This blog can also be read in Mandarin here.
Growing up in Québec in the 70’s, Geneviève Gilbert was a happy little girl who excelled at arts, loved gymnastics, and in her spare time enjoyed building go-karts. She loved playing with her father, and remembers fondly the times in her early childhood where he would hold her over his head and let her pretend she was an aeroplane.
Sadly however, Genevieve’s father was an emotionally abusive man who removed himself from her life very early on, often disappearing to have affairs with 18 year-old women, or travelling to New York to obtain illegal porn (which he sold undercover at his convenience store).
Geneviève was one of three children, one of whom had Down’s Syndrome, and remembers how her father tried to convince her mother to place baby Mélanie up for adoption because he did not want such a child. He also blamed her mother for not being able to give him any boys.
Geneviève’s father left when she was 9 years old. She remembers clearly the anger she felt at being abandoned, and the subsequent poverty that followed. In her autobiography, ‘My Story: A French, Outrageous, Angry woman Forgiven by God’s Amazing Grace’ (2013), she writes:
“All my anger in life came from my father ignoring us and leading us astray; never paying child support. I was nine years old when he left, was passionately training as a gymnast and could not continue to take these lessons anymore because of him.” (p5)
Unsurprisingly, the anger and abandonment that she felt eventually manifested in very destructive ways, tainting her views of men, money and sex. The hurt of being abandoned by her father subconsciously influenced many of the decisions she made later in life regarding relationships and men, and almost caused her to take her own life on several occasions.
“On Father’s day, in the middle of a day where I was trying to study for my final year exams, I tried to kill myself. Everything was going wrong for me. Also, it was Father’s day and I didn’t have a father. I could not see him, hold him, tell him I loved him…I sneaked into the first floor bathroom and took all the pills there were in the cupboards, one at a time.” (p39)
In her book, Genevieve recalls how during her college years she began having relationships with women. It seemed so much safer to her than being hurt by men. Over time however, she began binging on casual sex with both men and women, searching desperately for love, the kind she never had from her father. She was confused, and empty.
“I would have casual sex with men, just for the sake of it. I picked my lovers for how skilled they were. My hormones were so horribly controlling my mind that I would sometimes go out in bars just to pick up and have a sex fix. I was so hungry…so desperate for love. Looking back, I just didn’t have a father or two loving parents to take example from, to ask advice from, to respect and love so I could respect and love another man in a committed relationship.
“When I got men’s attention, I felt it gave me some sense of self and a bit of importance. Somehow, when I turned twenty-two years old, I decided to shave my head. I had beautiful long curly hair but I was so sick of men looking at me that I thought I would make myself look ugly, and then they would stop looking at me. I hated these glances at me. I wanted to annihilate my body. Later on, my mindset changed and I did the complete opposite: trying to cash in with the way men seemed to be drooling looking at me. And gosh it worked.” (p18)
It was shortly after starting college that Geneviève took her first step into the sex industry, deciding to escort whilst studying. “Not all women who start doing sex work have been kicked out of their parents’ home, are single with kids, or are regular substance abusers”, she says. “Nothing like that really described me.” (p18)
In the year 2001 Geneviève came to Australia to continue her studies, determined to make something of her life. It was evident that not having a father in her life played a major role in this. In her book she explains her discontentment with life.
“I was going to achieve something; I was going to show the world–and my dad, if he ever wanted to listen- that I can be someone.” (p19)
Genevieve was 27 when she entered the world of prostitution. She had planned to do a few months’ work to pay off some debts and then continue with her career in arts.
8 years later, she was still in the industry.
“Working on and off as a sex worker for a total of eight years was for me a decade lost in hiding. Hiding from my pain, hiding from my brokenness, still living the PTSD symptoms of abandonment from my father… I learnt to ‘dissociate’ for hours at a time when men were [using me]. I didn’t really want to have sex with them; I just wanted the money that my father never gave us as children.
“As an artist, the performative aspect of these actions was an investigation to further my practice. Yet, I discovered that this exploration was to come at a high price. I also believed that this was my way of being the most sexually liberated woman I could be. After all, I was a post-feminist: someone who uses her sexuality to gain power. In fact I was fighting a real sex addiction, and a misunderstanding of what letting men and women use my body as a commodity was doing to my soul.”(p20-21)
In 2009 whilst surfing the Internet, Genevieve came across the XXX Church website which uses awareness, prevention, and recovery strategies to reach out to teenagers and adults, offering ‘tools, resources, and blogs to help prevent pornography from becoming a destructive force in people’s lives”.
From here she discovered Shelley Lubben’s testimony, and was touched by how similar their stories were. Lubben, who was a 90s porn star, is today an author, speaker and the founder of ‘The Pink Cross’. Geneviève speaks of how Shelley’s testimony planted a seed in her life which began her journey to healing. It was one of the first times Geneviève had realised that she could speak out about what was going on in her life.
“When I listened to that [Shelley’s story] on YouTube, I cried all through her message….Heavy, deep tears rolled onto my cheeks. I wept relentlessly… I watched the videos a few times and I wept, each time, at specific places where she described some details of her life as a prostitute and porn star. No one has ever talked publicly about the sort of things I have been doing in my hidden life for eight years. Eight years is a lot in someone’s life. Hearing all this was an amazing relief (p49).”
Getting in touch with Shelley Lubben, Geneviève was given support to turn her life around. This combined with added support from counselling helped Geneviève to heal emotionally, spiritually and financially. In 2009 she secured legitimate mainstream employment and was able to finally exit the sex industry for good.
Today Geneviève runs the Pink Cross Australia, spends her time supporting men and women who want to transition out of the sex industry, and volunteers through her church organising community social events. She now fulfils her artistic passion in a more healthy way, using her talents to facilitate healing amongst women and men in the sex industry.
“I am now centring my creative knowledge into activism. My current artistic practice is a socially engaged practice, where I develop projects with community groups. I believe that art needs a purpose, and the new relationships that I’ve built with the women in the industry feed my art, my healing and my calling to give hope to men and women who are living the secret I was living. I don’t need to do sex work to feed my creativity anymore. It is like saying that taking drugs makes you come up with better ideas as an artist, or that alcohol helps you to be more creative. No one needs any of these. They are crutches, and distort the plans that you were created for on earth”. (2013, p52)
Geneviève is one of the few fortunate enough to escape prostitution and porn work, however there are so many more who still remain trapped. In April, Pink Cross Australia is taking part in the Shine Convention, and desperately needs support to reach out to more women and men in the industry. For more details on the upcoming convention and how you can be involved in helping sex industry workers to secure better futures, please visit:
PLEASE, get involved in any way you can. Share their page, donate goods or ask your workplace to get involved. This is a woman who is doing so much good in our country, and she needs our help! We can make a difference, but we need to do it together.
JAS RAWLINSON is an Australian writing coach, mental health speaker, and bestselling author who specialises in empowering survivors of trauma to transform their adversities into powerful memoirs. If you love inspiring stories, grab a copy of her best-selling book series ‘Reasons to Live:One More Day, Every Day’.