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Wednesday, May 8, 2013

97

My Brother, My Mother, and a Call Girl

My brother Danny lost his virginity at age 25. To a call girl named Monique. Hired by our mother.

My mother didn’t bother asking Danny for his permission before engaging Monique’s services. She didn’t ask my father to condone the transaction. Nor was she troubled by social mores or laws against solicitation. She deserves a Mother of the Year Award.

There was a reason for my mother's taboo-busting parenting. Danny was born with a rare, incurable genetic disease that affects the development and function of the nervous system. The typical lifespan for children born with Familial Dysautonomia was then about five years. My mother rolled up her sleeves, strapped on her stilettos, and ignored the statistic. A parent now myself, I wonder if I have half my mother’s grit and grace.

You might say the call girl was just one of the treatment protocols my mother improvised. Growing up, Danny suffered severe reflux that caused recurrent pneumonias, so my parents learned how to perform at-home pulmonary therapy, suctioning Danny’s nasal passages and gently thumping his back and chest. Danny's eyes didn’t produce natural tears, so he administered eye drops throughout the day to prevent corneal abrasions. An extreme curvature of the spine and hunched shoulders required Danny to wear a special back brace and eventually to undergo a risky spinal fusion surgery.

Danny's poor balance and coordination made it impossible for him jump or skip, catch a ball, ride a bicycle, or drive a car. By the time he was an adult, he could barely walk unaided.

All this was bad, but his greatest health peril occurred when his body failed to regulate its responses to physical or emotional stress, turning anything from a minor cold or test-taking jitters into a life-threatening emergency marked by uncontrollable vomiting and wildly oscillating blood pressure and heart rate. These horrifying events landed Danny in the Intensive Care hospital ward scores of times. To attempt to arrest the deadly cycle, Danny practiced relaxation techniques, and doctors taught our parents how to administer Thorazine or Valium injections.

Remarkably, when Danny was 22 surgeons affiliated with the Familial Dysautonomia Foundation performed a breakthrough procedure to tighten his esophagus and prevent the menace of intractable vomiting.

The results were life-altering, and Danny’s anxiety about the sudden onset of a vomiting crisis dissipated. His health improved along with his confidence. With the encouragement of his doctors and our parents, Danny decided he was ready to get his own apartment. 

It was the late 1980s, and a building boom in downtown Denver was underway. An Embassy Suites Hotel was going up, and there were a few floors reserved for long-term leases. My parents struck a deal on a swanky one-bedroom with drop-dead views of the Rocky Mountains — the ideal bachelor pad.

That’s when my mother dared to dream the kinds of dreams most mothers take for granted. "I thought someday he'd meet a girl," she confides.

It wasn’t entirely beyond the realm of possibility. A sociology major at Colorado University in Denver, Danny was frequently in the company of other young adults. He was charming and outgoing, with a mop of chestnut brown hair, long, delicate fingers and a fuzzy moustache he’d grown at our mother’s urging. Danny's laugh was infectious, and he was a dapper dresser, right down to his argyle socks.  But even after puberty Danny remained diminutive in size — 5’1" and all of 110 pounds on a good day.

There was a piano bar in his building catering to hotel guests and business people who worked downtown. My brother liked to hang out there in the evenings, enjoying the music and nursing a bottle of Perrier. Picture George Clooney rendered as a Sesame Street Muppet. That was our Danny.

My mother envisioned him with a young woman inclined to focus more on the George Clooney part, someone small in stature, maybe with a mild disability.  She fantasized about Danny getting married and maybe having children of his own.

And she longed for something very basic for Danny: the experience of physical intimacy. "I understood that he was already growing and developing like any other male. I looked upon Danny as going through different markers. Sex was just another marker that was necessary but delayed."

But my mother knew Danny’s first sexual encounter entailed more than simply finding the right girl. For all my brother’s charms, he wasn’t what one would call a smooth operator. For example, Danny was blissfully unaware of a tiny drip of urine that often bloomed around the crotch of his pants. "I didn't want to embarrass him over such a small thing," my mother shrugs.

She’d become a lay expert on the autonomic nervous system. She knew, for instance, that the parasympathetic branch controls penile erections, whereas ejaculations are functions of the sympathetic branch. Danny could have erections, that much we’d all had occasions to notice at morning time. What my mother didn’t know was whether Danny could ejaculate or have a child of his own. "I was particularly interested in the possibility of procreation. In those days, parents expected to become grandparents."

My mother’s consultations with neurologists and urologists in Denver and New York shed no light on the question. It was a matter for empirical inquiry.  My mother figured a call girl would provide the most expedient solution. So she turned to an acquaintance who struck her as the type who’d "know women."

Jay was a widower whose 20-year-old daughter had Down syndrome. My mother figured he too had considered the dilemma of his daughter’s sexuality. “We were both parents of disabled young adults. We were in the same club.”

Her instincts about Jay were spot on.

“Oh sure! I know several women and one in particular comes to mind. Yeah, I’ll mention it the next time I see her, and I’ll have her give you a call. She's the best!"

Thoughtfully, Jay negotiated the fee, and Monique called my mother to arrange the rest of the details. She was to arrive at my brother's apartment on a Saturday afternoon and leave the next morning. Monique informed my mother she liked to have a bottle of wine in the refrigerator. To help relax, Monique explained. My mother told her to bring a bottle.

Monique asked if my mother wanted to meet her in person.

"No! I didn't want to meet!" my mother recalls with a shriek. Plus, Jay had already vouched for her.

My mother’s next step was to prepare Danny for his upcoming tryst.

“I told him that this was a normal and healthy thing. I said sex is like breathing and eating. It’s something that is part of life.” My mother says Danny didn’t know how to respond. “It was like, ‘duh . . . ’ no real reaction.”

Danny was embarrassed, but finally relented. “Alright, alright already!”

My mother’s final task was to inform my father about the arrangements she’d made.

“I wanted to get everything squared away first. When I finally brought it up, Daddy went bonkers. Absolutely wild.” A street-tough product of Newark public housing, my mother was undeterred. “I didn’t want anything to do with his irrationality, so I just left the room.”

With nearly three decades of marriage under his belt, my father knew it was futile to oppose my mother, so he fell into line. “Okay, just don’t tell me about it! I don’t want to know any details!”

“It didn’t take him long to come around,” my mother smiles.

Finally my brother’s big day rolled around. He’d tidied up his apartment and splashed on Polo cologne.

When Monique arrived in the lobby downstairs, she stepped into the elevator with three residents from the building. They eyed the attractive woman dressed in a skin-tight skirt carrying a bottle of wine. Monique hesitated at the control panel as the others selected their floors.

“Does anybody know what floor Danny Cohen lives on?” she asked as the elevator doors slid shut.

As a matter of fact, all three passengers knew my brother. One was a judge, Danny’s best friend from the building. He’d moved in around the same time as my brother, he worked at the courthouse downtown, and he occasionally joined Danny for a casual meal in the restaurant downstairs. Suddenly the air was so heavy, it seemed like the elevator had malfunctioned.

Moments after Monique exited on Danny’s floor, my parent’s phone rang. It was the judge on the line.

“A loose lady was going up the elevator looking for ‘Daniel Cohen'! Should I call the police?”

“Maybe she’s just a friend from school.”

“Look,” the judge insisted. “She’s an obvious hooker! What the hell does she want with Danny?"

Finally my mother leveled with the judge. “I hired her,” she said.

Even the lawman could see this was the right thing to do. He and my mother had a good laugh.

Laughter aside, my parents respected my brother’s privacy. The next day, they decided not to call him. Had it been an ordinary Sunday, Danny would have called them around 9 a.m.

“We waited around all frapping day and nothing,” says my mother. “No phone call from Danny.”

“Maybe he hasn’t come up for air,” joked my father.

When the phone finally rang, it was Jay. “How’d it go?”

“I don’t know, we haven’t heard a peep from him all day!”

“Don’t worry,” Jay assured my mother. “She’s a great gal, and she knew exactly what to do.”

By mid-afternoon, my mother was overcome by curiosity.  She dialed my brother’s apartment. “So how was it?”

Danny was circumspect. “Everything was fine.”

The call girl provided a more detailed report when she rang my mother a few days later. Danny hadn’t achieved an orgasm.

“That put the question of reproduction to rest,” says my mother. “But he did experience intercourse.”

Within two years, Danny’s balance and walking deteriorated to the point where he’d returned to live with our parents. One evening he and my mother were relaxing in front of the television. They’d watched a Bill Moyers program focusing on death rituals in various cultures, and my mother asked Danny if he ever thought about dying. Danny reflected for a moment.

“Well, no, I mean, maybe if I’d had something serious like Cystic Fibrosis or something.” Was this his characteristic naiveté, or was he considerately shielding my mother from thoughts of his own mortality? We’ll never know.

My mother found Danny the next morning. He was curled on the floor beside his bed like a bird that had fallen from its nest. It was a clear spring morning, less than a week before Mother’s Day. He was 28.

Shortly after Danny's funeral, a man who occasionally gave Danny rides to school dropped by. He was devastated.

“Did Danny ever, um . . . was he ever with a lady?”

My mother told him about Monique.

“You took care of everything!” he said, smiling with relief. "You're quite a lady."

Reflecting on her transaction with Monique, my mother is matter-of-fact. “I’m a realist. This is what needed to be done. For every child, especially one with a disability, a parent wants things to be as normal as possible. Danny experienced all of life. I feel he lived his to the fullest.”

 

Mara Cohen Marks is a writer and mother who lives in Los Angeles.  She celebrates Mother's Day every day. 

97 Comments / Post A Comment

j-i-a

Oh, I love this a LOT.

Drawn7979

@j-i-a
we all love it!

parallel-lines

Wow, very touching (pardon the pun).

If you haven't seen it already, there's a great post on Jezebel about Scarlet Road documentary, which focuses on a sex worker who caters primarily to disabled clients: http://jezebel.com/5863635/the-awesome-sex-worker-who-loves-disabled-clients

When I worked in LTC, there were many people in our nursing home that were still sexually active or hooked up w/ other residents. The admin's view was it was fine among consenting adults - there was the occasional icky situation that required intervention (ahem, comatose wife) but it worked out fine.

Porn Peddler

@parallel-lines I went to a panel on sex work and disability a couple of months ago and I could have listened to those two women talk for days and days.

iceberg

wow, I'm not really sure how to feel about this, but I'm glad it was here and I'm glad I read it. Definitely much respect to Mara & Danny's mum, I can only imagine the kind of internal steel core she must have had to cope with such an intense level of parenting.

laurel

@iceberg I liked this piece a lot--how this family considered the whole-life experiences and needs of a disabled man--but the elision of his consent in hiring the prostitute gave me pause.

Please, no one hire me a calldude without talking to me first.

Emby

@laurel Same.

Quinn A@twitter

@laurel Yeah, I kind of had uncomfortable feelings about that too. Especially when Mara talks about Danny "relenting" with an "alright, alright already!". That does not sound like an experience he was super-enthused about.

It's a well-written piece, and it sounds like Mara's mother is a tough lady who loves the hell out of her kids, but...yeah, uncomfortable feelings.

Emby

@Quinn A@twitter And the father's opposition is described as irrational, which, OK, opposing your adult child's sexual autonomy is irrational, but perhaps it's not super-duper irrational to be weirded out by the manner in which the mom went about it?

par_parenthese

@iceberg @Emby My thoughts exactly. I liked the piece a lot but was a little troubled by what went un-remarked-upon?

claire@twitter

@laurel So, so, so much the same feeling.

Mae
Mae

@laurel Yeah, that made me uncomfortable.

Living My Best Life Far Away from the Hairpin!

@laurel I don't know, I kind of assumed that if he had a really big problem with it or felt that uncomfortable, he could have just not had sex with Monique (and who knows, maybe he didn't and just said he did). It seems that if she was experienced in this type of situation (meaning paid sexual encounters with the disabled, or with anyone maybe), she would understand that her client might have difficulties or be otherwise reluctant. And Danny didn't have mental disabilities, which might mean he would think he would have to do it because Mom (or this lady) said he did, or that he would be unable to give consent.

Miss Maszkerádi

@iceberg I got a slight whiff of "virginity is a terrible burden and virgins are projects to be fixed" about the whole concept of a grown man's mother hiring him a prostitute without even asking. But maybe that's just me...

frigwiggin

@laurel Yeah, I felt pretty uncomfortable about the whole premise, although it's very well-written. It just seems pretty ableist for her to act like his agency in the situation just wasn't very important. Although I do appreciate @Katzen-party's thoughts responding to it--he wasn't forced, sure, but I still felt weird about it.

Virginia Smith@twitter

@Quinn A@twitter Eh, I didn't feel like it was lack of consent or lack of enthusiasm for the experience--as Katzen-party points out, he could've always said "no" to the callgirl herself, who surely wouldn't have minded a paid night of no work. I think it was more simple embarrassment at having his mother involved in such a thing. (Plus maybe the usual anti-sex-worker sentiment that floats around.)

Also, I didn't feel like it wasn't anti-virginity. Just anti-lifelong-unwilling-virginity-when-there's-a-real-solution-to-be-had. It was a kind and practical gesture to hire him a callgirl. If he truly didn't want to have sex with her, he didn't have to. I didn't see it as denying his agency at all. My family's a bit "in your business" sometimes, too. Sometimes, that's cool. Sometimes it's not. That's life, and that's family.

iceberg

@Katzen-party "if he had a really big problem with it or felt that uncomfortable, he could have just not had sex with Monique" i mean sure but how violated would you feel if your mom was all up in your sex business like this? If either one of my parents bulied me into allowing a prostitute into my home for the purpose of banging me when I had already expressed discomfort with the idea, I would feel HORRIBLE. He doesn't have to have less right to refuse just because he's disabled. He's mentally capable of consent so he's also capable of non-consent.

aphrabean

@iceberg Also, the fixation on his fertility was unsettling to me. I understood that she loved her son deeply, but I can't imagine a circumstance where checking up with a sex worker that you hired about your son to see if you someday might be able to get grandchildren isn't pretty invasive.

Living My Best Life Far Away from the Hairpin!

@iceberg I feel like if he was truly and fully opposed to the idea, he could have said no to his mom or turned Monique away at the door. I'm not sure how you inferred that I was saying he had less right to refuse because he's disabled??? If I somehow implied that, it's NOT what I meant. I'm not saying I have absolutely no problems whatsoever with this, but I'm going on good faith that the author here would not have written this story if she thought her brother was horribly traumatized by the incident and was angry at their mother. I don't know that I would want my mother to do this for me (and I'm upset and squicked out especially about her violation of his privacy re: ejaculation)--I have basically NEVER talked to my mother about sex--but I'm a very lucky person in that I don't know what it's like to be disabled/raise a child with a disability that I know is fatal so I feel wary of judging this act too harshly.

iceberg

@Katzen-party I guess as @queenofbithynia and @Pheen said below, we can't assume that it's easy for "someone to just say no," when this is between a mom and her son with a disability and the power dynamic that that engenders.

It just seems like people think it was fine for this mom to basically hound her son into doing this until he "relented" (the word used in the article) because of her feelings about his fertility and his virginity, AND to violate his sexual privacy as you mentioned, in ways that would be clearly unacceptable if he was not disabled.

hallelujah

This was wonderful. What grace and strength you and your family possess. Danny sounds like a righteous dude, and your mom a BAMF of the highest order. Thank you so much for sharing this with us!

ETA: Also, naturally, my office got real dusty all of a sudden.

Snowlion

Wow...what a strong woman...and what a beautiful read with Mother's Day right around the corner. I really admire her straightforward take on life and love.

juksie

Kept the dust out of my eye until "She celebrates Mother's Day every day." I swear, 50% of the time it's the bios that get me.

honey cowl

Ooh, I got goosebumps finishing this. Gorgeous.

Mommy

@honey cowl
There are "markers" in life, particularly back in the 1990's, i.e. Graduating from high school, getting a job, getting married, having children. The progression was more linear than it is now.

mysterygirl

I love this! If anyone is into memoirs and interested in a more extended look at this topic, /How I Became a Human Being: The Autobiography of Mark O'Brien/ is a great look at disability, illness, and issues of sexual surrogacy; I highly recommend it.

BoozinSusan

@mysterygirl Yup, and that was made into the movie The Surrogate, no? I saw it recently and would recommend it.

drydenlane

@BoozinSusan The movie was called the Sessions, but yeah, so good! This did bring the movie to mind, and I loved both.

Danzig!

@drydenlane I liked the film but then I read that the ending is really "cleaned up", at least to the extent that it makes out a happy ending when in actuality he was on record as feeling profoundly alone and unfulfilled around the time of his death. Or at least that's what I read. It made the movie feel cheap to me.

Yatima

I am not a praying woman but dear Lord, let me love my children even a fraction as well as this.

Sierra

wowww yep definitely goosebumps.

Oh, squiggles

"George Clooney rendered as a Sesame Street Muppet"

love, love, <3

The whole thing was great, but that's the best description.

par_parenthese

@Absurd Bird It really really was the best description. I immediately could picture him.

noReally

I would do this. I would absolutely do this. BraVO.

Heat Signature

At first, I was like, "Boundaries?" but then I was like, "Oh, this was pretty cool, actually."

Little_Lakes

@Heat Signature No, I think your first instinct was correct. Danny had no intellectual disabilities - he could have procured an escort for himself if he wanted one. Had this happened to me I would have felt so incredibly violated. The mom is way too involved here...

And! To have your whole family know about it and everyone talking about it and then writing articles ON THE INTERNET about it after your death! Such an incredible violation.

@Little_Lakes Yes, all of this.

Virginia Smith@twitter

@Little_Lakes He might not have had intellectual disabilities, but it sounds like he suffered from his lack of socialization at a young age if he didn't notice things like urine leaking onto his clothes. I'm not sure he was able to navigate society as well as you think he was.

In any case, he could've easily said, "No, thanks" to the callgirl when she arrived. I doubt she would've objected to being paid for a night off.

Some families are very close and don't have a lot of hang-ups about stuff like this. It sounds like this family had to be, due to the sheer amount of physically-intimate acts they had to deal with to care for him. Personally, I wouldn't be ashamed of my family asking about or talking about my sex life on the Internet. (Heck, *I* talk about my sex life on the Internet!) And I wasn't embarrassed to give my mom some fancy lube I picked up at a sex-toy party, either. Neither of us felt "violated" by the exchange or like the other person was "too involved" in our life. That's just how some families are. We don't sit around and chat about sex all the time, but we don't pretend it doesn't happen, either.

In any case, if you want to respect Danny's agency, respect the fact that he chose to experience sex when given the chance, and don't presume what he would or wouldn't have wanted people to talk about after his passing. I would think his family would know better than we do, anyway.

queenofbithynia

@Virginia Smith@twitter

"it sounds like he suffered from his lack of socialization at a young age"

"he could've easily said, "No, thanks" to the callgirl when she arrived."

These things don't really go together. And it is easy to feel powerful and not afraid of a sex worker when you are the one who hired her and are holding money/employment over her, but when it's a lifelong authority figure (parent) who sent a strange adult over to do a thing to you, and she doesn't report to you, she reports to your mom, and her job is not to please you, but to please your mom -- I would find it easy to say no in a situation like that, but I would also find it easy to tell my mom to get her disgusting prurient face out of my business and never speak to me again, and I don't think most people are like that. The way the situation is presented, it would have been less like saying no to a sleazy bar pickup and more like saying no to a scary doctor telling you to get in the stirrups. Technically and literally, you can say no in both cases, but you don't always know it when it counts.

Pheen

@Virginia Smith@twitter as @queenofbithynia says, it's naive to assume that it's easy for "someone to just say no," when this is between a mom and her son with a disability and the power dynamic that that engenders.

i mean, i found the article touching, but i can definitely see why people are uncomfortable about the consent angle.

Little_Lakes

@Virginia Smith@twitter I think you bring up a good point on apparent lack of socialization, however, for me that makes the Mom's actions even more difficult to wrap my head around. Why did she have to go straight to a professional for sex? It sounds like she had hopes for him having a 'normal' relationship, e.g., "My mother envisioned him with a young woman.... someone small in stature, maybe with a mild disability." Well, why not help him develop the social skills that would slowly lead in that direction? I know it is much harder for people with disabilities, but there are dating websites specifically for people with disabilities. He could have met someone, started out slowly with a few conversations, maybe a date, maybe a kiss, etc... Mom hired a prostitute instead. Ok, well, now he's had sex, but he still doesn't have any of the social skills that will lead him to a relationship. It also sounds like this was a one-time, "Let's get Danny laid!" deal, so it's not like the prostitute was teaching him these things.

And I agree with @queenofbithynia and @Pheen on the concept of true consent. Sure he apparently said, "Yes," but the Mom here clearly has a lot of power over her son. The fact that she had Monique (the prostitute) call her and GIVE HER A REPORT after if was all over, just really, really strips away any of Danny's agency here. This was just complete violation of his personal privacy. Did Danny know his Mom was getting a report on his performance afterwards? I suspect not.

Finally, this whole thing just smacks of the idea that sex with another person is a right. It is not a right - it is a privilege.

Little_Lakes

@Little_Lakes One more thought: Our sexuality is one of the few things in life that is ours and ours alone. It helps us separate from our parents as adults of our own, in whatever form that sexuality takes, no matter how long it takes. To have your parents so deeply involved in this aspect of your life seems interfering of that process. Danny was only 25 and with known delays of many types. There were ways for him to explore his sexuality on his own. I think it would have been psychological healthier for him to do so.

milominderbender

I have a, shall we say... funky uncle. He lives alone but near my parents and my mom looks after him these days. Recently, he was approached by a prostitute on the bus and he asked my mom if it was ok for him to talk to her again. He's never been with a woman before and although he's got some cognitive disabilities, he's very emotionally alert and is often very lonely because he doesn't have close relationships. She asked my advice and we agreed that she should explain to him what exactly was going on and give him permission to go forward with some tips on how to do it safely (for both of them). He never did see her again, but not for lack of trying. I'd like to think that he feels a little more equipped to deal with the situation, if it ever came up again.

lialobello@twitter

Aaaand I'm crying. I absolutely love this; your mom sounds like a wonderful person and an amazing mother. I would totally do this, too. Life is short is meant to be lived. F anyone who doesn't understand how key having the full range of experiences - good, bad and ugly - truly is. Just love it.

Mommy

@lialobello@twitter

Yes, you are empathetic with the family and the progression of life's gains and losses.

pajamaralls

Aww. I really liked this.

The Hairpin stays killing me with the thoughtful/touching/humorous.

sayitaintso

Not gonna lie, this definitely made me tear up. Your mom sounds like an amazing mom/human.

likethestore

Oh jesus, this hit me right in the feels. Amazing story.

Mingus_Thurber

I work with a lot of people who have neurological disorders of one sort or another. Some of them are congenital, some are acquired. I am the often the first person who's ever brought up sex without being asked--whether it's somebody with a brand-new stroke, or somebody who was born with neurofibromatosis.

Your mom is my hero. This piece, no joking, made me cry.

One of the things that we forget about when we talk about people who are disabled/different in one way or another is the need for sex, and closeness, and that basic human connection.

Going to go sob now. Thanks, Mara's Mom.

stinapag

Oh, I love this story. Thanks so much for sharing it!

carolita

Once I was in the Pink Pussycat Boutique, and I saw a mother there with her adult daughter, who was in a wheelchair, severely disabled with what looked like a life-long condition. The mom was talking to the (very professional and warm) sales lady, saying that she was shopping for a dildo for her daughter, a "realistic one, nothing crazy, just as close to reality as possible," and the sales lady was showing her a few different models, and I just wanted to hug both of them.
I would so do exactly what both these mothers did for their children. (I mean, I'm assuming the daughter expressed a wish for an experience, or at least something close to it, or at least a sexual experience. She was there, and looked interested, and happy.)

NotFace

Ah, I have a boy who needs help now, and may need different help in the future (he's young yet), and if I have my shit together even a fraction of this amount I will be so damn happy.

carolita

(Also, from the interaction between the mother and sales rep -- see my above comment, which was too late to edit), it was evident the daughter was planning to use the device herself, just in case anyone is getting creeped out).

Silence Carew

I am a woman with a physical disability, and I have to say I am seriously torn on this. On the one hand, I have experienced a lifetime of people assuming that I don't want to have sex, or can't have sex, just because my body doesn't move exactly like theirs. That is obviously....wrong, and I applaud Danny's mom for recognizing that.

However, other commenters have brought up the issue of consent, and that is I think at the heart of what really bothers me about this. Did he want this? Was he attracted to women? Did he get to choose at all? This seems like a great story, and this mother seems like a great mother, but where was his sense of agency in the story? Where was the conversation when they said 'are you interested in trying this? How can we help this happen?' That might have been better.

People, all people, need agency, but I think those of us with disabilities might value it even more because control over some things is out of our hands, so the things we can control become even more important, and I am sad that maybe he didn't get to control this as much as he could have. But the story is lovely and well written.

@Silence Carew Yup, all of this. Did he want it? Was he asked about it? Was he attracted to women? Was he attracted to her, as a person, at all? Did he have the option of say "no, I don't want that?" And where was his privacy, since his mother was informed that he couldn't have an orgasm shortly after all this?

stonefruit

@Silence Carew thank you for weighing in - I found this mightily off-putting, but as a PWnoPhysicalD felt a little odd about weighing in. I appreciate your take.

Miss Maszkerádi

@S. Elizabeth I also kind of wonder if it was a case of "couldn't" orgasm or just "didn't." I don't think I'd come either, if I was with a surprise hooker sent by my mom.

therewithal

@Silence Carew as another woman with a disability I totally agree with you. I was pretty disturbed/put off by the total lack of Danny's voice in the story and how it positions him as an object of pity rather than a person.

stonefruit

@therewithal, @Silence Carew I just identified something about this that struck me as particularly troubling. One of the major themes of the disability rights movement has been "nothing about us without us," right, so it's jarring that here we have what we're told is this man's initial sexual experience brokered, by his mother, without him/his participation.

Definitely seems to contradict the idea of "nothing about us without us," no?

Silence Carew

@stonefruit Yes, that's it. You managed to elucidate exactly what it is that was bothering me about this whole thing, simply and concisely. Thank you. Now if only I hadn't waffled on trying not to offend anyone and yet trying to say the same thing in my original comment...

therewithal

@stonefruit Yeah, exactly. That line "My mother didn’t bother asking Danny for his permission before engaging Monique’s services" at the beginning makes me more grossed out the more I think about it.

I am not sure how I feel about this, but I am pretty sure I'm not feeling very nice about it. I think my feelings have less to do with motherly love and disability, and more to do with how deeply uncomfortable I am with the idea of hiring a human being to have sex with your son, without asking him first, and doing it because you think he needs the experience.

I found some of the reactions to this piece really unsettling, since I read the whole thing through and thought BOUNDARIES and also "Monique is a human being who doesn't exist for the sole purpose of giving other people pleasure."

Little_Lakes

@S. Elizabeth You are not alone, those were my thoughts exactly while reading this article. I don't even get the 'motherly love' praise this article is generating. This woman waaaaay over-stepped her boundaries with her adult son. I can't imagine the deep violation he must have felt. And the fact the she got the prostitute to call and give her a "report" on what went down afterwords! Yeesh!

And the lack of any sense that buying someone's sexuality is problematic. Man.

Silence Carew

@S. Elizabeth Also, the focus on reproduction. My disability is neuro-based too, and I get the curiosity about what is possible, and family pressure for grand kids and all. But that's your reaction when the sex worker calls to report? I am actually getting more and more unhappy the more I think about this story.

sintaxis

@S. Elizabeth Yeah, we don't know anything about Monique. Is she willingly in sex work? If she could make enough money doing other work, would she choose prostitution? Would she choose different clients? Jay negotiated the "fee", so does the family even know if she was fairly compensated? Is Jay pimping or taking a cut of money to hire prostitutes/sex workers for the families/disabled people he knows? I mean, jfc, sex is not a physical NEED. No one dies from not experiencing sex, and it is not a right that all men/people "deserve". If we knew more about Monique, maybe this wouldn't be so creepy.

@sintaxis Yup, I didn't want to say it, but I read it as "Jay is a pimp."

Mae
Mae

@S. Elizabeth I'm glad I'm not the only who had this reaction. I get that people often refuse to acknowledge disabled people's sexuality, which is all kinds of disturbed, but this seemed like the other side of the same coin. Rather than refusing to admit that he might be a sexual person, the mother saw his virginity as a problem to be fixed, and felt that she was free to impose her own ideas about what was normal and desirable onto her adult son in a really creepy, violating way.

Virginia Smith@twitter

@Little_Lakes I would imagine that if a person felt "deeply violated" by the hiring of a callgirl for them, they would A) have an angry reaction (as opposed to the described embarrassed one) and B) turn the callgirl away rather than letting her in and having sex with her.

Also, from what I've read, the type of callgirl who specializes in working with disabled people is different from the (more likely to be impoverished and desperate) type of callgirl who blows men in back alleys so she can afford food (or drugs or whatever). The former is a lot more likely to be in the game willingly. If my life were a little different, I can definitely imagine being the former. You're bringing a little joy and intimacy to people for whom that particular type of joy is often rare or nonexistent. Pardon me if I think that's a good thing.

Danzig!

@S. Elizabeth The consent issue on the part of the son is the big thing that needs addressing, but the Monique thing seems less so - the fact that she had direct contact with the mother and negotiated conditions and "perks" (wine, etc.) seem to indicate that Monique may actually have some autonomy as a sex worker. There's nothing in the piece to suggest that she's being controlled by anyone.

Considering that my suggestion of legit sex work has already crossed the line into effective radfem-baiting, I'll just leave this link here http://oliveseraphim.wordpress.com/2013/03/06/10-tips-on-how-to-be-a-feminist-ally-to-sex-workers/

glitterary

@S. Elizabeth Yes, completely. I mean, the guy was at university, seemed to have a good social group--it just doesn't sound like he needed or wanted this at all, and his mother went behind his back almost obsessively, and then told people of his acquaintance that he was going to be sleeping with a sex worker she'd picked out of him. As for people saying he could have just turned her away, it sounds like his mother's obsession might have put enough pressure on him that he was somewhat coerced. Humiliating, controlling, and really creepy.

Yikes

@Virginia Smith@twitter Although we don't really know if he did actually have sex with her - for all we know he could have decided not to, and had her tell the mother they did (the reporting to the mother afterwards, that's deeply disturbing to me. I absolutely get the mother was operating out of a place of love, but I wish the story had been that she sat down and asked him if he was having sex/wanted sex/with who and discussed options if he wanted them etc etc)

(It's interesting we hear about other people's views on this whole thing, but not Danny's. I was expecting a "years later he told my mum that XYZ...")

Pheen

@Virginia Smith@twitter whoa, stop making all of these assumptions about the right ways to consent to sex or about why sex workers become sex workers. it's possible that what you're assuming is not at all true about the situation.

@Pheen Agreed. I'm deeply disturbed when, in feminist spaces, there is any presumption about why someone is doing sex work or whether or not it's a good thing, or whether or not it's fulfilling. We don't know. Yeah, Andrea Dworkin-ing out over sex work and claiming that every woman who participates in it is not true and misses a lot of nuances. However, fooling ourselves into thinking that "this type of sex worker" or "that type of sex worker" means that there is enthusiastic consent is the opposite side of the same coin.

I consider myself a feminist -- a sex-positive one who is all about the ability of sex workers to form a union and collectively bargain, etc etc. But I am also aware that shady, horrible stuff happens, and you just don't know.

I also rolled my eyes when the mom didn't buy the wine. Yeah, you're cool with shelling out for a sex worker, but when she has a simple request that wouldn't be more than an extra $15, you're not going to do that? She'll spend anything for her son's comfort, but not the 10 bucks to buy a drinkable bottle of table wine for the comfort of the person giving him comfort.

sintaxis

@Danzig! Yes, thanks for that link and the meta-baiting of claiming that your comment might bring out the evil spectre of radical feminism. That's what we call thought-terminating: you shut down the idea that we can discuss radical critiques of sex work before they even happened here.

We were all discussing the autonomy and situation of the sex worker Monique with respect, and it's important to examine these kinds of narratives from multiple angles... even if they might, *gasp*, include critiques of sex work and prostitution!

klemay

@sintaxis Thank you. Just... thank you.

themmases

@S. Elizabeth Thank you, I was thinking the exact same thing about the wine. I read Monique's preference for having wine "in the refrigerator" to mean she would appreciate it already being there, and being told to bring one as her being turned down. I am not a sex worker. But, if I requested that something be available for me to do my job, and the person who hired me told me to bring my own, I wouldn't see my doing that as a "perk".

I also didn't see where it was implied that Monique does specialize in working with people with disabilities, only that Jay liked her and thought of her when he heard what the mother wanted. He could have just liked her as a person, liked being her client, or have known that she was looking for more work, or anything really.

I don't think we can really assume anything about Monique's situation from this story. That's one of the things that is so fraught (for me, but probably for many people who are not sex workers) in relating to people who do sex work: we feel we need details about how a person relates to their work to decide whether to be clients, helpers, students, etc. But those details are personal, really not our business, and we may contribute to violating sex workers' boundaries if we try to get them. Stereotypes about glamorous sex workers vs. bad ones "who blows men in back alleys so she can afford food (or drugs or whatever)" are really, really not a helpful replacement, though.

packedsuitcase

@S. Elizabeth Add me to the conflicted camp. Just because something is done in love doesn't mean it's not crossing some major boundaries.

Also, the motives seem oddly self-involved - the mother wanted an answer to her question, the mother wanted grandchildren - and that is weird to me, too. But this is way out of my range of experience, and I just...don't really know how to react to this.

littlejimmy

OMG, what a story. Thanks so much for sharing it!
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hotdog

Just dropping in to say this is wonderful. Good subject, good writing.

Jacqueline Fonte@twitter

A) Unusual subject and great writing. B)Mother of the Year did was she thought was best for her son, as so many mothers do.

Hers might have been a little extreme, but her son's situation in general is pretty extreme.

Kudos to that mom for hiring a hooker. (Never, ever thought I'd say that.)

Catina Wig

i'm blown away, and she sounds amazing.

mike_stark@twitter

I have two healthy children. And, my god, I had no idea what I was signing up for, and I can't imagine a more demanding job than parenting. But wow... I've got it easy, and I thank you for reminding me of that, even if that wasn't the intention of your post.

Along those lines, I was thinking about how difficult it must have been for you, the sibling, to watch your brother consume so much of your parents' time and efforts. But maybe not... You are clearly a remarkable person. I would not at all be surprised to learn that you've always carried with you an innate serenity.

But still... Your parents had to have done something remarkable to raise the two of you under such extraordinary circumstances.

And I come pretty close to crying when I think about the rewards your family realized:

1. Having your brother for 28 years, and having the opportunity to know him as a fully actualized and mature human being;

and,

2. living through circumstances that drew out the best from all of you. I don't know how to say this in quite the right way, but what I'm thinking is that if your brother had been born healthy, you'd never have had the chance to recount this remarkable story about your Mom.

Anyway, I'm anxious that I've already said something dumb or ignorant, so I don't want to say much more except:

{APPLAUSE}

What a wonderful mom! What a wonderful family!

Tulletilsynet

Having some trouble imagining the Hairpin article in which someone tells the story of a father who hired someone to have first and only sexual congress with his disabled daughter (and yeah, without asking the daughter first). Neither easy nor pleasant to imagine this.

Depthdebate

@Tulletilsynet @all

I really appreciate the thoughtful considerations about this piece (and life in general... but of course!)

What I especially really appreciate are the comments considering disability. We are culturally in a much different place re: "disability" / differently abled than we were 15-20-25 years ago. While there is still a ton of growing to do, people's voices are being heard, and that is important -- for all of us. Because when we stop seeing people as being (fully) human, we stop being (fully) human, ourselves. Insensitivity may be expedient, but it is very rarely an enhancement to the human experience, which is, after all, brief in the grand scheme of things - and we may as well make the most of it, while we can. This very much includes caring about others as in so doing we are actually caring for ourselves as well.

Funny thing, humans are just built that way (though you'd easily be forgiven for not knowing it, as it's not always strikingly apparent. Still, that doesn't make it any less true. True fact, being crummy to people makes you feel crummy (even if, when your wires are crossed it can, temporarily, relieve pressure and provide pleasure, the cost is to make you feel worse, not better... much like the cycle of addiction), while being awesome to people makes you feel more awesomer/good/happy.)

That said..... I think that it IS possible to get a little abstracted by notions of optimum. I'm all for optimum, whenever possible, I prefer it. So I'm not saying "lower the bar". Or, stop trying to perfect the technique. But what I am saying is..... life is so full of gray areas. It's a given that life's a messy operation. And we should never, ever, EVER hold ourselves (or others!) to a standard of perfection. Which does NOT mean that we shouldn't grow, or learn. But I do feel that sometimes the conversation gravitates towards somewhat pristine notions of perfection at the expense of heuristically taking in the whole picture and seeing it as a whole... seeing the forest thru the trees.

AS A WHOLE: this lady is the causal factor for someone she loved like life itself to experience life itself for many many many more years than he would have without the direct input of her lifeforce, love and dedication and devotion.

Even if she made a misstep, that misstep is indicative of the extent of her devotion. FROM THERE, we can go on to perfect the wheel, to take the discussion further about making sure those whom are differently abled are extended full respect and agency, and giving sex workers full respect (and agency, as well as the proper treatment of people who perform services for us) and whether sex is something that should (ever) be commodified.

But let's not get so bogged down in "trying to ascertain what would be a perfect world" that we don't appreciate that this woman did something very unorthodox in keeping with her mission statement of helping her differently abled son live a full and long life. And, yes, perhaps the path to hell is paved with good intentions, but I don't think that applies here. Without knowing so, so much of the details, I think the salient point here is that in this situation this woman did the best that she could for her loved one. Was he deeply deeply mortified? Was he deeply appreciative and treasure the experience? Did he (and the whole experience) commodify the lady herself, and not simply her services? Did he feel alienated and objectified? Or some random cocktail/mixture of many shades of thoughts and feelings and experiences? These are questions the answer to which we will probably never know. There are so many possibilities that exist (and when you add in the mixture of possibilities, even mutually exclusive, conflicting ones, the palette just gets more varied.)

In life, it is often a judgement call, and the exact same thing going down can be radically different according to the nuances.

So I think the takeaway here is.... even if your mom were not perfect you would have WON THE FREAKING LOTTERY if this lady were you're mom and you were born with this disease (even if she embarrassed the crap out of you and made you feel very uncomfortable that one time she hired a sex worker for you. Unless you actually feel like that was the best. thing. ever. in which case, just see above.)

And... differently abled people should be given FULL AGENCY and respect and appreciation of their sexuality (and surprise gifts of any kind should not be given in the spirit of forcing them upon someone "for their own good" and this holds doubly, trebly a millionly true of sex-worker services)

If you hire a sex worker, you should do due diligence to make sure they are fully respected, and you should tip them well (as you should all service people). You should totally make sure to use fair and ethical services wherever and whenever possible, and not use exploitive labor. but especially, ESPECIALLY, not in something so intimately personal as sex.

Life is complicated, and there's lots of gray areas, but if your rule of thumb is love and respect, you'll probably do pretty okay.

Cat named Virtute

Yeah, put me in the disability-having, late-to-sex, meddlingly-mothered (though CERTAINLY not to this extent), REALLY uncomfortable with this piece camp. I think it is super important to talk about disability and sexuality and how people with disabilities can be and are very desexualized in mainstream discourse, and I'm super happy that the Hairpin is publishing in that vein, but Danny's lack of agency and his mother's extreme invasiveness in this narrative made me feel really really awful as I read this. Would love to see more writing about disability and sex from people who actually have disabilities.

stonefruit

@Cat named Virtute yes, to all of this. Very much so.

Cat named Virtute

@Cat named Virtute @Cat named Virtute You know, I thought of something else when I was in the shower this morning. I'm sure that this criticism is all pretty hard for Mara to read. Clearly you love your mom very much, and value her love for your brother and the decisions she made that she felt advocated for him best. My mom also loves me a slightly terrifying amount, and I do love her, but still fucks up sometimes. Sometimes a lot! I'm genuinely glad that you shared your mom and Danny's story with us, but as an audience that is clearly made up of people with and close to those with disabilities, it's hard for us to read, because we put ourselves in Danny's shoes, and we feel that pressure to make our moms happy coupled by our on complex feelings about sex and how we're doing it, or not doing it. I think when you're writing on someone else's behalf, that's always going to be hard, and leave you more vulnerable to criticism that simply sharing an experience that is yours personally to own and interpret. I also know that these events occurred in a different time, and not everyone had the vocabulary or narrative to discuss sexual agency alongside disability. That being said, I think we (maybe, me definitely) would have responded better to this piece if it were written with all that in mind: "my mom did this thing that is questionable given what we know now but out of a place of selfless love and selfish need and it's complicated and has questionable issues of consent but I love her and I love my brother and I want to talk about that tension in memory of him and in love for both of them." Obviously you're going to tell the story how best you see fit, I just wanted to temper some of the criticism here with some insight. Your brother sounds like he was a wonderful guy, and I hope you have a wonderful mother's day with your own kiddos.

nature_morte

@Cat named Virtute I completely agree – for me too it was the lack of any recognition of the sensitivity of the topics broached that is what upset me the most about this article. It is one thing to make questionable decisions when you find yourself in a particularly difficult situation in this always confusing world – it's quite another to hold those decisions up as examples of awesomeness for others to admire. I'm sure Mara's mother is amazing. I'm sure she does deserve multiple Mother of the Year awards. Just not – imho – for this one really rather problematic choice. What rubbed me the wrong way was not the story about how this woman who did more than I can ever imagine doing for another person had to navigate complicated moral waters and settled on a course of action that others can validly criticize, but how her daughter with seeming obliviousness made those painfully private matters public and asked her audience to applaud without any kind of critical inspection of the moral ambiguities at play.

nature_morte

Wow. The best thing I can say about this is that it wasn't terribly written.

Niko Bellic

I'd rather not judge the mother the disabled guy, but for all of us who are in the mood to judge someone, I'd like to point out a great target: the guy "who occasionally gave Danny rides to school" (and apparently never talked to *him* about sex) who asked the mother if her dead son ever "got some"! Can someone please explain to me how was *that* piece of intrusion supposed to help the disabled (and now dead) man? I think it's a nice illustration of the real issue here.

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