In this edition of Slutever’s Sex Work Diaries, international escort Fiona Lutalica discusses why sometimes it’s necessary to break up with a client.
John was my oldest regular client. I met him during my first year as an independent escort. We instantly clicked on our first date over our shared love for spaghetti bolognese. We had ordered room service because he was tired after a long day of meetings and we ate with our plates in our laps and our feet on the table. From the moment we met, we were easy in each other’s presence. Good company is like a bear hug, you go in with your heart and arms wide open and the comfort and safety warms you to your core. On the day I broke up with him, we had known each other for almost a decade.
In Tracy Quan’s Diary of a Manhattan Call Girl, there is a line about every working girl having one client who lights up her world whenever he calls her, and one client she can hardly stand but sees anyway to meet her quota. John was both to me. I treasured him for his constancy, his faithful devotion, and the financial stability his patronage offered. At the same time, the emotional labor he required would leave me depleted and irritable. I looked forward to and dreaded seeing him in equal measures.
Being with John was easy because I didn’t have to fear that my insecurities or idiosyncrasies might turn him off—he did love me “warts and all”. I didn’t have to be on (as in maintaining a cheerful glamorous facade, allowing my clients to see me only from my best side) all the time. He believed in me, I would share my troubles with him, and he would listen and comfort and encourage. To this day, he is the one client who has seen me at my worst: depressed, grieving, stressed out, and unkempt. I lost my temper with him once—something so unprofessional that the memory of it still makes me cringe. My favorite memory of us is the night he held my hair and rubbed my back while I threw up in his sink from a sudden bout of food poisoning. Many times he saved me, when business was so slow I could barely make rent, or when I came down with pneumonia and couldn’t work for 2 months. Thanks to him I was able to take six weeks off to focus on finishing my thesis.
People often ask me if I ever become friends or lovers with a client and I tell them that I never mix business and pleasure. Which is true—I would never date a client—but over the years, John had become a friend in all but name. But while he was a genuinely caring person, his personality also made him a high maintenance client. He believed that all sex workers are treated like commodities by their clients. He liked thinking that we had a special relationship that transcended the usual client-escort dynamics in that he was not just interested in my body and I was not only seeing him for the money. He started pushing for private details as proof that I did consider him more than a client. He asked about my real name and couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t part with that information. I had after all shared much of my personal life story with him. For example, he knew about my family dysfunction that landed me in a mental hospital on suicide watch as a teenager. If I trusted him enough to tell him about my childhood trauma, why was I making such a big deal of hiding something as commonplace, by comparison, as a name? It confounded him how I could be so secretive about one piece of private information and yet so openly share thoughts and facts of a far more intimate and personal nature. He couldn’t accept that it was one thing to me to bare my soul, but another to compromise my privacy.
Mutuality became a sore point of contention. The more he pushed, the more I withdrew. Our arguments, usually light and with humor, became increasingly acrimonious, until I decided to stop seeing him. For a freelance sex worker, breaking up with a client, especially a regular, is one of the hardest things to do. Good regular clients are a blessing. They also don’t grow on trees. In this post-SESTA–FOSTA landscape, uncertainties abound—who can afford to turn down a booking, much less cut yourself off from a steady stream of income? But in life, you have to constantly reevaluate your relationships and remove those that have become toxic.
Sex workers tend to be hardworking, driven, conscientious. There’s often an element of financial pressure and ambition that push us to hustle harder (sometimes to the point of and beyond burn out) to achieve our goals, including putting up with clients and going into sessions that take a physical and mental toll. The decision to not see a client is never lightly made, but a necessary one when it means preserving your health and well-being, and most of all, your spirit.
Boundaries are necessary to maintaining healthy relationships. In the context of sex work, clearly communicated and enforced boundaries—what is and what is not negotiable to you—are vital to taking care of yourself, your business and your clients. For sex workers, navigating sexual, personal and professional boundaries requires mental fortitude when dealing with clients who can’t take no for an answer, or take it as personal rejection, or who think explicitness kills the magic. Money does not equal consent. Shared intimacy does not negate your right to privacy. Taking care of another person’s needs does not have to come at the cost of your own physical and emotional comfort.
Looking back, I see my breakup with John as a moment of emancipation, when I finally learned to listen to my body and put myself first. I learned that I could say no and walk away without guilt or regret or fear of losing out.
When I think of John, I am grateful for all the good we did for each other. I’m sorry for the way things ended, but I came away a better truer version of myself and moving forward, it’s the best thing that could have happened to me.
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