Reba Maybury’s company Wet Satin Press publishes books about, ‘perversion, worms, fetish, women, being a woman, passion, being a man, control, power, sex, identity, hating the Tories, integrity, guttural emotion and boredom.’ Basically, everything interesting and nothing dull. In the past, the editor, writer and dominatrix has collaborated with slaves to produce a zine, and written a book exploring female friendships in the porn industry. Her new book, Dining with Humpty Dumpty, is set in the air-conditioned chain restaurants of London, a true-ish story of Mistress Rebecca’s relationship with a sub she calls Humpty, a man who is looking for a woman to help him ‘balloon in size’.
You grew up in a village. Did you ever feel like you fit in? What did you want to be when you grew up?
I grew up in the kind of village that people move to so they can retire, so just being young in itself was alienating, let alone all the burgeoning adolescent ideas of revolt that happen where you can question whether you fit in or not! I do remember writing in chalk on the walls of buildings ‘I hate The Daily Mail’ when I was a young teenager which is hilariously embarrassing. I suppose that was my way of understanding political disparity in an environment of pleasant mundanity - the power of the right wing press! I used to fantasise about living in a city, being able to walk to see friends and shops that were open 24 hours. I wanted to exist within an energy that questioned transgression. I don’t remember ever having one fixed ambition, but I did like the idea of being a sexologist.
You're interested in subcultures, gender, sexuality - can you remember when you first started asking questions about these things?
Yes, this all happened the day I started my period when I was 10 years old. My body became more advanced than my mind and I had to understand what that meant in a world where women are commodities to men when I didn’t even know I had a vagina.
What are your thoughts on subculture today? What are your thoughts on feminism in popular media?
Both subculture and feminism have been commodified to laughable perversities. I like real activism, like Sisters Uncut. The haze of posh girls with caucasian armpit hair on social media is a distraction for all of us.
Acquiring power as a woman is more complicated than I could have ever imagined, both fictionally and in lived reality.
What's important to you as a publisher? What stories do you want to tell?
I am fascinated in stories that deconstruct power and the mundanity of neoliberalism.
When did you start working as a dominatrix?
Two years ago.
What have you learned about the sex industry?
Many things. Perhaps the most prominent one is that acquiring power as a woman is more complicated than I could have ever imagined, both fictionally and in lived reality. It has made me realise in absolute clarity that all life is is a constant battle with control and someone always wants to be at the top.
What is your relationship like with your slaves?
They are all different and it depends on the severity of the relationship. The more mutually respectful, the better the relationship is. There have been a couple of slaves who have wanted a more emotionally fulfilling relationship with me who I have had to cut off contact with. But I do have a couple of favourites.
Tell me about Humpty and his reaction to your book.
Humpty’s character is fictional and based on a couple of subs that I’ve had, rolled into one. The day after the launch of the book at Bridget Donahue gallery in NYC I received a death threat from an anonymous phone number. The police suspect that it is one of the subs I was seeing last year, however I never gave him my phone number. I have been doing a lot of research about death threats and all sorts of women get them simply for having a voice, so this text message may be from someone totally different.
I wanted to create a character who possesses everything that is unchallenged in modern white, cis, corporate masculinity and the book goes into great detail deconstructing these elements.This book isn't entirely about my experiences of being a dominatrix projected onto the character of Mistress Rebecca, it is certainly a large part of it but it’s just as much (if not more) about the voyeurism of a very particular type of man who exists as a powerful but mundane totem of accepted masculinity in our culture. It’s about looking at male behaviour on the tube, really staring at the type of leather jackets a lot of men wear and wondering who designed them and what they symbolise, really thinking about what it means when a straight white Tory says he loved David Bowie.
Fetish is universal regardless of your class, gender or ethnicity but this book is essentially about a dissection of corporate masculinity pre Brexit and pre Trump through the dynamic of a dominatrix and her submissive. Mistress Rebecca, the book’s narrator, is a 25 year old art school graduate who visits Humpty in chain restaurants throughout central London during January 2016. During these dinners they discuss the submissive’s fantasies, including his 'female supremacy' and then his actual political views - that he voted for the Conservative party in the last election.
Ultimately the book is about someone’s use of a serious political issue being used as his sexual fantasy that he doesn't practice in his day to day life and how his dominatrix decides to digest this difficult juxtapostion.
Through a series of fortunate incidents, I discovered that you were [Turner Prize-winning artist] Rachel Whiteread's nanny. How did she influence you?
Rachel taught me that all that matters is your work. And if your work is good nothing else matters.