This essay first appeared in Cliterati on July 21st; I have modified it slightly to fit the format of this blog.
People, as the Doors song says, are strange. And one of the strangest of all the strange types of people in the world is the narcissist, the person who appears to be absolutely convinced that the entire universe revolves around him. Now, we all start out that way: as infants we are completely self-centered, but babies have the excuse of being not exactly brilliant by adult standards; they are simply unable to comprehend that there are a huge number of other beings with whom they must share the world. Of course, we expect this of babies; it’s only when they manage to make it to adulthood with this overinflated ego intact that problems arise. And though such people have an adverse affect on everyone around them, it seems exaggerated when those with whom they interact are sex workers.
Because the narcissist believes his own life to be more valuable than those of others, every fraction of that life – in other words, any given amount of time – is more valuable than an equal amount of anyone else’s time. What this means in practice is that the narcissist expects other people to be willing to invest as much time in interacting with him as he is in interacting with them; while it’s possible for them to waste his time, he cannot fathom that he might be wasting theirs. This effect is intensified when sex workers are involved for two reasons: One, because our time is what we sell, so lost time is lost money; and Two, because there seems to be a very common misconception that since clients come to us for pleasure, we must also be doing it for pleasure (hence the popular “whores are lazy” myth). Some men think there’s absolutely nothing wrong with calling an escort and trying to keep her on the phone as long as possible, or actually making an appointment and then not showing up (or not answering when she shows up), or taking every minute of the purchased time and then s-l-o-w-l-y washing up, getting dressed, etc so as to consume another twenty minutes or more. After all, she’s just a lazy hooker, right? She can’t possibly have anything else to do but entertain him for free, and the idea she might have another appointment never seems to enter his mind.
I honestly thought I had seen my last time-waster, but when I became an activist I discovered otherwise. Apparently, every last anonymous prohibitionist on the internet believes that I just lie about all day, looking at myself in the mirror and eating bonbons while my staff writes my blog; I therefore surely have unlimited time to refute all of his tinned arguments, look up links for him and restate the content of my entire professional oeuvre in convenient 140-character sound bites. As I told one such individual recently, I would take as much time with him as necessary if he were a legislator trying to push for decriminalization or a celebrity who planned to advocate it on national TV; I’m sure you won’t be surprised when I tell you that he was offended by the suggestion that he did not have the power to influence millions. Nor does the relative fame of his target make any difference to such a person; Laura Agustín recently wrote a post explaining that no, she couldn’t do students’ research for them, and (despite her stage name being practically a household word) Brooke Magnanti still gets people who are Terribly Offended when she won’t take time out from writing, travelling and public appearances to refute prohibitionist myths for the umpteenth time on Twitter (she recently shared this wonderfully snarky tool for adjusting the thinking of those who expect such hand-holding).
But as far as sex workers are concerned, the very worst and most dangerous narcissists are those who truly believe that their feelings take precedence over other people’s health, safety and income. These are, of course, the prohibitionists, people who believe that because they dislike sex work, nobody should be allowed to do it. They think that because they don’t like the idea that men can hire women for sex, cops should arrest men and harass women to discourage the practice; because they don’t like knowing lad’s mags exist, the whole industry should be shut down (no matter how many people lose their jobs); and because they feel uncomfortable hearing sex workers defend our choices, we cannot be allowed to speak. When narcissism is limited to foolish demands for attention, it’s merely amusing or annoying as the tantrum of a spoiled child might be. But when the narcissists use the machinery of government to impose their personal prejudices on others, it’s like giving that same spoiled child a loaded gun.