Archive for Sex+ Work

May 12th, 2012

Open, Fearless, and Needed: Best Sex Writing 2012

This post originally appeared on the Good Vibrations Blog.

That an anthology series called Best Sex Writing exists thrills me. Truly. There are few topics I feel the human species would benefit more from exploring, questioning, and opening to. The fact that those things all seem particularly lacking makes me even more excited to see a book—in this case, Best Sex Writing 2012, edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel and published by Cleis Press—devoted to inviting and displaying them in a multi-authored tapestry.

Between the pages of Best Sex Writing 2012 is rumination, information, and investigation of a society displaying, as I see it, a severe misguidedness around the book’s title subject. The fascinating exposition of “Sex, Lies, and Hush Money” by Katherine Spillar outlines for us (just in case anyone has forgotten) the corruption and hypocrisy that is alive and well in our political systems—largely resulting from, I would argue, our continued repression, distortion, and shame around sex.

I found Radley Balko’s “You Can Have Sex with Them; Just Don’t Photograph Them” painful to read (which is not a negative comment—it was one of the pieces I appreciated most in the book); my sense of wanting to do something to help put a stop to the literal insanity it described was activated from its first page. The seemingly small but important victory of seeing it recognized and reported on assuaged my distress a tiny bit. The suspense in the powerful, heartbreaking “An Unfortunate Discharge Early in My Naval Career” by Tim Elhajj was breathtaking to me, as was the reminder that “being [accused of being] a homosexual” in the United States military could be the basis of such suspense.

In “The Careless Language of Sexual Violence,” Roxanne Gay offers a profound elucidation I found so extraordinary I don’t know how to even sum it up here. It struck me deeply as something that needed to be said, and I’m grateful to Ms. Gay for saying it.

I had already read (and recommended here) Thomas Roche‘s “Men Who ‘Buy Sex’ Commit More Crimes: Newsweek, Trafficking, and the Lie of Fabricated Sex Studies.” As I said then, I found it incisive, comprehensive, and illuminating of the issues the piece was about and responding to. (A one-sentence case in point: “Trafficking continues because of corruption and poverty, not because there are no laws against it.”)

There are also what Rachel describes in her introduction as “more personal takes on sex […] that aren’t about making a point so much as exploring what real-life sex is like in all its beauty, drama, and messiness.” To me, three of the most moving of this kind of piece were Joan Price‘s “Grief, Resilience, and My 66th Birthday Gift,” a striking slice of memoir interwoven with, as the title suggests, experiences of grief, vitality, love, and the beauty of connection—including with ourselves; Hugo Schwyzer‘s raw, insightful (and indeed rather hot in parts) “I Want You to Want Me,” which, while very personal, lays out a commentary on gender socialization I much appreciated; and “Losing the Meatpacking District: A Queer History of Leather Culture” by Abby Taller, which relays a compelling, poignant portrait of a time and place that is no longer.

All three of these pieces compelled me in a different way, enlisting empathy and softheartedness as they opened a part of themselves onto the page and paradoxically shone a light on universal levels of sexual—and human—experience.

The combination of this kind of personal memoir alongside the investigative exposition, irreverent humor, and incisive commentary also found in this book makes for a vastly varied volume of entertainment and thought provocation. The few things in the anthology that didn’t resonate with me did not decrease my overall appreciation of it; I indeed encountered perspectives that diverged from mine, and I see that as one of the values of a book like this. Certainly I was engaged and even energized by the eloquent, captivating articulations of perspectives in alignment with mine—but those that weren’t invited me to discern and articulate why, an opportunity which is not lost on me.

Ultimately, this book exemplifies something it seems to me we could use a lot more of: open, fearless discussion of sexuality in which we talk about it like we do so many other topics—with consideration, enthusiasm, respect, curiosity, interest, reverence, scrutiny, and maturity…rather than the degrees of pubescence and oppression I have found so woefully pervasive in our culture. Rachel asserts in her introduction that “the more we talk about the many ways sex moves us, the more we work toward a world where sexual shame, ignorance, homophobia, and violence are diminished.” I couldn’t agree more, and I thank the the editor, contributors, and publisher of Best Sex Writing 2012 for offering their time and attention to doing so.


“Did you read the news today, they say the danger’s gone away, but I can see the fire’s still alight, burning into the night…this is the world we live in, and these are the names we’re given, stand up and let’s start showing just where our lives are going to…”
-Disturbed “Land of Confusion”

March 3rd, 2012

An Open Letter to Rush Limbaugh

March 3 is International Sex Worker Rights Day. My post in honor of it is combined with a few other things I want to address and is in the form of an open letter to Rush Limbaugh.

Dear Mr. Limbaugh:

From what I have interpreted in the last week, it seems you do not like the idea of birth control being funded by health insurance companies. It further appears that you found it appropriate to speculate about the personal life of an individual who disagrees with you about that and spoke about it before members of Congress.

Do you have health insurance, Rush? Would it be safe to say that you feel you should be able to eat all the french fries you want and that your insurance should still pay for treatment for you were you to develop heart disease (I certainly do not wish this on you or anyone), and that if you did happen to experience a heart attack, insurance should pay for your medical care during and after that as well? If so, we are on the same page.

If not, then for whatever reason, we do appear to disagree. Not that I would describe the above situation as taxpayers being asked to satisfy the eating habits of radio personalities, but if we are going to have a system of health insurance, it seems appropriate to me that it should cover the health care needs of the people it insures—even if those health care needs seem influenced by the lifestyle choices the holders of it, citizens of a free and democratic republic, make.

You mentioned that you felt that Sandra Fluke, who spoke before a congressional forum about contraceptive coverage in relation to health insurance, was a “slut” and a “prostitute” because she she feels birth control pills should be covered by health insurance. “Slut,” of course, is a subjective term—since it seems to me it has no actual definition, it would be hard to claim it to be slanderous. Furthermore, some of us don’t see it as a denigrating label. You could call me a slut, for example, until you’re blue in the face, and it wouldn’t disquiet me in the least because I simply don’t perceive the word as an insult.

Similarly, I don’t see labeling someone a prostitute as an insult. In the case of that word, it does refer to an actual job, so the label could be incorrect. Claiming that I am a prostitute at this time, for example, would be incorrect, but it would hold about as much power to insult me as claiming I was an accountant. Both are erroneous, but I don’t take offense to either.

Because we have ignorant, puritanical, and inappropriate laws in this country about it, however, prostitution is illegal. So stating that someone works as a prostitute is claiming that person does something illegal. Thus that, if not true, is slanderous. I wish Ms. Fluke all the best in introducing legal action against you as such should she choose to.

Probably you didn’t know that today, March 3, is International Sex Worker Rights Day. One of the things supporting that means to me is advocating for the decriminalization of prostitution so that one day what you said about Ms. Fluke would not be slanderous because 1) it wouldn’t be accusing someone of doing something illegal, and 2) the ignorance and judgment of collective society would have subsided so that what you said would not even be perceived as an insult.

Of course, the energy with which you said it would probably still make it an unsavory thing to say. It wasn’t the words but the judgmental and disrespectful energy with which it was said, the relatively unconscious place from which it came, that made it so unfortunate.

To be frank, it would seem to me that one who underwent what became a public challenge with substance addiction as you did would have developed more empathy both for the basic struggles of your fellow humans and also for those whose personal business is intruded upon by a culture that seems to find it okay to do so to those considered famous or public figures. Why that didn’t appear to happen, I don’t know, but it seems doubly sorrowful to me because I suspect it means you are suffering all the more in order to close your heart off to the natural development of empathy.

I don’t doubt that you struggle a lot. Anyone who treats others with the degree of vitriol and contempt I have observed in you almost certainly feels those things toward oneself, whether it is realized consciously or not. I wish you all the best with the struggles and challenges you experience. In truth, it is not actually hard for me to do so—I recognize that we are ultimately all One, and even when I feel enormous frustration with what I perceive to be the ignorance or unconsciousness someone displays, I am still aware that there is something much bigger than that.

The truth is, Rush, I suspect that someday you will perceive and feel true regret for the degree to which you’ve treated your fellow human beings with disrespect. It may be on your deathbed, perhaps before. Or, perhaps it will not happen at all. I just suspect it will. I don’t want to intrude on your process, so I beg your pardon for saying that; it is not for me to speculate, really. It’s just something that has occurred to me as I have observed this situation. Remembering that reminds me of the compassion I feel for you, as true compassion (which I feel we all have the intrinsic capacity for, whether we recognize it or not) is compassion for everyone—it’s indivisible.

I wish you all the best, and indeed I do plan to continue to have as much sex as I want, with however many partners as I want, as often as I want. That happens to not be the reason doctors have recommended birth control pills as part of my health care, but it is a choice I make just like many citizens who choose to eat french fries and still receive health care for heart and other diseases. As long as I work for or pay for health insurance, I expect it to cover my health care needs to the same degree it does the rest of the citizenry, regardless of what my employer finds appropriate.

Emily McCay
aka Emerald

Tell your leaders love’s in town, to turn this whole thing upside down, yeah, we can’t take it anymore…
-LIVE “Transmit Your Love”

May 5th, 2011

Then As Now: Sexual Repression and Civilization

This post originally appeared at Good Vibrations Magazine.

“But paradise, we found, is always frail; against man’s fear will always fail…”
-From the narrated poem in the opening of Dangerous Beauty

Several months ago I watched my favorite movie for the first time. While I would love to post all manner of clips here and expound on what I find to be the film’s myriad virtues, that would encompass spoilers—and since I would rather anyone reading this watch the movie, I will resist the temptation and talk instead about a few universal themes I observed in watching it.

The movie is Dangerous Beauty. The screenplay is adapted from the book The Honest Courtesan, a biography by Margaret Rosenthal of Veronica Franco, sixteenth-century Venetian writer/poet and courtesan. Ms. Franco lived, and thus the events in the movie and the time period in which they are contextualized occurred, 450 years ago—a time so far in the distant past it may seem archaic or hard to conceptualize in light of how different human society is now.

Except it’s not. Different, that is. As I finished watching Dangerous Beauty for the first time that day last year, I was struck by how much, on some level, we have not changed.

Now indeed, I will say first that there are things that have on some level shifted or rearranged such that our gender roles, for example, seem less strict, and of course I appreciate that. At this point and in this location on the earth, I as a woman have options beyond marrying, becoming a nun, or working as a courtesan or prostitute to survive financially. There are practical ways in which women in many parts of the world have far more opportunities for financial independence now than they did in sixteenth-century Venice. This of course calls for acknowledgement, and I duly extend it. My personal appreciation for such is profound, and to not recognize that would be disingenuous and inappropriate.

That withstanding, however, I argue that throughout our collective civilization, deep-seated and unconscious perceptions and distortions still relegate us in fundamental ways to the same as we were then. We’re dressed up a bit differently—but we’re the same. So much so that it’s staggering.

Marriage is still a contract (if in doubt, observe phenomena such as alimony and the state’s having anything to do with who is “allowed” to marry), and though what we tend to associate with romantic love seems more of a reason to marry now than then, people still marry for political, financial, or other reasons. Marriage itself is still expected—monogamy is still the default, the standard for people’s lives in romantic relationship. Affairs still exist, and we still pretend not to acknowledge their prevalence or potential complexity as any invitation to examine the possibility that monogamy and marriage are perhaps not the ideal configurations for all individuals.

“The Church” still inserts itself into public affairs—sometimes via official governments—claiming an esoteric authority and the position to judge the general populace according to the standards it chooses to set. We are still compelled by war. Poverty, disease, populist unrest remain. There is still rampant evidence of nationalism, classism, sexism, and political manipulation. We are still encouraged to follow the rules, whatever they may be, and not question or flout them lest we interrupt the fragile illusion of whatever arbitrary perspective of “reality” our ego-based selves have created and think they feel comfortable with.

In Dangerous Beauty, when the plague begins to run rampant through Venice, the townspeople/collective society turn on what is considered the decadence and indulgence of the city, of which courtesans are perceived to be squarely in the middle. A following of religiously-oriented purveyors develops and overtly blames “those who tempt us” with “fornication and carnal practices” for the “God”-inflicted downfall of the republic.

In response to a protest that the Inquisition has appeared in Venice, the doge (presiding figure of the republic at the time) responds, “Fifty-six thousand people are dead. The living want answers. They may be the wrong answers, but they want them just the same.”

To me these lines epitomize that which has not changed in four and a half centuries. Throughout society there are examples of selective intervention in human rights abuses, astounding hypocrisy in application of laws, and scapegoating of cultures, people, entities in order to get “answers” that a part of us finds tolerable internally and/or in response to the cognitive dissonance in us.

What seems most concerning to me about this uncanny similarity to a time centuries ago is not just its obviousness but that we do not seem to see it. We truly think we are different. That things were so primitive then, that they were so inhibited, their roles so strictly defined. We think we are so advanced because we have skyscrapers and spaceships and smartphones. But we still use that technological capacity to create ways to destroy each other and ourselves—which tells me we are not.

It seems clear to me that despite our apparent advances and some level of progress in social redresses, under the surface the same prejudices, constraints, ignorance, and fear that formed what was seen in sixteenth-century Venice is with us now and still forming the same things. The seemingly obvious things like racism, classism, xenophobia, sexism are outcrops, manifestations, of what has remained the same—which is our ignorance of ourselves. We have not awakened enough to be consistently aware of our true nature. We are not conscious of the unconditional love that is the deepest level of ourselves and the innate oneness of the universe.

Underlying this lack of awareness is the resistance and refusal to examine ourselves, to see that it is what is inside ourselves that may be tormenting us rather than projecting it onto a perceived external. Repression is one of the key ingredients in this phenomenon, and repression of a fundamental instinct—such as, say, the sexual one—is one of this phenomenon’s very bedrocks.

As in the movie, many of the above-described circumstances and the societal responses decrying and attacking them have to do with sex. All over the world, a conservative populace still behaves as though perceived “immorality” around sexuality is or will be the downfall of civilization. “The Church” (represented by fundamentalist perspectives of virtually all major religions) still bewails “fornication and carnal practices” and proclaims our collective suffering “punishment” for a culture steeped in “sin.” These perspectives seem to see open sexuality rather than denouncement, vilification, and repression as dangerous, sinful, and undesirable.

Why would this be? As depicted so beautifully in Dangerous Beauty, sexuality is one of the preeminent paths to love (not just romantic, but love in the universal sense), self-awareness, divinity, connection, gratitude, openness, and beauty. Then as now, this aspect is so fundamental to us that it instills the kind of fear that has through the ages attracted measures of denouncement, repression, fear, violence, and desperation in the face of truly experiencing and interacting with it because it is so impossibly close to us, so unavoidably reflective of ourselves—we cannot not see ourselves if we are truly and openly acknowledging and examining the sexual impulse within us. It forces us to face ourselves, and to truly do that is something we have found, probably throughout our human existence, excruciatingly difficult to do. Sexuality, our instinctive drive for what it represents, for pleasure and beauty and openness and love, is so close that we must either surrender to it or do everything in our power to control it. Yes, there are measures in between, but the sexual impulse does not give up—it doesn’t have that capacity. No matter how we try to control it, sexuality just is. It’s how we be with it that is the opportunity.

Sexual repression appeared rampant at the time of Dangerous Beauty‘s depiction (and highly encouraged by social structures at that time). It appears rampant to me now (and highly encouraged, perhaps in superficially different ways, by social structures currently). Am I suggesting that a large part of the fear, hatred, and relentless harm we do each other around the world at this time is based, at least in part, on sexual repression?

I am.

At a key point in the film, Veronica Franco’s character states,

“I confess I find more ecstasy in passion than in prayer. Such passion is prayer. […] I confess I hunger still to be filled and enflamed, to melt into the dream of us, beyond this troubled place—to where we are not even ourselves.”

Those lines gave me chills the first time I watched the movie, and they did again yesterday when I watched it most recently. I would certainly not say that everyone should agree with them and feel the same way—we are all unique and experience things as such. I do wish, though, truly and deeply, that we would see the offering in them and open to discover whatever truth resonates uniquely and authentically within each of us around this area so intrinsic to life.

It is in that, it seems to me, that true progress lies.


“It’s not too late, think of what could be if you rewrite the role you play…”
-Adam Lambert “Aftermath”

March 3rd, 2011

Bittersweet Balloons

Two years ago, one of my dearest friends informed me that her great Uncle Jesse’s (names changed for privacy) 90th birthday was coming up. She said that at his 80th birthday party, he had told everyone that if he made it to his 90th, he wanted to have a “girl jump out of the cake” at his party. With his 90th birthday and corresponding party plans imminent, my friend told me her mother and Uncle Jesse’s wife (Aunt Grace) were wondering if they could hire me to surprise Uncle Jesse at his party with a (very tame) strip tease.

I said of course, and on the day of the party I wore a matching polka-dot push-up bra and boyshorts set and covered myself with blue balloons, which Uncle Jesse was provided with a thumbtack to pop while I danced. I had a delightful time performing that job and meeting Uncle Jesse and Aunt Grace, whom I enjoyed seeing occasionally over the next couple years as my friend got married and her family and I encountered each other at different wedding-related events.

Several weeks ago Uncle Jesse underwent surgery and experienced some subsequent complications. While he was recovering, I was told that Aunt Grace had brought him a picture of me taken the day of his 90th birthday party so he could show the nurses his “balloon girl,” whom he had apparently talked about. My friend said this was done “not in a silly way – it really cheered him up.”

Uncle Jesse died last week, just short of age 92. I will attend his memorial service on Saturday.

Sometimes, professional sexual entertainment is lighthearted, fun, sweet, moving. Sometimes it may hold an importance or make a difference in someone’s life many people aren’t or wouldn’t be aware of.

Today (March 3) is International Sex Workers’ Rights Day. This year has brought me, not that I need one, a bittersweet personal reminder that sex work encompasses and touches a wide variety of services, people, and experiences. As always, I offer love and support for sex workers and the recognition of their/our professional and human rights.

And I offer love to all who knew and loved Uncle Jesse, and wish him a beautiful journey.


“If you could stand tall with me…so much more that we could know…move past this flesh and blood, see what’s inside of you…”
-Ed Kowalczyk “Stand”

December 17th, 2010


Earlier this week, I wrote about avoidance and anxiety. It happened that the next day, the ongoing Inner Work group of which I am a part had a conference call, which we have scheduled sometimes in addition to our two annual in-person weekend retreats.

A participant on the conference call talked about, as I interpreted it, a feeling she had been experiencing of “non-movement” lately. She said she didn’t see it as necessarily an egoic resistance or defense maneuver but just a slowing down or quietness of action. She wondered if there may ever be an energetic “pause” in the experience of Essence—that there might be a time in the authentic experience of ourselves in which there did not seem to be any particular movement seeming called for.

Immediately the internal response in me was, Of course there may. And that was when I realized it.

I had forgotten it was Winter.

As I’ve mentioned here before, Winter is the season in Five-Element Acupuncture that offers stillness, silence, immersion in the mystery, respect for unknowing/the unknown. In listening to my fellow participant’s question, I realized the entire season of Winter, as I understand it, represents and invites the very phenomenon of which she spoke. Winter itself could be one answer to the very question.

At that moment, this seemed obvious to me—and yet immediately preceding her inquiry, this awareness had been entirely blocked from my consciousness. The exposure to this conversation invited an entire reframing of the perception of my recent experience. The anxiety I have experienced recently may be specifically related to the call of Winter—or more pointedly, my own ignoring and forgetting of it—and the perception of and frustration with avoidance may not necessarily be with actual avoidance of things as much as—or at least as well as—a product of the resistance to, paradoxically, slowing down, surrendering to the authentic stillness deep within me as invited by this season. A part of me may in fact have been deliberately blocking the conscious awareness of and remembrance of the symbolism of Winter, finding the stillness, silence, and surrender to the unknown that Winter invites intimidating and unnerving. And of course the further I am from what is true in me, including connection with the flow of the Earth and its offerings, the more anxiety I am likely to feel.

Nothing I said in the post on Monday was wrong. It just wasn’t seeing everything (as probably my perspective now isn’t either; it has just expanded to encompass more than then). I was seeing something from a particular, and limited, perspective; others were, at the time, blocked from my consciousness. It was like looking at a rainbow but with such a narrow perception that all that is seen is blue. The gift of my colleague’s sharing invited the expansion of my awareness to include more than one color—which, of course, may change the whole perspective.

The anxiety is still there, and the reasons for it I expressed have not changed, in my perception. The reframing did not make the anxiety go away—it allowed for a different relationship to it, a new awareness of why it may be there and how to awaken more and hold within myself the invitation and response in me that feels truly called for. That might not be the one the culture surrounding me, or anyone with whom I’m interacting, or perhaps particularly a part of me that is made up of structures that formed in my past may seem interested in. But as I said at the end of the post earlier this week, anxiety may be an invitation.

The message I feel right now is, Slow Down; It Is Winter. Alas, I had forgotten. Thank you, Universe, for the reminder.

As I mentioned last year and the year before, today, December 17, is the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. Organized events are planned today around the world to commemorate this designation and the sentiment behind its inception in 2003.

My red candle honoring such is lit and pictured above. From the mystery, stillness, and depth to and from which Winter calls us, I acknowledge and observe as love all who have been affected by violence in their professions as sex workers in the last year and ever, all who have felt directly impacted by such, and all who have committed it, as well as everyone everywhere. It is here especially, in the darkness, depth, and unknowing of this season, that the ultimate Oneness that we are may be so clearly seen.

May we so.


“If you touch the sacred quality of winter inside yourself—that quality of everything returning to its most essential form—you find yourself falling off the end of the mind and into openness.”