I was feeling angsty and sad one night over the weekend, ranting to New Boy about my issues with Old Boys. Poor sweet New Boy, he listens so patiently, even though he’s no doubt sick of hearing me bitch about this topic.
Like every other sex worker - whether they’ll talk about it openly or not - some of the people I’ve dated/fucked have treated me un-awesomely, to one degree or another, due to my occupation. Earlier this year, I was involved with two men who had argued that it could screw up their careers if it was found out that they were linked to the likes of me - as though I’m some kind of wanted Taliban operative who plays target practice with babies in my spare time. I think both of these guys were just using the work excuse as a bullshit cover for not have to deal with the risk of personal embarrassment over sleeping with a girl who takes her clothes off for money. (This sort of issue is not confined solely to sex workers; see Violet Blue blogging about her similar experiences as a sex writer here.)
I recently posted a half-serious ever-so-web-2.0 relationship/friendship definition on Twitter: “It only exists if it’s on the internet and indexable.” This year, I’ve gotten increasingly stubborn about the idea that I am done hooking up with anyone who makes a show out of the importance keeping things off-the-grid.
Part of me wants to declare that we sex workers should all stand up for ourselves and our dignity and stage a big boycott of dating/fucking people for free who are too cowardly to associate with sex workers outside of the bedroom. But, I realize that’s impractical for a lot of sex workers (such as the ones who are still in the closet themselves), and I’ll probably break my boycott someday anyway, since I’m lousy at dogmatism. But still - imagine if more sex workers did make that decision right now and stopped enabling people to reap the rewards of sleeping with sexually skilled partners, while refusing to “give back” by being our most intimate of allies. A partner who exhibits behaviors to let you know they are ashamed of you is inflicting a form of emotional abuse, plain and simple.
I’m a fairly public person who lives on the internet and blogs and Twitter. I am not saying I have no sense of privacy or discretion when it comes to my personal life and the wishes of my partners, but that’s a whole different matter than being curtly confronted about how I am not allowed to tell people that we’ve slept together.
The guy I refer to as Mr Personal Assistant had his employee relate to me that “his career is just too important right now”, and that “with the media all over him”, he just couldn’t be linked to a sex worker. I wanted to scream at him - had he had the nerve to actually tell me this himself - “Who the hell do you think you are? One article about you in Wired Magazine does not mean the media is ‘all over you’ like an insatiable swarm of tabloid paparazzi, eager to catch you in a headline-making sex scandal.” (For those of you know know who I’m talking about, you are no doubt laughing hysterically right now.)
While not a single photo ever existed of that asshole and I - whether on our iPhones or the cover of Us Weekly - it’s a different story with the long-term ex. He wasn’t a legendary douchebag like the other guy, but his more subtle behaviors still chipped away at me. We both love photography, and took plenty of photos of each other. When we went on vacation, for example, there were many “us in front of this thing” touristy images, candid glimpses we’d catch of each other, or just photos of us making silly faces at each other when we were bored. I knew, without needing reminding, that photos like these were not pieces of my life that I could upload to my Flickr account.
Being a sex worker has meant knowing exactly how many times I’ve appeared in publicly-viewable photos with a person I’ve dated/fucked. And that answer is often “zero”.
With the long-term ex, the one with a camera ever-present around his neck, I know where all six of his photos of me are. Two are at a conference, two are at a large party, and two are from our vacation. All of these photos imply that I’m just some person who happened to be in the same place, perhaps a casual acquaintance, or the back of the head of a tourist who obtusely wandered into the frame of his perfect shot. Never, ever, is there a photo of us together, and gods forbid, certainly not a photo that implies we were “involved”. If you’re someone who knew us, and looked at his prolific photo-taking, I would think it actually stands out that he has oodles of photos of all of his friends, including other women he’s been involved with, except for me. That still stings. (It reminds me of the scene in The Village where one character informs another that he knows a certain man is very attracted to her. She asks him how he could be so certain of that. The answer? ”Because he never touches you”.)
This summer, I’ve been trying to up my game on my “scare ‘em away plan" of sorting new potential mates. This weekend, I disclosed to New Boy that I had been testing him a bit. When we met, I liked him right away, so I immediately set about trying to seduce him - and, of course, see if he was going to be scared away.
On the first night we were getting to know each other, a friend took a photo of us together at a club, which I found in her Flickr stream. Throughout the coming weeks, I kept at it. I not only stood next to him in photos, I put my arm around him! I exhibited body language that suggested sexual attraction! And, New Boy passed this simple-but-vital test of mine with flying colors. He uploaded these photos alongside all his other photos, like there was something totally unremarkable and non-shameful that his friends, family, and coworkers would be able to see us together. This sounds trivial to civilians, but after my last year of problematic mating, it makes me feel stupidly warm and fuzzy. No one knows if or where things will progress with New Boy, but he’s certainly set the bar high for everyone who comes next, just by being sane and normal towards me, rather than acting like he’s an evangelical preacher cheating on his wife and I’m an underage gay hustler.
After the end of the conversation wherein I revealed my photo test to New Boy, I was curling up in bed, and texted him my closing thoughts for the night: “Thank you for treating me the way I think I deserve to be treated.”
And thanks to all the other slut-lovers and ho-lovers out there for simply acting like we areregular human beings, not plague-infected, career-ruining embarrassments. You all rule.