Wednesday, 10 February 2010

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.


  1. Thank you for all you have written. I'm a guy, and I am becoming more and more convinced of the seriousness of this issue of porn in society, especially with the internet now giving anyone easy, unlimited access to all kinds of "material." So many men are watching this, and so little thought is given to what is actually going on in reality and how it is affecting everything and everyone.

    I don't want to sound like I'm comparing the plight of a porn viewer to that of a porn "star," but as a man who has been a viewer of porn, I can tell you that the suffering of the women comes through when men view and masturbate to it, and it damages them without their knowing it. I believe that affects them subconsciously. I completely stopped watching porn and masturbating 9 months ago and now realize that it was having wide-ranging negative effects on me. I was one of the men you mention, who are comfortably distanced and happily ignorant of how porn comes to exist, but at the same time it was ruining my life. I could not look people in the eye, I lost motivation, I lost interest in real relationships. I was feeling unfulfilled, yet I didn't care enough to change anything. I can't help but think that the emptiness that was beginning to eat at me is somehow linked to the reality of porn's creation that you write about. I was never specifically "into" the degradation I saw in porn, but I will admit that I watched it just because it was there and freely available, and I am so sorry that I allowed myself to ever do that. I think that my lack of consideration of what I was watching contributed to the suffering of the girls who are involved in porn.

    Porn producers can tell women to act like they like it, but I believe that the reality of the situation does come through and it infects the minds and lives of everyone who is exposed to it. I am so sorry that you and others have to pay such an extreme price in these "transactions," while porn viewers can live in ignorance and think that all is well. It is hurting the entire society, and people like you have had to pay the greatest price, which is to experience all the horror of it without being able to deny it easily as the rest of us can.

    I hope nothing I said sounds like it's trivializing your experiences, as I know that I can never understand.

  2. Thanks so much for writing. 9 months is great! Stick with it :-) You're right, watching women being hurt for a quick and easy orgasm is damaging to the viewer too. We have produced a generation that is totally desensitised to suffering and who lack any model other than porn for relating to the opposite sex.
    The trouble with porn and the sex industry is that it gets inside your head. I recently turned 7 years clean, sober and exited from prostitution and the drink and drugs are no longer an issue - but I'm still working on the mental crap left over from prostitution.
    Stay strong
    Angel x