Sasha: The burden of carnal knowledge

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Dear Sasha,

My mother has been in a relationship with a man for over 10 years.

They met in the late 90s on ICQ (if you remember that early social networking application). She had just come out of a really bad and messy divorce from my father, and this man had come out of a divorce as well.

Mum and this man live together. They're common-law, in each other's wills, they share bank accounts. His kids and I are all grouped together as one family now. He makes her happy in a way that she never was with my father. And if she's happy, I'm happy.

But he left his email account open today on a computer we all share, and being the snoop that I am, I discovered that not only is he dating and having sex with other women he meets online (old habits die hard), but now he has also started having sex with men (new habit?).

If he and Mum have an open relationship and she knows about this and he is using protection, then I don't care. It's none of my business. But knowing Mum, this is definitely something she would not be game for. (She's old fashioned in that sense.)

I'm now completely torn on several issues. 1.) He's lying to her, like my dad did. 2.) He's cheating on her, like my dad did. 3.) He could potentially pass her some STD he's picked up (don't know if he uses condoms in these encounters) 4.) If I tell her, it would be far more devastating to her than what she went through with my father 5.) Why the fuck should I have the burden of telling her? Why can't he?

I want to confront him, but I don't know how. I want to tell her, but I don't think I can, don't think I should. I think he should.

Cheaters Live In Toronto

One of my favourite questions from the Proust Questionnaire is "On what occasion do you lie?"

Invariably, people say something along the lines of "To spare someone's feelings." How gallant, but I think if they were required to elaborate, many people would have to admit that often the feelings they are trying spare are their own. Look at the question from another angle: would you rather have your feelings protected than be told the truth?

The problem we have here, Cheaters, is that when you go snooping, you're almost guaranteed to find stuff you want to see but in the end don't want to know -- be it an order for a nose hair trimmer or a fisting date in Queen's Park.

I agree you shouldn't have to tell your mother about her man's indiscretions, but you shouldn't have gone grubbing and, through your own doing, made yourself a voluntary witness to some very messy shit you cannot and do not want to be held accountable for.

This holds some truth even in situations where we involuntarily acquire information and then decide to bear the burden of disclosure. Honestly, have we learnt nothing from Jersey Shore?

Yes, it should never be your job to tell a loved one or friend their partner is a lying fuckwad who may be compromising their health. But like it or not, you deliberately took that job on, and now it's really up to you how you will deal with it. If you're asking me how I would deal with it, well that's simple. I like parrot-beak secateurs myself.

I would also offer to organize a lesbian shunning for you (we've been due for one in Toronto for almost two years now, and fall is such a great season for them), but I can't guarantee the efficacy of it if the shunned isn't a dyke, too.

Despite my own medieval solutions to betrayal, the fact is, people's intimate relationships are complicated. When you choose to investigate the sordid details, you don't have to bear the burden of insight -- you have elected to.

Ex-worker

Dear Sasha,

I'm a former escort who just got out of the industry, and I'm wondering if there are any support groups for people like me. It could be an online group or other.

SH

Both abolitionist and pro-sex-work organizations offer strategies for people who want to leave or who have left the sex industry. Abolitionist groups tend to focus on the psychic damage incurred by sex work, while pro-sex-work groups generally take a more inclusive approach, understanding that people do sex work for a variety of reasons and, as such, require different resources.

For example, while a group like REED (Resist Exploitation, Embrace Dignity) says it supports women in and out of the sex trade, the language and actions employed by the organization do not reflect this. From their website: "There is an uncontrolled male demand for sexual access to the bodies of women (and children), and the supply for this demand is met through violating the dignity of women. It is our conviction that in order to stem the tide of human trafficking, we must end the demand for paid sex. Demand flourishes in an atmosphere of anonymity."

REED also holds demonstrations outside strip clubs, standing, as they say, "in silent solidarity with the women inside and outside the club." This patronizing double talk also comes across in the term they use for ex-sex workers, "formerly prostituted," as though there is no possibility for choice in this profession. Ending the demand for paid sex does not stop trafficking. If history is any indication, abolition only drives business further underground, leaving those who work, whether by choice or not, in an even more precarious position.

While it's unreasonable to deny that this industry has been rough for many people, you may want to try groups that look more at the broader experiences people have. Organizations that view sex work only as coercive and harmful reinforce that perspective with strident and misleading rhetoric that lacks sensitivity and reason. From REED's website again: "Prostitution is inherently violent and involves the systematic exploitation of women."

A poster for the group's Buying Sex Is Not A Sport campaign implies that every act of sex work is rape. For those who have been raped as well as had more complex experiences as intimate service providers, this is a leap in logic that can only be described as breathtakingly insensitive.

Organizations like Stella actually do stand in solidarity with sex workers, both current and former. Find it online at chezstella.org.

This column was originally published in NOW Magazine. Ask Sasha:

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