• Sex

Girl Talk: I Was A Dominatrix

The following is an excerpt from Whip Smart: A Memoir, by Melissa Febos, who we recently interviewed about her four years working as a dominatrix at a New York City dungeon. Here, Febos is about to have her very first “domination session” with a male client at the dungeon, for which she is being paid $75.

An hour can be a long time. Hell, a minute can be a long time. The minute before your first kiss with someone is a painstaking collection of seconds, each one more bloated with anticipation than the last. The first minute of a tattoo is a long one as well. Pain has few rivals in its ability to slow time. Fear, excitement, elation — these are kissing cousins, all with the sensorial power to render each second humming with every tick and gasp of our bodies, the whirr of insect wings and distant car engines. Sometimes, I could savor these moments, relish them as opportunities to walk straight into the fact of being alive. In the seconds that crept into the minutes of my very first domination session, I had no idea what I wanted. The $75 certainly, but beyond that? Character- building life experience? I would have confidently named these motives right up until the moment that the door of the Red Room closed behind me. With the clasp of its latch, all bravado and ideology dimmed with the light of the hallway behind. It was only me, a naked old man, and 60 minutes of palpable expectation. An hour alone with a naked man with whom you do not intend to have sex can be a very long time …

On my second shift ever, and after only Mistress Bella’s example, I teetered over my first client in a borrowed pair of seven- inch platform stilettos. Anxiety, and a corset that cinched my waist six inches smaller than nature intended, confined my breath to the shallow region of my chest. My bosom literally heaved, straining against its lacy contraption and obstructing my view of the naked man who knelt at my feet. Cold tears ran from my armpits. The darkness smelled of stale incense and the briny tang of bodies past and present. It was hot, and the red walls seemed to breathe slightly, as if I were inside a great belly.

Despite the fact that I was high on heroin, I felt only fear. It snuck up on me as I stepped into the room, and my confidence lifted like a flock of startled birds. I couldn’t stop thinking about my mother. What was I, my mother’s daughter, doing here? It suddenly didn’t make any sense. But that’s what the drugs were for: to keep Mom out of moments like this. Narcotics create distance, and I only needed an inch to turn away from that question.

I knew I had to say something. My mouth was gummy with 99-cent lipstick from the all- night drugstore down the block. Opening it, I prayed that the waxy paint would bear some talismanic power and bring the right words to my lips. Instead, I burped.

“Yes, Mistress? Are you all right?”

I felt his breath on my fishnetted knees and fought the urge to back away. “Yeah,” I croaked. My gut — displaced by the corset to somewhere near my bladder — clenched in panic. I itched to turn and slam the door behind me on this naked man and the politesse affected to camouflage his entitlement. Everything about him, from his hunched back to the quaver in his voice, was a demand phrased as a question. But I could not fail at this, much as I wanted to flee the shadowy room, my own image in the mirrored walls, and the inquisition- style cage that dangled from the ceiling. My urge to escape was met with an equally familiar will to persist. It was this second urge that had both rescued me from failure and damned me to finish every game in which my hand was called. Language had always saved me: from ever being arrested, attacked, caught in a lie or with my pants down. I would not allow words to fail me now.

“Yes, of course I’m all right. Pig!” I heard my voice echo in the room the way I had on answering machine recordings and home videos, and winced at the wavering childishness of it. In our pre-session consultation, my client had listed verbal humiliation among his requests, and I had nodded knowingly. “Verbal,” I’d heard, and assumed it would be easy. Now I was at a loss. Name-calling had always been a last resort, I told myself, something better left to children, drunk people, and those without the capacity for some more sophisticated form of shaming. But it wasn’t true. I had always known a lot of words, and how to use them, but never in the service of humiliation. In truth, I didn’t know how to be mean. In the past, I had been the one who felt humiliated by my failed attempts at cruelty. I had never sounded more false. I waited for him to scoff and retreat, to call me a phony. My gift for faking it ended here, I thought, where I could not convince even myself. Relief? Miraculously, no words of reproach were spat against my knees. The old man did not rise from the floor in disgust. When a solid minute had passed with nothing but a vague shifting of limbs below me, I began wracking my brain for follow-up insults. In an adrenaline- fueled excavation of memory, I searched through every television show, movie, and schoolyard scene I could recall for examples of humiliation and struck gold.

“Stop breathing on my legs, you crust of scum on a rat’s c**t!” Rather than creating the berth I’d intended, my words inspired only a scuttling around my feet. I could feel him nuzzling my toes with little kisses and licks, devotedly pressing his cheek against the patent strap of my shoe. “Get away from me!” I shouted.

“Yes, Mistress.” Scampering backward, he knelt on all fours and stared at the floor, bald pate gleaming with perspiration. Hands upon hips, I wheezed, the gravity of power alighting on my shoulders once more. Nonetheless, shouting that first insult took all of two seconds. There were 3,598 left. I decided to give him a spanking. He was amenable to the idea, and I was glad to contend with his pasty rear instead of his searching gaze. Eye contact was an intimacy I was determined to avoid for as long as possible.

I ordered him to kneel on all fours facing the wall while I quietly pulled on a latex glove from the box I had been handed on my way in. Whether he would be off ended or not at my precaution, I was unsure, but nor was I ready to bare- hand it my first time. In my mind, I was allotting ten or even fifteen minutes to the spanking, ample time to brainstorm my next move. This plan lasted for about three minutes, when my palm began to feel as though a hot iron had been pressed to it, rather than just a saggy butt. I hadn’t been warned of this difficulty, nor the nerves that were soaking the borrowed corset with sweat.

Whip Smart: A Memoir, by Melissa Febos, is available for sale now.

Photo: iStockphoto

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