Cate is something of a renaissance sex worker and has held numerous interesting jobs in the adult industry. Each week, she shares her stories in Harlotry.
We all have needs. Abraham Maslow identified a whole hierarchy of them in 1943. Breathing, food, water, sex, sleep, shelter, employment, friends and family, among other things make it onto that famous list. What isn’t on the list, however, is honesty, though it’s just as important as most of the other needs listed. I’ve written about sex work and honesty before, both in the ways having a sex worker community gives us a place to be honest and when I wrote about the little lies we tell people to escape judgment.
I go through cycles of working very frequently, subsequently starting to burn out, then dialing things way, way back, and finally ramping up my schedule when the burnout decreases. What I’ve noticed is that the more I’m working, the more I require raw, honest spaces; the less access I have to those spaces, the more quickly I burn out. The sad truth is that there are a lot of aspects of my work that are dishonest. I dishonestly use a false name, I dishonestly pretend to be turned on by clients or activities that hold little appeal for me, I dishonestly portray myself as ecstatically happy even when I’m in the throes of severe depressive episodes.
A few weeks ago a new client told me that he enjoys paying sex workers because it is “the most honest interaction two people can have, you don’t have any reason to pretend you like me.” That client was so incredibly, enragingly wrong, I wanted to punch him in a violent, nonconsensual way.
In any service relationship, not least of all a relationship between a sex worker and a client, the exchange of money places a burden on the service worker to at least halfway pretend that they’d be providing the service whether or not they were being paid. A good waiter will pretend to genuinely care for the comfort of the people at his tables so as to get a superior tip, a good sex worker will pretend to genuinely want to suck, fuck, pinch, or poke her clients so as to encourage the client to return to her. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the waiter or the sex worker hates their job, it simply means they wouldn’t work for free.
A few weeks later, a client who had just seen me mentioned, as he was getting dressed, that he loves seeing me because I’m “so genuinely happy. So few people are happy these days.” I wanted to laugh. At this point in my life I’m about as far from “genuinely happy” as one can get. I’m horrifically depressed.