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Author and Poet Melissa Febos Visited the North Country

            Author and poet Melissa Febos visited the North Country October 29-30, reading from and discussing her 2010 memoir, Whip Smart, a tale both graphic and touching about her double-life as a heroin-addicted professional dominatrix and straight A college student in NYC. Febos spoke openly about her experiences, answering every question with thoughtfulness and humor (“Believe me, there’s nothing you can ask or say that would shock me.”). She discussed how she was changed not just by the experience of being a dominatrix, but also by the experience of writing about being a dominatrix. While in the first case she came to “spin” her experience in a way that helped her retain a sense of sexualized, mysterious, and even hegemonic empowerment, in the second, the writing of her memoir, she came to realize that we humans all are working out our deepest emotional intimacy needs in the ways that seem most useful, most familiar, or most comforting for us. Febos’ lively and down-to-earth conversational style helped students learn answers to the following important questions: How and why did she become a dominatrix? What role did heroin play in her lifestyle, and how did getting clean and sober change her perspective on being a domme? What did she learn about the enactment of femininity, masculinity, power and objectification during these years? What did she learn about our typical cultural considerations of sex workers (from the questions and desires she most often faced when others learned she was a professional dominatrix)? How did the experience change her own sexuality and intimacy practices? Febos also fielded numerous questions from budding writers in the audience, about “writing down the hard stuff.”

 Melissa’s visit was sponsored by SUNY Canton’s Living Writers series and SUNY Potsdam’s LGBTAA student group. Additionally, Febos spoke with a St. Lawrence University Gender in Society (GSS 103) course, with the financial support of the Office of the Dean and SLU’s Gender and Sexuality Studies department.