Terri-Jean Bedford Returning to Windsor for Premiere of New Dominatrix Bio-Play

Terri-Jean BedfordControversial activist Terri-Jean Bedford is the feature of a new book and play, Dominatrix On Trial. The newly written theatrical production will open on April 4 for three shows at Kordazone in Windsor with Terri-Jean in attendance on opening night.

A Windsor native, Terri-Jean’s principled fight for safe work and freedom made it all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada and the headlines of all major national news.

The play stars the talented Kianna Porter portraying the woman also known as Madame de Sade.

What originally pushed you to become an activist and a spokeswoman for sex workers?
I was raided in Thornhill in 1994 and there were no basis for the charges because I wasn’t having sex or procuring sex or anything of that nature. I had a role play facility that catered to cross-dressers and people who wanted to role play which was very therapeutic for them. After a nine week investigation, the police found no grounds to charge me with acts of prostitution. However, they felt that because of my reputation and what I was doing, they would go ahead and see if the charges would stick anyway.

Bringing this to the Supreme Court of Canada that can’t be cheap or easy.
No. I’ve attempted to go to the Supreme court on a couple of occasions but Alan Young approached me after he had represented me in my case. About six years later, he thought that he had enough to proceed with a Supreme Court challenge regarding the seasonality of our constitution.

The sex trade laws were constitutional, and we discovered that they worked. But because of my case, and after several weeks of a trial that was highly publicized, they couldn’t find any grounds to charge me or to keep the case going. Oh, by the way, the first time I went to court in 1995, the judge threw the case out. The Crown attorney appealed it. The judge threw the case out because there were no grounds for the charges. The Crown attorney appealed it, went to the appeal court and the appeal court decided that there could be, they said, “We’ll take it back to trial.” And I appealed that to the Supreme Court and they said that it was out of their jurisdiction.

So we went back to trial where my lawyers were disqualified because they were helping my co-defendants. So there was a delay there. And then I had to hire another lawyer, which was Alan Young, and he came forward pro bono and they dropped the charges on my co-defendants. I flew solo through the courts for another four years challenging their decision. The judge didn’t tell me what I did wrong, but he found me guilty.

I kept appealing and I lost my appeal again because the Supreme Court said it was out of their jurisdiction. So in 2006, Alan Young approached me about becoming part of the challenge and I accepted. I put my voice out there and my face and as a figurehead and the rest is history.

Your story has become part of a memoir called Dominatrix on Trial. Why did you decide to tell your story?
Well, it’s a story that needed to be told. It didn’t need to fall by the wayside unheard, that’s for sure. Because we want to point out all the discrepancies and, what am I looking for? The ways that an elected official treat women. And if you read my story, you’ll find that, like I said, they had no basis for the charges, but came in with a SWAT team and fifteen armed officers to arrest three women who had no ties to prostitution. After a nine week investigation, they had no evidence yet. I guess they felt that they had every right to dismantle my house. They threw me out of my house and my home and my job and they took everything I owned, excepted the piano and made me fight for it. And after four years they had to give it all back regardless of the judge finding me not guilty of any charges.

When you were writing your memory through your book here, was it hard to sit down and write about those memories?
Yes it was. A lot of stuff I left out of the book because I’ve had a very hard life. There was a lot of adversity. I was adopted when I was six years old into a family of Baptists and they were very strict and my mother was very hard on me. She used to beat me with the belt a lot and I only stayed with that family for six years before my mother gave my father the ultimatum. Either I go or she goes, I was a bit of a precocious youngster and it really had an adverse effect on my mother. And so I was made a ward of the children’s aid again.

When I was sixteen they let me loose without any support. I was on the streets and I had to take care of myself somehow. So a lot of times I would couch surf or bag blow and then I found out that men would pay me for sex. I started working with some girls and learned a few tricks of the trade and over the years I evolved into a dominatrix.

A true dominatrix facilitates role play, and pain, and torture per se. Nobody really gets hurt but it’s safer than sex.

You’re a Windsor native. So how much of that story actually does take place here in Windsor?
Quite a bit. My first house was a brothel in Windsor and I was raided in 1986 and a lot of my girls I took off the street because I felt it was unsafe for them to be out there and I facilitated their needs. I gave them money and a job. If they needed a place to stay, they could hang out and I’d have their backs. I had a security personnel and everything was run really well. Even the judge complimented me on my business acumen, but I was sent to prison for 15 months for keeping a common body house, living off the avails, procuring, exercising control, they threw the book at me.

Your story is going to come to life in a theatrical version of your memoir staged by the Windsor Feminist Theatre here. So how did that become a play?
I’m really excited about that. The play is an adaptation of my memoirs. My first book, my second book, but the first book is self published. It’s been picked up by a New York publishing house, Riverdale Books. And there was, as I said, I have supporters and people who keep nudging me to do things and one of my supporters said, “Let’s do a play. Let’s write a play about your story.” Because we did try to approach movie directors and people like that in Hollywood. Nick turned us down, so we wanted to keep getting the story out.

So we wrote a play and then Joey Ouellette, he’s a playwright and he works with women’s feminist theater group and there’s a few people I have to thank over there. Julie Frazer and the gorgeous, Julia Burgess. They took an interest in the story and have run with it and now it’s going to be premiered April third and fourth at the KordaZone Theater in Windsor. It’s a fringe kind of theater group, it’s really exciting. Kiana Porter, she’s a beautiful black girl, is going to play me as my character, Madame de Saude.

Here’s the full unedited interview.

Fighting a business and political world of mostly men probably wasn’t easy.
I have supporters around me who keep me activated. They don’t let me get down. They lift me up if I’ve seen farther because I stood on the shoulders of my supporters and they could see the future. However, they need their autonomy because they’re outstanding citizens in their own right. They are willing to help me as long as I was willing to help myself. And I am and always will be.  I put the women out there first over anything else. I don’t own the rights to my story because I do owe a lot of money to my supporters. So I thought the one way that I could pay them back would be to sign off on the rights to my block and help them promote it so that they could get their money back.

The challenge itself took many years and a lot of law students and other lawyers came in to help. It was amazing. It was something that was meant to be because the universe will pave the road for you, if it was meant to be.

It’s all pretty ironic because men are the ones that would benefit the most from the services in question.
And women.  A lot of people still have this idea that women are cloistered and submissive and waiting for someone to come along to marry them. And that’s not the case because over the years I found that a lot of young women are really out there with their sexuality and they don’t want the government telling them who they can have sex with and under what terms. There are more women out there performing sex work on their own terms and then there are women on the streets doing it against their terms.

I think that made sense. But there’s a paradigm shift in women’s sexuality and they don’t want to be told what to do. They don’t want to be told that they have to have sex for free. And that’s what the government is saying. You can’t sell it, you have to give it away. And that’s a breach of our freedom.

In a nutshell, what’s the main issues involved around decriminalizing the sale of sex acts between consenting adults?
Well, what they want to do is tie in human trafficking, right? With consenting adult behavior that’s a mess because you have to take away the rights of individuals in order to placate a group of people who challenged this along with us in the court and had their evidence thrown out. As you can see, we won because they didn’t have the right evidence to win the case.

The results of a messed-up system can be clearly seen with story after story of unsafe environments, trafficking and other violent acts. Even here in Windsor we feel the harsh realities of all of that.
Well that’s the law. That’s a law that you see and is a result. The sum total of everything that we’ve been fighting for. It’s the law that makes it the way it is, unsafe. Because when they tell women that they can’t protect themselves, it’s against the law. They can’t hire body guards, it’s against the law. They can’t hire managers, it’s against the law and they can’t work from home, it’s against the law. You can sell your body, but don’t ask for any money. I mean it’s a conundrum. It’s very vague. And when you write a constitution or a law, when the government writes a constitutional law, they use the foreseeability tests. Is anybody going to get hurt, maimed, or killed because of these laws? And they seem to have it out for sex trade workers because they set them up for murder.

They set them up for abuse and all kinds of unsafe working conditions. But it’s a legal occupation and as well for the men, they’ve totally stripped the men of their rights. There’s no such thing as equal rights, I think that’s a shame. And there’s a lot of innocent well heeled men that don’t want any trouble who are being extorted because they can’t call the police if they see or hear of anybody trying to extort them for money. They’re in a very vulnerable situation right now. And there are a lot of bad pimps and sex trade workers that work with bad pimps to extort money from good people.

Why do you think we started policing the bedroom activities in the first place?
Well that’s Stephen Harper for ya. l like I said before, they have it in their heads that all women are vulnerable and susceptible to bad pimps are being trafficked, and that’s not the case. But they want you to believe it is. They fudge numbers and everything. And if you go back and look at their Supreme court evidence, you’ll find that it was thrown out at every turn. The moralists want us to be just like them. They don’t want us to have our sexual freedom and they want women to have sex for free. They want us to toe the Christian line.

How involved were you in the creation of the play?
Very involved. Well I haven’t been to Windsor. I’m going on the first and I believe I’ll be at the dress rehearsal on the second, but I have someone in Windsor who’s my eyes and ears and he works  studiously with these people. He’s known me for 28 years, so he’s able to help the director and everybody, and I’ve gotten called a few times and asked a few things. So it’s all gone really well, very smoothly.

Does the play stick pretty close to the book and your life or was there anything added?
I wish it was a musical. I wish there was a comedy and musical, but yeah, it sticks pretty close. There was a lot of funny moments, serious moments. It’s true to form. It’s true to life. There’s no embellishments or anything like that.

You mentioned that Kiana Porter’s playing you as Madame de Saude. Did you work closely with her in getting the character correct?
Well, she’s got a good coach. They’re miles and miles of footage and I’ve met her. We’ve spoken on  occasion for quite a while. We had lunch together. And as I said before, my main mentor lives in Windsor and he’s been a rock of support. He works with these women to make sure that the play is true to form.

It’s a serious show, but it must be a bit playful as well – after all, what you offered as a dominatrix was consensual fun.
It’s going to be an eye opener for a lot of people, and I’m really glad that it’s going to be available hopefully worldwide, if it’s successful in Windsor. If it can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere. But I’m really happy the stories being told. I have a lot of women that come to me who know who I am or don’t know who I am or even when they find out I’ve had such an impact on their lives. Unbelievable. So I hope that this is another way I can lead women to a better understanding about what’s out there, about themselves,  what they’re capable of,  and what they’re capable of overcoming. It’s amazing. It’s a story of a champion and a leader who started off very humble. I’m not one to gloat or boast. I’m very humbled by my experiences.

Do you get to come back to Windsor often? Do you still have connections here?
All my family and friends are there.  Hopefully I can come back and there will be enough seats in the theater, overflow room. I have to put a TV on. Just like in court, there was an overflow room because so many people wanted to see the proceeding, but they had to be ushered into an overflow room where the TV camera was set up.

You said you are coming down to Windsor, so we’ll get to see you at the premier of Dominatrix on trial?
Yes you will. And there’s going to be books. I’ll be signing books and shaking hands and kissing babies I’m really looking forward to it.

 

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