Stop Dominatrix Shaming

There’s a disturbing trend in critiques of the “BDSM Scene” to blame the dominatrix for ills and inequalities among the real players. Let’s cut right to the heart of why this is bullshit: sex workers live at the mercy of the state on top of being stigmatized. For those who care about consent, remember that this is a form of adult consent that the state says that you cannot make and that feminists say you must be mad or mindless or both to pursue and then society says that when you cross that river you can never really come back.

Sex workers not only lack the right to make a consensual transaction, sex workers are also denied their rights to justice in American courtrooms. This means all sex workers.Why can’t we go to the police? What the fuck good will it ever do for us? We don’t live in a Law and Order world where our glamorized dead bodies are sneered at and justice is seen as fetishizing the law even when it’s a whore. I’m going to illustrate with a story I obsessed over as it occurred. My favorite coverage came from the OC Weekly and starts off with this paragraph:

No one disputes that an on-duty Irvine police officer got an erection and ejaculated on a motorist during an early-morning traffic stop in Laguna Beach. The female driver reported it, DNA testing confirmed it and officer David Alex Park finally admitted it.

To really paint the picture, an officer of the law stalked this woman. It was such a problem that even his department told him to knock it the fuck off. On this night, he stalked her. He turned off his GPS in the patrol vehicle so the car wouldn’t record where he was. He waited until she was on a secluded road.

He was acquitted.

If you can’t win with that much evidence, what can you win?

Also, let’s say that you want to do something zany like rent an apartment. You’ll be asked to verify your income and that’s tricky when you’re in a criminal business that operates in cash. Until you hit a serious magic number in cash, it really doesn’t matter how much of a deposit you put down. Actually, it gets worse because then you reek of illegal. Now let’s say you want a separate space from your home to work. You can either face the rental hell again to limited success, especially because pro-domme work tends to be loud. You can certainly work independently as an outcall only domme, but you’re not going to catch as much work. So now your option is a house run by someone who will take a cut of your money in exchange for a certain amount of security.

If you’re an activist, you’re more likely to be targeted by law enforcement. When you take to the streets proudly identifying yourself by name and announcing your engagement in an illegal or semi-legal activity, you’re not going to hear the clapping of people whose job it is to curtail illegal activity. They see you making a fool out of them, you see yourself fighting for your rights. The power hierarchy washes everything out down the river.

If you’re a bystander, it’s easy to shut us up if you don’t like what we’re saying. You can take our children away in a flash or kick them out of your schools. You can deport us. You can jail us. It’s easy to make a sex worker go away. People will believe any story that we’re crazy or addicted or dangerous to society and children and school districts. Our careers lend us no credibility and support. I’m going to borrow from the aforementioned case because stripping is a relatively legal form of work and one that the culture is more familiar with as a whole.

 …he made it The Good Cop versus The Slutty Stripper. He pointed out that she’d once had a violent fight with a boyfriend in San Diego. He mocked her inability to keep a driver’s license. He accused her of purposefully “weakening” Park so that he became “a man,” not a cop during the traffic stop. He called her a liar angling for easy lawsuit cash. He called her a whore without saying the word.

“You dance around a pole, don’t you?” Stokke asked.

Superior Court Judge William Evans ruled the question irrelevant.

Stokke saw he was scoring points with the jury.

“Do you place a pole between your legs and go up and down?” he asked.

“No,” said Lucy before the judge interrupted.

“You do the dancing to get men to do what you what them to do,” said Stokke. “And the same thing happened out there on that highway [in Laguna Beach]. You wanted [Park] to take some sex!”

Lucy said, “No sir,” the sex wasn’t consensual. Stokke—usually a mellow fellow with a nasally, monotone voice—gripped his fists, stood upright, clenched his jaws and then thundered, “You had a buzz on [that night], didn’t you?”

As if watching a volley in tennis, the heads of the male-dominated jury spun from Stokke back to Lucy, who sat in the witness box. She said no, but it was hopeless. Jurors stared at her without a hint of sympathy.

In his closing argument, Stokke pounced. He called Lucy one of those “girls who have learned the art of the tease, getting what they want . . . they’ve learned to separate men from their money.” -OC Weekly (2007)

One of the most trite and cliche attacks on sex workers is that they “steal” money from men. The idea is that no one has a right to sell sex. It should be freely available on demand. It’s not just that a sex worker sells a sexual experience. When you hook up with someone or someones, the general idea is that you’re looking for that juicy area in the Venn Diagram called “what I like and what you like.” Ideally, it’s about mutual pleasure and when we hit that pleasure peak we are no longer totally present for that person. This stands out the most obviously when we’re talking about an orgasm. When you’re coming, even if it’s just for a few flashing seconds, you are not rational. Being totally turned on and grooving to your thing, whatever that might be, also means that you’re not totally rational. When you hire a sex worker, you’re hiring them for their presence. You’re paying them to focus 100% on your needs and your pleasure framed by their limits.

Not being penetrated by a client is a limit that a sex worker is entitled to have. Some people may come to the conclusion that sex work is a job that will meet their needs. Whether it’s for the money, the schedule, or the lack of entry barriers someone might realize that cultivating pleasure is something that works for them. If having a cock in you is something you are not OK with doing, your options in sex work are limited and most require more exhibitionism and public exposure. To be a dominatrix is to provide interactive private erotic theater. It means you have a skill set of listening to someone describe a fantasy in terms that may be oblique as hell (“Whatever you want, mistress!”) or finely detailed (“I have a 50 page script I would very much like you to read. Do you have a griffin costume? At the very least, you have to have a lion tail and talons to make this work.”) It means having acumen and skill for utilizing dangerous objects on sensitive regions of the body. Above all, it means being fully and actively present for that person’s experience.

It takes a metric fuck ton to be full and actively present for someone’s experience. The tools I used the most as a pro-domme in my early 20s came from my HIV test counselor trainings. I have easily topped out at 1,000 documented hours of training around my work as an HIV test counselor, clinic coordinator, and HIV Senior Specialist. While a lot of that fell into the pure science around human sexual health and HIV itself,  a large bulk of that was focused on how to be totally present for someone taking the test during a counseling session. This is when I had to ask questions about the most intimate and taboo parts of our lives: sex and drugs. Being an HIV test counselor means diving head first into stigma. It also demonstrated that making assumptions about someone’s identity, orientation, behavior, and desired behavior means that you have not done your job on a level we can document through epidemiology.

I developed a brain muscle from test counseling that served me well as a sex worker in every stripe I have explored. Delivering results was the heavy lifting in that mental workout regimen. I say that it’s a muscle rather than a barrier because when I delivered positive test results, I didn’t have the walls that go up when I protect myself. I remained empathetic. It was my job to hold space and emotionally carry that person through the experience. You can never really know what a result is going to mean for someone. It’s inappropriate to come into the room with a negative test result and a big grin on your face. It is also inappropriate to preface a positive result with a frown and an apology. You come into the room and you are neutral because you are there to hold the space.

I’ve had people sob in my arms after receiving a negative test result because they felt that they “deserved” a positive result. I’ve had people delight at receiving a positive result because it meant that they could access resources for housing, general healthcare, education, and substance use recovery because they had been denied every other way. To color a result with your assumption of what it should mean to hear those words is to cast a judgement and you do not have the information to make that call.

That’s what pulled me to towards being a dominatrix. At the time, I didn’t think I would be a good escort but I knew that I was absolutely fascinated by people with non-traditional turn-on’s. I saw fetishism as this incredible feature of the human psyche and I felt humbled by how little we know about ourselves as a species when I watched someone have an orgasm just from stroking the heel of my shoe. I never knew what that shoe meant for them but I could sure as fuck hold space for them to have their desired experience with it. Because I had developed this emotional brain muscle in the counseling room, it never felt like an expense of energy when someone paid me to facilitate a psycho-physical erotic experience for them. I felt suited for it and then I set to work learning some of the technical skills like caning, bondage, etc.

Every sex worker has their own story of why they chose that career as everyone has their own story and relationship to what they do for a living. Someone who enjoys cooking food will have a different relationship to preparing a meal at home than they will to working at a restaurant. You might LOVE cooking at home but would sustain a severe emotional deficit if you worked at a restaurant. You might LOVE being a chef but avoid cooking any other time. Patrons of a restaurant don’t inquire as to whether or not everyone in establishment involved in the preparation of their meal was totally, utterly, and deeply passionate about having made them that meal and wouldn’t be doing anything else in the world but making them that meal on top of a psychological assessment including substance use inquiries and abuse history.

Most people go out to eat because they want to enjoy a meal and have no responsibility whatsoever for its preparation and cleanup. Meanwhile, there are substantial issues with trafficking and labor violations happening in commercial kitchens across the country.

One of the allegations against the dominatrix is that she peddles in oppressive fantasy structures and advertises them, thereby perpetuating them. Here’s where it’s important to back up and remember that although our sexualities are incredibly fluid over the course of our lives, a lot if not most is forged long before we are exposed to an influx of sexual imagery. Even if you were exposed to porn, even if we debate the running trend of sexual themes and imagery in advertisements, the amount of non-sexual media we consume is greater than the amount of sexual media we consume. Sexuality is the incredible tool that humans can utilize to experience pleasure and to understand themselves and their worlds. Our sexualities, regardless of what kind of erotic content we access, are forged in a world that is racist, sexist, cissexist, homophobic, ableist, and all other forms of oppressive ugliness.

Some fantasies are best played out with a professional. This might be because someone needs practice articulating that desire in language that their partners or future partners can understand or it might be because that fetish or kink is really emotionally loaded for them that can be exceptionally intense for someone who is not prepared or skilled with remaining 100% present during emotional fall out. Some kinks and fetishes are buried under a lot of walls and walls don’t disappear when they’re broken, they crumble. Sometimes pushing that button is going to cause an entire psychological structure to collapse and if you’re a bystander you can be hurt if you’re not ready and not wearing a hard hat. That might come from an “extreme” fetish or it might come from a “simple” one. You don’t know what a fetish means to someone.

To take a popular punching bag for critique, the fetish of “sissification” or “forced feminization” may be a limit for some providers and is not something that they can offer but like all fetishes or kinks it is not inherently evil or oppressive in nature. For some, it may come from the fact that they’re working through the shame of being caught and shamed for being inquisitive about frilly things while having a male body. Having someone call you a sissy while you’re experiencing some of your early moments of sexual arousal or curiosity can imprint. People can have a fetish for “forced feminization” without believing that it is degrading to wear frilly clothes because the rhetoric and the props trigger an emotional release at the same time as a sexual release.

Sexuality is rapid acting tunnel right to some of our rawest nerves. When you’re aroused, you are more physically sensitive and your body starts opening up everywhere. The skin becomes flushed, the pores open, the muscles of the body loosen, the eyes dilate, you may salivate, and sexual fluids might leak. You are physically more open and pliable and our barriers go down. One of the reasons why I identify as a sex hacker is because that’s what this process is like for me. Maybe if I had been born before the digital era I would call myself a sex locksmith.

Now to gain that kind of access into some people, you have to hit them for extended periods of time with specific implements because it’s a physical sensation that triggers something or sets the tone. I don’t have the upper body strength to use a lot of popular BDSM implements for hours a week. It’s athletic to pursue a career in the physical SM arts and it opens you up to repetitive stress injury and you probably don’t have an SM sports medicine specialist you can see about your “flogger shoulder” or “spanking wrist.” Because most SM classes make the assumption that you’ll only being flogging someone recreationally, they not stress some of them vital ergonomics or muscle development exercises you should consider if you’re going to put many weekly hours into doing. You know what else is missing from the image of the dominatrix? Icing your shoulder at the end of a heavy session. Depending on what you’ve been up to, it can be just as physically stressful as pitching at a baseball game.

So far as the athletics behind dominatrix work were concerned, that was not my specialty and I declined sessions that necessitated long periods of heavy upper arm work or referred them out to people I knew were damn good at providing it. There were some forms of role play that squicked me out that I also referred on to a qualified specialist. On the other hand, I was great with forms of roleplay that scared the living daylights out of many of my peers. It’s all about what you have the resources to provide and but we do not control the oppressive context that cultivates desire.

It is said that women who work as a dominatrix and don’t have an “authentic/genuine orientation as a dominant woman” and “just do it for the money,” are less than lifestyle players. That’s fucked up given that sex workers are on the front lines of the fight for sexual freedom. We’re the first to be denied basic rights to say yes and basic rights to say no. Rather than help us fight back against police brutality and unjust incarceration, our communities throw us out because of the way we attract police attention. It’s easy to scorn the whore than to tackle oppression by the state. Once upon a time, hustlers and whores were part of the fabric of the queer rights movement. They were often part of the leadership. Then there was the shift towards assimilation and respectability at the terms of the establishment and the leatherfolk, the gender queer, drag queens, the hustlers, the whores, and the fetishists were pushed to the margins and out of the pictures.

As kinky sex is moving more into the limelight, a lot of kinksters are once again rolling the shit downhill to the sex workers. We’re on the razor edge of oppression and when you see images of the traditional looking mistress, you have to remember the limited box she can operate within. For one, there is the problem of implying that penetrative sex is welcome in a session by being friendly. An escort has to use metaphors to describe what she offers and when you cannot communicate clearly, things will fall apart. It is because an escort has to be a little ambiguous about what is offered that the copy on an ad for a dominatrix will respond to those pre-existing practical tropes and make it clear in as many ways as possible that penetrating her is off the table.

I would like to see everyone be able to ask for what they want sexually, to be heard, and ideally to find someone who compliments that desire. There are a lot of things holding that back and if you made every single dominatrix disappear you would still have a racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, and misogynist culture to contend with when you’re through. We see more non-sexual images everyday than we do sexual images. We need to look at what is happening to construct the paradigm where sex is defined as a man with a penis fucking a woman with a vagina rather than one or more people sharing pleasure.

When you attack the dominatrix, you are no closer to achieving the goal and you have shamed an entire segment of people for providing and consuming focused time on pleasure.

It’s not playing “oppression olympics” to bring up the struggle that sex workers face. You must triage what is taking place. Cultural oppression is a cancer. We name the various systems of perception it afflicts like different kinds of cancer. Cancer is urgent and none among us can call it something that should be ignored. Ignoring cancer will kill our entire cultural body. An acute emergency, like incarceration or homicide, is something that should be seen symptomatic attack of cultural cancer. Ignoring a heart attack that has wheeled into the ER in order to continue assessing the source of a cancerous on an X-ray is imprudent at best and is a repeated occurrence in many activist circles. We’re willing to let people die on the floors of spaces where they have come for help that we have advertised as providing.

If you want to lift the images in sex worker ads, remember their limited amount of power and the consequences they face for deviating them. Asking someone to be raped, jailed, or murdered to make you feel better in a space is not a just thing to ask. It does not advance the fight for freedom.

 

2 Comments

Filed under activism, BDSM theory, community, culture, slut shaming

2 responses to “Stop Dominatrix Shaming

  1. Pingback: Cornelius Bean Content Rating System | Cornelius Beane

  2. Pingback: 2012 | Maggie Mayhem Speaks

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