The moment you start to resent a person, you become his slave. He controls your dreams, absorbs your digestion, robs you of your peace of mind and goodwill, and takes away the pleasure of your work . . . He is with you when you are awake. He invades your privacy when you sleep . . . He requires you to take medicine for indigestion, headaches, and loss of energy. He even steals your last moment of consciousness before you go to sleep. So if you want to be a slave, harbor your resentments!
—Anonymous from 101 Meeting Starters: A Guide to Better 12-Step Discussions
How would I describe the emotional state of the sex industry? Mad as fuck.Grievance wrapped in self-righteousness soaked in outrage. Distrust, aggression, and bad behavior. Management, coworkers, clients, activists—everyone is the enemy.
As sex workers, we have every right to be angry. Our culture and the industry are riddled with hypocrisies that threaten not only our livelihoods, but our lives. Clients are draped in their mantle of unexamined privilege. They carry toxic baggage about sex, money, and their bodies, expecting us to make them feel good while shaming and devaluing us. Cops are paid to protect the peace-loving citizenry, yet don’t defend us, even as we harm no one, even when our bodies and rights are violated. Anti-trafficking activists agitate for laws that make our work more dangerous in the name of “saving” us from our choices. The sex industry profits off lookism, perpetuating ageism, racism, classism, able-bodyism, transphobia, homophobia, misogyny, slut-shaming, fatphobia, and other forms of body hatred. Politicians court votes by creating moral panics centered on disease, trafficking, online predators, and endangerment of minors, all the while sidestepping any responsibility to improve the working conditions of SSCA sex workers. Capitalism requires us to make money in order to survive, and yet . . . our legal system makes it a crime to charge money for activities that are legal when free!
That is a lot to carry. And since we’re perpetually on display and exposed, our jobs can’t get any more personal. It can make it awfully damned difficult to get through our day when we’re furious and defended.
A Visit from The Rage Fairy, A Visit from The Joy Fairy
Here’s a thought experiment: Maybe the first thing you read about when you wake up in the morning is the horrible treatment of a fellow sex worker—maybe someone you love—maybe someone just like you. Maybe at work, a client or coworker is disrespectful or selfish or cruel. You feel yourself flooded with the hot lava of fury. These injustices reinforce what you already know: the world is a hostile place. All throughout the day, you want to punch something, to lash out at those who don’t get it. At night you go to bed only to lie awake with a racing mind and a tight stomach. A stiffened jaw. Joints that ache.
Let me ask you this: What if a joy fairy floated down from above and made the following offer: One wave of my magic wand and all your bitterness will be lifted forever.Would you take that deal—would you choose to let it go? Tricky, isn’t it? Because secretly, that rage feels like a shield against an unsafe world. It goes deeper than that. Nobody ever says it out loud, but it’s as true as the day is long: outrage is sexy as shit. Deep down addictive. A little hit we can taste any time we want. Why? Because we know we are right. And of course, resentment is never lonely. Unlike misery, who famously loves company but is no fun to be around, anger is contagious. Whole industries are built on it. Blogs, news organizations, political movements: if you aren’t mad, then you aren’t paying attention.
I get all that—I spent years in that headspace. But I also know how it feels not to carry around that kind of anger, and I can tell you right now—it’s way better. If fury rules your life, let me ask you this: What is the very best thing your anger buys you? Is it worth how terrible it makes you feel? Because here’s the thing: if you carry rage and blame because someone hurt you or hates you or because the world is unfair, you are doing your enemy’s work for them. As Anne Lamott writes in Crooked Little Heart, “Holding onto a resentment is like eating rat poison and waiting for the rat to die.” Anger is a kneejerk response to pain that only harms ourselves.
That day I went ballistic in the street, my anger did serve a purpose: it defended me against the humiliation of being stood up. It drowned out the slithery little voices inside my head that said: Those guys think I’m worthless. I’m their punching bag whore and helpless to stop it. But deep down, I was letting their shitty behavior define how I felt about myself. That rage felt like armor; instead, it was a prison.
Maybe there’s no such thing as a joy fairy, but we can reduce the inflammation in our lives. Every day we put off this important work means living one day less in our true inheritance. I offer two anger management methods: engagement and detachment. With practice, you can determine which method works best for you in which situation.
In the case of an acute flash of fury, I recommend engagement. The practice is not to react, but to sit still. As Thích Nhất Hạnh counsels, “Our attitude is to take care of anger. We don’t suppress or hate it or run away from it. We just breathe gently and cradle our anger in our arms with the utmost tenderness.” What happens when we’re brave enough to be quiet with that restless pacing rage is it soon melts away, leaving our soft, sad emotions undefended. We’re reminded how helpless we’ve felt in the past. We re-experience being unseen, unloved, uncared for. It’s not easy to absorb, but we have to find a way to hold it and not reject it. As James Baldwin writes in The Fire Next Time, “One of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.” The depth of our rage mirrors the depth of our unhealed wounds.
Every baby brought into this world deserves the knowledge, grounded in their perfect tiny body, that they belong, they are wanted, they are safe and adored. This is the legacy of early life for a lucky few. For the rest of us, it takes work. Dignified righteousness in the face of injustice means trusting we have the right to be here just as we are, and knowing nobody else has the power to define us. Only we can do that for ourselves.
That day I was stood up, what I needed to do was sit with my mistreatment, to recognize how heartbroken I was. I needed to let that pain pass, to allow for the deep sweet voice of self-love to speak: They disrespected me, and it hurt so bad, but I did not deserve it. From now on, I’m only going to focus on clients who treat me well.
Detaching From Anger
Sometimes we don’t have the luxury to stop and sit with the feels. Sometimes we need to set that shit aside and finish our shift. That’s when it helps to have a reservoir of well-being to draw upon, which is where detachment comes in.
I practice detachment when I find myself fuming over bigotry, racism, whorephobia, misogyny, slut-shaming, and the rest. Detachment doesn’t mean these things don’t exist in my perfect world—oh, no—they are very real. It doesn’t mean I don’t care—quite the opposite, I care very much. But I affirm my right to be healthy and whole. It’s not my job to carry in my body the sickness of systemic injustices I don’t have the power to fix.
When that bitterness boils up, when I hear my voice get sharp and my pulse rise, I stop and acknowledge that anger has come to visit. However, it’s not allowed to unpack its bags and settle in. I take a few deep breaths, hear what it has to say, but then it needs to move along. My response is: That is fucked up, but I do not let it fuck me up. In this moment, I am safe and whole. Likewise, my policy towards difficult people is disengagement. Avoid them as much as possible, and limit interaction. My mantra is: I don’t pick fights. I don’t take the bait.I engage wisely, only when it counts. I save my energy for the people I love.
Think of anger as a gluten intolerance—a reaction to a toxin. It might be unrealistic to completely avoid wheat for the rest of our lives, but we’d feel a whole lot better if we stopped munching on a bagel every morning. Practicing detachment means cutting chronic aggravation out of our emotional diet. Like most compulsions, we think we can’t live without it, until one day we realize we feel a whole lot better with it gone.
Here are my suggestions for reducing toxicity when you start feeling riled up:
Disconnect from screens and social media.
Avoid commentators, tweeters, and bloggers who perform outrage as their business model.
Turn off the news when it gets to be too much.
Boycott movies and shows that feature violence and hate.
Steer clear of people who stir up negativity or act out.
Put limits on snark and sarcasm.
We don’t cultivate well-being just by what we cut out of our lives. We also generate it with what we invite in. So we can:
Assert our boundaries, calmly and firmly.
Take pleasure when we feel powerful and skillful.
Adopt an attitude of gratitude.
Cultivate people who treat us kindly.
Practice mindfulness, forgiveness, and compassion.
Notice the times when we diffuse anger and redirect bad behavior, both our own and other people’s.
Learn from others who use anger wisely.
Sit with our emotions and learn what they have to teach us.
Confront with care the people we love, letting them know when something isn’t working for us, negotiating ways to make things better together.
Effect positive change in the world through art, activism, education, volunteering, and other juicy goodness.
Sexy Reader, please learn from my mistakes: Don’t be mad all the time. The most important work in this life is making peace with ourselves. I’m not saying for a second that you shouldn’t defend yourself, work for change, speak out, or confront injustice, but do so from a place of dignified righteousness, not rage. The world may treat sex workers as disposable, despicable, and shameful, but deep down, we know self-love makes us whole.
When your heart contracts in anger, the air itself feels threatening. But when you’re expansive, no matter the weather, you’re in an open, windy field with friends. —Rumi