The class was the live version of “On Top: Exploring Your Dominant Persona”, taught by Justine Cross, variously touted as the most popular Dominatrix in LA, participant in extensive public outreach experiences and significant mover/shaker in her community. She owns two dungeons, which host an important part of the larger local lifestyle community. It’s a dedication of her life to advancing acceptance of BDSM and being a domme a find deeply praiseworthy. She’s very much a role model for others to aspire to.
People familiar with my presence on the internet probably know that I take every option to attend classes that show you how to be or realise your dominant self. Moderating r/femdomcommunity not one week passes without at least one newbie asking “how do I?” Meanwhile this blog exists as an anchor of sorts, dedicated to the subject of being a lifestyle domme for your own delight. Reviewing classes is a nice mix of learning things for myself and knowing where to send other people to learn.
The target market of this particular class is novice dommes. It’s important to reach them directly because femdom is a culturally distinct entity within the BDSM community at large, and although much of it is still dedicated to the interests of male subs and their most psychologically resonant fetishes, it’s also a space that is often much less hostile to female power than the mainline BDSM community can be.
However… Any domme class review I do is fussy.
If you are upset by having someone’s very affordable public contribution pulled apart with a magnifying glass, I might not be the writer for you. If you happen to BE Justine Cross reading this, message me to send you the cost of a stiff drink, as I am tearing into things with all the concern and sensitivity of a pack of velociraptors on an unattended BBQ buffet. Caveat lector.
And, I’m pretty biased going into this, because I think way too much emphasis is already put on teaching women to embody personas already, and every other domme lesson out there seems still stuck on the archetypes of “The Mistress Manual“, a book I am not whelmed by. On the other hand, all the dommes that teach these classes aren’t stupid, and the queries I get from would be dommes often phrase their need in a pursuit of finding a particular self presentation. This naturally makes a “Persona” class seem more attractive in marketing, so I tried to go into it with an open mind.
Besides, I have an endless desire to know what is out there, because when someone is on the top of their game, as Justine Cross is, even if I disagree on something, they clearly have something I can learn from. I am hardly an indomitable authority, and I would be deeply uncomfortable if there was nowhere else to send folks than me for good information. Safe sources that are different in theory than me should be nurtured, because this pocket of identity is pretty marginalized already.
So, would I recommend Justine Cross’s Domme Persona class?
Justine Cross has both organizer bonafides and a lengthy teacher and presenter resume. They are very good at communicating. I would say it’s an excellent intro class with up to date reminders that dominants can have limits, but little direct emphasis on female pleasure. Most dominant classes for any gender seem more responsibility focused, developing a framework to safely hold authority, but I think domme oriented instructional stuff needs to center this a bit more.
You do not need any part of this class to be a domme. If you want to be better at embodying what people expect of a domme, it’s a much better place to learn than most resourced. There’s value here, but having asked her dead on why this (outside of the self evident safety part she taught) was necessary, I feel the bridge between the dominant self and the external performance is not explored enough by the class.
Additionally, although her Lifestyle bonafides are without question, there’s a few bits in the content that are continuing to hold all dominants to standards only useful to professionals or at best a narrow stripe of kinky folks in a public community. Most advice in her class is good and well taught, but it’s decidedly about embodying a dominatrix externally in a way that needs the dungeon to work. That standard looms a bit too much into her class, though make no mistake, her own communicated joy in her life in no way make dominating seem like a duty or a chore.
First, delving into what she did particularly right:
Without her class I would not have found her wonderful free(!) scene negotiation sheet. She offers it for on Gumroad, crediting its first version originator, Pervocracy. Being properly plugged into the spectrum of kink communities for info is key for any educator, and Justine Cross has that down perfectly.
(Only one caveat on the attribution: I don’t know if Cliff prefers to reference his dead name professionally, for works predating his shift to going exclusively by that name. This sheet still credits that way. I definitely don’t think Justine Cross is doing anything wrong)
I also really appreciated that the class took the time to talk about dominant limits and explained it in a very accessible way. They did not do off the rack domme characters like I feared she might, the persona in the class title was more of a self selected thing to nurture and construct within the self.
The bones of the Mistress Manual seem to be still there in the very deep background, but the distance from it has included more of the self. I at no point felt like it was a class exclusively on mastering the thing hubby asked one to do, as most domme guides do.
Particular to that point, Justine Cross was very much in her element when she talked about the limits of the old saw, to sub before you dom. Little touches of her personal interest in the cnc messy “abuse” inspired scenarios were a little window into desire that are missing in a lot of conversations, though she is impeccable consistent in flagging real danger.
Her safety discussion was flawless. That I can’t say more about it is due to it’s constancey, and did not veer into over corrections nor neglect the dominant’s comforts. She managed this without being full of safety myths. And I liked she touched on a preference for darker things that outside of care and enthusiastic consent, would be explicitly abuse.
Now the criticisms, because I am a miserable pedant:
There was only one big oof. And not a potentially fatal one, just a misdirection, if you are exclusively lifestyle. Other things I noted would be smaller, for all go into them in detail. I remind you to read my review in the context of nitpicking, and my own agenda, and that I am still recommending her.
The biggest issue is I think she wasn’t able to effectively distinguish lifestyle and pro. Some of this is that it’s not a hard binary. And yet, I feel that because of the validity of sex work and the format of kink as delivered only in dungeons, parts of the whole spectrum and quirks of lifestyle only femdom culture were missing. The problem went as far as her intro querstions, asking us to define “dominatrix or dominant” even as she told us this was a lifestyle rather than sex work focused class. Notably she just asks one to define “submissive” in her class.
(Of course some lifestyle only women do call themselves Dominatrices or draw all their inspiration from there, but most do not. This didn’t put the contemporary idea of a dominatrix into it’s larger context of ways to be a domme.)
Nitpick 1: A missed opportunity to befriend an awkward elephant
The low hanging fruit (which I am trying to knock down and discard), one might levy at her, is that her work with clients somehow taints her. That’s sexism, nobody tells all the male pro-riggers that if they aren’t completely attracted to their models, their work is less valid. But the question “are you a real domme tho?” is an elephant in the room. Not because I am asking, but because she is self aware of the context of her audience’s thoughts to be stuck having to build a self justification into the curriculum.
Make no mistake, Justine Cross’s professional work experience in no way makes her lifestyle “authenticity” lose its loud self evidence in everything she does. Part of the fun of her class is her use of tone and expression where you can see how uplifted and comfortable she is in her kink. I found myself admiring her- she deserves the prestige she has. I don’t cringe to know she puts herself forward to the media to represent what femdom is. If people think I am like her, by pop culture exposure, that’s a compliment to me.
It really sucks that lifestyle and professional have to be put at odds. Most pro dommes are both. Even if they were not, it wouldn’t matter- that a person wants to dominate is personally enough for me. I want them to be fulfilled doing it, but being lifestyle only also never stopped someone from trading in harmful info either.
I do not think we got a bridge built, and about the only point she looked self conscious was in reference to professional work she does when it gives the client most of the say in the script of his scene. She mentioned him being happy was enough. I sort of think that was a missed opportunity to talk about the unique permission women get to express power through nurturing, giving and empathy.
I think that the standard we hold dominants, particularly sex workers to, harms dommes. As much as I dislike advice that teaches dominance like a purely giving thing, it’s a worse burden to place on female dommes that if we overtly acknowledge we might focus on the sub we lose respect and power. Femdom, in the name, has permission to be gendered and thus the other. Where it is most in alignment with feminism is when it rejects that power has to look like by a very male standard.
And I think we need to have a stronger foundation, collectively, that traditionally feminine associated things, from homemaking to penetration, do not have to be submissive.
Nitpick #2: The direct female pleasure problem
All that being said on being giving not being inherently submissive, we are also still struggling with having pleasure or being selfish at all.
My biggest criticism of most of the intro/general het femdom classes I have attended is that they focus on getting it right as a vocation and not on pleasing yourself. There may be a lot of focus on projecting authority through symbols, technique, and body exercises, but none about achieving and outcome other than “you are happy because you feel you are recognized as a dominant, including by yourself” and “he is happy because he got what he wanted”.
It’s like if an intro to sex class covered lingerie, dirty talk, anal and deep throating, and neglected to talk about her orgasm. Some of this is coyness inherent in our sex taboos about women. At the best of times, it’s framed as a nurturing, generative performance. But even so, these classes never seem to touch on things like the stealth-domme parts the novice might realise she was doing all along. Or ask her to think about her needs directly and how she might get this met.
And all these personas seem less like permission to be a part of yourself you suppress and instead creating a new part of the self who is allowed to do things the you, to this point, can’t. Notably while Justine Cross asked us to look to our own examples of fictional dommes to build that persona, she didn’t linger there.
I think the why do all this was missing
Maybe it’s the brevity of the class, but the most interesting part of examining your fantasies and fixations is seeing how they might embody what you personally want. Sometimes it’s a means to an end, sometimes the moment itself is the goal. In Justine Cross’s framing, dominance seems more like a means to an end in itself. The argument was present: Be like fictional domme or real dominatrix to be domme.
She doesn’t ask why you might want to be a domme or what emotional or sexual fulfillment this might bring you. In Justine Cross’s class, being perceived as a domme by yourself and others is enough in itself. Am I doing this to create a safe space to be sadistic? What kind of buzz does having power give me, or am I more focused on the reactions of a sub? Am I strengthening my ego in just knowing I have admirable topping skills or do I want the outcomes for me?
Mistress Shahrazad, teaching at The Ritual Chamber, is the only domme class teacher I have found, to date, who suggested you might have to struggle to even identify, much less vocalize one’s needs as a woman. I think because her class was FLR focused things could get away from the constant performance part dommes in particular get asked to do. I find it odd, given how much mainline feminism is exploring the perils and pitfalls of asserting oneself that femdom lessons for women don’t touch on that psychological side more.
For Justine Cross, her style section for dommes is a fashion shoot of her different looks. This is in sharp contrast with her sub class (reviewed later, below), where sub style is the permutations of kink preferences. It’s a very external presentation. It’s true that women have more permission to express themselves via outwards adornment and affect. Nonetheless, it’s another missed opportunity to talk about how style leads to her feelings.
(I often wonder if I might just be weird?)
My sadist self needs no mask, she uncoils out of my core into occupation of the entire room. I don’t take her to the grocery store and the DMV, but she is indelibly there in my sexuality. Flirt and her teeth are what smile back. Fuck, and it’s your mind I try to unpick to control the interaction. Reciprocal horny loops occur when someone I want subs to me.
In the larger world, when a woman wants to be sexually or romantically dominant, the matter is presented very differently than to a man. We still drag her into caricature flavours of dominatrix: governess, goddess, amazon, and so on. These aren’t even what real life dominatrices are like! That’s (based on my current sample) usually warm, empathetic, creative, cynical and queer. But, the archetypes we are given as baby dommes aren’t even the power fantasies that move reams of women’s fiction. If someone is a governess or a teacher in a story that’s typically sold to women, the former is about independence in a historical setting and the latter about her dedication to a traditional but essential job. Neither give her permission for cruelty in a way that powers sadism.
Being a Dominatrix can be one kind of permission, but we need more!
Sure, plenty of women look at the capital M “Mistress” and want to embody that, but meanwhile the male dominants are getting to be heroes and vampires and corporate bosses. Or in real life, allowed to be middle aged alt/nerd guys playing make believe patriarch. He’s getting his dick sucked by someone he is calling “little one”, and we dommes are all over here trying to not be collectively scraped off the internet by social media female body bans and credit card providers.
Maybe it’s because hard power, and unapologetically self focused power are usually denied to women, without severe social penalties? A world where the female orgasm is more obscene than the male one on film will necessarily put female pleasure aside unless abstracted, euphemized or channeled into approved outlets. But, as much as women have permission to wield certain kinds of embodying and giving power men do not, the experience of being dominant that keeps the domme as purer, more limited thing than male doms are way more shades of the “The Female Eunuch” than I would want, given what a disappointing TERF Germaine Greer turned out to be.
Shows like Billions and Bonding, the latter of which Justine Cross cited as a good example, subtract female sexual pleasure from their scenes. Instead it’s the admiration of other women for your topping skills, and strict distance from one’s more vulnerable desires, an aloof power. You have something your partner wants, done well, ideally naturally.
I do think women regularly fantasize about being a dominatrix, along with other sexual vocations. So, classes to do this make sense. The dominatrix is a transgressive and yet very traditionally feminine place to be, a forbidden deviance that promises a power trip. However, I think men do not use those same self imagining filter tools to enjoy their dominance.
Dommes are not asked what they want in the context of their lifestyle-only relationships. The presumption at best is that you can put on a persona as a tool, but nothing about one’s own fetishes. Empowerment is mentioned, but never “horny”.
All of this is more like a context of the domme class’s absent female pleasure problem.
That Justine Cross doesn’t address this context head on is not an endorsement. In practice she does more to make kink accepted in the mainstream than I do. But I think in swelling our numbers I must stay like Nidhogg in the roots of Yggdrasil, that nasty dragon gnawing the base of the world tree. My place in all this is about a certain sort of self assured self advocacy. I have to stand firm that what a femdom is must be expanded without eliminating any of the current forms.
Male subs are *extremely* good at collectively saying what they want. There is an ocean of porn in every permutation imaginable. There is virtually none for lifestyle dommes, to the point our male partners routinely either think we don’t exist or their porn is for us. For an industry that acknowledges that women can make up a third of the customer base, we are still stuck in “but women don’t like this” for commercial content.
So, it’s a situation of scarcity that puts that problem. Maybe in the end I am naught but the lunatic fringe, but content for us needs to be more inclusive of ways of being. Elsewise we will have more eras of “not like other femdoms” in lifestyle only land and continue with the ongoing rejection of gendered labels by otherwise cis women (or femme folks) who feel excluded by the lean of contemporary femdom culture.
Nitpick 3#: A poly/pro approach is not acknowledging a monogamous majority
This was the heaviest structural issue I noticed. She defaulted to putting dommes in contrast to eachother, way more than subs are placed apart. I think it makes sense for a public living marketing power house like Justine Cross, but it will not necessarily make her lessons accessible to couples or the vast majority of serial monogamists and monogamish folks.
For example, when we talked domme limits, she suggested if something is a limit to you, you could refer your sub elsewhere for that. Great advice for pros, who have a healthy and supportive culture that is naturally more stringless poly, and uses referrals to strengthen the whole community, terrible for the average monogamous woman. That’s what the majority of dommes are, and there are other ways to navigate your limits than opening your relationship. I would be careful to go as far as saying it will have the opposite effect of encouraging dommes to push through their limits for fear of having to share. But it left a hole in this particular issue that needs patching.
The most frustrating example of this domme inter-comparison approach was the closing topic. It was titled “Honing Your Craft or specialty – What do you want to be known for?”. Nope. Please do not. Topping is skill based, being a domme is absolutely an internal desire thing, and the “craft”/ vocation part is explicitly a pitch only women seem to get.
In pursuit of this dominance-as-calling idea, Justine Cross described developing a personal style to differentiate yourself from other dommes. This is not advice lifestyle dommes need, and is actually harmful as phrased, implying that pursuit of social distinctiveness should be prioritized. Lifestyle dommes do not need to convince anyone they are specialized or have branding.
You might use a persona as a tool, but you absolutely aren’t doing it in healthy competition with other women, as an artist. Your relationships don’t work that way; you can offer a more complete picture of yourself because the world is structured to allow you to do so. Being a domme, for most women, isn’t like becoming a burlesque performer, where you take on a stage name and create an audience digestible snapshot. You definitely don’t worry your domme identity is too much like another domme- you may never do more than read/watch these other women or have interactions that are indistinguishable from vanilla.
In the kink community, on the lifestyle side, there’s definitely a possability social prestige in building a public parasocial identity even more so than just being “the funny one” in a friend circle, but this is not needed. I can say first hand as someone whose whining on the internet for nigh on a decade accidentally gave her a perceived identity, or who had people think she was an aloof badass in the in person scene in Montreal, because I was the event runner and didn’t feel comfortable seeking play in a pool I had authority over- that identity doesn’t need tweaking. You can just be yourself as most of the whole person.
Again, this segue into taking persona to mean something like a brand was a missed opportunity. It could suggest differentiation in pursuit of satisfaction, where a unique style was more about focusing on your fetishes and putting a you focused spin on it. And ironically that’s more of where her partnered to this sub class went.
Contrasting this with Justine Cross’s submissive oriented class
“On Your Knees: Power in Submission”, is aimed at subs in general, though marketed with a hooded suit sub dude picture (which she noted in her class was not optimal, but still nice to see a boy sub in central focus), and was flagged in her domme class as an alternative. As such, I couldn’t feel I was doing a review justice without looking at her recorded class for subs. It was incredibly well done, and I feel I would give it as a good class for anyone from a future person who saw themselves as a client only, to a baby sub just starting out.
Unlike the domme class, this one dedicates a whole section to sharing your needs, something conspicuously absent in advice for femdoms, both in Justine Cross’s Persona class and most educational resources. It’s woven throughout our shared culture, that the subs are not asked to distinguish themselves in the sense dommes are, or dress up in a way that exists in the interspacing between our perception of ourselves as sex and the perception of others of us as sexy.
Although the kink negotiation worksheet was provided to both classes, only in the (recorded) sub class was there any effort to review it. She asks the sub class to explicitly fill out answers to “I am, I need, I require”, which she does not do in her domme class.
It’s actually rather interesting to me that she does more to justify what she liked in the class for subs, than she does in the class for dommes. Some of this is based on curing the starfish idiots (or “hotdog sub, a term I am now stealing). These people assume dommes are telepaths or monolithic. Still, the presentation on expressing your needs includes things like “making you feel better after you have had a bad day”. I am not saying that’s not very *submissive* as you can do whatever you like in your D/s dynamic and doing that is something I personally enjoy as a dominant! I am saying that I would be shocked if the average femdom-for-femdoms class talked about communicating to your sub how to make you happy in such a nuanced way. This is missing, given how often dommes ask plaintively if they are allowed to be vulnerable or have needs too.
This class would have actually worked as a general BDSM ed class and is a lot of stuff baby dommes also need to hear
It’s a pity we don’t. In this class, there was a lot of practical advice for subs about leaning in, and working with what the dominant is putting down, as well as reminders of where the reciprocal way a scene works. I have to wonder if most dommes are expected to come into this already knowing that. Nobody tells us to approach it from a place of mutual goals. Giving to a sub is always self conscious, if mentioned, caveated with “but I am still a dominant”, while the sub is assumed to want a more whole spectrum as natural.
Dominance, like masculinity, is alas, more fragile than femininity or submission.
What makes a great sub, according to Justine Cross, also includes style/persona. And yet, these mean very different things than the domme class taught. For subs, she emphasizes the skills and self knowledge of what they are into as informing their persona. Styles are a lot more play oriented “bratty bottom” versus a super masochist, and so forth. There’s way more here about your needs as a sub, to help you with self knowledge, while the domme persona class didn’t seem to put even the play preferences of the domme central.
She also emphasizes how subs can build practical skills like massage or cooking (or specific familiarity with a flavour of kink). I am sometimes critical that this can lead to male subs feeling like they only have value in very sesexualized roles, and she might have toughed more on the subject of the female gaze, but she did a very good job of teaching how important being personable was to getting folks to play with you.
It’s part of the greater tragedy of femdom as a culture, because Justine Cross leaned, via her own examples, even way more into her own dominant pleasure in this class. Although she repeatedly emphasized she was a financial dominatrix, her broader explanations and real life anecdotes took the audience past stereotypes and better illustrated that sex work isn’t the orphan in the spectrum of what we might desire.
But, the bones of the difference I am talking about, in how we teach to dommes versus subs, is very clear in the two outlines…
|Domme Class||Sub Class|
|– What makes a great dominant?|
– What makes a bad dominant?
– Consent using the Kink Negotiation Worksheet
– Style and fashion
– Technique and style
– Training, knowing your skills
– How you identify, using a title or a name
– Character or Persona
– Honing Your Craft or specialty – What do you want to be known for?
Bring all of your questions and together we will explore common dominant archetypes, styles, techniques so that you know how to begin your journey into domination. Whether you are single or with a partner you will learn skills to help you enjoy this path with confidence and sexual creativity. Unleash your inner dominant in the bedroom and in life!
|– What makes a great submissive or bottom?|
– Learning to express your kinky needs
– Consent using the Kink Negotiation Worksheet
– Styles of submission
– Protocol and etiquette and other fancy words – for how to serve
– Contracts and agreements
– Boundary setting and inner work
– Skill building for service
Together we’ll explore the role of the submissive, and how to safely create boundaries for healthy D/s relationships. If you are just beginning your journey this will give you the foundation to serve, as well as make a great impression on your dominant.
Some sort of conclusion of this review
Having continued the trend of making myself completely unwelcome in any dungeon around the world with my pickiness. I should probably finish this wave of negativity with a few other caveats. I haven’t listened to her recorded class, and she was teaching live with a significant head injury the night before. Although she assured us she did not have a concussion, my own professional (snrk) background means all the symptoms she publically mentioned made be a little suspicious- I have to emphasize that what I got might have had the parts I though were missing if she hadn’t had an wrought iron bit of sex furniture bean her hard enough to give her a headache the next day.
And I actually think you SHOULD do both classes, because the recorded sub class was much more superior in conveying dominant joy and pleasure, as well as a bunch of good general advice including handling consent violations versus accidents, and a certain supportive frankness of building stuff together. And for the $20 USD the live class cost me, and $15 USD for the recorded versions, you are getting a bargain. At that cost, Justine Cross has made good information extremely accessible. She should be commended, tipped and celebrated.
And I hope I can see her interrogation work shop, because the purring enthusiasm she brought to talking about the subject in an off hand mention was a brief moment of feeling completely and entirely understood. I do want to see her speaking more narrowly than generally, as I suspect my socks may be blown off.