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.

New Developments

I have taken some time off this month. It was necessary for me to avoid burnout and to make some changes to my life. I’ve been practicing yoga almost daily now, and getting back into weight training and regular meditation practice.
I am continuing on a path of inner spiritual work. I am shedding my past skin in many ways, transforming from the terrified woman with the walls up to the soft and open lover of life who allows herself to be seen. With time, these transformations are less scary to me and more exciting.
I have also connected with some amazing people lately. I connected with a lovely couple who are both Tantric massage practitioners and sacred sex workers. We have developed a friendship with the possibility of play. I am very grateful for their presence in my life and look forward to spending more time with them.
Also, I recently attended two workshops by a sexological bodyworker I know. About four years ago, I was his client. He helped me heal from some trauma in our first session, and in our second session, he gave me extreme pleasure. I was a different person then, still married, starting to recognize my erotic needs as important.
When I arrived at the workshop, he didn’t recognize me. We had a good laugh about that, and we talked about work. I told him that I am currently working in the sex industry and that I am planning to study sexological bodywork. I said, truly, that he inspired me with his work.
Now, he and his partner have expressed interest in playing with me. I am deeply honoured by their interest, and I would like to explore with them. I have given a ‘maybe’ at this point.
The thing is, I love playing sexually with different people, but since I’ve become a sex worker, this has taken a back seat to other desires. These two beautiful couples are deeply attractive to me erotically, and being with them could promise to be very transformational and exciting indeed. Still, I feel some anxiety, because I want to solidify the relationship with Josh first. We still haven’t ‘defined our relationship’ and I am finding now that I want to have that conversation more than ever.
He is away this week on business, and I think of him often, and with such an abundance of passionate love. He has had such a profound impact on me and I am overflowing with gratitude to him for his presence in my life. The fear has taken a back seat now to this wonderful feeling of gratitude and happiness. I am finding that now, more than ever, I want my own partner. I want stability along with passion. I want to do the work necessary to sustain a long-term relationship. I am abandoning those notions that I, as a sex worker, cannot have lasting love. I am still a wonderful person to be with, regardless of what I do for a living. Exclusive access to my pussy is far from the only thing of value that can be offered. How about kindness, warmth, understanding, support? I can offer everything to a partner except sexual exclusivity, which is not the most realistic thing to promise, and it is not something that Josh has indicated is of upmost importance to him anyway. I am feeling empowered to be true to my feelings and frame what I have to give in a positive, rather than considering my love to be a burden that I ought to offer to no one.

Inner Conflicts

I am not always crazy about the work that I do. I mean, it gives me a chance to help people work through their sexual issues, which is great fun. I get to have all kinds of fun, new, interesting sexual experiences. That is awesome. I am independent, financially and sexually, which is amazing. Since I got into this industry, I’ve been able to do a lot of charitable work in the community, because of having more time and more money. When I was waiting tables six days a week working double shifts, I would not have had the energy. I’ve taken art classes. All in all, it’s been positive.

My conflicts come from how my work is viewed from the outside. I worry about things that seem unfair. I know I have sex for money, but the sex I have with my lovers remain deeply meaningful, perhaps even more so than before. When I am with Josh, I feel at excess of gratitude at being able to feel so much pleasure, and to connect with this wonderful person.

When it comes down to it, fast sex, like what I have at work, is easy for me. There is very little emotional risk. I am able to be giving and nurturing while being protected by a facade of glitzy outfits, bubbly persona, and even a fake name. With them, I don’t have to talk about my history, how I used to struggle with depression, how I became involved in abusive relationships, the times I used to self-mutilate, how I exhibited signs of PTSD while I was married because of the dynamics of our relationship. Being able to give to others, to see them in their flawed, human state with their pain and dysfunction, and still care for them and wish them well, does not mean that one is comfortable being viewed in that light by another. I know I am not.

After the Cabaret, when I cried in front of Josh for the first time, I was mortified. I felt like I had violated some sort of code, and made myself utterly undesirable. Of course, it didn’t seem to change anything on his end, and on mine, it made me realize how deeply I want a close, loving romantic relationship. When I am honest with myself, I know that I have always wanted that. Josh met my deep need for kindness and gentleness, as well as my need for genuine passion.

He is aware of my work, but sometimes I wonder if he is in some denial about it. Or if the work will be an impediment to my finding a serious relationship. I didn’t think I wanted one, but now, with Josh, I find that I do. Very deeply. An unconventional serious relationship where I can keep doing this work until I can transition into a different career, something more along the lines of Sexological Bodyworker or Sex Therapist. A serious relationship where he can have other lovers on the side and I can too, but we remain committed emotionally to each other. We are both holding each other at arm’s length, both shy after having been burned in past relationships. I wonder lately how much I mean to him. Does he love me, or am I just his hot sex girl that he will drop the moment he finds a more ‘serious’ partner? I sense that there is something real between us, but it is hard for me to believe that.

I know that there are sex workers out there who have successful relationships. Kitty Stryker, Souixie Q, Annie Sprinkle, Carol Queen. I know that the insights I have from being a sex worker have made me a more desirable partner in many ways. I understand the hidden vulnerabilities of men in a way that other women don’t, because men tell a sex worker things that they are unlikely to share with a lover. I know a lot about sex, which is awesome. Still, I keep wondering what makes me so special as to be worth the stigma of partnering with a whore, not to mention the potential legal issues. I get so angry that my profession is not considered just a job, like any other. Like massage therapy, or talk therapy.

At the bottom of all of this is my intense fear of being hurt, of truly committing to another person and opening up the door to all sorts of potential pain. Still, I want to be open to love, so I will continue on the path and try to keep an open mind and heart as things progress.

Monogamy

I, like most people in Western society, was raised with a pretty strict idea of how a proper relationship was supposed to look. My parents lived that ideal in a very intimidating way. They met when they were both nineteen, dated for three months, then got married. They are still together.

Growing up, a part of me envied them their close, loving relationship. Although they had their struggles, like any other couple, they do really love each other. On the other hand, the close connection they had at the exclusion of others filled me with dread when I imagined the same for myself. To live within a secluded circle, going to bed with one person and socializing occasionally with other couples seemed like a gilded cage. It was shiny and pretty, attractively packaged, but nonetheless a prison. I think I decided early on that I would prefer to be the mistress. Mistresses had their own separate lives and lovers, they traveled the world and had exciting stories to tell. Despite my wanderlust, the desire to love and be loved, and to have some sort of security in an uncertain world, is powerful. Looking back, I spent my late teens and early twenties chasing after that ideal, attempting to recreate that archetype of the sacred marriage, for myself. This resulted in a string of volatile monogamous relationships that, inevitably, ended. Although I learned a great deal from my period of serial monogamy, I found these relationships ultimately dysfunctional and stifling. This was not specifically a problem of monogamy, although monogamy has never felt right or natural to me. It seems so natural and easy to feel attraction to, and love for, more than one person at a time. The idea of being interested in someone else being a betrayal of a partner seemed strange, although I defended it during my time of serial monogamy. It seemed noble to sacrifice my sexual freedom for love. Of course, I would inevitably wind up resenting the sacrifice, and subsequently sabotaging the relationship so that I could go after the next fascinating person to cross my path.

When I was twenty two, I met my future ex-husband. We had a volatile relationship, one part passion, two parts teeth, which I convinced myself was the stuff of lasting, committed, white-picket-fence love. Except for the white picket fence part. I hate that shit. He was tall, strong and handsome. He resembled Antonio Banderas. He was also very kinky, which worked for me in the beginning. As our relationship progressed, it became clear that, although he was primarily a dom in the bedroom, I was hardly a sub. I enjoy playing with power exchange and being submissive on occasion, but I do not have the makings of a subbie princess slut. Still, I did my best to play the game. I wanted to make him happy and I wanted the relationship to work. Although we were monogamous, we flirted on the edges of non-monogamy. We, for example, were both free to pursue meaningful, non-sexual friendships with people we could be interested in. He was a fetish photographer, and I was a fetish, nude and boudoir model, so we routinely were naked around others or in the presence of naked people professionally. I also modeled for art classes. I also had a private client who would pay me to beat him and dominate him. It was not explicitly sexual – we both remained clothed during these sessions – but the sexual energy in these sessions was obvious.

Even though my relationship with my partner was clearly troubled, I started feeling the inexplicable pull towards being married. I started pushing the relationship in that direction. I wanted it to be official. I wanted proof that I was good enough, lovable enough, to be someone’s wife, someone’s chosen one. We had an unconventional wedding ceremony in a Zen garden with a Unitarian minister. I had a best man, he had a ‘second best woman’ as I affectionately called her. Because, hello! The bride is the best woman, doncha know? Even though the marriage did not last, I have very affectionate memories of my wedding day, and, of course, the wedding night. I wore a beautiful purple dress and I was the ultimate unti-bridezilla. I didn’t care about the details, as long as my friends and family were there, and there was food and wine, I was happy.

After the wedding, I fell into a deep depression. I knew I had made a mistake. We were fighting all the time, and I couldn’t imagine not fucking anyone else for the rest of my life. But I had made a commitment. I had dragged my friends and family to a ceremony. They had bought us gifts, shiny kitchenware and Egyptian cotton sheets with a high thread count. Those were the trappings of respectability. Underneath, there were some serious fault lines.

We packed up and moved to Vancouver. He found work almost instantly, while I went from job interview to job interview with little success. He suggested that I stay home, cook, clean, and write, and forget about finding a job. I know he intended this to be kindness, but it only intensified the feelings of isolation and inertia that exacerbated my depression. I was the worst housewife ever. And I was barely writing.

Eventually, I got a job waiting tables at a yacht club in Point Grey. At this time, we decided to open up our marriage. I wanted to explore tantra, and I was finding the strength within myself to say no to the BDSM activities that I did not enjoy. “Go, explore degradation play and bondage with someone else,” I told him. “I don’t want to do it anymore.”

We entered into non-monogamy as co-conspirators, but it soon became painfully clear that our attitudes and needs were not in alignment. I wanted to be polyamorous, and I wanted to be free to love other people. He was fine with me having sex with other people, but romantic love feelings were off the table. This resulted in him feeling insecure and me feeling stifled. Finally, after many explosive fights that pissed off our neighbors, I told him I wanted to end the marriage. “I can’t do this anymore. The fighting is so exhausting. Let’s stop tearing each other apart and split up while we still like each other.”

After that, I fled the suburbs and found a room in East Vancouver in a very old, decrepit house with three roommates. I took only the bare essentials, including my beautiful cat, who has been part of my life longer than any conventional romantic partner. When I left, I discarded the idea of monogamy. Although I would practice it for a few months at a time in the first year following my divorce, I no longer believed in it. And I worked towards being openly, shamelessly, honestly, and ethically, slutty.