Sex Work’s Delicate Dance Between Artifice And Sincerity
By Margot St. Vincent
These days, I am finding myself cruising a lot. I spend nights up with the cold blue glow of men’s faces, some blurred and bleak, some obvious fabrications. All monied, or pretending. Like all of us, I guess.
Last week, I met my client Mort for a lavish dinner — caviar and lobster, uni and squid ink. Everything tasted like the sea. He kissed me in public — something he rarely does, and the walls around us were made of mosaic tiles that mimicked the sea entirely.
We were underwater, so the rules of the landscape above and below us didn’t apply. Above us, things were dry and regulated. Below us lay the Mariana Trench — the deepest place on earth — impenetrably dark and full of things we cannot yet know. And therefore I believe it’s also unable to be dry, unable to be regulated. The street we ate on is not a place I can even afford — a cold brew coffee costs my train fare alone. But the night we spent there I felt yes to everything, yes, yes, yes. And leaning close to Mort, his grin of power, I felt like a different, wealthier, more relaxed self.
We stayed in a beautiful city palace; we stayed up all night taking bath after bath. In the night, he clung to me, a barnacle. I barely slept — the intimacy of sleeping with someone other than my primary, my steady shore, was too much. But when Mort sighed in his sleep and said, “I feel so lucky,” I finally fell, dreamlessly, to sleep.
Scientists have spent years researching the Mariana Trench, yet what they know is still, at best, a guesstimate. What goes on there — what exactly is the system? I think a lot, as a hooker, about the nature of industry. Do the sea monsters, as the less nautically inclined call them, do trades? Are there systems of power? Did you read last week about the female shark who ate the male shark for bumping into her fin?
My friend BM recently said something really wise that I will likely bastardize. She said that one of the main differences between arrangements (meaning ongoing, long-term trajectoried situations between clients and providers) and escorting/massaging is that the latter relies on an economy of transaction, almost entirely. Which isn’t to say that you can’t have fondness for your clients as an escort, but it doesn’t denote the kind of emotional labor inherent in an arrangement. Arrangements tend to have “allowances,” instead of hourly fees, and often come with luxurious perks. Often clients — in my experience — are looking for a connected experience of sorts: an affair experience, a girlfriend (yet No Strings Attached) experience, or a beck-and-call-girl who will be something of a cross between a sexual companion and an emotional therapist.
Processing can be taxing as hell, no matter how much you like, and enjoy your client. But there can be something sweet about it; it can denote genuine connection, even within the framework of an underlying transaction, something necessary in capitalism, in the economies of the work done.
But this connection as it were, is a delicate balance, and one I struggle with all the time. After all, the majority of my work at present is tied up in arrangements, mostly because I want to establish some level of trust with my client base.
Recently however, an old client — George — and I had a misunderstanding about the levels of gratitude expressed or not expressed for the gifts he’d bestowed upon me in the year we worked together. We went back and forth for a while parsing out emotional technicalities — did I always say sorry, like I thought I did? Did he know I felt undermined and disempowered when he’d sent an email detailing every gift he’d purchased for me, as well as the amount of money he’d given to me?
After all, I hadn’t sent back a Blow Job Report in return, and expected the courtesy of not keeping score, as had been, seemingly extended. But BM pointed out that at a very basic level, George’s feelings had been hurt, and part of our arrangement (at least in the past) had been to soothe them. So that’s what I did — I took two hours on a Sunday to craft a kind and soothing email. And then everything was fine.
Here is what I did wrong with George that ended our arrangement however: I let our relationship become too normal. He knew my non-working name, where I lived, about my boyfriend. I helped him clean his garage. We stopped meeting in hotels, and instead began meeting in less curated and more ordinary spaces. Essentially, the experience, whatever it had been, lost the fantasy, and at the end of the day, we were two ordinary people who could no longer be curated, who had surfaced to land instead of staying swaddled in the shoals of the Mariana Trench.
This is the most challenging thing, for me, about sex work. The delicate dance between artifice and sincerity. I care for my clients, and like them as people. I have moments of deep endearment towards them, and even desire their company from time to time. Not many people know that clients can sometimes have the capacity to be kind (and I recognize that isn’t overwhelmingly the experience of most workers). The balance of respecting the connection — but ensuring it stays in a fantasy world — is what keeps it profitable. This, after all, is what separates arrangements from normative relationships. And, of course, the underlying (though rarely talked about) fact that we are getting paid to do this, but we are also getting paid to pretend we aren’t.
I find myself looking for new experiences these days, to supplement the arrangement I have with Mort, which is one I value deeply. I find myself looking at one-offs, escorting, in-house. There is something appealing about the idea that both client and provider have shown up with very specific expectations — and perhaps this is where normal sea levels are. Not deep enough to break all the rules, though governed by similar changes in tide.