~~2012 seemed to be the year of sexual exploration. Fifty Shades of Grey was embarrassingly popular, and suddenly everyone was rushing to the nearest adult boutiques to take classes with their partners and girlfriends on bondage tricks, the in's and out's of BDSM, and how to carry out a healthy dom(me)/submissive relationship. Despite the book series topping the charts, and being passed around like the flu, more often than not I see a woman reading Fifty Shades on the bus with the cover of the book pressed into her legs, like she's hiding it. Sex is a non-taboo taboo in our society, and non-vanilla sex is even moreso. People rarely talk shamelessly about their kinks, which is partly why I appreciated Whip Smart, a memoir by Melissa Febos so much.
After moving to New York, Melissa catches wind that one of her neighbors in her new apartment building is a professional dominatrix. Intrigued, she introduces herself. Becoming a domme, a female dominant, is easy, she learns, staying a domme is the hard part. Lured in by the idea of fast money without having to take her clothes off, and unshaken by the stories her neighbor shares with her about all that being a dominatrix entails, she replies to an ad in the Village Voice that leads her to the Dungeon of Mistress X.
In the dungeon, Melissa becomes Justine. Justine evolves from feeling out of place alongside her co-workers, each of them more seasoned than her and sexual enigmas, to being just like one of them. She pays her dues as an apprentice, who sits in on sessions, then moves up to the easy sensual sessions, and eventually learns to love corporal sessions - the most 'violent' of them all. Melissa writes about each of her clients, most of whom she views as pathetic, with incredible detail. She does not spare us from the bodily fluids spilled, or the twisted fantasies of her clients.
Outside of the dungeon, Melissa is uncertain of most things. She is uncertain about how she is pulling the grades that she is in school. She is uncertain of her personal, sexual relationships and how to maintain their normalcy. She is uncertain of her career at the dungeon. She is uncertain of how to keep these two lives she has created separate. She is uncertain of whether or not she wants to kick her hard drug habit, fueled even further by the wads of money she is making in the dungeon.
Febos guides us through her four years as a professional dominatrix, both in the dungeon and in private sessions, and her downward spiral into cocaine and heroine abuse in a way that makes you feel like you're right alongside of her. I could practically feel the hot breath and sweat of the clients as she makes their wildest fantasies come true. I cringed as she admitted some of her deepest secrets to those closest to her. It was fascinating to read her reinvent herself, and then slowly work on rebuilding herself outside of the dungeon into a woman she doesn't recognize, but wants to be.
I gave this one five stars on Goodreads. I could not put it down, and admired the bravery with which Febos let us in on the secret world of dungeons and dominatrixes.