(Editor’s Note: This interview with retired dominatrix and champion for the rights of Canada’s sex workers, Terri-Jean Bedford was conducted back in February 2012 by Tom Heckbert for the now-defunct website Eyestrane.com. It’s been republished at Idol Features courtesy of Tom.)
Terri-Jean was born into abject poverty and put into a foster home at age six, where she suffered abuse. She was later moved into facilities for children and lived there until she was sixteen, when she left to make it on her own. She survived by working numerous unskilled jobs, until she entered the world of prostitution. Her talents and interests helped her move into the elite world of the professional dominatrix, and her life would never be the same.
Located just outside of Toronto, her elaborate Bondage Bungalow became the target of a spectacular raid. Six highly publicized years of trials and appeals later, she was convicted under bawdy-house laws and paid a small fine. In 1999, she opened a similar facility in downtown Toronto, one that closed without police interference in 2002. She remains a vocal advocate for civil rights and the disenfranchised. She has been a plaintiff in a major constitutional challenge and, as a result, Canada’s prostitution laws were struck down in 2010.
Because of Terri-Jean’s failing health, Madame deSade [sic] hung up her whips and is now happily retired. Today, Terri-Jean leads a quieter life, enjoying the company of her daughter and grandson. Hers is a story of survival, trial, and triumph. Her book, Dominatrix On Trial: Bedford vs. Canada, is the real-life story of survival, trial, triumph and the many roles Terri-Jean played throughout her life.
EYESTRANE: Terri-Jean, it is a pleasure to meet you. Thanks for taking the time to talk to us. Your book was recently published but you didn’t sit down and write it one sitting. You have been writing it for 15 years now. Was it always your intention to write a book about your life?
TERRI-JEAN BEDFORD: No. But the man in the book called Scott told me that I should make a hobby writing about the Bondage Bungalow and about my legal battles as they unfolded. He worked with me on it, as did others. Eventually the question was when to publish. When the recent court decision was out in September 2010 the time was right to have editing done and go to press.
EYESTRANE: The reaction by early readers ranged from anger over the authorities ability to be just and fair, sympathy for the hardships you faced in life and surprise about how hard a business being a dominatrix actually is. What other reactions or feedback have you been getting?
TERRI-JEAN: Much the same as you mentioned. I have talked a lot about the reactions in the blogs, on my website (terrijeanbedford.com), but briefly here, I would just say that almost all have commented on how well-written it is in their view. Some have also found it took a long time to read because of the many people it discusses and the many things I have been through.
EYESTRANE: Since our readers are from various parts of the world and may not know about you can you give us an introduction to your childhood and your path into becoming a dominatrix? I understand you had a very difficult childhood.
TERRI-JEAN: My childhood was a nightmare. I was abused and neglected, and I did a lot of acting out. As an adolescent, I did all the bad things. Prostitution was one of the things I did to survive. Becoming a dominatrix was another.
EYESTRANE: In your book you describe the running of the Bondage Bungalow as a business. What were those days like for you?
TERRI-JEAN: Very busy. Very interesting. Sometimes stressful. Sometimes deeply rewarding. Remember, I ran two houses. One was 1993 to 1994 and the other 1999 to 2002. I was the owner and boss and had all that went with that. But as part of a life I wouldn’t have traded those experiences in, as I look back.
EYESTRANE: At one point you had 18 girls working for you. Part of the reason you took some in was because it was safer for them to work for you than it was on the street. Do you still stay in touch with some of them?
TERRI-JEAN: No. At no time did I have 18 employees at the same time. Over time I had more than that. I am in touch with a few.
EYESTRANE: Tell us a little about the raid.
TERRI-JEAN: The 1994 raid is the one you must be referring to. I was also raided in Windsor in 1986. It was a complete shock. I expected that we might be shut down for operating in a residential area, but having the SWAT team and all that was frightening and infuriating. They were excessive in every way and the judge let them get away with it. Ultimately it worked against them of course. They are still answering for it today.
EYESTRANE: You ran away to Vancouver after you were charged but eventually spent 15 months in prison. Is this covered in your book as well?
TERRI-JEAN: Yes. In some detail.
EYESTRANE: In Canada it is legal to engage in the act of prostitution, but illegal to be indoors, hire bodyguards or help or to screen clients, is that correct? So you challenged those points saying that it made it unsafe. What was the final outcome?
TERRI-JEAN: The final outcome was that the judge in 2010 said we were right in our challenge. Other occupations that are legal are not restricted in these ways. A decision on the government’s appeal may come out any time.
EYESTRANE: You have written the book and retired for now. Was the act of writing the book a release for you? Was it difficult going back and remembering? Looking back are you satisfied with what you accomplished?
TERRI-JEAN: As I said in the book, it was worth writing, and at times it hurt to look back and lay my life before the public. But I am very satisfied with the book.
EYESTRANE: Your book is, of course, your story, but it is also a story about freedom and overcoming adversity and applies to us all. Who are the dozen and the heroes who helped you overcome the adversities in your life?
TERRI-JEAN: None of The Dozen are lawyers. They are from all walks of life, but only a few were or are affluent. Not all are educated. I discuss them all in the book, which, I think I should mention, is called Dominatrix on Trial: Bedford Versus Canada.
EYESTRANE: You are overcoming some medical issues now, but you are very upbeat and positive. How do you keep such a great attitude?
TERRI-JEAN: I am not always upbeat and positive. Some days I am in pain and some days I am worried. But I like to discuss the issues and meet people and their reactions and comments to our legal battle and to my book are so encouraging that it cheers me up a great deal.
EYESTRANE: Lastly is there anything else you would like to say to our readers?
TERRI-JEAN: I would like to thank them for sharing this interview with us and urge them to follow the huge debate on the prostitution question that is likely to be ignited in Canada by the coming court decision.
EYESTRANE: Where can we stay updated on you and where can we find your book?
TERRI-JEAN: You can get my book by going to dominatrixontrial.com I have two other web sites that will be linked to that site, and on those I will be blogging again soon and will keep everyone posted on what is happening.