I fell in love at work once.
I wasn't emotionally prepared for my feelings. I didn't know how to categorize them, or how to take care of myself. I figured I was good at maintaining boundaries, that years of nonmonogamy had taught me how to have some measure of control over my heart. I knew when it was safe to delve deeper, how to talk about my feelings, and when it was time to take a step back. It was part of what made me a good adult entertainer. Or so I thought.
I still remember when I got the first email from him. He immediately stood out. Most men I did kinky play with told me I could do whatever I wanted, hoping I would pull their desires out of them without needing to tell me what they liked. This guy, we'll call him T, sent me a two page email outlining exactly what he wanted and how he wanted it. I remember reading it and dreading meeting him, because when someone is that persnickety it might be difficult to satisfy them. I told him something snarky about how I would be in charge, and I'd keep the things he liked in mind, but ultimately it'd be up to me. T was all right with that.
I walked into the dungeon we agreed to meet at and I literally walked back out again. He was only a few years older than me, incredibly attractive, and kind of shy, a devastating combination. I took a deep breath, determined to maintain a facade of confidence and only a slight interest; one of his turn ons was for me to maintain some sense of disdain, which I really struggled with when I wanted to have him as mine immediately. But I made it through humiliating him and watching him squirm while trying not to squee at my own excitement. I felt disappointed when he left, but figured it was for the best if we only had the one session. I wasn't in a place to have all these feelings.
He wrote back the next day wanting to meet up again later that week. I agreed and instantly felt butterflies in my stomach. I had never experienced this before, so I asked other adult performers about their experiences. Had they ever felt flutters for someone they met at work? After some discussion, I realized that the choice I had to make was whether or not I wanted to see him outside of the rules and restrictions we had constructed, whether I could afford that.
I decided it was worth the risk. Nothing ventured, right, and I've never been one to shy away from something difficult.
We met up again, and I could feel electricity; our meeting was both incredibly sexy and absolutely hilarious. I tripped over the high heels I wore to impress him, and we giggled about it, an intimacy developing between us where I no longer felt on a pedestal. I didn't have to pretend to be something I wasn't, some high femme goddess creature. I could be my goofy, nerdy self, and it felt wonderful. Two hours later, as we snuggled for some aftercare, I decided to take the risk and ask T if he wanted to go to a fetish event that had a marketplace with me, as he had commented on his lack of kinky clothes. He accepted, and we made plans.
Of course I hadn't expected this, so I immediately freaked out and asked my girlfriend to come with me to try to get a read on him and prevent me from making a fool out of myself. The three of us, somewhat awkwardly, went to a workshop on bondage, and had T trying on different outfits while making small talk. Slowly, we all warmed, and there was an ease to our interactions, a comfortable friendliness. In the bathroom for a quick panicked meeting, my girlfriend said to me that she thought he liked me back, and though she thought he was a bit off, I could probably feel confident asking him about taking the relationship another step. I did the suave thing before we parted ways and said teasingly “You know…if you let me do what I want, we could renegotiate the terms of our relationship”. Immediately after I said it I cursed myself out, thinking he might find my approach gauche.
Instead, he grinned.
And so, we began dating. We went to T's first sex party, my girlfriend, my new boyfriend and I, and proceeded to have fun dancing, making out, and watching the various goings on. I was impressed that this shy Brit wasn't batting an eye at having a threesome at his first sex party while watching six gay men going at it. The party was challenging for him for personal reasons, but I was pleased that he stuck it through and managed to get over his initial feelings of weirdness and have a good time. I've learned being an adult entertainer that it helps to have a lover who can handle all sorts of situations, and it was nice to know if I threw T in the deep end he could swim.
Early into the morning we left the party, exhausted, and he invited us to his centrally located flat to rest. T was in media, an exciting job that allowed him to live on his own in Soho (and partially my inspiration for going into social media), so we took him up on his offer and fell asleep, all snuggled together. I thought I was in heaven, sandwiched between these two sexy people. We woke up to tea and bacon. I found myself thinking that this might be the beginning of something lasting.
His kinkiness rivalled mine, something that surprised and excited me immensely. T was creative, and I loved the challenge, all the things we did and tried. Being a craftster, I made him nose hooks and mouth hooks, wrapped him in cling film and duct tape, spat in his mouth and pissed on him in the shower. We went to dark psychological places together, him and I, and I trusted him with some parts of myself I haven't let anyone else see even now. It was more than sex for me- we hung out and watched movies, went grocery shopping, I was so in love with him, and I thought he loved me back, two perverts who had found each other. The fact we met at work didn't even cross my mind.
We talked often about what brought him to me in the first place. I learned that T felt uncomfortable with his kinkiness and struggled to find ways to explore that felt safe. I encouraged him to go to Burning Man, to meet my friends and communities in the hope he would find acceptance. We’d go to pubs, sex shops, bookstores, holding hands and talking about politics and psychology. I fell deeper in love, so thankful to meet someone who respected my work, who I didn’t have to explain it to, who seemingly accepted me. We went to Torture Garden and other kinky clubs, slow dancing to drum and bass, kissing like we couldn’t stop.
It all seemed so perfect. For a few months, it was perfect. T was a lovely guy, not great at talking about his feelings but working on his communication. He was one of the sweetest boyfriends I had been with, and the sex was magical. Of course we occasionally argued, but what couple doesn't?
Granted there were hints that the fairy tale was coming apart at the seams but I ignored them. The desire T had to be enhanced in some way when we did kink, for example, I chalked up to his shame around his desires, and let it slide. T was embarrassed telling his friends how we met, so I was always a writer to them, with my true self put into the closet (if I met them at all). My friends knew and loved him; it didn’t matter to them that we originally met because of my job as an adult industry professional, but he never seemed to notice that. Family was out of the question. It was hard, because I wondered if he was ashamed of me, when I was so proud of my job, happy to have met a great guy at work like any other girl. I felt frustrated sometimes, trapped in pretending to be someone I wasn’t, but I loved him and respected him, so I kept quiet, even when friends of his said things about the adult industry that made me uncomfortable. There were other indicators:the relationship was open, but T would go on dates with monogamous girls, something that made me feel jealous and unstable. I felt like he was just waiting to replace me. We’d fight, then cry, then sleep together and make up, over and over again.
The truth is, we both realized that the way we had met had created a rushed and false intimacy- we knew so much about each others desires, but so little about what made the other tick. Our sex became kinkier and darker, our fantasies more dangerous and tense in an attempt to make up for the chasm between us. I felt less inclined to do other work and spent my free time trying to understand what was going wrong, what I could do right. I worried I was losing T, but told myself that I was being paranoid, that I had heard so many times that sex workers couldn’t be in relationships that I believed it. I did what many people do, and tried to cling harder, which scared him off. His need for space terrified me.
After a particularly difficult night before I flew home for a few months, we drove to the airport in silence. I was panicked about leaving the country. I knew in my gut everything was about to fall apart and while I suspected I was digging my own grave I wanted reassurance that T cared, that we had something special. I was in tears as he gave me three cds. I spent the flight analyzing each song, reassuring myself that the music suggested he was confused, too, but we loved each other, that we would find a way. It had been only five months and yet I felt like I had found my soulmate. I slept fitfully.
Of course when I landed… I discovered an email asking for time apart. T felt like we were struggling too much. I agreed, I could see that we needed some time for things to calm, for me to realize he did love me, that things would be ok. I started journaling every day to work out what needed to happen for our relationship to get back on track. I vowed not to sleep with anyone else, professionally or otherwise, while I reflected on us. It was all silly agreements I made with myself in the hopes I could fix something I already knew, deep down, was irrepairably broken.
Three days later T was dating someone new, someone I had introduced him to. They moved in together. They broke up. He hadn’t planned on fixing our relationship, he was just putting off the inevitable. I knew that our relationship was dead by then, and I mourned it. I felt like someone had ripped my heart out, my trust, and burned it in front of me. I railed at my friends. I fell apart.
I tried to heal, in time. We tried to be friends, meeting for coffee. But I was furious, and hurt, and not ready. I felt like he had betrayed me, that he had shunned me for my work. It was one of the most heartbreaking experiences I had ever had, and I cursed myself every day for losing control, for letting myself blur the boundaries between professional and personal. A year later and I still hadn’t recovered. Two years and I still struggled seeing T's picture. Even now, I'll come across his profile somewhere or other and I'll feel sick to my stomach.
There was a party I went to, about a year and a half after the breakup. T was dating someone else, a woman who was a part of a few of the communities I was in. She and I ran into each other under not the best circumstances -- she, probably on something; I, sick with the flu and somewhat delirious. Flopping onto a chair and draping her legs on me intimately, she confessed how thankful she was that he had met me, that he was so self aware and open thanks to me. I realized that I had taught him how to be sexually confident in his kinks, that I had helped him become the ideal lover. I felt like I was going to throw up. I felt like love was something that would screw me over, every time, that all I could ever be as an adult entertainer was training wheels for a “real” relationship. Never had I been hit so hard with the irony that while the service I provided was invaluable to his well-being, that society ensured my well-being was ignored while claiming to want to protect me.
I cut T out of my life after that. For the most part, I think it's for the best. I moved on, mostly. Scar tissue heals.
I think, years later, that he left raw wounds that still affect me today, in my current relationships. Because I was hurt far more than I was angry, and that vulnerability can be dangerous for me in my workplace. I still worry on some days that I will only ever be the girlfriend experience and never the girlfriend. I have never gotten close to someone I work with like that again, and I doubt I ever will. There is a part of me that is still traumatized and miserable about the whole thing. It was one of the hardest lessons in boundaries, trust and honesty I have ever had. And yet it was the Cinderella story brought to life -- Pretty Woman in real time.
T seems happy, now. We haven't spoken in years, and I doubt we ever will again. I don't imagine he ever thinks of me, and I feel silly for thinking of him, for my heart still feeling the tiniest bit broken. I wonder if it ever mattered to him how much he hurt me by keeping me as his secret lover. I wonder how things might have been different if there wasn’t this stigma about my profession, if he hadn’t felt he had to hide me away, if he hadn’t been ashamed of who he was or how we met. I wonder if he might’ve been able to see me as his white picket fence girl after all.
I guess I’ll never know.
When they talk about trauma in the adult industry, they tend to mean being beaten and raped on the job, a daily reality for many professionals worldwide. As someone with a lot of privilege and no arrests, I haven't experienced that kind of violence. I’m lucky in that way. While I live under the shadow of physical or sexual violence (more from the police than anyone else I meet) I’ve really only experienced various forms of emotional abuse, usually from people who felt they had the right because my choice to be out as in the adult industry was, apparently, consenting to constant public scrutiny and scorn.
Even as a privileged escort performer, I do feel scarred. I think of how I tore my own relationship apart with my internalized whorephobia. I think of how stigma about any and all sex workers and pornstars not being people can affect relationships and the people in them. I think of the way I have worried I would have to choose between a job that gives me autonomy and agency or having a partner (something I no longer stress over, having experience to the contrary).
Every time I tell this story, there's someone who says condescendingly that this is why we create boundaries, that adult performers can't afford to love. And that's exactly the problem: people feel very entitled to mistreat sex workers like me every day, like we're not people with hopes, families, loves and losses. I feel bad for T, too, even though he hurt me, because I think the misogyny that judges adult entertainers so harshly also judges those who patronize them. We were just two people who met at work, as far as I was concerned, but for him I had to remain a dirty secret.
Our relationship was not a political statement: it was just a girl loving a boy who didn't love her as much.
I don't think he entered the relationship to hurt me. I don't think I went into things expecting to fall so hard, either. The trauma had already been done before I ever met T, by a society who told me I was worthless because of my job and that he was a messed-up abuser for wanting to see a professional rather than struggle to figure it out with date after date after date.