Tuesday, September 28, 2010

From The Mailbag
Mistress Matisse:
I read your column often and was glad to see you reminding erotic/sex workers that they flourished before Craigslist's erotic services section. Please for the sake of boundaries and the sake of other professionals could you possibly ask them not to simply move to the therapeutic services section? As it is, it is impossible to advertise in the Stranger or the Weekly as a legitimate non-erotic therapeutic massage therapist. Or a waste of time, as all the respondents are looking for sex. When sex workers co-opt the words "therapeutic massage", it makes it extremely difficult for a whole group of people who are also highly trained to practice their profession.
I have nothing against sex workers until they start pretending to be licensed massage therapists, which creates an expectation in the public mind about what real LMPs are willing to do which is mistaken.

This letter elicited several different responses in my mind. For one thing, I don’t think the writer honestly believes that I can bring about a change in anyone’s behavior simply by saying, “Hey, sex workers - stop calling yourselves massage therapists.” She knows, and I know, that isn’t going to happen. She is simply venting her annoyance, which is human nature. God knows I do it all the time.

And I have some sympathy for her. I, too, wish to practice my profession in peace, without being pestered by people I don’t wish to deal with. That’s an understandable thing to want. And as every small business owner will tell you: it’s not an easy thing to get.

But let me ask you massage therapists a larger question: why do you think you’re more entitled to use the massage than sex workers? I don’t mean that in a hostile way, I respect that you're hardworking business people. But I’m sincerely asking you to examine your assumptions. I have known many people who did non-sexual massage who complained vociferously about this, so when the author of this letter speaks of sex workers “co-opting” that word, she is not saying anything I’ve not heard before.

So really – why do you have a right to the word massage that other people don’t have? Because you paid a school to teach you techniques and then test you? And then you gave the state some money and they gave you a piece of paper? If sex workers had the option of going to school and getting a piece of paper that legitimized us, I’d be more inclined to say that was a fair argument. If there was a system like that in place for us, I'd go, in a heartbeat. But we are not permitted to do that.

I think this sense of entitlement is based on the idea that touching someone in a non-sexual way is inherently better and more legitimate than touching them in a sexual way, and I don’t accept that. What I’m really hearing here is: you don’t want anyone to even think you’re a sex worker, because whether you admit it or not, you think that’s a bad thing to be. And you can’t really expect me to back you up on that.

(Besides, plenty of people who have LMT licenses actually do engage in sexual behavior, either sometimes, or all the time. So it's not like there's a hard-and-fast line there.)

I will grant you that some of this is probably a simple desire to have your business model be easily understood by potential clients, and some not-wholly-unreasonable fears of having an unpleasant encounter. I can relate to those concerns, I share them. But I don’t support putting sex workers in a language ghetto. Do as we do, and address the issue with potential clients however you see fit. But it is not our job to enforce your boundaries.

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