I’m sitting at a worktable, my face an inch from a microphone diffuser.
There’s a camera pointed at me, and I’m trying to hide behind the microphone – a typical introvert, the idea of being the centre of attention makes me shrivel like a wilted flower. Yet this is what I’ve come to do today – be seen, or more accurately, heard. I’m here to talk about sex, sex work and my book the Art of the Hook-Up, in a no-holds-barred discussion that (let’s be honest) will probably end up on my parents’ iPod.
Until today, I didn’t think I had any cherries left to pop. But lo and behold, I’ve managed to find something I haven’t tried. I’m about to make a guest appearance on the Just Be Nice Project Podcast.
Let me make something clear: I’ve never been comfortable with being heard.
As a kid I was awkward and socially maladjusted. I was bullied in school (something with which, I suspect, a few of you can relate.) Whether it was my eccentricity, my academic ability, or just the fact that I thought differently, I was marked out. Kids can sniff out difference like bloodhounds, and once they sink their teeth in, they rarely let go.
Speaking up became a torment; it would inevitably mark me out as a misfit. When you’re an outcast, everyone loves getting stuck into you. Some days, it felt as though nothing I said was right. So, I went the other way. I refused to fit in. I refused to try and cooperate. I found novel ways to be different – ways my schoolmates never dreamed of.
And then I grew up, and the rebellion continued.
Becoming an escort was the pinnacle of that philosophy – a big ‘fuck you’ to everyone who thought I was a weirdo. In my head, the conversation went something like: “Think I’m strange, huh? Well, guess what? Now I’m REALLY weird, you got a problem with that?” Of course, this conversation only took place in my head. On the outside, I was the same quiet person, going about my business. Even as a rebel, I was nervous about being too loud.
I suspected I had interesting things to say, but I still found it very hard to give myself permission to be heard. Even now, I often agonise over a blog or a Tweet, wondering if I’m doing the right thing. I’m still half-expecting those kids from my past to pop up and scream, ‘What is wrong with you?’
Sex work is incredible in that it gives us a chance to learn where people need help most in their sexual lives. Seeing other people’s struggles with their kinks, confidence, and sexuality made me realise that these were areas that I also needed to work on in myself. Although my job is all about looking after the needs of others, is has served my own needs – every time I help my clients, I learn something too.
So, this brings me to today. The microphone. And awkward silence. Josh from Just Be Nice clears his throat and looks down at his list of questions. And as we start recording this podcast, I’m waiting for the disaster that I’m conditioned to expect – the ridicule, the disapproval. And it’s not happening – lo and behold, the words that are coming out of my mouth are perfectly ordinary. Could it be that I’m not as much of a social misfit as I’d imagine? Could it be that being heard isn’t such a disaster?
If I’ve learned anything from my clients, it’s that all too often we don’t talk about our sex lives. It’s too personal and vulnerable – there’s too great of a risk of being called out. As we’re talking, I’m wondering: how much of that fear is warranted, and how much is in our own heads? Is it possible for things to go well, when we do talk about the stuff that matters to us?
I think the answer is yes.
The time flies by in a rush of excited rants, thoughtful questions, and dirty jokes. I’m shocked to discover I’m enjoying myself. The session ends with a smile and a handshake. I’m still intact.
It’s taken me a long time to feel comfortable being heard. But if today’s experience is any indication, change can happen. And sometimes it’s worth speaking up.
Check out my podcast appearance on the Just Be Nice Project here. And if you’re feeling ready to speak up about own sexual adventures, you can find me on Twitter at @artofthehookup.