This is part of a series of posts about coming out as a queer, kinky, polyamorous Christian, then Buddhist Christian, then finally leaving Christianity. And now, finally, coming out as a sex worker. If you’d like to read the posts in order, start here.
I’ve always loved the story of the woman who washed Jesus’s feet with her hair. She snuck into the house of a Pharisee, a Jewish religious leader, where Jesus was having dinner. She kissed his desert dust-covered feet and used her hair, tears, and expensive perfume to wash them.
Accounts of this story differ in the four gospels, but in each, the woman’s presence caused an issue. In three of them, the disciples were angry because the perfume could have been sold and used to feed the poor. Instead Jesus told his disciples that the woman was preparing his body for burial—a worthy use of the perfume—turning the unnamed woman into a prophetic figure.
In Luke’s version, Simon, the homeowner, said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him.” In the story, she was called a “woman of the city” and a sinner, and it’s highly likely she was a prostitute. She was “that kind of woman.” Jesus hears Simon’s thoughts and uses the woman to teach him a lesson. He tells his host, “I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair.” In Jesus’s value system, besides loving God, nothing is more important than loving one’s neighbor.
When I graduated from an Evangelical university, I was given a towel along with my diploma. The towel was a reminder to be a servant leader as Jesus exemplified. At the Last Supper, before he is betrayed by Judas, he goes around the table washing each disciple’s feet. It’s a beautiful image to me: Jesus tending to an often-neglected part of the body, cracked, grimy, and smelly. Loving others is sometimes a dirty affair.
The dirtiness is part of what draws me to the story of the woman. I picture her long clean hair absorbing the sand and mud on Jesus’s feet. The gritty texture on her lips as she kisses them. His calloused heels in her fingers. I imagine her rubbing tear-covered cheeks against the sides of his arches. I’m drawn to the closeness of their bodies.
In his essay “Early Christian Contempt for the Flesh and the Woman Who Loved Too Much in the Gospel of Luke,” religious scholar Mark Wallace argues that the woman uses her body in an exercise of personal agency challenging social customs of the time. She was not welcome at this all-men’s gathering because she was a woman. She was not welcome in Jewish society because she was a sinful woman. She was unclean, and she dared to touch the clean. And not only did she touch him, but she did so in sensual ways. In allowing this touch, Jesus tore apart the assumption that she—and women like her—were unworthy of community.
Wallace writes, “Jesus embraces the scandal this robustly sensual encounter generates…in order to articulate his message of welcoming the body as central to his mission.” The body was important to Jesus because of the many ways it was used to disempower others in Jewish and Roman cultures. The body is also important if one is to believe that Jesus was God incarnate. In Sexuality and the Black Church: A Womanist Perspective, Kelly Brown Douglas writes, “It is by becoming embodied that God was distinctly revealed in human history; moreover, it is only via bodies that human beings can come to know and be in relationship with one another.” In other words, bodies are our primary means of acting out love. I did not learn this from the Evangelical culture I grew up in, but only after I left and sought out the value of my own body.
I was raised in purity culture, at the precipice of the “True Love Waits” movement, which taught us that waiting for marriage to have sex was a way of claiming the holiness of our bodies and honoring the sanctity of matrimony. But sex was not easily defined. In high school and college, my Christian friends and I held countless debates on whether getting aroused, letting someone else touch certain parts of our bodies, or even touching ourselves for pleasure was sinful and a disservice to our future spouses.
A senior in college and still a virgin, I was ashamed when I began to masturbate. Later, I was ashamed when I let my boyfriend touch me and ashamed when I couldn’t find the right man to marry and could not seem preserve my purity for him.
In my twenties, I searched for alternatives to this shame-filled perspective and found more progressive texts on Christian sexuality. In their depiction of Jesus, I discovered a radical figure I had not been introduced to earlier. I concluded that this obsession with virginity was at odds with Jesus’s rejection of purity (physical, political, spiritual) as a standard of worth. A large part of why I left my Evangelical roots — and would find myself more at home in mainline Christian communities — was my perspective of how Jesus was drawn to tainted people: the physically disabled, the tax collectors, the bleeding women, the prostitutes.
I used to think that Jesus gravitated toward those societally oppressed because that’s where the hurt was—those most in need of compassion and acceptance. That was drawn to tainted people not out of pity or to save them, but because the way that the world saw them was unjust.
But this line of thinking, while beautiful to me, erases Jesus’s humanity. But I need to explain this in a roundabout way.
When I started masturbating in college and having sex in my mid-twenties, I was not societally oppressed, but I became a tainted person per the Christian framework I grew up in. And so I was drawn to theology that saw tainted people as equal and as worthy as anyone else of the love of God.
After I came out, I found people who fully embraced me in the queer, polyamorous, and BDSM communities (where my circle of friends grew to include many sex workers). In so many ways, the queer, polyam, and BDSM communities have become church to me.
I did not gravitate toward these communities because of a well of compassion or a fight for justice. These communities became my family, my church, simply because it’s with them that I feel the most accepted.
And I have to wonder now where Jesus was hurting. Is it possible that it was with socially tainted people that he found the most comfort? Was he the most embraced and accepted in their presence?
Jesus tells the woman that her sins are forgiven. In Sharon Ringe’s commentary on Luke, she points out that Jesus was not forgiving her sins but telling the woman that sins were already forgiven. The Greek word is used earlier when announcing the release of captives. Ringe says, “It speaks not of a measured doling out of only the amount of pardon necessary to cover a specific quantity of sins, but rather of a letting go: Her sins, whether many or few, have fallen away, as from open hands.”
What if we looked at the forgiveness that Jesus offered not as repairing the link between a person and God, but rather the link between a person and their community? In this perspective, the sin Jesus was forgiving wasn’t the woman’s but rather the sin held by the community for casting her out.
I hired an escort for the first time after a significant breakup. In a time of loneliness and deep grief, I paid for someone to touch my body as a form of empowerment. I could meet get my needs met without my lover; I could find touch apart from the messy and mostly dissatisfying trials and errors of dating. I began to see working with an escort as a journey I needed to take, and I took it.
From working with an escort over a number of sessions, I slowly learned the beauty of letting another person serve me, although I still find it difficult to accept this service. When he focused on me, I felt selfish, because the downside of valuing service is that it’s harder to accept than it is to give. Although this is also true of normal relationships, I found it even more true in a paid-for setting where attention was meant to flow one way: where only my needs mattered. Learning to accept another’s service felt like practicing the latter half of loving one’s neighbor as you love yourself.
Paying for an escort’s services was also a personal act of redemption of two things that I’d felt the personal effect of the church devaluing: the body and sexual intimacy.
Although I’ve left Christianity, I find the ethos of service one of the easiest pieces to hold onto. When I serve others, I feel closer, not just to them, but to the Divine. In BDSM and in sex work, I find the same value of service. Many of my sex worker friends have spoken about the joy they feel at meeting someone else’s needs—the desires their clients are often embarrassed by and can’t get met elsewhere.
I believe this is the main reason I decided to become a sex worker myself.
Now, in my late thirties, I no longer feel shame about who I am and what I desire. I no longer feel shame about being a sexual person. And I feel confident that (for the most part) my sexual pursuits align with my spiritual and ethical values. And I’ve made this progress because of my queer, kinky relationships and the queer, kinky communities that feel like what church should be.
About three years ago, I responded to a personal call (calling?) to help others heal sexually. And I found that sex work often reaches people that don’t have easy access to healing communities and relationships.
I started advertising as a sacred intimate — a spiritually-focused sex worker. I later rebranded as a professional dominatrix and fetish provider. I continue to see clients under a different name.
I consider what I do a fulfillment of my faith, although my idea of what faith is has expanded and is more nebulous than it used to be. And although I don’t claim the identity as Christian anymore, I still feel close to Jesus’s idea of justice and loving the marginalized through my work as a sex worker.
I don’t mean to say what every sex worker does is a spiritual act — I believe it’s a matter of intentions. But if I hold service as sacred, then my interactions — with the escorts I’ve worked with as a client, as well as with my own clients — are, to me, sacred.
I also see modern-day sex workers as being a part of the long lineage of sacred, embodied care. And I want to acknowledge that these sacred sex work traditions were deeply problematic in some ways, but they also spoke of the value and power of erotic love — a power that the Christian institution has tried very hard to trample.
There are ways in which the Judeo-Christian tradition, through stories of women like Rahab and through the goddess connections in Judaism, are a part of this sacred sex work lineage. And there are ways in which the Judeo-Christian traditions have sought to destroy it.
But when I leave my clients feeling more cared for and confident about who they are, I leave my time with them feeling more connected to the nurturing Divine — the thing that I want God to be: a holistically loving connection; a way in which we’re all connected to each other and the source of life.
This will be my last official post on this blog. Having left Christianity, I feel I’ve outgrown it. But you haven’t heard the last from me.
I am working on a memoir about my sexual, spiritual journey. I also have a new podcast in the works that will offer diverse perspectives on an erotic spiritual identity. And, as always, my co-editor and I are slowly making progress on our anthology-in-progress Sacred and Subversive, which offers queer perspectives on the future of faith communities.
And if you would like to collaborate, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.