Internalized Whorephobia

I have very understanding friends. Ra and his partner have spent a lot of time with me over the last few months (Ra’s time with me goes much farther back, because Anton is a relatively recent addition to the group), and they have listened to my outpourings of angst over my feelings for Josh and my feelings of fear and crippling insecurity.

Ra pointed something out last week that I found very interesting. I was telling him how insecure I feel about Josh, how when I imagine myself telling him how much I love him, this little voice in the back of my head stops me. “Why would someone as wonderful as Josh, why would ANYONE want to be with a hooker?” I struggle with this voice. I imagine myself being seen by others as dirty, diseased, sleazy, lacking self-respect and morality. When I was done going through this list with Ra, he said: “It sounds like you have internalized whorephobia. I understand, I had internalized homophobia for years.”

That stopped me in my tracks. Could I, such a strong woman with healthy self-esteem, one who defends sex worker’s rights and comes out swinging in defense of my fellow whores at the agency when they tell me that their romantic partners don’t treat them with respect because of their profession, have internalized these damaging messages about women in my profession? Even with knowing the good I have done for others since becoming a whore, not to mention how I have grown spiritually since entering the trade, I am at times incapacitated by shame around my choices and innate nature.

In Women of the Light, a book of essays edited by Kenneth Ray Stubbs, Carol Queen writes a brilliant essay about her time as a call girl and how sex work is directly connected to worship of the goddess and a celebration of life. She says that we whores are doing the Goddess’s work in a culture that would brand it the devil’s work. This can take a toll on us.

Somehow, I can claim the right to respect and happiness for any other whore, but I can’t quite claim that for myself. I think of Josh and his life up until his marriage ended. He had a conventional, ‘respectable’ marriage and raised children with a very traditional, conservative woman. A part of me wishes that I could offer him that same respectability, but that is the one thing I do not have to give. I am a sexual outlaw, a deviant, a whore. This causes me both pride and happiness and intense shame and fear. It is hard to go about your life when so many people seem to hate you.

I can imagine taking on stigma and being an outlaw next to someone I love. I have done this in my relationships with my trans lovers, walking next to them and offering support, standing up to transphobic bigots on the street, taking the rage some cis men threw at me for choosing a trans woman as a lover instead of a man… but I cannot seem to imagine anyone being willing to be by my side fighting the whore stigma with/for me. It makes me wonder why.

Ra went on to tell me how much my friendship means to him. “When you met me,” he said “I was at one of the lowest points in my life. I was in an abusive relationship and I was suffering from PTSD and getting off meth. And you were always absolutely wonderful to me. If anyone deserves to be happy, it’s you.”

I started to make an inventory of the things I do have to offer. Love, devotion, financial security, generous spirit, sex skills, listening skills, emotional support, backrubs and foot rubs, interesting conversation, great food, companionship, honesty and loyalty. What is off the table for me: sexual exclusivity, conventionality, ‘respectability’.

When I visit Josh and we watch movies together, which we do sometimes, I am struck by the degree of whorephobia in the media. I feel afraid and I don’t talk too much about my work. I’ve told him what I do, and we’ve talked a bit, but he still talks about ‘hookers’ like they are other people and not the woman he holds in his arms at night. I am afraid that if he saw me as a ‘hooker’ rather than whatever version of sex therapist/worker that he currently sees, he will stop touching me so tenderly and holding me and caring for me. It’s fucked up. It shows how deeply I have absorbed those attitudes that women who are sexual with a wide variety of people are ‘used up’ and ‘not worth caring about’. It’s such a basic attack on a woman’s being. Sexuality is such a basic part of who we are, and, to me, such a powerful part that it cannot be suppressed without severe damage to the psyche. So the choice remains: damage yourself by suppressing that which is natural and innate, be a good girl according to patriarchy and shut up, or be an outlaw and be vilified and subject anyone you are in a relationship with to potential stigma and discrimination. It’s a complicated mess. I long for a time when people like me are held in high esteem as teachers and shamans rather than vilified as dirty, worthless whores.

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Musings on Openness, Risk, and Whole-heartedness

I’ve been on a conscious path of self-improvement lately. Now, with the new options that I have as a whore, I have more money and time for such things. First, I threw myself into activism, wanting to create positive change in the world. Now, I have been scaling that back just a little. I’ve started seeing a therapist to help me deal with the emotional residue from my marriage, the things I didn’t have the time or resources to deal with three years ago. I’ve gone back to practicing yoga regularly, and I am in the process of reorganizing my home to be more of a temple, with the help of my friend Ra, who has been an amazing support to me over the last six months.

The last few weeks have been difficult, but also full of wonderful surprises. I am doing my best to focus on the positives and see the lessons I can learn.

I recently started a romantic relationship with a woman from the community I have admired from afar for a long time. We dated very briefly, and I loved every moment I spent with her. She decided to end the romantic relationship a couple weeks ago, because she wanted to focus on a former lover she still has feelings for. I understand where she is coming from, but of course it hurt. Mere hours after she broke things off with me, I had a big falling out with a very close friend when I read something he said to me as judgmental and mildly whorephobic. I know he isn’t whorephobic, but I had just had someone break up with me hours before, so I was in an emotional state. Losing him as a friend so suddenly was heartbreaking, even moreso than losing the romantic and sexual connection I had with this wonderful woman. With her, at least I know I still have her friendship.

All of this has me thinking about life, love, relationships with others and with myself. I don’t know exactly what went wrong with my friend, but I have been soul-searching. I know there have been times that I have been insensitive, self-absorbed, unreliable. I also think that I’m pretty awesome in other ways. Bottom line, we can’t read another person’s mind. I haven’t contacted him since because I don’t want to force myself where I am not wanted. I would, of course, welcome a dialogue, but I will not push for one.

Josh and I still have a strong connection, and we see each other regularly. I still feel paralyzed when it comes to expressing my true feelings for him. I know that I have to get over it and just talk to him, and I have started in little ways to open up, but it’s hard. I am wondering why this is so hard for me. I am working on a practice of meditation where I focus on love without grasping, without expectations. When we try to control another person, we stifle them and the relationship suffers. Love at its best is unconditional. I am working towards being able to love without expecting anything in return, without grasping for guarantees of devotion, safeguards against hurt. Those safeguards are illusions anyway. Hurt is inevitable, and it isn’t the end of the world. I have been hurt before, and I have grown from it and created some art in the process. We break and mend many times in our lives. I need to be ok with breaking open, with my heart being free to love without fear, despite all that there is to fear. Stakes are high in love because there is so much to gain.

This weekend, my cat went missing. She is an indoor cat, and somehow she managed to sneak outside. I was distraught, missing her terribly and worrying. I looked for her, before texting Ra and Josh about the situation. Ra came over immediately, and went looking for her while I curled up in a ball in my bed and cried, praying for her safe return. Extreme? Perhaps, but I love my cat and I have a somewhat irrational fear of bad things happening to her. When I was a teenager just getting off the street, I lived in a house with a lot of cats. My roommates psychotic boyfriend poisoned them on Christmas Eve and they died in my arms. Before that, my first cat got sick after having her kittens when I was eight. She died in my bedroom, and I was afraid of her sickness and went to sleep with my parents, leaving her to die alone. I have always felt guilty about that. So yeah, I was beside myself crying.

When Josh got my text, he was over to help me look for her within twenty minutes. We walked through my neighborhood calling her and trying to lure her out with food. No luck. We sat in my backyard for a while, and he hugged me and reassured me, encouraged me to not beat myself up for her disappearance. He took me back to his place and fed me dinner. After dark, we went back to my place and started looking for my cat again. We interacted with six different neighborhood cats (and fed them treats) before finally finding her. She had been in my neighbor’s backyard hiding. She was damp (my neighbor is an eccentric woman who zealously waters her garden) but unharmed. I have such gratitude for the people in my life who are here for me when things go wrong.

Before we found my cat, I told Josh that the past few weeks had been really difficult, what with my friend’s departure and all. “If you want to go away, please wait a week or two” I said. “Don’t do it now, I don’t think I can handle it.”

“I’m not going anywhere,” he said. I breathed a sigh of relief and hugged him for a long time. Bob Marley once said that everyone ends up hurting you, you just have to find the ones worth suffering for. If anyone is worth suffering for, it is definitely Josh.

An Update

I have taken a small break from blogging for various reasons. The first and most obvious one is that my life has become very busy over the last month or so. The second reason is that I’ve been feeling conflicted about how much to reveal about my life on this blog, lest I might include too many identifying details of my life and accidentally out myself.

I have recently become an avid listener of the new podcast The Whorecast (http://www.thewhorecast.com/#). It has been very encouraging to hear the voices of other sex workers presented in a positive light, by and for sex workers. I find myself laughing and crying while listening to the Whorecast, and feeling a camaraderie with the brave, beautiful and candid people on the podcast. Siouxie Q, the host of the Whorecast, encourages sex workers around the world to be out whenever possible and shares her stories of coming out to her family. Her partner Jesse is a regular on the Whorecast, and he talks about his family’s reaction when they learned of his girlfriend’s profession.

On listening to their stories, I am again reminded that, for the first time since I was fourteen, I am not completely out with everyone in my life. Being closeted takes its toll. I find myself calling my mom less frequently, especially after her reaction to the revelation that I am polyamorous. It’s like there’s a big chunk of my life that I can’t talk about, and worse, I have to lie about. My relationship with my mom has improved over the last few years; we’ve both worked really hard at it. But now, I feel it falling apart. I feel rejected and judged and the stress of lying and facing her judgments takes its toll. I have stopped phoning home, just returning her calls rather than initiating contact.

I often wonder if being completely, unapologetically out would help matters. Or would it create a rift in our relationship that is impossible to mend. I am not yet willing to find out.

I want to do so much with my life, and as I shed the expectations of respectability and embrace sex work as a calling, the world feels more open and rich with possibility. Perhaps I will be able to make the porn that I want to see when I shed what remains of my inhibitions.