I am non-monogamous by choice, not just by de facto circumstance because of the fact that I am an escort. I live with one of my serious partners, and have a few other partners and sexy friends. I’ve never been suited to monogamy, and sex work has always played a role in that for me. When I was a baby sex worker and dancing at a sleazy club, my emotionally abusive boyfriend at the time asked me to quit, after initially telling me he was fine with it. His reasoning was that he just couldn’t stand the thought of me even flirting with other men. I quit quickly after that conversation, telling myself it was because I hated the work and not because of his jealousy. It was mostly because I didn’t want to lose him, though. He continued to abuse me after that, eventually forcing me to isolate myself emotionally from anyone other than him. His jealousy forced me to work jobs that were even less emotionally healthy for me than dancing at that club or PSOing and camming were. He used heteromonogamous norms to assert complete control over every aspect of my life. Eventually, I woke up and quit him for good. He retaliated by smashing out the windows on my car. I consider myself pretty lucky to have never been physically assaulted by him.
After that, I refused to have anything to do with anyone who felt they had any dominion over my sexual choices. I was in a couple of relationships that were monogamish in between then and now, but always with the understanding that I was free to have sex with whomever I pleased if the circumstances were right. Now I will only be in relationships with people who fully understand that I am my own person who makes my own choices, both sexually and emotionally. While I am not the sort of person to tell people what do with their lives or how to structure their relationships, I find the expectation that every relationship should be monogamous to be highly problematic.
Last week I awoke to the news of what happened to Christy Mack, the adult film star who was sexually assaulted, severely beaten and nearly killed by her ex-boyfriend, mixed martial arts fighter Jonathan “War Machine” Koppenhaver. According to a statement she released last Monday, she and a friend were attacked by Koppenhaver when he showed up at her house unannounced and found them there together. One part of her statement stuck out to me, and I’ve been thinking about it all week. In Mack’s words:
When he arrived, he found myself and one other fully clothed and unarmed in the house.
What really got me was the choice to state that her friend and she were fully clothed. This woman was assaulted by her ex to the point of being hospitalized in serious condition, and she still felt pressure to highlight the fact that Koppenhaver had not caught her in an act of sexual indiscretion. It shouldn’t matter; not only because he is her ex, it just shouldn’t ever matter. Catching someone having sex with someone else should never be an excuse to attack them.
I wondered if the fact that she is a sex worker was part of her reasoning behind including that information in her statement. I wondered if it was his jealousy and the emotional abuse he must have put her through for her porn performance. I wondered if it was just the simple fact that we live in a society where monogamy is the default, and people expect you to include that sort of information when you and a male friend are attacked in your home by your ex. Maybe it was the question everyone, from cops to friends to journalists, was already asking her. Probably all of these factors were on her mind as she wrote the statement.
Sex workers often seem to take the brunt of the violence and stigma that stems from a culture that passively accepts sexual fidelity to be the norm. In a society where possessiveness and jealousy are seen as natural, expected, or even virtuous, it’s no wonder that everyone immediately begins to wonder if a brutalized sex worker like Christy Mack was caught having sex outside of a monogamous relationship. Even when we learn that this was not the case, some people will still assume she brought this wrath upon herself because at some point in her life she was unable to keep her legs closed. When a sex worker is assaulted, it is often assumed that it was their choice to do sex work—their choice to sleep around—that ultimately provoked the attack. For many, Mack’s perceived promiscuity rationalized the feelings of her attacker.
When it comes to sexual and romantic relationships outside of sex work, jealousy plays a huge role in most abusive situations. In a particularly telling tweet—which, if I am interpreting the time stamp correctly, was posted the night of the attack—Koppenhaver continues to attempt endear himself to his audience with his charming, abusive, psychopathic personality:
It’s clear that Koppenhaver believes he owns Mack. Most people would agree that this level of entitlement is terrifying. However, when someone feels that way about a sex worker, people tend to be a little more understanding of that entitlement. Many people might imagine this poor, wretched War Machine alone at home, nursing a beer while Mack cuckolds him for a living. Many people might start to empathize with him; understand how he could have so much pent up anger when she fucked around on him like that.
Monogamy seems to fail the most marginalized in our society the hardest. The expectations it places on women especially have patriarchy written all over them. Jealousy and possessiveness have always been, and continue to be, used to excuse men’s violence. Don’t “crimes of passion” still carry lesser sentences? Spontaneous beatings, rapes and murders committed in a fog of jealous rage are considered forgivable. When someone who identifies as female is messing around on her partner, brutality is “understandable.” She may even be called a whore during the attack. When someone who identifies as male is caught cheating, he more often than not gets high fives and commiseration from his friends. His partner will likely be angry, may even break up with him, but they are far less likely to use it as an excuse for violence. If they do, they are likely to end up in prison for the rest of their lives, unlike their male crime of passion counterparts.
What’s most disturbing to me, though, is the fact that when a sex worker is attacked, more people than we care to admit secretly think, “Well, the whore had it coming.” I don’t think there’s any denying that many of the ideals that fuel monogamy and fidelity are dangerous for women, and especially female-identified sex workers. The expectations behind monogamy need to change to allow for personal sexual autonomy so that they don’t continue to justify abuse. Jealousy needs to stop being an excuse for violence.