When She Says Lady, She Does not Imply Me

After I was 19, I paid my solution to San Francisco with pornography. I answered an advert for the most affordable room I might discover, and when the woman who lived there requested me, I lied and mentioned I used to be straight. I didn’t know anybody. Males or boys requested me to go locations, and I went. At a celebration within the fall, I wore tight crimson pants and no bra. I drank what was handed to me. I fell asleep on a mattress and awoke and this boy was fucking me. His odor and pores and skin and my enamel grinding and I used to be drunk or excessive, I don’t know which, and I couldn’t transfer. I couldn’t make him cease. I handed out once more and awoke and his physique was there on the mattress and I inched away and it was so grey, San Francisco was at all times so grey, at all times so predawn, and I didn’t wish to jostle something, gathered my limbs, my fragile heart, slipped out to the grey avenue and the shivering bus and stepped gently on the steps up into my rented room and washed myself with sizzling water and drank sizzling espresso to burn the within of me and started the work of pretending it had not occurred.


That very same 12 months, my boss on the espresso store left me 5 messages in three days:

“Hey, simply needed to see if you wish to go to that present on Friday at Nice American Music Corridor.”

“Hey you haven’t known as me again so simply checking in once more to see if you wish to go, or perhaps get a drink.”

“Hey it’s fairly impolite of you to only smile at me like that after which not even name me again.”

“You may’t simply be good to folks after which act prefer it doesn’t imply something.”

“You assume you’re so particular however you’re not. You have to be extra cautious.”

At work, he didn’t point out the telephone calls. He watched me. He began scheduling me in order that I solely labored alone. As I wiped down counters, he stood near me, holding a clipboard, not taking a look at me, simply retaining his large physique subsequent to mine.


In Previous City and in Ocean Seashore the cops have been at all times watching us. Had been at all times stopping us on the street. Had been at all times making us empty our pockets and backpacks. We felt them coming and we stiffened, tried to duck round corners, tried to avert our faces. At night time, they shone their flashlights into our eyes. Some nights they made us stand in a row. They held images of lacking youngsters up beside our faces. We weren’t lacking.


The boy who raped me had paid to see my bare photos on the web. He’d performed this along with his buddies, the group of them collectively on the laptop with somebody’s brother’s bank card. I knew this as a result of considered one of them advised me. They advised me he needed to fuck me. This was meant as a praise. I’ve tried to think about what they mentioned to one another in that room, hovered over the display. I can’t hear them. I give you nothing.


Intercourse staff, says Catharine MacKinnon, are “the property of males who purchase and promote and hire them.” She says that to rape a intercourse employee means merely to not pay her.


When males ejaculated on me it didn’t really feel like trauma, it felt like cash. Like hire. It was not painful. It was not complicated. I didn’t hate them. I felt nothing about them. I knew what I used to be agreeing to. I knew what I might have after I walked away. I knew that I owned myself. That proudly owning myself meant having a solution to make my cash and stroll away. That the strolling away, greater than something, was the factor that made this work totally different.


Intercourse work, tweeted Ashley Judd, is “physique invasion.” It commodifies “women and girls’s orifices.” “Money,” she says, “is the proof of coercion.”


On March 11, 2019, the New York Metropolis chapter of the Nationwide Group for Girls (NOW-NYC) held a protest on the steps of Metropolis Corridor, demanding the continued criminalization of intercourse work. Audio system at NOW’s protest known as the decriminalization invoice that a group of New York intercourse staff had been organizing towards the “Pimp Safety Act.”

NOW-NYC’s president mentioned, “Sure, you’ve heard it proper, the intercourse commerce might be coming to a neighborhood close to you.” New York Metropolis, she mentioned, might turn out to be the “Las Vegas of the Northeast.” As if intercourse work weren’t additionally unlawful in Las Vegas.

Proudly owning myself meant having a solution to make my cash and stroll away.

A small group of intercourse staff got here to counterprotest. They held indicators that mentioned, “Intercourse Employees In opposition to Intercourse Trafficking.”

The anti-decriminalization protestors stepped in entrance of them to cowl their indicators. Audio system mentioned that the intercourse staff have been “unaware of their very own oppression.”


I didn’t inform anybody that I had been raped. I didn’t inform anybody and nonetheless they mentioned, “What’s incorrect with you that you simply enable males to pay to the touch you.”

They mentioned, “What occurred to you that made you want this?”

I heard these items repeatedly.

I heard them so usually that I feared that they have been proper, that I had solely tricked myself into believing that there was a distinction between the issues I’d chosen and the issues I hadn’t.

In my mattress, not sleeping, Adam’s heavy arm over me, my physique between him and the wall, I believed: I’m damaged.

I didn’t know what I used to be, and I didn’t know methods to be anything.

I knew that to turn out to be an individual that males like Adam might love would imply making myself visibly weak. Would imply performing the sort of weak spot that different folks might discover lovable. Would imply claiming ignorance so they may see me as worthy of being remade.

I knew that the weak spot they needed was nothing like the true weak spot within me. The true weak spot within me might solely be healed if I trusted my very own guidelines. If I didn’t give my ache away for different folks’s tales.


It was in a porn studio that I first started to really feel as if my physique was a factor I might love. I didn’t take the job so as to really feel this. I didn’t even perceive it because it was taking place. It occurred slowly and likewise unexpectedly. I confirmed as much as shoot and the person that I might be working with requested me, “What are your limits?”

I had no concept what he was speaking about.

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“What do you not wish to do?” he requested. And on that day, I couldn’t inform him. Nobody had ever requested me that query earlier than.

“We’ll strive some issues,” he mentioned, “and also you simply say ‘crimson’ if you wish to cease.”

So I attempted issues. A few of them I appreciated and a few of them I didn’t and a few of them I didn’t care about a technique or one other. On daily basis after I got here to shoot, they requested me the identical query: “What do you wish to do in the present day? What don’t you wish to do?”

Ultimately, I might reply. I might make a listing. That is what I need. That is what I don’t need.

There was a day after I was tied up, suspended in rope in the course of a warehouse in downtown San Francisco, and a person was hitting me throughout my physique with a deerskin flogger. I used to be in midair, ropes pressed into my hips and thighs and chest with measured pressure, leather-based thudding rhythmically in opposition to my again and breasts and I felt a sort of elation, a swelling in my heart. I felt robust. I felt myself getting stronger. The scene ended, and so they lowered me to the bottom and so they untied the ropes and blood rushed again into my knees and elbows and I felt all of a sudden clear. I felt complete. Greater than complete, I felt unbreakable.

They handed me a examine, and it didn’t really feel like coercion, it felt like security. It felt like I had taken one thing from them.


“It’s inconceivable,” says Andrea Dworkin, “to make use of a human physique in the way in which ladies’s our bodies are utilized in prostitution and to have an entire human being on the finish of it, or in the course of it, or near the start of it. . . . And no lady will get complete once more later, after.”


In Los Angeles, the times have been all the identical but in addition they have been all totally different. I labored. All of us labored. We lived to work. We known as it the “porn dorm” and we known as it “porno boot camp” and we bought up at 5 a.m. and labored till two the next morning. We labored two-a-days and we labored seven days per week and there was not a single day of the 12 months when somebody, someplace, was not making pornography.


The nice days and the dangerous days have been overwhelmed by days when all the pieces went as anticipated. Days after I confirmed up and laid out my garments and we selected one thing and I put my make-up on and took the stills and waited for male expertise or waited for the sunshine or waited for the dialogue and did six positions and a pop and took my examine and went residence. I felt bored extra usually than I felt anything. I felt bored and I felt as if the factor I used to be within was invisible to everybody who was not within it.

They handed me a examine, and it didn’t really feel like coercion, it felt like security. It felt like I had taken one thing from them.

After I was not working, I used to be exhausted. I used to be extra exhausted than I had ever been. Some mornings, when it was time to rise up to go to work, I cried.

“You cry now, however you’ll cry when you haven’t any cash,” my agent mentioned.

I cried after which I went to work.

The day can be good or it might be dangerous or it might be neither and I might gather my examine and my agent would come and decide us up and take us to Jerry’s Deli and we might eat hen soup and black and white cookies, and I liked him. I liked these ladies round me, every of them with their our bodies like weapons. I felt as if I didn’t belong wherever however there.


I’ve not often talked about my rape and I’ve not often talked about violence I’ve skilled whereas doing intercourse work. I’ve not talked about these items as a result of I’m afraid. As a result of I understand how tales like mine get advised. As a result of I do know precisely how good anti–intercourse work “feminists” are at carving out the items of our tales to make them imply one thing else, one thing simpler and extra simply bought. I understand how good they’re at flattening us, at excavating our experiences to make tales which are solely an imitation of the issues we’ve lived. I understand how good they’re at making us not human however symbols of this factor they name womanhood. This factor they’ve made that I don’t see myself in.

I’m afraid, but in addition I’m indignant. I’m indignant that I couldn’t discuss violence with out fueling descriptions of me as an object, written by ladies claiming to be my allies. I’ve survived violence in intercourse work and likewise I’ve chosen repeatedly to do that work. I’ve carried out intercourse and femininity and likewise I’m not an emblem of anybody else’s womanhood. I’ve been poor sufficient that intercourse work appeared like a present, poor sufficient that intercourse work modified my energy on this planet by giving me the protection that cash offers. To say that I wanted the cash just isn’t the identical as saying I couldn’t select, and to say that I selected just isn’t the identical as saying it was at all times good. I’ve been harmed in intercourse work and I’ve been healed in intercourse work and I mustn’t have to elucidate both of these experiences so as to discuss my work as work.


“Girls have to be heard,” says Ashley Judd. And I do know that when she says ladies, she doesn’t imply me.


Excerpted from the e-book We Too: Essays on Intercourse Work and Survival, edited by Natalie West, with Tina Horn. The essay “When She Says Lady, She Does Not Imply Me” Copyright © 2021 by Lorelei Lee. The gathering, printed by the Feminist Press, is out now.

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