Grief of Another Kind

Neither my partner nor I will have our fathers present at our wedding. We’ll have our mothers, our siblings, cousins, grandparents, aunts and uncles and so many friends, but not a father between us.  The reasons for this are very different, though: my partner’s father died nearly 20 years ago, while my father is very much alive, just no longer part of my life.

I don’t much want to go into the reasons for this, because it’s not really the point of this post.  All I want to say is that he’s not a terrible person. He was around a lot when my siblings and I were young.  He never hit us or abused us.  He was often pretty great when we were kids.  The problems came along much later, and they are an ongoing thing.  Yes, big wrongs have been done in the past, but it’s not an inability to move beyond that which is preventing our relationship (and that of my siblings with him).  It’s things in the present which make our relationship with him impossible.

In a lot of ways, I think it would have been so much easier for my siblings and I to cope if he had died instead.  Please don’t mistake me.  I’m not wishing him dead.  I’d never wish anyone dead, least of all my own father.  What I’m saying is that it would have been easier for us to cope, on a personal level, with his death.  We would have cried a lot, remembered what a great dad he’d been, thought about him being with us in spirit, and probably have a grave or someplace to go to to remember him*.

When my partner and I get married, there will be space to remember his father during the ceremony – and some other loved ones who have died.  But there will be no space to remember my father.  You can’t commemorate someone who’s still living.  There will just be an awkward space, a conscientious not-mentioning like Basil Fawlty’s war – “don’t mention the bride’s father!”

My siblings and I have had a long, slow disintegration of our relationship with our father.  Disbelief that someone we love could behave in such an alien way.  Blaming ourselves, trying to moderate our behaviour so he’d start being the father we remembered again.  Being blamed by him.  Being furious with him.  Wondering if we were losing the plot.  Trying to help him (so much time and energy I put into trying to help him – I genuinely believe I have parented him far more than he ever parented me).  And then the realisation that he was no longer being any sort of parent to us, that our relationship with him was actually just hurting us… but still dearly clinging onto fragments of hope that things would change.

Although it’s been some years since I last spoke to him, it’s only been while wedding-planning that it’s really hit home to me that I have in fact lost my father – amidst the celebrants we spoke to asking if my father was going to give me away**, talking with my partner about his sadness that his father won’t be there to see us marry, and wrestling with the decision of whether to invite my father to the ceremony (truth be told, that was never an option.  But it was nevertheless a hard conclusion to come to).  And it slowly and painfully dawned on me that if I couldn’t even invite my father to my goddam wedding, then effectively I don’t actually have a father any more.  The little bits of hope I’d clung onto evaporated.

We’re not really set up as a society to deal with these forms of grief.  We have conventions for losing a parent through death.  Losing a parent because that parent no longer wants to be part of your life… there are no conventions for that.  People don’t understand it.  They think, when it comes up that I no longer have contact with him, that either he was an absuive parent, and I’m always quick to point out that wasn’t the case, or that my siblings and I are harsh and unforgiving.  We’re not.  We forgave so much, and we’d still forgive, but it wouldn’t do us any good.

The last time I spoke to him, I knew it would be the last time, but it wasn’t sadness or anger that I was feeling.  It was just a tired, frustrated, “Fuck it, I can’t do this any more.”  And I got on with my life.  The grief around it has very very slowly snuck up on me.  I didn’t even identify it as such.  I knew I was upset that my father wouldn’t be at our wedding, and that kind of surprised me in itself.  But then, during an epic conversation about our fathers and our wedding, my partner asked, “Have you ever grieved for him?”  And, boy, did the tears flow then.  It’s continued to hit me hard these past couple of weeks, and I’ve been letting it.  I want to be excited and ecstatic about getting married.  But first I need to sit with all this grief – and anger and doubt and even some faint ghosts of hope – so that it doesn’t overwhelm me.

This isn’t really a post with answers.  This is a post to externalise some thoughts I’d been having, and because grief is so rarely talked about outside those accepted ideas of loss.  That grief was a wholly expected and even healthy thing for me to be feeling was quite a revelation for me.  Maybe there’s something you need to grieve for too.

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* I know I have grossly oversimplified.  I know losing a parent is gut-wrenchingly awful.  I’m just comparing my experience with my father to my partner’s experience with his, and, truth be brutally told, I envy him.  I wish I could have my father’s picture on the mantelpiece and smile sadly as I think of him watching over me, instead of living with the knowledge that he is far away not really thinking too much about me.

** Even if my father was the bestest dad evarrr, I’d never have been “given away”.  But in an alternate universe, I would have liked to gently explained that to him and perhaps asked him instead to give a speech.

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Feeling (un)Safe

I try to make a conscious effort to not feel unsafe. Like I’ve written about elsewhere, I like walking alone at night. Of course, being a woman walking alone at night, sometimes I attract unwanted attention, but I have contingencies for that. I am good at the polite brush-off (and the loud “fuck off”, when it’s going to be effective); I have an eye on escape routes. I’ve pretended I’ve left something in a cafe. I’ve said I was on my way to meet my partner. Once in Sydney when a strange man decided the thing to do on a Saturday night was to beg me for sex, I bowled on up to a random couple and said, plenty loud enough for the man to hear, “Hi, this man is harrassing me. Do you mind if I walk with you guys for a while?” It was enough for the man to turn and run off shame-faced, and the couple walked with me back to my hotel. I know this isn’t foolproof and I don’t delude myself that “it won’t happen to me!” But I refuse to feel unsafe and I refuse to stop doing something that I love.

But sometimes feeling unsafe is unavoidable. Even doing something perfectly normal. Even walking home in the afternoon in a “nice” neighbourhood.

I just went for a big long walk. I didn’t walk quite as far as I wanted to because my new boots started hurting my feet, but it was a long walk, listening to good music, the sun shining, birds everywhere. I was feeling pretty cheerful, but my feet were blistering and I was keen to get home and kick off my boots. And I was almost there when I nearly collided with a bloke walking in the other direction as I turned the corner. He was in a hi-viz top and carrying a clipboard and wearing a homemade-looking name tag. He apologised, I apologised and we both kept walking. Halfway up the road, I paused to pat a friendly cat, because that’s what I do when I’m out walking. And that’s when I noticed that the man had turned back and followed me.

He approached me and smiled at me in a friendly way, and I smiled at him in a “I’m not interested in engaging” way and kept walking, but he said something, I’m not sure what, and attempting to dismiss him, I found myself saying, “Oh, I’m just on my way home.” And then I quietly kicked myself.

I really wanted to be home. My socks were starting to feel like sandpaper where my boots were rubbing, and I wanted to take them off and sit down. If my boots weren’t so new, I would have kept walking over the hill to the cafe on the other side, because I did not want this man to know where I lived. Even beyond the fact that he’d turned around and followed me, something about him set my alarm bells off. But it was too late, I’d said it – that I was on my way home. I turned on to my street and he turned too and then I really did start to worry because my street’s a cul-de-sac and there was now nowhere for me to go but home and why did he want to go up my street anyway?

He’d walked past about 12 houses without entering them as he approached me and walked with me, but then he abruptly said goodbye and walked down the driveway of an apparently random house on my street. I picked up my pace, trying to reach my house before he left that one, but I could hear a woman saying she wasn’t interested, and I glanced over my shoulder and, yep, he was walking up my street again – and walking past the other houses. Damn. My only hope was that he wouldn’t know which house up my shared driveway was mine.

I got inside and locked the front door, and then shut all the curtains in the lounge so he couldn’t see that I was home if he came around the back.

And then the doorbell rang. And again. And then there was knocking. And then, yep, a minute later a knocking at the sliding glass door in the lounge, not three metres from where I was sitting. And he stood out there a long time – I could hear him shifting, and my cat stood poised between me and the door on high alert. And my blood ran cold and I sat so perfectly still, hoping to convince him that there was nobody home.

And maybe he was doing something perfectly legit. Maybe I’m overreacting. But 20 years of walking alone at night, plus four years as a sex worker doing solo outcalls, I like to trust my instincts.

So there I was, sitting in my own home in a “nice” neighbourhood feeling unsafe at 5pm on a Thursday.(When I thought I’d heard his footsteps receding, and when my cat stretched and sauntered over to her food bowl, I carefully, quietly peeped out the net-curtained bedroom window to make sure he’d gone. He had.)

On the Manifold Crimes of “Love Actually”

Let me preface this post by saying that Love Actually is probably my greatest guilty pleasure movie. I love Love Actually. I still watch it a couple of times a year – always at Xmas and whenever I need to have a good cry. It’s the movie I can rely on to have me weeping within the first five minutes, but smiling by the end of it.

However, that’s not enough to forgive it its sins, and there are many.

Let’s start with a little one.  Jamie and Aurelia: their love story is framed as a triumph of the heart over the mind.  Love is bigger than culture or language, and it will always find a way. RUBBISH! Their love is unbelievably shallow. The only conversation they’ve actually had when they agree to marry is the conversation in which Jamie proposes marriage. THIS IS NOT THE FOUNDATION OF A LASTING RELATIONSHIP.

Also, Jamie attends Peter and Juliet’s wedding, which is portrayed as being at the start of the Xmas season. He pops home to find his girlfriend providing clothes-free entertainment to his brother, goes to Portugal, writes a novel, comes home, learns Portuguese, returns to Portugal (and all the while Aurelia is learning English) and proposes marriage – all before Xmas. No one learns another language that quickly! NO ONE! (And can we say “rebound”?)

A little less flippantly… This is a film which purports to be about the wonders of love in all its forms: traditional rom-com staple romantic love (Jamie and Aurelia, the Prime Minister and Natalie, John and Judy), the giddy crush on your older boss (Mia), the wavering love of a long-term couple (Karen and Harry), unrequited love (or is it?) (Mark), childhood crushes (Sam), even love for one’s mates (Billy Mac and Joe) and sibling love (Sarah).  However, there is no space for a single non-heterosexual storyline amongst all this. Not a one. Not only that, but homosexuality is played for laughs: In one of the movie’s few mentions of homosexuality, John explain’s the Prime Minister’s unmarried state by saying, “He’s, uh, married to his job. Either that, or gay as a picnic basket.” And at the altar when Mark and Peter are discussing the stag do, Peter says, “Do you admit the Brazillian prostitutes were a mistake?” Mark agrees, and Peter continues, “And it would have been much better if they’d not turned out to be men?” Hilarious.

Any whisper that a character may be gay must be utterly refuted. At Peter and Juliet’s reception, Sarah asks Mark, “Do you love him?” To which Mark replies, “No, no, no is the answer. No. Absolutely not.” It can’t be a simple “no”. Nothing less than a flat-out vehement denial will do. When Billy Mac returns from the party at Elton’s to declare to Joe that “the people I love is in fact you,” Joe responds, “Well, this is a surprise. Ten minutes at Elton John’s, you’re as gay as a maypole.” Cue much laughter in the theatre. Elton John’s gay, and – oh, lol – gay is contagious, don’t you know? Actually, this could have been a sweet love story had Billy Mac transpired to actually be in love with Joe. But, again, he dismissed Joe’s wee joke – “No, look, I’m being serious here” – and after explaining how he realised he’d spent his life with Joe and how he feels it’s been a wonderful life, he re-exerts both his and Joe’s heterosexuality be saying, “Now, let’s get pissed and watch porn” – standard red-blooded man pastimes.

Actually, I lie. There is one tiny nod to non-heterosexuality in this movie: Colin’s wet-dream fantasy-turned-reality with the easy American girls who are so poor they must share a bed and can’t even afford pyjamas. We see in silhouette the four girls plus Colin collapse onto bed in a giggling pile, the women focused on Colin but certainly touching each other. So there we have it. Female homosexuality is A-OK, as long as it’s for the consumption of a man.

While we’re on the subject of Colin: he is portrayed as a bit of a dopey every-lad who just wants to get laid, but he is a CREEP. In one of his first appearances, he’s distributing lunches to the women of Harry and Sarah’s office, sexually harrassing each one of them as he goes: “Beautiful muffin for a beautiful lady,” “Try my nuts,” “Hello, future wife”.  Later, having bombed out after trying to hit on the wedding caterer by insulting her food, he complains to his mate Tony that he can never find true love (ie, a shag) because English girls are “stuck up”. Not the fact that he is a CREEP. It’s the women who won’t sleep with him who are the problem. The movie rewards his creepiness by handing him a harem of easy American girls – and one for his doubting friend Tony, too.

Tony is one of three non-white people in the entire ensemble cast: the other two being the Prime Minister’s aide Annie and Juliet’s husband, Peter. None of the main storylines focus on them. The only one who even features in one of the main narratives is Peter, and although the movie more or less opens with Peter and Juliet’s wedding, the narrative thread it begins is Mark’s love for Juliet. Peter is a bit character in his own love story.

(Mark is, of course, a creep too. If I found that my partner’s best friend who refused to even be polite to me had compiled a video montage of close-ups of me, my first thought wouldn’t be “aww, he loves me.”)

In fact, I see something Othellian in the Peter-Juliet-Mark storyline: black man marries pretty white woman, black man’s closest ally conducts a whispering campaign to split them up. In Love Actually it’s the pretty white woman he whispers to rather than the black man, but there are signs it’s going to be just as effective. After Mark outright declares his love for Juliet – while encouraging Juliet to lie to her husband, who’s right there in the next room – he starts to walk away, but Juliet chases him down the street and kisses him on the lips. Do we believe that Juliet goes back inside to her husband and forgets all about it?

I could go on all day (and I may have a whole other post about the female characters’ lack of agency – maybe closer to Xmas), but my final and most vehement point has to be NATALIE IS NOT FAT. Her ex-boyfriend is portrayed as a dick for saying she has legs like tree trunks, but then Annie, the Prime Minister’s aide, describes her as “chubby” and in possession of “pretty sizeable arse”, her own father calls her “Plumpie” in front of the Prime Minister, and even the Prime Minister and purported love of her life says “God, you’re heavy!” when she jumps into his arms in the airport at the end. But she’s not even a teensy tiny bit on the plumpish side, and the constant snide remarks about her body are just really gross and jarring. The two characters who could in fact be described as being on the plump side don’t get away with it, either. Billy Mac’s manager Joe is called “a chubby employee” and “the ugliest man in the world”. And when Jamie asks Aurelia’s father for her hand in marriage (ick), there is confusion as Aurelia’s father thinks he means his other, fatter daughter – which is obviously funny, because who’d want to marry the fat girl, right?

(I haven’t even had a chance to mention poor wee Sam – his mother has just died, but there’s no exploration of his grief and his callous stepfather calls him a “wee motherless mongrel” and jokes about having sex with Claudia Schiffer in his bedroom!)

The Morning After April 17

For the longest time in my mid- to late-20s, I dated women. Then towards the end of that decade, I found myself seeing a man.  It was nothing serious – just shags and giggles.  He was never my boyfriend; I was never his girlfriend.  One night we popped out to the supermarket, probably to pick up some more wine.  We climbed out of the bloke’s ute, and as we crossed the parking lot, he took my hand.

And I freaked.

When I’d dated women, yes, I’d held hands with them in public.  But there was always a risk to this.  We’d get curious looks or words hurled at us – “lesbians!” “fucking dykes” “pussylickers” – and we’d worry about something worse happening.  A decision to hold hands in public was always a negotiation, a thoughtful “Is it OK?  Is it worth the level of risk in this particular instance?” Strolling to brunch on Ponsonby Rd when there was virtually no risk, we’d hold hands with no hesitation, a declaration of “yes, we can hold hands here, and hooray that we can hold hands here.”  In less welcoming environments, we may just quietly brush our fingers, a way of saying “I’d be holding your hand now if I felt safe to do so.”

So being able to hold hands with someone I wasn’t even that into in a supermarket parking lot in South Auckland like it wasn’t a thing felt utterly alien to me, and I just felt so fucking ill that he did it without even thinking about it – a natural action, to take my hand.  And an enormous privilege that I hadn’t had with the women I’d dated.  We’d evoke no curious glances, no threatening glares, no vile words.  People wouldn’t even look twice at he and I holding hands.  And that made me feel so uncomfortable – that in this instance, because he was male and I was female, our holding hands was a completely accepted, even expected, act.

That’s little bit like being engaged felt to me.  I was always aware that it was one of those privileges that I had simply because I’d happened to fall in love with a man, and that did not sit well with me.  I was clear from the start that we’d only actually be getting married if marriage equality was a reality by the time of our wedding – something which my fiance took absolutely zero convincing on.  He has his own reasons for feeling strongly about marriage equality.

There was a lot of talk about words during the marriage equality debate – about how same-sex couples should be OK accepting civil unions only, how “marriage” as a word has always been defined as between and man and a woman throughout all time and cultures, how it’s definition had never changed and never ought to change*.  There were fears that words like “bride” and “groom”, “husband” and “wife” would disappear, and people felt strongly about that because those are incredibly powerful, meaningful words.

There is the none-too-small fact that married couples are able to adopt, while civilly united couples are not.  However, like I imagine the vast majority of couples, we don’t plan to adopt, so there is no appreciable legal difference between the two relationship solemnisation options for us.  Therefore, our desire to be married rather than civilly united is entirely down to words.  We want to be married. I want my fiance to be my husband; he wants me to be his wife.  I even want to be (ack, I can’t believe I’m saying this) a bride!  Yes, we could have a civil union ceremony and just use those words anyway, but that would feel to me like a bit of a charade.  Besides, the one bum note at the beautiful civil union ceremonies I’ve been to is always the “I now pronounce you partners in civil union.”  Which I’ve always felt lacks the poetry and gravitas of “I now pronounce you husband and wife” or “I now pronounce you wife and wife” or even simply “I now pronounce you married”.  As I’ve said before, words are powerful.  Words are what this debate was all about.  And I wanted those words, and my fiance wanted those words.  Just not at the cost of sublimating aspects of ourselves, and not at the cost of feeling like a privileged other to some of the people we hold dearest.

So the morning after April 17th, the morning after the bill Marriage Amendment Act had been voted into law, I woke up full of joy and peace about getting married for the first time.  Because it’s no longer a privilege my fiance and I are lucky enough to enjoy because I happen to be female and he happens to be male.  It’s not something we get to choose that our gay friends and relatives don’t.  It’s open to anyone who wants it, and it doesn’t deny any part of either of us.  And that makes it so much more meaningful for both of us.

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* To which I simply say: “snort!”

There Are No Sheep on Our Farms

It’s long since been established that being about as sharp as a sack of potatoes is a useful prerequisite for getting a column in a major daily newspaper, but sometimes a piece gets printed which is just so utterly wrong-headed that you wonder how the author has the faculties to manage everyday life.

Damien Grant doesn’t think child poverty exists in New Zealand.

Grant opens the article by citing the Children’s Commission statistic that 270,000 Kiwi children live in poverty and feigning amazement that he’s never met any of them.  The fact that this might possibly – just maybe – be because corporate liquidators and underprivileged children don’t tend to hang out in the same social circles seems to elude him.  Besides, I’ve never met Damien Grant, but I sadly have to concede that he exists – as much as I might wish he didn’t.

Next he disingenuously contrasts the UN’s figure for extreme poverty – living on less than US$1.25 a day – with the Children’s Commission’s yardstick – parents who earn less than $600 a week, apparently fail to comprehend that of course the global scale of poverty is going to be many times lower than the level of poverty in New Zealand.  It seems strange that someone from a financial background would be unaware of the Cost of Living Index.  It is simply many, many times more expensive to live in New Zealand than, say, Djibouti or Somalia.  If a family could take their $600 a week to one of those countries, they’d be fucking billionaires, relative to the locals.  But they can’t.  They’re in New Zealand, where things just plain cost more.

In addition, Grant believes that the equation the Children’s Commission uses to determine poverty is arbitrary, used to create a problem where there is none, like “a ghost catcher inventing ghosts”.  So let’s take a look at that.  I guess if your parents earned $600 a week and you were an only child, you might be doing OK.  Assuming your parents are really good financial planners. Assuming all members of your family are healthy. Assuming your parents lucked on to a decent, affordable rental property. Assuming your parents don’t have addiction issues. Assuming the car doesn’t break down that week. Yep, if the stars align and everything goes your way, you might be alright if your parents earn $600 a week.

Of course, chuck in a few extra siblings, chuck in a few curveballs – parents with addiction issues, a disability, an elderly parent who needs caring for – and life becomes much trickier.

What Grant notably fails to notice is that the Children’s Commission isn’t saying that all children considered to be in poverty have parents earning $600 a week.  $600 is the top end of the spectrum – meaning there are children out there whose parents earn far less than that.

Next, Grant takes umbrage of the Children’s Commission’s consideration of “material deprivations”, citing “sharing a bedroom with your sister, no internet connection and, shockingly, not having enough friends at your birthday party”.  Well, yeah, sharing a bedroom with your 6-year-old sister when you’re 7 isn’t a big deal, but when you’re 15 and 16… privacy becomes something of a pressing issue. Teenagers need their own space.  And even at 7, while sharing a room with your sister mightn’t be too rough, sharing it with your sister, your two brothers, your parents, your teenage cousin and your dodgy uncle – yeah, that is a problem.

Once the internet might have been considered a luxury, but these days it’s a necessity.  How can children be expected to complete schoolwork and learn if they don’t have the same resources as their peers?  And when they grow up, how are they expected to be employable if they aren’t internet savvy?  It’s a basic skill everyone’s expected to have in the 21st century.

As for birthday parties – take it from someone who was bullied every fucking day of their primary school life: if your parents can only afford for you to invite one or two friends to your birthday party, this can absolutely increase isolation and put a stigma on a kid.

Damien Grant concludes by trying to whack us between our eyes and shock us by saying he’d rather have a new mobile phone than feed a starving African child*. He asserts that there’s no moral basis to help “relatively well-fed” Kiwi kids when children in Africa are starving.  What a funny set of morals Grant has.  I guess there’s no moral basis to do any-damn-thing if you’re not pouring every last cent you earn into helping starving African children – no moral basis not to evade your taxes, no moral basis not to shoplift, no moral basis not to cheat on your monogamous life partner.

A counter to this is, yes, obviously the level of poverty in Africa is terrible, and it’s an utter crime that it occurs in a world as wealthy as ours – but we’ve also got to look after our own house.  And while the famine in the Horn of Africa captures media attention around the world and there are multiple international organisations dedicated to providing aid to African childen, no one is going to look after Kiwi kids except us Kiwis.

But anyway his whole article points to his shocking statement being, oddly, something of a coy red herring.  It’s given away there in the last line: “Perhaps we should abolish the Children’s Commission.”  It turns out that what he really means is he objects to his tax dollars going towards child poverty, that he’d rather pile his tax dollars in the big vault with all his other money than have to contribute to paying for the Children’s Commission.  What’s a voice for hundreds of thousands of children in poverty compared to a few more bucks in his bank account?

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* Of course, we’d all rather have a new mobile phones than feed a hungry child. Otherwise we’d all still be using Nokia bricks and there’d be a fuckload less hungry kids in the world. It’s an uncomfortable truth that we shouldn’t shy away from.

Penitence (Mary Magdalene is my Homegirl)

As far back as I can remember, Mary Magdalene has been an important figure to me*.  If I was going to do a moment of pocket psychology… I wasn’t actively raised Catholic, but my mother was.  So I consider that I was raised culturally Catholic, if not religiously so.  When my spirituality and my sexuality were emerging, the only figure I came across who was a woman – and an independent and sexual woman – was Mary Magdalene.  And so she became central to my developing spirituality.  But not Mary Magdalene as she’s traditionally portrayed.  We create our goddesses and gods; we create our mythologies.  Without this entry devolving into a vast thesis, the Mary Magdalene of my mythology is a powerful woman, a sexual being, a temple priestess, the archetypal prostitute, consort of Jesus – his equal.

Some of this is bourne out in other mythologies and theories – see the novels “The Moon Under Her Feet” by Clysta Kinstler and “The Wild Girl” by Michele Roberts, and Starbird’s book on the spirituality of Mary Magdalene, “The Woman with the Alabaster Jar”.  Some of it is from my own imaginings and meditations.  Of course, I rejected one of the major aspects Mary Magdalene is traditionally associated with – penitence.  I read that as weakness, as the church wanting to cow a powerful woman.

I’m older now and I guess a bit wiser.  More importantly, I’m out the other side of some fairly wild years.  And I’m slowly realising that there’s room for penitence in my life.  I am still realising and coming to terms with this, so this entry is part of my journey; not a destination.

Not everything I did in the years where Wild Leena reigned was bad by any stretch of the imagination.  On the contrary, those years delighted me.  They formed me and bettered me.  I did a lot of great stuff.  I helped a lot of people through sex work, and I had a world of fun.

It was (forgive me if this sounds weird) Mary Magdalene who inspired me into sex work.  She was with me as I considered it (and I to-ed and fro-ed for a long time on that), with me when I walked into that massage parlour, with me with that first client.  She was also the guardian of my wider sexual exploration.  But at a certain point, things changed and eventually crossed the line. I became a thorough hedonist – I thought only of my own pleasure in any given moment, not of any consequences to myself or others. And that’s no way to live.

And so I did some damage – to myself and to others.  I lost control of the sex work at times and wound up doing some things I’m not proud of.  I manipulated people who didn’t derserve to be manipulated.  When I was taking a lot of P, I often forgot that other things were important.  I lied to friends and I hurt people who were important to me.  I had affairs with married men – most notably a four-year-long love affair.  And in the course of that, I did some things so awful that I can’t even bring myself to write them down.  Although we were secretive as all get-out, and as far as I know his family is still unaware of our affair, I caused so much hurt to his family in subtle, insidious ways.

I have carried a lot of guilt and shame because of some aspects of my history, and it has hurt my present.  For a long time, when my life was really out of control, I truly believed my life would be a cautionary tale.  I thought I would do something fucking stupid while on P and get arrested (I did do some fucking stupid things while on P, but thankfully managed to avoid doing any lasting damage to anyone or anything).  I thought I’d be killed by some random guy I inadvisedly hooked up with (we’re not talking your average bar hook-up – I was hanging around gang members, criminals, the sort of people who have handguns in their bedside cabinets).  I thought I’d catch a billion STDs.  I thought I’d be some sad old lady at 40, shagging anyone who’d have me for the drugs they had.

But that’s not how things turned out.  I sorted out my life.  I gave up drugs.  I stopped indulging my poisoned, desperate sexuality.  And then I met the man who is now my fiance, and we have a beautiful life together.  We love each other, we have fun together, we have lovely friends, we live in a great house, we can take fabulous holidays together and there’s really not too much we have to worry about.

Except that for the longest time, I didn’t feel like I deserved it.  I had so expected my life to be shit because of my actions that it felt like the universe had done some massive miscalculation.  I was supposed to be PUNISHED!  I wasn’t supposed to live a great life with a man who loves me!  I genuinely struggled in the early days of our relationship, waiting for the other shoe to drop, waiting for the punishment to kick in.  My wonderful man was so patient with me through those times, just being with me and maintaining, whether I wanted to believe it or not, that he wasn’t going anywhere.  Eventually, I came to accept that it was true, that some bizarro roll of the dice had landed me here.  I still felt like the columns didn’t add up, though; like I didn’t deserve the life I’d found myself in.  I still felt that I ought to be punished.

And then the image of the penitent Mary Magdalene came to me.  Slowly, slowly, and I’m still learning to understand what it means.  But I’m figuring out that maybe there is power in penitence after all.  That I can acknowledge that SOME of the things I done in the past have been wrong, without writing off my entire past.  That I can accept their wrongness and accept the things learnt from that and move on from it.  That there isn’t some divine scoreboard, wherein this much wrong-doing equals this much punishment.  That someone can do wrong and still be a worthy person.

Penitence is self-reflection and self-forgiveness, as well as acknowledged the wrongs.  Penitence is truth, and truth is powerful.

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* Though I label myself Wiccan, Gnosticism is another important string in my spirituality. Jesus is also an important spiritual figure to me, though not Christ and he’s not as central to me as Mary Magdalene. But that’s a story for another time.

Fairytales of Prostitution – Hookers are Forced into Prostitution

The first question I often get asked when someone finds out that I used to be a prostitute is “Why?”  There is an assumption that there must have been some terrible underlying circumstance which forced me into hooking.  Was I addicted to drugs?  Was I burdened by debt?  Was I forced into it by an abusive boyfriend?  Was I unable to find other work?

No, no, no and no.  When I entered prostitution, I already had a perfectly good and respectable job.  I had no addiction issues.  I had no debt, aside from student loans.  I had a girlfriend at the time who most certainly didn’t force me into prostitution but was very supportive of my decision (and I’ll forever be thankful to her for that).  I just decided that I wanted to be a prostitute.  OK, that is a bald-faced lie.  But the reasons that led me to that decision are long and complex and for another fairytale altogether.  Certainly, there were no circumstances forcing me.  But to me, it was like deciding to study or deciding to move to Auckland – a notion that I’d thought about for a while that had reached its time for fruition.  I did meet some women* who were more or less forced into the industry by one or more of the above factors, but they were in the minority.  I also met some women who, like me, were genuinely drawn to prostitution – also something of a minority.  The majority of women I met in prostitution were there because “I need to earn money somehow, and this pays better/has more flexible hours/is more fun than waitressing/call centre work/being a shop assistant.”  Some found it to be perfectly good and acceptable work, others tried it for a short while and decided that it wasn’t for them.

Having made my decision, I rang up and made an appointment at a massage parlour.  It was a place that ran lovely welcoming ads for prospective workers, promising that it was a friendly place and women who wanted to work should come in for a “chat” with their female manager.  I was shown in, put in one of the “bedrooms” (a tiny room with a vinyl bed and mirrors everywhere) and left there for about half an hour.  Then a bloke came to get me and I was led into a tiny office where he and another big burly guy asked me a series of very blunt questions.  The whole time I was wondering how I was going to extricate myself should they ask to “test my skills”.  Thankfully, they didn’t (it would be illegal for them to do so, by the way).

I can’t even tell you how relieved I was to get out of there and never, ever go back.

But I was undeterred!  The next parlour I went to, I did indeed speak to a friendly female manager who didn’t ask me a single question but got me to fill in a form at the front counter and told me to come back the next day to work a shift.  Then she briefly showed me around the place.  It was hilariously tack-tastic, the stereotypical cheap brothel – neon lights, vinyl sofas, full of women in blonde wigs wearing next to nothing who didn’t so much as look at me.  I felt enormously out of place.

However, the third place I went to was just right.  I was greeting by the female co-owner, who invited me into the lounge to talk to some of the girls.  They were cool, friendly people (some of whom were to become good friends); the place was fairly classy for a brothel (I was starting to think myself something of an expert in brothel decor!) – all leather couches and plush carpet like an old-fashioned gentleman’s club; and the manager seemed lovely (and it would transpire that she genuinely was lovely – a former hooker herself who wanted to run the sort of place she would have wanted to work at).  I filled in my form and reported for duty the very next evening.

So, to recap: not only did I choose to enter into the sex industry of my own volition, I also had in mind the sort of place I wanted to work and kept looking till I found it.  No coercion here!

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*Obviously, there are plenty of male prostitutes too.  I just haven’t come across too many.