Today marks my 10-year-anniversary as a sex worker, and I want to take a moment to reflect on my relationship with Josh.
When I started working as a sex worker in 2010, I was an eager 21-year-old undergraduate student who thought she had it all together. I was book smart and arrogant. I thought I was “so mature” (what 21-year-old doesn’t?). I was a mini-adult with big ideas, a big heart, and no conception of self or boundaries. The me I was then is very different from the me that exists today.
Early in my career I met a man named Josh (this isn’t his real name). We saw each other a few times a month. We enjoyed the same music, loved the same books, and even had friends in common outside of the industry. We bumped into each other at shows “off-the-clock”, and chatted as friends and lovers do. He new my real name, where I lived, and who I hung out with. We had great sex, that was equal parts comfortable and exploratory. I enjoyed getting him off as much as he enjoyed getting me off. I was exploring queerness, bisexuality, and my dominant side, and he was happy to indulge. We were both unhappy in our relationships with our spouses.
I relied on Josh financially.
It was because of clients like him I was able to pay my $42,000 student loan, and attend graduate school without incurring more debt. However, I also relied on Josh for emotional support and companionship. I often reached out to him to discuss what was happening in my personal life. I confided in him, asked for advice and guidance, and considered him to be a friend.
Our relationship was reciprocal. Josh confided in me about his marriage and how unhappy he was. We spoke about almost everything.
Boundaries with Josh became messy, and complicated. The issue isn’t so much that the boundaries were crossed, but that we didn’t discuss them. As a result, it was like the boundaries didn’t exist at all.
I was careless because I didn’t realize the impact boundary crossings would have on our relationship. In fact, I had no conception of boundaries at all, and was quite happy to live my life without them. Part of being queer, for me, was questioning what was ‘normal’. The notion of queering relationships, fucking them up, living life as I saw fit (in all its delicious complexity) appealed to me greatly.
At some point, Josh wanted to leave his wife, and it became clear he wanted to leave his wife to be with me. I was terrified. I had no idea what I had done. I didn’t want that. I wanted our relationship to continue as it was, or as I thought it was. Little did I know, what I thought, and what was happening, were two entirely different things.
I remember feeling terribly, like I was responsible for the dissolution of Josh’s marriage. I wasn’t interested in pursuing a traditional romantic relationship with Josh. Had I misled him? Did I say or do the wrong thing?
The short answer: yes. Absolutely.
Suffice it to say, things did not end well with Josh. He e-mailed me and accused me of leading him on, and advised me to think “long and hard” about the consequences of my actions, and how I behave with clients in the future. I remember turning scarlet. I felt immense shame.
Many years later and with the help of my therapist, I realized he was right.
I also realized he was wrong.
It was our collective responsibility to negotiate boundaries, to discuss crossings, to tread lightly. Not solely mine. Nonetheless, I learned immensely from my experience with Josh. I learned that as a sex worker, I have the power to really fuck up peoples’ lives, and so I need to be very mindful of what I say and do with clients. The last thing I want to do when I rely and depend on clients for more than money, is make them feel like I can offer something I can’t.
I learned to rely and depend on clients based on our capacity to negotiate boundaries, and to ensure boundaries are respected. As I’ve alluded to in previous posts, all relationships have boundaries. The issue isn’t when they are crossed, the issue is when they are crossed without explicit consent, or with varying degrees of understanding of what the boundary crossings mean. Sometimes learning the real name of a sex worker you’re seeing isn’t an invitation for deeper meaning or intimacy. Sometimes it means nothing at all. I’ve learned not to assume anything, to ask for clarification, and to check-in to make sure we are on the same page about what we expect from our relationship.
Years later, I sent Josh a very short e-mail apologizing for my behaviour. “I was young, and stupid,” I said, “I’m really sorry I led you to believe I could offer something more.” He never replied.
I never expected a reply, but I did hope for one. I thought of him often. Our relationship was special, but I couldn’t really figure out why my mind always wandered back to him. I eventually realized it was because he was the first person to call me out on my (queer’ish) bullshit in a way that resonated with me. “Holy shit,” I thought. “I really need to work on myself to make sure something like this doesn’t happen again.”
My relationship with Josh, and many others like him, led me down a path of spiritual and psychological self-discovery. I eventually became a yoga teacher, and I still see the same psychologist. Now, after all this work, I’m studying to become a psychologist to help people along their own journey.
Then, two months ago, I received the following e-mail:Hi Nat: Don’t know if you remember me, but we saw each other several times a few years ago, before your time off with your baby. I’m wondering if I might be able to book an appointment with you sometime in January. Hope 2019 has been good for you, and that 2020 is even better. Take care, Josh
Don’t know if I remember you?! As you can tell, I definitely did.
I immediately replied:
I’ll keep this short for now. I was just on my way to bed when I saw your email (and your familiar name). Of course I remember you! Wow. It’s been a long time. Are you still singing and song writing and playing your guitar? Hanging out with all the feminists? I would love to see you again, truly. I’d enjoy catching up in 2020 about everything that’s changed since we last saw each other.
It’s been intense on my end, to say the least…
Kisses to you,
When we met face-to-face, I gave him the biggest hug imaginable. I was delighted to see him. He booked a one-hour session, so I took a moment to very briefly apologize. I said, “I know I sent you an e-mail a few years ago, but I want to thank you for giving me the opportunity to apologize face-to-face! I’m really sorry for everything that happened back then. I was young, and stupid, and didn’t understand anything. You deserved better.”
He was very gracious. He immediately accepted my apology, and took ownership for the ways he erred back then as well. We caught up, and I was delighted to hear that not only was he still with his wife, but they had negotiated non-monogamy and he was seeing me with her consent.
I was the last person Josh had sex with, all those years ago. How powerful these relationships can be – the relationships sex workers have with clients.
Seeing Josh again was like tying a bow on a wonderful decade in sex work. A decade of growth and self-discovery.
Sex work meets many of my needs, not just financial. Those that see boundaries in sex work as simple have yet to meet someone like me.I’m hopeful that those who seek my services are looking to be intimate in more ways than one, and in more ways than money can buy.