But Stanley wasn’t the rest of the world. As far as I was concerned, he was better than all of them. When he fell into my life, I felt sure I must have done something wonderful to deserve him: I didn’t look for him, I had stopped looking for anyone. I knew his brother, and Stanley found me on that brother’s Myspace page and sent me a message because he thought I looked interesting. I suppose I did; my profile picture was of me with two purple eyeshadow black eyes holding a bottle of whiskey and screaming into the camera and my ‘about me’ section was written with the intention of repelling any potential friends or suitors. I’m sure that if I were to look back on that old profile now I would laugh at how young and childish I was, but there I was, the manic pixie dream girl who inhabits the imaginations of every sweet but deluded twenty one year old man-child looking for a woman to save his soul.
I confess I was very cruel to him when I responded to his first message. To be honest, the only reasons I replied at all were that I was bored and he used mostly correct grammar. Those of you who remember Myspace will remember that spelling out entire words and using both appropriate capitalization and actual punctuation marks were rare qualities to be prized and rewarded. Despite my cruelty, though, Stanley replied to me and we struck up a lively penpalship. Within a few months, we’d exchanged phone numbers and moved from internet friends to text message friends. Within a few weeks of that, we’d moved on to text message flirting. The careful work I had done to guard my heart was failing. Stanley was not like anyone I’d ever encountered and certainly nothing like his brother. He was an army infantryman, yet neither a flag-waver nor a Republican. He had been deployed to Iraq and presumably killed people there (though I thought it would be impolite to ask) yet he didn’t seem racked with guilt or PTSD. He was attractive, funny, and full of interesting opinions, but most importantly he was unfazed by my work.
Perhaps it was his experience in the military, or perhaps it was something else, but he knew the difference between life and work more intimately than any non-sex workers I’ve ever met and it was this ready acceptance of my work that (in part) made me fall in love with him. My work had become something more to me: it symbolized my stubbornness, my pride, and my rejection of conformity. By allowing me to provide for myself using nothing but my brain, my body, and an internet connection, it also symbolized self-sufficiency. By allowing me to set my own rules and rates, it symbolized my individuality and independence.
Symbols can be problematic, though, especially when their complex reality is masked by an a religious quality. Eventually the symbolism will crumble and the truth takes hold: while sex work was (and is) one representation of my pride, stubbornness, nonconformity and independence, it is not those things. Stanley’s acceptance of my profession was not the same as an acceptance of my more difficult characteristics, the very characteristics that contribute to our falling apart.