Tuesday, March 24, 1998
4 pm. Initial Session with Lisa Benjamin. I met Lisa today for the first time. She's attractive but has a nervous quality. She looked a little disheveled, with her hair unbrushed and her office clothing wrinkled. She spent the session fiddling with her hair, twirling it around her finger tighter and tighter until it almost seemed as if she would pull some out by the roots. She had a few blemishes on her face that had been compulsively picked at. She's very thin, and spoke rapidly and earnestly. She bobs her foot up and down at high speed. I noticed that she apparently had some pupillary dilation. From her general appearance, demeanor, and mannerisms, I would guess that Lisa has been abusing methamphetamines. Lisa works at SII during the day, apparently as a secretary, although that wasn't clear. At night, she works as a stripper at the Lusty Lady, a strip club downtown. She praises the management and workers at the club--it's all owned and run by women. But she denigrates the customers whom she feels are losers who don't respect women. But she said that she really likes the work. In fact, she's thinking of quitting SII so that she'll have time to strip full time and to make videos, presumably pornographic. Lisa said that she has some serious issues from her childhood but she believes she's resolved herself--she wants to spend her time in her sessions with me discussing issues that are only in her present. Her main issue which motivated her to come and see me is that she has an inability to control her rage. Although it is unclear precisely when or how this rage expresses itself, apparently something triggers her to physically violent outbursts. She describes these rages as often provoked by strangers on the street who whistle at her or make some sexually suggestive remark. Although we didn't discuss it, it's clear that she's sitting on a potential time bomb. It's only a matter of time before someone from work recognizes her from the Lusty Lady. I can see it now: a group of guys in trench coats, an appreciative leer, and then a horrified gasp, "Oh, my God! It's Lisa!" I don't know how anybody is going to deal with that situation, but from my experience with the gossip mill at SII and the general maturity level of the people who work there, Lisa's secret will be bandied about, and she'll be subjected to all sorts of indignities from strangers at work. I don't have any idea how she'll respond to that. We talked about control a bit. I'm much more interested in getting to the root causes of her anger. I suspect that her anger really is with something far removed from whatever the present trigger may be. And that anger from her past is clearly unresolved, no matter how at peace she may be with her past. But for the time being, I suggested that she conciously choose to delay action a bit by counting to ten. It's an old chestnut, but it does seem to give people a chance to reflect on what they are about to do, rather than acting reflexively. We talked a bit about the people she admires. At the core, it seems that she most admires people who are rebellious against societal norms. She likes the "cool" girls at work--she defines the cool girls as the ones with tattoos and body piercings. It was interesting that while she admires body mutilation, she apparently hasn't done this herself, at least not where it's visible during her day job. She also said that she is uncomfortable in social situations. And what I found particularly surprising, she bemoaned the fact that she was unable to make herself the center of attention. I found that hard to reconcile with her stage performances as a stripper. How much more attention can one crave than that received while dancing naked in front a group of lecherous men? She is excited by the prospect of doing the videos. She is tired of being a "good girl," which she says has made her feel trapped her whole life. She is in a period of rebellion--against what, I cannot say. And if she is indeed using speed, her entire world view will be warped by the drug. I looked up the DSM-IV criteria for amphetamine intoxication. It suggests that I should be alert for maladaptive behavioral or psychological changes (e.g. euphoria; affective blunting; changes in sociability; hypervigilance; interpersonal sensitivity; anxiety, tension, or anger; stereotyped behaviors; impaired judgment; or impaired social or occupational functioning). It also indicates that I should watch for tachycardia or bradycardia; pupillary dilation; abnormal blood pressure; perspiration or chills; nausea or vomiting; evidence of weight loss; psychomotor agitation or retardation; muscular weakness, respiratory depression, chest pain, or cardiac arrhythmias; confusion, seizures, dyskinesias, or coma. (Well, I'll certainly be on the lookout for coma.)

Tuesday, April 7, 1998
4 pm. Second Session with Lisa Benjamin. Lisa reports some success at controlling her anger this past week. She tried counting to ten and it seemed to help her to overcome her initial impulse towards a violent confrontation. It's interesting to me that her primary flash points seem to involve strange men on the street who make sexually explicit remarks. Although most women find such conduct offensive, Lisa seems especially prone to anger. One would suspect the reverse--that Lisa's experience as a stripper would leave her emotionally hardened to being objectified in that manner. Lisa explains the paradox by saying that she gets enough of it at work, and here, these men haven't paid for the privilege. That sounds like too easy an explanation. I'd like to further explore the reason for why she's invests so much emotional energy into cads on the street. I keep expecting some negative reaction to the customers who also objectify her. But she sees that as her job--providing a masturbatory object for the men who pay quarters to keep their window shades raised. Lisa did report that she thinks that the Lusty Lady experience has made her stereotype and distrust men generally, although intellectually she realizes that her perceptions are being warped by what she does. Lisa wants to make a documentary about strippers and, although she has little experience with film making, she's looking forward to diving into this project. She is volunteering to do office work in exchange for editing room time at some outfit that might also loan her the camera. It sounds like a cathartic project, if nothing else.

Tuesday, April 21, 1998
4 pm. Third Session with Lisa Benjamin. At the end of the session, Lisa revealed that she is a recreational user of marijuana and amphetamines. I've been surprised at the number of my patients who are taking recreational drugs--and not just marijuana, but amphetamines, cocaine, and even heroin. When I was doing clinical work at Columbia, I treated a number of drug addicts, but their problems usually stemmed directly from their drug use. Now, I'm seeing a lot of patients who perhaps are self medicating to avoid troubling issues in their lives. Lisa told me about Video Free America, a video group where she's working in exchange for equipment and information. She met another stripper there, Gabby, who also desires to create a documentary on the business. Although Lisa didn't say so directly, presumably she'll try to work with her on the project. Two strippers, both novices to the film business, each trying to make separate documentaries simultaneously from the same video facility seems to stretch credibility. It seems like a perfect opportunity to pool resources. Lisa did say that she intends to make Gabby her roommate. Gabby is an ex-prostitute who also was a heroin addict. Now, she's going back to school in Berkeley--whether high school or college, I couldn't tell. Lisa started to tell me a bit about her parents. Her childhood sounds relatively normal--Lisa complained that her parents weren't supportive of her creativity and that they have strong ambitions for her that she doesn't share. Lisa expressed some performance anxiety related to her creative work. She attributes it to her parents' tendency to discourage her creative side as she was growing up. As a child, she expressed interest in being a film director and was told how hard it was and how so many fail. Lisa clearly is somewhat removed from her parents and she hides from them any knowledge about her work as a stripper. I have noticed in myself an interest, perhaps perverse, in Lisa's sexually oriented feelings and experiences. While intellectually I understand the dangerous, unromantic, and degrading aspects to laboring as a sex worker, there's some aspect of it that I find compelling. I'm interested in knowing more about a woman who dances naked on a stage, or performs sex acts with men she's just met for a video camera, or has sex for money. If I'm honest, I have to admit that there's something titillating about women who are both uninhibitated about sex and easy of access. Since sex for men is so often bound up in commitment, I've noticed that a common male fantasy is sex with women who demand no emotional involvement at all--basically, sex that is easy and without consequences. Perhaps it is a prurient interest on my part, perhaps it is akin to gawking at a traffic accident. But I should guard against asking Lisa questions designed merely to fulfill my curiosity as opposed to offering some benefit to my patient.

Tuesday, May 5, 1998
4 pm. Fourth Session with Lisa Benjamin. Lisa told me that she is exhausted from working two jobs. Although she did describe a physically demanding schedule, I suspect that her exhaustion stems, in part, from the high emotional price she must pay to work in "The Booth." The Lusty Lady offers two venues for its customers. One is a stage show where Lisa dances naked alone or with her co-workers. The other is a higher paying location where the dancer is one-on-one with the customer, although separated by a pane of glass. Lisa described it as prostitution through the glass--the women perform whatever sexual acts are demanded by the customers, as long as they keep paying their five dollars for each three minutes. It's pretty seamy and Lisa maintains that, even though she is often terribly depressed after working in the booth, she is interested in exploring the dark areas of her life right now. She also uses self exploration as a justification to keep taking methamphetamines, although she also tries to justify it as a work-related necessity. I am disturbed by how Lisa looks, and I can't write it off to her busy schedule--she has that slight drug haze which is a combination of dilated pupils and lack of affect. Her drug intake, however, she sees as normal. She described youthful experimentation with psilocybin and marijuana, although she says that she stayed away from cocaine and the "harder" drugs. Her infatuation with speed--she admits that she likes it a lot--seems a lot stronger than she's willing to admit. Lisa described an incident at work where she said that she blew up at a customer as she was coming down from speed. She was working the booth and the customer requested that she masturbate for him. Lisa prides herself on never having an actual orgasm in front of a customer--that's too personal. But on this occasion, the customer seemed like he was trying to get her to do just that. And finally she did, in a quiet way. She hoped he wouldn't notice, but she saw him gloating. That's when she got very upset--she was furious that he had won their little duel. She called him an asshole and he just left. She said that she felt like a piece of her went out the door with him. I urged her to both stop taking the drugs and to cease working in the booth for the time being. She agreed that working the booth was too draining, and she said that after tonight she will curtail her time there.

Tuesday, June 2, 1998
4 pm. Fifth Session with Lisa Benjamin. Lisa was sick for the last few weeks, and while at home, she had a chance to reflect on her present circumstances. She realized, despite what she had been trying to convince herself, that she doesn't like her work at the Lusty Lady all that much. At the end of the session, she even expressed interest in increasing her role at SII. She said that she now realizes that her job as a secretary there might not be so bad after all. I hadn't realized just how isolated Lisa really feels. She has her friend Gabby, the prostitute recovering from a heroin addiction, but few others whom she numbers as friends. Her present feeling of isolation apparently is nothing new, either. She's felt that way for years. She told me that during college, she took a trip to Europe solo when she was unable to get a travelling companion. She's planning on taking a camping trip alone obstensibly to give herself more time to gain perspective on her life. Lisa says that she's been unable to connect with other women, even the women at the Lusty Lady. These are women whom she obstensibly admires but who also frighten her. Lisa stopped working in the booth, which seems to have lessened the frequency of her uncontrollable bursts of anger. During her session, she seemed both subdued and tired. But she said that she still hadn't completely recovered from her recent illness.

Tuesday, June 16, 1998
4 pm. Sixth Session with Lisa Benjamin. Lisa came in with red splotches on her face and scabs on her forehead. She also presented a tired, worn-out appearance. I immediately suspected that she had started using methamphetamine again. She told me that she picks at her face when she becomes anxious, and she's anxious because she was spotted at the Lusty Lady by Scott Collavito, an employee at SII. Lisa is afraid that he recognized her. I think it likely that he did not. She was wearing a long, red wig and the context of a gyrating stripper is so far removed from the casual interaction he would likely have with a secretary at SII, I think it's likely that he didn't spot her. But Lisa is worried that either she'll be embarrassed or her reputation at SII will be shot. She admitted to taking more speed, and said that some part of her likes the idea of being a stripper addicted to speed--a dramatic negative self-image combined with some dark imagery. Lisa also told me that she had a long conversation with her mother where she admitted that she was working as a stripper. I always imagined that the prospect of parents discovering their occupation would be a particular fear of most sex workers. But instead of a traumatic scene, her mother was remarkably accepting of what Lisa does. Lisa softened it somewhat by gaining her mother's respect with a bit of the documentary that she had already edited--her mother believes that Lisa is performing as a stripper to get close to her documentary subject. Somehow, the notion that it's all in the cause of art has made the seamy side of Lisa's activities more palatable.


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