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Posts Tagged ‘psychology’

Sandwich

I recently contacted a young lady advertising her services in an internet forum dedicated to a certain fetish to make a custom video for me, and gave her what I thought was a detailed list of instructions for what I wanted in the video.  She said that one of my requests was outside of her comfort zone; I told her that was OK, that I still wanted to hire her, and offered a substitute for the offending request instead, which she found acceptable and agreed to.  But the resultant video then wound up having just that one substitution, and none of the other elements we’d previously discussed.  I feel unhappy that I didn’t get what I was looking for; she’s already been paid of course, but has asked me how I liked the video, and I’m unsure what to say.  What’s the proper and appropriate way for a client to express dissatisfaction with the service they’re getting?

I think this is one of those cases where a “compliment sandwich” is the right approach:  compliment her, then express your criticism clearly and without rancor (and putting the blame on yourself), followed by another compliment.  Something like this might work:  “You’re very beautiful and the video you sent was very sexy!  I’m afraid I didn’t explain myself well, though; the substitute request was only for that one element you weren’t comfortable with, and I still wanted the other elements we had discussed that you were OK with.  Next time I’ll be sure to explain better, so the results will be even sexier.”  It’s possible she may reply with an offer to redo the video, or to give you a discount on the next; however, even if she doesn’t, you’ve at least expressed your feelings and learned that in future, it’s probably best to spell things out clearly & double-check after making a change.  “So we’re going to change that one element and leave the other ones as I first expressed them, OK?”  Something like that.  And with any luck, this will also teach her to pay a bit more attention to the details of requests, which in fetish work are often very specific and can ruin the fantasy if left out.

(Have a question of your own?  Please consult this page to see if I’ve answered it in a previous column, and if not just click here to ask me via email.)

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At the beginning of July, Lynne reached out to me via Paul Maginn to ask if I’d host an essay she wanted to write about her late daughter Pippa (October 18th, 1987 – October 12th, 2015), better known to the world at large as Grace Bellavue.  I was deeply touched that Lynne chose me to help her honor the memory of her daughter, one of the first sex workers in the world to use social media in the way so many of us do now, and one of the first to show us that we could show our faces without fear; Grace touched the lives of many thousands of people she never met, and her untimely death (just a few days short of her 28th birthday) robbed the world of a powerful, amazing woman.  I originally wrote “unique” in the previous sentence, but that’s not entirely true; as you will understand after reading this essay, her mother Lynne is in her own way just as amazing, and her desire to continue her daughter’s work is one of the most beautiful examples of maternal love it has ever been my privilege to witness. 

Can death really stymie a spirit that continues to be heard?

I wonder if you have ever set an intention?  Did you ever wonder how you were going to start, especially when you have an emotional investment in what you believe in?  For myself, it started with fear, then I realised that if you have fear, then there is no love.  I was going to be confronted with things I didn’t want to know or feel.  I was going to grieve all over again for my beautiful daughter Pippa O’Sullivan, AKA Grace Bellavue:  Sex worker, Escort Extraordinaire, real life Advocate, Writer, Social Justice Warrior and observer of all things nefarious locally and internationally.  As a wordsmith, her reach was incredible and life-changing to many who loved her.  Most life-stories begin with a beginning, but this one starts with an end:  A life lost tragically to suicide, which I felt could have been prevented.  A tragic loss of SELF!  I’ve often felt being a mother is about learning strengths you didn’t know you had, and dealing with fears you didn’t know existed.  A numbness of thought told her it couldn’t get any worse, but unfortunately it did for me.  My beautiful, amazing daughter gone.  A person so full of life, yet extinguished so quickly that I hardly had time to grasp her essence as she grew to adulthood.

I do believe in a life where there are no mistakes or coincidences.  All events are blessings given to us to learn from.  My daughter was a blessing from the start: half of me, yet unique.  She stood out amongst her contemporaries as gifted and talented; her wisdom and her deep understanding of the human psyche knew no boundaries. I’ve often thought, “How can someone that had enough inner fire to light a city die so tragically?”  There is no sense or reason to it for us, but Grace had personal reason enough to kill herself, alone with her thoughts and just her cat for company.

While I have no wish to openly talk on her early life just yet, it would be remiss of me not to mention that an escort was what she had always wanted to be.  I realised when she turned 18 that if I didn’t support her I would lose the daughter I loved, so I set about accepting what she did and gained a little insight into the industry.  It wasn’t something I talked about openly with family and friends at the start, but I gained respect for her written word and the real love she had for the working girls.  Grace was a chameleon who lived two lives, one as a sex worker and the other as a daughter who was loved and accepted by her family.  She never crossed that line when she was with us.

Grace was one of the first in the world to use social media as a means to be heard; she lived her life as she saw fit, and said just what she wanted to say without barriers.  Many who lived vicariously through her soaked up her words as water into the sponge of their mundane lives.  Grace had an amazing understanding of the human psyche which she shared with the whole world; her fans often wrote to her when they were depressed, at loggerheads with life and in need of reassurance and comforting words.  I saw many she saved with her written word when she was burnt out and had no energy for anyone, let alone herself.  My daughter was the kindest, most thoughtful, most selfless and empathetic person you could come across; she crossed barriers to help the disabled in her sex work, worked in the assimilation process with new immigrants, and won real love with her honesty and openness.

As a campaigner I’ve found that advocating for the empowerment of women is a passion of mine, and I stand right behind Grace and all the work she did toward decriminalization. I am a firm believer that to be an expert in anything you need to time to understand your subject, but also to passionately understand the heart that goes with it.  My continuation of Pippa’s work began when I spoke in a parliamentary hearing last December with a cohort of other sex workers; she had been dead for over 12 months and I wanted to act on her behalf.  I worked within the social justice framework as a clinical nurse for 40 years, advocating for others that couldn’t have a voice, and I drew on that experience to speak about the fact that the rights and safety of sex workers should be seen as an essential component of community expectations about the status and treatment of women.  South Australia has long denied sex workers their human rights and the protection that should be offered to paid workers anywhere, but our politicians have begun to realize that decriminalisation strengthens the ability of sex workers to report intimidation, extortion and any exploitation that is taking place.  In June of this year, our decriminalisation law for South Australia was passed in the Upper House; we hope that this month the Lower House accepts the bill unopposed and we can see some results that accept accountability and safety for all Sex Workers in this state.

While my daughters life is still fresh in our minds and our hearts, we need to honor her advocacy for the labelled and stigmatised, the people she saved on the streets, her fight for decriminalisation of the sex industry in South Australia, and her reach within the social/interactive media and the sex worker network.  I am looking at it as a capacity building measure, where we build on what is working in the world and embrace a “new voice” here in South Australia and further afield.  I will be collating her life works into a book in the near future, and have a WordPress account called ouramazinggrace.com in which I would like anyone to put their thoughts/words and perhaps the contact they had with Grace/Pippa and how she influenced their lives.

It is with Grace…… that I accept her life and all she contributed, to continue her final work.

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The Dog Days

As I told you last week, I’m going to start taking it kind of easy on Fridays.  Obviously, the columns that publish on Friday aren’t actually written on Friday, but days before; this one, for example, was written on Wednesday afternoon.  But that still works well, because when I travel it’s generally during the week, and the shorter Friday columns are the kind of things it will be easy to put together in hotel rooms, airports or even airplanes.  It’s also really appropriate that I made this change at this time of year; the Dog Days (roughly June 24th-August 23rd) are the hottest, laziest part of the summer, and period in which my seasonal anxiety tends to be worst.  Yes, it’s caused by the longer days, so one would expect it would be worst in June and July; however, that’s not accounting for my stubbornness.  I tend to fight mood shifts for as long as I can (which is why I’ve been known to break down weeks, months or even years after a crisis is past); August is when I generally break down and succumb to the mood until the approaching autumn revives me.  So if you look back in the archives, you’ll notice that it’s not unusual for me to feature at least a few short, easy, “phoned in” columns around this time of year; really, the only thing that’s changing is that I’m giving myself permission to do it every week now.

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My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends—
It gives a lovely light!
 –  Edna St. Vincent Millay

I think I’ve said before, somewhere in this massive edifice of words, that I really hate it when other women respond to the realization that I have the figure I have without special dieting or exercising every day with “I wish I had your metabolism”.  I used to simply reply with “thank you” or a Southern belle “I guess I’m just blessed that way”, but I’ve grown so weary of the hidden bile in such statements that I now reply with a cutting glance and a darkly-intoned, “You wouldn’t want what goes with it.”

Engineers, scientists and medical professionals understand what most people don’t: that every dynamic system (such as a human body) exists in a state of homeostasis, and that a gain in one part of the system can only be achieved by shorting another part of the system.  Squeeze the balloon in the middle and the ends will enlarge at the expense of that middle, not to mention putting considerable pressure on the structural cohesion of the plastic if one squeezes hard enough.  Burn the candle at both ends?  Twice the light, but half the life.  Yes, I have a great metabolism…and it’s so finely-balanced that I become completely non-functional if anything knocks it out of that balance.  You know how most people can push themselves to go without sleep if necessary?  If I try that, when I get to about the 20-hour mark I get dizzy, start shivering and vomiting (sometimes accompanied by diarrhea and/or hives) and then literally pass out.  Some of my friends can walk around in public while high; I have to crawl to make it to the bathroom.  And on the rare occasions when I succumb to some illness, it generally manifests as 24 to 48 hours of dizziness, vomiting, chills, weakness so profound I can barely move, and fever so high that those attending me (if they can handle all the screaming at them to shut up, go away and turn off every light in the house) get frightened.  And that uncannily-high pain threshold some people envy?  It’s because sensations below the “imminent threat of maiming” level just don’t register on my hyperactive nervous system.  Consider what that does to my ability to sense pleasure, then tell me you still wish you had my physiology.

And while we’re on the subject, let’s talk about that hyperactive nervous system.  On the good side: extremely high intelligence, quick wit, lightning-fast reflexes, and hyper-awareness.  On the bad side: debilitating vertigo, OCD, ADD, insomnia and anxiety (the latter three all aggravated by long summer days).  That prolificity and vocabulary envied by other writers?  Paid for by a nigh-complete inability to shut up (ask my long-suffering friends how literal this is) unless I’m deeply drugged or unconscious.  And that superhuman memory of mine, the one everybody thinks is so bloody wonderful because I can pull up facts faster than Google and order them in a way no machine yet built can manage?  While the joy of good things fades with the neurochemical changes generated by those experiences, the emotional damage done by the bad ones remains and never completely heals, if it heals at all.  It has been said that no woman would ever have more than one baby if she could actually remember how it felt to have the first one; if that’s true it’s probably best I couldn’t have children, because I remember pain – whether physical or emotional – every bit as vividly as I remember facts.  Every laceration and every rejection; every broken bone, and every broken heart.

I’m not saying I would have it any other way; I am who I am and what I am, and it’s all I know.  What I’m saying is, when you look at someone else’s life and human condition, please apply at least as much thought as you apply when shopping for a new piece of technology, and consider the actual cost of what’s in front of you.

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Feeling Small

I am, as Paul Simon wrote, weary and feeling small.  When I look at this vast edifice of a website I’ve created, stone by stone, day by day, over the past seven years, it sometimes overwhelms me; I almost ask myself, “How the Hell did I do all that?”  And then I remember: it was through countless hours spent at the keyboard, typing literally millions of words (almost 2600 posts x an average of 1000 words each = 2,600,000 words).  And that doesn’t even count all the tweets, articles, and other content.  For the past five years, and especially the last two, I’ve been slowly decreasing the amount of work I have to do to maintain it; I’ve relaxed my length requirements, instituted features (like diaries, links columns and back issues) which take less work, brought in more guests, eliminated some time-and-labor intensive regular features, split the weekly news column into two parts and otherwise stretched my labor while lessening the amount of it required to give myself more free time.  And now I need to do that again.  When I first started The Honest Courtesan, I was releasing a decade of pent-up self-expression and trying to distract myself from a disintegrating marriage by burying myself in work (which is pretty much what I always did back before I realized what a tremendously stupid idea absolute sobriety was); now I’m older, wiser, sadder and wearier, and I just can’t maintain the pace I could then (which, to be honest, wasn’t really healthy back then either).  I’m worn thin and threadbare, and I need to devote more time and energy to paying work and to self-care (which includes spending quality time with people who love me).  So I’m making another small adjustment to my procedures:  since Friday is the day sacred to Aphrodite, I’m going to start taking some Fridays off.  That doesn’t mean you won’t get content on Fridays; I’m absolutely committed to providing my readers with new material every day as long as it’s physically possible for me to do so.  What it means is that a lot of Friday columns are going to be light and very low-effort, like the collection of pictures from Ireland I gave you two weeks ago.  That will reduce my stress levels, decrease my energy output by almost one-seventh (fitting, since I’ve been doing this now for almost a seventh of my life), and make more time for travel (both for business and pleasure). And since a lot of you have been urging me to do something like this for years, I’m sure most of you are glad to hear it.

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I don’t think it’s any secret to anyone who has read more than a couple of my essays, or known me in person at all, that I am profoundly independent, free-spirited and anti-authoritarian.  I consider the idea that some stranger has even the slightest “rightful” authority over me due to his birth, title, fancy costume, magical talisman, mob consensus or ability to inflict violence upon my person to be ludicrous at best and an abomination against the gods at worst, and the most efficient way to get me not to do a thing is to tell me that I “must” do it, or to “order” me to do it.  And yet, seemingly paradoxically, I rarely turn down a request for a favor from a friend, and if I love someone deeply enough I’ll do almost anything they ask.  As I recently wrote on Twitter, “If you’re sure I love you, you can raise your hand to me & I’ll roll over for petting. But if not, expect that hand to be bitten off.”  What’s the magic formula that transforms me from a tigress to a kitten, from an uncontrollable spitfire to a gentle, kind angel?  Consent.  People who demand, assume or don’t even bother to seek my compliance will never, ever get it, but those who approach me in a friendly and respectful way often will.  And if a person invests the time and effort to win my heart, my freely-given loyalty is extremely difficult to break.

This right to decide who to submit to and who to snarl at belongs not only to me, but to every sentient being.   We all own ourselves, body and soul, and absolutely nobody else has the right to claim ownership over us, to tell us what we can and cannot do with our bodies and lives, or to determine what is best for us; the concept that the “majority”, some “authority”, or the nebulous “state” has the right to use violence to abrogate our self-determination or punish us for our free choices is a moral abomination on par with slavery, and future generations will look back upon prohibition with the same disgust as we view the idea that one human being can literally own another.  Every free-willed being has the right to consent, to refuse to consent, or to revoke consent to any request or action of another, and nobody has the right either to force consent via threat or violence, or to overrule anyone else’s consent.  And yet, the evil, confused and morally retarded claim this right over others every single day; modern states have a vast apparatus of surveillance designed to spy on the private, consensual acts of sane adults and inflict violence upon them if those acts conflict with the diktats of the State.  And there is a vast and growing cult which plays a Kafkaesque game with the very concept of consent, attempting to turn it from the free exercise of free will by free beings into a convoluted and bureaucratic prison, in which “authorities” impose their will on individuals and negate their consent by pretending that it wasn’t “true” consent under byzantine, ever-changing and ever-expanding rules determined, naturally, by the “authorities”.  In other words, these evil hypocrites overrule the consent of others in the name of “protecting” it.  It isn’t enough that consent be given; we are told it must be explicitly verbal, ongoing, and “enthusiastic”, and that it must be bureaucratically and tiresomely re-ascertained over and over and over again no matter how clearly it was expressed in the first place.  Some “authorities” choose to add even more adjectives to the list, insisting that consent be “creative” and “honest” (presumably, the one seeking consent must cart around a polygraph machine to fulfill the latter condition).  Others insist that consent is compulsory under certain conditions, and those who wish to inflict violence upon others for sex acts they consider “deviant” (including sex work, BDSM and in the past, homosexuality) claim that people who make these choices are suffering from mental disorders such as “Stockholm syndrome“, “trauma bonding” or the Marxist fantasy of “false consciousness”).  Possibly the most bizarre of these, popular among neofeminists for years but now gaining momentum among tyrants pretending to be “progressive”, is the idea that if a person is paid to do something he wouldn’t do for free that constitutes “coercion” or even “violence”.  This dogma is, frankly, deranged; it sounds more like something that might be ejaculated from a Maoist circle-jerk than something an official in a Western capitalist nation (whom, we might note, does not do HIS job for free and is therefore equally coerced) would say in public with a straight face.

Consent is never absolute; it is always conditional and contextual.  But only the free individual has the right to determine the conditions for their consent; that could be anything from “if you say please” to “if you pay me x amount” to “if you do this other thing for me”.  And nobody but the individual has the right to add extra conditions to that, nor to forbid any particular condition from among the individual’s choices.  To do either is to negate the entire concept of consent, which is the same as negating free will.  And an entity without free will is not a human; it is an object, owned by whichever other entity can hold onto it.  The abrogation of consent doesn’t “protect” anyone, no matter what the fanatics claim; it merely disguises an ugly, savage system of might makes right.

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Made To Be Broken

My dominatrix is bright, a great listener, and knows her trade well; I’ve been seeing her for several years.  A couple of months ago, in chit-chat after the scene was done, I asked her about her school and made an offhand remark about how she seemed to like unstructured events.  She was offended, said I didn’t know her well enough, and left without a word of goodbye.  Later she texted me saying I was intrusive and needy, and that it wasn’t her job to give me attention.  Now she is ignoring me.  What did I do wrong?

Different people have different boundaries, and sex workers are no exception.  We’re a lot better at policing our boundaries than most people, but we all have different ways of doing that.  Some of us, especially those relatively new to the profession, have extremely firm and rigid boundaries and strict rules about how we maintain them (which often includes rules about the consequences of boundary violation, up to and including “firing” a client who transgresses them).  Over the years, many (perhaps most) of us get more flexible about our rules; we develop a better sense of which boundaries are serious deal-breakers and which we’re willing to negotiate for the right client under the right circumstances, subject to intuition.  For example, when I first started I absolutely never gave out my personal phone number or legal name; now there are clients who know both.  There were also things at first that I’d never do for anyone, but now don’t mind if I know the gent well enough.  It’s not that I’ve become jaded or don’t care about my boundaries any more; far from it.  It’s just that I’ve internalized my needs well enough, and have such a finely-honed sense of how I feel about a situation from moment to moment, that I don’t always need the rigid rules as I did 17 years ago.  However, not everyone is like me; some ladies maintain strict rules for their entire career, and it’s their right to do so.  Nobody can determine what works for any individual but that individual herself.

It’s pretty clear that your lady is one whose boundaries are both firm and non-negotiable, and you broke one of them.  That isn’t a criticism of you; it may be that if I were in your place I’d have unknowingly done the same thing.  And it’s equally clear that your offense, however unintended, was serious enough in her mind that she is willing to forgo the income to maintain her principles and/or avoid the possibility you may do it again.  My advice is that you move on and find another domme; it may be that she is being manipulative and will contact you when she decides you’ve been punished enough (or when she wants your money enough).  And when and if that happens, you get to decide whether that kind of treatment is forgivable or whether it violated one of your boundaries, and whether you should go back to seeing her or tell her where she can stick her moodiness.

(Have a question of your own?  Please consult this page to see if I’ve answered it in a previous column, and if not just click here to ask me via email.)

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