The dark fog that surrounds my head, dragging me back to bed no matter how much I will myself to get up.
The weight on my eyelids that won’t lift, no matter how many coffees I drink.
The pressure on my chest that squeezes tighter and tighter throughout the day, until I feel like I’m suffocating, fighting to take a breath.
The slow ticking of my mind, as though I can feel the cogs turning, slowly slowly slowly.
My client is talking to me, talking talking talking. I can see his mouth moving. Words are coming out. The words get stuck in the cogs in my mind. The cogs grind the words, mincing them into meat, making them impossible for me to interpret.
He keeps on talking. Something about his ex-wife, a settlement, millions of dollars, his business, a Porsche, furniture shopping. The cogs in my mind grind to a stop.
He keeps on talking. I stare at him. Does he really think I care? Does he really think any of this matters? How can he be so oblivious? So delusional? What a dick.
He stops, smiles, laughs. Looks at me. “Anyway,” he says, “enough about me. Tell me about you. What do you do for work?”
His question annoys me. His voice annoys me. His existence annoys me.
I try to muster a smile. I try to piece together a palatable response. He’s paying me, after all. He’s paying me, good money. For him, this is leisure time. He has to pay me, I think, because no woman would listen to his self-obsessed bullshit for free. But still, he’s paying me, and really, being paid thousands of dollars for a few hours of my time that comprises of only a few minutes of sex is a good deal. So, I try to muster a smile and a palatable response.
But the cogs in my mind jam.
“I’m a prostitute,” I say drily.
He stares at me, a look of confusion on his face.
I’ve disrupted the game we are playing. The ‘I-am-genuinely-interested-in-you-and-not-just-because-you-gave-me-cash’ game.
He breaks the silence, laughs awkwardly.
He stands up, taking his glass of wine, and looks at the view. He points at a building across the river, a few suburbs away. “I grew up over there,” he says, talking talking talking.
The cogs keep turning, slowly slowly slowly.
He excuses himself to the bathroom. When he returns, he is fully dressed, tie tied and cufflinks secured, jacket folded neatly over his arm. “I better get going, I have a busy afternoon of meetings,” he says, hand already hovering over the door handle.
“Okay,” I say, squinting through the fog.
I gather the towels on the bathroom floor, throwing them in the washing machine. I pick up the condom, neatly disposing of it. I fold the $50 notes into my palm, carefully counting them. I stand in the shower, with the water as hot as my skin will allow, letting the steam wash over me.
What a weird world, I think. What a weird, weird world.
I don’t hear from him again. I let it slip. He saw it – the fog, that is.
Clients don’t like to see the fog. The haze of depression, it disrupts their fantasies. Nobody wants to pay to fuck a depressed hooker.
I have many thoughts on sex work and mental illness. None of them fully formed.
I’ve always hated the suggestion that sex workers are more likely to have mental illness than other members of society. Why? Why would they? Based on what?
If you accept this, you are saying that there is something wrong with sex workers. And that ‘wrong’ thing also causes them to engage in sex work. To accept this, you have to think there is something fundamentally wrong with sex work. And to think there is something fundamentally wrong with sex work, you have to attach certain values and meanings to sex, which make it different from other types of bodywork. Which I don’t, obviously.
Yes, some sex workers have a higher burden of mental illness. But this tends to be related to how much social support they have, how much violence they experience, where they work, and how much they enjoy their job. So, just like everyone else in the world, really.
And how could sex workers not suffer from mental illness, when it is so common? Depression and anxiety are part of the human experience, and sex workers, after all, are human.
But the idea of a sex worker struggling with depression seems to hit harder than other professions because our job is to portray fantasy, an ideal. Our clients pay for the perfect experience. A perfect girlfriend, for a perfect hour. And depression isn’t perfect.
Depression is messy. It spills outside of us and makes other people uncomfortable. Clients don’t want to see the thick tar that is leaking out behind the scenes. They have their own thick tar. They pay to see light, fluffy candyfloss. Not tar. No tar is allowed here.
I’ve struggled with depression at numerous times in my life. Before I was a sex worker and after. Luckily, for me, it’s not something I regularly experience anymore.
But, I have struggled through bookings, trying to see through the fog. And I’ve struggled with the morality – it’s hard to have sex with someone when you’re depressed, and you don’t want to. It’s hard to keep up the façade when the cogs are grinding.
I’ve pondered this from the eyes of an outsider, from the eyes of someone who doesn’t understand the intricacies of sex work. For many, this would be unacceptable. I’d be considered non-consenting, having sex with a client under ill-will. Many clients and outsiders are okay with sex work, but ONLY if the sex worker is enthusiastic, consenting, wanting, excited.
And try as I might, I can’t force this logic to make sense. Nor can I figure out why it only applies to sex work.
Imagine protesting that you will only buy coffee from your barista if they vow that they genuinely enjoy roasting beans for you and would do so with for no payment, out of the love in their heart.
Imagine protesting that you want your hairdresser to adore your hair so much that they will go out of their way to cut it for free.
Sounds ridiculous, right?
And then there is the idea that sex work is different because surely having sex with someone that you don’t want to when your depressed is more damaging than frothing milk for a coffee?
And here we are, back at the idea that there is fundamentally different about sex than other types of bodywork.
Exhausting. No wonder there is tar.