It would be difficult to explain why being a sex worker and sexual performer came so easily for me, so naturally, and perhaps it doesn't need an explanation.
I've simply always felt fairly comfortable in my own skin, and discovered my exhibitionistic tendencies while still in high school. Without a doubt, I've always thrived on attention, and relished participating in performance. I am one of the only people I know who actually grew up to become exactly what I always wanted to be, and, after winning not just one, but two AVN awards, accomplished even more than i had ever dreamed.
I first started working in strip clubs at 19. people always ask if I was nervous my first time on stage, but I wasn't; I was exhilarated. When it came to meeting customers and doing dances, making that visceral, sexual connection with people was more than just a way for me to make a living. I was providing a service that some people needed, desperately: attention, affection, desire, touch. Doing this work was emotionally fulfilling and enjoyable. I had a venue to express myself as well as encourage others to do the same, in a way that mainstream society often shuns and judges as not having value.
When I started working in adult entertainment and gaining notoriety in the industry as a performer, I hadn't thought so deeply into it - just that it was a great time and that it made me feel good to make others feel good. But as the years have gone on, and I've gotten more mature and more thoughtful about the meaning sexual performance can have, I've also received hundreds of emails and correspondence from people about what it has meant to them. I've gotten letters from people who felt stuffed in a closet, so to speak, and said that watching me be myself has shown them that they, too can be free to live authentically; from husbands and wives who've said that they've been able to be more open with each other about their desires and it's greatly helped their marriages; from people who were raised in oppressive religions but from watching me and listening to the things I have to say have been able to release that shame that was instilled in them and enjoy their sexuality. . .and as I've heard these things over the years and looked within myself, I've come to realize my purpose in life. I am here to inspire. It is and will continue to be my life's work to inspire as many people as possible to let go of shame; to embrace pleasure and love; to let go of fear, especially of fear about what others will think of you; to have courage to stand up for who you are; to live freely and with joy and with no guilt; to absolutely be true to yourself above all other things! It is my belief that this is the only way to find peace.
“This above all: to thine own self be true. And it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.” -Shakespeare, Hamlet
When I met Anastasia in 2003, I was deep in the throes of a horrible relationship that tragically lasted for 9 years. I was incredibly weak, co-dependent, easily and endlessly manipulated, and desperately in love with and friends with people who were undeserving of the copious amount of love that I had to offer.
The times when she and I would run off somewhere to do a photo shoot together were times I could feel connected to myself, times I could feel creative and free. But then it was always right back into this place of darkness when we returned. I was stuck in a bad situation. As the years went by, and Anastasia and I lost touch, I had really resigned myself to just being miserable. It was strange how I had just accepted that this would be my life – I would get joy, passion, and connectedness when I went to work, but simply wouldn't have that at home.
By the time I finally gathered the courage to find the better life for myself that I knew was out there, I had been in this emotionally abusive relationship for so long that I had grown to believe that this was how people were, this was how people treated each other in relationships. I was high on life and feeling freedom for the first time in almost ten years, for the first time in my adult life, and I thought for sure i'd be enjoying single life for at least two years. I didn't *want* a relationship, I expected casual encounters, actual dating experiences, playing the field, and all the life education that came from that.
It was only 4 months after leaving my previous life that Ray came into my world. At first I tried really hard (we both did, actually) not to let this move too fast, not to fall in love. It was too soon! Although I could feel the realness in his person, could see the truth in his eyes, I could barely believe that someone would be so honest with me. Upfront about his feelings, open with communication, and easy with affection and passion, I started to see that right here in front of me was the real life embodiment of what I had always wished for. I gave in. I stopped trying to control my feelings. I opened myself up to possibility. We both did. We decided it was worth it: even if it ended up not working out, it was worth taking the ride.
Four and a half years later, we got married. It was literally the happiest day of my life. I absolutely married the person of my dreams. When I think back on my previous life, I find it hard to believe that I kept myself in that place for so long, that I felt so stuck and without options. It's strange because I knew this other world, this happier existence was waiting for me on the other side, it was just so hard to bring myself to do what I needed to to go and get it. Instead I suffered for years. Sometimes I do wish I could go back and tell that girl how much better it gets, comfort her, and tell her she does have the strength! But, I wouldn't have it any other way. Everything in my life led to the moment that I met Ray, and it was all more than worth it.
I couldn't wait to be a part of this project and put myself in front of Anastasia's camera again, over ten years after our first photography sessions. I've always seen her ability to capture truth and innocence in her subjects, and in these pictures I see my rough edges, I see how time and experience have changed me, and I see the beauty and honesty in that. i wanted to see that, and i wanted to expose it and share it. And that's what I wanted to be a part of.
I tend to hide behind my tattoos. I grew up not having much self-esteem: being the youngest of 6 brothers I wasn't afforded much attention, and for obvious reasons, my parents were spread pretty thin. I was also in many very volatile relationships where my feelings were put on the "not important list" behind their own issues. When I started getting tattooed, I found myself more beautiful, and with every new tattoo I myself became "new and improved.”
Over the course of 13 years I have gained a new sense of self, and at times became an extremely self-confident person to a fault. There was a time in my life when I was so cocky that though I made new friends easily they got tired of me very quickly.
I still tend to hide behind my tattoos at times, when I’m in a situation where I need to look like the “tough guy” or when I’m in an uncomfortable position and need to hide inside myself and let my outside be who I need to be at that moment, but I no longer feel like I am “good-looking” just because of my artwork. People sometimes look at me and don't see past the tattoos, they just judge. I am above average height being 6'3" and sometimes the tattoos make me look scary or intimidating to some, which helps with uncomfortable settings and situations. The point being that if you were to see me on the street you wouldn't have a clue that i was actually a big teddy bear full of love and not violent at all.
It wasn't until I met my wife Rachel that I was truly free to be myself. That was all I needed to break the over-confidence and just be me. To just be me, without the veil of ink that I used to hide behind, is liberating. I used to put that aspect of my life ahead of my true self because honestly, I didn't like who I was, I only liked image I portrayed. I showed strength outside so that no one could see the delicate inside. That was more important to me. My feelings were masked by a colorful exterior to hide my insecurities. It's interesting how we make ourselves wear these invisible cloaks of armor. I feel like a great man was always there, hidden in fear of rejection because I wasn't allowed to be myself.
Now, I am that man.
"AM after the Strip Joint" by Rachel
AM after the Strip Joint.
I was going to wash my face but i do have enough energy to shower so i step in the hot water, pick up the small shard of soap,
and rinse away all the traces of the various men i've encountered throughout the night, who were kind enough to surrender their precious dollars for a few brief moments of shelter in my arms,
so that i might pay my rent and enjoy vacations in destinations that most of them will never see.
For a few minutes in the dark, i am their sexual surrogate Mother, mutually beneficial acceptance, bearing the burden of their need to feel desired, wanted, even for a minute,
and at the end of the night i watch it all swirl down the drain.