Despite sexuality being an integral part of many people’s lives, most of us don’t plan our travels around exploring it. Instead, we travel for food, culture, relaxation, thrill, the chance to see something new — all facets of adventure the late, great Anthony Bourdain depicted expertly on his show Parts Unknown.
As such, we never expected Bourdain to travel to a new city to get flogged by a dominatrix or guest star in a porn (not that the Travel Channel or CNN would have allowed it anyway). But for Madison Young, an award-winning feminist filmmaker and writer with a background in the adult industry and kink, traveling for sex and intimacy offers a natural exploration of the unique culture of a city. On her new show Submission Possible — now available on the queer streaming network Revry — Young takes viewers on a sexual tour of the West Coast, exploring its many kinky and queer subcultures as she travels by car from place to place. One episode documents Seattle’s burlesque scene, mindfulness through spanking and disability representation in queer porn, while later installments explore themes like stripper politics in Portland and blood play in San Francisco.
I recently spoke with Young about her inspiration for developing a travel show centered around the sensual, the LGBTQ+ features each city has to offer and the best behind-the-scenes moments of her erotic adventure.
You describe in the beginning of Episode One that you were in need of new experiences and that you wanted the opportunity to tell stories of kink on a national scale. I’m curious, though, exactly how the show came to be.
As an artist and performer, I’ve always spent a lot of time on the road, performing and presenting in different cities. I love traveling and connecting with queer, kinky and sex-positive communities. Each city has its own character, its own nuances. I’ve been interviewed over the years for a number of different documentary shows about sex, but so often, they sensationalized kink, sex work or queerness.
In my opinion, this just continues to separate us. I knew I could offer a different perspective. I wanted to show the nuances of the emotional experience behind kink, fetish and sex work, as well as the emotional landscape of the shared humanity threaded by these experiences and passions. That’s way more interesting to me than what kind of dramatic suspension I can withstand. Instead, I want to be brought into the inner workings of the experience as someone who is in the community, not through questions as an outsider.
Anthony Bourdain did such a nice job of bringing the viewer into a city’s community and culture. You connect over food, but it’s really about the people. That’s what I’m doing, but with kink and sex.
How did you go about selecting locations and what kink/queer communities you’d feature?
The first episode of the season was shot prior to the pandemic, then production went into hiatus for over a year until I’d gotten my vaccines. We wanted to be as safe during production as possible, so we kept the crew very minimal. Everyone was vaccinated and tested, and the crew was masked. We weren’t going to do cross-country or international travel to minimize risk, so we kept it local to the West Coast. I’ve been a part of the kink scene for 20 years now, teaching, presenting, writing and creating work within the community, so I was pretty well-connected and I had an idea of folks I wanted to interview. However, there were plenty of people that I didn’t know as well, that were friends of friends or that I discovered through social media. I reached out to quite a few of them and found the people in each city whose stories really drew me in.
What were the guiding forces in how you decided to film the show?
There are so many aspects to filmmaking. I’m the writer and producer as well as the host and director, so I wear a lot of hats in the making of the series. The concept for the show came to me one weekend after I’d finished up the off-Broadway presentation of my one-womxn show, Reveal All Fear Nothing. I went out to a big, beautiful country house in the Berkshires and created space in my body. I was wildly exhausted from the run of my theater show, and one night before falling asleep, I saw Submission Possible. I channeled the show, the shots, the premise — it all came spilling forth. I grabbed a pen and paper and started crafting the pilot.
There are a lot of logistics that go into bringing together all the right people in all the right places to make a beautiful and powerful film, so that part is a bit more cerebral and less embodied. Hosting the show is very much about connecting in an authentic way while holding a container for the folks that I’m interviewing — being mindfully present. When I’m present and experiencing a kink or fetish someone is sharing with me, that can be incredibly sensual. I feel that sensuality is just an opening of all the senses — exploring with the senses, connecting with the senses.
In the second episode, you talk a bit about the need for embodied experiences following the trauma and isolation of the pandemic. How might others be able to pursue this via travel?
You can start to reconnect with your body, your sexuality and your community slowly and safely at your pace at home or on a road trip. I think being gentle with ourselves surrounding the trauma that we’ve gone through from the past year is something we have to acknowledge. I hold that trauma with love and compassion and know that I will reconnect at my own pace. But connecting with dear friends and folks in the kink community through things like rope, needle play and boot blacking has been wildly potent. It’s been amazing to share that degree of intimacy with someone after over a year of social isolation.
What advice do you have for other kinky and/or queer folks hoping to incorporate these elements into their travel experiences?
There are so many fantastic resources in each and every city. Often, there are queer bars or leather bars that tend to be a hub for many kinky, queer events. Look for fun burlesque and drag show events in the city you’re visiting, or follow some of your favorite kink educators on social media and see where they’re located and what events they’re doing. A lot of public events still aren’t back yet, but there are also some incredible private spaces you can use to explore your kinks. One that I highly recommend is InnThrall, which is a super cool, magical, kinky bed-and-breakfast just outside of Philadelphia.
Are there any parallels between filming porn and filming a travel show?
There are many parallels to filming porn or erotic film and a documentary. Porn is just another form of filmmaking, except you’re documenting sexual culture with the inclusion of a graphic sex scene. In both, I’m creating a budget, working on financing, writing a script, casting, securing locations and crew, creating shot lists, overseeing edits, etc. In an erotic film or porn, I would write a script, and then when it was time for the sex scene, I would hold space for the vulnerable and negotiated unfolding of that intimate moment. It’s all about creating that container based on the performer’s mutual desires and what they want to share with one another. It’s similar to a documentary. I create a container for the person I’m interviewing and hold a similar space for that vulnerable, intimate moment where we’re able to honor, celebrate and reveal our most intimate selves.