“how would your clients feel if they knew…?”
I got a comment on a recent blog post, wondering how my clients would feel if they knew that I was drawing from our encounters for writing material. The tone of the comment felt slightly accusatory, as if in the commenter's mind the answer was quite obvious and also not very complimentary to me and my my ethics, as a writer and a phone sex operator.
I found myself feeling defensive, and ran this exchange by a couple of friends and a PSO colleague. I appreciated their reassurances, but the veiled accusation still stung, so I sat with it—am still sitting with it—to figure out why.
I like to think that maybe, if they heard how I talk about them, they would be okay. Maybe they'd be flattered that I even put that much energy into it, that I think about them after our calls are over, that I worry about them occasionally, that I enjoy our time together.
That's probably wishful thinking. But then, the question is purely rhetorical, about a situation that is so improbable as to be almost impossible. I don't attach names to stories. No one's anonymity is being breached. The truth is, most of the fantasies I deal with are NOT unique; they could be anyone out there. I sometimes include custom smut pieces in my Bang It Out collections, pieces that I wrote for one particular individual, to their tastes, and these customers KNOW that I might be sharing their smut with the world. How is that different?
Is it that I am an acknowledged performer/writer, as well as a sex worker? Does that automatically cast a shadow of suspicion over my motives going into any sexual encounter for money, that maybe I am doing this work just for the material? Believe me, if that was it, I would have enough material from just the first 12 months of phone work to publish—fiction and non-fiction—for life. Because a lot of my calls are repeats. Regulars. And even the ones that aren't regulars tend to fall into a certain well-defined set of categories. So if I were doing the phone work for "material", if I didn't like it for what it is, I wouldn't be doing it as long as I have. I would have been collecting "the material" a lot more assiduously, documenting it more thoroughly, and gotten the fuck out.
I started doing phone work because I was broke and desperate, started the Sidewalk Smut because I needed visibility at a festival. I keep doing the work because I like it, and I'm really fucking good at it. I strive with each phone call, each piece of abrupt erotica, to give my customers the best fantasy experience I can. And trust me: in the middle of those client interactions, I am not thinking about how well this will go over, what a great story this will make tomorrow on Facebook, how I need to remember this for the next book. No. I am hip-deep in the middle of someone else's sexy shit, trying to make it work for them.
I don't have time or bandwidth while I'm spinning out that story to make it pretty and social media-palatable, or to think about the deeper meaning or how it might make a good secondary narrative arc. That comes later, after I hang up, after I sign the smut and send it away. Assigning meaning comes when I take off the sex-work hat (I don't know what it is, but it's sexy) and put on the writer hat (not nearly as hot). Retroactively finding meaning and structure is one of the most important aspects of writing about real experiences, I think. But I do it AFTERWARD.
They say "write what you know". Even after nearly four years of doing phone work, two of sidewalk pornography, I certainly don't know everything, or really much of anything, in the grand scheme of things. BUT THIS IS WHAT I KNOW. This is my life, too, and I am walking along those ethical boundaries with every piece I write. Every writer and performer who deals with real life confronts this question at some point or another: how do I draw from my life when it happens to be seriously laden and interlaced with the lives of others?
My answer: Thoughtfully. Respectfully. Authentically. With love.
And that's the best I can do.