Harlots Parlour

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The Sessions

Sunday, 20 January 2013

The Sessions

This weekend sees the launch of The Sessions, a film which is creating quite a stir in the media. Starring Helen Hunt and John Hawkes, The Sessions explores the relationship between a late thirties virginal man and a professional sex surrogate. Sex with the disabled is surely one of the last remaining cinematic taboos. Indeed, this week has seen some fierce debates take place on This Morning and The Jeremy Vine Show amongst others. There are many with an opinion as to whether offering sexual services to the disabled is a ‘good’ thing – that they don’t actually have any experience of their subject matter is as usual, no deterrent to arm chair critics.

Let’s begin by exploring what I mean by ‘disabled’, that you may fully appreciate the challenges it can bring to a sex worker. In terms of physical disability, I meet clients who are amputees, wheelchair users, those who have had a stroke, varying levels of paralysis, not to mention the mind boggling range of machinery that can sometimes accompany those conditions. In my own journey as a sex worker, I have learned how to roll a client across a bed, how to use a hoist, how to help them in and out of a bath and of course what to do if it all goes wrong, in terms of first aid.

When I’m working with the physically disabled, it is absolutely key to treat my client in exactly the same way as I would the able bodied. That means, loudly remonstrating with them as to the state of their bedroom, remarking on their Kermit the frog boxer shorts and being completely matter of fact should an ‘accident’ happen (I won’t go into further detail on that except to say that as a mother, colostomy bags don’t even touch the sides of ‘no way’).

The second challenge is what I refer to as the ‘Bedroom Krypton Factor’, by which I mean that the rules of engagement may be somewhat hampered by my client’s mobility or positioning, but there is always a way. Truly, you haven’t lived until you’ve had to balance yourself by holding on to a hoist hook, whilst dressed as a nurse and in killer heels, it’s quite an experience.

In terms of mental disabilities, the two main categories I meet are Autism and Asperger syndrome. As lifelong developmental conditions, the main issues that can and do arise are communication, interaction and anger. It is very difficult to have a conversation with a person who constantly interrupts or shouts, simply because they don’t appreciate the parameters of socially acceptable behaviour. Similarly, it is hugely frustrating when a ‘rage’ develops, based on a misapprehension. I liken it to the situation when as a child, you are standing in the kitchen and your mother is shrieking at you – “I know you stole those sweets, you might as well admit it”. You know you didn’t do it, but she is beyond listening to reason and is in a dark rage. You offer evidence to show her that she’s wrong, in the fervent hope that she’ll suddenly relax and apologise profusely, but that doesn’t happen. In the end, you end up in floods of tears, born out of sheer frustration, because nothing you can do is going to change the outcome.

The key skill here is to find a calm strength, to look the client in the eye and say – “I need you to step back from me, and when you are ready to have a rational discussion on the matter we will go from there. In the meantime I want you to think about how long you’ve known me and whether you think I could really be that person”. Yes, it’s hard, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. Here’s why.

I have a client who is confined to his torso, neck and head. His limbs are redundant and so in the beginning, our relationship was challenging because of his physical limitations but also because of the huge anger he had festering inside, at the bloody unfairness of it all. All of his friends were playing football and falling out of bars at the weekend, whilst he was confined to bed with a television and a laptop for company. For life.

It took approximately four sessions before we found the golden fleece, and when ever I think of that day I still get misty eyed. The look on his face was one of true gratitude and love, not the romantic starry eyed stuff but real love. When two people have a moment where they truly connect, that love. With tears streaming down his face, he snuggled me into his chest and whispered ‘thank you’, before gently kissing my forehead.

That’s why I do what I do. The warm glow I felt that day spread from my very core, and I was still beaming several hours later.

Judge ye not, able bodied bigots, here is a quote from The Sessions. Father Brendan – “I have a feeling that God is going to give you a free pass on this one. Go for it.”

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