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Mistress Matisse is Doing the Lord’s Work on Behalf of Sex Workers


By Noah Berlatsky

Mistress Matisse

At the end of July, Neal Falls booked an appointment with a sex worker named Heather in West Virginia. He planned to kill her, as police believe he may have murdered as many as nine other sex workers in Ohio, Illinois and Nevada. But with Heather he failed. But with Heather, finally, he failed. When he attacked her, she fought back, got his gun and killed him.

Falls’ death was national news but, as such things do, it soon faded out of the headlines. Heather, though, was still bruised and traumatized, unable to work and in difficult financial straits.

Luckily, not everyone forgot about Heather. Mistress Matisse, a writer and dominatrix in Seattle, heard about Heather’s experience and was determined to help. Through other sex workers she tracked Heather down, called her and booked a flight to West Virginia. She showed up at Heather’s door and hasn’t really left. She’s organized fund-raising, lined up medical assistance and connected Heather with nonprofit help.

This isn’t a new role for Matisse. She’s worked as a sex worker in various capacities since she was 19. But as she’s gotten established in Seattle, she says, “I have gotten to the point in my career where it is in many ways self-sustaining.”

As a result, she’s had more time to devote to activism. Matisse was there to help Heather because she’s made it her business to help sex workers who are in crises.

I talked to Matisse about her activism, her work with Heather and why sex workers are the best ones to help sex workers.

Most of your activism is independent, rather than directly working with non-profits or sex worker organizations. Why is that?

I get a lot out of sex worker organizations as a participant. I couldn’t be who I am without the sex work community. At a certain point it became clear to me that I should do sex work activism the way I do business.

I play well with others, but I’m also an introvert, and I don’t do well in people’s systems. I do well in my own system.

As a dominatrix, my work is creative. Someone is going to walk in, and you have a very short time where you sit and talk to them and kind of go, ‘What is it that you want and that you need? And how can that fit into things that I do, or am willing to do, in a way that’s creative and sexy and fun?’ In like five minutes, OK we’re doing that thing. It’s a very quick assessment. Make a plan. Make it happen. And that’s a dynamic that I do well with, and I enjoy it.

So for me what happens a lot is that I hear or see that there’s a sex worker who’s in a crisis, and I just reach out to her and say, ‘What do you need? How can I help you?’ And there’s a connection with her, and then I begin to address her needs at an individual level.

Working with an organization, you’re committed to working at a certain pace. They’re writing policy changes they want, or they’re lobbying in a very directed way to an elected official. They are process-oriented things, and I really want people to do them. It’s just that I’m not good at doing them. It just feels like slogging through mud to me.

So you’re working directly with Heather now?

Heather’s a case that moves me. My heart’s always very involved. And that’s why I like working the way I do. It’s emotionally very rewarding for me. Some people get rewarded from having written a really great policy, but that’s not rewarding for me.

I saw Heather on the news and I immediately knew — every woman who works alone, like I do, that’s the worst fear, is that you open the door to a murderer. And every time you see a new client, that thought is in your mind. I mean, I’ve opened thousands of doors over my career, to thousands of men, and crossed my fingers and hoped to God that it wouldn’t be one of those guys.

I’ve never been harmed by a client, but there have been a few cases where I have been very frightened, and that fear that you feel when you think, ‘Oh my god, is this guy going to hurt me? Am I going to be one of those girls?’ You never forget how that feels. So when I read this story…

This guy had a list of names of who he’s going after next. So Heather saved all those women’s lives. And it’s only sheer luck that the guy decided to go to West Virginia instead of Seattle. As far as I’m concerned, Heather saved my life and the lives of all the people I know in sex work, just as surely as she saved her own and the women on that list. This guy had been at it for a while. He’s a professional. So this is very emotional for me and very personal for me, and I decided that I was going to take care of it and make sure that she got everything she needed.

I started to call people (in the sex worker community) on the East Coast asking, ‘Who knows this girl? Who knows who she is? Who has met her?’ After a couple of days of calling around we came up with her phone number, so I called her and said, ‘You don’t know me, but I saw what you did and I’m a sex worker, too, and I would like to help you.’

Is it important that sex workers be the ones to reach out to help sex workers in need?

Well, for Heather, she was having a problem because there were some people local to her who had started a fundraiser for her, they said, but they were being really weird and controlling about the money. They weren’t going to let her have it unless she fulfilled certain things that they thought they should do.

They wanted her to give interviews, when she was clearly in no shape to give interviews. She told me they had bought her this dress they wanted her to wear. They wanted her to look like a nice respectable girl. They wanted to rescue her in the way, ‘We’re going to change your life. We’re going to change who you are, and we’re going to save you from this life.’

The reason that sex workers are the best people to help other sex workers is that we do it from a place of respect for the individual, and we understand that someone has to consent to being helped, at every stage of the way.

Trying to force ‘solutions’ on us that aren’t solutions just makes our lives more difficult. And most of the time, when you get a non-SW trying to help a sex worker who’s in trouble, they focus on sex work BEING the problem.

If someone wants to stop doing sex work, then we want options made available to them. But even in that situation, it’s crucial that you not shame someone who’s done sex work to survive. Like calling them a victim, even if that’s not how they identify, and focusing on how awful it must have been, asking for horror stories instead of just saying, ‘OK, so what do you want to be doing, and how can we get you there?’

I approach helping someone like I approach the BDSM scene. There’s a person here who I think wants me to take control of the situation. But you have to get consent for that. So I can say to you that I see that you’re having some trouble here, if you allow me to, I can do anything I can to alleviate these problems. Do you give me your consent to do that? Yes. You have to get the consent, and you have to go on getting the consent throughout the process.

These people wanted to get money for Heather, that’s great, but she didn’t even know them before they started doing that. And they were talking about her on the news and stuff. And they were going to hold onto the money until she did all these things they wanted her to do. What you’re doing to her she’s not consenting to, so it’s not really help.

I can look at Heather’s house, and say, moving out of here should be your first priority because a terrible thing happened here, and she’s like, ‘No, it’s not my first priority. X is my first priority.’ So that’s what we’ll do.

Do you consider your activism —helping sex workers— to be feminist activism?

The concept of feminism is kind of like the concept of God. There’s all this doctrine and dogma and stuff. And then there’s what people do. And everyone’s version of God is a little different. I’m very much in favor of a lot of the stated goals of feminism, just as I’m in favor of many of the stated goals of religion, which is be kind to other people, don’t lie and murder. It’s those ten commandment style things that I think we’re all on board with.

But mainstream feminism rejects sex work as an acceptable choice. So for me being a sex worker and being a feminist is kind of like being an immigrant who votes Republican. Even if you happen to agree with the rest of the party platform, there’s the small issue that they want to kick you out of the country. So I don’t describe myself as an adherent to a political philosophy that wants to eliminate me.

What can people do to help Heather if they’d like to contribute?

We’ve put together a crowdfund specifically to cover medical expenses; people can contribute to that here.

Complete Article HERE!

A Farewell to a great man

Dear sex fans,

I realize this is a bit off topic for this blog, but I want to acknowledge the death of famed British neurologist and author, Oliver Sacks.

1993: Portrait of British-born neurologist and author Dr Oliver Sacks standing in the admittance driveway of Beth Abraham Hospital with his arms crossed over his chest, New York City. (Photo by Nancy R. Schiff/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

1993: Portrait of British-born neurologist and author Dr Oliver Sacks standing in the admittance driveway of Beth Abraham Hospital with his arms crossed over his chest, New York City.

In February, he wrote an op-ed in The New York Times revealing that he was in the late stages of terminal cancer, after earlier melanoma in his eye spread to his liver.

“It is up to me now to choose how to live out the months that remain to me,” he wrote. “I cannot pretend I am without fear. But my predominant feeling is one of gratitude. I have loved and been loved; I have been given much and I have given something in return; I have read and traveled and thought and written. I have had an intercourse with the world, the special intercourse of writers and readers.”

Earlier this summer I read Dr Sacks’s memoir, On the Move.  I love it.  It’s an interesting memoir by a fascinating personality.  And while reading I discovered that we had a dear friend in common, Thom Gunn.  What a small world!  So I decided to send him a note.

Dear Dr Sacks,

I just finished reading your memoir, On The Move.  What an amazing life you’ve lived.on-the-move-by-oliver-sacks

Of all the marvelous things you’ve done and all the fascinating people you mentioned in your book nothing surprised me more than your close friendship with Thom Gunn.  I was a friend of Thom too and I lived directly across Cole Street from him.  I moved to the flat at 1207 Cole Street in 1979.  At the time I was working on my doctorate in clinical sexology at the Institute For The Advanced Study of Human Sexuality in San Francisco.

I didn’t know Thom well at first.  However, I would regularly see him walking both in our neighborhood and elsewhere in town.  He was always in his leathers, rain or shine, and used to think to myself, “What a mensch!”

It finally dawned on me that he lived across the street from me.

Once he saw me in my roman collar.  (I was ordained a catholic priest in 1975 at the age of 25 in Oakland, CA.  I had come out to my local superiors; I was a member of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, before I was ordained.  Like I said, I was working on my doctorate to become a sex therapist and prepare for an upfront gay ministry.)  Thom smiled at me when he saw me; I blushed and told him what I just told you.  He was fascinated, but I also believe he thought I was a twit.  He probably was right.

I knew nothing about Thom other than he was my neighbor.  Then one day I was in a bookstore on Haight Street and there was a photo of Thom in the window advertising a reading.  That’s when I started asking around about him.  Despite his cult status within the gay community, he was the most unassuming person.  I was honored to have a personal connection with him.small_front

I finished my doctorate in 1981.  My dissertation, Gay Catholic Priests; A Study of Cognitive and Affective Dissonance was directed by Wardell Pomeroy.  A firestorm of media attention followed.  The media branded me as THE gay priest, as if.  I think Thom read about me in the New York Times because next time he saw me he clapped me on the back and said, “Well done.”

No sooner did I complete my doctorate, and because of the media attention my public coming out caused, the leadership of my religious community in Rome began a process of dismissal against me.  I was devastated and lost.  I was even getting death threats.  Thom was always so supportive and encouraging.

I fought the church for the next thirteen years in an effort to save my priesthood and ministry.  Alas, the writing was on the wall back in 1981 and it was only a matter of time till they had their way with me.  I wrote about the travail in a book that was published in 2011, Secrecy, Sophistry and Gay Sex In The Catholic Church: The Systematic Destruction of an Oblate Priest.

Thom was always so solicitous about my wellbeing.  He knew how difficult life had become for me.  And both of us found ourselves on the forefront of caring for friends who were dying of AIDS.  One of my landlords died in 1986.

Thom introduced my housemate and I to Augie Kleinzahler and his girlfriend, Caroline Lander, who lived only a few blocks from us in Cole Valley.  We all became great friends and copious amounts of strong drink were consumed.  I wonder, do you know Augie?

When Thom turned sixty I surprised him with a homemade German chocolate cake.  I told him he was the oldest person I knew.  This made him laugh and he called me a whippersnapper.

In 1992 the surviving landlord sold the Cole Street duplex and I and my housemate moved to Oak and Ashbury.  Sadly, I didn’t get to see Thom as much as before.  I move up here to Seattle in 1999 because I could no longer afford to live in SF.  I was deeply saddened to learn of Thom’s death in 2004.  He was such a great guy, what a marvelous soul.

Again, thank you for your memoir; it was grand getting to know you on a personal level.  I read The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat when it came out in the mid-eighties and loved it.  But I never guessed you and Thom knew each other or that you actually visited him when I lived across the street from him.  What a small world.  I wish I had known you back then.

Anyhow, thank you for the bringing me this unexpected flood of memories of Thom.  I wonder what he would have made of yesterday’s Supreme Court decision (Obergefell v. Hodges).  I contend that we got marriage equality only because we walked through AIDS first.  I think Thom would have agreed with me.

All the best,

Richard Wagner, M.Div., Ph.D., ACS

To my astonishment, Oliver wrote back; I mean that literally, a handwritten note.  Apparently, he never used a computer.

Dear Dr. Wagner (can I say Richard?),                                                          6/60/15

I am greatly interested and greatly moved, by your letter — your courage in being honest and forthright, at a time and on a subject bound, sooner or later, to cause your ejection from the priesthood. In another few years perhaps, with Pope Francis at the helm, these last bastions of Catholic bigotry may have fallen.

I like to think of you as living across the street when I visited Thom, and glad to know that he appreciated you and your works. I still miss him deeply — there were not too many people with whim I could be entirely open — and I like to think that his ghost is pleased that my title came from his poem. (I find it a huge relief being open now to all and sundry {Oliver came out earlier this year} — I am so glad I completed my book before I became ill).

And what a liberation, an affirmation for us all that the Supreme Court voted as it did. I suspect that Ruth Bader Ginsberg, quite ill now, stayed on to ensure the 5/4 decision.

Thanks for your letter and my very best wishes,


Oliver Sacks01     Oliver Sacks02

Click on this link to see a copy of Oliver Sacks’s note.

Thank you Dr Sacks and farewell!

Ask for what you want

Name: Mikel
Gender: Male
Age: 25
Location: Seattle
My problem is: I have a fixation on cut dicks, so when I’m having sex with uncut people, I can’t enjoy it. I feel it’s dirty!!! Should I ask my partners their “shape” before having sex? Wouldn’t I sound like a whore?

What a curious concern you have. I mean, not the cut/uncut thing…that I understand. Lots of people banana_009have a preference for either cut or uncut meat, so I’m cool with that. And sometimes the preference is culturally induced. OK, fine! I also know that some guys prefer what they don’t have. Lots of cut men like uncut cock, and lots of uncut men prefer their partners to be cut. Some people make a big to-do about foreskin, as you suggest, because they think it’s unsightly and/or unclean. Personally, I think that’s complete baloney, but hey, to each his own. Right?

I also know that most people who have a strong cut/uncut preference want to know in advance if their perspective partner’s dick is to their liking. And obviously, the only way to find that out is by asking outright. OK, so far so good.

banana2What I don’t understand about your question is that you think it might be whorish to be up-front and ask a guy about his dick. Like, WHY? Either you don’t understand the meaning of the word “whore,” or you’re just overly sensitive about taking responsibility for what you want. Either way it makes no sense.

Think about it this way, say you don’t ask and you discover, to your great dismay, that the guy you’re about to bone has some fine lace curtains (foreskin). And you get all turned off and this screws up the screwing. You feel bad, he feels bad, and you look like a jerk. Wouldn’t it have been better to save yourself and your unlucky partner the embarrassment of shutting down a fuck by taking responsibility for your predilection before cloths come flying off? Heck, I don’t know about you, but I’d prefer to be thought of as a whore than a complete asshole.

Dr Dick has a hard and fast rule when it comes to sex. If you can’t bring yourself to ask for what you want, then you deserve what you get.

Good luck

Trouble Down Below

Name: Marcus
Gender: Male
Age: 20
Location: New Jersey
I have a problem that is really fucking with my head, causing all sorts of performance anxiety and, long story short; I’m still a virgin at age 20. And because of it, a few failed sexual encounters. I can get a raging boner when I’m wacking off alone, but I feel humiliated by my dick whenever I get the chance to show it off. I have what’s known as a “skin bridge.” I’ve asked a doctor about plastic surgery to correct it, and he told me it originated when my circumcision didn’t heal correctly. (And the statute of limitations to sue the bastard expired long before I knew he was at fault.) Anyway, now I’m looking at a choice between this freakish tunnel of skin that goes halfway around my cock and a different, who-knows-what-kind-of-hideous scar might result from a second surgery. The situation is ruining my life. Maybe it’s the root of some psychological complex driving me toward homosexuality too, but don’t worry about that. If I still can’t get it up for a girl after I find some peace of mind on this issue, then I’ll drop the bi attitude and come out as gay no problem. What’s your two cents on the surgery? I realize this might be one of your toughest questions to date.

This isn’t a particularly tough question at all. And you want my two cents? Here it is: get over it! I mean, pup, really? Skin bridges from botched circumcisions are not particularly uncommon. In fact, I know two guys right here in Seattle who have the very same thing and one is a former porn star. Trust me, his skin bridge did not get in the way of him waving his thang all over the place, don’t cha know.keep-calm-and-don-t-be-a-dick

Here’s a tip: stay away from the surgeon. More cutting on your willie ain’t the answer.

Here’s the thing, if, when you drop trou, and your audience, male or female, gets a gander at your johnson; and they point and shriek, “OMG, that thing is hideous! Please, please, please put it away;” then I think you’ve got a legitimate problem. However, if no one does that, ever, then your shame and humiliation is all in your head. You’ve probably created a mountain out of a molehill. But, if by chance, you think I’m being unfair, or cavalier about your concern, then take a photo of your hideously deformed wiener and send it to me for my evaluation.

Now there are two ways to go in this instance. The first option is to grow up and realize that your “condition,” if you can call it that, falls within the natural variance of dick size and shape. The second option is to capitalize on the very thing that makes you different. Ya know how some guys have their dick pierced and then put a ring or rod through the piercing, just to doll things up a bit? Well, you already have a natural piercing. Why not take your cock down to your local piercing parlor and get it fitted for a nice piece of genital jewelry. Then you can say with pride that you adorned what you once though as a defect and made your cock even more beautiful than it was before.

Finally I have to ask; what’s up with the…if I don’t get this fixed; I’m gonna go all queer. You think gay guys are less self-conscious about their equipment than straight men? If ya do, you are living in a dream world, darling.

Good luck

The Lady Is A Tramp

Name: Paul
Gender: Male
Age: 32
Location: Seattle
I recently discovered that my GF has been cheating on me. She wants me to forgive her but it’s been really hard. Just dealing with the fact that it happened is overwhelming. It feels like I could never forgive her. I don’t know if there’s a solution or not. I know I still love her but the truth is I feel dirty being around her. It also makes me feel stupid for putting up with this and letting it happen in the first place. I feel like a total sap. I’d love any advice you could give me.

Before we turn to chastising your vixen girlfriend for her behavior, let me make a quick observation about you, Paul. You sure are a ball of contradictions, aren’t you, darlin’? How can you say that you love a person who makes you feel dirty and stupid? Simply put, you are deceiving yourself about one or the other of these emotions. And pardon me, but there’s no way that what you describe here can be love. An obsession, heart sick, wounded pride, sour grapes…absolutely. Love…ahhh, not so much! So stop saying that you love this woman, Paul, it’s just adding to the confusion.

your cheatin' heart

Here’s a tip for us all. Let’s, each of us, promise, right here and now, to save the “L” word for those feelings that are a little less desperate and debilitating, OK? Because if we don’t reserve the “L” word for feelings that are uplifting and life-affirming then we will bandy it about, like Paul here.  Let’s try not to over-use the term  to describe any and all our fixations. If what we are experiencing tears us down instead of building us up, then it ain’t love no how, no way. Period!

Ok Paul, I ’m gonna try not read too much into your brief statement, but there appears to be some important information here that we should consider. When you say your girlfriend…“is been cheating,” that suggests to me that her indiscretion may have been ongoing. Because you could have said…“she cheated on me,” which would imply a one-time thing.

And what an interesting word choice “cheat” is in this context. This makes fidelity sound like some kind of sport, or that you own something of another person. I don’t think fidelity is sport, nor do I think it is always a genital issue. Lots of couples are faithful to one another even though they have open relationships and/or multiple sex partners. But I digress.

Since you can’t supply me with more of the gory details, Paul, I’m gonna go with the first option. I’m gonna assume you’re telling me that your GF has been doin’ you wrong and it’s not a simple…“Whoops, I don’t know what came over me. One minute I was like all normal, and the next there I was with my dress over my head and some guy, other than you honey, was bangin’ me like there was no tomorrow”…sorta thing, OK?

Since I don’t know how deep or exclusive your relationship with your girlfriend is or was supposed to be, I can hardly advise you on what you ought to do next. I can, however, point out that a secret ongoing affair suggests the trouble with your relationship runs pretty deep. Maybe your girlfriend has you pegged as a sap, and she knows that you will tolerate her indiscretions. Which in turn, gives her permission to do carry on in whatever manner she might like. Maybe she doesn’t think that your relationship with her is all that substantial in the first place. Who knows!

Hey, I don’t suppose you have a cuckold fetish, do you?  Imagine the fun you could have with that.  But again, I digress.

If you’re not a total sap, and you’re serious about reigning in your wayward GF, you’d better come up with a clear, unambiguous message about what you will and will not tolerate in the future. Until you do that there’s no point in even imagining there might be a future.

If, on the other hand, the two of you did agree to live in an exclusive relationship, and she’s still taking her business elsewhere, then I suggest the bond between you is pretty busted. Is there something salvageable here? Your guess is as good as mine. What is perfectly clear is that both you and your girlfriend need to step back and take a sober look at yourselves. There is a reason for her behavior, just like there’s a reason for your response. To get to the bottom of all of this both of you will need to invest a good deal of time and energy, most likely with a professional therapist, and hope that the bank of goodwill between you, if indeed there is a bank of goodwill between you, is enough to carry the day.  However, if I had to guess from the tone in your message, I’d say there was precious little goodwill left. If so, why not be a man about it. Just call it quits and move on. No recriminations necessary.

Good Luck

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