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They all take turns wrestling each other. Chas keeps encouraging me to get on the mat. Given that I'm wearing tight black jeans and it's eighty degrees out, I don't feel so tempted. That and the fetish factor. Watching them, I'm a little unsettled by the realization that with my feminine tomboy appearance, hourglass figure and R. Crumb legs, I fit the profile of a Fury pretty well. Like me, most of the girls seem to be somewhere in the middle of the gay-straight Kinsey scale, not to say that there isn't considerable variation between the individual Furies.
Zelda tells me that she's always practiced martial arts in some form. She used to go at it with the boys on her high-school wrestling team. "I'm naturally inclined to do violent things. I would go to fetish clubs and there would be absolutely nothing going on, so I'd wrestle Karm. People just went wild for it. They weren't used to seeing violence that wasn't stylized."
The positive response to their impromptu wrestling performances led her to set up a website showcasing her skills. "I got all these emails — people who said, 'Wow, you're amazing, you are all strong women.'"
Zelda tells me she is unusual in a fetish-wrestler context. "I'm not in heels and a corset, I get down and dirty. It's hands on. I'm strong," says Zelda. I sense I'd be a fool not to take her word for it.
After practice, I sit down and talk to Karm. Apart from being into grappling and fetish, he is seriously knowledgeable when it comes to Marvel Comics. When he's not here, he works for the New York Comic Convention. He mentions that he had a part in creating the Zelda Blaise persona, then says wistfully, "She wore a Mary Marvel costume when her hair was long. Now she looks like Bill Batson, if you know who I'm talking about."
"No," I say. I get the femme-butch metamorphosis, but my knowledge on comics is limited pretty much to Clark Kent being Superman's alter ego.
"Billy Batson is the little boy who says 'Shazam' and turns into Captain Marvel," Karm explains. I ask about their relationship — they once dated and still live together, though Zelda is now with Lele Kent. Karm seems saddened by the topic. I don't push it.
The next time I see the Furies is at their open fetish-wrestling night, hosted in the basement of a Middle Eastern restaurant behind the Port Authority bus terminal.
The place is dimly lit. Zelda and Lele are on a wrestling mat in the middle of the floor. Their outfits are somewhat showier than those they wore at practice. Lele wears a blue bikini top. This time, Zelda's just in a sports bra and hot pants.
I walk up to the bar and order a whisky soda. Two guys in dad jeans and brown leather jackets are leaning against the bar, clinging to their beers and once in a while glancing over to the action on the mat. I do my best to seem blasé. I've been to more than my fair share of burlesque shows, drag nights and gay bars, but here I feel like a PTA member at a strip club.
A fat man in a red t-shirt sits inches away from the wrestling women, sweat streaming down his face, eyes riveted. On a couch across the room, a man is sucking the feet of a wholesome brunette dressed in Wonder Woman underwear. Without getting up from the couch, she introduces herself as Victoria Power. Making small talk, I find out she is a dominatrix with an interest in women's studies.
Chas, the chatty Brit, greets me with a smile and explains the particulars of what is going down on the mat. He talks extensively of the serious sportsmanship of submission grappling, and again asks me several times if I want to wrestle. When I decline he squeezes my bicep encouragingly and tells me he thinks I'll do okay. I feel a little flattered and wonder if I should reconsider.