Q: Tell us about your memoir.
A: On the surface, WHIP SMART is a book about my four-year experience as a professional dominatrix in New York City, during which I managed to graduate college with honors and overcome a drug problem. Sensational as that all sounds, I tried hard not to glamorize, or otherwise dress-up the experience. I wanted to be faithful to the reality of that world, as well as to my own emotional and intellectual experience. While my goal was to create a literary portrait of a subculture, and of addiction, mostly I wanted to tell a story of personal transformation, of how a life lived in extremes led me to myself, and to a life of surprising normalcy and joy. I knew from the beginning that I wanted it to be a kind of love story.
Q: Why write a book about it?
I’d planned on being a writer since the age of seven, but I never planned on writing about being a dominatrix. I figured it would work its way into my fiction eventually, but that’s it. I was midway through a novel in graduate school when I figured out that this was the best story I had to tell, and the one most itching to be told. I resisted it at first, but most writers know how impossible that can be.
Before that, I never saw myself writing memoir, and considered young memoirists essentially narcissistic and unimaginative. Needless to say, I feel differently now. I have great admiration for many memoirists. Creating a literary work out of one’s own experience requires tremendous imagination, and humility.
Q: What are readers going to find most shocking about your experience?
No doubt many of the physical experiences I write about will shock people, but I think readers will be most surprised by the their own identification with the emotional narrative of WHIP SMART. The particulars are extraordinary—certainly not everyone would go the extremes I did—but I think there is a universality to the dynamics of power, desire, and the struggle to find authentic intimacy that are at the heart of this story. The assumption that this is a story about sex will probably be a common mistake. Really, it’s a story about love, identity, getting honest with oneself—all that normal and incredibly difficult human stuff.
Q: Who is your memoir going to appeal to?
I think WHIP SMART will appeal to anyone who has ever had a secret life, whether actual or internal, or anyone interested in a story about the unconventional ways we learn how to love. And of course, it’s also going to satisfy anyone curious about the S&M subculture, what exactly a dominatrix is, or why anyone would enlist their services.
Q: Did your parents know? How do they feel about this book?
My parents knew pretty early on. Commercial sex work (even the kind that doesn’t include sex) is not what they would have chosen for me, but they knew me well enough to know that they could either accept it, or be less a part of my life. They are loving, open-minded people, and they chose to accept it. They are incredibly supportive and proud of me.
Q: Did you consider publishing your story under a pseudonym?
I did. I obsessed over just the right name for weeks, which was fun. In the end, though, I couldn’t go through with it. I wanted to publish a book about the value of eschewing secret lives, and I couldn’t reconcile creating a secret identity to do so. Maybe I’ll regret that decision, but it felt like the right thing to do. Certainly, it will create challenges. Some people will probably wish I made the more discreet choice.
Q: What was the most common request you got as a dominatrix?
Well, almost all my sessions were based on the same character, in varying degrees of meanness and varying costumes: Mean Mommy, Mean Cheerleader, Mean Babysitter, Mean Nurse, Mean Teacher, Mean Female Customs Officer…you get the drift.
Q: What was the weirdest request a client ever made?
Where do I begin? There is a fetish for everything, and an underground community to go with it. Did you know there is a fetish for squishing bugs with your bare feet (or for watching sexy women do it)? Yup, it’s called “crushing,” or having a “crush” fetish. As a friend to all animals, I could never do that. Sweaters, stinky feet, tooth-pulling, extortion, farting, electricity, balloons—you name it, they wanted it.
Q: Do you have any regrets?
Absolutely not. Facing scary things, shocking things, confusing things, sad things—either out in the world, or in yourself—it forces you to make a choice: either curl up and hide, or walk straight toward whatever it is. As long as you keep walking, you’ll keep recognizing yourself, and your heart will keep getting bigger. And everybody could use a big ole heart.