Monthly Archives: July 2013

What I Am

My original title for this post was “What I Am Not,” but I my self-help gurus would frown on that title.  Focus on the affirmative “I am’s,” they repeatedly tell me.

Psychiatric and economic circumstances pushed me into mainstream sex work many years ago; I found a vocation that I enjoyed, connecting with humans on innumerable levels, the sex becoming incidental if necessary for most of the patrons.

I came to deeply love many of these men, and have learned extraordinarily from them.

When I started by myself as a lone classified advertiser in The Nation too long ago, after working in the mainstream for about a year,  I had two thoughts:  1) to serve, for what I heard over and over was loneliness and pain; 2) pursuing my education, or, more precisely, pursuing knowledge, for its own sake.

Please notice the order I laid these out in, first service; second, learning.

No person — male or female — should enter sex work thinking that it is a get rich quick scheme, even if one goes independent and eventually caters to an educated and affluent clientele.  They bind themselves to personal failing, if they do.  For more than likely the only thing that will transpire is mutual objectification, the stereotypes of this kind of transaction loom large and ugly.

There’s a better way.  Negotiating many realities while providing a service requiring listening skills, people skills, business skills, compassion, and non-judgement, no matter the venue.

Ultimately, whether the clients recognize it or not, what I provide is solace and with time, deeper spiritual and personal meaning than most would have found otherwise.  Most recognize a more fundamental need than sex, eventually, depending on where they are in their development.

I have counseled, consoled, and helped heal hundreds of men through some of their most difficult times.   While doing so, I earned an extraordinary education, traveled, and lived autonomously  while pursuing my idiosyncratic spiritual and creative path.  My money has been my own, and the number of other women’s children that I have feed, clothed, educated, and supported would make your jaws drop; I went beyond “tithing” and into philanthropy, a service which deeply resonates with me.

Some of the more high minded might look at my life and see me as a victim, or an amoral sex worker.  In fact, I am the hero of my own narrative, a narrative I am currently writing, that will give men and women the opportunity to rethink their own stories, and create better ones for themselves.  I am a woman who has overcome near insurmountable obstacles, some of which will make it to the pages here, and in my book.  I have survived myself, learned to thrive, and I continue pushing on and beyond, because this is as good as it gets: to love, listen, learn, heal, create, and give while living this precious life we’ve been given.

 

If you are enjoying these entries, please consider sharing this blog with your friends and family.

 

Thank you.

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In The Name Of Love

I remember the first time I had sex – I kept the receipt.  —  Groucho Marx

In Memories of My Melancholy Whores, Gabriel García Márquez’s portrays a 90 year old journalist who seeks a 14 year old virgin for sale, and finds love for the first time.  Having paid for sex his entire life, the narrator boasts, “I have never gone to bed with a woman I didn’t pay,” and explains that he was “twice crowned client of the year” in his city.

As New York Times reviewer Terrance Rafferty writes:  ” . . . the young virgin whom the old man calls Delgadina, after a girl in a song – is an abstraction, and that, as we all know, is no basis for a mature, healthy relationship. The wonderful joke of ‘Memories of My Melancholy Whores,’ though, is that its hero’s life is changed by the late onset of a profoundly immature and not especially healthy emotion: the painful, idealizing, narcissistic romanticism of adolescence. And the narrator knows all too well how ludicrously out of season this desperate yearning is, how silly it is for a man his age – the whores’ client of the year, no less – to be born again into puppy love.  Who needs Nabokovian verbal ironies when time itself plays practical jokes like this?”   (The New York Times, November 6, 2005.)

I’ve already alluded to the odious aspects of “sex work,”  but like everything in life, and perhaps more so, the relationship between an erotic artist and her patrons, especially the regulars, is often quite complicated.  For over time, an important and essential transition happens.

With the many creative hats I wear, and the many roles I play, I create an intimate space; in this space, my patron shares with me as he rarely does with others.   I’ve heard volumes of secrets, personal and professional.  In phone work, invisibility, that is, a lack of eye contact, and the stigma of “sex work,” create a comfortable, safe environment.  The latter rests on the implicit assumption that nothing shocks a “sex worker” (and after awhile, nothing does), and, therefore, the oh so revealing ramblings of the so-called profane imagination are given free reign.  As a modern day confessor who requires no penance, and as pleasure provider, in my company the patron freely travels to his secret places, while safeguarding his vital social role — keeping Hestia’s domain safe.  Keeping the home fort safe is usually paramount, because those arbitrary boundaries between sacred and profane are near solid in the collective consciousness, and security’s illusory veneer rules most lives.

Hestia was a virgin goddess, her comforts conspicuously conscripted to domesticity, her warmth issuing from an inanimate fireplace, not her passion or person.  The mythologies of Hestia are fairly simple and not too varied.  Most revolve around hearth and home, the rest of her mythology lacks development.   In one sequence of myths, Hestia deliberately rejects the cult and practices of Aphrodite, swearing herself to perpetual virginity.  Hestia becomes Vesta in Roman mythology, and the Vestal Virgins are her cult priestesses.  Vesta emerges as one of Rome’s most important state deities,  her rulership of the home and her chaste virtue become cornerstones of Roman values, values subsequently informing early Christianity.

Then there is Aphrodite, the goddess of love, beauty, and pleasure.  Aphrodite and her myths are where things get complicated and interesting.  Aphrodite gives birth to Eros, love’s unrestrained passion.  In some myths, Eros predates his mother and embodies the primordial generative urge relentlessly seeking expression in the world — all creative longing flows from Eros.  In other myths, Eros is Aphrodite’s son, the universal generative urge’s power subsumed into passion’s expression, and ruled over by Aphrodite.  Perhaps because of the erotic impulse, there’s much ambiguity in Aphrodite’s mythology.  Scholars quibble whether her influence and person are transcendent or material.  Most agree that she “arose from the foam,” meaning the ocean, but the sexual implication seems inescapable:  she is the deified incarnation of male desire.  Yet, in many sources, the description “from the foam” includes a reference to shining.  Or, “she from the foam who shines.”  In other words, the transcendent ideal of desire, the luminous one who emerges from desire’s waters.  Aphrodite’s ambiguous identification — are we to understand her as carnal or spiritual — seems to confuse scholars, the presumption being that she must be one or the other.

I suggest that Aphrodite is both, material and transcendent, the material constantly edging towards transcendence for full expression; transcendence desirous of entering time and experience.  Aphrodite seems as close to immanence as Greek myth allows, her complex nature not so coincidently tethered to Eros.

So what does this mythological meandering have to do with “phone sex?”

Perhaps nothing.  Perhaps everything.  Perhaps something in-between.

The phone exchange permits the imagination unbound wanderings.  Desire enters a landscape where pure fantasy can overwhelm the narrative: the artist and her patron don’t inhabit the world, they often inhabit other worlds.  Not necessarily “perfect worlds,” where the artist portrays herself in stereotypical ways to cater to a pedestrian male fantasy.  No, imagined worlds.  For example, a client whose foot fetish so controls his erotic life, that he imagines himself as a bug.  (Move over, Kafka.)  The moment of release happens when the female narrator crushes the male protagonist under her ever so soft and well manicured big toe, as that graceful high-arched foot slowly and sensuously descends over his little blattidae body, until the big toe’s pad deliberately crushes and annihilates him.  (See my entry, “Death And Sex,” on thanatos and eros, love and annihilation.)

Although framed carnally, bodies as bodies may disappear in these narratives.  Rather, the explorations are personal fictions writ by an artist-patron collaboration, with varying degrees of reality as their backdrop.

Consequently, the patron may push against the fiction, in all sorts of ways, the most persistent being the invitation to meet, “no sex, just a cup of coffee,” because the created intimacy pushes itself into embodied erotic longing, even if the fantasy could not be realized in any world.  If the fantasy is relatively straightforward, for example, a homoerotic fantasy, the patron often has no desire to pursue the fantasy beyond fantasy.  But he will still want to meet the artist, the one who really gets him.

The above may sound like a high-brow way of saying that the guy just wants to meet his phone sex worker, big deal.  But that’s not the point.  Rather, the shared safe space creates a unique intimate pull.  When done right, the patron may come to see the artist as the person who understands the real him, even if those fantasies involve violence and denigration, because the artist creates a non-judgemental space for the patron to play out  these psychic rumblings.  If truly skilled, and depending on the relationship, the artist becomes a surrogate therapist, a healer on the patron’s journey, by helping him put pieces of the puzzle together, if he is so inclined.  Because often the relationship spills over into an exchange between humans, no matter the context.  Ironically, the reason the patron shares his closeted fantasies, the distance created by sex for sale, urges him to try and break the distance: intimacy’s power compels him.

The more astute clients recognize that the encounter is art (or “business”); others, less so.  These may eventually leave the relationship, believing that all of the exchanges were “just fantasy.”  Usually, after some sorting time, they return.

Love comes in many hues; it’s been my vocation to learn about love’s complex variegation, while often looking through and beyond some very damaged souls, or souls who are simply lonely, in the moment.

Hestia’s mythologies are simple.  However, domestic security doesn’t feed our innermost being, for that inanimate hearth doesn’t ignite the experience of living.  As Joseph Campbell writes, “I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on this purely physical plane will have resonances with our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive.”   Eros escorts us to a vital life experience; it’s a passage from our purely material existence to something larger than our selves.   The best of us often foolishly run into the deeper experiences of this abandonment, to live free from our selves, in the presence of the other, and experience “the rapture” of life lived intensely.  A teacher said, “the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls, when he found one of great value, he went away, sold everything he owned, and bought it.”  Believing that the kingdom of heaven exists now, life’s ecstasies and joys should compel us daily, eros leading us to some of experience’s deepest reservoirs.  If our wires have been short-circuted, the best we may have is someone who will listen to our erotic yearnings, no matter how untidy and uncivil: that’s all love may be, at that moment in time.  Love still redeems: it still makes us better, no matter how inadequately sought out, or expressed.

Unfortunately, Aphrodite’s complex dual nature has been sequestered, and her daughters are bound to the purely materialistic understanding of her being.  Yet the transcendent push and pull are always there, if one attentively listens, goes a little deeper, reads between the lines, asks a few questions.  Hestia’s still powerful in her control of social mores, and as obstinate as ever.  But she can only reject Aphrodite and offer a cold stone hearth of security in front of our collective consciousness; she cannot control or govern Eros’ complicated urges, the way they burrow, expand, demand.  The primordial creative impulse will find its way, eventually, even if those ways have become mangled paths, strewn with garbage and waste, they demand to be traveled.  For what they seek is the experience of being fully alive, waiting to be realized.

Gabriel García Márquez’s protagonist isn’t sympathetic, a 90 year old man falling in love with a 14 young girl seeming both repulsive and morally bankrupt.  But his “painful, idealizing, narcissistic romanticism” ultimately redeem him.   Terrance Rafferty’s choice of “born again” strikes me as particularly telling, the pull towards Aphrodite’s spiritual immanence, right there, in Christ’s paradoxical dictum that we must find our spiritual nature if we’re to fully live in the world, the kingdom of heaven, here and now.  García Márquez portrays this paradox when an old man loves a young girl, a person who the old man never really sees as human, and who remains a fantasy abstraction in his dim mind.  From the outside, it looks disgusting, if not absurdly hilarious; but touching love however obliquely, returns the old man to life and living, and not just living, for he finds personal redemption before death.  Love and death, side by side, once again, forever coupled and haunting the human imagination.

Groucho Marx kept that receipt.  While it may not be a true story, I’ll see Groucho and raise him.  I believe Groucho kept that receipt, and I believe he kept it until his death.  For it was his first love letter, however clumsily written, and he treasured that memory in secret sweetness until his final breath.

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Reality Bites, Part IV

If a titty is pretty, it’s dirty, but not if it’s bloody and maimed.  —  Lenny Bruce  

Bob Fosse’s “Lenny” starring Dustin Hoffman was controversial on its release, and morally reprehensible to the two Christian women — my mother and my grandmother — who were responsible for my well being.  Though never having seen it, they heard of it, and, like Jane Fonda and marijuana, it was part of litany of threatening, intolerable social ills.

When I asked my mother, “Can I see that movie, ‘Lenny,'” no doubt because of the controversy, the forbidden fruit being irresistible, I was strictly told not to mention it again.  “You will never see that piece of filth.  You are too young and there is no way that you will ever see it as long as you are living in my house.”

Funny, I thought.  How did she know it was “filth,” if she had never seen it, and what exactly was “filth,” anyway.

Filth.  It sounded exciting.  Much better than National Geographic photos, because usually the guys were covered up — I assumed filth meant I would be able to see naked men as well as women.  National Geographic offerings were limited: only on the rare occasion did some remote tribe of men not cover their genitals with a piece of fabric.   (Which, by the way, I find the near ubiquitous appearance of phallic insecurity fascinating, but that’s another entry.)

Yes, filth sounded better than National Geographic.  I was certain “Lenny” was going to have lots of sex and filth.  Filth sounded good.

Eventually, one Saturday afternoon, I managed to sneak in and catch a viewing at the local mall cinema.  Well, local is a bit inaccurate.  I had to take the bus near an hour long to get to the mall.  It was a filth adventure, after all

I’ve since decided, that Lenny would have been proud of me.  An eleven (or twelve) year old girl sneaking in to see a biographical movie about the great comic genius who changed the landscape of American social satire, eons ahead of his time, just biding her time, waiting for the security guard to turn his back, so I could slip in and steal a Saturday afternoon matinee movie.

The things I have done for love.  Or God.  Or knowledge.  Or filth.

The movie was beyond my comprehension.  I couldn’t grasp the humor.  Really didn’t understand most of what was going on, the subtle emotional layers, the social ramifications, or any of the mature, well developed subtexts.  Valerie Perrine showed her breasts.  Big deal.  National Geographic showed lots of breasts.  Still not filth.

Watching the movie, though, I understood viscerally that what happened to Lenny was very, very wrong.

I saw the expense his genius exacted.  I also got that freedom and choice were important, and that the system was grossly flawed.  Fosse romantically portrays the quintessential anti-hero, and I felt it deeply, the artistic black and white cinematography captivating my imagination, even if I was pretty clueless about why it was captivating and important — nominated, by the way, for an Oscar for cinematography.

Finally, at the movie’s end, I saw filth.

Hounded by the police and law enforcement for years, and banned from performing, Bruce’s addiction issues escalated, and he was found dead of a heroin overdose, August 3, 1966.  The police, as a final farewell “fuck you,” took official pictures of Lenny, his naked body sprawled out in his bathroom, his arm tied for shooting up, bottles and syringes around him.  The photos were released, a deliberate exercise in post-mortem humiliation.  Rock and roll bad boy and friend Phil Spector eventually bought all the negatives and photos, in order to prevent the photos from being reproduced ad infinitum.  Today, a google search shows up only one or two, at most.  Thank you, Mr. Spector.

The filth of “Lenny” has nothing to do with nudity or language: the real filth is the image of Hoffman as Bruce sprawled out, naked and bloated, surrounded by drug paraphernalia, with a police officer smugly looking on Bruce’s dead body, as if to say, “hey, you son of a bitch, we finally got you, and got you good.”  We see a filthy system, and a filthy hypocritical way of being whose perversity lies in its superficially constructed values of right and wrong, which have nothing to do with any higher moral ground, but a bully system with a billy club for anyone questioning its arbitrary authority.

Filth?

Filth is the death of an innocent man hounded by the system until that system broke him.

Now, what exactly is filthy about sex work?  The system.  Not the women, not the men, not the product.  It’s the system that stinks to high heaven.

Filth is women earning less than minimum wage, in a system that stigmatizes them, usually though not exclusively on so-called Christian values, at least here in the U.S.   Filth is not banal advertising stating, “let me be your dirty little cum slut.”  Filth is earning less than minimum wage with absolutely no social or economic standing in order to protect one’s self, and being completely demoralized in the process because the work breeches an arbitrary divide of what is moral and good.

Filth is a group of stigmatized women, serving the most intimate and sometimes reprehensible needs of men, still believing in a good girl myth, and believing in that good girl myth for themselves, while happily referring to themselves, in emails, as “sluts”  — while getting dewey eyed over female sacrifice, as if their lives weren’t already writ in hardship’s extremes.

In other words, filth is the systemic social and economic socialization and its correlative mythologies that keep women stigmatized and dependent on male bad behavior to support themselves, and usually their children: it’s a system rigged to serve male economic and social needs, and too many of the women benefitting from this structure simply don’t care enough to help other women, so long as their own homes remain unsullied from bad behavior.   In popular jargon, “De nile isn’t just a river in Egypt, baby.”  But let’s be clear, not all men who procure sex are married, and in many marriages, there is intimacy, and the guy simply wants more than he’s getting, or wants it dirtier or nastier, or whatever the backstory.  Rather, the filth that I speaking about is an economic social structure in which class insulates and precludes privileged women from caring about other women, because, hard core sex is messy, complicated, and Real Housewives offers some of the best available porn for women, second only to Martha Stewart.

That’s the kind of filth that no laundry machine can take of.

The smell is putrid and would be unforgivable, if change were not possible and necessary.

 

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Reality Bites, Part III

Self-development is a higher duty than self-sacrifice.
— Elizabeth Cady Stanton

A quick thought on my previous two entries. I know they are longer than they ought to be: the recommended length for successful and engaging blog entries is 500 words. Because I am manically flushing out ideas behind the scenes, I am burdening my blog with the residual excesses.

Thank you for your patience. Hopefully, the pay off comes with the following.

In Part I, I covered why I originally went back to mainstream work, after many years of building a cushy comfort zone in my own business. In Part II, I observed how I thought the internet has changed phone work, creating a legal slave labor class, for whom the business is dog eat dog.

Now, I’d like to get to this story’s heart, and some of what I found wrenching beyond words. An email came into my inbox one evening. The subject line read, “You **MUST** see this, true love exists!” This was the subject line for a company email, in which the girls also post copies of their advertisements to be the “hottest little cum slut you’ve ever known, baby,” and advertise with some unsavory stories in order to market themselves, as I briefly described in Part II.

I read the subject line and thought, “Please, tell me more.”

The email was a photo essay, of sorts. A series of pictures of a couple. A perky young woman and a good looking young man. The first series of photos portrayed their courtship, the next were presumably when he asked her to marry him, she flashes a ring and a big smile, their arms are around each other. The next series portrayed his deployment in either Iraq or Afghanistan.

The pictures were not developed with facts or writing: rather, it was all about the evocative power of image, and these images were presented to pull the heart strings.

The next series of photos were of the young man in Afghanistan (I’m guessing Afghanistan). The next series of him in the hospital, body bandaged. The subsequent images reveal that he lost all four limbs, no arms or legs.

He returns home, with the perky young woman waiting for him with open, loving arms. Wedding photos follow. Then there’s a whole bevy of photos portraying her helping him get used to his prosthetics, day in and day out, by his side, smiling.  Perky.

There were literally tens of photos in this essay, I’m guessing close to forty, if not more, and not until the very end of the email is any text given. The text read something like: “SEND THIS TO EVERYONE YOU KNOW. HE’S A HERO AND SHE’S AN ANGEL, AND TRUE LOVE EXISTS. GOD BLESS OUR TROOPS. GOD BLESS AMERICA. AND GOD BLESS THIS ANGEL.”

Something like that.

My head was swimming. I was gobsmacked by so many levels of irony, I could barely breathe for the chaotic onslaught.

Replies immediately started pouring in from all the company girls. “OMG, I started crying!!! That’s so beautiful!! God bless them both!!” “She IS an angel, and he IS a hero. Thanks for sharing!!!”

Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

I tried to keep my mouth shut, that is, I didn’t immediately hit the reply button, as a million thoughts were flooding my poor synaptic overloaded brain.

So here we have some truly marginalized women, doing some pretty heinous, stigmatizing work taking care of men’s needs. Now, here’s where things get a bit overgeneralized, but bear with me, if you will: the majority of the clients are married, doing relatively well in supporting their wives who don’t have sex with them (I am oversimplifying, but it’s a truth of the industry), the phone worker being socially lower than housekeepers and nannies, both of whom are better paid than a mainstream phone sex worker, and both of whom usually work for the guy’s wife. Even if his wife works, he is still the primary bread winner. So the woman doing the dirtiest work on the block — and notably, not on Hestia’s sacred ground, but living well outside what is good and civil — gets paid the least. Meanwhile, the phone workers are sitting around on email valorizing a woman who sacrificially takes care of a man.

Could it all get anymore perverse?

That’s right, the bottom of the rung caretakers valorizing care taking, thinking that in this selfless act of devotion “true love” exists.

Then there’s more that I started obsessing about: the women who sell pornographic images of their characters (the images are all of porn stars, stock photos, and photos downloaded from the internet, all to create the character that they market), get all sentimental and dewey eyed over a series of images about “true love,” a porn comparable to if not worse in its illusions, than what they sell.

Love’s unrealized hope is an odious burden, especially for the sex worker: whereas, tits and ass are easily replaced.

When I decided to say something, I simply asked: “Do you think a man would stay with a woman who lost all of her limbs?” It seemed like an obvious question to me, posed to women who market sex and its images to men who go from character to character and are engrossed in if not enslaved to idealized images of female sexuality. I honestly don’t know, nor am I assuming. But for women who sell sex as their product, at the very least I would expect much more cynicism about male fidelity and the need for women to sacrifice, “in the name of love.”

In other words, I would have expected these women to hate men, for all that they had to put up with. Instead, they are valorizing a woman who gives unconditionally, and not questioning whether this man, or any man, would stay with a woman without limbs.

Given “the product’s” influence on every aspect of their lives, most do not tell family and friends what they do for income, many are in dysfunctional care taking relationships with men, I found this an excruciating oversight of the obvious.  Perhaps that’s the point.

The silences were deafening. It was a though I had dropped an atomic bomb.  I didn’t even mention what a stupid war it was for any young man to loose his limbs in, being that the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan have been nothing but big business sodomizing America for its own self-interests, all wrapped up in the fear and trembling of 9/11, and the most reprehensible, despicable narratives foisted on a voting Republic since G-d knows when. Didn’t say a word.

But these women, selling some of the most demeaning imaginative acts possible (remember, it’s all just “fantasy”), for less than minimum wage, were going on and on about true love for a woman who gives herself sacrificially to a man.

Whether they knew it or not, it was their own narratives that they were valorizing. The problem being, that the sex worker’s love is unrequited, financially, intimately, domestically. It’s a precarious existence at best.  The guy may say “love you baby,” but it’s an empty love of the moment, tethered to the moment, gone with the moment’s passing.  Certainly, none of these women see their consumers as being “true love,” but they do in fact give themselves near unconditionally as a life circumstance, if for no other reason.

I could barely stomach it, the heartbreak being near too much to bear.

I remembered a Lenny Bruce dialogue, that Dustin Hoffman portrayed, and posted a YouTube version of it in the replies.

The real meaning of obscenity, and what it looks like:  http://youtu.be/XiBy3wAEOn8

Shattering the myth of the moment, I took away hope, but it was an egregious hope, that needed to be called out. Though that bit of bad behavior, along with several others, probably cost me my job, such as it was, the price I paid was nowhere near as high as these women are paying for failing to ask a simple question: could you be loved as this man is loved? Could you be loved with selfless devotion? If so, are you? If not, what does that mean for your life? And, how should you live your one precious life, valorizing sacrifice, or finding a new narrative?

It always begins with a question. Or two.

A final irony that I’d like to add about what the internet has done to phone work: if the women are more damaged than before, so are the men, if not more. Porn’s proliferation has anesthetized men more deeply, and, perhaps, more irrevocably.  A sex worker may at some point find a way out of her economic and-or personal conundrums; men hooked on the “product” are less likely to walk away from the relentless stream of hungry new girls, the easy and cheap access to an ever changing menu of women who will cater to whatever passes between their ears, with no questions asked.

Sex is simply a consumer product.  But there’s an unfortunate truth lurking underneath consumer capitalism: the consumer becomes the consumed, one limb at a time.

Emotionally, they seem no different to me than the limbless Afghanistan hero portrayed in that disgusting bit of emotional pornography that passes itself off as some kind of moral compass.

Usually, for complex personal reasons that are then fed by porn’s easy comforts, the men seem to me worse emotional cripples than they were over a decade ago.  Many are barely able to walk and function in intimate relationships as full human beings, or reach out to another human without some some false prosthetic fantasy construction catering to their images, fantasies, and indulgences.  The fantasies  they choose belie a deep personal disconnect: prodding underneath those narratives reveals volumes of information, when one withholds judgement, has experience, and asks a few questions.

But that’s more storytelling, lots more story telling, for a later date.

 

“Woman’s discontent increases in direct proportion to her development.”

— Elizabeth Cady Stanton

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Reality Bites, Part II

As a woman thinks, so shall she be.  

— All The Wisdom Teachers

(Graphic content warning.)

My brief foray back into mainstream work — apparently, I wasn’t as self-deprecating as I believed, for I was fired after about 3 months — was painfully instructive.

Here are a few observations I made during my jaunt into mainstream phone sex nether regions, as further introduction to what inspired this entry:

1)  The business has dramatically changed since my early days in the industry, when I started in the 1990’s.  Porn’s untrammeled proliferation on the internet, as well as shifts in sexual mores, have made any meandering of the imagination available for free on the internet. However, “free” internet porn often comes on the backs of trafficked women, and the world’s most vulnerable.  This isn’t to say that women don’t willing and successfully sell porn or freely participate in sexual acts that are then publicly shared; rather, I’m referring to some of the raunchiest most degrading stuff that’s available for free. Many of these women are not willing.  They are slaves.  One consequence for the paid phone worker is dealing with clients psychologically anesthetized by the most humiliating internet porn, so the phone worker will do anything, say anything, be anything for any price, and those prices are shamefully low, considering the costs on their psyches, and consequently their lives.

This is not a judgement.  This is a fact about the prices paid by women doing some of the toughest psychological work imaginable.  Having thought about these things for years, I’ve concluded that the work comparable to sex work would be inner city police work, “long term care” hospital work, psychiatric hospital work — in other words, any vocation dealing with the most demanding human behavior.  The internet has exacerbated those for prices for the sex worker, near exponentially, or so it seems to me.

For bottom rung sex workers, be they legal or illegal, there are no inbuilt support systems, no unions, and, not only are the wages essentially slave wages, but in mainstream phone sex companies, the women compete against each other.  Here’s a picture for you: stigmatized women often working below minimum wage, who are hourly bombarded by bad male behavior informed by internet porn, who must then compete with the very women who should offer camaraderie, the only people who can possibly get their predicament, all the while knowing they have to be a little dirtier, a little nastier, and a lot more clever than their comrade (i.e. competitor) if they are going to pay the bills.

Yet these realities seem never to sink into the worker’s minds.  The company that I worked for this year glibly promoted group spirit, split itself into teams, and fashioned themselves as a business just like any other.  “We’re primarily a marketing company,” I was told during my phone interview.  “Sex is our product, and we market characters who provide the product,” my manager enthusiastically told me.  Because they are a marketing company whose product is sex, they were able to conflate the most bizarre mix of presumed “business” talk, positive thinking, self-help enthusiasm, and sales jargon, while pitching the women against one another, all the while burdening workers with an intolerable excess of required behind the scenes tasks.

For the record, it was a company owned and managed by women, and this was their claim to moral superiority.  “We women” are doing great together!  We are independent!  We have a product!  We are sales driven!

“Go team!”

“Go women!”

Really?

Management hired women on the premise of a dollar a minute, but the amount of back work necessary to generate that dollar a minute, that is, the promise of needed livelihood for the workers to support themselves and, usually, their children, ends up taking a good ten minutes or so, at the very least.  At the very least.  All of this, as an independent contractor, i.e., no benefits, no withholdings, nada.  I never saw one of the women question that they had been marketed by the owner or the managers.  The junior marketers had themselves been marketed, and they never questioned this glaringly obvious fact, as they marketed themselves, or rather, their characters, in the most vulgar ways imaginable, to pay the bills. They were promised a dollar a minute.  They were not told about how much time they’d have to spend marketing, or the 800 number charges that came out of their paycheck.  Or the two hour long “team meetings,” which never once gave me an iota of information increasing my sales.  I’ll return to the whole, “asking questions” thing, in the 3rd installment.  Remember it.  It’s important.

2)  The women are more far more damaged and disempowered..  They sell a fantasy of being insatiable and available and ready for you baby, having all the free time to fuck at will without a thought, when most are burdened with kids, bills, poorly behaved significant others, and the like.  The company emails were a daily deluge of “please pray for my daughter, who is in the hospital,” or “pray for me, I am having my gallbladder removed,” or “I went to the emergency room after my boyfriend found me unconscious, and I don’t know what’s wrong.”  The torrent of requests for prayers and the personal suffering flooding the email list were numbing, but not surprising.

Stop here if you can’t take a reality bite. Just stop.  Because you may not want to imagine the psychic tolls exacted on the mainstream sex worker.  Perhaps you don’t need to imagine that you must fake coming like “female bitch in heat” when a dog mounts and humps you, and some guy calls you a slut, a nasty little whore who needs to beg for it, baby, now beg you cunt, take it bitch, cum again, louder, louder you fucking bitch, you’re not being loud enough, and now I am going to cum all over your face — oh, and I, Julia, your narrator, I am being gentle here, really, trust me, because I recognize that it’s a hard graphic dose, and this is just a slice. Not all calls are so bad, many are much worse. But, as the company tells the girls, it’s only fantasy, and we are a marketing company, and none of this is real.  None of this is real, but as a woman thinks, so she becomes.  And the emails rolled on — let’s all pause and say a prayer for Nicole’s gallbladder, and Amanda’s daughter’s heart, they discovered a hole in it, and Stacy’s son’s autism is getting worse, tests on Monday.  Then there were emails reminding the women, “make sure to get an authorization before you talk to the guy,” and I was left shaking my head that anyone needed to be reminded to get an authorization for 20 dollars, of which they will see 5 dollars maximum, to listen to a man masturbate while having to pretend to cum like a bitch in heat, only louder.

None of this is real, or it is all connected.

Go team!

Amen.

(To be continued.)

 

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Reality Bites, Part I

If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with success unexpected in common hours. — Henry David Thoreau

 

This spring, I was forced to move from my writer’s loft, and get a new place.

I had only lived in my loft for six months, after selling or giving away nearly everything I owned (including my library, a beloved lifetime of learning reduced to two large boxes, now kept in storage), declaring bankruptcy pro se (i.e., without an attorney, a near insurmountable feat for the lay person), and moving to the middle of nowhere to write a story that needs to be told.

“It’s going to be my Joni Mitchell moment,” I told friends.  “Joni moved into the woods to write Blue, that’s what I am going to do. But it’s going to be a book.”  Honestly, I can’t bring myself to Google to see if that story is remotely tethered to a single shred of fact. Somehow, I came to believe that Joni Mitchell wrote Blue in a cabin in the woods, so I should do similar, for the book.  Why, I don’t know.

That’s my story. It’s not the facts that matter to me.  It doesn’t matter if it was Joni Mitchell, or Gabriel García Márquez writing nonstop in his basement for a year (100 Years of Solitude took less than a year to write, an unprecedented creative act for the work’s sheer volume and scope, as his wife sold off their furniture to pay the bills, and buy his cigarettes), or J. K. Rowling on the dole, in a coffee shop letting the magic pour through her.  Hundreds if not thousands of anecdotes exist about writers, artists, musicians, those who were set on fire, who did what they had to do, for whatever the reasons they had to do it, dancing to a music that others could not hear.

However, rather than having my Blue moment, I was moving, yet again.   Before I uprooted myself from my digs and singularly insular life in Cambridge, my landlord had agreed to no less than a year lease, my giving way to her request for a three month written “trial period,” with the year lease to be signed after the trial ended, because she was elderly, and persistently expressed a deep fear of someone coming in and ruining her home.  Then, conveniently, or karmically, there are no accidents, after my life overhaul, and before we signed the actual year lease, she decided that she needed to retire two years earlier than planned, fearing for her health, or some such thing. At the end of the three months, and before signing the year lease, she suddenly needed to move to Florida to a retirement home.  At 67 years old.

Deep fear.  That should have been a warning.

Without much further sympathy for her fears, I let her dig her far too early coffin, deciding that the legalities about her decision were irrelevant and not worth fighting over.

I learned a great deal; I was to learn more.

Because I had placed myself in the middle of nowhere, in the center of the pine and woodland studded northeast, without transportation. There is no economy in these parts, simply acres and acres of freedom and woodlands.  Views of flora and fauna are great, but not really where one goes to “get a job.”  All I could do was ask, “where do I go, and what do I do, next,” and refuse to undermine myself with my internalized Mother’s voice scolding me for hubris and foolishness.

After a month of creative reinterpretation, a.k.a. “problem solving,” and nixing the idea of relocating yet again, I decided to stay in this area, though my cost of living would go up 100 percent, that without even thinking about car payments.

I called a few friends, who graciously helped with my relocating expenses.  The care shown me was so brilliantly beautiful, their no questions asked generosity still overshadows all the pain I felt as I picked up the phone and said, “please, can you?”

Should anyone ask, this is what living a dream probably means for most of the blurry eyed: An idea.  Or two.  Or three.  A story.  No car.  No viable income on the horizon.  Pushing through the anxiety of sleepless nights.  Finding reserves that you didn’t know you had.  Asking for help.  Knowing that you’ve not yet even started.  (Agent, what agent?  Proposal, eh, you mean the outline, right?)  Problem solving.  For this woman, living the dream also meant a phone and work experience.

Because, to pay the bills and write, I bit the bullet, googled, and found a company that would hire me for the raunchiest and most denigrating of calls, something I’ve not had to do in almost 15 years, having been spoiled by an elite clientele in my now bankrupt business.  Fifteen years of busting my backside, setting my own rules, usually serving those in a six-plus figure income bracket, completing graduate school, and I returned to square one by turning two-bit phone tricks with some of our most vulnerable for some of our least desirable, at less than minimum wage.

Living the dream, indeed.

(To be continued.)

 

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