I’m back again for one of my very sporadic postings. I’ve missed you guys – have you missed me?
A long while ago, I contributed to an article called #notyourrescueproject by Melbourne journalist Nu Tran. I thought you guys might be interested in the full transcript of my interview, excerpts of which were published in Archer Magazine, Australia’s journal of sexual diversity.
It was hard going writing it but reading it back it’s just as real as the day I went through all of these things. I hope it helps others who can relate. Give me a holla back if so, it always means the world to hear what you think.
What were your experiences as a sex worker and why were they damaging?
I went into stripping when I was 18. It was a fully nude lap dancing club. When I started I thought I was doing something very positive – I’d been reading a lot of Carole King, Annie Sprinkle, etc. I was in recovery from severe anorexia nervosa (hospitalised 5 times) and felt this was a way of connecting with an honouring my body rather than destroying it. I had also been raped when I was 16, and had left home as soon as I turned 18 with almost no money apart from my little sister’s savings ($600 – thank you!) to escape what had been a very unhappy living situation. In short, I was a disaster waiting to happen. I was grasping at whatever straws I could to try and put together a healthy self, and sex work was one of those things that I did to try and better my circumstances.
At first it seemed great – it was a quick hit of self esteem – WOW these people want me. Being worshipped is a wonderful feeling. I was validated, I was worth something, I was wanted. I felt like a goddess. It can be very addictive.
I also thought I was taking control – still deeply scarred by the experience of rape, I thought if I could control my sexuality, control what men could and couldn’t take, that that equalled recovery.
I felt powerful in a way, though looking back, feeling powerful while dependent on the other person’s mercy, and tips, for rent, seems an oxymoron.
I am really glad for people who have had positive experiences – truly. I think I was too vulnerable, and that even for a healthy person, it can be easy to get sucked into the addictiveness of the high of being wanted and the easy money.
I can’t put my finger on when it all started to go bad – I would say rather that my personality morphed over time. When I met my husband at the time I was still stripping, and he would say that I would come out of there completely blank looking, like a zombie. I felt wiped, and worn out, and I didn’t realise the extent of it at the time. I was dissociating during work – where things would happen to me, and it was like I was watching them from above, like when you hear people describe near death experiences – that. I became truly disconnected from my body. I was splitting off.
Some of the girls there said that sex like their boyfriends started to feel like work – and that’s not surprising, after spending 8 hours with your legs up in the air exposing your naked self in various positions simulating sex, then when you come to do the real thing, it feels like yet again another performance. I almost got the opposite effect – I became hypersexual – losing the boundary people have between fantasy and reality. I found it increasingly hard to operate in the ‘real’ world where I wasn’t supposed to grind on anyone’s lap and rub my bare tits in their face as soon as they showed an interest. Straddling 2 very different worlds.
To summarise I think it was most harmful in 2 ways:
1) I started to see myself as valuable to the extent I was sexual. I came to see myself more and more like just a walking pussy, that my sole worth was as a sexual being. One of the men that I knew from the club said he had to stop going because it was changing the way he saw women – like they were only for his pleasure. Inevitably, the customers’ views like that rubbed off on me and were internalised. In a way it was like Stockholm syndrome, in that I loved being sexual, loved being wanted, loved the power hit, and even in a way felt more enlightened or opened than other people. Looking back, I was deeply cut off from the rest of my self.
2) The non-consensual stuff that occurred in the club also served to further damage my views of men and my feelings of lacking autonomy. I am a small girl – easy for someone to pick up, pin down, move about as they please. Much as I tried to be in control, every day was like a series of mini-assaults – being fingered against my will, trying to pry off hands, mouths, and then eventually over a period of weeks, months, losing the will to fight and just relenting to some of the things that happened. The boundary of what was acceptable kept moving, the line being erased with each episode of micro- aggression against my bodily integrity. Being treated like my wishes don’t matter, my will is irrelevant… this was harmful to the core of my being. I had had my power stripped away from me before and here it was happening again, every day – putting my head in the mouth of the tiger. Not all people were bad – and if it had just been the good clients, who operate within the set boundaries of the relationship, then truly I feel it would have been a positive thing. Some people were respectful and lovely, this is not about them. Some people took liberties with me, just because I was there – as if because I had chosen this lifestyle, I had lost my right to say no.
How you got out of it?
I got out of it quickly, and almost on a whim – I had a lucky escape. I met my husband. He had never ever been to a sex worker or a strip club. When he found out about my career, he cried for me. We fell in love with each other quickly, and deeply, and are still happily together 10 years later. Did he want to save me? Sure. And looking back, I’m glad he did.
I continued stripping while dating him, and that was certainly challenging – the type of work was not at all suitable to having a monogamous relationship. As soon as we got married, I went back to the club for one last time, walked in, pulled all my stripper clothes, clear plastic shoes with the flashing lights, etc out of the locker and walked straight out.
Did we struggle for money – sure!! We had fuck all money for ages. I remember when I was stripping, we used to go out for fancy dinners all the time. I used to say that I never wanted to be poor.
Afterwards, we had so little we would eat ramen noodles for weeks on end. The very thing I had dreaded, and said I would never do – and you know what, we were so so happy, and in love. Money doesn’t equal empowerment or love or happiness.
I’m very lucky now that I have been able to build up a career. We moved away. I started fresh. I was able to work my way up. I started my ‘clean’ life with very little money and a very basic office job. I worked my tits off (haha) and have been promoted several times, and now we are doing well for money. I’ve done well based on my intellectual contributions and hard work, not my sexuality. We are buying a house – something I never dreamed we would be able to do. I have discovered my worth outside of being someone to be fucked/wanked over/touched etc.
What actions are you taking to recover from the life you led?
I still suffer from flashbacks of sexual assault. They affect me deeply physically and mentally – when I get sucked in, it feels like being trapped in a sauna with no air – like being in a hot cave that is filling up with water and I can’t breathe… It has harmed my view of men. I have no doubt that if I had stayed in that lifestyle I would have become a lesbian on principle – there was a general atmosphere of disdain for men in that club. I don’t think it was respectful to either gender.
I am still undergoing therapy – Dialectical Behaviour Therapy and Schema therapy to be precise. My therapist is brilliant. I am understanding how people who have been traumatised – such as those who have been raped, continue to replay the abuse scenario, even years afterwards. I wonder how much of my risk taking was my mind trying to heal from what had happened by replaying it and trying to correct it – like a criminal returning to the scene of the crime. Unfortunately each time, I opened my wounds more and deeper.
I am truly happy now. Still very damaged, still suffering from the after effects, but at last feeling more whole and healing.