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This call hasn’t happened yet, but it will, unless my boss was right and the company can’t survive without me for longer than 24 hours. I think she’s wrong. I have plenty of empirical evidence that the company can in fact survive without me for upwards of four and a half months.
That was last summer, of course, and who knows, maybe business really has gotten worse. Maybe the downward slide continued, the one she has been talking about for years, and maybe my two weeks away, while I recovered from putting up a new play, were the last straw.
But let’s assume for the sake of jamming this article out before I collapse back onto the bed, let’s assume that the company is still there, and at some point tomorrow, my first day back on call since April 21, I will get my Call of the Day.
It’ll be my first call of that day, my first call back, after I answer the phone and chat awkwardly with my boss, who will have been cultivating for nearly two weeks her resentment of my daring to take time off, who will make a few digs at me that she laughs off as jokes, and then rattle off the caller’s details too quickly and get frustrated at me for not being able to keep up. For a few tight-lunged seconds I will panic, like, maybe I forgot how to do this, even though, again, I’ve come back after four and a half months. I won’t forget.
It’ll be just like riding a bike, one with a kinda uncomfortable seat that veers just enough to the right that I can’t ride it with no hands, but I’ll get back on it and go, oh yeah, I remember how to do this, but why didn’t I remember how uncomfortable this seat is? Oh, well, at least it’ll get me to where I need to go.
Maybe the Call of the Day will be Bilingual Papi. That’d be nice. That’s happened sometimes. I tell him the days that I’m coming back, and sometimes he remembers. German chocolate cake in my ass crack is not a bad way to start back up again. He’s getting a little demanding lately, getting back on his anxiety kick as we approach summer touring season and my lesser availability, but that’s understandable after nearly seven years together, he gets separation anxiety, which is kinda flattering because seriously, it wouldn’t be difficult to just buy some German chocolate cake at the grocery store and cue up some online buttsex porn.
Maybe it’ll be Extreme Top. He never remembers when I’m going to be away. He gets confused easily when it comes to my times on the lines. I think he needs to cut down on his casual drug use. Or ramp it up, so he forgets about me completely. His calls are good money, though…
More likely the Call of the Day will be with someone utterly forgettable, not a regular, someone whose card I need to dig out to remember what they like, and even then it’ll be blank, I didn’t even have enough to write down the first time they called me. It’ll be a blank Call of the Day, a cold call, when I have to start over from scratch, even though I can see from the calling history that he and I have talked a dozen times before, we won’t remember each other, though.
It’ll be a seven-minute call, or maybe 10 minutes, a phone sex 10 minutes, which means he finishes two and a half minutes early or two minutes late. He’s not in touch enough with his self-pleasure rhythms to know how long it’ll take, how to delay orgasm, or maybe he’s circumcised and has developed Death Grip to compensate, Death Grip and a sense of entitlement, make me come, bitch.
And I’ll do my best with his blank index card in front of me and his horny, aggressive awkwardness on the other end of the line, and my best will almost certainly be good enough, because I’m overqualified and he will not have very discriminating tastes.
When the call is done, I will hang up and note down the time, and then stare at my laptop screen for a few unseeing moments. I will be done with it, for the millionth time, and my heart will be so tender, for reasons that I can’t tell you or my callers about. And sitting there with my tender heart and my naked ambition and my reluctant acknowledgement of the socio-economic forces that are currently holding me in place…
I will let out a sigh and blink back the tears and get up and start another coffee. Calls of the Day, to me, have become less about excitement and more about making myself remember. There is more to my day than this.
I have no clever way of saying this today: become my patron over on Patreon.
Last night was the opening night of the showcase run of nerdfucker; not the premiere, but the preview, where my director and I get to see what it feels like doing the play for an actual audience in an actual theatre space, as opposed to doing it in my large but still nontheatrical living room for just him and the dish rack and the huge indifferent eye of the washing machine.
So, even though for publicity purposes the full-out premiere is at the Montreal Fringe Festival in a month and a half, the emotional truth is that last night was the premiere. Yes, I was nervous. For a couple of weeks I’ve been nervous. No, years. I meant to say years. I have been nervous about this play for a couple of years. It’s entirely possible that it took me this long to write because I was nervous about it, and it’s been really interesting, almost clinically so, to watch the different kinds of nerves develop.
For example, yesterday, when I was sitting outside of my flat having a cigarette 45 minutes before leaving for the theatre, I realized that I couldn’t feel the afternoon sun, even when I tried to focus on it. Huh, I thought with a sort of bemused detachment. That’s interesting. This must be an out-of-body moment.
I can catalogue my theatre terrors now.
The jumbled panic of mid-script line-learning. The stoic, chronic yet low-grade clicking of expenses adding up. The trembling awe of wondering if anything I do ever can live up to a really good show title. The cold looming shadow of growing older and staying poor in pursuit of my art.
These are all valid anxieties and fears; I say this as much for a needed self-affirmation as for any of you who are struggling with the same shit. But oh, Christ, I’ll be honest: some days I long for simpler fears, like the kind I had when I was getting ready to perform Phone Whore for the first time, in February 2010.
My first solo play, my first solo tour, hell, my first solo performance longer than 4 minutes and 35 seconds … it was all so new that I hadn’t learned to discern the differences in my feelings. Everything just coalesced into a giant leaden mass inside my chest: WHAT IF I CAN’T DO THIS?
The question was big, bold, and simple, like chunky words carved from cartoon blocks of stone and landing with a boom in a children’s TV program. And the answer was similarly simple: then I won’t do it anymore. I had nothing invested in it, if I couldn’t do it. I was just trying it out. I had no way of knowing until I did it. Empirical, simple, done.
Six years later, I know. I have many ways of knowing. I have my own experiences to draw from, five plays, three recurring events, countless gigs and media interviews and promo stunts… I can look at all of it and have a pretty good idea of what’s going down, what could go wrong, and what rough spots lie ahead. I know where I want to be, personally and professionally, in a year, five years, maybe even 20, and I have an increasingly clear idea of what it’s going to take to get there. I know how much posters cost to print in 50 cities around the world. I know what red flags to look for in co-producers. I know what the air in a theatre feels like when an audience is bored, and when it’s on the edge of its seat.
As my self-knowledge grows, so grows my taxonomy of terror. That sounds like a geek horror movie, but really, knowledge is power. It’s how I can have those moments like yesterday, when I couldn’t feel the sun on my skin, but managed to avoid a secondary freak-out of WHAT IS HAPPENING TO ME. Ah, I nod my head. This is another manifestation of nervous. And when my fingers could not stop shaking for the first half of last night’s show, I didn’t beat myself up for it. That’s where the stage fright is going, I thought, not my lungs but my fingers. Okay.
I don’t get any more scared than I was six years ago. I just get different kinds of scared. I’ve developed discernment, which helps me better sort out solutions and coping mechanisms. I’m not going to downplay it: some of the fears are seriously primal, survival-level shit, especially the stuff to do with money. But at least now I know what’s happening, I know what these feelings mean.
And breaking the fear down into its component parts changes the basic question from WHAT IF I CAN’T DO THIS to HOW CAN I DO THIS.
How can I do this? With support from people like you. Become a patron of mine over on Patreon.
This guy’s calls are a bit tricky, and only last week did I figure out why.
In terms of content, it’s smooth sailing, right out of the playbook, if there were one, but there isn’t, but sometimes there might as well be. With him I’m a dominant “she-male”—I have never yet been asked to be any other kind, in nearly 7 years on the phones—and he wants to taste everything that comes out of my body, all of it. Yes, even that. There are other details, and OF COURSE the obligatory pounding with my nine-inch fully functional cock, but it’s all pretty textbook material, rarely with any plot or through-line. Standard Tab A, Slots B and C.
But he wants the slots and tabs for a half-hour at a time, which is a long time to talk about the hydraulics of it, and even though there is nothing particular in his calls for me to hang onto, no additional characters or notable happenings or special birthday sex to turn our sessions into memorable sex soap opera, he expects me to recall details from two or three sessions ago as well as he does.
In other words, it’s a half-hour of unimaginative, if vigorous, sex that has WAY more charge for him than one might expect from mechanical fucking. But even so, I was not expecting what happened during our most recent call.
We chatted a bit at the beginning, e.g. “what are you wearing,” where he likes to hear some realistic outfit, and “what have you been up to,” where I am listening for any potential grist for his mill. We both confessed that we were recovering from illness, but I said, hey, erections are important, and he laughed. Especially mine, I added, and he laughed until he started coughing.
We got through the normal “ass, cock, balls, cock, ass, ass, COCK COCK COCK” sequence, and still had four or five minutes left in that half-hour package, when he said, “Hey, I wanted to ask you for one more thing, as part of the fantasy.”
I was a little taken aback, I mean, normally guys just don’t have it in them for a second round. Sure, I said, what is it?
“Can you tell me that you love me?”
- Just like that?
“Yeah, I’d just like to hear it.”
-[pause] I love you.
In real time, that pause felt like it went on forever, as my mind clicked over and I remembered other clients to whom I have said, I love you. I was trying to figure out why this time it felt so different.
“I love you” really doesn’t make it out of my mouth much at all during paid phone sex, except when the customer is saying it to me during the throes of orgasm, and clearly would like to hear the same from me during the throes of my “orgasm,” OR when it’s Bilingual Papi and there really is a blooming little relationship there of sorts, so it doesn’t feel wrong or unethical to say it, in either language. In both cases, “I love you” is part of the sex act, either the foreplay or the climax. It’s just words, I think to myself, for when they want to get tender in the middle of filth.
But with this guy, well… he asked for the words outside of a sexual context. He had already come. He wasn't saying it to me; he wanted me to say it to him. His request for an expression of love was a stand-alone thing, but something he perhaps needed as urgently as my dick, maybe more urgently, or else why did he hold onto it for so long? Why was he so embarrassed when he asked for me to say it? Why was I so initially hesitant to say it to him?
After I said “I love you” to the caller, I asked him, gently, if something was wrong. “Oh, I’ve just been so busy lately, and I’m recovering from the flu, and I just needed to be told that,” he said. “I miss having someone to say that to me.”
Ah, I said. That’s important, too.
"What are you wearing?"
I never had much patience for that standard phone-sex question. Without warning, it is awkward as fuck to provide narrative context for wearing anything around the house other than pajamas, jean skirt and a t-shirt, or just a robe and panties, but at least the panties are clean.
“What are you wearing?” is one of the most common questions to pop up in the first 30 seconds of a call. Doesn’t mean I’ve gotten over it, though. If the caller is someone I already have a card for, then I’ll know what I should be wearing; it’ll be right there on the card. But if it’s a new guy, I have no way of knowing what he wants me to say. A generic, lowest-common-denominator sexy is ridiculous, given the time of day, you know, hey, you reached me at home and I am just lying around in my black lace negligee and stilettos. I always want to say, but that doesn’t make sense. There's a continuity editor in my head, and she gives me a fucking headache.
So, I never had much patience for that question, but after seven years I now have none. What difference does it make what I tell you I’m wearing if you think 44B is bigger titties than a 36DDD, or if you’re just going to tell me to take it off within 30 seconds? How much detail do you even want? Why on earth would I be wearing a latex catsuit and seven-inch-high heels around the house on a Tuesday afternoon waiting for you personally, Mr. Subby McSub?
This question was never easy, and now I just bite my lip in irritation as I tiptoe carefully around the potential narrative tangles and sartorial slips. Fortunately for me, there are regulars like Mr. Softcore, whose attitude is basically the phone-sex equivalent of “you look so beautiful without all of that makeup on.”
With Mr. Softcore, and Bilingual Papi and a few of my other regulars, I have let myself relax. A little. They think I’ve completely let my hair down, so to speak, and they love it. “What are you wearing?” they ask. Nothing, I say, my voice carrying the suggestion of a sly wink, or, I haven’t gotten dressed yet, what would you like me to put on? (Usually to that last one, they’ll say, “don’t bother.”) With these same people I am comfortable answering the other common question—“what are you doing?”—with very simple and true commonplaces: baking, writing, lying on the bed looking at the internet.
Mr. Softcore frequently says, as these natural-core fans do, that he loves that I am “just myself” with him. These callers want to believe that I am not myself with everyone else on the line, that I am being fake with everyone except them, that my natural nakedness and real-life activities are precious gifts. They are, actually, because these callers are the only ones I half-trust with the half-truths. For example, most of my subs have not been impressed, shall we say, when I mention my cowboy boots and not the leatherette thigh-high boots. (They should actually be a lot more scared of the cowboy boots, I think, but I digress.)
In phone sex, the PSO can “be oneself” only within certain established parameters of selfhood. My pastimes have to fit into certain categories of behaviors that match an only somewhat expanded definition of sexy and appropriate. And I can “be myself” or “be natural” because I tell these regulars—and they believe it—that I am whatever their version of naturally beautiful is. Bilingual Papi thinks I have a big round butt; of course he’s fine with me wearing some crappy old shorts or whatever. The toe-sucking mommyfucker doesn’t blink about me always wearing the same green satin pajama top and nothing else, because my toes are always painted candy-apple red.
And Mr. Softcore, well, he has waxed lyrical, on numerous occasions, about my perfect breasts and my perfect pussy. It is important to him, my natural perfection. If the clothing or the image were important, as it is to other callers, then I would have to “go to the extra effort” of dreaming up some clothes to wear.
As it is, for Mr. Softcore I only have to conjure up my “natural beauty.” It seems effortless to him, but for me, it’s just another outfit.
You can get more of my natural beauty by becoming a patron of mine over on Patreon. So natural! So real! So ME.
(An earlier version of this article appeared in The Charlebois Post in June 2013. I've had about three more years to soak in it, and edited/expanded it accordingly.)
With the launch of Terrible Sex Tips, and the forthcoming premiere of nerdfucker, and the concomitant release of those half-naked promo shots, I have had to come to terms again with my body.
You would think this shouldn’t be such a big deal. Look at the nerdfucker photos that were already out; the naked segment in for | play; the sets I did five years ago for the Naked Comedy Showcase. Look what I wear out in public, for fucks’ sake. But if the truth be told, I mostly just sail through on bravado and get-‘er-done. I inhabit my body, I know what I can do with it; I don’t actually look at it. I hardly ever watch video of me.
This is fairly common among performers; it feels weird to juxtapose our experience of performing live with a captured moving image. What is that thing I do with my eyebrow? Why did I make that movement right there? Is that really the way my voice sounds? Playback through a machine is imperfect—charisma doesn’t record well—and visuals captured in the small box of a video frame are differently experienced than a live, sweaty actor on a stage.
But my own reflexive reluctance to look at myself comes from someplace deeper than just that disconnect between experience-in-the-flesh and technology. It’s from a lifetime of being a big girl. And even though I’ve been going for years seemingly indifferent to comments or heckles or slurs or stares of disbelief, I still feel them and it’s still hard. With the premiere of a show that turns out to have body issues tangled up in the plot line, along with a host of other difficult issues, those feelings are just going to keep up and up and up.
Sometimes I worry that, between being openly sexual and openly fat, I am spending an unsustainable amount of energy maintaining my psychological defenses. It’s challenging enough walking down the street—a one-woman slutwalk, my own personal body-acceptance rally—but when I sit down and think about what I’m doing out in the performance world, what I’m trying to do out there, it makes me a little dizzy.
I mean, let’s look at the state of the union. Most larger actresses get the best-friend or the jolly neighbor or the matronly restaurateur roles. Women are routinely badgered to lose weight to get parts; Margaret Cho is only the most outspoken about that horrifying situation, but I’ve heard of dozens of others. And women of all sizes get shoved under the media microscope and put on the covers of magazines with headline critiques of every inch of their bodies. As a late bloomer I realized a long time ago that I’m not going to get anywhere following the standard show-biz trajectories, to which I say “thank god”. That is no way to live.
It helps that I’m a writer as well as a performer. I’ve got things to say and conversations to start. So Fringe, right? That should be easy! Totally counter-cultural and down with whatever people bring, right?
Except no. The people who make up the Fringe is soaking in the same cultural values as larger society; we can’t help it. We can only decide how we respond to those values, examine them, express them to ourselves and to others, go along with them or strike out on our own path. Most people aren’t examining those values.
As a result, larger women tend to occupy the same tenuous real estate in Fringe land as they would in Hollywood, which is to say, not much and it’s kinda crappy. There is a dearth of female solo artists out here anyway, and fat female solo artists? Forget about it. Before I went to Edinburgh for the first time in 2013, I think the only other fat woman I’ve seen doing solo work was doing a fucking weight-loss show. Now I am friends with a couple of other Fringe fatties, but that’s it, and I don’t even know if they’d be cool with me calling them “fattie” in the first place, so whatever.
We select out, see. Women who are told that they aren’t attractive, certainly not attractive enough to be on stage, aren’t going to get as much support or reward in going for it. Fuck support, I’d settle for non-hostile. But the reviews talk about appearances, and the way some people look at me (“how dare she wear that short skirt? Doesn’t she realize how fat she is?”) feels the same whether I’m flyering a line-up or just walking down the street. Then there’s the occasional vitriol from an audience member, someone angry that I have the gall to talk about having a sex life, to be a performer, too, and be fat at the same time. I push it away, I laugh it off, or, you know, write stuff like this, but it still sucks, which is why I keep going. The reaction is the reason.
I didn’t start out in Fringe thinking that I was repping body acceptance in any way. In fact, when I began doing solo work after nearly a decade of doing fat-positive dance and community theatre, I felt as though I had deliberately dropped the torch. I still sometimes look back on that time and feel guilty about leaving it. But then I think about the people who have come up to me during my six years of touring who thank me for being so brave.
I’m not always sure whether they’re talking about saying the word cock or being naked in a theatre full of strangers, and frankly, it never seems like the right moment to ask them what exactly they are thanking me for. So I say “you’re welcome. I feel very strongly about doing this work,” which is true in either case. Sometimes when people tell me I’m being so brave, it can feel condescending, like, WHOA YOU ARE A FREAK. But sometimes I think they mean, “thank you for being someone who looks a little like me.” Or, "thank you for doing something that I wish I could, but can't right now."
I’ll say it: it takes an extraordinary exertion of will to persist as a performer who doesn’t fit in the box. We don’t get praise for it; survival is our reward. If I stopped to think about it too much, I might never perform publicly ever again. And there is more at stake than my own career, my own vision. It’s not just personal, it is TOTALLY political. My friend and colleague, the late Heather MacAllister, said it best: “Any time there is a fat person onstage as anything besides the butt of a joke, it's political.”
And any time I can look at myself in a video or photo, look at my own performing body and love it for every marvelous thing it can do… that is political, too.
Sex, body, politics, performing... it all comes together right here. Become a patron of mine over on Patreon and support the glorious convergence.