By Reba Maybury
2017 (Arcadia Missa)
In London, a submissive man seeks a dominatrix to feed him. His fantasy is to become so fat that women will take care of him, as he claims he is a female supremacist. His admiration for public figures such as the singer Debbie Harry or Jodie Foster´s acting role in The Silence of the Lambs as evidence.
Mistress Rebecca is a political dominatrix, however, who is determined to shift this far-right Tory conservative white man into a socialist. Or, at the very least, begin to have a meaningful change in his perspective and his privilege. Towards this end, Mistress Rebecca does not take him into her dark dungeon lit with red candles, but instead meets him under fluorescent lighting at various restaurants in the British capital. Handcuffs, riding crops, and the other props expected from any BDSM tale are absent here; in their place are a series of conversations, public humiliations, and mind-games. Mistress Rebecca´s power lies not in her leather, but in her convictions. Instead of whips, in Dining with Humpty Dumpty she uses the power of her words.
In an interview, author Reba Maybury stated that her 2017 novella is “75% real.” Over the past few years, Maybury has created a living, ongoing performance fusing her writing, visual art, activism, and career as a political dominatrix and social thinker. The line between fiction and reality in the novel, as well as between Maybury/Mistress Rebecca, is purposeful and provocative. She demands attention, and wants her submissives to not only think differently, but act differently.
The structure of this brief yet potent story is simple: a series of encounters in London between the Dom (Maybury/Mistress Rebecca) and the sub (the man referred to only as Humpty). Even if he were not eating to excess with each meeting with his Mistress, Humpty´s smug opinion of himself and the world quickly nauseates. I found myself empathizing with Mistress Rebecca´s increasing frustration and derision of him, as he progresses through a series of writings, reflections, and tasks to demonstrate his commitment to believing women are superior to men. His ability to pay for a woman to force him to overeat is an example of his privilege, which causes Mistress Rebecca to loathe him even more; which in turn, only arouses Humpty and stimulates his fantasy. How can she use this relationship to effect change in the real world, that actually contributes to the lives of other women?
Readers expecting floggings and other “typical” scenes from a BDSM story will find something unexpected and engaging in Maybury´s tale. Dining with Humpty Dumpty sometimes reads like a potent manifesto written by a mind which is intelligent, honest, and rightfully furious about the state of the world today. Through the assignments and tasks she demands of her submissive, Mistress Rebecca extends the experience of dominance/submission beyond a private fetish, and into public action. As adrienne maree brown has frequently affirmed in her writings, social activists and artists are engaged in the same kind of work: both are dreaming of a different future, and proposing stories of how we can get there.
In addition to these episodes of delightfully dominating Humpty, Maybury also includes significant passages of Mistress Rebecca´s inner life, away from her work with this submissive. It´s a refreshing and necessary reminder that this is a role she is playing, with intention, for a specific set of goals. She is human, as well, and has experienced ambition, heartache, frustration, and every other emotion behind the seemingly impregnable armor of her Mistress persona. The extent to which she reveals herself to the reader is bold, a level of honesty that is surprising and powerful.
Dining with Humpty Dumpty is a quick read, but that does not mean that this text lacks depth and weight. It´s an excellent introduction into a new way of thinking about BDSM in a very broad sense, but is also a challenge to each reader. Fetishizing power roles in the privacy of our sexual lives is one thing, Maybury seems to be saying, but seeking new dynamics of equality in public with our actions is a far more arousing kink. Who wants to play?