Sex work, disability, and public discourse

A former client sent me a link today to an article in the Canberra Times about a (UK) woman struggling with the lack of sex life and the sexuality of her autistic son (hi S – thank you!). You can see the article here:

http://www.canberratimes.com.au/lifestyle/life-and-relationships/sex-and-relationships/i-learned-through-my-sons-autism-diagnosis-when-it-comes-to-sex-we-all-have-special-needs-20170426-gvssam.html

I’m extremely sympathetic to the family. Autism is not something that I would wish on any one, and I am sure that it presents a unique challenge when it comes to dating and relationships.

I was however disappointed by the language and tone of conservatism of the article (written by the young man’s mother). It was a sharp reminder that prejudice against my industry – despite being variously decriminalised (as in NSW and NZ) or legal (as in many other parts of Australia and the UK, where the author lives), the average person’s opinions seem to be stuck in the ’50s.

“Kerb-crawling to pick up a prostitute was definitely not on my to-do list after “Buy hummus, sort sock drawer, do Pilates”

Come on – it’s 2017, you do Pilates, and have raised an autistic child (and no doubt dealt with issues of discrimination and disability phobia for much of his life). Street sex work (not prostitution please – it’s a pejorative term) is mostly a thing of the (certainly in Australia, although it does still happen in the UK) past in this country. The Internet and mobile phones have seen to that – and sex work is safer and easier because of it.

“Our female friends were furious that we could even consider condoning prostitution. I tried to rationalise it by saying that I thought of a lady of the night more as a “sex care provider who is presenting herself as a commodity allotment within a business doctrine”. But it didn’t convince them.”

For everyone out there still stuck in a time warp, let me say it loud and clear: “sex work is work”. The author actually has it right here. Yes, sex workers (and we aren’t all women and we even work during the day) like me are people engaged in a business that isn’t a criminal enterprise – and seriously you need to check your moral outrage.

The irrational discrimination against both sex worker’s and the people who choose to see them is never more clear than when you are dealing with disability. There are people out there (male, female et al) who find it very, very hard, or impossible to have a safe, consensual sexual experience because of their disability. Yet these moral authorities of the community would deny the opportunity for disable people to ever experience something that these moral arbiters take for granted? Shame on them. I thought that we had evolved socially past that kind of behaviour.

Who are these faceless “female friends” – and why do they get to determine whether a 21 year old autistic man (or anyone else) gets to have sex and under what conditions?

“all my 50-something, divorced female friends are chewing holes in the furniture with sexual frustration”

Yet, I’m guessing that many of those same women would join in the condemnation described above. It’s dysfunctional and it hurts all sorts of people – especially those with disabilities – for no good reason at all. We really, really need to grow up.

As to the author’s dilemma, I am saddened that she, nor any of her friends with autistic children, ever thought to type the following into Google…

“sex for disabled persons UK”

If she had, she would have seen these links at the top of the search results…

There are many, many people out there in the world working hard to give disabled people access to the sexual experiences that the rest of us take for granted. Organisations like Touching Base here in Australia do a fantastic job of giving people with disabilities access to safe, consensual sex.

Despite all of the (often valid) criticism of western culture, lets not forget that our various societies have done many, many good things. I have heard it said that you can measure the worth of a society by how it treats its most vulnerable members. I am proud to say that I live in a society that is beginning to tackle and resolve the issues of sex and disability.

There is a long way to go, but just being able to say that in Australia, New Zealand, and the UK among others, that a disabled person can choose to engage the services of a sex worker like myself – that’s a huge victory for acceptance, respect, and compassion.

I wish Kathy Lette and her son well, and hope her book is a success, but I would also like to see her educate herself further if she is going to be a public figure in the discussion of sex work and disability. There is a lot riding on these discussions for a lot of very disadvantaged people.

John.

Why – some of – my clients need cash

You may have noticed this article in Fairfax media recently:

In summary: the government wants to get ride of $100 notes to stop people working for cash and not declaring their income.

When you add this statement to the Reserve Banks recent statement about wanting to eliminate cash altogether, I start to smell a rat / feel the thin edge of the wedge. I have a very real worry that we are taking the first step toward losing cash completely, or at the very least the higher denominations.

As someone who is regularly paid in cash – for good reasons – it’s a worrying development. Not because I want to hide my income – I don’t, I put it in the bank, claim deductions for business expenses and then pay tax on any profit.

It’s worrying for at least two reasons. First: people use cash to pay me because it’s anonymous. Second: it’s easy and instant. Lets unpack those points:

Anonymity: when you do something that is legal – decriminialised even – but still the subject of stigmatisation and social disapproval, then having the name my business pop up in your credit card or debit card statement can be a HUGE problem. We don’t live in a society where people’s choices – especially about their sexuality – are respected. So cash allows people, who don’t want to have to answer to others about their choices, to purchase my services in private.

And that’s not even considering the consequences of malicious hacking of personal and business data about your spending habits – or its sale by banks to third parties to use in their marketing – just sit and consider the potential consequences of that for a moment. This kind of tracking and resale of purchase data has already had real world consequences.

Easy of use: our banking system is archaic – especially the electronic transfer system. It can literally take days for money to get from one bank to another. In short if you want to pay me electronically, then you need to do it in advance, in full – before you know if you even want my service. Cash on the other hand means that you can turn up to our date and decide that it’s not right for you and walk out the door. No harm, no foul, no trouble. But if you had to make an electronic payment in advance, then there is trouble, embarrassment, you have to give me bank details to make the refund, what about trust? What happens if something goes wrong?

If you can’t use cash, then paying for a service that is intensely personal and sensitive has another layer of stress and anxiety added to it.

In short, losing cash will hurt women’s ability to buy my services. To be sure, it will also be a problem for men as well, but men have significant advantages when it comes to social acceptance (or at least tolerance) of the things that they do compared to women.

Killing cash will make it harder for women to access legal services like mine. This is not a good thing for anyone.

John.

You have a right to expect a professional

It is a truism for me that change is the only constant in my industry. Every year brings new experiences and new groups of people seeking out the services of male escorts.

The most recent group I have met is women who have had several, or even many experiences with male escorts. This is new for me. Until recently, almost ever single client seeing me has never seen a male escort before. As such I have never really contemplated how I might stack up – so to speak. I honestly still don’t know, not in any objective sense.

What I have come to realise though is that my industry, which I love dearly is nowhere near as professional as I had assumed.

When I started promoting myself seriously several years ago I bought with me the lessons that I had learned about customer service, professionalism, and business from my many years working in I.T. It was in fact one of the reasons that very early on I created my guarantee. Perhaps it was cheeky and a bit boastful to offer women “an orgasm or your money back”, but it was meant to make a point – that is: your pleasure and satisfaction is my number one concern, and if you aren’t happy, then I will give you your money back. In point of fact, if you aren’t happy, then I would feel bad taking your money.

This doesn’t seem to be the case in the wider industry and I was genuinely saddened to hear from several different people how seriously un-professional some male escorts can be.

It did though leave me even more committed to the notion of fairness in my service, so I would like to state again for the record – if you book a date with me (whether it’s an hour or a day), and are unhappy in any way with my service, then I would rather refund your money to you in part or full as you wish and have us part on good terms. My business is only as good as my reputation and taking a person’s money when they aren’t satisfied is a great way to ruin it.

If for whatever reason our date didn’t live up to your expectations, then I would like to think that you would feel comfortable to tell me that you are unhappy. And if I can’t fix the problem – whatever it is – then rest assured that I would offer you a refund.

It’s one of the great benefits of decriminalisation of sex work in NSW that our industry is all above board and legitimate. That does however mean that all providers are governed by the consumer protection laws of this state. You as my client have a right to expect a service that matches how I promote myself. And if you don’t get that, then you are legally entitled to ask for a refund.

I know that it’s not necessarily an easy thing to do, but I strongly encourage everyone who sees me, or any other escort, to require us to be professional and deliver on our commitments, because it seems that is not always what happens. Our services don’t come cheap – I am very aware of that – whether you see someone through an agency, or an independent worker like me, so you deserve to get good value and to have the experience that you were promised.

John.

Australian census and sex work

A lot of people have been talking about the census and the ABS’ decision to retain our names and addresses and to use them basically as they see fit to link to other information and databases.

It’s a privacy concern for everyone, but for me – and all other sex workers – it’s immediately worrying.

I just completed the census – and did so honestly.  But by doing so I have put myself at risk.  I stated that I am self employed, and that I am a sex worker providing companionship and sexual services for women.  And I had to put my name and address on that information.

By doing so I created a real risk that one day that data may be used against me in some way.

Living in NSW where sex work is legal, I have less reason to be concerned.  And Australia in general is fairly tolerant of sex work.  But we live in a time of creeping conservatism. Of governments and people becoming less tolerant and more judgmental.  And while today’s government may not care that I am a sex worker, what about next years?

And who knows in the future what data our government will share with other nations like the US in the name of chasing terrorists.  The US, where sex work is a matter of near hysterical fear.  Will my name end up on some TSA watch list in the US to prevent me entering the country?

This sort of thing may sound far fetched.  But really that’s the point.  We fight hard to win our freedoms, but just because we have them doesn’t mean that will always be the case.  So it’s important to think about all of the bad things that can come from giving our governments more power over us.

We were lucky this year, with the state government inquiry into the sex industry.  The government chose not to listen to the conservatives who hate sex work, the churches who hate sex, and the sex work antis who can’t or won’t believe that people can make informed choices about doing sex work.

Instead they listened to the voices of sex workers, scientists, police – and I expect the politicians and public servants who remember the bad old days when sex work was illegal and corruption was rife in the NSW police force because of it

My fear is that one day the census will become a treasure trove for a less benign government who sees a few votes in punishing sex workers, or excluding known sex workers from their country.

Paranoid?  Perhaps, but that is how we prevent overreach by our political class.

John.

Politics of the bra

As a man I will never need to worry about bras – proper fitting, discomfort, and – most of all – the politics of wearing or not wearing one. This article:

http://www.dailylife.com.au/news-and-views/dl-opinion/why-is-my-choice-not-to-wear-a-bra-still-taboo-20160304-gnawq5.html

Was a surprise to me, but I guess I have to say, not too much of a surprise. After all, we are all human and people will always find a reason to be uncomfortable with other individuals around them. It’s sad that when a woman chooses not to wear a bra (which is a medically sound decision) she will be subject to public critiscism, by other women.

Just reading this article highlighted the complexity of the way human psychology works. Most of us, most of the time, don’t make decisions that are rational. We are for the most part reflexive creatures. Acting on our instincts before we even realise it, then creating justifications to defend our actions.

We can see it in the people who attack sex work as an industry. They have a problem with commercial sex and they try to hide it behind rhetoric about “saving” sex workers. We can also see it in people who attack, or denigrate the idea of a woman seeing a sex worker. Most of my clients are very selective about who they tell that they have or are going to see a sex worker like me.

There is always the fear that friends and relatives will disapprove and they will suffer from social stigmatisation as a result. It’s a very difficult situation.

In the years that I have been working in this industry I have seen it change – a lot. A big part of that change has been because of positive media attention, in this country. Articles published a few years ago about women buying sex transformed many people’s views. As a result, the industry grew significantly and many women started thinking about and making choices about their sex life that included being able to pay for sex and have it on their terms.

Women are choosing the see sex workers like me to have sex for the first time, to rediscover their bodies and their sexuality, to fill a need that the pressures of life and work prevent them from doing in traditional relationships – or just because they want to!

At the end of the day we can find all of the good reasons under the sun as to why a woman should be able to choose to pay a sex worker for their time and skills, but much like choosing to wear a bra, or not, it should be her choice, free of stigma. Free of judgment. And supported as her right.

John.

Things you don’t know about maths and sex work

My recent interest in mathematics lead me to this website: http://betterexplained.com and also to the mailing list that the owner Kalid Azad runs.

His most recent email titled The Simple Intuition Behind Counting, is a cracker. I won’t try to explain it, but take a moment, go to the site, have a look at the archive. It really is eye opening to have your fundamental ideas about the things that you “know” challenged.

To this end I want to mention another occasion where I had my beliefs altered by evidence. That was in the debate surrounding sex work. I used to believe that regulation (meaning licensing) of brothels was a good things, while private worker should be decriminalised fully (meaning no regulation, no licensing etc).

It was a naive view that came from a lack of education, even if I thought that it was reasonable. Continue reading

Double standards and #MasculinitySoFragile

I tend to avoid the parts of the Internet where men (and women) say dumb things like “oh she’s hot, but you wouldn’t want to marry someone who gives it away like that” alongside a photograph of a random sexy selfie.

Today however that part of the net popped into my life in a rather nice way in the form of this thread (below) on Twitter. It’s a great piece of social commentary on the way that women, expressing their sexuality, and enjoying and celebrating their bodies are shamed, while men who do the same thing are either ignored, or lauded for it.

It’s a pretty nasty double standard, and one that has been exposed to the cold hard light of day by Twitter user Hetero Meg. The thread is long with a range of photos and comments that mercilessly mock the very real misogyny that so many women experience from day to day.

hetro-megI am lucky to be living and working in a time where women are being given more freedom in society – enough freedom in fact that some, feeling the need for intimacy and pleasure in their lives that men can’t or wont give them will reach out and book a date with me or another sex worker.

Not that it’s easy for women mind you. When men visit brothels, strip clubs, or escorts it’s ignored, or even lauded. But most women coming to me are very, very keenly aware of the approbation that would rain down on them if friends or family knew. I am sure you can see the parallel here…

The response to this thread has been educational. Firstly, tears of laughter from the majority of the women in my Twitter feed, followed closely by the expected snarky comments, attacks on feminism, and general unpleasantness of a bunch of men who immediately respond to feeling threatened by what? Harassing the women who make them feel uncomfortable about their own behaviour. No wonder women are reluctant to tackle inequality, sexual harassment, and the host of other challenges that they face every day.

Anyone who thinks or says that feminism has achieved its goal and is no longer needed is wrong and I would suggest that they look a bit harder. Misogyny is all around us and it will only go away when the searing wit and voice of women like Hetero Meg calls it out and burns it down.

John.

Porn and same sex marriage

I don’t think that this will sway the “anti-porn” campaigners out there, but you never know. Those who also support same sex marriage are going to find themselves on the horns of a particularly uncomfortable dilemma.

A study, reported here has shown that men (especially with low levels of education) who watching porn regularly are more likely to support same sex marriage. That is undoubtedly a surprise to many people, but a welcome one.

The question of course is “why?”. There isn’t a good answer to it, but the authors surmise that men regularly exposed to porn are simply being given a broader education in sex and sexuality. Exposed to different kinds of sex (lesbian, gay, group, bi etc) these men appear to lose some of the prejudices that they might otherwise have held.

As I pointed out in my post titled Pawn Sacrifice last week, education is what lets us make better choices in our lives. Who would ever have guessed that mainstream porn would have fallen into that category of education? Certainly not me – I see most mainstream porn as boring though, not inherently bad.

So, hurrah for science, and discovering that a daily dose of porn is helping men accept the fact of same sex relationships!

John.

Pawn Sacrifice

I just watched the movie Pawn Sacrifice – a brief history of the life of chess grand master and world champion Bobby Fischer. It’s a lot less dry than one might think at first glance. Fischer was arguably the finest chess player ever, twice defeating the Russian grand master and world champion Boris Spassky. Fischer was also mentally unstable and increasingly paranoid. Something that would lead him to retire from public life and competitive chess at the age of 32.

It was strongly implied in the film that Fischer was used as a political tool by the US government against the Soviet Union in the middle of the cold war. The defeat of the best Russian chess players of the era by a boy from Brooklyn was a huge blow to Soviet pride I am sure.

Sadly for Fischer his mental health issues and antisemitism eventually bought him into conflict with his own government. His unofficial rematch with Spassky in 1992 lead to his US passport being canceled. Eventually Iceland offered Fischer asylum in 2005 and he died there in 2008.

The movie paints him as eccentric, irrational, paranoid, and truly a genius. It didn’t show the side of him that many people claim was kind and compassionate.

Earlier in the movie the comment is made that there are about 318 billion ways that the first four moves of any game can be played. That is a vast phase space to even try to consider, and it makes the game of chess effectively endlessly variable – to the average human mind like me anyway.

However, at the end of the movie, having beaten Spassky, Fischer makes the comment of chess:

“It’s almost all theory and memorisation. People think [that] there’s all these options, but there’s usually one right move. Of course in the end there’s no place to go”.

It’s unlikely that these are Fischer’s own words, but it’s a poignant moment and the artistic license seems fair. While there may be 318 billion options, most of them are to be ignored or dismissed outright, much reducing the phase space that a genius like Fischer would ever need to consider when playing.

At the end of the day, this is much life for the average person. We live in a world vastly more complex than an eight by eight board with 32 pieces on it. However the choices that we have available to us at any one time are always limited to a relatively small number of options. What our politicians and leaders do every day effects this range of options.

When a politician or a religious leader stands up in front of our nation and tells us that same sex marriage is unnatural and harmful (as they seem to be doing regularly in recent times), they reduce the possible phase space for a happy life for people who don’t identify as male or female and heterosexual. For many (especially young) people in the LGBTQI community they reduce it to nothing, leading to a life of bullying, harassment, exclusion, and for some, suicide.

Viewed from this (mathematical) perspective – an envelop of options or choices that can lead to happiness – “morality” as defined by our society and especially religion begins to look cruel and needlessly limiting.

Fischer perhaps saw a truth in the world. To defeat Spassky in the fourth game of the match in Iceland in 1972 (according to the movie), he took Spassky outside of the chess game phase space that his opponent expected him to play within (and had studied and knew). When he did that Spassky was lost and unable to respond effectively. And Fischer won.

When people tell us that enjoying our sexuality is wrong, or dirty, or bad they are limiting our opportunities for a happy life – limiting the phase space of our happiness and well being. When we fail to educate children properly about sex and sexuality and give them the chance to develop in a safe and non-judgmental environment, we are limiting their chances for a happy and fulfilling life.

I recently talked with someone who described how she has dealt with the subject of sex with her daughter who is almost a teenager. What I heard was the exact opposite of what most people seem to experience. That was a parent who never hid, or denied sex, who didn’t make a big deal out of it, but provided reliable information when her daughter was ready for and wanted to hear it. It was one of the best pieces of parenting I have ever come across.

In doing so I imagined the phase space representing the possible futures of that child opening up, blossoming, becoming richer with potential and pleasure and pruned of danger, of pain, of suffering – not entirely safe and secure of course, but she now has the tools and knowledge to avoid the worst pitfalls perhaps.

Nothing we do can keep children – or anyone – entirely from harm, but when we educate, when we put aside dogma and prejudice, we give people the opportunity to make better choices in their lives and allow them to avoid the bad ones.

John.

Pain and pleasure

Contrary to what the title might suggest, this isn’t a post about BDSM or Fifty Shades of Grey.

It’s about life and how we exist in the world as human beings, as social creatures. And how we experience a world where all too often the things that really matter are lost to the things that are expected of us.

I had an experience recently that was the catalyst for me writing this post. I have lived with “a bad back” since I was 15 years old and it’s been a problem that has gradually gotten worse over that time. Recently my GP recommended that I have a CT scan guided injection of cortisone in my lower back to help reduce inflammation and make me more mobile. I had never had such a thing and in spite of my innate mistrust of needles, I went to the radiology clinic and had the injection.

It was – to say the least – a profoundly traumatic experience. Very painful, downright scary really, but worst of all, it was an experience that was disconnected from the rest of humanity – and this compounded the unpleasantness significantly. The staff who performed the procedure were competent and perfectly nice, but the experience was exceptionally isolating physically and mentally. Laying on the bed of a CT scanner, unable to see anything, and not being told much of what was going on was hard. The accumulated effects of isolation and the very real pain of my back, the needle and the injection actually brought me to tears toward the end of the procedure.

The radiographer, seeing this (I assume), put her hand on my arm to comfort me. Until that point I didn’t really appreciate just how alone I felt. The simple action of a comforting hand on my arm was almost overwhelming. A visceral flood of emotion that nearly carried me away.

I believe that in that brief period I had an experience that is similar to that of many of the women who come to me. Deprived of touch, of human compassion, and living with emotional and sometimes physical isolation, it can be a profoundly moving experience to have someone do something as simple a be nice to you. It’s little wonder that like me, some people end up in tears when they come to see me – which is always, to my mind a sign of progress and a good thing, even if they may feel embarrassed.

Perhaps the first thing to note is that it is very, very difficult to understand another person’s pain, be it physical, or emotional. If you haven’t been there – and recently – you can only guess. We have evolved the ability to forget just how bad pain can be for good reason – remembering all of our pain vividly would be crippling.

But empathy combined with the shadow of our own experiences is a powerful social took. It allows us to value someone else’s suffering even if we can’t quantify it exactly ourselves. Unfortunately not everyone empathises well – witness much of modern politics.

Being on the receiving end of a lack of empathy, from wider society, friends and family, or a partner can be profoundly isolating and damaging. I see it too often in my work, but I do like the fact that I am in a position to give women a non-judgmental environment where they can be themselves without fear and start to take back their lives.

I’m likely to need more cortisone injections in the future, and I am most definitely profoundly grateful for what modern medicine can do for us. But I think that a little more attention paid to the human aspect of the treatment would have given a better result. Likewise, I would like to see our society spend less effort and time on the material and invest more of itself in the social and the compassionate.

John.