Friday, 25 January 2013
Good evening and greetings from Inverness where I am chilling out with a bowl of room service chilli (dreadful) and my magic wand (significantly less dreadful). I'm thinking back to the day I was awarded my degree all those years ago, it was all going so well. We lined up with our parents and collected our awards, after which we debunked to the local restaurant for lunch and yet more photographs.
At 4pm, our parents made their excuses and left and we regrouped for the party to end all parties. We deserved it, we had all spent the previous six weeks surviving on diet coke and Marlboro lights, trapped in our horrid student flats. By 10pm, it had all begun to fall apart. A couple of fledgling lawyers had wandered off in search of the elusive burger van, one had gone back to a very dodgy flat for a private party and still another had fallen into the canal, by Rathmines. As for me, I was in the residual party of survivors, up the back of the pub singing loudly and having a whale of a time.
Rather typically, my friend E had just found the true love of her life, again. She was quite literally inside his mouth and it was yours truly who was dispatched to go and rescue her. In huge heels and even bigger hair, I picked my way down the sodden and darkened steps to the basement bar, before bawling at her over the loud music - "COME ON, BACK TO MINE". She gave me that look, the one which says - "I'm this close to getting his phone number on the back of a ciggy packet, DO ONE", so I went to Plan B. There were some girls on the steps, dancing side ways up and down (show girl style) to New York, New York. Well, if you can't beat them, join them is what I say. Come the very end of the song and we were really going for it, the fact that I didn't actually know any of the other dancers was by the by, in Irishland, provided you're drunk and friendly, it really doesn't matter.
I went for the bottom step and missed it in spectacular fashion, my foot went over to one side and there was a loud 'snap'. I didn't actually hear that snap, but it was politely pointed out by a lady who was sitting at a table just adjacent to my not very comfortable landing pad. I laughed out loud, ankles don't just snap, right ? Having said that, when I got to my feet, that ankle flatly refused to take the weight of my body, resulting in my getting home through a variety of carrying techniques and hopping.
By the time we got to my flat, my ankle was rather swollen, but I was reliably informed that it was just sprained, so in true Irish fashion we got on with the night and commenced strip poker. Come 4am, my ankle was turning black, and the size of a football.
"I'm not being funny girls, but I really think I've done something awful here."
"Oh give over. Put some frozen peas on it. Well, mini pizza's then."
I woke up the next day in mortal agony. I literally couldn't get out of bed, any sudden movement at all went right through my foot and caused anything from a sharp intake of breath to a muted scream.
I did what every independent twenty something graduate does in times of trouble, I called my Dad.
"DADDY, I FELL".
He came to my rescue, and sat with me in the hospital whilst they manipulated my ankle back into place and plastered it up. Cue paternal loving frown.
"Look, you'll be all right. Just get up and get on with it".
This week, I've had the week from hell in a lot of respects. I had some bad news which quite literally took my breath away, it was like a punch to the stomach. Although I'm entering a really exciting phase involving a lot of media and a total change in direction, that one phone call really took the wind out of my sails. So, I did the one thing a thirty something mother at the base of a new career and in a crisis should do, I called my Dad. Cue paternal loving frown.
"Look, you'll be all right. Head up and keep smiling. Go get 'em."
Sunday, 20 January 2013
This weekend sees the launch of The Sessions, a film which is creating quite a stir in the media. Starring Helen Hunt and John Hawkes, The Sessions explores the relationship between a late thirties virginal man and a professional sex surrogate. Sex with the disabled is surely one of the last remaining cinematic taboos. Indeed, this week has seen some fierce debates take place on This Morning and The Jeremy Vine Show amongst others. There are many with an opinion as to whether offering sexual services to the disabled is a 'good' thing - that they don't actually have any experience of their subject matter is as usual, no deterrent to arm chair critics.
Let's begin by exploring what I mean by 'disabled', that you may fully appreciate the challenges it can bring to a sex worker. In terms of physical disability, I meet clients who are amputees, wheelchair users, those who have had a stroke, varying levels of paralysis, not to mention the mind boggling range of machinery that can sometimes accompany those conditions. In my own journey as a sex worker, I have learned how to roll a client across a bed, how to use a hoist, how to help them in and out of a bath and of course what to do if it all goes wrong, in terms of first aid.
When I'm working with the physically disabled, it is absolutely key to treat my client in exactly the same way as I would the able bodied. That means, loudly remonstrating with them as to the state of their bedroom, remarking on their Kermit the frog boxer shorts and being completely matter of fact should an 'accident' happen (I won't go into further detail on that except to say that as a mother, colostomy bags don't even touch the sides of 'no way').
The second challenge is what I refer to as the 'Bedroom Krypton Factor', by which I mean that the rules of engagement may be somewhat hampered by my client's mobility or positioning, but there is always a way. Truly, you haven't lived until you've had to balance yourself by holding on to a hoist hook, whilst dressed as a nurse and in killer heels, it's quite an experience.
In terms of mental disabilities, the two main categories I meet are Autism and Asperger syndrome. As lifelong developmental conditions, the main issues that can and do arise are communication, interaction and anger. It is very difficult to have a conversation with a person who constantly interrupts or shouts, simply because they don't appreciate the parameters of socially acceptable behaviour. Similarly, it is hugely frustrating when a 'rage' develops, based on a misapprehension. I liken it to the situation when as a child, you are standing in the kitchen and your mother is shrieking at you - "I know you stole those sweets, you might as well admit it". You know you didn't do it, but she is beyond listening to reason and is in a dark rage. You offer evidence to show her that she's wrong, in the fervent hope that she'll suddenly relax and apologise profusely, but that doesn't happen. In the end, you end up in floods of tears, born out of sheer frustration, because nothing you can do is going to change the outcome.
The key skill here is to find a calm strength, to look the client in the eye and say - "I need you to step back from me, and when you are ready to have a rational discussion on the matter we will go from there. In the meantime I want you to think about how long you've known me and whether you think I could really be that person". Yes, it's hard, but I wouldn't change it for the world. Here's why.
I have a client who is confined to his torso, neck and head. His limbs are redundant and so in the beginning, our relationship was challenging because of his physical limitations but also because of the huge anger he had festering inside, at the bloody unfairness of it all. All of his friends were playing football and falling out of bars at the weekend, whilst he was confined to bed with a television and a laptop for company. For life.
It took approximately four sessions before we found the golden fleece, and when ever I think of that day I still get misty eyed. The look on his face was one of true gratitude and love, not the romantic starry eyed stuff but real love. When two people have a moment where they truly connect, that love. With tears streaming down his face, he snuggled me into his chest and whispered 'thank you', before gently kissing my forehead.
That's why I do what I do. The warm glow I felt that day spread from my very core, and I was still beaming several hours later.
Judge ye not, able bodied bigots, here is a quote from The Sessions. Father Brendan - "I have a feeling that God is going to give you a free pass on this one. Go for it."
Sunday, 13 January 2013
If there's one thing I have learned over the last twelve months it is simply this, haters come in all shapes and sizes and almost always when you least expect them.
Here's how I think haters should be handled, and it comes courtesy of Russell Brand. He interviewed some members of the notorious Westboro Baptist Church (link here) and in a nutshell, they spit hatred at him. They call him a fag, a pimp, tell him he's going to hell to burn for all eternity. Brand counters them with humour and with compassion, combined with his own solid beliefs on acceptance and diversity. He quietens the audience to allow them to speak because he's a clever man. He knows that given enough rope they will hang themselves in spectacular fashion, and they do. (If Gandhi is going to hell in a handcart, the rest of us are in big trouble, y'all.) I never thought I'd say this, but RESPECT to Russell Brand.
As sex workers, we have haters too - anti-sex work moral supremacists, radical feminists, those CEO's who are more concerned with funding than the welfare of women and some journalists. Overt haters are becoming more common, I'm thinking in particular of the woman who phoned in to a radio show I was doing and shrieked -
"HAVE YOU NO SHAME ?" In real terms though, the angrier they get the easier it is to kick them to the kerb because a simple "Err, no" was all that was required there. After all, why on earth would I be ashamed of consensual sex ?
In the end though, it doesn't matter who your haters are or why they're coming at you, the key thing is in how you handle them. Haters bait, it's what they do. The choice is simple, take that bait or walk away. This week I was watching the Twitter meltdown of Suzanne Moore and I was saddened to see such a dogfight break out. In some ways in the media, it's damned if you do and damned if you don't. Caitlin Moran has come under fire for allegedly blocking anyone on Twitter who disagrees with her whilst Suzanne Moore literally answered every hater and the debate heated up to the point where something had to give. It did. She left Twitter, and in a fiery temper.
Step forward, Julie Burchill. As a friend of Moore's, Burchill decided to come to the rescue and assist her in dealing with those dreadful trans bullies by err, bullying the trans community. If you think that 'bullying' is a strong term, I invite you to consider Burchill's use of the terms "a bunch of dicks in chicks' clothing" and "a bunch of bed wetters in bad wigs". There's a link to the piece here.
Such terminology, especially when espoused in a mainstream newspaper is not acceptable. Ever. Neither is using the pseudo-defence of a working class background as an entitlement to claim a special membership to feminism. My regular readers will know that I despise 'faux' or 'selective' feminism and in essence, that is precisely what this boils down to. Burchill seems to completely disregard intersectionality but more importantly, anyone who expresses an opinion in over two syllables.
While I do think it's good to fight your corner and also, to stand by a friend, do it with dignity - working class or not. Indeed, the last section of Burchill's piece deserves a mention as to me, it reads like a very thinly veiled threat.
"Trust me, you ain't seen nothing yet. You really won't like us when we're angry."
So why did Burchill's piece make me angry ? Well, as a sex worker I know what it is to be a part of a minority group and to have to fight for my rights and those of my colleagues. I'm also aware of a number of sex workers who were very deeply hurt by Burchill's comments. Finally, and this is key - Burchill has form. Yes, in the past she has been quoted as saying - "When the sex war is won prostitutes should be shot as collaborators for their terrible betrayal of all women". Raw hatred.
I think Julie Burchill owes the trans community a big apology, and at the time of writing, 90% of the readership of The Independent agree with me.
Saturday, 12 January 2013
Good evening and greetings from home where I am chilling out with Le Mog having finally finished my tax return. Officially, I'm not speaking to Boy Cat. I spent most of yesterday laboriously sorting my receipts into monthly piles only for one over excited cat in hot pursuit of a fly to jump up on my desk and knock the whole feckin' lot over. I wouldn't mind, but he's not even looking suitably contrite.
I'm not long back from Belfast, where I was finishing off the documentary for Channel 4 and it was an experience to say the least. It was very stressful, not because of the crew, they were fabulous, but because in between bouts of filming I had to jump into various outfits to meet clients. Although this is something I've become accustomed to on tour, it was a new level of manic. I know that the end result will be worth it though, and I hope to challenge perceptions on sex and disability.
On a break from filming I phoned home, as is my daily custom. La Princess was full of chat, everything from, 'I miss you', to 'Can I have a tenner to top up my phone?' I was waiting for the inevitable, and in time, it came. "Can I have a sleepover this weekend ?" GREAT.
For the uninitiated, 'sleepovers' run as follows - several very grateful parents drop their little darlings chez moi, and head off in the direction of the nearest off licence or dealer, the understanding being that they snap out of their temporary delicious psychosis and be on my doorstep by 1pm the next day.
The bemusing part of sleepovers is the solid belief in the participants, that what they are about to perpetrate has never been done before. Uh huh, because parents were born aged 30. So, it's -
Creeping to the kitchen to empty the contents - check.
Sub-dividing the group into two with bitchery, with one group ending up in the hallway at 2am, hotly debating the identity of the bigger bitch - check.
Antagonising the hamster, to the point where she squeals in temper, the defence offered being - "We didn't do anything, she was just sitting there" - check.
Antagonising the cat, to the point where he scratches, the defence being - "We didn't do anything, he was just sitting there" - check.
Freaking each other out with ghost stories until someone asks to come into my bed - check.
Ordinarily, I just throw in pizza, popcorn, several bags of sweeties and then shut the door, slinking off to my own boudoir with boy cat and a good book, but this weekend I have a new game plan just ready and waiting for the inevitable onslaught.
I'M GOING TO KILL THEM WITH TWITTER.
Normally, I throw open the door at 2am, 3.30am, and 3.35am and beseech, "Girls, please ! Keep it down, we have neighbours". As you can imagine, that approach is about as effective as putting a brake on a canoe, so the new plan is simply as follows - I'm going to befuddle them with all of the new delicious terminology I've learned on Twitter.
I envision the process as follows. Throw door open, and -
11pm. - "TROPE".
12.10am - "PATRIARCHY".
12.30am - "HELEN MIRREN".
12.45am - "NICK CLEGG HAS A GREEN ONESIE".
12.47am - "SUZANNE MOORE'S TRANSPHOBIC EXPLOSION".
I reckon, that by 1am they'll either be stunned into shocked silence or they'll have had me sectioned. Either way, blissful peace awaits.
Friday, 4 January 2013
See, here's the thing.
2012 was the year when I was called 'inspirational', 'c*nt' and everything in between. Each title made me laugh because for various different reasons, none of them are true. But let's look at 'brave'.
This morning I was contentedly munching my toast and gazing out the back window when I spied a black bird, who landed about six inches away from boy cat's face and puffed up her chest. My disgrace of a cat thought about his options for approximately one and a half seconds and beat a hasty retreat over the garden wall. He just doesn't get his place in the food chain or the 'hunter' thing. I'm quite glad really, because I don't fancy having to intervene should he suddenly down a brave pill.
My new vet deserves a mention, she's wonderful. Like yours truly, she's a perpetual student and a cat lady too. She tells me that black and white cats are notorious for internalising stress, they're well known for it. It is for this reason that they repeatedly get cystitis, inter alia. I was going to whinge about how I wish she'd told me that six years ago, but actually, it wouldn't have made a difference, my black and white genetic hotchpotch would still have come home with me.
I've not always been a cat person though, quite the contrary. Although I do love moggies, I was brought up with some rather large dogs, Dobermans to be precise. The reputation of animals is seldom deserved, cats have a bad name for being aloof and uncaring (they're not) and Dobermans have a bad name for being savage and unpredictable. They're not, it all depends on how you bring them up. Ours would lick you to death but on the other hand, defend the family to the death.
Many years ago and in a suburb of North London I had a 'friend' (more on him later) come and ask me to accompany him on an evening assignment, to view a car he was thinking of buying. Not a problem, especially since a chip butty was promised in return. Thinking about it, I have no idea why he wanted me to come with him, I mean what I know about cars you could quite comfortably write on the back of a butterfly's heel. I just know that my current car is black, shiny and fast. Also, it annoys the local boy racers so that's good enough for me.
We arrived at the car lot and it was like a scene from a very badly written horror script. Tall chain fences, a dark cold night, visible breath expulsions and a meek - 'Hello'? Bored already, I had wandered off and was busy looking at a Beetle, it reminded me of Herbie and all things seventies, I was transfixed. Right up until I heard the guttural and unmistakable growl of a very large and very cross Rottweiler. I didn't mind that as such, it was more the manly hands on my shoulders which made me mad. Yes, all six foot two of my male companion had grabbed me as a human shield against an advancing and salivating guard dog. Nice.
You know, one of the many advantages of working in the sex trade is the ability to think and act quickly. So, I elbowed my 'friend' to the rib cage, thus winding him and removing him from my body space. Crouching down, I made myself as small as I possibly could and extended my arm, wrist exposed and offered to the dog, to smell. The growling stopped and said dog came over and began to sniff me. I won't lie to you, those were very tense moments but you can never allow a dog to sense fear, they will react to it and go for you, rather like abolitionists.
In time, the car lot owner arrived, screeching around the corner.
"STEP BACK FROM THE DOG, HE'S .....oh".
He's what ? Trained in the art of mortal combat ? Hardly. 'Ronnie' was all four paws in the air enjoying a jolly good belly rub, whilst 'Reggie' was at his owner's heels, looking somewhat perplexed.
Readers, the moral of the story is simply this. Choose your friends carefully and secondly, it's not about bravery, it's about knowledge and experience.