Shawna Kenney would rather whip a senator with his pants down then read her writing out loud to a room full of people. The author of “I Was a Teenage Dominatrix” says that she's actually shy and has found it easier to be naked — or half-dressed — humiliating someone alone in a room, than stand in front of 50 people that expect her to be witty.
Kenney, 39, no longer works as a dominatrix, but from the ages of 19 to 24, she paid her way through the University of Maryland and American University by living out the fantasies of submission and abuse for certain high-profile clients around the nation's capital.
“I think it was especially interesting in D.C. because you can imagine who some of my clients were,” Kenney says. “They really paid for their privacy. I haven't outed any of them and I wouldn't. I'm not out to ruin anyone's life. What they do in their private time is their business. We had an understanding. I was just out to tell my own story.”
On an average weeknight, Kenney insulted, teased and spanked men with their pants around their ankles using whips, paddles and prods, but she never had sex with any of them. “They were powerful guys who had to be in charge all day and wanted a vacation,” she says. “They lived high-profile lives but at the same time a lot of them were really repressed and they couldn't do this with their wives. They said, ‘We’ve been married 30 years and it would just be too shocking,' which made me really sad. Now I like to think that my husband and I share everything and that if he or I had a desire or quirk we could talk about it.”
Always clear that being a dominatrix was a temporary job, not a lifestyle, she kept her goal to quit when she graduated. “It was always just a job for me, just like waitressing or working at the [“America's Most Wanted”] hotline,” she says. “It just paid better than most jobs.”
And she liked it better than her month of stripping. “Strippers take a lot of abuse,” she says. “I wasn't cut out for that.” Preferring to give the abuse than take it, Kenney set up a secret life for herself. But did she have a boyfriend?
“No. When you see naked men all day and you're acting out all these fantasies for them, the last thing you want to do is come home and see another naked man.”
During the next five years, while working as an assistant editor at a small fetish magazine in Los Angeles called “Whap,” Kenney recounted her escapades as a dominatrix to the magazine owners, who encouraged her to write them down. She didn't think anybody would be interested in her college career, but after getting published with the small independent press Retro Systems in 1999, her memoir was picked up by the larger press, Last Gasp. In 2000, “I Was a Teenage Dominatrix” won the Firecracker Best Sex Book award and was nominated as the book Most Likely to be Banned by Independent Publishers in the USA. It's developed a small but loyal underground cult following.
In the decade since publishing “Dominatrix,” Kenney graduated from the University of North Carolina in Wilmington with an master's degree in creative writing and wrote the coffee-table book, “Imposters,” a series of interviews and photographs of movie star impersonators who hang out on Hollywood Boulevard. She recently moved back to the Washington area with her husband and is finishing her third book, “Girl in the Pit,” a collection of punk rock interviews and personal essays that she's amassed in the past 20 years.
Now Kenney is teaming up with other East Coast authors she met out west: Kara Bruce, erotica writer and editor of Young Money magazine, and Dito Montiel, author of the New York memoir, “A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints,” which Montiel turned into a 2006 film starring Robert Downey Jr. and Shia LeBeouf. Together they've spawned the traveling reading series, “Roaming Writers,” which promises to be the perfect literary blend of naughty and nice. S
Shawna Kenney, Kara Bruce and Dito Montiel will read their work Friday, March 13, at 5:30 p.m. at the New York Deli, 2920 W. Cary St. The reading is free. Call 358-3354 or visit www.ny-d.com.