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Posts Tagged ‘anecdote’

Diary #241

The day is here!  Or more exactly, it will be here tomorrow.  At roughly 10 AM CST tomorrow morning I’ll be headed west and driving all day, to rendezvous for dinner with Dr. David Ley in Albuquerque.  Then on Thursday I’ll be meeting my husband in Las Vegas, and the next day Jae and I will meet up for the trip to Seattle.  I’m not exactly sure when we’re departing or which route we’ll take; she complained that a planned schedule would “take the fun out of the trip”.  So as part of my commitment to loosening up and trying new things, I’m going to acquiesce to her wishes and play it by ear (the sound you hear is my nerves twanging at the thought).  But in any case, we should be back in Seattle by  sometime early next week (though you’ll have to wait until the 24th to read about it because next Tuesday is Mardi Gras.)  Anyhow, today is going to be spent almost entirely away from the keyboard; I’ve done all I can do to keep things running smoothly here for the next week even if I can’t get online very much, and I’ve got far too many real-life tasks to handle prior to departure (including, but not limited to:  a manicure/pedicure, taking the car to my mechanic for a last-minute check, washing clothes, packing the car and transferring all the vital Honest Courtesan files to my thumb drive for portability).  So wish me luck, make an offering to Hermes for me, send me positive vibes or whatever the equivalent is in your belief system; or, if you prefer a more pragmatic form of assistance, donations via PayPal are always welcome!

Incidentally, today’s illustration isn’t an affirmation or mere self-aggrandizement or anything like that; it’s to fulfill a request from my youngest fan, Mancrack’s little boy Storm, who met me when I stayed at her house last August.  Adult readers who appreciate it can direct your thanks to Mancrack.

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‘Cause I’m just a girl, little ‘ol me
Don’t let me out of your sight
I’m just a girl, all pretty and petite
So don’t let me have any rights.
  –  Gwen Stefani

A few days ago I was talking to Jae about my upcoming car trip to Seattle, and told her that my departure date could potentially be delayed slightly if snow were predicted anywhere along my planned route.  She asked why, and I replied that I’m just not comfortable with the idea of driving in Rocky Mountain snow in Wyoming or Idaho; to this she replied, “You just haven’t shaken off all the boy juice yet.”  That’s an especially powerful image coming from one whore to another, so I asked her to elucidate and she explained that it was her term for the kind of learned incompetence that men tend to (even unintentionally) inflict on women they care about.

woman changing a tireLong-time readers know that I am not a gender-difference denialist; I fully accept that there are many ways in which men and women tend to be totally different, and believe it’s foolish and counterproductive to pretend otherwise.  But there are other differences between the sexes which have little (if anything) to do with biology and everything to do with societal expectations.  Take car repairs, for example; though many women don’t care for getting dirty, there is no earthly reason for a woman not to learn basic techniques that could get her out of a jam or save her money (especially if there’s no man handy to do them).  My father would not let me drive alone until I showed him I could change a tire, and though I absolutely hate doing it and generally prefer the “stand on the side of the highway and look frustrated until a man stops and changes it for me” method (which for me never takes more than five minutes to work, at least in the daytime on a busy highway), I think it’s still a good thing that I know how to do it in a pinch…even if I do (as per Daddy’s lesson) stop as soon as I can thereafter and ask the first convenient man to make sure the lugs are tight enough.  But see, that’s not really helplessness; that’s just recognizing that I simply don’t have the upper-body strength necessary to tighten those babies as tight as they probably should be.  And for all his bad qualities, I do have to give Jack credit for one thing:  he insisted I learn how to perform every simple car repair he could teach me, from changing spark plugs to replacing a brake master cylinder.  Since Grace’s dad didn’t believe in letting her be ignorant of cars, either, I haven’t had to do any of those repairs myself in over twenty years; however, it’s still nice to know what is involved in them.

But even if a woman is as lucky as I was, and has boyfriends and family members who don’t intentionally keep her as helpless as possible, she still has to endure endless societal pressure (not just from men but from women and institutions) telling her not to take risks, not to do anything that might scare her and get her in trouble, not to explore her existence without the help of a man (or worse, of Big Brother).  And though early feminists seemed to be making some progress against that, their successors have embraced it and are its most vociferous proponents.  “Feminists” demand that young women be protected not only from physical harm, but even from ideas or pictures that might upset their delicate sensibilities, rattle their chains or force them to question their preconceptions for five minutes.  And they march arm-in-arm with religious conservatives and police-state functionaries to restrict women’s sexual choices and send armed thugs to hunt, entrap, rape, brutalize and cage them in order to “send a message” that utilizing one’s sexuality to win economic independence is too dangerous an activity for women.  Their propaganda reveals their incredibly low opinion of women’s competence; sex workers are said to be unable to place their own ads online, and touring is reframed as a criminal “circuit” in which helpless, ovine women are passively trucked around by evil “pimps”.  The idea that the female brain might actually be capable of booking hotels and writing ad copy is completely alien to the narrative.

African QueenThe cumulative effect of this pressure to be helpless is both profound and insidious; it even affects women whom one would think would be immune to it.  Case in point one Maggie McNeill, a nervy, hard-as-nails dame once favorably compared to Lara Croft by her admiring husband.  And yet when it came time to plan a cross-country book and speaking tour, the idea of doing it alone never even entered into her head until circumstances demanded her planned traveling companion be elsewhere for the duration of the trip.  Full disclosure:  I was scared, y’all.  I had driven long distances alone, but only if I had friends at the destination point.  The idea of not only making all the arrangements myself, but of then driving alone to strange cities and booking into hotels alone, was so daunting that the only reason I attempted it was because I had no other choice.  But why was it so scary?  What exactly was I afraid of?  Beyond the danger of running out of money, there was little to fear; it’s not like I was going up the Congo on a tramp steamer or something.  No, my trepidation came from only one place:  the social programming that it’s unacceptably dangerous for girls to travel alone far from home.  And now that I’m aware of the fact that this brainwashing is still subtly affecting me even after almost two decades of living outside “acceptable” female norms, you can bet I’ll be on the lookout for it.  That still doesn’t mean I’m comfortable with the idea of driving in a snowstorm, though; that has very little to do with “girls can’t” messaging and a lot to do with the fact that I grew up in south Louisiana and never even saw real snow until I was 34 years old, much less drove in it.

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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 #234

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo here I am, down to the last few hours before Christmas; I’m writing this on Sunday morning, after making the dough for the pumpkin gingerbread cookies but before making the toffee bars and divinity.  Chocolate chip cookies, peanut butter fudge and one kind of Rice Krispies treats (the chocolate ones) are already done, and the pfefferneuse dough has been sitting in the fridge since yesterday (to let the flavors blend before making the actual cookies).  Tomorrow morning (yesterday by the time y’all read this) I’ll make the fruity Rice Krispies treats and then pack all of this stuff into boxes to bring to the businesses that we have a close relationship with, including the mechanic who’s getting my touring car ready for long-distance travel.  He is, BTB, one of the few people who lives in this area who knows my story, and even has a signed copy of my book.  Anyhow, in the process of inspection he discovered that someone had bypassed something in the electrical system, so he’s trying to figure out what that is; it shouldn’t be too expensive but if you want to give me a little Christmas present to help pay for it, I wouldn’t say no!  Just PayPal it to maggiemcneill@earthlink.net.  And speaking of presents, thanks to Daz for sending me a copy of Annie Sprinkle’s comic book (which I’ve always wanted to see), and to Gumdeo for the snakeskin pumps!

In addition to the treats, I still have two more columns to write today and three to post; some of that work could roll over into Monday and Tuesday, but there’s other stuff I have to do those days.  On top of that, I have to finish cleaning the house before Jae arrives Tuesday (tonight, from the time you read this) to stay through the holidays.  Yes, there will be pictures.  Oh, and speaking of pictures, subscribers and gift-senders should have received one from me yesterday; if you did not, it’s because I’m not yet used to doing mass mailings and accidentally left you off the list.  Please let me know so I can add you to the list and get your Christmas card sent out!

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Lady fairest ever seen
Was the bride he crowned his queen.
Pillowed on the marriage-bed,
Whispering to his soul, he said,
“Though a bridegroom never pressed
Dearer bosom to his breast,
Mortal flesh must come to clay:
Even this shall pass away.”
  –  Theodore Tilton, “The King’s Ring

Every year on the Day of the Dead I write about why the holiday exists, why it is necessary, and why ruining the quality of life in an attempt to increase its quantity is both foolish and ultimately futile.  To those who have only started reading me this year, or who have only read a few selected pieces over a longer time, this might seem a strange topic for a harlot; one might expect death to be the farthest pole from my topic, except perhaps for mentioning it as an extreme manifestation of whore stigma or when paying my respects on December 17th.  But in truth, it’s both predictable and appropriate on a personal, professional and philosophical level.

zombie and harlotFrom a personal standpoint, I would probably have written often on this topic even had I never become a card-carrying prostitute; I was a strange, wild, moody  Wednesday Addams of a child, born on Halloween night and fascinated with horror lore and imagery.  Autumn was both my native season and the one in which I felt most comfortable, and I struggled with depression for over twenty years until at long last sex work helped me to get a handle on itMy favorite books, stories and even songs  mostly tend to involve death or other melancholy elements, and just look at the stories I’ve published on this blog and in my book (or just the cover of the damned thing, for goddess’ sake!)  So if you’ve read more than a handful of my (burnt) offerings and were still surprised that I sometimes think and write about death, you just haven’t been paying attention.

Professionally speaking, I must point out that whores often deal with the dark side of human nature.  Fear and sex are inextricably intertwined, and men who have rape fantasies or other “bad” urges may seek out sex workers to help them explore these in a safe and non-judgmental space; others, unfortunately, may seek out unwilling sex workers for the same reason, and the only “safety” they seek is their own relative safety from legal consequences.  Dominatrices and some fetish workers specialize in dealing with the darker aspects of human sexuality, and in criminalized, semi-criminalized and quasi-criminalized systems virtually all sex workers (especially those who work the street) are at a much greater risk of violence or even death than their domesticated amateur sisters.  And nobody who is afraid of death, or who views it as an unpleasant subject improper for polite company, could do the work I do now; take a look at a few items in any of my TW3 columns and I think you’ll see what I mean.

It is no accident that sex workers are among the most dedicated worshippers of the Mexican death-goddess, Santa Muerte, and that many of the myths surrounding pagan whore-goddesses (who were sometimes war-goddesses as well) involved violence and death; even long before criminalization of sex work was the norm, it was recognized that sex itself comes from the same hidden parts of the human psyche as those less-pleasant things.  Sex originates from the deepest wellsprings of life, but so does death; the latter is no less a biological process than the former.  Sex brings new life into the world, but death sustains that life; every one of us (yes, even vegans) continues his existence at the expense of the other lives we consume every single day in order to keep our internal fires burning and repair our damaged or worn-out tissues with materials stolen from the dead.  Not even plants are innocent of this colossal carnage; since some substances (such as phosphorus) are comparatively scarce, all life would soon grind to a halt were the constant supply of corpses to be choked off.  Nor is sex itself all moonlight and love songs; in many species it’s a brutal, coercive affair, and even among humans it can never be purged of its bestial and terrifying aspects, no matter how much feminists and other puritans insist that it can.  Sex and death are our constant reminders that for all our pretensions we are still animals; no wonder those uncomfortable with that fact try to disguise and sanitize both of them, to hide them from the children and speak about them in whispers, to bind them in legal codes and bury them under layers of ritual.  But no matter how deeply we bury our sexualities they reassert themselves, and no matter how diligently we try to delay death, it will come when it will come.  Both are impossible to ignore and impossible to prevent, and human society would be a lot better off if we learned to accept both as indisputable facts of material existence. 

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I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.  –  Tennessee Williams, A Streetcar Named Desire

Maggie speaking at LOTR LA 6-5-14Long-time readers know I’m a creature of habit; I tend to keep a pretty regular schedule of eating, sleeping, bathing, working and everything else, even down to which days of the week I usually work on which features of my blog.  So the announcement of such a long tour must’ve taken many of you by surprise; some of you probably wondered whether I’d be able to complete the ambitious itinerary I set for myself.  For over three months (with the exception of a single week at home around the 4th of July) I totally discarded most of my normal habits to drive from coast to coast, living in hotels or guest rooms and eating restaurant food.  The trip was a litany of firsts:  the first time I had ever spoken to people who specifically came out to see me,  the first time I had tried a number of foods, the first time I was ever in many of these cities (or even states), the first time I had ever traveled so far or so long alone, the first time I ever undertook such a major project without any clear idea of how I was going to pay for it.

And yet, despite there being a number of extremely good reasons why it should never have worked, it did.  I embarked on the tour because it was something I felt had to be done; not only did I want to talk about my book, I also wanted to meet people and talk face-to-face with them about why the War on Whores is a spectacularly awful idea, and why they should care about it.  And so I took a leap of faith; like Blanche Dubois I depended on the kindness of strangers, though I achieved much better results than she did.  From practically the moment I left my home people I did not know helped me to plan my trip, arrange my events, pay for my expenses and get where I needed to be when I needed to be there.  People sent me money, invited me into their homes, fed me, gathered audiences for me, listened to what I had to say, bought my book, encouraged me and went out of their way to assist me when I was sick or lost.  Everywhere I went I was made to feel welcome and important, and I was often treated like a celebrity.  It’s an overused phrase, but the experience really did renew my faith in humanity.

The journey took me from west to east and north to south, through hot weather and cold, across wildernesses to the largest population centers in the country; altogether, I logged almost 13,000 miles.  There were days when I was so busy I barely had time to think, and others in which I had nothing to do but catch up on my blogging.  I had experiences that frightened me or made me very nervous or uncomfortable, and others that were among the best of my whole life; I got sick a few times and made a number of new friends.  I spoke to enthusiastic crowds in packed rooms, and enjoyed quiet one-on-one conversations with individuals.  One of these days I’ll write about the whole thing at length for my memoirs, but for right now I just want to let y’all know what an amazing gift y’all gave me by making the whole thing possible; it was literally a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I’ll be thinking about it and drawing on it for my writing for many years to come.

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