A client asked me what my real name is the other day.
Not the first time I have been asked, and I expect it won’t be the last. In the past, a no has come swiftly. However the circumstances this time felt different. We were talking on the phone, casually. My communication with clients is less formal these days. It is not just a means of scheduling in person time together, as I am unable to offer that due to Coronavirus. This client is shy, uninterested in sexy video chat or texting, willing to offer financial support in exchange for the time I spend maintaining the non-sexual components of our relationship.
Usually we see each other once a week, for what has crept up to two hours. There is all kinds of intimacy going on – sex, sharing of political and moral views, stories about our families, listening to musical guilty pleasures. I know about his work, about his daughters – their names, the different ways they remind their father of himself. I’ve seen videos of them playing and dancing. He knows I have a partner, that my sister is a vegan. But he doesn’t know my given name.
I said I would think about it. And I did. I took 24 hours to consider what my working name means to me, why the convention exists at all and what it’s function is in my situation. Traditionally, it afforded sex workers anonymity – concealing your personal identity so the client could not find you outside of the service, so your family and friends wouldn’t find out you were working as a sex worker, so no record existed of you having worked in a hugely stigmatised and maligned occupation. But my family know, vaguely, what I am doing. I am certainly not afraid of being blackmailed or threatened with disownership or familial exile. I am not overly concerned about my current profession impairing my future employment. I am lucky.
I am not fearful that this client knowing my name would pose a security risk – that he would seek more information on me, stalk me, rob me or hurt me. Although that is certainly a risk I am aware of with others. But maybe, without being scared of a major risk to my personal security, I do value privacy. I like that my private self and private life is in this fundamental way, off limits. Without my name my clients can’t find my personal social media to see what I do in my own time, see who my friends and partners are, see candid images of me in civilian clothes out of my working space.
My working name clearly delineates between my professional role and personal self. It gives me an air of mystery which in turn feeds my eroticism. It invites questions while clearly putting the answers out of reach. I imagine that this known unknown might generate a sense of informational scarcity that could lead clients to be more grateful for what I show them of myself. I imagine that my clients fill in the gaps with their own fantasy, their wonderings more fabulous than anything I might explicitly offer. Indeed, I have had some offer their musings out loud, trying to figure me out, what kind of girl I am.
And for me, I put on a little lick of make-up, I tie up my hair. I am in lingerie and a gown and I am Belle. I am vivacious, I am cheeky, I am considered and patient and empowered. I am in awe of myself and they are in awe of me too. Artists are the only other profession I can think of where people often adopt working names, and I feel as though they serve a similar purpose. Both for the fans, their clients and for the professional. There are many days I need another name, an alternative framework to exist in, to feel this way about myself, to be what they’re expecting.
Even with this client, especially with this client, where emotional intimacy prevails over eroticism in fuelling the relationship, my working name is something I want to hold on to. I think the only time I would tell a client my real name is if he was no longer my client any more.
I told him that maintaining a separation between my professional and personal life was very important to me. That it didn’t devalue our relationship or the connection we have. That my working name is a second name rather than a fake one. Which is true. I don’t have the energy to method act my way through work with a radically different personality or life story. I am genuine and transparent. I also care about my clients. Having some conceptual difference between them and the people in my personal life helps me carry that care without feeling burdened. I can put it down along with my name. I feel for those in other caring professions where this separation might be harder to maintain.