Greg pays me to come over to his apartment, usually with a friend, to burn his feet with cigarettes while he masturbates.
I consider him a friend because we've built a relationship over many years that's based on mutual interests, trust and mutual appreciation. He's also met (and paid) almost everyone woman I've ever known—the ones who smoke, anyway—to burn his feet. Most of these women don't do sex work under other circumstances and come along because they've heard about Greg from me, or other friends, and understand that they're walking into a dynamic that's unlike most sex work. Based on that same understanding, those of us who do sex work as our main source of income see him for considerably less money than we expect from our other clients.
Like most clients, he's respectful—he even offers to cover himself with a blanket for women who are unaccustomed to seeing men they don't know masturbate—and his fetish, though particular to him, is not particularly extreme. Sessions with Greg are unique because he is an incredible person who is part of our community.
His sexual desire is not frivolous, not a luxury he allows himself because he has money to throw around. It stems from a dark place, from childhood sexual abuse, and working it out this way is absolutely essential to his ability to be the incredible person he is.
Greg graciously allowed himself to be interviewed for this piece.
We just finished a session. How do you feel?
The short answer is, I feel sated. That's the word that comes to mind. And I feel a lot less anxious and angry and bound up than I did prior to it.
Could you describe what we just did?
You came and hung out, and talked, which is actually a very important part of this for me, to feel comfortable with someone who's doing this with me. And then you burned the bottom of my foot, and blew smoke in my face, and I masturbated.
Will you talk a little about where this comes from for you?
I had an interesting childhood... like a lot of folks. I was overtly sexually abused and I was... intrinsically sexually abused... that's probably not the right word. It was hinted at. But I think it's the same thing, when stuff like that happens. I think the vibe is what you pick up on as a kid. It was a combination of a lot of that, with people who would threaten to burn me, and they would blow smoke in my face, and actually burn me. I don't think I came out of the womb with this fetish. I think it's pretty clear where it came from and how it developed.
When did this idea become sexualized for you?
It became totally sexualized during puberty, because that's what I used to fantasize about. But prior to that, long prior to that, when I was I don't know, eight, I used to draw pictures of me being burned by my aunts, and also the neighbor next door who was this woman who was a total scary creep. Most kids are drawing tanks, I was drawing these monster women with five hundred cigarettes coming out of their arms and eyes. Like I said, I don't think I came out of the womb like that, some things were developed along the way. And what are you going to do? You have this thing, and you can work with it or not work with it, and learn to accept it or not, and feel okay about it or not, and I try to feel okay about it. I have a lot of rage because of all of the stuff that went down when I was kid. I'd like to take an axe and kill everyone who did all this shit to me, I'd like to bill them for all these sessions and have them fund it, I'd like to bill for the therapy.
I was thinking about the term for what this is... it doesn't really feel like you're acting out a fetish to me, the way we do this. It feels much more like a ritual.
It is a ritual, that's a very good word for it. It's many things. It's a way for me to control how much pain is being inflicted upon me, and in what way, because as a kid, when that was going on, I didn't have any control.
There are so many aspects to it, like the fact that it's on the feet and the hands... It's ironic that that's where the burning happens. I mean I'm not a religious person, in the sense of Catholicism and all that, which is how I was raised, which by the way didn't help either. "Have some repression with your cigarette burns, Greg!" It's not just a fetish. It's getting into a deeper place for me than that, and that's why I prefer to see people like you for this. Even though you're hurting me, it's about a connection, too. I need to feel connected to you before and while you're doing it, even though I'm not necessarily connected to me when it's happening. Sometimes I think I'm up in the corner of the room watching it, I sort of disassociate, which is why going to see traditional dommes for this never worked for me. I'm not criticizing them, but in general, they have their own personality that comes into play, and they're more about objectifying someone. A lot of dudes want that, so a lot of times they have trouble being nice to me while they're torturing me. For them it's more about the absence of a connection. It took me a while to figure out that that just doesn't work for me, because I tried that version for a while, and I was feeling empty and bad afterwards. I seek out people that are in their own bodies, that aren't play-acting a role, because I like them to be in the room, in their bodies, while they're doing this.
I can tell if someone's here and they're comfortable and they want to be here, and if someone's here just because they're really broke. The other version that really doesn't work at all is when I get the too-cool-for-the-room girl, and that's happened a few times definitely, where somebody borderline-too-cool-for-the-room will bring their friend or roommate who's way-too-cool-for-the-room, and it's really a bummer then. Because they've turned me into the middle-aged weenie whacker, pathetic, whatever, and I don't feel that way at all about this, but I feel them doing that math. I can just tell. I can tell when someone's really trying to connect and treat me as a human as opposed to that. But there are so many girls I have seen that are so amazing and cool.
I don't know all of the people that you see, but I know a lot of the people that you see...
Oh, you're Patient Zero.
I love to think about the web that spreads out from here sometimes. There's this huge community of people that are totally into doing this, because you're awesome, and I think they really connect with what goes on here. But then there's that other layer of it, where it's also your community in other ways, in the creative community that we share, and you've had some issues with people bringing this up publicly in ways that are not appropriate.
Yeah, that does make it challenging, and in all honesty that's made me a little more reticent to be out in that community. I'm not really a big schmoozer or networker or anything, I'm not really comfortable socially in scenes. I'm more of a one-on-one person. If there's a show, if there's a band I really want to see I'll go and just deal with whatever... but I've had a couple of issues where some drunken douchebag ex-boyfriend of one of the girls that has done this has started mouthing off. I can handle myself, I'm not afraid physically of any person if it ever came to that, but it would make me so sad if it ever did. That would just be pathetic. Of course it has nothing to do with me, I mean if they spent two minutes with me we'd have a nice conversation. I'll talk to anybody as long as they want a decent conversation about something that means something. I think it's more about their own ideas of themselves... Some girls tell their significant others, some don't. I don't judge either way. It's not my call. It's just that from a selfish point of view, I don't want it entering into my realm. So sometimes I'm not in the mood [to go out] because it might happen. But if it's a band or show I really want to see I'll just go.
Most people, when they pay for some kind of sexual service... it's very much predicated on not having to deal with any social relationship. With you, it's set up in a way that it's almost inevitable that there's no anonymity.
Most people [when they talk about this] turn it into who I specifically am, which I don't really think they need to do. I think it's some weird ego thing, where they need to say that they burn the guy from blah-blah-band. That's the only thing that got around that did bum me out. It's hard to explain, but it comes into play with the whole significant other thing. Like they feel threatened—I'm just doing the math in my head—but that's when it gets to be weird. It's happened a couple times, I'm sure, where the significant other finds out about this, finds out it's me, and we used to be one of their favorite bands and now they "can't like us" anymore. That's the stuff I don't want to deal with. It's about them, but it's kind of a bummer. Like, "Okay, yeah, I'm a weird fuck, I don't know what to tell you." You can still like my music.
Well anyone who decides what bands they're excited about based on the sexual proclivities of band members...
Everyone's got their quirks and skeletons. Would I prefer to keep them private? Yeah, of course. Bottom line is, I don't feel bad about what I do. The only aspect that I do feel bad about is the financial part, because I'd have a lot more [musical] equipment and stuff. But the purpose this serves is so beneficial to my well-being. That takes precedent, and it allows me to feel okay about the financial part. Some people see therapists, which I have, and to be honest none of them did me any better than what this does for me. They all, to a T, said "Don't do it, it's bad," and "Here, take some meds." And not one of them could really tell me why, other than just saying, "It's self-destructive." Nine therapists later... one who fell in love with me, one who tried to put me in a fucking closet and put a blue blanket on me and have me tell her my sexual fantasies, one who just stared at me for an hour, one who looked like a witch and I thought I was going to end up in her chili the next day... This, for me, is better therapy for the issues I was dealt. I don't have a switch I can flip. If I did, I wouldn't do this, because yeah, I wish I was just vanilla and could be monogamous like most people and think that's the way to go... But I don't believe in that, on many levels, I don't mean just sexually. People get into that whole "You're my world," and "What do you mean you don't like this art or music or anything I like?" And "Oh, your work? No, we have to always be together." No, find someone else, find a bunch of people you can share great experiences with, and still love this person you're with. But there aren't many people who would put up with what I do with this, in a relationship. This is something I need to do to keep me sane. I don't want to medicate myself because I'm not depressed. I don't get the point of that.
You told me before that you tried this out in a relationship. How did that go?
Not well. It's another aspect of this that I haven't fully wrapped my head around. The particular person I tried this with, in a relationship, a love relationship, I really loved this person... It made it very hard. It felt strange, for me, to have someone that I loved in a way like that do this to me. Because unfortunately I tend to compartmentalize this from the tactile touching... whatever you want to call it, the energy exchange of intercourse... I haven't been able to integrate that with this, because this is a different thing. So it was hard, it was weird, and awkward and uncomfortable, and it actually made me lose something regarding the other things with this particular person, once we sort of fumbled through this. But it was in large part due to this particular person. I think if I was doing this with the right person, I might be able to integrate things a little bit more.
Do you think that's negative, that you compartmentalize this?
Yeah, I do. I wish I didn't. My life would be a lot simpler if I was with a person and I could do this with that person, but I'm not wired that way. Even if I didn't do this, I still don't think I could be monogamous.
It comes back to the money thing; that's the only part that makes it negative. It's this thing that I need to do to manage my rage. Frankly, that's what this serves. It's a way of me controlling my rage, even though you're the one hurting me. I'm controlling my rage by having you do that to me. It's getting a lot of stuff out, this ritualistic session, but it would be nice to not be broke every month. That's the honest truth, so that to me is a negative thing. I have a day job that I hate that I make a decent salary at, and I'd have a lot more discretionary income to pick up music things. But I'm a poverty addict; I will find a way to not have money because that's what I'm used to. I'm used to not having money, I grew up really poor, and I grew up with a psychotic father who screamed about not having money all the time. Trust me, if I got ten thousand dollars, someone threw it at me, I'd find a way to not have it by the end of the month. It's what I'm used to, it's a familiar thing. I need to feel the panic of being poor again at the end of the month.
Is this something that you're open about from the start of a relationship?
It depends on the person, the situation, as to bringing this up and how and when, but I'm not going to not bring it up. It's probably not a first hangout/date conversation, necessarily.
It's been a while since I've had a quote-unquote relationship for many reasons. It's mostly a choice, because I work full time and I spend all my free time doing the stuff that means something to me. I kind of think that's why I'm here. It feels right, and genuine, and natural, so I spend a lot of time writing music. And there aren't a lot of folks that want to put up with that. More importantly, I don't want to not do that, that's who I am, and the last time I was in a relationship I compromised, but I compromised to a point where I ended up being resentful. I need a lot of space and a lot of freedom, and I prefer somebody who's like that, too. But for whatever reason I tend to attract women who are coming from the other place, and I don't know why that is, because I'm pretty open and up front about where I'm coming from time-wise and about this [fetish]. And it sounds great on paper, but within a month it's not like that at all, it goes back to that other sort of thing. And that's disheartening, because it takes a lot of energy to allow your guard down, start to trust this person. I have a few friends that I can [have sex with] once in a while, and I do, and it feels great, and it's cool because I don't need to see them and they don't want to see me very often, and it's fine. I try to live in the moment as far as stuff like that goes.
How has your experience of this changed over time? Do you have a different relationship with the whole process than you did starting out?
I think, if anything, what's evolved is logistical in nature. Like when I used to do this, when I first met you, I was going to this place [a foot fetish-oriented dungeon] to do it and it was cool. It was a domme place but it mostly had college girls who needed some money and they were cool. And that's actually where I started to understand "Oh, I don't like seeing dommes, this is great." And then when I started seeing you and your friends, it just sort of got to the point where connections were made. So we'd have nice conversations and hang out, and it was actually fun. And I could tell, certain people who see me just enjoy hanging out, and talking, and that's cool. I've become really good friends with some of the girls that I've seen, and I've hung out with them a bunch where this doesn't even come up. And that makes me feel good. So that's been a positive thing. I've come up with actual friendships that are really cool through doing this.
Previously: How to Tell Your Parents You're a Prostitute
Robin Hustle is a writer, artist, and musician living in Chicago. She is the editor of the Land Line, a collaborative print journal, and self-publishes the zines Curdled Milk, Leftovers Again?! and Mirror Tricks. Her writing has appeared in $PREAD Magazine, Vice, and the Journal of Radical Shimming, and her visual art has been exhibited in group shows at Woman Made Gallery, Roots and Culture, and Gallery 400. She archives her writing and drawings at robinhustle.blogspot.com.
Image by Jim Cooke, source photos via Shutterstock