It’s a Pleasure Doing Business
Slide photo by Morgan Sherwood The supreme accomplishment is to blur the line between work and play.
—Arnold J. Toynbee
Recently I have been receiving an inordinate amount of mail pertaining to one particular subject, the release of Melissa Febos’ work, Whip Smart: Memoirs of a Dominatrix, which has made several people close to me somewhat excited; oh the possibility of us lifestyle and professional kinksters being seen in a multi-faceted, complex fashion! Gone are the days of catsuit-clad whip-wielding dominas who stroll through the night seeking their prey. Oh wait, never mind. The “dominatrix” in Febos’ work is not even predatory, she’s a waitress, taking orders from her customers, and being a victim to her job and not even close to a feminist.
Now honestly, I have not yet read Febos’ work, but I did listen to her interview on “Fresh Air” with Terry Gross and to her benefit, Terry Gross asked some pretty lame questions and Febos tried to be fair and complex. Nonetheless, she still allowed herself to be labeled a “professional” because she wrote a book about personal experience. Please. I can personally name more professional dominants with triple her experience who are active feminists, but have yet to write a book, so they are not out as experts.
People often say to me, “Oh, I have/had a friend who is/was a dominatrix!” It’s almost as if it’s become the new college job, like working in restaurants. I worked in restaurants for 10+ years during high school and college, but I do not profess to be a restauranteur. In fact, I’m not sure I would feel comfortable saying I was a professional waiter. Yes, I was good and yes, I did it for a long time, but I never did it with the intention of it being who I am and what I am doing. It was a means to an end. Like I did with waitressing, Melissa Febos used her ‘job” as a “dominatrix” just like anyone else uses their job: as a means to an end. And she found it. She teaches writing and has published a book on her life, something some of us have been trying to do for years. So kudos to her! Honestly, I am pleased when anyone can express her art these days. I just wish the stereotypes were less standard and the meaty stories of determined women with grit, gusto, and girth who actually dominate because they actually enjoy it were more accessible.
It also saddens me to think that Febos thinks that domination, at least for her, was all about being paid to play, that she derived little satisfaction out of the work and that it reified misogyny. I remember when I first started out, thinking how good I would be at Erotic Domination (hate that term, by the way; why not Psychic Waste Management?), if only I had better equipment, facilities, and colleagues to practice with. I even searched for a mentor. I must admit I was quickly disheartened as I went to each commercial space and found some machismo dude sitting behind a desk who treated me like a number, worse than I had ever been treated in any restaurant work, and I worked at a Denny’s! After the fourth interview—and there were only four commercial spaces in town—I said, “Screw it. I’d rather flip burgers than work for any of these assholes.” Then I started actively seeking a woman-owned space. I figured that if a woman owned a space then she must be into the work, not simply a pawn to a greedy, gob-fuck of a man. Eventually I did find a single dominatrix working from a simple, well-furnished private space who invited me in and mentored me. She had worked the streets but currently worked as a nurse and had a substance abuse problem. She taught me a lot, mostly about what not to do, which is great when you are first starting out, and I felt wonderful working for myself and expanding my theatrical and psychosexual repertoire. I also felt strangely good helping people, which makes the work a lot more meaningful to me than how it is generally represented in society. In Febo’s work, it sounds like it’s only men, which predominate, but I consistently work with many females and couples also.