu and a baby bonnet while licking a well-worn photograph of Grandma’s behind and humping his childhood blanky, that is his karma. Who am I to say that he is any more wrong than someone looking at this month’s Playboy or Playgirl while shucking the oyster or riding the baloney pony?”

Despite the passion of my outburst, I can see I’m getting nowhere here. They do not want to accept dominance as an alternative lifestyle, so I figure what the hell, it’s time to go into character. Mistress Mercy Payne to the rescue.

Before a class of unruly 11th graders calling me names at 7:55 on a Monday morning, I rise from my seat and pull a strap-on dildo from a leather satchel. I hand it to the nearest student, don a rubber mask and proceed to pull more paraphernalia out to impress upon them just who is in charge here. I then order “Stay right where you are!” as some in the class look nervously toward the door. With a sincerity I didn’t know was even possible so early on a Monday morning, I trudge through the correct way to perform a golden shower and the proper etiquette required by a slave instructed to clean out the toilet with a Brillo pad taped to his penis. I also include tales of “the rubber raincoat man” and the foot fetishist who wanted to be castrated to make me a pair of mules from his you-know-whats.

Alas, it is not to be Mercy Payne who saves me, but the bell. The students leave bewildered, carefully avoiding each other and the place where I perch. I wonder briefly, “Why am I here?” But my old health-class teacher assures me that my lecture has perhaps brought a little perspective to these dreary, unformed lives.

A little perspective, indeed. By the time those kids fled to their next class, me being HIV positive was the last thing on their minds.