Last week, I briefly mentioned the don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy regarding the specifics of my profession I have with my boyfriend.
Daniel knows I’m a sex worker. When we started dating, I was taking a break from work but I made it very clear that my hiatus was not permanent and that I’d be returning to work in some capacity very soon. We’d been dating for about three months when I returned to sex work at Dolorous Delights, a popular fetish house in Chicago.
At first, I tried talking to Daniel about my work. I would explain the details of sessions to him, hoping he might feel more comfortable about my job. One of the first five questions people always ask me about fetish work is, “So, do you, like, have sex with your clients?”
Throughout my career the answer has moved between usually, sometimes, and no, depending on my relationship status at the time, but I always suspect most people don’t quite believe me when I say “no.” Because of this I overcompensated drastically. For the first month of my employment at Dolorous Delights I told Daniel about every session I had.
I mentioned last week that I’m not great at judging what people’s reactions are going to be. I’m also not great at figuring out when I’ve upset people who are close to me. It took me a month to figure out that maybe Daniel didn’t really like hearing about the things I did with clients. Sure, none of it was explicitly sexual, at least not to me, but it sure was to my clients and it became very clear to me after an unreasonable amount of time that Daniel was not exactly put at ease by my descriptions of what went on at work. So I stopped. Unless a story was very, very funny I didn’t tell it. The don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy was in full effect.
At first things went really well. Daniel didn’t have to hear about what I did, I didn’t have to feel like I was cornering him into awkward conversations, it was a win-win. It was only recently that I realized maybe our sudden, unspoken policy was not the best thing ever.
My work is important to me and Daniel is important to me, so it’s rough to not be able to mix the two. I wouldn’t quite say I feel rejected, but it’s hard to have such a huge part of my life that I can’t talk about.
I understand why Daniel is uncomfortable with my work–it is a tragic failing of most men that they want to own the women they love–but that doesn’t make it any easier. I mentioned last week that I’m fairly certain Daniel is always halfway expecting me to quit sex work. I don’t know for sure, part of the don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy is that we rarely, if ever discuss his feelings about my work. Every so often I open the floor a bit by saying something like, “Thank you for being so supportive about my work! Most guys wouldn’t do that.” Mostly, though, I don’t say anything and I certainly don’t go so far as to ask him exactly how he feels about dating me, a sex worker.
I’ll admit that some of my reluctance to ask him about his feelings has to do with my general reluctance to encounter strong displays of emotion, but most of it has to do with the fact that I’m not sure I really want to know.
If Daniel were to have his way, I would quit sex work. Or worse, if he were to tell me that he would like me to quit in the near future, I’d suddenly be forced to choose between my boyfriend and my work. I’ve said a bunch of times that if I’m ever forced to make the choice between work and a man, I’ll choose my work, but if isn’t as if I want to make that decision.
The don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy started out as a way to make Daniel more comfortable, but it has wound up causing a lot of distress and anxiety for me. I’m no longer sure how to strike a happy medium between healthy communication and necessary silence.
I worry about what will happen and how he’ll react if we’re still together when I’m not in my twenties anymore and I’m still a sex worker. I’m not using sex work as a means to an end; this is my career and it’s just as important to me as my writing. A lot of people write sex work off as a phase because well, “you can’t do this forever, you know,” and sure, I can’t do it forever, but I can do it for a lot longer than most people seem to think is possible.
I wonder constantly if by instituting a don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy I’ve shot myself in the foot. Strong relationships are based on open communication, but I’ve closed that door. I originally thought it was a win-win situation, but it isn’t and I honestly wonder if it’s possible to find one.
[NOTE: Chicago readers might be interested to know that Cathryn is speaking at the University of Chicago’s Sex Week in February. The tentative date is February 15th, but keep an eye on http://sexweekuchicago.com/ and like them on Facebook for updates about how to hear her talk about the “ho life.”]