Alisha Smith, a well-respected lawyer in the New York State Attorney General's Office was forced to resign from her job last week after the NY Post outed her as a dominatrix (a charge she denies). Said her attorney, Gloria Allred, “Employers do not have the right to go on fishing expeditions into an employee's private sexual activities and an employee should not have to sacrifice their privacy about their sex life in order to keep a job.” While Alisha pursues legal options against her former employer and the NY Post, here's a first-person story from a woman we'll call Tina, who went through a similar situation nearly 10 years ago.
Working as a dominatrix was empowering. I dressed exotically, did creative roleplay and was worshipped—physically and psychologically—on a regular basis. It helped me cope with my other part-time job: receptionist.
I loved my double life. The sexy, ridiculous or grotesque activities of the night before somehow buoyed me up as I sat at my desk the next day. I had confidence and perhaps a sense of superiority, thinking of the men who put me on a pedestal, paid well for my attentions, and debased themselves before me.
Through a series of bizarre and unlikely coincidences, one of my coworkers figured out my secret and used her journalist connections to get the story published in the New York tabloid press. When I first found out, I was at work. There it was, my secret, on the front page of the morning paper. I sat at my desk, stunned, confused, and scared. My phone rang. Instead of the usual calls I fielded, it was a reporter asking for a comment. Flustered, I hung up. Heart pounding in my head, I tried not to attract attention to myself, but I couldn't help but notice whispers and stares.
My secret made headlines twice that week. I feared losing my corporate job. I talked to lawyers and had to come clean to my family. I had to confess, apologize, and give assurances to my father that I was not a prostitute. How did what had been so empowering lead to such humiliation? That first day, one coworker after another approached me with some variation of “I heard, and I don't care.” These are the people with whom I am still friends. Others, who had previously been friendly, began to avoid me. For the first time, I felt shame about my choices.
I fielded questions and protested what I assumed everyone thought. I was quick to reassure them I didn't offer nudity and never had sex. People seemed titillated to hear about certain aspects of my job—the spanking, the cross-dressers and adult babies. It was an amusing frisson, so long I assured them I was not a hooker. Even today, I wonder how the friends who “didn't care,” the ones who stuck by me through my public shaming, would have reacted if I had admitted to having sex with my clients.
The job is sexual. Clients pay to enact fantasies that usually result in orgasm by masturbation. Is it such an important difference to people to know that the orgasm is caused by the client's own hand, and not mine? So what that I kept my private parts covered? Does it really matter? Looking back on it now, I don't know how much it mattered to others, but I do see how much it mattered to me. I was so quick to assure people that I wasn't a whore. So long as I protested that I didn't “do that”—that what I did was cerebral and psychological, more about head games than sex—then I saw what I was doing as acceptable. I was acceptable. I wanted to see myself as different from women who crossed lines I wouldn't cross, thus separating myself from women who made different choices, and for that I feel ashamed. Looking back, I wish that I hadn't felt it necessary to make those differences seem so vast.
Because of those differences, those lines, I kept my day job and a lot of my friends. Because of everything that happened, I learned which friends were not worthy of keeping. I found support from my family. I have an interesting tale to tell at parties. In some ways, I'm glad for the experience. But I will always remember the shame, apology, and judgment that I was made to feel about a part of my life I had truly enjoyed but was forced to give up.