Even This Shall Pass Away

"The Body of a Courtesan in Nine Stages of Decomposition" by Kobayashi Eitaku (1870)

“The Body of a Courtesan in Nine Stages of Decomposition” by Kobayashi Eitaku (1870)

Lady fairest ever seen
Was the bride he crowned his queen.
Pillowed on the marriage-bed,
Whispering to his soul, he said,
“Though a bridegroom never pressed
Dearer bosom to his breast,
Mortal flesh must come to clay:
Even this shall pass away.”
  –  Theodore Tilton, “The King’s Ring

Every year on the Day of the Dead I write about why the holiday exists, why it is necessary, and why ruining the quality of life in an attempt to increase its quantity is both foolish and ultimately futile.  To those who have only started reading me this year, or who have only read a few selected pieces over a longer time, this might seem a strange topic for a harlot; one might expect death to be the farthest pole from my topic, except perhaps for mentioning it as an extreme manifestation of whore stigma or when paying my respects on December 17th.  But in truth, it’s both predictable and appropriate on a personal, professional and philosophical level.

From a personal standpoint, I would probably have written often on this topic even had I never become a card-carrying prostitute; I was a strange, wild, moody Wednesday Addams of a child, born on Halloween night and fascinated with horror lore and imagery.  Autumn was both my native season and the one in which I felt most comfortable, and I struggled with depression for over twenty years until at long last sex work helped me to get a handle on itMy favorite books, stories and even songs mostly tend to involve death or other melancholy elements, and just look at the stories I’ve published on my blog and in my book (or just the cover of the damned thing, for goddess’ sake!)  So if you’ve read more than a handful of my (burnt) offerings and were still surprised that I sometimes think and write about death, you just haven’t been paying attention.

Professionally speaking, I must point out that whores often deal with the dark side of human nature.  Fear and sex are inextricably intertwined, and men who have rape fantasies or other “bad” urges may seek out sex workers to help them explore these in a safe and non-judgmental space; others, unfortunately, may seek out unwilling sex workers for the same reason, and the only “safety” they seek is their own relative safety from legal consequences.  Dominatrices and some fetish workers specialize in dealing with the darker aspects of human sexuality, and in criminalized, semi-criminalized and quasi-criminalized systems virtually all sex workers (especially those who work the street) are at a much greater risk of violence or even death than their domesticated amateur sisters.  And nobody who is afraid of death, or who views it as an unpleasant subject improper for polite company, could do the work I do now; take a look at a few items in any of my TW3 columns and I think you’ll see what I mean.

It is no accident that sex workers are among the most dedicated worshippers of the Mexican death-goddess, Santa Muerte, and that many of the myths surrounding pagan whore-goddesses (who were sometimes war-goddesses as well) involved violence and death; even long before criminalization of sex work was the norm, it was recognized that sex itself comes from the same hidden parts of the human psyche as those less-pleasant things.  Sex originates from the deepest wellsprings of life, but so does death; the latter is no less a biological process than the former.  Sex brings new life into the world, but death sustains that life; every one of us (yes, even vegans) continues his existence at the expense of the other lives we consume every single day in order to keep our internal fires burning and repair our damaged or worn-out tissues with materials stolen from the dead.  Not even plants are innocent of this colossal carnage; since some substances (such as phosphorus) are comparatively scarce, all life would soon grind to a halt were the constant supply of corpses to be choked off.  Nor is sex itself all moonlight and love songs; in many species it’s a brutal, coercive affair, and even among humans it can never be purged of its bestial and terrifying aspects, no matter how much feminists and other puritans insist that it can.  Sex and death are our constant reminders that for all our pretensions we are still animals; no wonder those uncomfortable with that fact try to disguise and sanitize both of them, to hide them from the children and speak about them in whispers, to bind them in legal codes and bury them under layers of ritual.  But no matter how deeply we bury our sexualities they reassert themselves, and no matter how diligently we try to delay death, it will come when it will come.  Both are impossible to ignore and impossible to prevent, and human society would be a lot better off if we learned to accept both as indisputable facts of material existence.

(Cross-posted from The Honest Courtesan)

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