Monday, April 14, 2014

Death Work, the New Sex Work

Twenty-five years ago, when I began to educate people about unlearning homophobia, biphobia and sexphobia, I always acknowledged the complexity of sexuality, intimacy, relationships and orientations of all kinds. And I decided that the three topics I would address because they are not talked about enough are sex, money and death and dying.

As I educate people about sexuality and write about all the topics I can think of—abortion, STIs/AIDS, monogamy, polyamory, sex toys, pleasure, orgasm, self-pleasuring, sex work and more—I emphasize consent, respect and our intentions, whether it involves sex, money, death and dying or any other area of intimacy.

Death is a taboo topic in the United States—possibly more taboo than sex. Yet it is another form of intimacy, involving interactions with people like doctors, nurses and hospice care providers. But I am suggesting something beyond what is the norm today when I use the term “death work.”

How many of us talk about and plan for our death and dying? Not as though we can’t wait for it to happen, but as though we know it will happen. The quality of all parts of my living and dying has always been important to me—so important that it is worth considering carefully today how I would like things to go at the end of my life.

It is strange to me that it is okay to pay for numerous services—from doctors, massage therapists, chiropractors, talk therapists, coaches, mentors, trainers, yoga instructors—but when it’s in the realm of sexuality, it becomes not okay. Well, what about in the realm of death and dying?

Intimacy is everywhere, even where we may not be comfortable with it. It is at our day jobs and our professional work, in classes, in social media, in bars and pubs. It is in the events and conferences we attend, in our conversations, in our touch, in our eye contact and in our hustle and bustle. It is in our transit: in cars and on the buses and trains I take on an almost daily basis. And it is in sex work or paid sex as well as almost every other service offered out there. Intimacy is also part of death and dying. And all that really matters to me is consent, respect and our intentions.

I recently wrote an article called “Obligation Is Not Love.” For me, that includes any obligation to show up or any sense of “I have to” when someone is sick or dying. I am not planning on people just showing up when I am dying.

Money gets exchanged all the time. It is not good or bad; it all depends. And there are other kinds of exchanges whose value depends on whether we feel good about the exchange. The value is not usually dependent on society’s rules or norms.

As intentional as I am with my intimate interactions in every other part of my life, I want to work at doing the same with death and dying and maybe even more so. For years I have let friends and family know my health care wishes. But more recently I have started having conversations with people I would like to be there with me when I am dying. That is, I have started the conversations with individuals as I take into consideration the fact that I may need to pay money to be able to choose the people I want near me when I am dying.

I am not a fan of a health care system that focuses more on life-saving events than dying gracefully. I know what kind of health care I want and what kind of dying I want. And it is with full intention that I move toward the taboo topic of death and dying as though I were hiring someone for business coaching or yoga instruction.

Copyright 2014 by Susan Miranda.  All rights reserved.  No part of this writing may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the copyright holder. For reprint permission, email