A dark, wild, powerful memoir about a young woman's transformation from college student to professional dominatrix
While a college student at The New School, Melissa Febos spent four years working as a dominatrix in a midtown dungeon. In poetic, nuanced prose she charts how unchecked risk-taking eventually gave way to a course of self-destruction. But as she recounts crossing over the very boundaries that she set for her own safety, she never plays the victim. In fact, the glory of this memoir is Melissa's ability to illuminate the strange and powerful truths that she learned as she found her way out of a hell of her own making. Rest assured; the reader will emerge from the journey more or less unscathed.
Febos's candid, hard-slogging debut about her four years working as a dominatrix at a midtown Manhattan dungeon cuts a sharp line between prurience and feminist manifesto. Having grown up on Cape Cod, Mass., then dropped out of high school before moving to New York City and enrolling in the New School in the fall of 1999, Febos slipped into drug use and needed a way to finance it. An attractive law-school graduate neighbor in her Brooklyn apartment building mentioned that she worked as a domme, and Febos decided to give it a go. She spanked grown men, professionals, fathers, and rabbis, sometimes inserted enemas, sodomized them with dildos, and otherwise verbally humiliated them, all for $75 an hour, plus tips. At first, Febos managed the grueling, unsavory work while high on heroin and cocaine, and gained a tremendous sense of confidence, even invincibility at being able to justify her livelihood as one of the few well-paid acting gigs in this city. In time, she also became addicted to her job; she eventually joined AA to help get clean of drugs, but kicking her addiction to sadomasochism was harder, and in this emotionally stark, excoriating work, Febos mines the darkest, most troubling aspects of human interaction. (Mar.)
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Thomas Dunne Books
March 01, 2010
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Excerpt from Whip Smart by Melissa Febos
STEVE KNEW TO BE KNEELING when I walked into the Red Room, his torso bent over his knees, forehead resting on the rug. He knew to be clean. He knew to undress, and to fold his clothes neatly behind the door, so that I walked into an immaculate room, nothing between me and the softly folded fist of his body but anticipation. While desire rose off Steve in fumes, steeping the whole room in its cloying vapor, I reveled in its absence. Just minutes before entering the Red Room, I adjusted my garters before the dressing room mirror, wrapped my fingers in electrical tape, and felt that happy absence, whose vacancy made room for some other, unnamed thing to fill me. I felt it already, the way you can smell autumn coming. Steve was into heavy flogging, and the tape protected the clefts between my index and middle fingers where I would soon clench a flogger handle in each hand.
I had cued the music--which piped from the main office into all twelve rooms of the dungeon--to begin just a few seconds before I walked into the Red Room. The music I sessioned to was all the same; while I preferred angrier music for meaner sessions, all that really mattered was the bass line. I didn't need a plan to have a good session; I needed a pulse.
If that great red-walled room was a womb, I was its heart. I was the moving center, my will a muscular force. There was nowhere I could go, it seemed, that the cushion of my client's longing wouldn't support me. It happened to be 10:45 in the morning, but the only time that mattered in that room was indicated on the wall-mounted timer that I turned a full circle when I walked in. There was only ever one hour in the dungeon.
As I closed the door behind me, the pale stripe of my body shifting on the mirrored walls, I dropped my supply box on the floor by the door. Steve flinched at the sound, as I'd intended. I let my heels fall heavy against the wood floor on my way to a row of hooks lining the wall. Retrieving a smooth length of rope, I draped it around my shoulders. Then, finding Steve's favorite floggers, I held one in each hand, letting their thick tassels swing against my legs as I approached him, knowing the gentle slap of leather against my legs would agitate him. Standing over his curled body from behind, I dropped a flogger to the floor on either side of him and bent over so that only the tips of my hair, and my breath, touched him.
"Get the fuck up," I whispered.
"Yes, Mistress," he exhaled, and hurried to his feet, head still bowed toward his chest. Steve also knew that looking at me was a privilege he had to earn. Pulling his hands behind his back, I slid the rope off my shoulders and looped it around his wrists. With a few quick loops and a single knot, I securely bound his arms from wrists to shoulders. I paused then, giving him a few moments to absorb the warmth of my body so close behind him, and the embrace of the rope, which I knew would only feel tighter as our hour progressed. There were clients I cowed with words, but with Steve his own anticipation was enough to wilt him into submission; I just had to pause and let it accumulate. Slowly dragging the tip of my finger from the base of his spine to the hard vertebral knuckle at the base of his neck, I watched a shudder follow my touch up his body. Pausing again, I let my fingertip rest on him, and knew how the heat of my touch rippled out across his body. No job, indeed, no exercise I've ever done, has been so coldly empathic as this one. I grabbed a handful of hair from the back of Steve's head and pulled hard. Steve yelped, and sank jerkily to his knees. I stepped around in front of him, keeping my handful of hair so that when I crouched down to face him, his head was thrust back to face the ceiling, eyes wide and wild. His mouth trembled with short breaths, lips parted. Pressing a finger against his chin, I gave his hair an extra tug to open his mouth wider.
"Thirsty, Steve?" I asked. He knew I alluded to the golden shower I would end the session with, if he was good. Steve was always good. Between now and then, however, I would tan his ass with those leather tails until he cried for mercy.
Who pays to get peed on before their breakfast has been digested? It's a logical question, and one I've answered after nearly every explanation of my working hours. The day shift began at 10:30 A.M. on weekdays and ended at 5:30 P.M. Often I would arrive at the dungeon at 10:20 and already have a client waiting for me. It didn't take long to figure out that most of the patrons of the dungeon were not, as I had originally suspected, social outcasts who spent their time in basement apartments fondling pet snakes and watching pornography. They were seemingly normal. The majority of them were married fathers, and they were nearly all professionally successful. My client base consisted of stockbrokers, lawyers, doctors, rabbis, grandpas, bus drivers, restauranteurs, and retirees. Getting peed on, spanked, sodomized, or diapered was less often a delicacy than a basic provision to these men. And while the need for it was compulsive, it was also routine; it was an itch that they had been compulsively scratching for many years, and it did not require an atmosphere of nighttime, intoxication, or great fanfare. The day-shift crowd scheduled their whippings the way they scheduled business luncheons: out of necessity and convenience. En route to the dungeon they dropped off the dry cleaning, or their wives at Macy's. Just as the caf?s all over midtown Manhattan had their lunch rushes, so did we.
After Steve's thirst had been quenched and he'd showered and dressed, we exchanged the usual pleasantries: I asked after his wife, and he tipped me a crisp fifty-dollar bill. Leaning my head out the door of the Red Room, I called, "Walking out!"--our practice of warning the occupants of nearby rooms to stay put. Clients could never meet in the halls of the dungeon. Then I led Steve down the opulent passageway to the magnetically locked chamber leading to the elevator.
"I'll see you on Friday," I said.
"Thank you, Justine." Steve smiled warmly and adjusted his tie. Before I had even heard the click of the door's lock, I pulled my hair into a bun, kicked off my heels, and headed back to clean the Red Room. I had an exam the next morning to study for.