Control Tower

Let's (Not) Go Crazy

Saying this is not going to endear me to my sisters in the industry, but there are a lot of crazy chicks doing sex work. After much observation, I've formed a hypothesis about why some sex workers become crazy and some don't. Some of them were unstable before they got into the game, but some of them had their lives go off the rails because they made one big mistake: They had no exoskeleton.

What does that mean? It means that in the amorphous world of sex work, you do not have the social guidance of the dominant culture telling you how to structure the hours and days of your life. And that's fine—if you can create and adhere to your own framework, regulating for yourself how you spend your time. If there are no schedules or deadlines, then often the dull duties that make life run smoothly get blown off. It's hard to maintain emotional equilibrium when your power gets shut off because you forgot to pay the bill, mice infest the garbage you didn't take out, and the toilet overflows. The more stressed you get, the less able to deal with responsibilities you become, and pretty soon you're living in a motel on Aurora Avenue. That's the extreme end of things, of course. But it happens.

Sex work is also a world that rewards highly stylized, artificial behavior. It can be fun to play the sex kitten. But you need time as your everyday self, too, or you get off-balance and forget how to interact with people when you're not wearing high heels.

Thus, your exoskeleton is something outside the flexible-to-a-fault underbelly of sex work. It's something you're emotionally invested in that requires you to keep order in your world, and something where you are your truest self. It can be another job you're passionate about, or school, or a serious and active commitment to an art. (Note the keywords on that last one: serious and active. As in: You're accountable to other people for making something happen on a schedule. Sitting in bars talking about the masterpiece you're going to create won't keep you sane.)

Sometimes a partner can be an anchor, if he/she has a well-structured life and you're committed to matching him/her. And sometimes the responsibility of parenthood keeps people focused in a blurry world—but don't count on it. Too often, I have seen parents take kids with them into la vida loca. You're supposed to provide stability for your child, not vice versa.

I've used all these systems to define my days, and I've seen other successful sex workers do likewise. Over time, I've learned to create my own stand-alone structures in an unstructured world. I have my little routines I'm very firm about, and sometimes people kid me about them. They think it's because I'm a dominatrix that I'm so wedded to my ways. They don't realize that me disciplining myself is what enables me to play at disciplining others. recommended


Comments (14) RSS

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As a former sex worker, I would agree with all of this. I would also add that a lot of women who get into sex work initially are young and are suddenly making giant wads of cash for the first time in their lives. It's really easy to spend that unwisely, and to slide into a party lifestyle because (a) you have tons of money to spend on going out to clubs, doing drugs, whatever, and (b) without that outside anchor, you're likely to mainly draw your friend pool from your fellow sex workers, and if everyone's young, party-oriented, and a bit irresponsible, it can all spiral out of control pretty quickly. I hate to feed into that whole "sex workers are all drug addicts," because that's patently untrue, but for those who are or who have that potential, the cash-steeped, night-oriented world of sex work can be a trigger.
Posted by Anathema on March 11, 2009 at 3:50 PM · Report this
Actually, this is great advice for just about everyone: I'm not a sex worker but there's a pretty strong dichotomy between my work and home life and you're right, it's keeping a structure going that helps maintain sanity. Particularly true for freelance workers in any industry. Great column!
Posted by suitably impressed on March 12, 2009 at 7:58 AM · Report this
I have two roommates, both are musicians, and one of them totally falls into that self-regimented column and well the second one, well he REALLY needs to read this article!

After this column and the video on your blog about how to talk to/confront people I feel like the house may be ready to talk to him about his 'artistic' behavior.

Thank you!
Posted by KinSF on March 12, 2009 at 9:39 AM · Report this
Great column! Something similar holds true for artistic work, writing in particular, where you have - on the contrary - little outside activities and are prone to sink into that fictional world you're creating. Never to surface again to do the dishes or other mundane stuff.

As a writer I know and Mistress Matisse's articles which carry that self-reliant, structured vibe have always served to remind me of the necessity to get in control of the rather uncharted territory my way of life is.

So thanks a lot!
Posted by mimi on March 12, 2009 at 9:53 AM · Report this
Perhaps your best column ever Matisse. Well written, succinct, and right on point. Together with your last column (where I personally have the causal arrow pointing the other way) that makes you two for two.
Posted by redheadedbitch on March 12, 2009 at 11:35 AM · Report this
you should write a book about this; i'm pretty sure the canon lacks a practical guide to staying sane amidst a career in the industry (not counting "going pro"), and that void needs to be filled. can i have a 10 page version to hang up everywhere in my club's dressing room? kthx ;-)
Posted by lysistrata on March 12, 2009 at 12:01 PM · Report this
I have also dabbed in that field and just like any job, you need to be able to have time to yourself and do things that need to be done. In addition, if you also have clients that are violent or do not care about your safety, then I could also imagine why some workers go a bit nuts. You aren't exactly working under the best conditions and there isn't anyone around to regulate the rules.
Posted by anon on March 13, 2009 at 10:19 AM · Report this
Time management is a skill one should learn by the time high school is over. I couldn't have made it successfully through college or any other endeavor without. Discipline is important; personal responsibility is part of the solution for the mess the world is in. This article speaks to the times perfectly.
Posted by ArthursMama on March 13, 2009 at 12:27 PM · Report this
I think I've read every Control Tower, and I'd have to say this is the best one yet. Keep it up!
Posted by Jenn on March 13, 2009 at 12:45 PM · Report this
this actually isn't a horrible article, but wouldn't it be more appropriate as a blog entry? For a kink column, this one has a distinct lack of talk about kink, ever.
Posted by Dirtytime on March 13, 2009 at 9:30 PM · Report this

Here's a clue: those of us who live in that world know that the two basic points of Matisse's article above - staying grounded and having self discipline - are key to being able to have a successful kinky life.

It ain't all about pushing a needle through a nipple - sometimes it's about picking up the dirty laundry or having a set schedule for changing the kitty litter.
Posted by Nursie on March 13, 2009 at 11:40 PM · Report this
I recommended this particular column at a recent cartoonists' award banquet. When it comes to the creative, self-guided, self-motivated freelance business life, if we read this column, we don't need the how-to books. You've said it all.
Posted by DB on March 18, 2009 at 4:29 PM · Report this
... And you're just the epitome of mental health, I take it.
Posted by Stars and Sex on March 20, 2009 at 5:31 PM · Report this
Sex workers are saving the world. Or at least my world. You all rock.Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Posted by sydvic on March 23, 2009 at 11:22 PM · Report this

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