By Melissa Golebiowski of Sensuva

Whip Smart chronicles writer Melissa Febos’ experience as a dominatrix in New York City during her time as a student at The New School. Febos explores both the light and dark sides of desire and takes risks of her own while she navigates how she truly feels about her role in other’s fantasies as well as her own.

This lyrical memoir invites the reader into Febos’ mind during her first encounters with clients to her mastery of sessions as a seasoned domme. Her intelligence is evident but her vulnerability surfaces within the passages where she talks about her personal struggles with addiction and how her views of her work life shift and evolve once she enters sobriety. The memoir doesn’t seem to pass judgment as much as it does showcase Febos’ openness and curiosity about the human condition and what drives our sexual motivations.

Excerpt from Whip Smart

Whip Smart Melissa FebosMistresses like Anna relied on a lot of hand jobs, which were the easiest way to control how quickly your session ended and to ensure that your client would return despite being cheated out of his full time. I didn’t see Anna as necessarily lacking the integrity of other dommes, who refused to stoop to hand jobs. It was all the same to her. The difference lay less in boundaries than value systems. To believe that it is a drastically more degrading act to jerk someone off than to shove your arm up his ass is, in a sense, to believe that subjugation resides in the submissive nature of an act, rather than the sexual. But if the fisted client desires that fist as much as another desires a hand job, how is submitting to one desire any more powerful than the other? And yet most sessions—if not all—were based on such paradigms, so many being a kind of inversion of misogyny, the subjugation of women reenacted by men on themselves. Our clients wanted to be dressed in women’s clothing and raped, molested, infantilized, humiliated, and physically abused. Did this cry of mimicry reinforce or subvert the power of these paradigms? The rationales and moral codes of the dungeon were complex beyond my comprehension, though I was promised by those most committed to it that its logic was steady. For a long time, the apparent inconsistencies did not concern me. I was too infatuated with my new life.  

The simplest explanation is that this was the highest time. This was the time when it was all too new to be understood when its meaning was not yet even suspected or speculated upon. In that first fall, I was in the manic flight of a change. Luminous with an aura of new, my excitement, the high of it, was distinctly reminiscent of countless shifts I had made in the past. I’d brokered deals with myself to exchange a thing that had lost its power and become banal or frightening for a newer version. I had traded and abandoned lovers in this manner, best friends, mood-altering substances. With each there was always this brightest part: the narrow edge between the exhilaration of the new and its descent into corruption, mundanity, or the sort of wildness that is less likely to sweep you off your feet than to crush you. Here the comfort of routine that other people seemed able to sustain was briefly attainable. On this peak, beyond the reach of both what came before and what was sure to follow, I was not only happy; I was also invincible.

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Whip Smart Melissa FebosAbout the Author

Melissa Febos is the author of the critically acclaimed memoir, Whip Smart (St. Martin’s Press 2010) and the essay collection, Abandon Me (Bloomsbury 2017), which The New Yorker called “mesmerizing,” and was an Indie Next Pick and named a Best Book of 2017 by Esquire, Book Riot, The Cut, Electric Literature, The Brooklyn Rail, Bustle, Refinery29, Salon, and The Rumpus. Her second essay collection will be published by Bloomsbury in 2019..

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