I think we have to ask what is ‘sex’ anyway.


My definition has nothing to do with yours. Let’s start with that. So what is it we talk about when we talk about ‘sex’?


I could tell you that when I’ve done sex work it hasn’t had very much to do with my ideas about sex. Some make a living exploring their own ideas about sex, their own versions of what sex means. My ideas about sex haven’t been very lucrative. My ideas about sex are quite agendered, extra-terrestrial, they’re to do with nature and they’re transcendental, who knows. And if I try and explain, is this me fucking with you? I don’t know. I don’t think so.


I don’t have what you might call sex anymore. I wanted to set aside time to recover from assaults, break ups, poverty, illnesses – and to work a lot of this out. For me, so much of ‘sex’ is tied up with emotions and mysteries and histories and past lives and recoveries. And it is about writing and ideas and – lately – about ableism. I’m struggling to find ways of being able to make a transaction now, to communicate what my understanding of sex might mean to you, here in this text. Like the way people try, when they fuck one another, to reach something – some sort of understanding. I’m trying to do that here.


I’m not able to make sense of the boom-boom sex world, the hook-up and swipe, the high match, the queer sex scene, the alcohol and the drugs. And I’m not able to make much sense of transactional sex in all its disguises: the act of marriage, or the need for companionship, feeling wanted, feeling beautiful, having babies with someone, raising kids, having a place to stay, a new life… I understand that these are the things that ‘sex’ is mostly tangled up with, or have been to me in my life so far. I’m suggesting that the moral crusades around sex and sex work are tied up with all of us not being able to make sense of these undiscussed-transactions. Life involves a complex variety of transactions, but this isn’t a political diatribe, this is something else, this is, perhaps, me not-fucking with you. Tenderly, I hope. I’m not able to do those things I have listed, but I have done, and perhaps I will do again. Right now I’m in recovery, reflecting on the ways I have and have not been able to manage many things that had nothing to do with sex: assaults, poverties, addictions, disabilities. I could call this current process an asexuality. But this word – asexuality – seems to just reify this nebulous, abstract blockage of what we’re told ‘sex’ is, reinforcing and solidifying what I’m trying to let loose, to evaporate. I’m trying to give it no power, sprinkle some sort of dust over it to make it just disappear….’sex’.


So yes, I’m interested in able-ism, being able. What we can do. As for being avail-able, let me tell you answering the phone to clients and describing my attributes? I tried replying with this:


I’m just sharpening my claws and polishing my scales. What do I look like?


I have claws, I told you, and scales. And also a tail. And hooves, and horns, and very sharp fangs.


They go: Hur hur, I bet you’re fit.


I feel like perhaps the fangs, the horns, the scales are nothing to do with sex, but a vanishing act over the phantom that is sex. Sex: this projection that haunted me all my life. It’s not just about the idea of what ‘sex’ is to other people, but also their idea and fetish of me. My scales and fangs vapourise their perceptions, breathe fire and spells over them, leaving me intact. But also it is, the tale of my tail and my fangs, is more effort than I was prepared to make. I’d like it to be effortless, effortless pure effort. Like the murmuration.


Time, I’ve learned in my transactions, is always labour. The time it takes to write this text. The time we spend recovering from assaults, broken relationships. The time we spend on others and on ourselves. The time I mop floors, make tea for people, dress for them, and time taken for myself, is labour, the work of love. The time I spend with my sick grandmother is my labour. Listening to my children when they come home, flexing their own claws with fury about street harassment, or society’s expectations to dress like this, or get that grade at school. The time thinking about my other, long-dead, grandmother is labour, and what happened to her, which is unspeakable and un-writeable, is labour. To listen to a potential client say ‘I had lunch with Mayor Bloomberg yesterday’ is not sex, for example, but that’s hard labour. Enduring his politics. Then he told me that my fearful proximity isn’t worth his time, all dressed-up with my fangs .


I exist on barely anything, these days. I got into sex work because I had been out of the ‘workplace’ for 16 years studying and then raising children. I had done a lot of jobs work-wise in that time but I hadn’t been in an office full-time sending emails and whatnot. By the time I got myself back into one of those offices, I panicked, and deleted some very important emails. Like I was performing a kind of SEX, I panicked and didn’t feel able to do it. I was passing as a nice white cisgendered lady to get the job. Also, I was at the time unpicking my ancestry – which is part-unspeakable and part-untraceable… Nobody knows quite where we came from. I was identifying myself for the first time, awkwardly and apologetically as trans* and I certainly was no lady.


I have this nice voice, though. I was being paid for that voice – oh, that voice.


That voice on the telephone which has earned me the princely sum, (I’ve been told, for I have also been told I am a prince), of 14p a minute for phonesex. When welfare reforms demanded me to work for nothing one Christmas in a shop as a condition of receiving my JSA, and because of enormous debts I had after a divorce, I quit benefits and did some escort work. But you see, it really makes me actual-mad. Escort work, I mean. So I tell myself I won’t do this again: I am ‘not able’. I would – no, make that: I could – die. I would suicide myself. That’s how bad it makes me feel: misrepresenting myself as another nice white lady. It’s more complex than a misgendering, because gender seems to rotate by default around what constitutes a cisgendered man. It’s a mis-creaturing. Let’s call it that. I got by on the phone for a company which gave me a stable and guaranteed income, albeit a stable income of 14p a minute. I got my in work benefits. We survived, my daughters and I.


Sometimes I feel like we’re all stuck in school. The bad girls, the girls who were able to investigate sex with boys, while other girls didn’t. Respectability interjects: sluts and slappers and slags… I was supposedly one of those. I sat down to do an ‘O’ level and written on the exam desk was ‘I fucked Suzanna Slack’ and beneath it read ‘so did I’ ‘ and me’ ‘and me’. This was my true ‘O’ level, my ultimate level, my grade-A star-level, my levelling – I was all levelled-out by this graffiti. None of these people had had sex with me, but I obviously represented or projected something that made them think they had. I studied that graffiti instead of doing that exam or any. If I spend too long doing this unloving work that is ‘activism’, I still get catapulted right back to that feeling, as though I haven’t grown, and I’m still studying the graffiti on the desk about me. We’re black, we’re slack, we’re at the back of the class or the back of the school bus up to allsorts. We’re dykes. We’re ugly. We’re wrong… I don’t know. Do we just get stuck there, back in school? At the back of the school bus? The back of the class, or outside it, excluded?


I don’t know, I can’t speak. I stopped speaking out. I did it a lot. I was just a poster-girl of a different kind. I performed this narrative over and over again when I did: I became this poverty-stricken single parent calling for labour rights. I misgendered myself in the process. I want to stop that, here, in what I am doing with you here in this text. Aren’t we all questioning sex? Our position? Where we fit? What’s the point? Who are we? What is a woman? A man? What is sex? What is gender? What are family, exams, capitalism and labour? I don’t know.


It all hangs on what we are able to do: Whether we are able to play nicely, or whether we are not. Whether we are able to fuck for money, whether we are able to refuse, whether we are able to do either or neither or both. I lose confidence and I lose ability entirely. Breakdown. I get really sick. I keep these things secret. Nobody would believe me, I can look very presentable and that voice precedes me, projections are powerful. It cannot be that I am not able. I would be able to have sex again for money if I had to, if I have to, but I’m writing right this second like my life depends on it to you right here, right now. Right this second. I want to write to save my life. Writing is so often muddled up with power and status and lack of consent…and cruelty. So much cruelty in what we call ‘writing’, and not the liberation it often promises. But to save my life. Now. You and I, together in this writing: are you able to gain a sense of this? Are we together, right now, when you comprehend this? This is what I would like. That would vapourise the phantoms.


I get an opportunity to speak like the nice white lady at a ‘feminist event’. No. I sit back down: I have spent my thoughts because they weren’t interesting, not from yet another white face with a Home Counties voice like mine. I experimented with being the right kind of girl. Now that I am middle-aged, I can play at being the school swot, but that doesn’t fit either. I was jealous of both, the bad girl and the good girl. I was jealous of ‘girl’. I am jealous of ‘girl’ and of ‘sex’ and of ‘writer’. I am suicidal sometimes and sometimes I’m out with my wife. I was at the fireworks the other night. I tried to take my teenage daughters but of course they’re too old. We’re not the right-shaped family. They disappeared elsewhere and I sat in the cafe and families (the right shape) were all around me, clustering for chairs, asking if they could use the other one at my table. I put my hat and scarf on my opposite chair and said loudly to everyone who asked, ‘no that chair is taken, I’m just waiting for my wife’. After a while I began to see her, there, for real. My hat and my scarf on the opposite chair.


I was out at this family event, the fireworks display, with my wife. I put my hat and scarf on and went out into the dark and the rain. My teenage daughters didn’t come and find me, why would they? They had other fish to fry. These animatronic dinosaurs were prowling the perimeter of the event, one saw me stood in my pink fluffy hat and red scarf, a creature alone under a tree watching fireworks, and the dinosaur shook wet leaves all over my pink hat, and I stared up in alarm and delight, so excited. Perhaps that was sex.


Article Author: Ava Caradonna


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