23 Things I Wish I'd Known: #10: Hurt People Hurt People
At age 22, I started stripping. For the next fifteen years I worked off and on as a dominatrix, porn actress, and escort.
Now I’m 49.
Here are 23 things I know now that I wished I’d known then:
#10: Hurt people hurt people. Ostensibly the sex industry is all about pleasure, but as it turns out, so many people are in pain.
News Flash: There’s a ton of bad behavior in the sex industry, clients and sex workers alike. Clients lash out, play games, are casually cruel, jerk us around, are threatening or violent. As a result, many sex workers work from a highly defended place. But clients aren’t the only ones -- many sex workers lash out from their insecurities and frustrations. A toxic cynicism pervades the industry, and it feeds on itself, sucking out all possibility for kindness or real connection.
All of that is real, it’s not gonna change anytime soon, and it sucks. It can make the job unbearable, and is a major contribution to burnout. So, what to do? You can’t just ignore it, ‘cause it’s everywhere. You can’t just say I’ll be nice to everybody, and hopefully they’ll be nice in return. That’s naïve.
The answer, I’ve found, is to take a step back, and recognize that everyone is in pain. It takes some practice to identify the patterns, in part because we’re taught to hide our wounds and insecurities, even from ourselves.
It’s easy to look around and think, That guy? He’s so obnoxious! He thinks he’s a gift from God. (Actually, no. He’s a puffed-up narcissist, terrified everyone will discover how inadequate he is.) Her? She’s gorgeous and makes five times more money than I do. (Nuh-uh. She’s felt stupid and ugly her whole life, and believes any day now her whole clientele will vanish.) That grabby fan who acts all entitled and gets mad if he doesn’t get exactly what he wants? (He’s fighting bottomless feelings of emptiness and helplessness.)That chick on twitter calling everybody out on their shit? She’s a ninja badass. (Nope. She never, ever, not once in her life has felt safe.)
If you don’t believe me, turn it around: Does someone who feels genuinely good about themselves go out of their way to bark and shout? Be cruel or bitchy? Jerk people around and rob them? It just doesn’t happen.
Recognizing pain as the underlying engine of bad behavior allows us to detach, to step back and simply observe, without judgment or a need to react. It provides space to say I can appreciate why you’re acting the way that you are, but I’m not going to get caught up in your damage. It lets us sidestep bad actors, without feeding into their drama. And it allows us remain openhearted to those who are truly kind.
Detachment takes practice – it doesn’t come naturally overnight. (You can learn more about how to do it here.) Seeing the sex industry through the lens of compassion opens up protective strategies against its worst dynamics.
I write extensively on how to manage your emotions and other aspects of self-care in my new book, Thriving in Sex Work: Heartfelt Advice for Staying Sane in the Sex Industry, now available in ebook and paperback!
Until next time-- be sweet to yourself.
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