Photography: Levi for Inside Outside
Before I really get into it, before I whip up the mass of emotion, the atmospheric pressure of vehemence arising from my infuriated sorrow or the cyclone of menacing parallelism and layers of comparability. I ask you to think of a time when you were at your most vulnerable, your weakest ebb, that moment you may have lost your flow. I remember mine well, I have actually experienced that excruciatingly numbing contortion of vulnerability through the hollow of depression more than once. Slap bang in the middle of your helplessness, go on conjure up that manipulative evil that eats your persona from the inside out, you have reached a plight of desperation where even the most ridiculous of ideas and undesirable thoughts penetrate your brain. Ok you’re there, how insignificant do you feel? how little? how ugly? and how un-strong? Now place those emotions in a large mixing bowl and give them a stir, throw in an unorthodox upbringing, an unhealthy start, whisk vigorously before pouring in an abusive relationship, young needy children, drug addiction and serious illness. Continue stirring to combine all ingredients and bake on a steady heat for as long as it takes you to realise that prostitution isn’t always a choice and has very rarely been given this open, honest and passionate voice.
I began reading Levi’s story with an open mind and a strong emotional stance, I did not know what to expect as I slowly yet willingly navigated my way around each transcript. I started by consciously leaving my firm, feminist persona at the door. I was certain I would develop a strong understanding and consideration not only for working women but for there clientele too, after all prostitution is considered one of the oldest professions and being pragmatic, I guess we all have that subconscious yearning of sexual desire, it’s part of our make up. We are all human after all.
I instantly felt an affiliation with Levi, a common ground, I consumed her vulnerability like it was my own and I carried it, along with her pain as I embarked on her journey, Levi guiding the way. I allowed myself to climb into her story, her words enveloping around me as she described the impact her job has on her relationships. She described daily woes that we can all relate to, anxiety of a new boyfriend, making correct choices, all relatable struggles. Although I cant help notice her self doubt and I pick up on the over whelming feeling of shame. Levi quotes ‘There is no glamour in it’ and describes how after each client she vigorously scrubs her self down in the shower, a ritual of removing not only the smell but the pain of her predicament, a habit she continues whilst being intimate with her partner, a trait he despises, wishing they can cuddle, talk and feel close instead. Only he and Levi’s mother know of her profession although she’s certain others have picked up on her lifestyle. She is a drug user and claims that because she needs drugs, friends assume that’s what she does, they are not wrong as sadly often both drugs and prostitution go hand in hand creating a twister effect of drugs, sex and deep depression. ‘I can’t do one without the other’, she says. After trying endlessly to quit drugs, Levi finds the shame of prostitution and how her life has unravelled overwhelmingly punishing to deal with, which often amounts to relapse after relapse.
I think of my daughter, and the solidarity of our relationship, only last night after a long ten hour shift, I trudged the uphill journey home, greeted by her infectious grin, holding a watery cup of hot chocolate for her tired mum. I cherish our ordinary time together, our morning routine and heated debates over appropriate hairstyles or practical footwear. The thought of her growth of independence and her invaluable patience with others keeps me grounded in the knowledge that I am nurturing a good egg. Yet her fear of self acceptance and her sensitivity of others opinions reminds me that we are all balancing, poised upon a thin emotional web of self security and self deprecation. Levi is a mother too, she has a son and a foreboding dread engulfs her as she envisions the moment he questions her career choice and/or heroin abuse. The turmoil that is manifesting in her mind of the impact of her son’s upbringing makes me stop reading with a start. Likewise with Levi my family are the nucleus of my survival, so I am side by side with her and my heart aches along with hers as she emotionally outlays how important it is to spend time as mother and son. I am transient, within a feeling of helplessness, anger and a deep, deep sorrow. I feel stuck. I determine that Levi is stuck too.
My despondency turns to fury as she describes her time with the punters, providing services to two, three or often more men per day. Levi works from home and I find it difficult to comprehend lending my body, mind and surroundings to these strangers. I consider my home a safe place, a haven or refuge, women including Levi are risking both their families and their own security by letting clients in. An overwhelming feeling of aggravation and vexation implodes inside me as Levi retells a horrific tale, depicting a time at her most vulnerable, danger was fraught, as she was held captive by a punter but she incredibly escaped, she reminisces further describing violent attacks and rape. This information is enormously difficult to transfix and all I am able to digest is the emotional turmoil that coincides with this threatening situation. She is left scarred and frightened, cheap and dirty, exploited, humiliated and dehumanised.
Let’s serve up the cake we baked earlier, as we slice through, take time to notice the complex layers of manipulation, self-disgust, intimidation, isolation, disassociation, numbness, stigmatisation, imprisonment, violation, control, doubt and shame. If you’re finding this difficult to digest then this is only the beginning, the icing on the cake. Try putting yourself in a sex worker’s shoes, go on, step into Levi’s and walk with her. In my opinion, she is one of the most resilient people I have had the pleasure of finding out about and I am in awe of her continued strength. I walk along side Levi and I give all I have to support her. From the inside outside, I wear the mask for you.