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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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.

Whorephobia in the LGBT Community

I experienced my first brush with direct whorephobia this week, not from a gang of angry men or law enforcement, but from someone within the LGBT community, someone I used to socialize with. Daria is a transwoman in the community. She has a psychology degree and transitioned in her late sixties. She lives with her partner, Ramona, in a lovely apartment known in the community as the Tranny Palace. I have attended a few parties at the Tranny Palace in the past. It was always a good time.

 Ramona and I have been talking lately. We both wanted to pursue a closer friendship. She shared some very personal things with me, which I was honoured to hear. Ramona recently underwent sex reassignment surgery, and this weekend, they were throwing a party to celebrate. Ramona insisted that I attend, which I agreed to do. 

 However, a day before, I received an email from Daria informing me that I am no longer welcome in their home. She accused me of attempting to sabotage their relationship, and said that a woman in my profession would bring negativity to an otherwise lovely gathering. Strange, since I seem to recall a proud ‘sex tourist’ bragging at previous parties about going to Thailand and ‘fucking tons of shemales’, but I digress. 

 So apparently, according to Daria, it’s ok to be a man paying for sex, but not to be a woman selling it. This weekend, I felt very much like an outsider with my face pressed against the glass, excluded from the festivities. It is deeply sad that someone who knew me socially can’t see past the whore stigma to the complex person underneath. 

 Now, this is hardly a shock. Daria has been very judgmental towards me on several occasions. Once, over drinks at a pub on Davie Street, she said: “I have a vagina now. My vagina is way nicer than your vagina, because my vagina is brand new and yours is very used.” Clearly this giantess of a woman has some deep-seated issues with women. Gender policing, slut-shaming, whorephobia, she has all of these in spades. 

 It is discouraging to keep doing this work when the dominant culture is intent on vilifying and dehumanizing you. It is extra disheartening when these sentiments come from ‘your people’ in the LGBT community, people who suffer from stigma and marginalization themselves. People who ought to know better. 

 When I chose to be out about my work, I knew that I would encounter some negativity, but honestly, I was blindsided by this. Even knowing how judgmental Daria can be, I don’t understand how she can take it to such extremes. 

 Still, overwhelmingly, the reactions I have had from the people I have told have been positive. Being out is tough, but it does show you who your real friends are. So, despite a discouraging week of setbacks, this whore is here to stay. 

Challenging Common Misconceptions About Sex Workers

Sometimes I scour the web in search of information for people in my profession, insider tips on how to manage work and a personal love life. I was on such a search last night, which brought me to a message board where people weigh in on whether or not they would seriously date/marry an escort/stripper/porn star, current or former. I was encouraged by the ones who said yes, they would consider it. But it’s hard not to get sad about the many who say no. Not because their rejection hurts me (it doesn’t) but because they are writing me off without knowing anything about me other than my profession.

So now, rather than absorb the shame messages, I have decided to confront them head-on in this ranty blog post. Here goes:

Sex workers hate sex. They only do it for money:

First, it’s impossible to categorically say that all sex workers have the same relationship to sex and money. Second, why do we rarely hear this about other professionals? Psychologists just hate listening to people. They hate it so much that they go to school and hone their therapeutic skills so that they can charge a respectable hourly rate. That would sound silly. Now, granted, there are people in the industry who do not enjoy their work, who have gotten into it because the high earning potential outweighs the psychological costs and physical risks. Because money is necessary for survival in a capitalist society. That said, it is very possible to approach sex work as a conscious choice and even a calling. I have spent a lot of time studying sexual techniques and fetishes, and those skills, in addition to my interpersonal skills, make my work highly rewarding. It feels great to do something you enjoy (most of the time, we all have bad days) and get paid a respectable wage for it.

You can never trust a sex worker. If she dates you, she’s only using you.

People of all professions have been known to use and abuse the people they become involved with romantically. A sex worker is probably pretty unlikely to want a personal relationship to resemble a professional client/escort relationship. An escort already makes good money at work. We are human beings with other needs and desires. I know for myself, despite the thrills and the money that come with work, I crave honest human connection. I’m dating someone who is not rich, but who is kind and giving, warm and funny and smart. While I do know some escorts who will not date outside of work, who claim that ‘smart girls never fuck for free’ I know more who enjoy loving personal relationships, or who would like to when the conditions of their lives allow for that to happen.

Sex workers are all emotional train-wrecks/were abused as children/have no self-esteem

This myth comes from a basic patriarchal myth about women: namely that we are so fragile that we can only enjoy sex within the context of committed love, which translates to lots of sandwich-making, service to our lover/husband. Men, on the other hand, are expected to be sexual. A man going out and having a lot of sex is seen as normal. We don’t feel the need to pity him and comment on how he must be acting out abuse from his past. Our culture is so threatened by a woman who owns her sexual desire, so threatened that we must disempower her by saying that she is to be pitied. Now, granted, some people in the sex industry are troubled people with drug habits and emotional problems. Then again, I’ve known plenty of people who serve food for a living who were also troubled people with drug habits and emotional problems. How well-adjusted to the work you are depends on your own personal relationship to yourself and to the work. And, in fact, most of the women I know in the industry are tough, confident, witty, driven and fun to be around. Certainly working as an escort gives you a different perspective on committed, long-term relationships (hard to idealize the concept of happily ever after when you’ve fucked enough married men in the ass), but to categorically say that only people with problems get into this industry is flawed thinking. It also bears mentioning that it takes considerable confidence and self-esteem to be able to get naked in front of a stranger or group of strangers, negotiate boundaries, pleasure yourself, dance, or fuck. People need to recognize that whores are gutsy and beautiful.

Also, I am so sick of this tired trope of ‘oh, she must have been abused as a child, that’s why she’s so fucked up’ being trotted out. Unfortunately, many people in our society have been abused. A history of abuse does not guarantee a lifetime of bad choices and emotional issues. We are all able to heal from whatever happened to us in the past and go on to live full, healthy, productive lives. Which may or may not include sex work.

Sex workers are disgusting and full of scary STIs:

I would love to see the shaming of sexually active people, women in particular, just die already. It is a myth that someone who has a lot of sex with a lot of people will automatically have a host of STIs. Although sex workers have various degrees of empowerment around safer sex negotiation, most sex workers have above-average knowledge of safer sex practices and above average consistency in using these methods. An escort is not likely to ‘forget’ to use a condom in the heat of the moment. She will carry her own bag of safer sex supplies and insist on using them correctly and consistently. At the agency where I work, it is considered trashy and disgusting to perform oral sex on a client without a condom, generally. Very few girls make the exception and forego rubber for oral sex. Also, every escort I know gets a full checkup for STIs every one to three months, which is more than can be said for the average person.

Also, this fear-mongering about STIs really needs to stop. Yes, STIs are a real danger and a lot of them are scary, and we need to talk about them and deal with them. But could we please have the dialogue without all the stigma and ‘only dirty disgusting people contract STIs’ rhetoric. Any sexually active person is potentially at risk of an STI. We all need to be getting tested regularly and taking care of our health. And if we consider it simply a health issue, rather than a moral issue, we’d get a lot further. Many common STIs are easily treated. HPV infection is present in 98 percent of sexually active people, and, in the overwhelming majority of cases, causes no symptoms whatsoever. Genital herpes is found in one in four people, and many people who have the virus do not know they have it because they either have never experienced an outbreak, or the symptoms of it were so mild that they attributed it to something else, like chafing or razor burn, or a yeast infection. HIV remains a scary virus, but, with new treatments, it is becoming a chronic manageable condition rather than an automatic death sentence. Also, a person who is HIV positive and on medication to lower viral loads to undetectable, is unlikely to pass the virus on to sexual partners. I would still recommend condoms, because I’m a safety freak, but I am against fear mongering. Learn the facts, practice safer sex to the best of your ability, get tested regularly, and please chill the fuck out. I have had a lot of sex in my life, and I have never contracted an STI (except probably for the HPV virus, which is likely present in my body just like it is in practically every sexually active person on the planet).

I could not be with a sex worker, because she would never truly be with me:

Can we ever say that anyone is ever truly ours? Our lovers, even if they are sexually exclusive with us, will always notice other people, fantasize about them, or reminisce about a past lover from time to time. That is normal and healthy and just  part of being human. We would all be way happier if we got over it. I would love to see love divorced from the idea of ownership. I’ve done a lot of work myself on letting go of this desire to possess and control the ones I love romantically. I am happier for it.

Back to the sex work thing. Do you ever hear someone say about a daycare worker ‘I hope they don’t have kids. They would never truly be able to parent a child after working with kids and caring for kids all day long.’ No, you never hear that. Because childcare is not stigmatized the way sex work is. Sex can mean different things depending on the context. When I am with a lover, I am completely with them. When I am at work, I am performing a role, either a theatrical or therapeutic role, depending on the circumstances. All it means is I have had a lot of opportunity to hone my skills, which makes my lovers veeery happy indeed.

A sex worker has no respect for herself:

I have noticed that the term ‘respecting yourself’ when used in relation to women, simply means ‘act like a good girl according to the patriarchy.’ In my mind, a woman who chooses to engage in sex for her own reasons, provided she is not harming others in the process, is very much respecting herself and owning her desires. I would not be respecting myself if I had no boundaries in the sex work that I do, if I allowed clients to forego protection, if I did not speak up when they did things that put me at physical or psychological risk. As I practice sex work now, I have deep self-respect.

A sex worker has no skills. That’s the only reason she would do this work.

This one really gets to me. Sex work is skilled work. It is an art form to be truly good at sex. It takes practice and time and effort to learn the skills. Plus the interpersonal skills, conversation, reading people, figuring out what they want and need from a session. The ability to communicate about difficult topics and deal with challenging situations such as a client processing a trauma, or wanting to explore a kink that you are not as knowledgeable about as you’d like to be. The skills in this work are considerable. They are just not acknowledged because sex is seen as dirty, disgusting and trivial.

Sex work is dangerous and therefore should not be allowed:

A lot of work is dangerous. Being a miner is dangerous. Being a police officer is dangerous. Being a social worker can be dangerous. The difference is that we don’t stigmatize miners for being in a dangerous profession. Condoms and lube and gloves and dams are the hard hats of the sex industry. Please think of us as another profession that requires work safety knowledge. Thanks.

Also, a lot of other interpersonal situations are statistically dangerous. Marriage is statistically dangerous with 30 percent of female murder victims being killed by their current or former husbands. Dating is dangerous. Romantic relationships are dangerous. Abusive types exist. However, we never tell women to stop dating or stop getting married, because marriage and dating are seen as socially acceptable activities for a woman. Sex work, however, is seen as subversive and threatening, so it is painted as often more dangerous than it actually is in an effort to scare women away from working in that industry, because a sexually and financially independent woman won’t make you a sandwich just because you want her to.

That has been my sex worker related rant for today. Thank you for listening.