Sex, Repression and Mental Health
Domestic violence, violence in the home, my first memory of that is my mum, she was very violent. Her being violent towards us kids or us witnessing violence toward her from men who came into our home that’s what I remember. She was this angry woman, politically she was very aware and really powerful. She was out there in the world doing all sorts of things that she wasn’t supposed to do and that other people didn’t approve of. The local policeman would come prowling around our house, looking in the windows and checking on her. She was an independent woman, we were coming out of the 60’s it was a time of experimentation and an explosion of sexuality. From really early on I knew there was a connection of domestic violence and repression being connected, domestic violence and sexual repression.
Out driving with my mum in the countryside in our old Bedford van late at night, we got pulled up by the police. The local policeman pulled us over because he thought we were two women out alone at night. The look of shock on his face when he looked in the window and saw I was really young and my mum was much older than he expected. My mum she knew what he was after, and she explained that to me as we drove away.
What I ask myself when I think on this question of repression and violence, what I ask myself is, can women ever be safe? We live in such a repressive society, and i see this relationship between sexual freedom and repression. The question I come out of it with is, If women are going to stand up and have a voice, will men always repress that? What I come out of violence with is the knowledge that there was no avoiding it and those experiences have affected my choice making ability. What I am left with is this fear, that if I am creative, if I am vocal, if I stand up, if I stand out, I will be hurt, and that is a really rational thing to think. Can women ever be safe?
Back when I lived in a street of squats, I had my own squat and I chose my lovers. I could be single, I could go off travelling on my own and come back. I think because of my sexual freedom, oh I don’t want to say it, my lips want to button up! But I think because of my sexual freedom men wanted to beat me.
Domestic violence one of the things I find so offensive about it, is how much what women are saying and doing gets minimised: saying no, saying men can’t have something, saying you don’t want to play a rape game, saying you are going to leave, you get battered for that. That resorting to violence instead of exploring with words. I’m far more interested in WHY violence happens rather than what the acts are, because it’s a failure of communication. I just cannot understand resorting to violence. I judge the arse off those who resort to violence, it’s such a lazy way of communicating. I am angry, I am so angry, but I do not believe in violence as an answer and I do not want to resort to violence.
I always left violence, I was always leaving, cos I saw the violence coming. For a very long time I didn’t know how not to get into violent situations, but I ran away a lot, I got myself away from those violent situations.
My first experience of sex work, I went to work in a massage parlour that was just on the corner of our road of squats. I was 18, I had no qualifications, what else was I going to do? I wanted to make some money. This was 1978, it was a really naive time in many ways.
The guy who ran that place was also a football team manager and he used to teach us some techniques for massage. So as far as he was concerned there was actual massaging going on, it’s not that he didn’t think anything else was happening but he certainly wouldn’t have thought of himself as a brothel owner. He didn’t control us, us girls, we were very much in charge of the place, which was great! We decided who we saw and what we did. In the rooms we could say to the client what we would do there and what we wanted to offer.
In those days men were so bad at sex, they were really really terrible at sex, so having men coming in and me being able to tell them exactly what to do, it was a way of exploring. Having a room where I could play and discover, it was lovely. If I say that experience was good for me and I enjoyed it, it’s like I’m not allowed, other people want to say that was a problem. Though I also knew that what we did was secret, because you couldn’t tell other people about it, it also meant that if things went wrong you couldn’t get help.
I moved to another massage parlour in the 80’s, this was all happening at the same time as Apartheid was ending in South Africa. There were a lot of white South Africans coming over to set themselves up in England, finding things to invest in. These two white South Africans guy came over and set up a new parlour, they were horrible people. All of the girls working there told me they were making a load of money and I should join them. It wasn’t till much later I realised the place was a meat shop and those guys were there to exploit us.
That was where I got sold, they sold me! For £10,000 and two XJ 7 Jaguars. I was sitting there in my baby doll nighty and my little high heels, watching black and white porn, it was hilarious and awful at the same time. These two guys came in, bundled me up in a coat and then kind of lifted me, carried me out and put me in the back of a car. They told me ‘We’ve sold you’, then I was taken to this guys place, the guy they had sold me to.
The guy who bought me was a race horse trainer, I’ve always thought that was kind of funny, me being treated like a piece of horseflesh. Really his sexual fantasies were pretty dull, he just wanted me to totter about in my high heels and baby doll nighty and cook him dinner, a bit like a wife! So I just kept my mouth shut and kept doing that, being locked in the flat during the day and doing the cooking at night. That was my survival skill I had learned growing up, to figure out very quickly what other people wanted and to keep my mouth shut. After about 2 or 3 days he trusted me and I convinced him he should let me go back to my squat to get some clothes. I had nothing apart from what I was stood up in. He drove me there and as soon as I got into my place I ran, I got an ex-boyfriend to help me and we made a getaway. I had to leave the country for a while, there was all sorts of fun and games to it, but I escaped.
I’ve worked in all kinds of sex work, in parlours, on the streets around Baker street, which I thought was really up market at the time (laughs). I was with a woman at that point, she was working too but she was earning off of me, I didn’t like that. Then I was in the little flats in Soho, they were awful in those days, but I loved working in them. I had a lot of childhood memories of Soho, going there with my mum, seeing all the girls walking around, it felt like coming home.
I’ve heard my mother blamed for all of my difficulties, well she had her own problems. What I come back to this idea I have about repression, that if women speak up, they will be told to shut up. Not just women, we live in a society that represses others. Mental health, how those words are used makes me so mad, because when people say mental health, what they actually mean is mental illness. That is the focus of services, from people who assess benefits, psychiatrists, professionals even a lot of support groups, the whole focus is on illness. What I want to focus on, what I want to put energy into and have skills for maintaining is my mental wellness!! For me mental health is mental wellness, but services, benefits, fellowship, support services in our society, when they say mental health, we are talking about ill health, they’ve got it wrong. Working in the the field of mental health I also bring up these questions and end up having to resign from jobs because I just don’t fit their roles and models.
My son, recently I noticed all the signs of his mental health was slipping, I was concerned and I wanted to have a lot of reactions. Eventually when we talked about it I was able to realise he was unhappy in his job because he doesn’t want to grovel to the bosses. He was experiencing that political clash between being alive and not wanting to conform, and it had brought about the appearance of mental ill health in him.
My mental un-wellness, is simply that I do not fit societies borders. One of the reasons mental health professionals get concerned about me is because I have thoughts about suicide, ‘Will I go on?’. Those thoughts are just part of me, I don’t plan how to kill myself, but as soon as I mention that I am slapped with a diagnosis. My understanding of that question is it’s not a mark in the debit box, these are the questions humans ask themselves, these are the questions great thinkers ask. Its not wonderful, it’s not sad, I just don’t fit. If I stay with the thought of not fitting I can feel quite broken, but I’m not broken, I just don’t fit. I’m not mad, this world is too small, it can’t contain me.