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.

Burnout, Work Realities and New Opportunities

It is becoming more apparent every day that I am burned out. I am a mess. I worked again last Thursday, and most of my appointments were pleasant. I had a few polite, respectful clients who appreciated my skills. I started to remember what I enjoy about my job. Then I dealt with yet another rude client who wanted to trample my boundaries because ‘hey girl, you’re making good money. You should be down with an unlubed finger in your ass at 7 am.’ I am so sick of catering to the desires of others. I am so sick of being expected to perform like a porn star. I have so much knowledge and experience around sexuality, but how am I supposed to apply it when it is treated as something of little value? So many men don’t understand true ecstasy. They do not want to take their time in a sexual encounter. They expect that our bodies work like the depictions of women’s bodies in porn. And hey, even porn star’s bodies don’t work that way, but we don’t see the prep time off-camera. We just see the hard cock sliding into the tight yet pliable asshole.

I used to be a sex freak. Now, I get exciting sexual offers in my private life and I only feel tired and pressured. And lonely. I don’t want sexual adventure right now. I mean, that’s not entirely true. I have a very exciting sex life with Josh, and I still love sex with him. Sex with him keeps me connected to my body, keeps me anchored, keeps me present. Still, the conflict between work and personal life is taking a serious toll on me. He is aware of my work, but I still feel uncomfortable talking about it. I can talk about the parts I like, about the people who do appreciate what I have to offer. I don’t feel comfortable telling him about the difficult seven hour session that left me feeling gross and traumatized. I don’t feel comfortable telling him how burned out I am at fast sex. He seems to understand it intuitively, and he gives me extra foreplay and sensuality when I take longer to respond… but it is taking a toll not talking about it. I’m afraid that if he knew the extent of my current distress, he will leave me. He still talks about sex workers like they are ‘other people’ not like I am among them. He never says anything derogatory, but it still leaves me feeling uneasy.

I am also at my ropes end with the agency. There are a lot of great things about the agency, and I enjoy most of the people there, but I am fed up with the boss. She seems to see us working girls as nothing more than dollar signs. She can’t force us to work, but she does this passive-aggressive manipulation thing to get her way. She has also cut corners when it comes to screening clients, and the times that I have been in unsafe situations have generally been on her watch. She also takes fifty percent of everything we make, which is pretty high considering that we are the ones out there taking the risks.

Now that I have this new opportunity to work with Rania doing tantric coaching and sensual massage (no sex beyond a happy ending), I wonder what I am doing at the agency. I would be making the same money working with her, and it would be way more my thing. I could still help people and guide them through sexual experiences without compromising myself in the process.

Of course, to do that, I would need to set up my home like a tantric temple. My apartment is not ideal for this sort of thing. I discovered mold in my closet last week. The place doesn’t have the best air, and it’s really small. I also have neighbors who keep an eye on everyone. It’s a bit like living in a small town. I like the woman who lives upstairs, and I have told her a bit about what I do, which was probably partly out of desire to get myself evicted and thus released from the obligations of my lease. I need a new apartment. I need to rethink my career. I need to make a lot of changes. Fingers crossed, I think good things lie ahead for me.

A Ritual of Devotion

I have been thinking a great deal about ritual lately, especially within the context of intimate relationships and sexual work. In our culture, we have disconnected the heart from the genitals, the sacred from the body, to our detriment. As I think about the beautiful gift that I have been given with this deep love for Josh, and how our connection has helped me open to the divine and to heal many inner wounds, I want to do something concrete to express my gratitude.

The last time I was in Victoria, I stumbled upon an info sheet about the ritual of foot washing. The services advertised were based on the Christian tradition and were offered by a pastor. The point of the ritual is one of service and humility, of offering yourself to another with respect and devotion. Although I have deep issues with Christianity, there are parts of it that inspire me, and this ritual is one of those things.

In the context of a relationship, I believe that mutual service and honouring the divine within each other is so important. It is fraught in this culture of gender inequality and dissatisfaction within relationships to approach your beloved with a spirit of service and humility. Still, I think this is necessary in many ways for true intimacy and devotion to blossom. I used to think a lot, back when I was still caught up in the cycle of unfulfilling and abusive/dysfunctional relationships, how nice it would be if both people could approach the other with that spirit of service. Indeed, if both people look out for one another, no one is left wanting.

My relationship with Josh is a revelation to me in that respect. This is the first relationship that has lasted more than a few months in which I feel truly honoured and respected. I know that he is interested in doing things that make me happy, and he has approached me time and again from a place of service and devotion. I want to do the same, and I want to honour him in a ritual sense. I know it seems a little strange, but I want to do this.

When he comes back, I am going to invite him over for a ritual. I will cook him dinner, and after I have fed him, or perhaps before, I will wash his feet in a ritual bath with essential oils and give him a massage. I will take this time to tell him how much he means to me and how he has enriched my life, and how thankful I am to him for his gift of gentleness and sweetness and strength. I will tell him that I have decided to stop keeping my emotions close to my chest like a card sharp and am ready to express them to the people closest to me. Like him. I want him to know how much he means to me, even if I risk rejection in the process. Because what is life without a little risk, right?

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.

Breaking Open to the Divine

I am falling more deeply in love every day. It is frightening, exhilarating, dizzyingly wonderful and profoundly ecstatic. In the tantric school, they said that pleasure is medicine. That is also what the founders of the Sexological Bodywork profession believe. I know this is true.

Sex with Josh is such sweet ecstasy. We keep going deeper into these states of bliss and exploring new and interesting territory. Last weekend, while he was fucking me, I had an orgasm so deep and strong that I couldn’t tell where my body ended and the rest of the world began. I melted into this sweet golden light and the sacred healing energy cascaded through me. There was no part of my being that was untouched.

I remember, years ago, when I was an angry nineteen year old fleeing my abusive lover. I was staying with some people I knew and considered friends at the time. They were strict Christians. I had embraced the Christian faith mostly as a knee-jerk reaction to the pain I felt after being beaten by my lover. I embraced celibacy and maintained a structured existence. Sex, after all, led to loss of control, which led to someone having power over you. I never wanted to feel that fear again, the fear I felt when my lover tossed me around, breaking my skin and choking me until I saw white spots dancing in front of my eyes. The sex with him had been exquisite, but was it worth the price of pain and fear? Was it worth hearing the things he had screamed at me in his rages?

I recall the day I sat in the kitchen with my Christian roommate and her granddaughters. It was a nice moment, a moment of community and sharing. We were desperately poor and lived in squalor, but we had each other. We prayed together, and as we bowed our heads, it occurred to me that there was a dark and painful part of myself that seemed very large and frightening, that no amount of prayer could really heal. In fact, as time went on, the stifling of my sexuality resulted in my spiritual life shriveling up like a plant deprived of water and sunlight.

At the moment, with Josh, when I had that orgasm, I felt that dark and painful place shatter and the golden light pierced the darkness. Before, with the abuse I suffered in intimate relationships, I had felt myself break in pain, huddling on bathroom floors terrified and humiliated. Now, I break apart with the most exquisite pleasure. The walls I built up inside myself shattered and I was left smiling, laughing, and thanking the Creator for allowing me to feel such happiness. I really get to feel this much pleasure. I really get to feel so amazing.

In Christianity and other major religions, pleasure is seen as sinful, as corrupting, a distraction from godly pursuits. This disconnect between sex and spirit, heart and genitals, has caused humanity so many problems. I truly believe that we would not see the devastation of war, greed and cruelty in our world if everyone truly embraced the healing power of their sexuality and used it as a path to the divine.

Conversations With my Lover on Sex Work

It is still a somewhat awkward topic at times, and I find myself not disclosing every work story when I am with Josh. I don’t want to worry him, and I don’t want to bog him down with information about all my clients and experiences. A couple weeks ago, I was visiting him, and we were having coffee on the table in the common area of his apartment building, and the conversation flowed in a way that made the topic easy to address.

He mentioned that he has an issue with people who claim to be ‘sexual healers’. This led to a discussion on how one can never be a ‘healer’ but rather a facilitator for someone to go through the healing process themselves. The person may provide something that helps the person heal, but they are not responsible for the healing.

My heart beat faster as I took a sip of my black coffee. Now was my chance to take a risk, be vulnerable, and share my personal experiences with my lover. It would either bring us closer, or he would have an issue with it and it would push us apart.

I told him the story of the young man I worked with who was terrified to have sex after his long-term girlfriend consistently belittled him in bed. I told Josh about how I held this man and comforted him before guiding him through the experience of pleasuring me, and how after the session was done, he was completely ecstatic that he was able to have pleasurable sex again.

Josh looked at me in a way that showed me that he really got it. His eyes lit up and were full of admiration. “That’s awesome,” he said, and my heart swelled with happiness. My work had not made me unloveable. Quite the opposite.

I told him another story about a man who hired me to pleasure his girlfriend. She wanted the experience, but was terrified. I gave her a full-body massage and talked her through the experience, giving her a full vulva massage and an internal massage. The session ended with her asking her boyfriend to watch me and take notes for future reference.

Josh suggested that we watch The Sessions together, the movie about the sex surrogate who works with the man who was crippled by polio and who spent most of his life in an iron lung. The next weekend, we watched the movie together and cuddled the whole time. I found it very moving, even though I would have preferred that they had given the surrogate more air time and explored her life more deeply. The poet with polio was the character who got the most air time, and he was a fascinating character, and the connection between him and the surrogate was very touching. It was also nice to see a sex worker portrayed as having a healthy marriage, even though it was not explored in great detail.

I am so blessed to have found someone like Josh. He is the man I used to imagine myself finding, and, over time, grew to believe did not exist, at least not for me. He deeply respects women and is very spiritual.

Two Queens

As I sat in the passenger’s seat of my driver’s car, watching the city lights fade to the stretch of country roads, I mused on the experiences I have had since starting this new chapter in my life. Flashes of men in hotel rooms, men who’s names I do not recall. I remember how many of them came to me with very few words, clutching my body like a flotation device, looking into my eyes as they approached climax. Some of them cried in that moment and I held them, offering them comfort, offering them my lush, yielding, gentle body, and sharing some part of myself, even though we would likely never meet again.

Images of how sex work is perceived flashed through my mind: soul-destroying, abusive, damaging, degrading. I imagine people thinking of women like me as soulless vampires, opportunists, dead inside, unable to feel the sweet ambrosia of sexual pleasure. It amused me in that moment how completely wrong that description is for me. Sex work has deepened my compassion for men, not annihilated it. Men are complex, beautiful, vulnerable, human. So are women. And everyone else.

My parents are astrologers and tarot readers. To this day, I have a deck of cards that I consult from time to time. A reading I gave myself turned up two queens, the Queen of Swords and the Queen of Cups. The Queen of Swords is independent, cold, unattached, set apart. This is how I felt when my marriage ended. I put up so many walls around my heart, not wanting to let anyone in again, not wanting to feel anything too deeply for anyone. The Queen of Cups is emotionally available, nurturing, compassionate, romantic. As I drove down that sporadically lit road, those two archetypes flitted through my head. I am caught between the two. I am bursting with love and desire for connection, but I still insist on protecting myself. Funny how marriage and a live-in relationship prior to marriage caused me to put up walls, while sex work has helped me tear down those walls. Life is full of seeming contradictions.

I focused on the feelings of love that burst from my chest. It was so beautiful that I almost wept. Yes, I said to the night sky, yes, I will be open to love. Yes, I will continue to risk. I will live this way. I will consciously remove these safeguards and make myself vulnerable. It is the more authentic way to live. I will protect myself, but I will not shut down.