NPR FOR THE DEAF: We Hear It Even When You Can’t

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Melissa Febos’ new memoir, Whip Smart, details the four years she spent working as a dominatrix. Febos enacted fantasy sequences, spanked grown whip_smart.jpgmen and verbally humiliated them for $75 an hour in a dungeon located somewhere in midtown Manhattan. Febos, who writes that she got started in sex work to pay for a drug habit, tells Terry Gross that working in a dungeon felt like “being in a womb.” “Pretty much all of the dungeons were outfitted with some sort of coat rack-related thing that had all sorts of floggers, riding crops,” she says. “We had giant coils of rope in our utility closet — like thousands of feet that we would just cut off when you needed it. There were gas masks and cages and a big hanging Inquisition-style cage in the red room. And there were mirrors along all of the walls, and they were really vast — and with all of the walls and the ceilings painted, it had a very specific effect.” That effect, says Febos, was creating a fantasy world for her clients — and for herself. “In the beginning, it did feel pretty powerful to act out those roles, but after a little while it wasn’t my fantasy in most cases,” she says. “In a lot of ways, [enacting the scenarios] felt more humiliating to me than it did to them.” Febos currently teaches writing at SUNY Purchase College and the Gotham Writers’ Workshop. She received an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College.

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