When I was thirteen I married Rome, and it was also there that I discovered whores. Both events were accidents.

My parents had saved for several years so that we might go. It was, for all of us, a first trip to Europe. It was the mid-80s and the exchange rate was very kind to us as Americans. Suddenly, Europe was a reasonable middle-class dream, and with me enrolled in Miss Hewitt's I and excelling at nothing so much as Latin, it was imperative I see the world for which I was being trained. To save money, and because she is a romantic, my Jewish mother demanded we go at Christmas.

It was the end of the era of no-frills air-travel, which meant we were actually served food on the plane (which still had a smoking section, which seems hard to imagine now) and my mother didn't have to pack fried chicken she cooked up early that morning and packed in plastic produce bags stolen from the supermarket. But I was a picky eater and found whatever it was they served off-putting. I'd been air sick on airplanes to Florida as a child, so the whole thing just seemed like a bad plan to me, and I was having none of it. Which was pretty fortuitous, as it turned out, as my parents got food poisoning from the plane food, and it dogged them our entire trip.

Which meant I was thirteen in Rome without, for the first time, over-attentive parents. And because I was the only person in our family comfortable with the money, with the street directions and, even marginally (Latin and French made it possible for me to get by, albeit weirdly) the language, I had real freedom for the first time in a place where I knew no one and nothing. So I went out, not because I had permission, but just because I just avoided asking -- after dusk and before dawn and late in the night if I woke up for no reason -- and I walked, all over Rome, fantasizing that maybe here I could have friends. After all, I wasn't as ugly in Rome as I was in New York. And New York meant I was special, right? People would want to be my friend. Maybe? I hoped.

But I was, and am shy. I didn't know how to say hello to people or how ask for what I wanted beyond staring at it, so I did not make friends in Rome, not really. But I sat on steps and on the lips of fountains in the places where other youths congregated, some Italian, some touristing, some runaways, some just snuck out for a few hours, most older than me by less than you'd think, smoking definitely, drinking often, and sometimes, yes, taking money for what they could.

I had stylish clothes, and could carry myself a certain way. I could make my eyes look hard. And it was enough for me to be not chased from these places by my not peers, who would sometimes ask me for cigarettes or offer me wine or explain, because I was there to have it explained to about this boy they were fucking this week, and that boy, sullen now over there on the other side of the fountain, they were fucking last week. I nodded, eagerly, and let me lack of language hide my often intense naivete. When I got scared, or overwhelmed, I would leave, walk miles, and find another place, full of children to sit and pretend I belonged there. It rained nearly constantly, and because Rome is all history, when my parents asked what I saw, I could say the names of plazas and churches, and full of lies, I was safe.

After two weeks, we left for Florence, where the situation with my parents was mostly the same. But Florence was lonely and haunted and whatever it was I pursued there was far less tangible than the sights I'd seen in Rome; I love Florence, with all my heart.

Just before New Year's we returned to Rome, my parents mostly recovered. My mother decided that for New Year's Eve we should eat in a neighborhood she had read about in a newspaper: Trastevere. She said it would be like New York's Soho, which then was not the Rodeo Drive it is today. I hear Trastevere is different now too, but then the woman at our pensione said we were mad. It was very, very dangerous there, and we must not go. No taxi would take us besides. So we hired a car in advance to drive us there, and it abandoned us a block away from the restaurant and sped off. We walked on unlit, cobbled streets to the cave-like restaurant, which was lit only with candles and where all cooking was only over fire and in brick ovens: I am not even remotely sure the place had electricity. Surely, we saw none that night.

We ate for hours, sat at tables with strangers, artists and eccentrics all, who nodded and smiled at my parents like I was a good child when I noted, but did not explain the places I had seen in Rome. Just before midnight, a child came around with baskets of streamers, encouraging us all to grab some for the turn of the year. My parents had me stand up on a chair to throw my streamers, and when midnight came I did.

At that time, I wore a small silver lover's knot on my pinky. It had been a gift from my grandfather when I was four, and now only fit my smallest finger. In that restaurant without power in the dark in Rome at thirteen, the lovers knot flew of my hand and clearly hit metal. We all heard the sound. We looked, everyone at our table, across the floor, in water pitchers, in bread baskets and food dishes, anywhere it might have scattered, but we never found it. Always one to cry at such things, my parents were in a flurry of worry, assuming I would immanently melt down. But I saw no reason to; it seemed reasonable that Rome, city of whores and ill parents, charged a toll. Because no taxis would come to Trastevere, we had little choice, but to stay out until dawn.

Rome wasn't the first or the last time that I was aware of the sort of trouble and survival that's out there for those without other choices. If I'm frank, I can tell you that if asked at six, I would often say I wanted to be a cocktail waitress when I grew up, because I'd seen it in a film and the currency of flesh there seemed obvious to me: pretty girls were good girls and value should be measured. It's a feeling I never really lost, even if I also never aspired to be a whore, so much as I always felt like I needed to know if I could. It's a funny way to be drawn, the sort of thing that implies trauma or sin, but to me, has always just struck me as a happenstance of my personality or movies I watched with my babysitters even when I wasn't allowed.

When I went to work at the dungeon, it was, in many ways, a sort of inevitability, but not of ambition, but of knowledge. I had to know I could do it. And I had to know what it was I wondered if I could do. As with most things, like love and countries, it wasn't really what I anticipated, and it left me lonely, disappointed but also in possession not just of powerful secrets, but of myself. Sex work isn't empowering for everyone. And it isn't dangerous for everyone. But my own lens tells me it's usually at least a little bit of both. There may be easier and better ways to find things out about yourself and your fellow man, but sometimes some of us simply take the road
that's open because we discover it is less off the beaten path than we may have been previously led to believe.

[ Like my adventures in Italy as a young teen, Dogboy & Justine is a story about a world hidden in plain sight and secrets far more common than most people want to admit. If you enjoyed this post, please consider supporting our projection by commenting here, boosting the signal or contributing to our Kickstarter fundraising drive. We still have to raise
almost $3,000 in the next six weeks to secure the funding for our workshop production. ]
I suppose, since we're having this little chat on the Internet, there's no one here who isn't close to someone whose off-line, whose real, name they don't know. But that phenomena, of being close to the pseudonymous is really only recently a common experience. Even in a world of nicknames, sweet names, performance personas, doing-business-as, and name changes, generally, when we meet someone who we keep interacting with, we know what they are called in the wider world.

But in the house of domination, everybody lies. And you'd think maybe backstage, in the dressing room, where you wait for work you'd tell the other girls your real name? But yeah, mostly you don't. You might make that mistake your first day, trying to be friendly, trying to make nice with the competition, and someone will pull you aside -- the girl that's the prettiest or the girl who makes the most (often not the same, but both have status) and say, "You don't know who these people are, and you shouldn't trust them. Don't do that; it makes you look like an amateur."

And so you stop, even if it makes you feel stupid to be someone you're not even off-stage. Even if you didn't choose your new name, and are inheriting it from a previous girl or just doing as your boss says. Even if you think, I'm not a spy or even an actual whore. This isn't even technically illegal! Why am I lying?

My name was Paige. It was given to me because I didn't want to look like an amateur by suggesting a name for myself that wasn't right. I wore a long black wig with bangs sometimes and that was that, even if Paige never fit me, and reminded me less of Betty and more of a girl who was the CIT for my bunk the one year I went to sleepover camp.

Being Paige and having a name that was out of a piece of kink history is how Justine got her name in Dogboy & Justine. It's a famous kink name too, and blatantly showcases the ways names are chosen hastily and are exhausting and can often speak of amateurism in the industry. A girl named Justine -- she could be the avenging angel of her namesake. Or she could just be in the wrong job.

In writing Dogboy & Justine the matter of naming has been central, even if it did not explicitly begin as a plot-point. But the fact is the names we meet each character with may or may not be their own. For the women, we meet them with their working names, and we only discover their public-world names in some of their cases. We even close the first act with a piece that takes one of the most famous nasty threats of New York City living (and of being a working performer), "Do you know who I am?" and make it into a song about identity lost and found.

It should be noted that the girls who work in a house aren't the only people who lie about their names. Clients often do as well, and it's a bit of a hobby for the women backstage to speculate about name trends (this, the subject of a joke early in the show). It's not just the commonality of certain already common names (Michael is popular, while John is assiduously avoided), but about what kinks men who choose certain names like.

One of the reasons I make little secret of my real name here is that I made something of a secret of my real name there, and I didn't like it. It was an an act of disappearance. And a dominatrix's job may be to disappear into a role, but it's certainly not to disappear. But Paige was too ephemeral -- I was still finding my power and my gender then and there -- and to divide that up amongst disconnected selves aided no one -- my me, not my clients, and not my employers.

While I often muse on how fun it would be to have some ordinary name lingering in my past or some transformation of such lying in wait in my future, the fact is that wasn't what I was dealt. I was born with something practically meant to be a brand name. Which is, I suspect one of the reasons I'm so gifted at spinning history and persona, but am also so poor at things like silence, secrets and discarded selves. The only me's I've left behind are the ones I never was.

I was called Paige. But that was never my name. Promise.

[ Dogboy & Justine is a story about identity and performance and the sex work theme is just one of the ways we get to that aspect of the characters' journeys.

If you enjoyed this post, please consider contributing to Dogboy & Justine's fundraising drive on Kickstart.com. We need to receive at least $6,000 in pledges by December 21st in order to receive funding. As of this writing, we're 52% of the way there. You can help by contributing money, boosting the signal, or just hanging out here and joining the conversation. Thanks for reading! ]
Somewhere, out there is the guy looking just for you. This is not the opening to a tale of true romance, or even false romance. This is just one of the basic facts of being a dominatrix: everyone needs a speciality, and, whether they like it or not, everyone has one. It can be a particularly particular world.

Being a dominatrix is a little bit like being an actress. It's not just the wigs and the funny clothes; it's also thinking you have to be tall, thin, and busty to get work; and it's definitely the thing where you have to be happy to see someone even when you're totally not.

The percent of the time a domme gets a gig over another domme because she's prettier? Probably about 10%. What's really driving it? Whether she's wear leather, latex, or lace and what the client is into. For one, a dude doesn't want to pay for you to strangle him (non-euphemistically and not to death) if you don't know what you're doing. For two, if a dude wants someone to control him, he doesn't want to pay to teach someone how to be in control of him, Defeats the scenario a bit, yeah?

But that stuff? Just the basics. The basics aren't that interesting, and you could probably figure them out on your own.

More interesting? The guy who wants long red nails, and they better be real because he can spot fakes at 10 feet, and they just don't feel the same. The foot guy who doesn't want smelly pretty feet, but wants the dancer with the broken toes. The dude who's so turned on by women in blouses that button up the back that he brings a wardrobe (and scripts!) for the women he hires -- often "cutting" in the middle of scenes to make them rerun the dialogue. Short hair, long hair, body hair, crooked teeth, waist size, varicose veins. I could make this list longer, and much, much more surprising, but it would spoil several of my favorite gags in Dogboy & Justine so you'll just need to wait for those.

Anyway, the thing is, even knowing all this -- that sometimes a domme will get work for something she considers her worst feature (and everyone, take note: everything is a potential part of your marketing plan) -- the women who work in a house, and hang out in the lounge together waiting for clients compete not just in terms of dollars and books, but on who is most attractive. Not everyone does it, and not everyone is cruel, but it's the simple result of rejection in a world that tells you your value is in how you look.

And that world isn't the world of sex-work: it's the daylight public world we all live in together. So when the business tells a girl something that makes her ugly can make her payday? Sometimes that's liberating. Sometimes it pays the rent. Sometimes, though, it only enhances the need to find a way to say you're not the ugliest one in the room.

I never, ever want to be the person saying "all women do is cut each other down." Yes it happens, even frequently, but saying it happens all the time reinforces internalized institutional misogyny and that doesn't help anyone. On the other hand, women often don't support each other in the daylight, public world because we've subconsciously picked up the bullshit message that we are competing for supposedly scarce resources -- like men or respect.

In a house of domination, the women ARE competing for scarce resources. Assume 3 - 5 girls on a shift. Assume never more than two clients in the house at any given time and sometimes HOURS with none at all. Every women will not work every day she goes in. In most cases there is no shift pay, although extra cash can be picked up helping out the receptionist or taking phone appointments, but this generally won't do much more than buy dinner and maybe a pack of smokes.

Dogboy & Justine isn't a story I want to tell because I was a dominatrix. It's just a story I want to tell because it allows for explicit discussion of that which is usually implicit: the singularity of desire, the scarce resources problem amongst women, and the need to act to get through the day.

But, I'd also be lying if I didn't admit that having done the work is what allows me to be a part of telling it. That's complex. It both provides credibility (Girl knows what she's talking about) and diminishes it (Didn't you hear she's just a whore?).

It's not a secret I plan, or intend, to keep. I will never deny it. And once a week, I'm going to discuss it openly here. But if you notice me eliding over it the rest of the time, talking about other reasons for why this narrative and why this project, don't take it as a disavowal. Just remember that I come from a particularly particular world, and it's a place where everybody's got to act.

[ If you enjoyed this post, please consider contributing to Dogboy & Justine's fundraising drive on Kickstart.com. We need to receive at least $6,000 in pledges by December 21st in order to receive funding. As of this writing, we're 36% of the way there. Without you, the audience -- whether that's here or in our future theater -- there is no show. You can help by contributing money, boosting the signal, or just hanging out here and joining the conversation. Thanks for reading! ]

May 2016

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