By DL Haydon
Fixation, the monthly show held at The Secret Group, is best summed up by describing the creators: fetish model Emily Snow and sideshow performer Skabz the clown.
“I mean, that was our whole gimmick,” Emily told me during a recent interview. “It’s supposed to be half-sideshow, half-burlesque, with a fetish aspect.”
Emily agreed to discuss the logistics of running such an event (which is more than one year strong) and give a few thoughts on the state of Houston’s kink community.
We rendezvoused at The Secret Group on an off day. Emily had on an outfit for a just-finished “white girl wasted” photoshoot. Her hands switched between a tequila and bag of chips. The first thing she said was the essence of the sort of mind that runs a show dedicated to debauchery and weirdness.
“I love Doritos but I never want to eat them," she said. "No one wants to fuck the girl with Doritos breath.”
Creating Fixation was drawn out partially by trying to fix what Emily saw as broken in Houston’s community. Her years-old sex-centered podcast Nocturnal Addictions (which has since taken a backseat to psychology classes) was the precursor.
Nocturnal Addictions ended up being recorded on-site at various community-related events. Emily took note of those who did booking and logistics. More than that, she looked at how they were doing it wrong.
“I just didn’t like the way they treated their performers,” she said. “After watching a bunch, I figured we could do it better.”
Emily and Skabz envisioned a friendlier, happier event. Something less business-oriented. They reached out to performers and vendors, hashing out a game plan. In February 2017, Fixation started.
“I was honestly scared for the first one,” she said. “Doors were at 9 pm, and at 10 pm there was barely anyone there. And I started crying and thought ‘fuck this is terrible everyone’s going to laugh at me.’”
Her fears were unfounded, however.
Attendees were fashionably late, but showed up in droves. Feedback was positive from everyone involved, the attendees, the bar, the performers. So the two decided to hold it again. And again, 10 more times.
No two nights have been the same. Fixation has a balance between its various aspects, Emily explained, but she and Skabz have never bothered to get bogged down with perfect 1:1 ratios.
“Honestly I would think that there’s a lot more burlesque and circus stuff,” she said.
The performers range from local acts like Nick T'Vegan or rapper Nvtvs, to out-of-towners like Austin’s Fifi Switchblade. The diversity of vendors (Twisted Engineering, Honey Moonpie and Violet Owl just to name a few) means easy access to corsets, collars, paintings, jewellery and other curios not usually found in East Downtown.
Whether it’s local performers, traveling artists, burlesque dancers or just a table vendor, they don’t hire strangers.
“Everybody that does our event is someone Skabz or I am associated with,” she said. “These are all people who we’ve seen perform before and think ‘They should be on our show.’”
After more than a year, Emily said she’s happy with how far they’ve come.
“It’s been a challenge with figuring out where everything works with hosting an event,” she said. “But we’ve gotten so much better at it, things don’t seem as hard at the end of the night.”
Emily described being a proper organizer as showing up to pregame in advance and staying until well after the last fishnet-covered leg disappears behind the door. It means staying on your toes because, well, you’re hosting a fetish show.
Though they both MC onstage, Skabz transitions between the performers while Emily runs in the background putting out (mostly figurative) fires.
“I’m the one everyone asks for stuff when they need it,” she said. “Going to get cords, locate an artist, help someone with wardrobe, find glue.”
Though Emily couldn’t pinpoint any disasters or malfunctions, there have been some notable moments, she said.
“We had a 'Party Monster' themed party,” Emily said, referring to the 2003 film. “I don’t want to call her out, but this girl asked our door girl where the bathroom was. On the way was the dance floor, she just stopped and peed. They kicked her out of the bar. The cops came. She slapped one of them.”
The HPD officers, rightfully perturbed, hauled the individual off.
“When it happened, first I had to make sure what was going on,” Emily said. “Afterwards I totally cracked the joke: It’s not a ‘Party Monster’ party until someone pisses on the floor.”
Despite what some outsiders may assume of a fetish show, Fixation allows no illegal acts, including public watersports.
“Performers wear pasties if they go topless,” Emily added. “We don’t have any full nudity. We have some dildos and stuff like that but we’re not penetrating onstage or anything.”
The show has had its crowning moments of glory as well. After Hurricane Harvey, instead of cancelling Fixation, Skabz and Emily made it into a charity benefit.
“I had volunteered seven days straight before that show and I didn’t think I could do it,” Emily said. “I was fucking exhausted and looked like shit. I was so sleep-deprived I didn’t even brush my hair.”
Not all the performers were able make it, but those who did, performed free of charge.
“It was heart-warming,” Emily said. “I didn’t think people would show up considering it was so soon after the hurricane, but there was a big attendance considering.”
They ended up raising approximately $1,800, donating it between the Friends for Life animal shelter and a group of chefs at SEARCH Homeless Services.
Despite the progress made by Fixation, there’s plenty of room for improvement in the city.
“Houston has a terrible kink scene,” Emily said. “We’re all segregated and cliquey to be honest. A lot of the scenes out there . . . it’s not going to be the style you want for our age group.”
HPEP (Houston People Exchanging Power) is one example, which describes itself as Houston's largest pansexual BDSM community. No mention of circus sideshows. Other groups range from older swingers just wanting sex, snobs who suffer from an unwarranted sense of self-importance or the more extreme groups who blur the line between getting weird after dark versus making it a lifestyle choice.
“We’re a group of people who are all the same age. We like the same stuff,” Emily said. “It’s not that over-sexual atmosphere.”
Emily and Skabz expect the show to continue evolving (mutating might be more accurate).
Aside from continuing to run Fixation, the hiatus on Nocturnal Addictions may be over soon. She also hinted at possible developments coming to Houston’s kink scene overall.
“I don’t want to give away details but I have been contacted by a company who just came into Houston and wants to do something with our community,” she said. “I think it will be good for the city.”
DL Haydon has been writing, reporting and shooting photos in Houston since Hurricane Ike. When not conducting journalism, he can be found (in various bars) people-watching, shooting pool or absentmindedly scribbling on cocktail napkins. DL focuses on politics and underground culture.