The Importance of Larry Flynt, Pt. II

Moses freed the Jews.  Lincoln freed the slaves.  I freed the neurotics.  

—  Larry Flynt

In Part I, I described my experiences while attending two “Women’s Studies” courses at Harvard, with a total of two men in both classes.  Only one man was actually registered, and he was an older student who had already left a successful law career and was working on a book.

I attempted to illustrate that women’s studies offers little to no cultural or professional currency for those who are career fast-tracking, also known as the “ghettoization” of women’s studies.

I then described the philosophical position of female  students — primarily undergraduates — who argued for a hand’s off approach to female genital mutilation out of deference to cultural difference, or some such intellectual good.  Their position was best understood as being the consequence of”socialization,” but their lack of empathy was disconcerting at best.

In conclusion, through dramatic if strained anecdotal leaps, I posited that most of our so-called sexual morality is actually economic, rooted in externalized authority, i.e., the status quo, that rarely sees through its own shortcomings, as it’s habituated and unconscious.   To this end, I concluded:

“Correlation may not be causation, but socialization usually hides behind truth’s intellectual respectability.  For this reason, the moral awareness diplomat argues against intervention for the lives and bodies of other women, because society’s truths keep her safe.  Her father, meanwhile, confesses to his phone whore his need to humiliate several types of women, mitigating the pain of his safe guarded domestic life.  The systemic violence lurks, in the father’s fantasy, in the daughter’s diplomacy.

If you will indulge the strained analogy, privileged father and surrogate daughter suggest the wholesale socialization of men and women, in a comprehensive system that is economic, not moral.”

Now to Larry, and why he is important.

Larry has said, “I exploit women like McDonald’s exploits hamburger,” (I think he means cows) and this assertion is the unvarnished, honest truth.  He doesn’t speak about how the world ought to be, or hide behind the ‘crinolines of respectability’ (Toni Morrison, Nobel lecture) where wholesale violence goes unchecked, invisibly under the radar, in social norms and comforting if empty language.  Unlike the female Harvard undergraduate that I portrayed, or her symbolic father who must cathartically humiliate and torture during paid sex to release the tensions caused by his unexamined status quo driven life, Larry shows us what this culture is made of, and it’s violent and it’s ugly and he lays it bare with brutal honesty.

I like Larry, for many reasons, his raw honesty being one.  He’s not socialized into what needs to be said to gain cultural capital.  He doesn’t give a damn, and has created an empire by not caring what anyone thinks: he takes our many hypocrisies to task with attention grabbing flamboyance and great business acumen, and doesn’t pretend to be doing anything other than what he does, i.e., capitalist exploitation of a consumer commodity, women.  Consequently, in the most base terms, he lays out what this culture is made of.  Unlike other mainstream sex for sale enterprises, Beyoncé, J-Lo, just about everything else bought and sold, or Hefner’s polished cultural posturing, Larry doesn’t pretty up his exploitation narrative with anesthetizing bull-shit about “the articles,” if you will indulge my own predilection for honest language.

He knows precisely what he does, and he owns it outright.

Larry has also said, “I love women, as do our readers, all of our readers.”

Of course, he means “men.”

Men who buy his magazine, in which women are exploited, because, according to him, sex has always been exploited, and will always be exploited.

He’s right.

Larry’s (or Hustler’s) biggest challenge these days is finding women who are still au naturel, because in the past decades, despite all the feminist dialogue about our right to be ourselves, women are going barer and barer, and it’s always been Hustler’s policy to have them be bushy and beautiful.  So while many of our well intentioned feminists ignore the rights of sex workers in their dialogue, trashing sex work as demeaning and horrible and oh the men who consume this stuff are just rotten to the core, they are more than happy to go on crusades against Larry, who has a hard time finding unshaved women to exploit, because feminism has been so effective in one of its presumed goals, having us not be made in man’s image, which is now defined by the Brazilian wax.

Gotta love irony.

Back to Larry.

Larry freely admits, yes, I exploit women.  Using one of the most egregious metaphors possible if one wants to be an effective agent provocateur and marketing master for a publication empire:  compare women to hamburgers.

Then he goes onto to say:  “I love women. [Hustler] readers love women.”

Exactly.  And I believe he does.

He loves them and he exploits them.  It’s called cognitive dissonance, a.k.a.,  neurosis.

This is the insanity of the world that we live in.

We’re living in cultural neurosis twenty-four seven, and buried under so many inconsequential narratives about crap that doesn’t matter, meaningless narrative piled upon meaningless narrative, most of us fail to recognize the depth and breadth of our personal neuroses, let alone the fabric of the neurotic meta-narratives governing our lives.

Stripped of pretense, Larry lays that neurosis bare, cuts straight to the heart of at least one aspect of our cultural cognitive dissonance.

Of course, knowing that you’re neurotic and actually fixing it are two different beasts.  But recognizing neurosis is the first step to freedom.

However, until we understand our own sexuality and its many complex layers, sex work and sex for sale will be with us, and we are simply arguing ideal worlds and caught in false dichotemies of right and wrong, good and bad, what might be versus grappling with what is, impeding our personal progress, and progress as a species.

More important, we’re ignoring the sex worker’s sacred and vital function, as it has been deeply buried under meaningless morality narratives about dignity, many of which are built on inglorious concepts of shame, vaguely comforting ideas about what is wholesome and good that issue from religion, cultural mores, or the violation of individuals who will not be consoled.

We’re also ignoring life’s most precious lesson, that to live is to be interdependent.  If left unchecked, that interdependence becomes exploitation, but exploitation can only take hold when the dignity of that work is stripped away under a sanitized notion of “the greater good.”  To deny the sex worker her or his dignity and needed role in society is itself a form of exploitation — it’s a way of buttressing a grossly self-righteous view of the world underneath the ‘crinolines of respectability’ that serve those who have, almost always at the expense of the have nots.

We possess dignity, not because of our religious beliefs, our moral position, our status, our livelihood, what we do or don’t do with our genitals, whether other people respect us or not, whether or not life has graced us with people and circumstances that treat us well: we possess dignity because we live, breathe, and occupy the planet with our one precious life.   It’s not the onus of the sex worker to garner their dignity through getting new work and creating a new life, it’s the onus of society to recognize the sex worker’s inherent human dignity through legal and economic rights.

If religion teaches us anything, it’s the redemptive power of love, and the only vital morality in religion’s pages is the dictate of love.

Love.  That’s it.

Or as Cornel West writes, “Justice is what love looks like in public.”

Of course, it’s getting to love that’s the big issue for most of us, one interaction at a time, one social reform movement at a time.

I’m going to invoke a flawed analogy.

As a human who has rarely eaten other animals since she was eleven years old, I consider myself a much better pro-life advocate than many of those I hear moralizing about the unborn child’s right to life.

I love animals.  I don’t eat them.

Similarly, because I embrace life, and actually do not consider that the being a woman carries in her body is simply a cluster of cells, but a potential human with a world of experiences that may be lived, the idea of abortion disturbs me.  If confronted with a healthy pregnancy, I doubt that I could deny life to another.  The unborn feels pain as early as two months into gestation, the heart beats, the nervous system feels the mother’s moods and feelings in an extraordinary symbiosis, and who that person will be already carries a spark deep inside, connected by a beautiful cord of cells and membranes and veins to a woman’s body.  “I need you” is the place we all start from, it’s our first life lesson, right there, between mother and her unborn.

When we sever the “I need you” life lesson and bury it under the socially respectable language of science and objectivity, we’ve lost something important in our world view, we’ve replaced the experience of vital connection with a scientifically skewed idea that too easily distances us from our first and perhaps most important life lesson — interdependency.

Fetus?  Not in my mind, nor for my understanding.

But that’s my choice, my world view.  It’s also not for me to shame those who must make a different choice, because their reasons are valid and true for them and their life circumstances.  Shame and blame aren’t my place or prerogative.

Because I choose a world where we all need each other for survival, and I respect difference.

At this juncture, I presumably still live in a democracy, and in the conundrum between the life that has already been realized, and the one which is still forming, the rights go to the woman carrying the unborn.

What I can do is support democracy, then make my voice heard,  and learn in the process.

My respect of interdependency and difference holds for the lives of nonhumans.

I can try to explain that I believe nonhuman animals have souls, they think, they feel, they learn, they protect, they fear, they make decisions, and they have a right to live without being exploited for something as frivolous as human consumption.

Larry’s easy use of the hamburger analogy speaks to yet another cultural malaise, our easy and unchecked exploitation of gentle creatures with a life to live.  Certainly, no animal deserves the kind of treatment that most of us are aware of by now.

We love animals, but we exploit them.

Cognitive dissonance.

A nonhuman life and a potential human life carry meaning for me and my world view.  But the world we live in is not ideal, it’s a world we’re working towards  A world in which animals are free to live without pain and suffering, and universal access to healthy reproductive choices exists unfettered, is taken advantage of, and every child grows up wanted, loved, cared for, free from war and poverty.

A world in which sex is no longer written in Madonna-Whore narratives, where economics welded to morality doesn’t dictate that swaths of women will be cared for, and others will be treated as human trash, working for slave wages.  Or pitied as victims.

Or whatever other narrative assumes that sex work is fundamentally “dirty” and therefore we have some neat little cognitive box to stick it into, because cultural neurosis keeps us hypnotized.

I would love a world in which all intimate relationships were written in love and understanding, and we could all find the partner of our dreams, a place where our egos had already gone through the necessary lessons needed during this lifetime, and we enjoyed complete and fulfilling intimacy with the partner(s) of our choice, because there was no mucking around in the complexities of life.

What we can do, until then, is learn the simple lesson of dignity, and have it be written deeply in our behaviors.

And law.  And public policy.

Of the three, a world where animals remain free from human selfishness, a world where babies are born into love and caring, and humans will give and get the intimacy that they need, it’s the last that I believe will be the final frontier of change.

Too many men and women benefit from the Madonna  –  Whore schism, and, unfortunately, many women who rabidly support women’s issues are smitten with an idea of dignity that belies how removed they are from the lives of those who are simply trying to support themselves.  To this writer, ideologues fail to understand that Larry Flynt does indeed love women, people love animals while chowing down their McDonald’s hamburger, all life is a precious gift that we need to affirm with a deep and circumspect reverence if we’re to embrace sustainable interdependence, and sex work is an economic issue waiting for its workers to be treated with legal dignity and respect, simply because they are humans, it’s their right.

No other reason needed.

 

More ruminations, and more on Larry’s importance, in Part III.

Brief Hiatus & Short Entry

I am taking a brief blog hiatus.

“On The Importance Of Larry Flynt”  (probably three parts) will return, soon.  It’s an important entry, but I am working on a couple of things that prevent me from lucidly flushing out the ideas.

I am also setting an intention: to juggle multiple projects at one time, including writing blog entries while hacking away at other projects.  Not this week, however.

****

Plato’s Symposium comes to mind this morning, so I offer the following.

It differs from most of Plato’s works, as it’s not a study in the Socratic method.  In the dialogues, Socrates usually engages a question and answer dialectic; in the Symposium, Plato credits a woman for Socrates’ ideas of love.  Not just a woman, but a priestess.  Not just a priestess, but a teacher of mysteries, i.e., a mystic.  What’s presented is essentially revelatory and authoritative.

In this all male gathering pontificating on love, desire, and eroticism, Plato introduces a woman mystic to give the final word on love — she is the teacher’s teacher.  Though Plato transcribes his teacher’s teaching to Athens’ most honorable citizens throughout his dialogues, in the Symposium, Socrates appears merely as Diotema’s student in love’s mysteries.

There’s an interesting tension in the work — the piece of literature that inspired me to major in philosophy.  I use the word “inspire,” deliberately, because it’s anathema in a discipline rife with logic and reason, and dialectical inquiry.  Yet, in this dialogue, Socrates learns from a woman priestess, who teaches him with a comic tenor that Plato usually casts  between Socrates and his students.  In the Symposium, Socrates emerges as the dumb and  fumbling student, and it’s Diotema who is given authoritative center stage.

This tension is huge for an Athenian audience.  By most accounts, Athenian democracy was much harsher on women than in other Greek states: women did not own property or vote.  That Plato vis-à-vis Socrates hands over this topic to a woman speaks volumes. Arguably, and I believe this is the work’s most important subtext, surreptitiously introduced, love’s nature and responsibilities are the most important questions that we’ll grapple with while we live: it’s from our understanding of love that our other personal and public inquires — intimate relations, normative values, ethics, morality, justice, social governing — issue from, and within which they must find their resolution.

The dialogue lays out the soul’s progression into love’s mysteries.  More important, it lays out Plato’s theory of forms, a cornerstone of Platonic philosophy.

Diotema, not Socrates, is the origin of origins for this theory.

In overly simple terms, the soul’s desire towards the beautiful proceeds as follows:

Physical beauty:  love of bodies as ends, pleasure, sex, marriage, domestic comfort, and material acquisition are portrayed as the most vulgar, these souls are living on the material plane.

Next, beauty of body and soul:  love of the spiritual, brings civilization into being, transcends carnality.  (Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116 comes to mind, “Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments, love is not love which alters when it alteration finds . . .”.)  This love still differentiates within knowledge, culture, society’s formal structures, however.

Finally, love of the beautiful and the good:  the love of wisdom.  True immortality through possession of the Forms, beyond all material considerations.  The ground of being, beyond being, “in the contemplation of beauty absolute; a beauty which if you once beheld, you would see not to be after the measure of gold, and garments, and fair boys and youths, whose presence now entrances you; and you and many a one would be content to live seeing them only and conversing with them without meat or drink, if that were possible-you only want to look at them and to be with them. But what if man had eyes to see the true beauty-the divine beauty, I mean, pure and dear and unalloyed, not clogged with the pollutions of mortality and all the colours and vanities of human life-thither looking, and holding converse with the true beauty simple and divine? Remember how in that communion only, beholding beauty with the eye of the mind, he will be enabled to bring forth, not images of beauty, but realities . . .” (Jowett translation).

This reality, or realities, exist beyond time and space, and, therefore, beyond opinions, ideas, judgements.  It’s beautiful and good in itself, not because we judge it so, but because it is.

The “I Am” behind appearances.

Centuries later, Nietzsche took Plato’s (i.e., Diotema’s) idea to task, and rightfully so.  Via Platonism and ad hoc political appropriation, the bifurcation of the spiritual and the material profoundly influenced Christianity and its correlative doctrinal morality.  Dogma in ideology, in religion, in thought becomes a waste product when one projects one’s own learned ideas of the good onto the world.  However, I would argue that the ground of being described by Diotema is beyond good and evil, to borrow Nietzsche’s phrase.

Precisely because it’s been freed of materiality, it’s beyond judgement.  Diotema’s soliloquy doesn’t resonate with the Christian morality that Nietzsche took issue with, but with the visions characterizing the quintessential mystical experience, for example, Meister Eckhart , St. Teresa of Ávila, Rumi, Hafiz, and on and on.

Our best mystics are frequently branded as heretics by orthodoxy for precisely this reason: they see beyond learned ideas of sacred and profane, good and evil, moral and immoral.

Diotema’s revelation possesses none of the dogma that Nietzsche takes issue with; rather, she describes that beyond time and space, beyond our restrictive limited imaginings. Here’s a twist:  despite Nietzsche’s objections, Diotema gives no answers.  Logic, reason, dialectic, have nothing to do with  life’s most pressing intellectual inquiries; it’s love’s vision that governs our undefined and uncertain course, while we experience this life, as we too briefly live it.

So I offer an alternative reading:  while Athens’ leaders sit around bantering about the basis of life and civilization, Plato simply describes Diotema telling Socrates “there are no answers, for those who see the beauty behind everything, in the moment that it presents itself.  Only love is real, all else is illusion.”

 

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing.  

There is a field.  I’ll meet you there.”  

—  Rumi  

 

On The Importance Of Larry Flynt, Part I

I exploit women like McDonald’s exploits hamburger.

— Larry Flynt

 

One term, before settling in to write my thesis, I took two women’s studies courses, “Feminist Ethics,” and “Women and Religion.”

Only one man registered for the “Feminist Ethics” course.  He was a teacher at an all girls school.  His undergraduate major was in philosophy.  He had a law degree, had been an attorney, left corporate law to teach, and was working on a Master of Theological Studies; he also wrote.  The short version — he was no longer career fast tracking, so he had the luxury of taking a “girl’s class.”  A young man who was a graduate student in philosophy also attended the course.  He audited.  Registering wasn’t a priority.

No men registered for the “Women and Religion” course.  When the prof went over the syllabus, the young men who were shopping during the first class walked out, one shook his head and mumbled something as he left.

Two “women’s studies” courses, two males in one class.

Yet I have been in “men’s studies” courses for most of my adult life.  Philosophy.  Literature.  The Study of Religion.  Art History.

Written by men, professionally studied and taught, mostly by men.  Yes, the status quo has shifted.  Still, my adult life has been intellectually dominated by what I’d like to call “men’s studies,” because it’s his-story writ in the intellectual disciplines, where one by necessity gains her cultural literacy and professional lexicon.  A woman professor in literature once told me that universities assume the “ghettoization of women’s studies” — the department is considered a polite dead end within the system.

I told friends, mostly men, during the throes of my graduate career, “I am so sick of being in men’s minds, I could scream.”  I was drowning, feeling as though I was literally living in men’s heads:  reading men’s writings, reading men writing about men (a.k.a. “scholarship”), writing about men’s writing, then writing about the men who write about men and their writing.  Then earning my living by listening to men’s stories, and subsequently getting into their heads.  No pun intended.

One of the requisite graduate seminars for Comparative Literature scholars was an intensive survey course in criticism.  Mostly European, white, and, of course, male.  About 35 or more critical perspectives that we were required to metabolize in order better understand theory, or some such thing.  Two women, two Americans, who were also the women, no African-Americans, no Latino/as, no Asians, no diversity.  When I pointed out the skew to my beloved and trusted mentor, who happened to be teaching the seminar that term, he gave me a blank stare, followed by a “probably not something you should bring up too often,” and a weak apology for the curriculum’s anachronisms.

This was the same trusted advisor who told me not to mention that I was an “erotic artist” on my Ph.D. applications.  He was the [male] professor.  I lacked courage.  I listened.  The failures were guaranteed.

The ironies are so loud, they deafen.  More on this, in time.

If you will, let’s return to my “women’s studies” course.

During a class discussion in “Women and Religion,” the subject of “female circumcision” came up.

“Female circumcision” seems to me a grievous misnomer.  One may persuasively argue that removing a male child’s foreskin is an undesirable and arcane practice.  But there’s a world of difference between hacking off a girl’s clitoris with a knife, a machete, a piece of sharpened stone, whatever might be available, and the surgical removal of the foreskin on an infant male.

The equivalent of “female circumcision” would be hacking off the underside of the glans, if not the glans itself.  The glans’ underside and the clitoris share the same nerve density and pleasure receptor function.  When a female is “circumcised” it’s rarely only the removal of her clitoral hood; usually, the entire clitoris is removed, often violently, and without sanitation.

I unapologetically prefer the term, “genital mutilation.”  Describe reality as it is.  “Circumcise” comes from the Latin circumcidere, “to cut around.”  Rarely is the clitoral hood cut around; rather, the practice exists to annihilate female pleasure, and protect the woman’s family from future shame.  To call it anything other than “genital mutilation” is sloppy, a disgusting if comforting politically correct nod.

So the topic of “female circumcision” and religious practices in nonwestern cultures came up.  To my astonishment, and I do mean astonishment, I heard sexually liberated and self-identified “feminists” support a [male] culture’s right to systemic violence.  Without blinking, I saw them build a consensus defending “female circumcision,” in deference to cultural respect and cooperative international relations.  There were a few hold outs, but most agreed it was imprudent and shameful for the economically privileged [read: western white male class system] to tell others what to think, what to do, and how to behave.  “It’s really arrogant of us,” one explained.

“Truth” is a trap for the confident.  I consider it slippery at best, but I recognize that the idea holds a permanent, meaningful location on most people’s mattering maps.

Meaning, that’s what matters.

The “truths” of these women eluded me.  They were simply living in reflexive socialized mores, established mental networks of right and wrong created by family and culture, Harvard’s so-called liberalism notwithstanding, while bantering an empty notion of respect, however meaningful.  To them.

But their truths and realities held little meaning for my life.  When one mentioned to me after class that she was training with her father to run a half-marathon, my mind flashed to a client, who had told me that he was training with his college aged daughter to run a half-marathon. I froze.

No, I didn’t believe my classmate was his daughter; but in that moment the insidious if subtle machinations and sweeping ramifications of socialization, sexual politics, and class, and how these invisible realities play day-in-day-out in our lives were epiphanic.  She could have been his daughter, and, in a perverse synchronicity, I could have been having a conversation with the child of a client who the week before revealed his marriage’s many intimate failings, before entertaining a fantasy with extraordinarily violent underpinnings.

Accident?  I think not.  Correlation may not be causation, but socialization usually hides behind truth’s intellectual respectability.  For this reason, the moral awareness diplomat argues against intervention for the lives and bodies of other women, because society’s truths keep her safe.  Her father, meanwhile, confesses to his phone whore his need to humiliate several types of women, mitigating the pain of his safe guarded domestic life.  The systemic violence lurks, in the father’s fantasy, in the daughter’s diplomacy.

If you will indulge the strained analogy, privileged father and surrogate daughter suggest the wholesale socialization of men and women, in a comprehensive system that is economic, not moral.

For this reason, male career fast trackers don’t enroll in annexed women studies courses; most professional capital is still achieved in the study of intellectual his-story; burgeoning women scholars defer to gendered political norms, e.g., “we can’t tell those [men] how to behave, it’s wrong.”

And I kissed my Ph.D. good-bye.

Not because I believe that sex for sale is wrong.  Far from it; I possess hubris because I believe that I  see behind other people’s “truths.”  I kissed my Ph.D. good-bye because in my own moral lapse, I accepted advice that the system couldn’t handle the vocation that has given my life meaning.  I understood the system’s hypocrisy, and I acknowledged that if I were to get a shot at its benefits, I needed to heed a man’s counsel.

Economics not morality dictated my decision.

What does all of this have to do with Larry Flynt?  I hope you’ll check back.

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.

 

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Thank you.

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.

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.

 

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

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.)

 

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.)