the ghost in the room (on Grace Bellavue)
Updated: Jul 11, 2019
"Nefarious escort, writer, miscreant and vagabond with a penchant for scotch and hip hop”....read the Twitter bio from Grace Bellavue's account back in 2010. A trailblazer of the social media scene having accumulating 27,000 followers half a decade before it was commonplace to have reached the ranks of even 5k. Grace was a world famous heaux before that was even a thing. She was a bit of a local celebrity in Adelaide Australia from where she hailed, and as I fondly remember her most: a wildly outspoken decriminalization activist, even speaking on the TEDx conference stage in 2012 in Adelaide. She was ahead of her time, that one. More than anything, Grace was fun. She was whip-smart, gregarious and had an absolute potty-mouth. Hilarious professional memories of threesomes together and tender personal memories created over 25yr Scotch and conversation to ring in her birthday - up all night talking until the sun rose. Grace wore her vulnerability, she was brave, and strong. As a friend I admired her for how unapologetically she allowed the world to see her...even at moments when for self-preservation it might have been better to fade back. Living out loud is what Grace knew and those of us who loved her and knew her well...we embraced her like this. A bit of a tortured soul, the way the brilliant often are, she left us too soon.
Just a few months past, October 2017 marked two years since Grace Bellavue died, aged 28. Grace, who's real name was Pippa O'Sullivan. In the hours that followed her death, as her community of peers and friends became aware of the terrible news, "Grace Bellavue" was trending on social media. Then some days after her passing, the city of Adelaide Australia released hundreds of balloons to honor her during a public memorial. **Please pause to take that in for a moment** a city of 1.3 million chose to publicly honor a sex worker. This should tell you anything you need to know about Pippa; she was a woman both loved and respected, inside the industry and out.
In the wake of her death, and as the conversation surrounding mental health and addiction has encountered a strong shift in recent years, still much of it reductive. There were countless bullshit articles that came out about Grace and her death. Most journalists who wrote about Grace after she died should be ashamed of themselves, finding a way of painting her a sad stereotype; an insult to her memory. So much of Grace's career and professional writings were to dispel the long standing myths and stereotypes that marginalize people working in the sex trade. If you never knew Grace or Pippa, you'll have to take my word that she was something special. If you'd like to read anything online about Grace - don't read Google. Read her blog which still lives online here and read this article released the days following her passing - A Memorium.
Of all her many online ramblings and personal writings, I think my favourite is "The Ghosts In The Room". This was one of he last blogs she wrote, and on a subject many career sex workers know well. When the job of being a companion isn't always about lust, desire and lingerie and giggling over bottles of champagne or glamorous international travel dates with the world's top 1%. Sometimes our work is about catharsis and healing and grief. When I first read this piece by Grace, I cried. I recognized this scene she painted, the weight of it and the beauty of it...as an escort I have been in the same room, and with the same ghosts many times before.
The ghosts in the room.
September 12, 2013
"Grief is something I quite frequently come across in my work amongst the myriad of clients I see. For some it is a past grief, others an incredibly painful recent grief. For others it’s the sharing of a slow death of their loved one due to terminal disease.
The needs and expectations of these clients are incredibly intimate, filled with guilt and requiring a large degree of my compassion and empathy. The wine infused “quick fuck” or porn star style sex isn’t what they need.
They need my ears more than they need my arse, they need my gentleness rather than they need my passion, and they need my empathy more than they need my technical skill.
I often get the sense that there is a “Ghost in the Room”.
It is often a subterranean psychological presence for both of us in the booking – Deeply ingrained memories of the touch and caress of the departed or departing loved ones echo in the way we interact with each other.
I watch him awkwardly undress. At twenty-eight the fitness of youth has half turned to softness across the arms and chest. Beautiful eyes are paired with hesitant hands that shake as he removes his various articles of clothing. Half masked by the stench of bars and scotch, he mumbled an apology.
“I’m sorry, I haven’t done this in a while. Let alone with a hook-I mean prostitute. Sorry.”
“It’s all good. Would you like a hand?
As I walk over to him I see the tremor rise as his dutch courage starts to fall away. Joking with him as I remove a belt, fumble with a button, dis-engage a sock and carefully place a shoe under a chair. A jolt runs through me as I feel him slowly place a hand on my arse.
“You’re so soft.” I smile. “It would be a bit awkward if my arse was calloused and hairy, no?” He laughs and relaxes whilst his hand carefully starts moving across the curves of my body. “Can I touch them?”
His eyes linger on my breasts and his palm hesitates. I nod.
Sliding underneath the lingerie layers of lace and gauze he cups the underside of my breast, measuring their weight. Fingers flick across nipples.
I love watching their breathing intensify, the chest expand, pupils dilate. My hand rises to his jaw and caresses it, tracing along half grown stubble, my half parted lips circling around his ears and down his neck.
“Can I kiss you?” “Of course you can.”
He tasted half boozed tinged with the hint of cigarettes. His tongue started on my lips circulating before he bit my lip. I could taste his need in the back of my throat and my back arched as his dug his fingers in so hard I gasped.
There is an incredible sensuality that is created in those that have been deprived for so long.
In his speech, movements and intentions there is an echo of the love that was there before. Your body listens, knows, responds, senses, acknowledges and understands that this is a dual layered encounter. Ultimately there is us and also her providing the bed on which we have to make a step forward.
The soup of emotion in which we swim is viscous with fear, guilt, loneliness, need and insecurity. Within him is the desire not to disrespect a living or dying partner. It’s an incredibly intimate sexual experience with a stranger.
To treat you as a service provider as any less than his wife, girlfriend or love that has passed only ultimately disrespects what went before you. To have anything less than that connection seems like a betrayal. Yet you cannot be another. You must begin to assert yourself and pick apart the threads.
We left the room and he asked if I could spend the night at his house. The silence in the taxi was followed with stumbling apologies over mess and pouring of bourbon in his townhouse. Leading me outside we began to laughing and joking as we occupied his courtyard, drink in hand, world contemplating.
“Would you like to come upstairs?” Barefooted I skipped up the stairs, pausing on the landing. I gazed the assorted instruments stranded near mixing equipment. “You play guitar?” “Not for a while.” He took my hand. “Bedroom’s to the right.” The half-darkness concealed the dishevelled sheets and half empty glasses of bourbon scattered across the bedside tables. “Sorry for the mess again.” “All good – my room isn’t much better to be honest.” “Lights on or off?” “Honestly? Maybe off. I spend so much time having sex in broad daylight or high light, it almost feels naughty to have sex in the dark.” “The idiosyncrasies of your job perhaps?” “Perhaps.” “Can I get you anything?” He hesitated. “Come here.” “Wait – you like showers?” “I love showers. I could spend half my life with water cascading down my back. Only thing that makes me feel quiet I guess.” “You are a fucking hundred million miles an hour you know that?” “I know, but I feel calm inside If that makes any difference?” “Eye of the storm? Sort of makes sense to us poor dumb bastards that get caught in the rain around you.” He was good at making me smile. “Wait here.”
Spread-eagled amongst the sheets I contemplated the ceiling. What an unusual job I’d chosen for myself. Wanting, desiring to be so intimate with strangers on such a regular basis. Nothing else was as exciting, so exposing, so forming, so constantly life changing as this.
“Ready?” He came back in the room and stood in the doorway naked. “You coming?” I slowly disentangled myself from the sheets. “Give a girl a second.” “Come on. I need to tell you something.” I followed him into the bathroom.
It was alit with hundreds of tea candles. Across the basin, the bath, around the shower screens.
“You like?” “Yeah, it’s beautiful. Thank you.” He smiled. “Come here bubble butt.”
We entered the shower cubicle. His palms pushed against my belly forcing my back against the shower screen. I shuddered as the cold of the glass pressed against my arse. My nipples hardened.
“Hey, step back OK?” His palms guided me slowly to a corner, his left hand pulling back to play with the water temperature. “I don’t want you to burn yourself.”
I am in an industry in which I am an object. I’m a fuckable hole and something to be degraded, debated and bantered about amongst men. Yet these constant, continuous moments of consideration, care and respect between two adults is the reality in which I inhibit. Perhaps it is not men that is the problem, but the forced behaviour in groups of men which is the problem we all debate.
The water cascaded down upon us as we enacted yet another slow, sensual, timeless exploratory consideration of each other’s bodies in the warmth of the illuminated bathroom.
My hands toyed with the shower caddy as I fingered some body shop products, strawberry shower gel and a female razor. Contemplated playing with him, hands slick with products.
“I must admit, I noticed you have unusual beauty products for a male.” “It’s hers.” “Who is she?” “Katie, I loved her.” He crumpled a little. “She, is, an ex? “She died. Some cunt of a fucking doctor gave her the wrong fucking drugs and they reacted. One minute we were in love – twenty four hours later she was dead.” “How long ago?” “Almost eighteen months. I haven’t been with anyone since.” “Do you miss her?” “So fucking much it hurts.”
His back slid against the tiled wall until he was squatting in the shower.
I followed him with the line of my body. Back braced I spread my legs. Identical twins physically, I laid my hand on his thigh.
His body found its’ way between my legs. Back against breasts, head against shoulder, both dripping wet.
“I know some pussies wrote some lyrics about crying in the rain, but I’m glad you can’t see it.” “Doesn’t mean I can’t feel it.” I pulled the wet strands of hair across his forehead. I feel so much like my mother in these situations. Touch. Caress. Console. “Are those products still hers?” “Yeah, I can’t get rid of them. I don’t know how to begin without her. I can’t talk about her to others because they tell me to let go. I can’t fuck anyone else because they aren’t her. Thank you – for giving me a genuine depth to something I don’t still understand.” “I bet she was beautiful.” “So incredibly beautiful.”
I sat like a mother for a few hours, as the raining of the shower turned into a hybrid mix of his tears and my empathy, and I just listened. I talk so much it is almost cathartic to often share so much pain with a stranger, for once I can be silent and truly learn. As a woman, it is in these moments I feel truly in tune with the generational compassion that flows with the women in my family.
He’s not the only one. There’s a multitude of clients I’ve crossed paths with in my lifetime with similar stories. Some are fucking away the grief of love from divorce or a break up. Others are supporting a partner through a terminal disease.
They are often the most guilt ridden – health issues have removed the possibility of intimacy in a relationship full of love. From a psychological perspective these males have become the bearers of responsibility both financially, mentally and emotionally within the family unit whilst other pillars are crumbling. Momentary respite is paramount and healing.
There’s an infinite shades of grey in my work. I am often left with more questions than I am answers. But within the façade of my work – these private moments are what I truly love and gain the most worth from my work.
For all the ghosts in the room that have watched me, I hope I gave no disrespect."