Thursday, May 21, 2009
telling encounters with clients, IV drug use, class assumptions,good ole hypocrisy, hobbyists, & a blast from the past
Watch this space for a post on how drug use is negatively associated with street workers, inspired by an encounter I had with a client, a jittery, nerdy Asian accountant who liked to hear himself talk, who said he wouldn't go near a street worker b/c of the needles who then went on to tell me, without any consciousness of the irony, about all the Adderal and coke he snorted and all the Valium and Adderal (amphetamines) his doctor brother overprescribed him.
I asked, "Don't you think escorts might have drug habits too?"
And he said, "Not needles!"
I nodded and smiled--obviously he didn't know track marks when he saw them.
Then he went on paternalistically about how he "saved" his best friend,a woman,from heroin addiction,by paying for her treatment. (Not that this isn't great if she wanted to get rid of her physical addiction. But the way he put it--oh, Superman!)
This was far from the first time I've had an encounter like that with a client.
So it'll be about assumptions about drug use that are erroneous,based on class,
and how those assumptions are magnified when it comes to sex work. How the way upper middle class people's use of scheduled drugs is legitimized, and how upper middle cclass people--even if the are very sexually active, or use many addictive drugs themselves, assume that prostitutes, especially street prostitutes, and IV drug users are disease ridden, though both groups, especially the former, are usually more educated when it comes to harm reduction techniques like condoms and clean needles and works.
I also want to talk about the ideological ghetto heroin, esp. IV heroin, is put in when compared to all other drugs, its reputation as "the worst drug", when actually, it's relatively nontoxic and plagued by the many apocalyptic myths surrounding it. Especially when a legal drug like alcohol causes the most organ damage and long term health damage, and is the only drug firmly statistically correlated to violence, and both legally prescribed benzodiazipines and alcohol can cause death during withdrawal.
I am an IV heroin using sex worker. I get tested regularly, and have never used a dirty needle. I haven't had unsafe sex in ten years--not even an uncovered blowjob. There are many like me.
That was the other thing about this client-- he was a "hobbyist". For the non-sex workers among us, a hobbyist is a man whose avocation is to see many escorts and go online to sites like The Erotic Review and Big Doggie and review their encounters with them. Some escorts do value the reviews, because when they get good reviews, they can refer prospective clients to them. But in some big city escort scenes, reviews can make you or break you, and so can these sites in general. That means you have to spend more time on your job, unpaid, interacting with clients and prospective clients on these sites, pretending you just happen to like spending your online social time with them. Also, some manipulative hobbyists use the fact that reviews are so vital to the workers they call "providers" that they pressure them to do unsafe acts or acts they're uncomfortable with under the threat of bad reviews. I'm not partial to hobbyists, and very rarely encounter them--they tend to cluster in bigger cities. In fact, I think this was the second time I encountered someone who identified that way. (Though in a way I do admire someone who can own being a person who unashamedly buys sexual services.)
So it was with this guy. He wanted me to do a bbbj, in their parlance--a "bareback blowjob." Keep in mind I haven't performed fellatio without a condom for seven or eight years. "My brother's a doctor, an epdiemologist, he says it's fine." "I'll stick with my own research, thanks." Then he offered to show me his clean bill of health--but all his test results mentioned were HIV and Hep C, which weren't even the STDs I'd be worried about catching from giving uncovered head! What about HERPES, I asked. He didn't get it. The clear light of ignorance and total self-assurance and certainty shone in his eyes. To be fair, he wasn't all bad. I randomly mentioned I was having trouble sleeping, and he just *gave* me a bunch of his nepotistically prescribed Valium and Soma.
Anyway, I've learned to keep my mouth shut around clients like this when it comes to the topics of needles and sex work, drugs and sex work, etc. But I didn't always know best. Here's an old livejournal piece from a few years back about confronting these prejudices during a call (a caveat--I was really burned out then, and not so much from the job as other circumstances in my life--I feel *much* better about my clients now, enjoy interacting with them):
It happens more and more often these days. He tells me on the phone that he's seen me, he gives me the details he couldn't possibly know otherwise--my parents from Russia, the blue birthmark on my left breast.
And I think, it's just the monotony of male voices--they fall into a few
subspecies, the duuuuh-ed out cokehead drunk Valley boy voice, the salt-of-the-earth-honest-man blue collar guy, the refined and pretentious professional--they fall into a few subcategories, these staticky bassos and baritones, but that's about it. I think, it's the monotony of white male names, the monosyllables--Kyle Dave John Chris Tod Tom Pete Jake. But as soon as he walks through the door, I think, I am fervently certain---as soon as he walks through the door--*I never forget a face*, another tired phrase, but it has to be true, it has to be true. I see him b/c he's seen me--I'm leery these days, I've been arrested once, and that was enough, and I
only had my stupidity to blame. The frisson is gone, the adventure gone, any motivation for risk taking gone. It's just a living and I'm just doing security. It's so fucking normal and that's what would be most shocking
to everyone, maybe.He walks through the door and I draw a blank. Can't tell him, he'd be insulted, he doesn't want to think about all the men I've slept with just like him and how hard it is to keep track, though maintaining the lie is
so irritating b/c what does he think? He thinks I materialize in this air conditioned motel room purely for his pleasure, and so it should be, so,"Oh, I remember *you*," I smile and say.
But it scares me, it's as if they're interchangeable. It's so sordid sordid sordid just like everybody thinks, and I sound almost self-pitying, just like they think I really should be. I'm not, not at all. I love being sex embodied without even being turned on. I love being the most beautiful woman in the world for that one hour. I love the performance art, I love the anonymity. I love the world beginning again in the confines of that room populated only by two strangers. And besides, go too far over to the other extreme, away from interchangeability to the human service worker with a big fat load of concern and understanding for each and every client and it just boils down to that heart of gold bullshit anyway.
But I'm so sick of thinking of what everybody thinks. Image and image and image. I *must* be the political posterchild, not the sad stereotype, I must. I must be a perfectly wholesome all American girl who just happens to have sex for money. The movement depends on it, right? All the other callgirls were so angry at me when I started doing heroin. It wasn't just concern--I was giving them a bad name. Not that most of my regulars knew.They couldn't; I have bills to pay. But last week, at 7:30 PM on a Wednesday night, with some man in publishing who was en route from New York back to Vermont, I got my revenge.
Putting on his clothes while I wipe up the results of my pleading with him breathily to come all over my tits--they think it's something slutty and
fantastic, but it's all just about speed and safe sex. I have this down
to a science, to an art form--it's my art, after all. Our half hour almost up, we banter while I massage his back with an aloe lotion on clearance for a dollar at Walgreens(I ripped off the price tag.) He puts on his serious face for a second
and tries to compliment me in a way I've been insulted before, "You know,
your vocabulary is so impressive. I knew immediately you were different, just
talking on the phone with you."I think of Samuel Johnson as I always do, the dog standing on its hind legs, "not that it is done well but that it is done at all." A ho mustering some intelligence. He goes on: "Some of these girls...you get on the phone and you know immediately--gee, I'm supporting someone's crack habit."
I'll never see this man, this publisher from Vermont, again. Now that I have his $150 for his half hour in my purse, I have nothing to gain telling him what he wants to hear, If he'd been looking at my arms instead of my ass, he would have seen them--but they never do. I don't bother putting on makeup anymore b/c since I can't find the right shade of foundation, the weird orange cream only serves to highlight them. Methadone clinic this past year or not, this man needs to know something, and I need to show him. I turn my Jewish middle class face towards him. I bare my arms to the light and show him my track marks.
"How do you know you're not supporting my habit?"