A little over a year ago now, I was told by my attorney (off the clock, as “friendly advice”) that I needed to leave companionship work and find something “real” to do with my time. She listed a myriad of reasons, but most significant to her seemed to be the idea that what I did was going to ruin any hope I ever had of having a “normal, real” relationship later in my life.
What I’ve learned in the year since is that exactly the opposite is true. While it would be simple to balk at the attorney’s narrow understanding of what I do, it wouldn’t exactly be fair. There are a lot of misconceptions about my line of work and the spheres in which it exists.
As anyone in the industry can attest, there’s a tremendous amount of overlap any way you draw the ven diagrams of sex work, and cleverer people than myself have written lots of things explaining the ways in which everyone from cam performers to gaffers on porn sets can arguably be deemed “sex workers.” One does not need to engage in sex-in-exchange-for-money to make their living from sex work. That’s an important distinction here because prostitution is what most people equate directly with sex work, escorting, or companionship. But they’re all legitimately distinct enterprises.
As a professional companion, I am paid for my time only. That’s it. There’s nothing more salacious or titillating to go along with it. There’s no leading phrases or double entendres. I am professional company.
What I specialize in is referred to as the Boyfriend Experience (the male counterpart to the Girlfriend Experience, made common vernacular by Stephen Soderbergh’s 2009 incredulous-squint-fest of the same name). I’ve learned to create a genuine rapport with new people and how to develop a safe space that eliminates the potential for rejection, or ridicule, offering them the chance to feel accepted and secure. The thing that many people might be surprised to learn is that this doesn’t necessitate a fictional interaction on my part. I’m not “in character,” as my attorney suggested. And I don’t say things that I don’t mean in these spaces since I was raised on the dictum of “if you don’t have anything nice to say…” I’ve found it’s just as simple to say nothing at all. The result for me has been a series of condensed, mini-relationships with these people, and I have benefited in ways that I’m probably not even aware of yet.
Through these relationships I’ve learned tremendous amounts about how to treat people; learned how to provide emotional support when you might not feel like it right that moment. I’ve learned a lot about the struggles that almost every single human deals with on a daily basis; issues with weight, feeling unattractive to others, fear of rejection, feelings of isolation, and the sense that there might never be someone to see you for what you really are. And that there might never be someone to tell you that what you are is ok.
On the surface, it’s simple to view most of my clients as highly successful, highly functional, contributing members of society. But it is often not a deep dive that’s required to hit sore spots about feelings they’ve never confided in anyone; feelings that (even though they might be partnered) they would be rejected for showing who they “really are,” to their partners or their children. Most difficult for me to deal with, personally, is the idea that some of my clients haven’t ever seen themselves as desirable. They may have lived entire lives, married, raised children, divorced, gotten remarried, all while viewing their physical presence as something that is “tolerated,” rather than desired, by their partners or the world around them.
They grew up ashamed of their bodies and their genitals, as was appropriate for whichever religion or small community they were born into, and received little to no information in school about their sexuality and the blurred lines that come with desire and lust.
They married appropriate partners and followed appropriate courses of education, gainful employment, and family life, only to find themselves on the other side of those things, grown men without the ability to define, enunciate or seek out what they really want.
In my capacity as a hired companion, I offer a world free from the societal constraints they are so familiar with. They know that we can discuss anything, go to a raunchy art exhibit, or to the Blue Store (one of the better-stocked sex shops remaining in Manhattan). They can ask questions they’d been afraid of even googling. And they can trust that I will do whatever I can to assure them that they’re normal. That they’re ok. Because they are. What I am left with is an understanding of life that I don’t come to the table with on my own. I wasn’t raised to see my body or my sexuality as naughty or dirty. I was encouraged to pursue whatever combination of education, employment, or relationships I found to be necessary for my personal fulfillment. My parents would have been equally ecstatic if I’d been a doctor, lawyer, or pretending to be a cat on Broadway, eight times per week. As long as it suited me and was what I really wanted.
I’m not in a relationship right now, nor am I actively pursuing one. But I am confident that when the time comes, I will have an emotional toolbox that is more fully stocked because of these clients, and countless examples of interactions and situations I may use to draw parallels to present or future situations.
I will have experienced lots of things through them that I won’t need to repeat in my own life. And I will be able to offer a kind of empathy – a genuine empathy – for how hard we all are on ourselves, and how hard the world around us makes it for anyone who feels a little different.