Friday, 26 February 2010

Paint Me a Picture

When you look at me, what do you see?
The pornographer paints you a picture:
My breasts, bare for your delight
My legs, spread wide to show I'm willing
My vagina, held open for your pleasure
My anus, lubed and ready
My mouth, painted red, lips parted slightly,
Just waiting, all waiting,
To be fulfilled, to serve you,
To serve your cock.

Do you think you see the whole me?
(And I don't mean in the close ups)
Or do you just see the 'holes' in me?
He shows you my insides - the physical
But he doesn't want you to see my real insides:
That's hidden
Painted out.

Let me paint you another picture.

I am a human being
Who had hopes and dreams
With family, a history,
Who feels and thinks and eats and sleeps
and shits
Like any other.

Maybe you don't know me
But you can't afford to stay detached.
If I were your sister
or your mother
Would you treat me the same?
Could you treat me the same?
How would you feel knowing
other men made money from me
Made judgments on me
Put a price on me?
That other men buy my body
and wank over me
Perhaps that man in the street
Or that one?

I live with that every day.

Let me paint you a picture
A snapshot of my world
A day in my life

Beneath the heavy makeup
Are dark circles around my eyes.
I don't sleep well at night
Knowing what lies ahead -
Another day undressing
and posing and pouting
and acting like I like this
want this
am this
On my hands and knees
As these men instruct me
Direct me
Push me
To ever more explicit, painful things.

Self respect
Long gone

The drink and drugs
The desperate need for cash
For a fix
Which traps me there
My self loathing
and the man who fuels it
Who beat me
and raped me
and sold me
and sold that picture of myself
to me:
A nothing
A set of holes
A stupid bitch
Who belongs here
and deserves nothing more
than your laughter
your contempt
your body fluids

Unpalatable truths
have no place in the picture
you choose to see.

They are my picture
My reason for being here
Always present
But concealed from you so easily
With your complicity
Beneath the makeup
Beneath the smile.

I see you, laughing at me
or commenting on my body
and wanking over me
There trapped in my two dimensional existence
You with your talk of rights and choices!
But do you see me?
Will you see me?
I will you to see me
The whole picture
And buy into his picture
The pornographer's picture
no more.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Abso-fuckin-lutely Unbelievable

I was just driving in my car, listening to radio 4, when they started a debate about to what extent is a woman to blame if she has been raped.


It really upset me and I had to drive straight home to ground myself. The whole point about rape is that it is against the woman's wishes. Whether she's had one drink no drink or twenty drinks, it's still the same. If a woman says no, she means it, full stop.

How pathetic! How hurtful to every woman who has ever been raped, ever been sexually assaulted, to remove the blame from the man who penetrated her, touched her, and lay it straight on the woman he has hurt! I'm still crying, still shaking, from hearing this. It makes me want to vomit - my whole body responds.

And the worst thing is that a survey shows most women think the woman has some responsibility.

What message are we giving to the next generation of young men if we say, well, she was dressed a certain way, she smiled at him a certain way or she drank a certain number of drinks so it was ok for him to rape her? What are we doing to ourselves? When women condemn women for being raped, where has the rape victim to go?

And where is the perpetrator in all of this? Strangely absent. The man who did this to her. She has been hurt once by the rape, and now this. It's all her fault. Her 'no' didn't mean anything to him, and it doesn't mean anything now.

It doesn't matter if he was drinking - he is still responsible. If he had bludgeoned someone to death after a few drinks and claimed drunkenness, would we say, ah, there there, let's just forget it, he couldn't help it? And disregard the victim, and maybe blame them for being around a man who was clearly drunk and out of control?

Being raped is a sort of death. It's a loss. Of confidence in yourself, in men, in being protected by the law. A loss of dignity and respect. And the physical pain too. Life is never the same after rape. Your body never feels quite so much yours.

It makes me sad, too, when I think about what it really means we believe about men and about women as a society if we place the blame for rape on the woman. Implicit in that statement is the idea that men are somehow less than: they are animal, ruled by their sexual urges, powerless in the face of their desire, not capable of responsibility. And that women do this to themselves, hurt themselves, and are responsible ultimately not just for themselves but for men's treatment of them too.

I do not believe that. I believe that both men and women are responsible for their actions, and the effect they have on others, and that to deny that is to deny their humanity.

But now, sitting at home alone I wish I'd heard one voice on the radio that had spoken up for me, the woman who was raped.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Lonely in Company

I find myself silent, often, in therapy. It's as if I'm still gagged. Silent then, and silent now. Show no emotion. Some behaviours are hard to break. Watching the therapist, who I like, who I trust, in as far as I trust anyone, I feel like screaming. Such torment and frustration! He's only a few feet away but it might as well be a million miles.

How to reach out across that distance, to bridge it, with words, to paint a picture of pain and suffering, to say the unsayable, here in this bland middle class setting with its table and box of tissues for clients to dab their eyes with, with this kindly middle class man. I feel like I'm pure darkness, pure evil, a toxic entity polluting this place, this man's mind. If some of the images, the memories, of what was done to me torment me and make me feel repulsed by myself, what will he think, this man with his textbooks and his stable life and stable job and clean and tidy appearance.

His kindness touches me, his presence soothes me, knowing that he won't hit me or touch me or shout at me. I know it's just his job, all part of the deal, for him, I'm just another client. But it means so much more to me than that. A man who doesn't want anything from me, is there to listen, encourages me to talk, speaks softly to me. I don't want to lose that feeling of companionship, can't bear to think that he might see my damage and my darkness and leave me.
I've been alone for so long I don't want to lose this. And so I sit silent and will him to see into my mind, to understand, to see my pain and fear, to know and understand and accept me as I am, because I can't say this stuff.

Loneliness in company. Together but apart.

Living in Limbo

There comes a point when the feelings are so intense, the pain so raw, that words cease to do them justice. You grope about for the vocabulary but there is none. Nothing you say could approximate to how you feel, to what they do to you. People fail you, and language fails you too.

And who's listening anyway? Who's gonna help? You feel invisible. When you go to A&E (and you should go more, but he won't let you - scared they'll find out) and they talk over you, as you lie in the bed - 'drunk enough to knock out a horse', 'clearly alcoholic', 'look at the state they get themselves into', and disregard you and your pain, you lose your humanity. You become 'she', 'her', 'just another drunk', unworthy even of a name. You're already hurting, but still they hurt you, hurt on hurt. You can't take much more of this.

This woman in the bed has feelings you know.

You know you're on your own. And you blame yourself already, hate yourself already, for the drink and the drugs. You're trying to survive, just trying to survive, and you know these things are problems in themselves, you're not stupid, though they treat you like you are, but you're scared and lost and lonely there are no choices. The people who are meant to help you, the 'professionals', judge you and look at you like you're a piece of shit, which is what he told you anyway. When opening your mouth risks disbelief, or his fist, you stop talking. You hurt enough: you don't need anymore.

Feelings, events, people, all jumble in your head, a wordless, hopeless, non-narrative you'd rather not remember. You feel you are losing touch with reality. The blackouts come thick and fast, a product of the drink and drugs and head injuries he gives you. You're scared you're going mad. You can't bring yourself to think about your future. What have you to hope for, to aim for, to pray for, when you're so utterly broken, so completely fragmented. Even your body's not your own. It feels numb to everything but pain. You try to detach, to get away from the physical trauma, but there's no safety or peace even in your head. You feel consumed by him, by them. Their hands possess your body, and their words possess your mind.

They tell you you belong here. You begin to believe it. When the people who might help you, who you were taught to trust before you found yourself here, when you belonged, were accepted, fitted in, in society, look through you, you have no place left to go. Escape feels impossible. Where do you go? Who can you trust? Where now do you belong?

Since I've got out, I find myself still lost, still scared, still hurting. There is no place I can call home. I don't feel I fit with most regular people, with their regular lives, their regular families, their regular behaviours. With their uncritical, unquestioning acceptance of how I as a woman have been treated by society, am treated by society. It's like they see me but they don't see me, they see what they want and throw the rest away. With their comfortable assertion that prostitution should be legalised, that it is empowering for women to 'choose' sex work, that gender inequality is a thing of the past, that there's plenty of help out there for battered women, if they would only choose to take it. They speak confidently of addiction, of alcoholism, as a lifestyle choice, nothing more, a poor one at that, a sign of weak character and selfishness and poor morals. I feel suffocated, dismissed by them and their beliefs. It's like they're talking a different language than me. They are.

Their words are painful to me, ill informed, detached from reality, cloaked in a language strangely out of context given the nature of the sex industry. Meaningless, but widely accepted. Sanitised to the point of abstraction. Edited to the point of vacuousness. Such language suggests it would be prudish to see the women bought and sold in pornography and prostitution as anything more than an expression of free speech and liberalism. And see, she's smiling, so she must like it! And men will be men...

Looking at a naked woman in pornography, with objects in her vagina and rectum, defenders of the sex industry speak not of women at all, but instead they speak the language of rights and free speech and choices. So much cleaner, so much less distressing. So much more socially acceptable. After all, who wouldn't be in favour of rights, free speech and choices? Taken out of context, these words are accepted to have positive connotations. Our society promotes them. The question we need to be asking is, do these words belong in the context of the sex industry and its practices?

The sex industry and our mainstream culture which accepts it looks straight through the women it uses. They looked right through me, look right through me. Looking at a real life woman before them, naked, with genitals exposed, proponents of porn are oddly blind. They see only what they want. Her body's value to them relies on their ability to project their desires and beliefs onto her, and so use her without blame or responsibility. She remains an object of fantasy to them because they do not see, will not see, the reality. Safely at the pornographer's end of the camera, 'users' of pornography remain at a sanitised distance from body fluids, bruises, feelings, reality. They fail to connect with the woman at the other end of the camera, holding herself open, posing, inserting dildos or other objects for the gratification of men she does not know, to make money for someone else. With their language of 'free speech' and 'empowerment' and 'choice', these so called 'liberals' are in fact anything but. Free speech is not so free when it seeks to silence the debate, to mute the voices of the women who have lived out the reality of the consumer's fantasy.

Her humanity, her feelings, get in the way. The pornographer doesn't want you to worry about her - that's why she's been told to smile. Not as easy to get off to if you saw what it cost her, is it?

Perhaps if 'users' of pornography had to face the human cost, if those women were not mute, they would have to take responsibility, to get active. They might have to dare to speak out and risk the wrath of an industry with billions of dollars behind it, and top lawyers behind it, a whole circus of people who have so much to lose if it became unacceptable to trade in real live women. Not that the sex industry would or could ever quite phrase it like that. The sex industry aims to mute language which draws attention to what it actually does - uses women's bodies, with particular focus on the genitals and their penetration - to make vast sums of money, not for the benefit of the women, but for those higher up the chain. This lie retains its power by avoiding such vocabulary at all costs.

The sex industry seeks to control not just the voices of the women in it, but the very language of the discussion, and the vast majority of the media. Strangely, these people object to words which conjure up with any sort of accuracy the reality for the women involved. The reality's a little less palatable. It's not as easy to speak blithely of free speech and empowerment if you could hear the voice of the woman who just had unprotected sex with 8 different men describe the pain from the prolonged sex, how she snorted coke at every break to try to numb out, how difficult it was for her to try and smile for the camera and moan for the camera like she liked it, to say to them 'fuck me harder' when all she wanted was for it to be over cos the pain was unbearable and she thought she might vomit and she just wanted to grab the money and go shower and get drunk to forget.

The sex industry paints a picture of itself as a benevolent figure in a fight against women being chained to marriage and monogamy and subject to sexual control. They present themselves as the good guys, the modernists, the open minded ones. Against all the evidence, they want to be seen as women's liberators, not their exploiters. Society buys into that lie in as much as it accepts that language. The industry's use of language spins a lie which draws on fear: people's fear to seem prudish; people's fear to seem old fashioned; people's fear that they might be seen as backward, anti-women's rights, controlling or frigid. It's rarely said that you can object to women being hurt in pornography and prostitution, to being objectified and sold, but not be a traditionalist, a conservative. It is not in the sex industry's interest to allow that there might be a middle ground. Or that real empowerment of women might be found in something other than their getting naked to get men off.

They play a clever game, and they wage war on those who speak out. They seek to put their money making off limits, to make questioning the effects of the sex industry forbidden. How ironic that an industry that destroys women's lives should adopt a language of women's rights, of feminism and empowerment! How all pervasive has this lie become that a woman like me who has experienced the hell of prostitution, of being used in pornography, first hand is scared to speak out, is told to deny her truth, has found normally kind, non-judgmental people unable to hear her story? Faced with the appalling reality of what it means for women to be sold and destroyed one picture at a time, one punter at a time, people fall back into babbling about choice and freedom. How can it be that the woman becomes unacceptable, her story unacceptable, while the industry is untouchable?

The sex industry's choice and careful control of language is what keeps us where we are. It avoids explicit language to engage with wider society in its battle to remain where it has managed to place itself: in the mainstream. Many people who advocate the 'right' of adults to 'use' pornography, or argue in favour of the legalisation of prostitution, are embarrassed by the use of sexually explicit words to describe the sexually explicit films and magazines they defend. Such language is frowned upon as seedy and unsuitable, unnecessary.

But why is it ok to wank over a picture of a naked woman being penetrated but not ok to speak of her vagina, her anus, to speak of her reality, to say it as it is? To ask why she might be there, how she feels about it, what it means to her. If she has other options. How have we let an industry which deals in selling living, breathing, feeling, warm blooded human bodies as objects, to be used for our gratification, and then discarded in favour of the next body, control us so thoroughly, brainwash us so completely that we may only speak in abstract terms of fantasy, free speech, choices, and never the humanity of the women who we are staring in the face? How is it that the statistics showing that an overwhelming percentage of women used in pornography and prostitution were sexually abused as children or adults or have mental health problems and want out of it desperately have been so hushed up? (See Object: Demand Change website for recent statistics). In this language of rights, where are the rights of the women being used? What happened to the responsibilities that go hand in hand with rights? And in a context of abuse, of addiction, of poverty, of violence, of mental health difficulties, how meaningful is it to speak of choices?

Getting the women who are caught up in all this, trapped, to speak out in defence of their degradation, of their being dehumanised and objectified and sold, is the cleverest and dirtiest trick the industry has come up with. Nothing can release society of it's responsibility to action, to change, like the voice of a woman who knows. A woman who speaks out in support of the sex industry's lie is paid handsomely, by a society that is grateful it need not look at itself or question its practices, and by the industry itself. The industry pays these women to denounce other women, women who dare to say I didn't like it, I didn't want it, being treated as an object hurt me, I don't think it promotes a healthy image of women, as extremists and prudes. A woman who speaks against that lie pays over and over again, firstly through the pain of being sold, then again by having her pain and her story dismissed. Dismiss the woman who speaks the truth, and you need never face that truth or own your part in it. The status quo is at risk, needs to be protected. The truth can't get in the way of that! It is a status quo which suits many, which makes money, in which women can be bought, wanked over, then put away neatly in a drawer til next time, or left in the brothel til next time, no thought for their humanity, their dignity, their feelings and emotions, what they go home to at night. Hearing the vastly publicised voices of a few women telling the sex industry's lie, society again rests easy, blameless.

When I fell back into prostitution after I crawled away from my ex to support my drug addiction, in despair because in my condition I couldn't get any other work, when I'd begged my GP for help to quit the substances and she'd refused, I found myself telling johns if they asked me that I chose it, that I liked it. It was what kept them coming back, and I needed them to come back because I needed the money. No choices. No free speech. They'd whisper revolting words into my ear, and then say 'and you'd like that, wouldn't you?' and I'd have to say yes. It felt like I had given away my last shred of self respect. I cried myself to sleep at night, I couldn't look myself in the eye in the mirror anymore. Being fingered and fucked and stared at and cum over and photographed and videoed and treated like an object for the entertainment of others was oddly unempowering.

The chasm between the 'acceptable', society and its sanitised, abstract views of women and sex 'work', between that world and my world, that reality and mine, seems vast, unbridgable, even now I am out, even now I am sober. They with their jobs and their houses, their strip clubs after work, just a bit of fun, a porno movie or mag just for a 'laugh', no big deal, going home to a warm house, a safe bed, sleeping sound, comfortably distanced. And me, simply surviving here, struggling to live with the feelings and memories, the scars, the nightmares, grateful that I haven't drunk or used just for today, that I haven't been beaten or sold today.

I'm no longer in that hell of prostitution. But I find myself in limbo, still fighting to survive, still at odds with omnipresent voice of the sex industry, still at odds with society, the survivor and bearer of a truth too uncomfortable for most to hear. It's time we call these language games for what they are and get honest with ourselves.

Monday, 1 February 2010

Progress not Perfection

In recovery circles, they have a saying: the good thing about recovery is that you get your feelings back and the bad thing about recovery is that you get your feelings back. These last few weeks I have to say I've found having my feelings to be tough. Someone I love very much is seriously ill, with a possibility of not coming through it. It's at times like this that I have to remind myself I am powerless over people, places and things.

When I was drinking and using I used to work really hard at fixing people. I wanted to be everything to the people in my life, I think because I wanted to be loved and needed, and making myself indispensible to people seemed a way to make people like me. I had no self esteem, and so I searched for approval in the eyes of others. If someone liked me, good (although even then I'd think, if they really knew me they'd think different). If not, all hell let loose: a confirmation it seemed to me that my worst fear was true, that people could see through me and know I'm a bad person. I clung to people for dear life.

Looking back at how lonely I was, and how desperate for love I was, I feel compassion for myself. And I feel sad. Now, in recovery, I can see myself more clearly. I see the patterns in my life, the character defects I have which have led me to fall into unhelpful behaviours and destructive relationships. Relationship is at the heart of the problem: I tend to have incredibly skewed relationships with everything in my life, from people to money to everyday objects which I can imbue with certain powers beyond the real. So I can start to think certain clothes lucky or unlucky, demand that any man in my life be a white knight and save me, get superstitious about rituals. Ritual was another big thing for me in my using. And the white knight thing...

I still am prone to these ways of thinking. I am an addict, and they are my default position. But I do these days think myself more worthwhile, and not set up others as gods in my life to be raged at and thrown away when they inevitably fail to save me from myself. Only I can save myself, with the help of others. And people won't help if I don't let them in, and tell them I'm hurting and scared. I find it so hard to admit that! But I am trying, nevertheless. At this time of upset and worry, I have mustered up the courage and honesty to reach out to my friends for support. And the grace to know that I can't save him, that I'm not God, that I can only do what I can and look after myself and hand the rest over. It's difficult, and I'm scared and I'm hurting, and I still often feel lonely, but it's progress.