"The Girlfriend Experience" with Sasha Gray- spoilers

So I've written about girlfriend experiences before, because it's a dynamic I find really interesting- men wanting space to be vulnerable, and talk about what they're going through, to a woman who will pet their head and tell them it'll be ok.. even if they pay her. And there's that question of, can you maintain that intimacy while still maintaining the professional boundaries?

And what do you do when you no longer want to maintain those boundaries... when you want to take it personal? And how do you deal with the fallout?

On Monday I saw the film "The Girlfriend Experience", a movie set in New York and focused on the experiences of an escort trying to maintain a relationship with her personal trainer boyfriend while doing her work with high class clients. There's a running theme about money and comfort, as many of her clients have been affected by the recession and on some level use her to feel better... and also about body as commodity, with both the escort, Chelsea, and her trainer boyfriend, Chris, selling their bodies and a sense of well-being to their clients, albeit in different ways. There's also something to be said for there being a theme of isolation, of trying to connect with someone, anyone, even for a moment- and that crushing feeling when you make that effort and they don't reach out for you in return.

Sasha Gray's acting was pretty flat, but I think they aimed for that- that sense of her being shielded, all the time, with everyone. The attempts of the clients to break through that, too, was familiar, though not directly- I am pretty genuine all the time, clients or not.  A quote from the film:

"What do men want for a Girlfriend Experience? 'They want what they want you to be', Chelsea says. 'If they wanted you to be yourself, they wouldn't be paying you.'

Personally, I haven't found that to be true. I suspect Sh liked that I was clumsy and silly and real, not just a caricature of female dominance, but someone who really loves this stuff and trips on her own heels and is a real person. That said, it's equally hard to be emotionally open- because you can't be entirely honest, but if you're not somewhat open, they won't open up to you either. So while I don't think I could do Chelsea's blankness, being that canvas for the client to paint and create (in, ultimately, their own image), it's fucking hard to be yourself too. Sometimes I just want to do my work, I don't want to be the evangelist for polyamory or kink or queerness. But at the same time, because of that openness and the questions I get in return, I feel a responsibility to educate that's hard to turn off.

More interesting than the film, for me, was the reaction of the audience. There were moments I laughed that they didn't, and moments they laughed that I found sadly touching, like the moment at the end when Chelsea hugs this older, chunky Orthodox Jewish guy, and he shudders- it's so touching to me, and so sad that anyone would be craving human touch that badly... Add to that the experience of the question and answer period, where I felt Sasha could have used her presence to educate people on the options about legalization vs decriminalization, or women and victimization in porn (both the pros and cons), or being a sex positive feminist. She said that she felt all women were feminists, which is sort of a cop out- I feel like feminism takes consciousness about the choices you make and why. And it annoyed me that people asked things like "would you encourage your daughters to follow in your footsteps" and "what do your parents think", questions that have been used forever to tell women to shut up and sit down about their sexuality because of family values. Grrr. Sasha tried, I think, as she drew parallels to the relative morality of porn performers vs politicians,  but I just wish she had said a bit more. I felt like she let a lot of questions lie unanswered. Granted, she's a performer, not an escort, and it's a very different experience...

I went to go see "The Girlfriend Experience" with Sh (an ex-client of mine, now an excellent friend) which was both awkward but provided a chance for a really good discussion for how he felt when I did take that step from the professional to a personal relationship. In the film, Chelsea feels she really clicked with a client, agrees to spend the weekend with him, and is crushed when he doesn't meet her at the hotel he booked in the country. I have total empathy for Chelsea in that moment- you don't know what will happen when the boundaries are blurred, and you can never go back after you make that step. I don't know what I would've done if Sh had backed out around shopping for toys and fetish clothes... but he didn't, and he's been getting so, so much better about taking a risk and seeing what might happen instead of turning tail. I have a lot of respect for that. At the same time, I totally felt for Chelsea in the movie- the idea that you might meet and click with these guys at work, but they may never respect you as a person, as a viable lover and partner. You're always going to be that bit on the side, by nature of your profession. 

I left this movie feeling a mixture of frustration with the audience and the lack of sex workers there to say what they thought about the movie, and their responses, pleased that Sasha said that the two escorts she spoke to had dated and/or married their clients (suggesting these aren't bad men), somewhat awkward about being there with Sh, regretful for how things began and finished with him, and determination to stay active and outspoken to challenge people's beliefs about sex work.

But the big joy of the night was this- Sh told his girlfriend about his paying for two sessions with me. This is possibly one of the most amazing things someone has done in a long time. He's never been honest with the people around him about me and, as much as I tried not to take it personally, and knew it was about the status of the client in society vs being the worker, it still hurt. For him to have told her was just... really heartwarming, and special, and made me feel... I dunno. Cared about. Respected.

It just made me a little wistful for the day that I will be a girlfriend, and not just a GFE.

It'll happen. Patience.

Would I see the movie again? Probably. It wasn't the movie that was incredible to me as it was the questions and thoughts that cropped up, though.

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