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Archive for the ‘Biography’ Category

U better live now/Before the grim reaper come knocking on your door.  –  Prince, “Let’s Go Crazy”

The big news this week, of course, was the sudden and unexpected death of the iconic rock star Prince; as of this writing the cause of that death is still unknown, but I’m not going to let the occasion pass without a tribute.  Unfortunately, there aren’t many Prince videos on YouTube because a few years ago he had them all removed, and policed it pretty closely thereafter.  Since I really hate embedding a video and later finding it gone, here’s one I hope will stick: a live performance of “Purple Rain” on The Arsenio Hall Show in 1991.  Of course, I already featured the best Prince performance on YouTube in Links #195 two years ago, and you really ought to watch that one, too.  The links above the video are from Matt Welch  (“garden”), Radley Balko (“compulsory” and “monkeys”), Nun Ya (“cops”), and  Skye (“together”).

From the Archives

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Diary #303

Maggie & Chester 4-17-16 The early part of last week was pretty quiet, as tax week often is; I probably should’ve made time to open the book-thickness sheaf of forms that my CPA sent me (apparently laboring under the misapprehension that I’m actually going to fill them out).  But since taxes give me actual anxiety attacks (that audit in 2003 which I was still paying for until last year probably has something to do with it), I put it off and I’m just going to send her my bank info and answer any questions she might have.  The weekend was great, though; on Saturday night I chatted on stage with Chester Brown at his book signing, and on Sunday we hung out together all afternoon.  We signed 10 books together (Chester’s signature in each includes a unique custom sketch), and I’m going to be selling them as a limited edition (I’ll devote a column to the particulars this Thursday).  Also, Chester agreed to do the cover art for my next short story collection, The Forms of Things Unknown; he took some reference pictures and I promised him I’d start working on the book in the next few weeks.  He definitely inspired me to get off my high-priced arse and start working on it, and I think once I get this one out I should have developed a pattern that will enable me to finally finish The Essential Maggie McNeill as well, and maybe start working at last on my Big Project.  That’s the theory, anyway.

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Maggie & Liz 4-8-16It’s always nice when one can wind down just a little and relax with friends for a while.  This isn’t to say that my week wasn’t hectic (because it rarely isn’t) nor stressful (ditto), and on Thursday I woke up in a foul mood for no particular reason I could discern.  But I did receive my copy of Jillian Keenan‘s new book, Sex With Shakespeare, and on Friday I went to dinner with Mistress Matisse and super-ally Elizabeth Nolan Brown.  We had a lovely dinner together (talking, among other things, about last week’s events) and relaxing and drinking and laughing and doing the things friends do at dinner.  Then toward the end, this middle-aged guy came up to our table, stood between Matisse and Liz, and asked us to excuse him; he seemed to be studying our faces intently so I immediately figured he had recognized one or more of us.  But that seemed not to be the case; he said he wanted to ask us something, so then I guessed he had overheard our conversation and had some question about it.  But that wasn’t it; he said his table (two men & two women) had been discussing us and made a bet about the average age of our table.  We were all a bit surprised at such a rude question, so Matisse asked him to repeat it and yes, he really was asking three strange women to tell him how old we were.  It retrospect, I think it’s pretty funny that our reactions were exactly in character: Matisse was annoyed at his impertinence, Liz was curious at where this might be going, and I immediately tried to monetize the situation by asking him if we got a cut if he won.  Had he offered to pick up our tab I might’ve tried to convince Matisse to play along, but when he said a mighty $20 was riding on our answer (not even enough to cover my cocktails), I totally agreed with Matisse’s politely but sternly telling him to shove off.  One can only wonder what the conversation was that gave rise to such a bet, and how much liquor was involved.  Anyhow, Matisse had another commitment so Liz and I continued the party at my “Den of Sin” as she calls it, and this selfie was the result; in case you can’t tell, we were horizontal because I wasn’t actually in a condition to be vertical.

The rest of the weekend was pretty relaxing; on Saturday I went to Endza’s birthday party, then on Sunday I helped a regular client who asked me for a favor.  See, he just bought a new car and wanted me to drive the old one home from the dealership for him.  Oh, and did I mention he asked me to pick a young sex worker he could give it to?  Not sell or trade, mind; give it to.  He’s barely even met the girl I chose.  But you know how clients are; abusive monsters, the lot of them.  Slavery and oppression and paid rape and all.  Well, I guess I’m just suffering from false consciousness; it must’ve been the Cosmopolitans from Friday night.

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Women who trade sex within marriage [may one day] realise they are the ones undervaluing what they have to offer.  –  Jemima

R.I.P. Amber Rayne Amber Rayne

…adult performer Amber Rayne, an industry veteran of more than 10 years, has died…she passed away peacefully in her sleep at home either late Saturday night or early Sunday morning, though the exact cause of death will not be known until autopsy reports are completed…She was 31.  Rayne…racked up close to 500 credits over the course of her career.  She was known for both her wild, no-holds-barred sexual performances and her commanding acting chops…the Detroit native had a background in professional acting before turning to adult, and those skills…[earned] multiple AVN Award nominations…

License to Rape

Cops raping sex workers is so ubiquitous, non-cop rapists often pose as cops to facilitate the crime:

…Blake Lawrence Anderson…[raped a sex worker on]…March 29…she got into his car and he drove her to an industrial area…where he parked…[then] pulled a small black semi-automatic firearm and pointed it at her head, telling her he was a police officer.  Using duct tape to bind her wrists, she said Anderson sexually assaulted her several times…He eventually cut the tape off her, cutting her wrist. He let her go and drove away…[but] she got his license plate number…

Real People 

The more first-person accounts of sex work, the harder it will be for prohibitionist lies to survive:

…There is no “cookie cutter” ideal of beauty and character.  Men…want to enjoy the company of an authentic, independent woman simply basking in who she is.  Once I understood this my self-confidence exploded and so did my career…I’ve come to think of escorting as a helping, healing, and entertainment profession — not just for my clients but also for me.  Yes, I worked for money, and I loved every single gift and tip I got on top of it, but I worked just as much for the life that came with it. It took me to a better place, where I could recognize, embrace, and cultivate my own uniqueness…

Do As I Say, Not As I Do

I hope they keep feeding on each other:

A…Melbourne [Florida cop] was arrested…after officials said he offered cash to a [fake] prostitute who actually turned out to be a [female cop]…The arrest of…Shawn Archbold is the latest in a series of investigations into…the 169-[pig] agency…Melbourne Police Chief Steve Mimbs talked [a lot of childish nonsense about]…good [guys and]…bad guys…

Housewife Harlotry

Jemima on transactional sex:

…transactional sex is still the basis of many relationships.  Men are rewarded with blow jobs for good behaviour, and sex is seen as something points need to be earned for…this…is part of why, I believe, that so many women are harsher towards sex work than men (as this poll reports)…When you have a commodity that to you has a certain value, it will be perceived as a threat if others offer that same commodity for a different value…we are seen to devalue the transactional sex they have to offer, or, to put it another way, why would a man put up the shelves in exchange for a blow job when he can pay me straight cash for it?…

Monsters 

How long will Gay, Inc pretend that decriminalization isn’t a GLBT issue?

…At least 2,016 trans and gender diverse people were killed between January 1, 2008 and December 31, 2015 across 65 countries, according to a research initiative started by Transgender Europe (TGEU)…The report did not state why they were killed, or if they were murdered because they were transgender.  It did, however, say that 65 percent of the victims were sex workers…

Challenge

This was, of course, expected; next stop, the 9th Circuit:

Americans may have a constitutional right to engage in consensual, intimate relationships, but that doesn’t mean they have a right to buy or sell sex, a Bay Area federal judge ruled…in upholding California’s 144-year-old ban on prostitution.  In a lawsuit filed a year ago, the plaintiffs…invoked the…2003 [Lawrence v Texas] ruling…U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White…[pretended] that the court was referring to intimate relationships and not merely to sexual activity…He said the high court, in the 2003 ruling, disavowed any intention to legalize prostitution…White also…[spouted nonsense about]…violence against women…sexually transmitted diseases and…human trafficking…

And no, California’s current prostitution law doesn’t date back to 1872; that was an anti-streetwalking law specifically.  Private prostitution wasn’t technically banned in the state until 1961, though other laws date back to the last “sex trafficking” hysteria of a century ago.

To Protect and Serve (#413)

The strippers who were molested by San Diego pigs can proceed with their lawsuit, despite attempts by pig lawyers to quash it:

Exotic dancers who…were held against their will and photographed by San Diego [pigs under the pretense of] a compliance raid can move forward with their lawsuit, a federal judge ruled…five to 15 [pigs] went to the clubs during the early-evening hours and ordered the dancers into a dressing room, where they were told to wait until…[isolated from one another, interrogated]…and photographed [in an invasive manner]…the [pigs] “made arrogant and demeaning comments to the entertainers and ordered them to expose body parts so that they could ostensibly photograph their tattoos”…when several asked if they could leave…[they were] threatened…with arrest…

Something Rotten in Sweden (#422)

Cops busting kids’ lemonade stands isn’t news any more, but this is a new low:Austin lemonade laws

…the Austin [Texas] City Council approved an ordinance to spare young lemonade sellers from parts of the city’s mind-numbing bureaucracy.  On Lemonade Day [May 7th]—and only on Lemonade Day—registered participants do not have to spend $35 to obtain a “temporary food permit,” and are also exempt from spending a staggering $425 on “a license agreement and fees” to use public property.  Unfortunately, the city’s friendliness to budding entrepreneurs ends there.  Lemonade stands run by kids must comply with Austin’s “temporary food service guidelines”…Parent…must also sign a waiver, and “agree to release, indemnify, defend and hold harmless the organizers of Lemonade Day and anyone associated with it or Lemonade Day from any and all claims for personal injuries or property damage resulting from my child/ren’s participation in Lemonade Day”…

Soap Opera (#547) 

Fetishists trade the costs of tattoo removal for the right to distort women’s bad choices into “sex trafficking” propaganda:

…[tattoos are] being removed for free…through a new project…[for supposed] human trafficking victims…from the Traffick Stop project…local [cops and prohibitionists fantasize that] the “overwhelming majority” of human trafficking victims are branded and that Fresno is a major hub for the sex trade…Of 2,700 to 3,000 children who run away from home in Fresno every year, an estimated 10 percent to 12 percent are lured into human trafficking.  [Pervert cop Curt] Chastain [related his masturbatory fantasy that] the actual number is much higher…Chastain [lied], “I’ve never personally met someone in prostitution who hasn’t started out as a victim”…

The idea that Fresno, California, which isn’t on the way to anything else, could possibly be a “major hub” for any kind of business is so utterly stupid one wonders how even cops can believe it.

Out of Control (#554) 

Looks like the creeps are progressing from spooge sneaking to spooge throwing:

New York City officials have revealed new proposals that would ban taxi and hire car drivers from flirting with passengers or initiating any kind of unwanted physical contact.  The Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) has set out specific rules that include taking away licenses and imposing fines for drivers who touch or ejaculate on their passengers, and recommends fines and suspensions for drivers who comment on their passengers’ appearance or even talk about their own or their passengers’ love lives…

It’s probably for the best; after all, the line between flirting with a woman and ejaculating on her is such a subtle one, it’s just too much to leave it to individual judgment.

All-Purpose Excuse (#608)

If the government has its way, phone privacy will soon be gone completely:

…“pre-paid phones,”are often bought anonymously and without registration.  It was burner phones, not encryption, that were primarily used to plot the coordinated terrorist attacks in Paris last November…H.R. 4886…would ban anonymous pre-paid phones in the United States…Jackie Speier (D-CA14)…[wants] purchasers of these devices to provide identification showing name, address, and date of birth…“This bill would close one of the most significant gaps in our ability to track and prevent acts of terror, drug trafficking, and modern-day slavery“…

Deborah Jeane Palfrey (#611)

Probably a wise precaution:

The [attorney] who represented the late “D.C. madam” Deborah Palfrey…Montgomery Blair Sibley says the [escort service’s] records will become public if he fails to reset a 72-hour countdown clock, which could cut short his soft two-week ultimatum for federal courts to consider lifting a 2007 gag order that covers the records, lest he deem that order void.  The countdown clock is a safeguard, Sibley says, that ensures that if he disappears the records will be published.  Inevitable release, he says, may also disincentivize violent acts against him to prevent their disclosure.  The records are stored on four servers around the world…and dozens of reporters will receive a website link if the clock is not reset…

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0406162243-1Those of you who follow me on Twitter already know that last week was a painful one for those of us in the sex worker rights movement; journalist and former sex worker Melissa Gira Grant, who has long danced on the boundary between the “straight” world and the  demimonde, apparently decided she wanted a total divorce from us (and not an amicable one, either).  And so she published an article acting much like a prohibitionist; she centered her own voice above that of a very troubled and disadvantaged sex worker, outed aspects of the woman’s life that she did not want revealed in such a manner, and even quoted an exploitative anti-whore asshole with a record of publicly threatening sex workers.  Mistress Matisse is a lot more closely involved with the story than I am, which is why on Tuesday I shared her account of what happened.  One thing I am going to say is that although I was angry to the point of nausea at Melissa’s exploitation of a very vulnerable sex worker, not to mention her attempt to throw mud on one of my closest friends, there is a part of me that’s relieved I no longer need to remain silent about a person who has offended and/or pissed off more sex worker activists than I can count on both hands.  She’s had me blocked me on Twitter (a move most people reserve for enemies and offensive trolls) and bad-mouthed me in private for years, but as long as she was doing good work for the movement, I kept my mouth shut and even promoted her work.  But now that she’s burning her bridges in earnest, I see no reason to keep my mouth shut any longer (because as most of you know, I’m not exactly good at that anyway).  The kid gloves are now off, and the only reason I’m not saying anything more right now is that, unlike Melissa, I’m not going to make something that isn’t about me, about me.  I’m going to let the wronged parties set the pace, and my rightful role in this is to support them.

However, I’m not so upset I’m going to forget my manners; I got some lovely gifts I would like to acknowledge.  Reader Daz sent me a DVD that’s been on my wishlist for a while, and another gentleman purchased a phone visit from me, gave me another donation over and above the cost for the visit itself, and also sent me the lovely leggings you see here.  Yes, I do indeed do phone visits; I’ll let y’all consider the possibilities.  And until then, you can just enjoy the picture.  And please, please consider donating to Heather’s fundraiser; in killing Neal Falls she no doubt saved many of our sisters from a horrible death, and now she needs our help to get her own life back in order.

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This is an important article by my friend Mistress Matisse, cross-posted from Medium.

Notorious MGGIt’s ironic that journalist Melissa Gira Grant decided to write an article on how media attention can cause chaos in someone’s life, because in the life of a West Virginia woman named Heather, Melissa Gira Grant has become an agent of exactly that sort of chaos.

It began late last summer, when serial killer Neal Falls contacted Heather through her escort ad, and when they met, he tried to murder her. Heather fought back against Neal Falls and killed him. In doing so, she removed a dangerous predator from the world. Charleston police say she almost certainly saved the lives of other women Neal Falls would have gone on to kill.

At some point, a few weeks after the attack (she does not specify when), Grant says she came to Heather’s house and spoke with her. A lot of reporters came to Heather’s door after the attack, and many of them were vague about details such as to exactly what publication they wrote for, or when any piece they wrote about her would be published.

Fast forward to March 30th, almost seven months later, when Grant published a meandering and somewhat confusing Buzzfeed story about Heather. Part of it touches on the sex worker community’s peer outreach to Heather and our ongoing support for her. Grant portrays our efforts as problematic, and singles me out in particular as having questionable motivations for offering Heather my friendship. Bafflingly, she also chooses to spotlight the voices of three other people who, while they only had contact with Heather briefly, caused her further distress in that time: Kathy Brown, Laura Gandee, and a man known as Nostra-Thomas Koenig, aka Charles de Koenig. Brown and Gandee’s behavior towards Heather could be described as “well-intentioned but coercive”. Koenig, on the other hand, was openly controlling and abusive to Heather from the start, and quickly escalated into public harassment and threats aimed at not only Heather, but at the group of sex worker/activists who were supporting her, and all sex workers in general.

The hard truth is: sex workers (and sex worker’s rights activists) expect biased treatment from journalists who have no ties to the sex work community. But people could be forgiven for thinking Melissa Gira Grant was different. In her past, she did sex work herself, and since then she’s written extensively on sex workers’s rights. She uses that position to get insider-information about sex worker-centered stories as they develop. She watches such journalism closely and often critiques it in a territorial manner, calling such stories “her beat”.

Grant focuses exclusively on the weeks immediately following the attack, but she does not present a sharp timeline. Here is how the first stages of sex worker rights activists community’s outreach to Heather occurred.

The attack on Heather occurred July 18th.

July 29th, I talked to Kathy Brown and Laura Gandee, and also to the man calling himself Nostra-Thomas Koenig/Charles de Koenig, who were doing the already-existing fundraiser.

On July 31st, I talked to Heather personally for the first time. I was the third member of the sex work community to have direct contact with her.

Around Aug 2nd, desperate because money raised by Gandee, Brown and Koenig was not being released to her for rent and utilities, Heather asked sex work activist Tara Burns to set up a Crowdrise fundraiser that she could have direct and sole control over. A group of sex worker/activists coalesced to promote Heather’s fundraiser and offer her support: Tara Burns, Meg Munoz, Marisa Anne, Lily Fury, and myself. Kristen D’Angelo had also reached out to Heather in this time and was in frequent contact with our group.

On Aug 5th, an article was published in Cosmopolitan about Heather’s fundraiser, and the sex worker community outreach to her. “Meg Vallee Munoz, a former sex worker and co-founder of Abeni, an organization that offers individuals with experiences in the sex trades practical services and holistic support, is the spokeswoman for the new campaign.”

So for Melissa Gira Grant to say “Seattle dominatrix Mistress Matisse…led her own effort to help Heather” is incorrect. Grant either didn’t bother to research this, or she excluded these activists from the narrative for reasons of her own.

But more trouble arose in August, when Koenig began posting extremely abusive statements about Heather, and about sex workers in general, on the Facebook page he made about Heather. He began harassing and threatening her. He said repeatedly that anyone who contributed to Heather’s fundraiser instead of his would be arrested, and that Heather herself would be too. There was an article documenting this on Tits and Sass. (This article also documents the incident of Brown and Gandee calling the police to force Heather to see them.)

Upon getting Heather’s agreement, and after discussion of the group of SW/activists, I went to West Virginia on August 3rd and spent four days with Heather, to offer her coercion-free support. On this visit, we accomplished the following: we negotiated that Brown, Gandee, and Koenig would turn over all funds collected to her immediately. We opened a bank account (in Heather’s name only) that linked to her fundraiser, so that all funds would be transferred directly to her. We also bought her a new phone. During this period, I observed Koenig constantly harassing and threatening Heather and her mother by phone, and I related this to Maryclaire Akers, assistant prosecuting attorney for Kanawha County, who agreed to contact Koenig and warn him off.

In Grant’s presentation of the narrative, these behaviors are somehow suspicious. I think that says more about how she approaches Heather than how I do. There are many kinds of predators in the world, but they all have one thing in common: predators take, they don’t give. Neal Falls was a predator of the most extreme variety. Nostra-Thomas Koenig was a different type of predator in Heather’s life. But what about Melissa Gira Grant? Grant came into Heather’s life to get something of value to herself and her career. She gave nothing whatsoever to Heather. She certainly did not offer her friendship or support. At no time has she donated to Heather’s fundraiser, or promoted it using her platform. One might say that she could not have done so before she published her story, for fear of seeming to display journalistic bias. But she hasn’t done so since the article was published, either.

The other feature of predators is: they don’t get consent for what they do. There’s a lot of good discussion of what the word consent means, and who can give clear, fully informed, and unimpaired consent. I myself am a strong believer that consent in any interaction is crucial, and that the person who has the most control over the situation is morally bound to make absolutely sure they have fully-informed consent at all times. Consent cannot be assumed by silence, and it can be revoked at any point in the process. Melissa Gira Grant did not have Heather’s consent to publish their interview.

You may think, “But the question of consent doesn’t apply to someone who gives an interview to the media.” I would say perhaps it doesn’t apply to someone who has power equal to (or even greater than) the journalist, and who has put themselves forward to the press. For example, someone running for public office has given blanket consent to being asked questions, and to be quoted in ways that may or may not reflect what they think they said.

Heather SaulHeather is not such a person. She is a private individual, leading a quiet life, who was thrust into the spotlight because she was the victim of a terrible crime. Heather had never dealt with the media before the attack. I think it highly likely that when Grant approached Heather, she mentioned the names of sex workers who’d already befriended her, in order to gain Heather’s trust and make the visit seem more like friendly outreach, not an actual interview. Once Grant left her house that day, Heather was never given any further say over where, when, or how her words would be used.

After such a violent attack, a victim could be in a state of emotional and intellectual shock for weeks, and Heather was. Grant clearly describes Heather’s intense post-traumatic stress symptoms. She also notes that Heather was injured in the accident and has impaired movement, and that she’s in pain. So she knew that Heather was in shock, injured, in pain, and thus probably taking pain medication. No one can give meaningful, informed consent in that situation. To ignore that, and make use of someone’s extreme fragility and media inexperience like that is breathtakingly predatory.

Grant also knew that Heather was battling an addiction issue. Notice: Heather chose not to speak of it to Grant — Grant calls this “talking around it” — so Grant tells us about it in through the words of her abusers, with their shaming and stigmatization of her. This is what troubles me the most about this article: Melissa Gira Grant gives a platform to Heather’s known abusers. Nostra-Thomas Koenig harassed, insulted, and threatened Heather and her mother both online and by phone for months. His voice has absolutely no place in this article. To have him quoted talking about Heather’s life is intensely re-traumatizing to her.

Reporting the opinions of Laura Gandee and Kathy Brown is also highly questionable. They literally called the police to force Heather to see them. That’s a blatant abuse of social power. Why are the opinions of these people being reported as if they had value? And why would Grant then juxtapose non-violent peer outreach with the actions of an abuser and two carcerally-inclined ladies? To call this a false equivalency is to do it far too much justice. This article lends credence and legitimacy to the non-consensual brands of “help” that for Heather, ranged from controlling and coercive all the way to violent.

In that way, Heather’s experience is unfortunately not unique. For a sex worker who wants to exit the industry, especially women as isolated as Heather, there is almost no non-violent peer support available. Many anti-sex workers openly support the idea that arresting sex workers is a good way to get them services and protection — but statistically, police are the worst perpetrators of violence against sex workers, and being arrested makes any situation worse, not better. Grant does not go quite so far, but she does lend authority to the idea that sex workers offering non-coercive peer support to other sex workers is something to be viewed with suspicion, and discouraged. This is not acceptable to the sex work community.

I navigate consent for a living, and judging by the quotes of mine she pulled from another story, perhaps Grant took exception to my comparison of how that’s done within a BDSM scene to how I practice obtaining consent when I do outreach? Regardless of how you frame it, you either have someone’s consent or you don’t, and there are very clear steps that must be taken if you get this wrong. Heather has made her statement. Now Melissa Gira Grant needs to acknowledge that she violated Heather’s consent. She needs to take total responsibility for how her actions re-traumatized Heather. She needs to reach out to Heather, publicly, apologize to her, and do whatever Heather feels is appropriate to atone for her violation. Only then can she ethically continue to report on sex worker issues.

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While I am your mistress, I will treat you like a king.  But once we part ways, I care not where you may go. – Bérénice, Madame de Pascal

Portrait of a Lady as Diana by Nicholas de LargilliereIt may be that Bérénice was only a stage name, but there’s no way to be sure because it’s the only one any record discovered to date ever uses for her.  She was born in a village near Naples somewhere around 1640, and though she always claimed her father had run off soon after she was born, it is entirely possible that her mother, a waitress and casual prostitute, actually had no idea of his identity.  Like so many courtesans she was noted for her precociousness, married too early, created an exotic stage persona which won her the attentions of wealthy men and died far too young, but unlike many she died in a high station and very wealthy, having amassed a personal fortune equivalent to about $360 million in 2016 dollars.

Bérénice’s mother appears to have been as bereft of parental instinct as her unknown father, and vanished from her daughter’s life before her 9th birthday.  She left the child in the keeping of her own mother, a rather dour old woman said to have been of Moorish descent.  In the 17th century, Italy was not as hospitable to courtesans as it had been a century before, but young Bérénice’s exceptional looks would have attracted attention even in a time of far more repressive sexual morality; by the time she was 13 her grandmother had married her off to the relatively-wealthy Lorenzo Gordini, a man some four times her age.  And there her story might have ended had her husband not died some four years later of an unnamed disease, probably some kind of cancer, leaving her the heir to a modest fortune; unfortunately, Gordini had three adult children from a previous marriage who contested the will, and Bérénice was forced to sign most of it over to them to avoid a long and protracted court battle.  Even so, she was left with far greater resources than the average 17-year-old in any century, and so made a decision perhaps not out of character for a fairly-well-off teenager with nobody to answer to: she moved to Paris.

Bérénice arrived in Paris late in the summer of 1658, and though she had neither experience nor reputation as a courtesan her stunning looks and quick wit soon attracted the attention of Alexandre de Crécy, one of Cardinal Mazarin’s important lieutenants; she became his mistress and accompanied him on his various missions for the Cardinal to various parts of France and other nearby countries.  While de Crécy certainly enjoyed her company, he had an ulterior motive for taking her everywhere with him: he was insanely jealous and wanted her where he could keep an eye on her. Bérénice soon tired of his controlling behavior, and since she had means of her own was not highly motivated to endure it; while he was en route to Spain in 1660, she abandoned him and fled back to Paris, where she traded on her well-known connection to de Crécy to install herself into the social scene.  Not that she needed much help; she was petite, charming and very beautiful (with black  eyes, lustrous black hair and an 18-inch waist), and her first husband had bequeathed her something far more valuable than money: an education.  She soon began to prosper as a courtesan, catering to the elite of Louis XIV’s court, and by 1664 had saved enough money to purchase a large, tasteful maison of her own, to which she always retreated when she wanted solitude; she only rarely entertained there.

Portrait of a lady, said to be Marie Angelique de Scorraille de Roussilles, Duchesse de FontangesThough Bérénice’s charms were many, it was her skill as a storyteller which set her apart and won her a devoted following; she embroidered upon her own background and life experiences so heavily that, with the exception of details that can be fixed by records such as her first husband’s will, it is impossible to know which are real.  Many of the details of her early life (that lovers had fought duels over her, that she had traveled from Naples to Paris alone on horseback, that she had shot a man who attempted to violate her) recorded by biographers sound more like tall tales than probable events, and even her dramatic escape from de Crécy (perhaps even his jealousy) may have been exaggerated for effect.  One thing is certain:  it was in 1666 that she attracted her first VIP client, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, the Minister of Finance.  He was the perfect client for Bérénice; though he was very generous with her he prized discretion above all else, and never interfered with her social life.  He saw her regularly, probably several times a month, until 1676, and though he had apparently grown tired of her by that time he ensured her future by not only securing her an allowance from the royal treasury, but also arranging an important marriage for her.  It was through this marriage, to Louis, Vicomte de Pascal, that Bérénice finally received the title by which she is known to history, only six years before her death.

In the summer of 1667, Bérénice met and befriended Ninon de l’Enclos; the older courtesan had stopped taking clients by this time, and referred some of her younger patrons to Bérénice.  She also advised her to establish a salon, which soon become wildly popular with a certain artistic element; it went on for some five years, but after that Bérénice (who despite her education was rather bored by intellectual pursuits) lost interest.  Still, it had served to make her many important friends; chief among these was Molière, who is said to have based one of the characters in Les Femmes Savantes (The Learned Ladies) on her.  Whatever faults may have been Bérénice’s, indiscretion was not among them; though she must have known of the enmity between her friend and her patron, there is no evidence Molière knew that she was sleeping regularly with Colbert.  Another of her friends was the poet Jean de La Fontaine, whom she helped through some financial difficulties after the death of his patron in 1672.

After her marriage, Bérénice slowed down somewhat; her husband was not politically powerful, and since the two of them appear to have viewed their union more as a business partnership than anything else, he encouraged her activities as a means of making connections.  But around the end of 1677 she began to suffer frequent periods of weakness, later aggravated by abdominal pains; she died on May 8th, 1682 of her chronic illness, which may have been cervical cancer.  She left a daughter, Aimee, who herself became the mother of a beautiful daughter named Adelais, who would later become one of the many mistresses of King Louis XV.  In a world where social mobility was nearly always restricted by the circumstances of birth, women like Bérénice were nonetheless able to trade upon their natural gifts to rise from the lowest ranks of society to the highest; her latter-day sisters can do much the same, though the gulf between rich and poor is not so great as it was under the Ancien Régime.  Yet prohibitionists wish for you to view us as victims, and to believe that Bérénice would’ve been better off dying as a monogamous peasant’s wife than a wealthy and well-respected noblewoman.

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