2013 Leather Hall of Fame Inductee
Mistress Monique Von Cleef:
An Unlikely Healer
Monique Von Cleef can best be described as a trailblazing pioneer in identity therapy. Though not the first impression one would get of Ms. Marianna 'Monique' Von Cleef – the Queen of Humiliation – she redefined the meaning of personal healing, while shaking law and society to their cores.
Growing up during World War II in Holland, Monique began her life in pandemonium. As war raged in Europe, she intently learned from her parents and the soldiers who befriended her family. Squeezed between an idealistic father, a classist mother, an abusive Catholic society and a war-afflicted militia, Monique constructed her own morality, paving the way into "a world of her own."
In this sense, she resembles previous inductees to the Leather Hall of Fame – when the world had no place for her, no place where she contently fit, she created a world where she could explore and guiltlessly experience, in her case, human psycho-sexuality. This and her instinctive understanding of human behavior enabled Ms. Von Cleef to become Mistress Monique later in life.
Increasingly fascinated by sex, Monique delved into the world of hedonism when she began nursing school. She learned more about sexuality than nursing while living at her school's all-female student dormitory. Struck by the beauty and candor of her narcissistic roommate, Monique embarked on adventures of risqué foreplay. She experienced the art of sex through self-masturbation, mutual-masturbation and psychological role-playing.
She soon discovered the inherent power of sex. Concurrently, she turned away from "normal" sexuality. Having been raped by a soldier while living with her parents and having heard all the stories where men assaulted women or had no idea how to pleasure a woman, Monique developed a sexuality that relied heavily on physical and psychological domination of men. This control over her environment intrigued her in the world of bondage, domination and sadomasochism (BDSM) for the rest of her life. While in school, she engaged in sexual adventures secondhand; much like during her childhood, she observed and learned from her environment, immersing herself increasingly into the world of taboo sex through voyeurism, mutual masturbation and honest discussion. By graduation, she was decidedly more interested in the psychology of BDSM and her fascination for sex than the practice of nursing.
So in another curiosity-driven impulse, Monique moved to Amsterdam, began living in her only prolonged lesbian relationship and found temporary nursing positions around the city. To be clear, Monique was hetero-sexual. But she felt compelled to repay her "girlfriend's" generosity – her "girlfriend" having housed and socialized Monique to a cosmopolitan Amsterdam – with sex. True to her nature, this doubled as sex education for Monique; it compounded when she was introduced to the vast, hidden world of taboo sex. She met homosexuals and socialites, making friends with those she found inspiring.
One such inspiration was Gonda, a Mistress who befriended Monique and formally introduced her to the world of BDSM. Mistress Monique – Queen of Humiliation, was born at Gonda's home where she whipped one of Gonda's "slaves." She thoroughly enjoyed this experience. However, to her, being a Mistress was more than sexual. Given her childhood experiences and background in nursing, she realized that many in society had hidden fetishes and fantasies. Moreover, she realized that many psychologically depended on such fantasies to perform sexually. And most importantly, most such people could not reveal these secrets to loved ones or medical professionals without being labeled "sick."
From beginning to end, Monique saw her work as sex therapy for those with fantasies that conventional society would misunderstand, fear and criminalize. Her own sexuality notwithstanding, she centered her role as Mistress on empathy towards her "patients," providing exactly the comfort and pain each person required in attaining relief. First, she started as a masseuse. It led to her owning and operating her own parlor. Caregiving came naturally to Monique. Understanding BDSM as a form of identity and sex therapy allowed her to care for her clients by relieving sexual tension, and thereby easing any attendant psychological imbalance. In short, she kept people from thinking they were "deviants."
Despite her success in Amsterdam, and despite her sour experiences with relationships, Monique had not yet given up on the dream of a happy marriage. Upon a friendly suggestion, she searched and found a love interest: Edward B. Van S., a rich and mysterious businessman. They courted for some time and decided to marry. At the suggestion of her future husband, Monique decided to take instruction so they could marry in the Roman Catholic Church. She could hardly believe her good fortune – to find a wealthy fiancé of social stature, and to fulfill a lifelong dream of becoming Roman Catholic. Her good fortune, however did not last long. Upon learning the name of her fiancé, the clergy declared an end to her instruction and requested that she meet with church elders for an explanation. Upon her arrival, Monique was greeted by the Father Superior who offered up a dossier on Mr. Van S. and a stern warning that she should not marry him. These veiled warnings had no effect on Monique who decided that a civil wedding was in order, and she married Edward Van S. on November 10, 1959. It was soon after her marriage that Monique discovered that Edward was not what he seemed. In fact, what she found out was quite disturbing.
One evening after shopping Monique returned to their suite to find a young boy hanging from a heavy brass rod as her husband masturbated to the scene. Understandably, Monique was shocked and horrified to the point of near hysteria. It was then that she was informed that the boy was alive. Unfortunately, this was not the last time she would be witness to such incidents. He had many other psychotic tendencies that further horrified Monique, who quickly understood the folly of her decision to marry Edward as well as the warnings of the church elders. This also fortified her aversion towards conventional relationships. One evening, after a psychotic episode, Edward drove off in his sports car, only to be met by a fatal accident. Monique, now relieved of her marital prison sentence, relinquished any property interest in Edward's estate and flew to the United States.
Monique arrived in New York City on October 4, 1963. Severely irritated by her recent debacle with marriage, she vehemently avoided romantic commitments and immersed herself into the underground homosexual and fringe subculture. She soon learned of the high demand for her services. Men from all over the world sought her out for BDSM services. For the next couple of years, Monique treated men from almost every state and a few other countries in her New York apartment. It was during this time that she was introduced to a publisher of SM magazines who made her a proposition – that she could place her ads free of charge and that all who answer her ads include a single dollar with their reply. Within a short period of time, Monique had more clients than she could handle out of her New York apartment. Making the move to New Jersey, she purchased a home which became known as her House of Pain. There her business continued to thrive until the police began to take notice.
Despite her discretion, Newark Police investigated Ms. Von Cleef. On December 21, 1965, she was arrested in Newark on lewdness charges after a postal officer noticed activity at her house. During trial, her patient lists revealed influential men from all trades, many states and some foreign countries. Her trial exposed her business practices, and presented her as cruel and wicked. Ms. Von Cleef insisted that authorities not involve her clients. In fact, her clients repeatedly expressed the great benefit of her services – primarily, that she relieved their tensions, allowing them to perform better in the daily responsibilities of work and marital life.
During her trial, Monique had an accident and was hospitalized. The court saw this as an attempt to skirt the proceedings and issued a bench warrant for her arrest. Soon after, despite defendant's motions for mistrial, Monique Von Cleef was convicted and sentenced on lewdness charges in September 1967. However, with her wide client network and the publicity her trial had drawn, her conviction was vacated by the Supreme Court upon appeal. The court held that police officers had illegally searched and seized documents from her home, violating her Fourth Amendment rights. It was later discovered that during this time she had fled the United States, fearing a conviction and possible imprisonment.
Monique returned to Holland, this time to The Hague, where she continued her work, opening another "house of pain", while rebuilding her client list and preserving her life's story in her coauthored autobiography "The House of Pain: The strange world of Monique Von Cleef, the Queen of Humiliation." She would return to America occasionally, but few remembered her in later years. As author Viola Johnson recently stated, "Jill (Carter) and I were privileged to know Monique and call her friend. We met her in late 1981 when she came back to the United States. I have wonderful memories of the woman our leather family called "Grandmom".
Much like the cover of her memoir, Ms. Von Cleef had little except simple, pleasant and unassuming beauty on the outside. Inside, however, she understood human behavior and sexuality on a fundamental level, becoming a Mistress of Pain and an unconventional healer of sexual and psychological repression.
- Oeishik Moitra-Goel Chowdhury