A therapist today suggested that I write out a list of why my work is important to me. The premise for this suggestion was to appease the concerns and deepen the understanding of my work, and its place in my life, for someone important to me who was/is struggling with what I do (Tantric Massage Therapist & Healer). It also comes on the back of several experiences of sex worker prejudice I've recently encountered, both obvious and subtle and the difficulty I've realised there is in finding ongoing support networks and forums for those of us who do work directly with the body and sexuality. Supervision is important, but so is peer directed sharing and it's not easy to find it. Why is that?
Feeling despondent this evening after a tough day where I've really felt the fifty shades of sexworker phobia, I was blessed to find in my Facebook news feed this article by the very articulate Pamela Madsen. This went some way to restoring my faith that there is a tide of change, that people are willing to step out there, courageously, and light the way for this change to happen.
Joseph Kramer, the subject of the article, is a well known pioneer in the field of human sexuality, as are Betty Dodson, Annie Sprinkle, Barbara Carrelas and so many more teachers and truth seekers, sexual renegades and heart-touching healers and I salute them all. Sincerely I do, for they have helped me make sense of my life and my journey so far.
As a former escort and sex worker (I still identify as a sex worker though my work is now significantly different than it was back then), my life has followed a clear and distinct thread, that being a willing, and sometimes not so willing exploration of sexuality. I've experienced many different aspects of the sex industry; escort work, call girl, street sex worker, phone sex, I've played in fetish clubs. Tried many different types of relationship too; open, closed, vanilla, kinky, dysfunctional, co-dependent, independent and more. At around the age of 30, I met a man who was to become the father of two of my children and step father to my third. My explorations continued through that relationship by mutual consent.
That lovely man, with whom I still maintain a very treasured friendship and co-parenting role, knew all about my background pretty much as soon as we met, and it was he who first encouraged me to travel to the USA to a conference there which was to change my life. ICOP (International Conference on Prostitution) gave me a means with which to bridge my former sex work experiences with my life as it was post-sex work, and to connect with my sexual politics in general. I met so many fabulous women and men there who were to continue to influence me to this day, many of whom have become friends and ongoing contacts in the world of sexual freedom advocacy and sex worker rights campaigning. They are pretty inspirational people. They do really important work. Carol Leigh, I salute you! Too many to mention individually, I salute you all! I'm deeply honoured to be walking in the footsteps of such incredible innovators and such courageous spirits. Devoting your life to change, especially in the field of sexuality, is not always an easy choice, but it's a truly valuable one.
So, my work is important to me for several reasons, the first and foremost being that through my direct experience of so many aspects of sex work, I came to notice that there was something really missing in the arena of sex and the fulfilment of desire. I recognised as a post-forty year old sex worker, as opposed to a rather naive 18 year old one, that I could dialogue in different ways with my clients, who were now my peers rather than my significant elders. What I began to see was that there was something my clients were desperately seeking and not getting in their relationships (with themselves as much as the 'other') but the problem was that my own autonomy in work could not be fulfilled and therefore my creativity in my work was stunted. I was being sent on jobs I didn't want to go on, having to allow my boundaries to be defined by the agent, rather than my own judgment, by expectations of the set and setting over the desire to find something deeper and yet it was obvious my clients often wanted a deeper connection too. Don't get me wrong, this was far bigger than the "my wife doesn't understand me" syndrome, but reached out into the very evident need for intimacy, human connection and touch, a kind of 'I don't just want to fuck, I want to feel and be felt, hear and be heard, change and be changed' mentality. An opportunity was presenting itself to me, but I wasn't quite sure where to go with it.
As I'd now trained in massage, I began to see a way in, however it was only in discovering Tantra that I simultaneously experienced the marriage of the sensual, spiritual and sexual which finally gave me the voice I needed to step into my life work in a way that feels natural, powerful and healing for me. Tantra has allowed me to make perfect sense of my life, my own healing journey and my deep and ongoing commitment to sexual transformation and freedom. My work involves full body (including genital) contact, and that my friends, in 2012, would seem to still be a highly charged area that touches and triggers people's individual fears pretty deeply, and still sees the accusation "whore" being flung around as if the label 'whore' is a dirty word anyway! After years of working with agency for sex worker rights, I really object to the word whore, slut, slag, tart or any other such defamatory label being used as an insult. So what if you/I am...you've no right to judge. EVER. Slut shaming in 2012? Get over it!
So, after years of working under pseudonyms for fear of judgment, isolation, family rejection or suffering and more, I am now working under my own name and beginning the process of really starting to say to the world "this is who I am" and this is what I do. To me, a body, nakedness, truthful sexual expression and integrity are all such valid and soulful aspirations that I fail to see how what I do can remain so vilified. My experience of it is deeply healing, what I see, my friends, or rather my 'tribe' as I refer to my sexual pioneering 'family', are all doing such amazing work, and I fail to see how that can be wrong.
The World Health Organisation's definition of health is as follows:
"Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity"
In this spirit, I see health around me in the intention behind the work of these people whom I admire, and in my own intention that's really clear. My work is important to me because I believe that I am absolutely using my life experience to create healing opportunities for those who may be struggling to find their own 'health', and ultimately I cannot imagine doing anything less.
This post is dedicated to the memory of Robyn Few, founder of SWOP, USA and tireless advocate for sex worker's rights. Robyn will be sorely missed. R.I.P xx