Melissa Febos--Former Dominatrix--Talks Food Fetishes, Sexy Vegetarianism, and the Allure of a Tube of Cookie Dough

Melissa Febos knows from sexy vegetarians.
Melissa Febos knows from sexy vegetarians.

Melissa Febos hosts the Mixer reading series at the Cakeshop on the Lower East Side, a delightfully low-key and hip night of live music and literature where one might see Jonathan Lethem read his latest work or witness Pulitzer-prize winning poet Paul Muldoon wail on a guitar. She also teaches literature at SUNY Purchase and the Gotham Writer's Workshop. But before all that she led a fascinating life as a midtown dominatrix. Her new book, Whip Smart (Thomas Dunne Books, $24.99), takes a look back on that time in her life with considerable wit and poignancy. We talked to Melissa, a lifelong vegetarian, about everything from food fetishes to where to get a decent meat-free meal. You must have encountered some food fetishes in your time as a dominatrix. Care to share any stories?

Well, I had a lot of clients who wanted to be caught eating junk food, and then punished for it.

What do you think is at the root of food fetishes?

The same thing that is at the root of all fetishes--the object becomes a vessel for emotions, obsessions, escape. Often it's a symbol, of an experience, a trauma, an epiphany. Usually, I think people are trying to answer some implicit question. At least that's what I'm trying to do when I revisit something over and over.

What's the most common food fetish you and your co-workers saw?

Do golden shower cocktails count as a "food" fetish? Is your newfound fame bringing you any odd or unwanted attention?

Um, yes. To say the least. I've been overwhelmed, mostly, with wonderful, supportive, encouragement--from the people who know me, and from lots of strangers. But as is the case with anyone writing about a provocative subject, I have become a lightening rod of some sort. Also, when writing about a marginalized, or little known experience, I think it's easy for people to assume that you are speaking for everyone who has had that experience. I only speak for my own experience, and it's bound to be very different from many others. And they all want to tell about how I've misrepresented their experience. I've also gotten plenty of offers from aspiring slaves. Much appreciated, but no thanks.

Quick: Make up a new food fetish!

Sriracha in Sabra hummus, with veggies, rice crackers, and anything else dippable. Oh, wait. I didn't make that up. I've had that fetish for years.

You have been a vegetarian your whole life. So tell me, why do you think vegetarians are sexy?

I have. And I think vegetarians are sexy. We smell better, for one. And vegetarianism is often a sign of compassion, and that is a sexy characteristic in anyone.

 

What should a responsible dominatrix avoid eating right before going into work?

Anything, really. Dominating on a full stomach is a recipe for acid reflux.

What New York vegetarian spots do you frequent?

Yum. What NYC veggie spots don't I frequent? I love Blossom, in Chelsea. Caravan of Dreams, in the East Village. Red Bamboo in the West Village. Candle 69, uptown. Wild Ginger in Brooklyn. And Babycakes Bakery. I'm hungry now.

You've given up the whip and now teach lit at SUNY Purchase and the reading series Mixer at the Cakeshop. Do you have a favorite food-related scene in a work of literature?

I love any and all food descriptions in literature. But I have to go with Proust here. Olfactory descriptions are the most neglected of the senses, and smell is so important when describing food experiences. His are magic, transcendent.

It's list time! Top three sexiest foods?

Yikes, it's hard to be honest and escape cliche with this one. 1. Fruit, especially melon--great for chin-dripping. 2. A tube of cookie dough. 3. Sauteed kale with garlic, roasted Brussels sprouts, and brown rice with sesame oil and tamari. Okay, maybe that doesn't turn anyone else on, but I could cream my jeans just thinking about it. Three least sexiest foods?

I don't think these need any explanation, just try to imagine whacking off while thinking about anything involving any of them, and see how far you get. 1. Burritos 2. Sardines 3. Oscar Meyer Snackables

So, what's your next project?

I have a few ideas for novels percolating; I guess I'll see which rises to the surface first, when I actually have time to dig into another long project. For now, I'm writing a lot of short essays and some fiction. I blog for The Nervous Breakdown, too.


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