When I first met my partner, he thought of my body as more precious than I did. I told him sex work stories and he would get quiet and later angry, and I truly didn’t understand why. It wasn’t a I-can’t-believe-you-could-do-that-to-yourself high road moralism, it was a that-was-actually-you intimacy disruption. It’s a nuanced distinction, I agree, but an important one.
That era of our relationship – the time between when we met and I learned not to talk about past sexual encounters, professional or otherwise – was about six weeks. It has become mythologized to us now, retold and snowballed to represent particular things about me.
I stopped talking about sex work memories for the wrong reasons. The right reasons came later, over time, after the fact. I stopped because they were met with hostility and the reaction I wanted was – if we’re being truthful – sexy attention. It was my image on purpose, I was like a minstrel show. It never occurred to me that distanced, dangling sexuality was anything but attractive. I wanted him to think of me as a hooker because I thought it would make him want me. He’d think (I supposed), People paid 200 dollars an hour to be with her! Therefore she must be so hot/mysterious/desirable.
When he didn’t react the way I wanted, I was so ashamed. I was undesirable and disgusting; my trick wasn’t working. It had always worked! In this case it was having the opposite effect and I panicked. So I abandoned the conduit I had built and no longer recounted instances or images. We had long, tiresome fights about what sex work meant to me. I felt humiliated and silenced, defensive.
My therapist told me around this time that I had “a limited sense of self.” I planted images of myself as a coked up party girl or a lingerie-clad brothel worker in my man’s mind because that was my identity as a desirable person. But it conflicted with who he expected me to be, which was a real person.
This is all becoming too much like a repentant whore narrative. Everyone deludes themselves, presents their identity in ways they think will favorably meet expectations. But anyways my point was just that if it were me now back two years ago, I wouldn’t have conjured those images before him because it’s distancing to do so. And distanced sexuality is jarring, inauthentic. This is all reasonably new for me, and in some ways maybe I’ve just replaced one idea of sexy expectations with another. In any case, this sense of self feels better and more whole.