From dominatrix to professor: ‘I didn’t want my students to imagine me tying men up’

Academic Melissa Febos used to have a very different job. What would her students think when she told all about her past?

Before my first book was published, no one I work with knew that I’d spent my early 20s as a professional dominatrix, or a heroin addict. Why would they? It is not customary to indicate on your CV that, prior to your position teaching creative writing to 19-year-old students, you were employed by a dungeon. Most people, even those sober for many years, do not broadcast their history of illegal drug use. Most do not write memoirs about these experiences, either. But I did.

The week of the book’s publication, in 2010, I gave a radio interview. It was the first time I’d spoken about my experiences as a dominatrix. From “What was it like to tie someone up?” (from which I segued into the topic of power dynamics) to “Do you think publishing this book will affect your job chances?” (I said I wasn’t concerned, though in truth I wasn’t so sure), I revealed thoughts that had been private for nearly a decade.

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Alex Vidal