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Home: The Toast

He always wore pantyhose, sometimes more than one pair at the same time, and exclusively thick compression hose, the type made for nurses. They’re only available in the ugliest of colors, shades that approximate the tone of old bruises, but I wore them, too, because he asked me to. I still save my collection in one of the plastic containers full of other work supplies, though I haven’t seen him in over two years.

It was the summer of 2009 when “Terry” first contacted me. I’d been working off and on—but mostly on—in the sex trade for five years already, and found that unusual fetishes kept me most engaged. I was fascinated by the specificity of these finicky fantasies and the almost inevitable shame that came with them. I wasn’t a proper dominatrix; I had no dungeon, no rope skills, no interest in corporal punishment. But nor was I a completely vanilla escort. So I courted men like Terry, who asked for four hours at one of the city’s nicest hotels, his only request that I wear nylons and close-toed flats. Upon encouraging him to share a little more of what he had in mind, I was thrilled with my luck. The work was almost entirely play-acting and it required nothing from me physically. I needed only to be present, to fill the role of witness and narrator to his ritual. It could be a little mind numbing in its repetitiveness, and into hour three I got restless and occasionally cranky, but, overall, it was a wonderful gig.

In the sexual scheme of things, Terry’s interests were harmless and not particularly rare. I know it’s not uncommon for a man to wear pantyhose, not even under his business suit, though Terry was the first to admit to me that he’d worn it through airport security. It’s also not uncommon for a client to want me to watch him pee, or to want to talk about urinating. But Terry was the only person I met who combined infantilism, cross-dressing, and mother-son roleplaying into one precise blend that we acted out again and again. He wore a diaper and he wore a bra, along with the aforementioned pantyhose, and I would talk to him about it for hours, with very little deviation from the same vocabulary words to describe what he was wearing and what he was doing while wearing it.

He paid extravagantly well, far beyond what I asked for my time, and he delivered the cash in fat, rubber-banded rolls that made the exchange feel like a wholesale volume drug deal. I suspect his generosity was as much the result of his jet-setting, high-paying consultancy work as it was his concerns around his script. I never doubted the sincerity of the gratitude and trepidation that surfaced in his brief emails to me. Like many men with fetishes (and even those without,) he seemed perpetually afraid that his tastes were too onerous, weird, or repulsive for someone else to endure. That was probably what drew to me to clients like him. Naturally, old-fashioned curiosity was a huge motivator, and there are few experiences that rival the rush of witnessing someone reveal his most private, previously unrealized fantasies. But the specter of shame that hung over the proceedings made me feel safe. Clients would sometimes ask me if I was nervous before meeting someone for the first time, and I could answer honestly that I wasn’t. Maybe I sensed that I was the one with the power in that dynamic because I had no shame. My sexual desires weren’t part of the equation, so I wasn’t nearly as vulnerable or exposed. For the first year of our relationship, Terry never even saw me naked.

I care about Terry, which makes it hard for me to write about him. Of the many clients I’ve known, he was my favorite–is my favorite still, in spite of the time that’s passed since we’ve talked. My anxiety around outlining his proclivities stems less from the probability of a coworker or family member recognizing him and more from the idea of him recognizing himself. I’d be ashamed to violate his trust by exposing him, even to himself, because what he trusted me with mattered to him, and he came to matter to me.

Sometimes I think we excavate our own psyches like dogs dig holes; there’s lots of flung dirt before we find the place we want. And one night, forgoing the dress up and affected conversation, Terry hit his spot. Then I was treated to the profoundly rare vision of someone being entirely himself, without pretense or self-consciousness or any attempts to please. In other words: no walls. I have no idea what trigged his leaving the props behind: a hard day at work, some news from his family? Perhaps we’d finally spent enough time together for him to believe in me.

I entered his hotel room and he suggested we order room service together. He’d offered this regularly, but never before in a way that made me think he would join me as I ate. So I accepted and while we waited, he turned on the TV. We sat on the couch in the first room of his suite, watching a movie on HBO. I couldn’t quite relax–I felt constantly on the verge of being called to start acting out our familiar scene–but he seemed completely at ease. He commented on the film, responding to certain plot points, laughing generously, assessing the actors.

The food came, the movie ended, and a conversation began. He matter-of-factly confessed everything to me: his period of cocaine addiction, the credit card bills he racked up by using escort agencies, the 18 years of celibacy between him and his wife. I wanted to know if he role-played with all the other escorts like he did with me, but I didn’t ask. He may have told me that his wife caught him through the credit card bills though I’m not sure—so many of these stories have the same components that details begin to blend together. He told me sordid tales about his uncles and sisters, spoke enthusiastically of his kids, and admitted that his family had an alarmingly consistent history of mental illness and suicide. If we role-played at all that night, I don’t remember it. I do remember telling him that I was glad, for his sake, that he was sober.

After that, our appointments became longer, regularly involving a proper restaurant dinner, and then longer still, so that I spent the night. They also became more conventional. He asked me to show him my breasts, but I’d seen him so many times and stayed fully clothed, I didn’t bother wearing lingerie anymore. I struggled to take my bra off with my sweater, in one fell swoop, so he wouldn’t see the nondescript beige one I’d worn that night. Strangely, today, it takes real effort for me to recall that I’d ever been conventionally sexual with him at all. It was something I’d almost entirely excised from memory but slowly, with sustained reflection, a few moments started to surface: some hand jobs, several blow jobs, even standard, vaginally penetrative intercourse. I always thought the absence of this activity in the past was a testament to the primacy of his fetishes but sometimes I wonder if it wasn’t more of an attempt for him to respect the boundaries he assumed existed between us. When we met, I emphasized the dominatrix aspect more than the escort, but that changed over time.

When I last saw Terry, it was with another woman. He’d asked if I had a (working) friend I could bring into his standard role-play. He wrote out a script, and my friend was as delighted by the ease of the work as I’d been the first few times with him. She was a natural, and I was glad to see how happy she made him, even as I felt some pangs of insecurity.

“You liked her, didn’t you?” I asked him with a smile after she’d left us.

“I like you,” he said, his forehead creasing with concern. I could tell he’d been working hard while the three of us were together to make me feel important. He’d kept calling me “beautiful,” which he’d never done before.

The next day, after we met again at her apartment, we all piled into her car. She’d offered to drive him to the airport and she dropped me at my stop first. I kissed them each goodbye from the backseat, feeling a joyous complicity and sweetness between us. Of course I’ve asked her if she’s seen him since. She says she hasn’t.

After that, my dates with Terry, which used to occur several times a month, stopped entirely. He and I were never much for casual emailing. Writing was only a method for scheduling another meeting, and it ceased. I googled him occasionally, worried that he may have lost his job or worse, that his family’s history of self-destruction struck again. I wondered if his wife found out about us, or if he’d felt he was becoming too emotionally attached to me. I wondered if he discovered someone else he liked more. I even wondered if the new, overtly sexual dimension of our time together had led him to believe we couldn’t go back to the relative chastity of his fetishes, which, as I remember it, had a more powerful effect on him than any blow job. Many times I thought about emailing him to try to convey some of the tenderness I felt, but I stopped myself. How could I tell him my hopes for him without sounding patronizing or presumptuous, and without seeming like I was manipulating him for more money?

On the most basic level, I wanted any shame stripped away from him; I wanted to be someone who helped him feel good about himself, but even aspiring to as much may have been arrogant or unnecessary. So often the power of a fetish is bound up in shame, and if the shame goes, the charge is no longer there. His fetish offered him such catharsis, and without it, we would never have met. There was nothing wrong in what we’d acted out; I don’t think he needed to give it up for any mental health or moral reasons. But I wanted to understand why he gave me up, and I wanted it to be for an important reason.

I had no tools to untangle this knot of wishes and uncertainties, so I never reached out. Why didn’t I simply tell him the truth: “I want so many good things for you?” I didn’t expect him to see me again, and I didn’t want to demand answers to my questions. I only wanted to be clear, to make sure that what I’d felt between us didn’t stay forever unsaid, because it felt like saying it to him might matter. But for all that he’d given me—his honesty, his warmth, and yes, his money—it was the least I could do to honor the boundaries of our relationship, which was ultimately a professional one. An unsolicited, personal email within this context felt like it could be burdensome to him. How well did I know Terry, really? Did he even think about me as regularly as I did him?

During that last appointment with my girl friend, he asked me to keep a fluffy pink skirt for him and I did for at least a year, stuffed back in one of my closets. Finally, I told myself I should face the fact that I would never be called on to produce it, and I left it on the floor as part of my spring cleaning, meaning to throw it away later. Instead, my cat adopted it and it’s still in my apartment, now the bizarre bed for the pet of a woman with a bizarre past. I see it every day. It is a fixture of my home.

If Terry were reading this, recognizing himself, I have no idea how he might feel. I hope he would feel something good; I hope my regard for him would come through more loudly than my crude approximation of his rich fantasy world, or my speculations about his most private experiences. For whatever it’s worth, I’d want him to know that I miss him and haven’t forgotten him. He is still a part of my life.

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Charlotte Shane is the pseudonymous identity of a writer and prostitute living in the United States. She has contributed to The New Inquiry, Salon, and Bookforum, and is one of the editors of Tits and Sass. Yes, of course, she is on Twitter.

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