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Diary #237

Pioneer Square in winterLast Tuesday I brought Jae to the airport, and was I ever sorry to see her go; as you can probably tell from my frequent mentions of her the past few months, we’ve become very close since I stayed at her place while in Seattle last November (though we’ve known each other for about a year and a half).  The last person I bonded with so rapidly was Grace, and they actually share quite a few personality traits; as you might expect they, too, became friends immediately and have already made plans for a road trip together that I’ll report on when the time comes.  But I have a road trip coming long before that; as I mentioned in “Boy Juice” I’ll be headed back up to Seattle in just a few weeks, and I think it’s time to reveal that I’ll be spending a lot of time there this year.  There are a lot of reasons for the temporary relocation, many of them related to a desire to be more directly involved in on-the-ground activism; in the long run we also plan to turn my ranch into a center of the US sex worker community, and my time in Seattle will be instrumental in securing the backing and support to turn that into a reality.  If that sounds cryptic, I apologize; it’s just best not to announce one’s chickens before they’re even laid (let alone hatched).

The relocation is only one of several major life-changes, as I alluded to in my New Year’s Day column; I’ll address the others at the proper time.  But for now, I’d like all the prayers, good wishes, positive vibrations and financial support y’all can give, and I promise to keep you up on developments as they continue to unfold.

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It’s no exaggeration to describe Elizabeth Nolan Brown as one of the strongest, most stalwart allies of sex workers writing today; she covers several sex work stories per week in her space at Reason, and never flinches or missteps.  Regular readers have seen me praise her in many a news item, so I’m sure y’all can guess that I was thrilled when she agreed to contribute my first guest spot of 2015. 

If You Give a Masochist a Cookie

Elizabeth N BrownIt wouldn’t be quite accurate to say I had my first kinky boyfriend at age 25.  My most significant college beau and I dabbled in all sorts of not-totally-vanilla play, from ice cubes and hot wax to strangling and faux non-consent.  But for the most part, these endeavors felt clumsy and inauthentic, two 19-year-olds parroting what we thought kinky* sex was supposed to be.  For years after that, I dated people who seemed perfectly content with perfectly “normal” sex lives—I think the kinkiest thing I did with my post-college boyfriend was watch the Paris Hilton sex tape together before fucking.  I wasn’t unsatisfied, at least not with the sex (monogamy, my friends, is another story).  But I also had no idea what I was missing.  And then along came the man I’ll call “Chris”.  He had a beautiful body, a giant cock, and a sexy voice, but easily the best part about him when it came to sex was that he knew what he liked and wanted.  These days I still loathe asking men to do this or roleplay that in bed, because as it turns out I have a very strong sexually submissive streak.  But I couldn’t have told you that at the time–I didn’t have the vocabulary.  I needed someone like Chris not because I was hesitant to ask for what I wanted, but because I honestly had no idea what that was.

Thank goodness Chris and I were on the same kink wavelength—had my first dom liked dressing in leather, or insisted I call him master, or been into ball-gags and caning, I may have balked and thrown the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak; I don’t mean to disparage any of these activities, but they are just not for me.  Instead, Chris and I sometimes role-played realistic situations where he might be in a position of power over me—boss, professor, etcetera.  I remember one time asking, early on, if he was going to punish me, and his answer was an emphatic “no”—punishment was cruel, he explained; what he was meting out was “discipline.”  Part of this discipline involved him slapping me across the face from time to time during sex; I loved it, and I fell in love with him.  For the first time in the history of my sex life, I was never, ever bored during sex.  The relationship with Chris didn’t last, but my conviction that I needed a little kink in my sex life did.  Not all the time, mind you—I am not a fetishist.  But I am also never going to last with someone who isn’t at least a little bit dominant, a little bit weird, and a little bit rough in bed.

The reason I bring all this up has to do with a series of tweets I saw from Jillian Keenan in late December.  Earlier in the year she wrote for Slate about enjoying being spanked, an essay she called “the first piece that truly demanded courage” for her to publish.  Why should Keenan, a seasoned writer published in places such as The Atlantic, The Washington Post, and the New Yorker, feel such trepidation admitting to such a little thing as liking spanking?  Especially in these post-50 Shades of Gray times in which we live?

A few incidents give us a clue, the first involving 50 Shades film actor Jamie Dornan.  Dornan recently told Elle magazine that after visiting a dungeon for research, he had to take a “long shower” before touching his wife or child.  Despite starring in a movie about BDSM, Dorman apparently thinks he can catch kink cooties just by being near people who like a little real life BDSM action.  The other incidents comes from Keenan herself, who relayed them in the aforementioned series of tweets.  An acquaintance “apparently used to hang out in a building with an adjacent dungeon, and watched people as they entered and left it.”  The dude’s “major takeaway—the biggest ‘shock’ of watching this dungeon entrance—he repeated several times: ‘They were all businessmen!’chocolate chips  Another person Keenan had talked with recently, a private investigator, was shocked when she followed a man to an “S&M party” and found that “they served cookies there!  At this S&M thing—cookies!”  Keenan concluded, “Stigma is subtle, but it’s real…We’re still seen as ‘creepy’ anomalies rather than as what we are:  cookie-eating, job-having humans.”

Since my time with Chris, I’ve encountered all sorts of respectable, cookie-eating, job-having humans who enjoyed engaging in any number of kinky activities (many of which I went along with, some which I did not).  There was the amiable real estate agent and local kickball star obsessed with face-fucking, enemas, faux-incest, and someday having a submissive housewife.  There was the professor and family man who liked to leave me dirty messages about tying me up and cumming on my face.  There was the high-powered lawyer who flew women from around the country to an apartment decorated with expensive bondage art and featuring a medieval-looking spanking chair and a wide assortment of canes.  There was the sadistic civil liberties activist who genuinely scared (and also thrilled) me with his unflinching roughness…the professionally-conservative couple who invited me into a threesome…the shy writer who wanted to pick out slutty clothing for me and then watch from afar as I paraded publicly in it.  There were run-of-the-mill rough-sex fans who worked in architecture, journalism, tech entrepreneurship, financial planning, education, construction.  A shocking (to me) number fantasized about watching a girlfriend with another man, sometimes multiple men.

Beyond the realm of my personal lovers, I’ve met more polyamorous people than I can count over the past few years.  I’ve lived with women really into whipping and spanking.  I’ve known lawyers and art curators and students to slip easily in and out of various forms of sex work.  I’ve also never gone to any sort of kink meetup, joined any sort of fetish website, or otherwise specifically sought these people, with the exception of one Craigslist paramour.  When you open up with friends and lovers about kink, it’s kind of amazing what you can uncover.  Most people have at least some sexual fantasies that are much “weirder” than the easily-scandalized would dream.  And the kinkiest people I’ve known are the sorts you’d never suspect if your idea of kink only involves large women in leather corsets and “creepy” losers in flasher trenchcoats.

Regular readers of Maggie’s blog are certain to be unsurprised by any of this—I know I am preaching to the proverbial choir here.  But while I’ve hinted around about my own kinky side previously, I suppose I’ve never come right out online and said it.  I’ve certainly never noted the normalcy of all my own kinky lovers and friends.  And in the interest of doing my little part for destigmatizing, it’s probably about damn time I did so.  Am I feeling a little of the trepidation Keenan felt when admitting to an enthusiasm for spanking?  Of course.  I’m a professional writer, also, often about quite serious subjects.  And there are those who will use any hint of sexual “deviance” to try and discredit you.  As a woman, there are those who will use writing about your sex life at all as evidence you’re not fit for more intellectual pursuits.  But to bluntly use one of my favorite idioms:  fuck that noise.  My vagina and my competence actually have very little bearing on one another.  And isn’t that the crux of the kink issue?  People want certain sexual activities to stand for so, so, so much more than they do.

To those who can’t imagine liking bondage, group sex, submission, latex, cuckolding, strap-ons, spanking, or whatever, enjoying any of these things must be part of some pathology, or at least indicative of more widespread weirdness.  (Much the same way people think about sex workers who don’t fit their victim narrative.)  But sometimes sex is just sex; turn-ons are just turn-ons.  They say nothing about who someone is as a person, what their life must be like, or their larger value system.  They reveal nothing more than that someone likes bondage, group sex, submission, etcetera.  Human beings contain multitudes, y’all.  And even sexual sadists eat cookies.

*I kind of hate lumping all sorts of dissimilar sexual activities together under the term “kink”, but for purposes of this essay it will have to do. I’m equally un-fond of describing some sex as “vanilla”, but (like hipster) it’s an imperfect yet appropriately connotative term.

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Well he would, wouldn’t he?  –  response when told Lord Astor had denied having her

As I’ve written many times, the maintenance of the Madonna/whore dichotomy demands the erasure of all ambiguity; women must solidly be classified as one or the other, “good” women or “bad”, “empowered” women or “fallen” ones, without a hint that a single woman could play both roles at different parts of her life (much less at the same time).  And so women who succeed in other careers after sex work, especially if they’re popular and well-liked, must never ever ever be described as sex workers; they might be dancers, or perhaps masseuses, or models, or even mistresses, but not what they actually were: prostitutes, no different from me or any inhabitant of any red-light district.  Of course, it helps when the prostitution is genteel and privately arranged and the whores have other “legitimate” jobs as showgirls or hostesses; then they can be described politely as “party girls” and their clients as “lovers”, and the transactional nature of their “affairs” can be glossed over on the BBC or in polite newspapers.

Marilyn Rice-Davies was born in Wales on October 21, 1944 and after a fairly conventional upbringing began modeling at 15.  After playing a window-dressing part in the film Make Mine Mink, she ran away to London at 16 and quickly got a job as a showgirl at Murray’s Cabaret Club in Soho; there she met and befriended Christine Keeler and the two lived together for a while.  Keeler introduced her to the well-connected osteopath Stephen Ward, who both delighted in and profited by introducing ambitious young women like Keeler and Rice-Davies to his wealthy friends.  Mandy soon became the mistress of slumlord Peter Rachman, who had previously kept Keeler, but the arrangement ended abruptly with Rachman’s death by heart attack on November 29th, 1962.  Rachman was a notorious character who had been under constant police investigation since 1959; he had been prosecuted twice for brothel-keeping and among his expensive gifts to Mandy was a new Jaguar (which was, alas, seized by his widow).  But Mandy later insisted that there was no profit motive involved in her relationship with the short, dumpy Rachman, a statement repeated without question by journalists and others ever since.

It was after Rachman’s death, however, that Rice-Davies’ ship finally came in, via the Profumo Affair and the associated persecution of Stephen Ward.  She had always hoped to achieve stardom, and since coming to London had appeared in several advertisements, but the free publicity afforded her by her appearance as a prosecution witness at Ward’s trial gave her career a mighty boost.  This is not to say that she intentionally capitalized upon Ward’s misfortune; in fact, she only agreed to testify after the cops trumped up charges involving a fake ID (and later, a supposedly stolen television set) so she could be threatened with a long stretch in Holloway if she refused to “cooperate”.  But once the trial started, she clearly both enjoyed and took advantage of the publicity.  The cameras loved her, and her comparing herself to Lady Hamilton (Lord Nelson’s mistress) made her the talk of the papers for a few weeks.  After the trial ended with Ward’s suicide at the end of July, Mandy was offered a job as a cabaret singer in Germany and quickly became involved with another wealthy patron, one Baron Cervello.

For several years she toured the world, taking whatever singing gigs she could find, then in 1966 she moved to Israel; there she met and married nightclub owner Rafael Shaul and converted to Judaism, founding a chain of restaurants and nightclubs called Mandy’s.  The couple amicably divorced in 1971 but remained business partners, and Mandy appeared in a number of Israeli films in the ‘70s, then European ones (and television show episodes) in the ‘80s.  She also published her autobiography, Mandy, in 1980 and a novel, The Scarlet Thread, in 1989.  During this time she had a number of liaisons with ever-wealthier men and an extremely short-lived marriage to the French restaurateur Jean-Charles Lefevre.  But it was her third marriage, to British businessman Ken Foreman, which accelerated what she called her “long descent into respectability”; among Foreman’s friends was Sir Denis Thatcher, and Mandy – now going by Marilyn Foreman – is known to have holidayed with Thatcher and his much more famous wife, Margaret.  She died of cancer just three weeks ago, on December 18th, and was the subject of laudatory obituaries in the Guardian  and Telegraph, among many others.

But despite her respectability and long-maintained insistence that she had never really taken money for sex, Mandy never attempted to distance herself from the Prufumo Affair and the Ward trial; in fact, in 2013 she was consulted by Andrew Lloyd Webber for his short-lived stage musical, Stephen Ward.  At the time, she revealed that she had not spoken to her old flatmate, Christine Keeler, in over three decades; while Rice-Davies had embraced the publicity and used it to advance her own interests, Keeler had been embarrassed by the whole thing and vanished from the limelight for 20 years after it was over.  Their different ways of reacting to the debacle had driven a wedge into what was never a particularly close friendship to start; “I don’t think she liked me,” Mandy said in an October 2013 interview.  And though neither of the two ever (publicly) considered themselves sex workers, their very different post-scandal lives demonstrate an important truth about two kinds of women involved in the work:  those who consider it to have been a humiliation, and those who embrace it as a means of attaining their goals.

(This month’s harlotography first appeared in Cliterati on January 4th; I have modified it slightly for time references and to fit the format of this blog.)

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If you can talk, you can breathe.  –  unidentified murderer cop

Not a bad selection of links for the post-holiday weekend, really; the first video was one of several Jae showed me on New Year’s Eve, while the selection of the second was based on a Twitter conversation between several sex workers (I will leave you to guess the subject yourselves).  All the links above the first video were provided by Tushy Galore, and those between the videos by  PopehatGraceRick HorowitzRadley BalkoClarkhatElizabeth N. Brown, and Dave Krueger (in that order).

From the Archives

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That which does not kill us makes us stronger.  –  Friedrich Nietzsche

Creepshow thing in the boxI’ve often referred to my “year of disaster”, August 1994 to July 1995, a single twelve-month period of my life which contained enough misfortune and trauma for any twelve bad years.  By the time it was over, I felt as though my psyche had received the equivalent of a sustained beating with a wide assortment of blunt instruments; it took me years to recover from the accumulated stress, and I was still subject to panic attacks (often provoked by unpredictable stimuli) until about 2003.  Even to this day I dread being alone with my own thoughts unless I have something like writing or a book to focus on; when unoccupied by work, reading or conversation my brain is wont to start dwelling upon things best left shut up in mysterious boxes under my mental stairs.  But since those boxes often emit sharp thumps, chilling whispers, horrifying moans and unintelligible muttering that can sometimes be heard through the locked door, a few words about their contents is probably in order on this, the twentieth anniversary of what at the time seemed the most devastating of the incidents.

On August 16th, 1994 I suffered a 22-week miscarriage; in the old days that would’ve been called a stillbirth, but modern medicine prefers more neutral, clinical language.  I was convinced it had been dead for some time, and my OB/GYN saw no reason to argue with me about that.  Some of y’all may find it strange that I wanted children, but Nature is, as I have so often said, a bitch goddess and She often makes us want things that clearheaded consideration would declare absolutely terrible ideas.  I was also very young (27) at the time, and not half as cynical as I am now; however, honesty compels me to point out that anyone who’s ever been a guest in my home can tell you that my frustrated maternal drives have resulted in my compulsively mothering every mammal within reach, all the time.  And anyone who’s ever heard me talk to my pets…well, the less said about that, the better; I have a reputation as a hardheaded badass to maintain.  On some level, it probably even influenced my shift into a kind of sex work where I could directly care for people, and my soft spot for disabled clients.

A few months later my doctor broke the news to me:  unless, as he put it, I wanted to keep having deformed babies, my uterus would have to come out.  I did not take the news well, but like the miscarriage itself the hysterectomy was probably for the best in the end.  My hormones had always fluctuated erratically, and within weeks of getting them out of a bottle instead of relying on my hopelessly-befuddled ovaries to supply them I was marveling at how much quieter my brain was and how much more stable the world outside of my head looked.  But I’m getting ahead of the story; the actual hysterectomy didn’t come until early July, because…well, I can’t honestly remember why I waited that long.  I guess it was because of everything else taking up all of my attention that winter and spring, things like the awful car accident a few days after Easter which left me with five broken vertebraewrist and that rather unsightly scar those of you who have met me in person may have noticed on my left wrist.  Had the surgery not already been scheduled by then, the Memorial Day attack (please indulge me by being patient for a few months until I write about that again) would probably have delayed it even more…but as I pointed out yesterday, I have a peculiar dedication to schedules and once I had made the appointment I wasn’t going to let little things like major sexual trauma and PTSD get in the way of the program.

The last-referenced incident definitely had the longest-lasting negative effects; all the others I eventually came to see as “blessings in disguise” except for the car accident, which I filed under “Just One of Those Things That Happen To Maggie”.  It wasn’t what I perceived as the worst of the shocks at the time, though; that dishonor is reserved for the events of Monday, January 2nd, 1995.  I’ve already described them in detail four years ago, so it will suffice to say that my ex-husband, Jack, used my attendance at a library conference to clear out and take most of our stuff with him.  I was utterly devastated; I’m very phobic about abandonment so I didn’t really take it well when faced with a literal nightmare come true.  It took me two years to come to the conclusion that my friends really had known what they were talking about when they warned me away from marrying Jack in the first place, and were therefore more than likely correct now when they urged me to forget about him and take advantage of my looks (though I did that in a rather different way from what most of them meant).  Twenty years later those looks have not yet faded (not much, anyway), and they’ve taken me places poor Jack’s narrow little imagination never could have dreamed of; I sometimes wonder how he’ll react if he ever sees my picture online or catches me on television.  I’m not the scared little girl he dumped any more, and in a way I have him to thank for that; had he not left me twenty years ago today my life would’ve been much different and certainly a great deal less rewarding.

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Every thing teaches transition, transference, metamorphosis:  therein is human power, in transference, not in creation; & therein is human destiny, not in longevity but in removal.  We dive & reappear in new places.
–  Ralph Waldo Emerson

So here we are again, for the fifth time; I daresay this is becoming a habit.  That’s really not surprising; ever since I retired from sex work in 2006, my life has been bound by habits and schedules, like a cocoon I wove to give myself structure and meaning at a time when the framework that had defined my life for nine years had suddenly been taken away.  That self-imposed bondage was comfortable and safe; it allowed me time to think and to explore, to figure out who I was now and to decide what was important to me and where I wanted my life to go.  And as I slowly, haltingly learned about the power of the internet, I also became aware of a great restlessness and dissatisfaction in myself; I found myself talking about sex work and sex worker rights on message boards that had absolutely nothing to do with the subject, and began to resent prissy moderators who could delete anything I wrote on a whim.  By the time I had been retired for four years, I could stand it no more; I had to stake out a place in this new digital world where I could share the truth about my life, my sisters and the only work I ever loved.  At first, I was extremely anonymous; in May of 2012 I even turned down an offer to host a TV show on the History Channel because I was just not ready for that kind of exposure.  I had not yet broken out of my cocoon, but merely reshaped it for purposes of my activism.

But in the summer of 2012, that all began to change when I accepted an invitation to appear at the Southern Harm Reduction Conference; a few weeks later I agreed to speak at Albany Law School’s symposium the next February.  The cocoon had become too small and much too restrictive, and I was breaking out of it; people began to hear my voice in interviews and see my face at events, and when I decided to go on my tour last summer I shook the last tatters of silk from my newfound wings and proudly revealed my face (and the rest of me) for the world to see.  There’s no turning back now; the die, as the man said in Latin, is cast.  In the past few months I’ve been recognized twice in the small town I live nearest, and that’s just fine with me; I wouldn’t turn down a TV hosting gig now as easily as I turned down the reality show offer I got last spring.  Flitting under my own power from coast to coast last summer was the scariest, craziest, least-scripted thing I’ve ever done, and also one of the most rewarding; this year I plan to explore even more widely.  Sometimes I miss the coziness of that cocoon, but the warmth of the sun and the smell of the flowers and the feel of the breeze under my wings are far better, and the work Aphrodite wants me to do can’t be done while tied up in the dark.

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Diary #235

What a wonderful Christmas this has been!  I picked up Jae from the airport last Tuesday, and she and Grace got along famously; as I tweeted on Boxing Day, it’s a good thing I had cooking to do because once they started talking about motorcycles it was essentially a foreign language to me.  Everything for the Christmas feast came out perfectly, and I received such lovely presents, including two vintage nightgowns and a vintage vibrator (yes, whores really do give each other presents like that, at least sometimes) and from Gumdeo, a copy of The New Annotated H.P. Lovecraft (thank you!) As those of you who follow me on Twitter have probably already noticed, I’ve been as good as my word about taking more time off; I stayed offline for most of Wednesday & Thursday, and even after that I haven’t been working nearly as hard as usual.  I really am trying to lighten up and enjoy myself more; you may call that a New Year’s resolution if you like, but since I first made the shift in November I hardly think it counts.  That’s probably for the best, though; New Year’s resolutions rarely survive January, and I hope this shift in my life is a permanent one.

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