Despite years of being a professional first-date, I find the act of introducing oneself can still feel—oh, I don’t know—filmy. Introductions are important, essential. They are miniature offerings: opportunities to, upon initial impression, decide whether someone gives a shit what another has to share. That said, I’m honored by your curiosity. So to thank you for being here, I’ll quit pussy-footin’, especially since this first post will likely be much longer than others. Here goes:
My working name is Madeleine (with three “e”s—but really, does it matter?). I was born in the late 1980s near the Great Lakes, in a city where three rivers converge. I proudly identify as a bi/pan-sexual, “poly-flexible,” sex-working cisgender (she/they) woman. Above all, I am first, foremost, and always a creator—thus naturally also a consumer—of beauty. All of my work is creative work; all my labors, labors of love.
What (Besides Hot, Sweet Sauce) I Make
Since childhood, I’ve found my most joy in coaxing raw language into stanzas and sentences to whittle and sculpt. I occasionally take on freelance editing projects, and once-upon-a-time used my Masters degree in creative writing to teach university classes. In addition to this blog, I have been adapting Madeleine: An Autobiography—a 1919 account of North American brothel work prior to and during the Social Hygiene Movement, which closed red light districts—into a teleplay alongside my and my friends’ and acquaintances’ contemporary stories about sex work. As primarily an essayist and poet, my worst fear is that this project will become a novel.
That’s untrue. My worst fear is that I, like many, will likely die with a chestful of ideas not-yet-expressed. In a moment of dark humor a few years ago, I wrote myself a note that now hangs above my desk. It reads, “Just think! When you’re done with all your writing, you can finally kill yourself!!” These words are unfailingly amusing—to me at least; I am also at work on a poetry collection about dating, love, and sex and maintain a handful of prose projects cycling through what one might call an “incubation rotation” (or an ADHD hell-spiral, pick your poison). Boredom is quite foreign to me, art a boundless wellspring of fuel.
I am also a Whore, one who believes all sex workers are inherently creative. Attuned to every sensory nuance, Whores are cultivators of desire and curators of experience, each of us a master of physical and emotional performance. Fellow sex worker Amber Delice has called this “designing sacred theater,” which I find not only fitting, but wholly enchanting. Providing professional companionship affords me the exploration of persona and presence, permitting inhabitations and expressions of versions of myself that can feel ill-suited to other settings. Performativity does not always negate authenticity; being a provider allows a certain portion of my personality to breathe.
When companions feel safe within their boundaries, moved to perform such intimate, artful dances—and especially when clients exhibit excellent decorum and hygiene(!)—there exists immense potential for deeply meaningful, memorable interactions. In this way, an inspired erotic performance can be just like any other form of art: a painting with a captivating color scheme, the texture and pattern of your favorite silk scarf, a song that can move you to tears even after hearing it for decades.
My perspective is that of a full-time lover and a part-time (albeit long-term) member of the demimonde. I have worked as an escort through an agency, a webcam model, a sugar-babe, a topless bartender in a strip club, and—finally!—an independent full-service companion. It’s not all fantastic, sure, but, given some experience with a few of my other choices, sex work has for me been, on the whole (ha), rather far from terrible, no worse—and often better—than most any other job I’ve ever held. I recognize the provisions of erotic labor in my life personally, financially, and creatively, and I do not wish to be silent about what my engagement in it has meant to and for me.
Haranguing the Happy Hooker
My commentary is informed by my experiences with transactional sex, which have been vastly more neutral-to-positive than they have been negative. And I know what some of you are thinking: BULL-fucking-candycoated-SHIT, “Madeleine.”
This is not to assert, however, that I haven’t experienced abuse within the sex industry, nor that I condone or am in the slightest way/shape/form anything less than fuming-pissed about the current labor rights of sex workers, or about our treatment in broader society. This applies especially to those of us who perform “full-service” sex work (FSSW), which often entails in-person orgasm procurement and is sometimes called “prostitution.”
In their comprehensive, unflinching book Revolting Prostitutes: The Fight For Sex Workers’ Rights, sex-working writers Juno Mac and Molly Smith describe how sex-positive discourse produced what they call the “Erotic Professional.” “Easily identifiable as one of the more vocal, visible figures of the sex worker movement,” write Mac and Smith, “often the Erotic Professional is a dominatrix or ‘companion’—types of sex work in which the act of penetration is downplayed until it’s practically incidental” (32).
This, alongside an overemphasis on the pleasure and desire of the worker, are two harmful marketing strategies mentioned by Mac and Smith. They are problematic in their contributions to false narratives—namely that sex work doesn’t require, as one brothel-worker in New Zealand put it in the documentary Selling Sex, “a strong stomach.” This ultimately distances the Erotic Professional from other sex workers, establishing the caste system often referred to as “The Whorearchy.”
For my part, I do not in any way disavow or distance myself from the acts of penetration nor orgasm procurement. (I never have, never will. I never would. Cumming is COOL.) In an alternate universe where the pressures of capitalism and the student loan scam weren’t constantly breathing on my tits, I might consider engaging in sexual behavior with some of my clients socially, but this is not a common occurrence.
“In downplaying economic coercion,” Mac and Smith write, “the Erotic Professional attempts to make commercial sex more closely resemble the sex life that society is more ready to endorse—that for which women receive no payment” (31). I have a high libido and enjoy interpersonal interaction, so I’ve known from a relatively young age that I would enjoy a promiscuous lifestyle. But I can get fucked when and how I want, for the most part, I’d say. I am an escort for the money.
It’s true, you could still peg me as a “happy hooker,” a sex-positive free spirit who has chosen to sell sex even in the presence of other, more “respectable” options. It’s also no lie that, for me and others like me, the respectabiliity politic has always been easily conformed to. In this sick society, I am so grotesquely privileged to be—if I choose—capable of concealing just about each and every of my marginalizing characteristics. And I will probably continue to bank on the likelihood of being reliably swaddled through my remaining escapades as a bonafide criminal by my easily-gendered and relatively-able body, my European ancestry, and my childhood access to both traditional education and quality orthodontics.
Not a moment goes by that I don’t comprehend the breadth of comfort my privilege grants me. That said, at the end of the night, to many if not most people, a Whore is a whore and a Whore is me. And to many if not most, The Whore is subhuman. If I don’t spend what privilege I do have by speaking, by claiming my profession—which is, by the way, one of the only occupations besides an artist that one also absorbs as an identity—the moment I turn toward silence, what becomes of my purpose as a writer? As an activist? As a thinker? As a human?
Furthermore, for as many punchlines populate the genre of “comedy” concerned with our diseased, disposable, murdered corpses, you’d think we’d invite more than a titter of defense from those who otherwise get off on standing up for women. You know the type: the ones who positively foam at the chance to swat out an idiot-housefly of a PMS joke, despite medical proof that I can, week by week, predict my likelihood of drinking too much cote de rhone because I suspect even my cat loathes my very guts. (Warning! If you’re a man and you dare utter a PMS joke in my presence, may the vengeful goddess have mercy on your stupid little soul, you fucking half-wit.)
You’d think her fixture was as natural as the moon cycles, the slain Whore, as predictably as she appears—unchecked in cruel attempts at humor and uninvestigated when her fateful end is delivered to her. Fatally violent crimes committed against full-service sex workers are often designated by law enforcement NHI, “No Humans Involved.” Considering our forced tolerance of stigma that strips us of our very humanity, I doubt any hooker finds true happiness with any level of ease. In this way, the “happy hooker” myth should be an aspiration not of sex workers themselves, but of society at large.
If Not Here, Where?
Having identified as a sex-positive feminist for as long as I can remember, I believe sex positivity does have a place in the sex workers’ rights movement, if only insofar as it counterbalances the Puritanical perversions of sexuality that have prevailed in cultures such as the United States. My personal lack of FSSW-associated stigma was likely instilled by Inga Muscio’s book Cunt, which I read as a high school freshman. In the chapter titled “Whores,” Muscio writes: “Whores are the people who can teach us all the stuff we grow up not learning about sexuality, our bodies and our innate sexual power.” These sentences were some of the first to change how I felt about my own body. “Our cultural ignorance and intolerance of Whores keeps Whores from realizing the full potential of Whoredom. It likewise robs women and men of Teachers who can help us understand women’s sexual power” (78). These sentences expanded me; it was as if a part of my spirit entered itself, given this sudden agency.
Cunt also introduced me to Carol Queen, who writes that, “to guide another person to orgasm, to hold and caress, to provide companionship and initiation to new forms of sex, to embody the Divine and embrace the seeker—these are healing and holy acts.” The word guide implanted itself in my 15-year-old brain with a stubborn permanence. To me, few things seem more noble than being a guide. “Every prostitute can do these things, whether or not s/he understands their spiritual potential,” Queen continues, warning, “If prostitution is ever eradicated, it will be a signal that Christianity’s murder of Eros is complete, the Goddess’s rule… overturned” (79). Sure, it can all seem rather new-age, and unless it is within your personal experience, I understand the likelihood of disbelief. Of course that which is hidden willfully will be misunderstood woefully. When we forget to honor the history of Ishtar, we rob ourselves of one tool that can be wielded to soften the world into something more civil, more consensual, more pleasurable. Upon reading Muscio and Queen, I knew I’d been lied to! Being a Whore could be fucking powerful.
But it is not easy work. Not always. It can be difficult to stay connected to our truth when we must always rely so heavily on our intuition. In her essay “Mind Fuck,” for example, Melissa Febos admits she’d been allowing her domme persona to author her memoir. “I had been telling the story I had been telling myself as those events happened,” she writes, “not the story of what happened” (Body Work, 40). This makes sense, according to Mac and Smith, who explain how “a focus on sex positivity has become a defensive response to stigmatising media representations of prostitutes” (13). I agree: maintaining a philosophical attitude in regards to my shameless sluttiness has, for me, certainly added a level of protection against those who scrutinize my choices.
“I’ve found that those of us fucking in the margins are often policed by our own communities to represent our sex in an idealized way,” Febos continues. “The idealization and marketing of our marginalized sex experiences as wholesome and perfect is a great argument against the argument for our depravity” (62). I do not wish to bask in toxic positivity to the detriment of critical arguments about the commercial sex trade, but I do hesitate to abandon entirely my long-held belief in the potential for sexual expression to be healing and transformative.
What I can commit to is practicing Febos’s advice: I can make a commitment to the truth, always speaking plainly about the aspects of the commercial sex industry that are utterly fucked, and I can listen when others know more than I do. Since a sex-positive view lacking in intersectionality is certain to have blind spots, “recent years have seen a significant shift in the sex worker movement away from the protective “Happy Hooker’ myths, towards a Marxist-feminist, labour-centered analysis” (Revolting Prostitutes, 13). I am always committed to refining my views when exposed to ideas that I’d perhaps not even considered, so I trust in the patience and grace of Others if and when I still have things to learn. I consider necessary honesty and thoughtful critique to be some of the most generous gifts one can give. It means they give a shit.
As such, this blog will be a work in progress, an ever-changing tableau subject to many rounds of edits and inclusions as I read and transcribe all the valuable information I can. Meaning, I will periodically augment this writing with more quotes from other thinkers, and likely with evolutions and expansions of my own thoughts—and perhaps yours, too. You will be allowed to witness my writing (and learning) process as it unfolds, which is at once wholly terrifying yet euphoric in its liberation.
Whether you revere or revile or question my words, I hope you comment and join the conversation with me. My subsequent posts will likely be much shorter than this, my next one focusing on my entry into and general experience with transactional sex.
If you enjoy reading, you can always support this work by subscribing to my Patreon here, or by tipping me via Cash-App ($madeleineblair) or Venmo (@cookiegoogleman). Even small gestures are encouraging and deeply appreciated. Really.
*Sorry if the suicide joke offended anyone. It’s only funny to me because when I’ve been extremely depressed, so depressed I couldn’t write, whenever I could get myself writing again, I would feel better. The world sucks—now especially, it seems. If you are feeling shitty, know you are always supported and never alone. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can always be reached at 800-273-8255 OR BY DIALING 988.
**Sex workers everywhere stand in solidarity with the victims and survivors of labor trafficking and exploitation. If you or someone you know is being forced to work against their will, you can contact the SWOP’s Community Support Line at 877-776-2004 -or- the Human Trafficking Hotline at 888-373-7888 for support.
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