Playing with Fire

rock climbing, maui, mountains, crater

K had long blue hair and was, seemingly, presenting as a girl when we first met. That’s been replaced by a crop of short bright red hair since K began transitioning towards male territory. I say “towards” because K is not going all the way there. K doesn’t fully identify as female or male anymore. As such, she now prefers to use the neutral pronoun “they.”

And they look gorgeous in either incarnation.

I can’t include photos of K’s actual face (or name) with this article due to the legal issues here, so you’ll have to just trust me on this. Chances are, if you’ve ever met them, you already do. For one thing: they once got mistaken for Ariel, from Disney’s Little Mermaid by a young girl at the airport.

Ariel, The Little Mermaid, Disney

Ariel and K: separated at birth?

K says that they never felt comfortable fully identifying as female, so they decided to start transitioning this year by taking injections of testosterone. K says they want to look androgynous, not masculine. They are taking a lower dose of testosterone than trans men who want to go all the way usually do and are planning to stop eventually.  “The problem is that you can’t pick and choose the changes that happen,” K says. When I talked to K, I mentioned that the trans men I’ve met previously had acquired Adam’s Apples. K didn’t know about this, but they say the lower dose of Testosterone should work.

“Gender is a spectrum,” K says. “You can identify as female or male or both or neither and most people don’t know that there is anything in between.” Personally, I know that gender is a spectrum. I often find masculine traits in myself. My last serious relationship was with a trans woman (i.e. someone who was born a man, but transitioned to a woman) who had retained a penchant for activities I’d consider masculine, such as engineering, construction and technology. I’ve met drag queens who like to dress up as women to parties, but are regular professional straight men in their daily lives. And while gender may indeed be a spectrum, the choice to actually transition is a bold one. And in K’s case, it’s even bolder, as they are still working as a female escort while transitioning.

“I know I’m playing with fire,” they say. Their voice has been starting to drop and sound more masculine and the biggest change so far has been their clitoris getting larger. Some of their clients have noticed it, but don’t usually realize they weren’t born this way.

While the widespread perception out there is that sex work is degrading and belittling to women, for K it’s actually been something liberating. They can make up their own schedules, work in New York or wherever they travel to, earn a lot of money and not be stuck in a particular location.

When K first moved to the city from upstate New York, they were working 70-hour weeks as a waitress and busboy in a restaurant and barely squeaking by. K had come here to study photography at the Fashion Institute of Technology, but soon dropped out because photography was mostly tied to advertising there and that was not the way K wanted to pursue it (these days, they do event and kink photography on the side). In the meantime, they started working at restaurants. “I was completely broke and I hated my life,” K says. They also lived in Harlem at the time, while working in Murray Hill. “I had to take the 6 train up to the Bronx at 3 am and then the 2 down into Harlem and try to sleep while my neighbors were playing horribly loud music,” they say. They slept little, drank a lot and finally got fired when they got drunk one night, lost their phone and didn’t make it into work the next day.

Penniless and frustrated, K responded to an ad on Craigslist from a woman who ran a small agency of professional submissives. “I e-mailed back and forth with her. We met in person and I made sure that she wasn’t crazy and that she had a well-established agency,” K says. They started working for her a few weeks after their 19th birthday.

Pro subbing in general is a relatively new concept. The first time I heard of it was from K. They say there are about a dozen pro submissives in New York City this year, when there were only about three a few years ago. A Google search for pro dommes returns over two million results, for example, while searching for pro submissives returns only 400,000 or so (career opportunity, anyone??). The perception is, of course, that if you’re a Pro Domme, you’re in control, whereas pro subbing, and being paid to do so, can get you into dangerous, abusive territory. But K says their experience with it hasn’t been bad and people are starting to realize, that as long as the sex workers are clear about the parameters of their play with clients and about what’s off the table, it can actually be safe. “Whether or not I am willing to engage with a client, play with them a certain way depends on personal chemistry,” K says. “He might be paying me, but I’m the one that calls the shots, especially if I’m bottoming.”

They also admit that they’ve learned a lot from their experience in pro subbing and do it safer now. “I used to have this bottom badass mentality. Like, ‘I’m just going to take this to prove to you that I can,’” K says. “I wanted to prove that I was tough. I didn’t want to give him the satisfaction of having me use the safe word, but I wound up getting my ass kicked.”  K says they don’t do that anymore. “I haven’t been bottoming in my personal life much lately either. But when I do, I know when I reach my limits and when to tell them to stop.”

After working at the agency for over a year, K decided to go independent. They didn’t like being marketed as a young, naïve girl who would be up for trying anything.  “That’s not who I am,” they say. K, who is 20 now, went solo a few months ago and is now marketing themselves as more of a kinky alternative escort. These days, K has their own Web site, where their tag line is “not your typical girl next door.” They describe themselves as someone who stands apart from the crowd, isn’t interested in social norms or popular culture, but in the desire to explore, indulge in and learn new things. “If you’re looking for a fiercely independent young lady with a hedonistic streak and a passion for bringing your fantasies to life, you’ve come to the right place,” the Web site reads. They are “a ruby red haired wild child with a curvy inked body, mischievous smile and a dangerously creative mind,” it adds.

The Web site also specifically lists the type of play that K can offer and what’s off the table. Brown showers, breath play, breast bondage, being slapped in the face or spit on or receiving bruises, welts or marks are all a no-go. The green light list is long, though, and includes spanking, age play, medical play, humiliation, tease and denial and watersports (which they mention is a personal favorite), among much else.

K’s mother who lives in upstate New York, knows about their transition and sex work and has been supportive. When K decided to come out to their mother as trans, they texted her saying “Hi, mom. I’m trans. I love you.” They thought better of it later and decided to call. “I realized sending someone a text message saying that was really inappropriate,” K says. When they talked to their mom, they explained that gender is not black and white; that you can be somewhere in between.  K’s mom said she had heard of that before and loves K no matter what. “She’s pretty accepting of everything in my life. She already knows I’m a sex worker.  She even knows I go to sex parties.”

K hasn’t told her dad, who lives in another East Coast state and is divorced from K’s mother. They don’t think he would understand or approve. “If he picks up on it, he picks up on it. I’m not going to bring it up unless I need to,” K says. They usually see him three times a year.

“My dad tried to raise me Catholic but he had me reading the Lord of the Rings around the same time we started going to church and I could never separate the Lord of the Rings from the Old Testament, so I never fell into that belief system,” K explains. The bible wasn’t the word of God. It was just another fantastical story.

Lord of the Rings trilogy, books, J.R.R. TolkienSpeaking of fantastical stories, K has definitely retained a penchant for those and loves sci-fi, fantasy and comics. One of their tattoos on the right leg is of Delirium from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series. K has many other tattoos and 14 piercings and is planning to get more of both. They want their right side to be more feminine, with tattoos of female comic book characters, nymphs, goddesses and the like and the left side to be more about geometric shapes, scarification and large solid black areas.

Delirium, Neil Gaiman, Sandman Series

Delirium from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman

K wants to work in body modification after saving up enough money from sex work.  “At the risk of sounding cheesy, I feel that it’s a calling,” they say. “There is the aesthetic part, there is the sexual function for a few of them,” they say. K thinks of the human body as a canvas and hopes to help people look the way they want to and be more confident. “I really like the idea of helping people get the bodies they want by creating beautiful permanent or semi-permanent art on them.”

K had recently had their tongue split and when I saw them recently at a mutual friend’s gathering, they were performing tricks with their new two tongues. They can apparently simulate clapping with it and even hold a pencil and scribble. They’re working on getting better at actually writing.  “When I got my tongue split, I did it because I felt like I should have two tongues, not because I wanted to be a badass. It fucking hurt.”

Princess Leia, Bikini, Star Wars

Princess Leia in her world-famous bikini getup.

The fascination with sci-fi and fantasy has also found its way into K’s sex work. She’s done scenes as Princess Leia from Star Wars. Her Web site also says “have space suit, will travel.” The men that request role playing or sci-fi characters don’t usually dress up themselves, which K finds disappointing. “They don’t dress up ever, which is sad.  Luke and Leia role play would be really hot, though,” K says. “I like bringing these professional guys into a game, where they’re using their imagination and letting their child-like phase come out,” they say. They also did a role play once that was an interrogation scene where K was an intergalactic princess, knew where the rebel forces were hiding and had to resist the evil overlord that was trying to get the information.

 Many of their clients have been from the tech or finance industries. Some have been teachers or musicians. “There isn’t a type, really. It’s just guys with money,” they say. They range in age from their 20s to 60s. “My favorites are the ones in their 50s. They usually just want to talk and go down on me and drink wine,” K says. “They’re usually less into ‘wham, bam, thank you, ma’am.’ They’re more into wanting to spend time with a beautiful lady.”

K travels a lot and says one of their favorite places to work in is Hawaii, as there is a big military base there and many of these sex-starved soldiers become clients. They recently told me about a young (early 20’s) kinky guy they took in as a client there. “He was young and hot and a nice guy,” they say. “He doesn’t need to come to me, he can easily find himself a kinky girlfriend.” K introduced him to FetLife, which is basically the Facebook for kinksters, and sent him on his way. Now that’s selfless philanthropy if I’ve ever seen it.

They usually see up to three clients a week in New York and up to six when they are traveling.  One of K’s long-term clients recently got a tattoo of her on his calf. It shows a girl, suspended in mid-air, who has red hair, is wearing a plaid mini skirt, ripped up thigh highs, combat boots and a Misfits cut-off t-shirt. It looks like a Suicide Girls action figure. The client asked K if they would mind him getting a tattoo of them before he did it. “Hell yeah, that’s awesome!” K told him.

K always screens their clients before agreeing to see them. This involves reference checks. “They need to give me names of people they’ve seen in the past,” they say. Sometimes they will ask for work verifications. “I’m not really worried about getting busted by the cops; they’re mostly focused on agencies. I’m more worried about getting beaten up or raped,” K says. If the clients don’t go by their real names, K can usually find them out. “There are search functions for things like these.” They say they’ve foregone on many potential clients because they didn’t pass the smell test.

K says many of their clients aren’t aware of trans issues or queer politics. At a certain point, K will have to stop taking hormones before their clit gets so large that it might become scary to these men. “These guys are not well versed in trans bodies at all,” K says. “Trans guys, let alone female assigned gender queer people, are not on their radar,” they explain.

Convincing people about the fluidity or malleability of gender is a tall order and K is not on a crusade. They are content with having the people close to them be accepting and supportive of who they are. “Getting people to use the right pronouns for you, getting them to recognize that you’re not the gender you were assigned at birth can be hard. And that’s something that I’m still struggling with, especially with people who aren’t queer identified. Because I’m not transitioning to a binary gender, they’re having a difficulty understanding it.”

K is most attracted to other androgynous people and currently has a lover who is also trans. “The way that I have sex with my clients is not the way that I have sex with my lovers,” K says. “My lovers treat my body the way I want it to be treated.” For one thing, K’s lovers don’t go near their chest, as K has dysphoria around that part of their body. “Generally my personal sex is more animalistic and raw and I’m a lot more topy,” K says. They say they always use protection with clients and get tested for STDs every six weeks.

K travels a lot with their lovers and friends (they are polyamorous) and they say their favorite place in the world is Maui (where the photo at the top is from). “It’s a really magical, beautiful place,” K says.  “We did a 12-mile hike through the crater at night during a full moon. That picture was taken at the beginning. I was just coming up on acid and bonding with the mountains.”

K makes it a point to get out of New York at least once a month. They like New York because one can carve out a niche here doing anything and they can charge the most money here. But many of their friends have moved away in the last few months and there is nothing in particular tying K to the place, so they are considering moving eventually.

I recently spent a few days with K at a friend’s weekend-long lake house gathering in Western Massachusetts. They told me they were busy these days building their Web site, getting more tattoos and piercings, transitioning, booking clients, traveling and starting an apprenticeship in body modification. K is making enough money these days to outsource the Web design, copy writing and photography on their Web site to others. “It’s going great. I essentially run my own business and it’s really fulfilling.”

“I don’t think I experience many of the cons that a lot of sex workers do because I live in such an open community,” K says. They are helping their lover get into sex work. “There is no shame there. Nobody is looking at me and saying, ‘you’re a whore and you should feel bad,’ I have nothing but support from people. It’s not a secret. Everybody knows. So I don’t have a double life to live.“

Still, K is only 20 and considering the permanent effects of some of the changes they’re making, I couldn’t help but wonder whether they’ll change their mind at some point. “I can’t tell you what’s going to happen,” they say. “But I already have a lot of permanent things on my body. When I took T, it felt right and it still feels right. The way that I’m experiencing my body now, even with the few changes that have happened, makes so much more sense to me. I don’t think that I’m making the wrong decision.”

5 thoughts on “Playing with Fire

  1. agreed…it is always a worry someone that young. But we have our own journeys to make – and it is good that you are there as well, as guide and as friend. I agree with you about gender. It really is a spectrum….which is why I have always felt such a freak within myself….I love this beautiful blog of yours.

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