“There had been countless women like me in the beds of kings but no one ever heard their stories,
because who would care?“
I didn’t start out intrigued. I started out, like most would, terrified – it was a threat, not a mystery. That “I know how you’re going to turn out” business used to shame and subdue a certain kind of girl. A gaping drooly toothy maw which I was slowly, inexorably sucked into, not by human evil-doers (there is no-one to blame, blame being an irrelevant construct here), but by my own inner direction. A direction that feels like the truest expression of my self – a need to experience the inexplicable – a pull to cultural transgression. A wild imagination that insists on measuring itself against reality. An outrageous curiosity. I like to know things, and not just in my head. I was conducting research.
The kind of research I was willing to suffer for was visceral, interpersonal, erotic and worldly. I never completely lost a sense of immanence, of the sacred inherent in all matter – which is what I found compelling. I could easily wrap my head around transcendence (I’m really great at dissociating and I’ve spent ample time practicing Transcendent religions), but I could never entirely see the point – it seemed childish to me. ‘So what if you rise above material limitations?’, I thought. We all die soon enough as it is – why come to this place of matter and rush away from it? Why waste the limited time you’re given here trying to unite with the eternal? I’ll transcend life when I’m dead. This embodied stuff was a special opportunity, I thought, and my impulse was to go ever deeper into it.
In any case, whatever the underlying philosophical values, my own research has always cycled around a particular form and a voice I hear only in my head – but almost never in the world.
Do you remember those “Where’s Waldo?” books? Oversized kid’s picture books, where each page is a lovely illustration of a busy scene teeming with hundreds of people and a multitude of buildings, animals, vehicles, implements. A visual cacophony. And somewhere on each page, Waldo is tucked away happily, in his red and white striped shirt, waiting for the reader to find him. My son had the whole set. They occupied him for hours.
I’m like that kid, looking for Waldo. Sort of.
One difference is, she’s there on the page, but optical puzzles are not the reason for the picture. No-one else knows of her presence or cares to search her out. They’d rather not see her, and she’s well disguised. The context is not playing hide-and-seek with her, but hide-and-deny-the-existence-of.
But the biggest difference is that I don’t have to search. I turn the page and she jumps out at me – she’s always the first thing to catch my eye. She sees me there and wriggles at me. I couldn’t miss her if I wanted to.
Maybe it was the fact of my own self missing from another place I could equally have belonged to, my awareness that though I knew exactly where I was, there were others for whom I was the long lost family member – the lost-baby meme in my narrative – that imparted an affinity in me for the missing. Maybe it was my tendency to transgression that gives me an affinity for what is out of place. Or it was simply the bodily resonance (you might call it memory), or the feminine, or poverty. Whatever the efficient cause, the formal cause is that she is my fate. My Daemon.
In any case, I am always aware of the whore in the background. That character so often present but silent. That character who goes everywhere, yet is in most places, unseen – or rather, seen, since the visual is her second medium (the physical being her first), but seen like jewelry or artwork, perhaps carpet – a beautiful object, adornment, bling, or furniture. Ambiance. Not seen like a relevant human presence.
You must recall congregations of her sisters, the ‘camp followers’ trudging along beside every war ever fought. Every new boom town, every great building site – if you don’t have whores, your men will wander off. That, or kill each other. She has seen great civilizations rise and fall. She has heard the pillow talk of Kings, Emperors, and Heads of State throughout history. She has been privy to secret plots, been the object of secret plots, held screaming, dying soldiers in her arms, and caused great men to destroy themselves. She is the shadow and the soft underbelly of civilization, where men bury their hatreds, their fears and vulnerabilities, to be more easily disposed of.
Since the very beginning, the whore has been as instrumental to the story of Civilization as the soldier, the laborer, the slave, but usually even more “seen, but unseen”. When do we hear her voice?
Even in these liberated times, I rarely hear her speaking for herself.
Mostly, others try to speak for her – if she’s to be acknowledged at all. But they’re just guessing – they don’t know what’s in her head.
Yet she always talks to me, in the bedroom and the boardroom and on the streets. She beckons to me from behind the curtains. As men measure and compute, as they plan and strategize, she whispers everything the calipers can’t find their way around, everything that cannot be computed. She tells me why the plans will fail, the secrets the strategy fails to address. She whispers off the pages of nearly every book I’ve ever read. She says “I was there, I was there too. That was me, that was me, that was me. Do you want to know what I saw there? Do you want to know what he really said?”
I always say yes, tell me all of it. This voice that I don’t hear out in the world, who whispers in my ear, always, the voice of the prostitute. The Sacred Whore, priestess of the Goddess, the opulent Concubine, the Greek Hetarae, the Camp Follower, the Harem girl, the street walker, the callgirl, the Puta, the escort, the hooker, the Ho, the pro, the courtesan.
The overt plot is always the same old thing – a bunch of men waving their dicks around, scrambling to be top dog.
So while you may be watching a scene in a movie, of gangsters in the foreground planning a hit or jostling for position, I’m contemplating the young woman in the background, almost completely off-screen, head bobbing up and down over some guy’s cock. Or you may see powerful men politicking in a ballroom, but I see the scantily clad young beauties paid to laugh gaily at the next table, and as the evening progresses, I know what they’ll be doing. Even if they’re not on-screen, I see their breadcrumbs. Some of those men in that room will go home to their wives after the event, but others will go down to the bar and pick up a hooker. Have you ever noticed how the more hyper-masculine the context, the more likely it is there will be whores? Not obvious, no. It’s in their nature to be prettily camouflaged. But think about it. How else do those young beauties get to be present at those tables, if not as trophy or tribute? How else if not as receptacles for all that pumped-up male libido?
That’s what I’m contemplating – always. Where did she come from and how did she get there? What purpose does she serve in the scene? How would the scene work without her? (generally, badly – lacking balance and perspective) What does it mean, to the men in the room, that she’s there. What does it mean to the other women in the room? What does her presence mean to the audience? Who is even aware of her? Who knows what she is? And more – what is she? Is she a stereotype? An archetype? or a human? Is she trash, or a goddess, a secret code from the collective unconscious? Why so ubiquitous? What purpose does she serve?
And what would she say, for herself, if she were to speak authentically? Now THAT’S the voice I’m yearning to hear.
Once I believed she was external to me – a horrifying “other” that civilization stalked me with, threatening to entwine my fate with hers if I persisted in my transgressions of an order I was not born into and felt no loyalty toward. And like fears do, she loomed greater and closer and more terrifying the more I tried to avoid her. But as my life has taught me well, finally I surrendered.
My dance through life’s vicissitudes has taught me that when death haunts you at every turn, when your whole life boils down to one particular monstrous threat – when every move you make is merely a reaction to fear, and all action has boiled down to fleeing – it’s time to turn around and embrace the bogeyman.
I invited her in. I gave myself to HER. I said – yes we belong to one another, we always have. Come what may, I will carry you in my heart. I recognize you as my fate. I will listen to your deep resonance, and I will try to decipher the evidence. I will serve you, according to my gifts, and one day I will dance your ecstatic dance for the world.
And once I surrendered, I realized SHE had used civilization to catch me. Civilization was not the agent in this interaction, but merely her pawn. SHE was the stalker, and I was among her chosen. And then I knew that fear is a great gift and a profound teacher, and I was glad, because my fate had caught me and I took on my original shape.
This shape has always been present at edges of humanity, and has never been bound by the fragile membrane of Civilization – though it has served civilization well. It is the boundary-crossers who find the key to the riddle, who stumble across the magical elixir – and the Whore (herself a frequently-crossed boundary) is a boundary-crosser extraordinaire. This Missing Voice came before, and it will remain after. She knows things no-one else knows, knows them with knowledge civilization has relinquished. She knows our fears, as they reside in our hearts, and she knows the things that cause them – the loss, the death, the humiliation, the violation, the pain. She knows those things we shrink from and how to embrace and transform them.
And I like her – she has a humor and irony that sustains me, she has insight, resilience, and ingenuity that I use all the time. She is utterly without illusions, and scraped clean of everything but a fierce compassion.
She is wisdom when the world falls apart, she is the seed of new life in death.
I’m not afraid to say it anymore – sounding this voice is my destiny – the reason I was a whore in the first place. I can say it now because she says it’s time. It’s time for her to take her place in the discussion.