Yoni Space. That’s the name of this weeklong workshop at which I play assistant. It’s not some 1970’s Our Bodies, Ourselves throwback, The Leader emphasizes, but “a modern harnessing of cosmic Yoni energy.” She claims one can access said energy through veganism, burning sacred herbs (but eschewing drugs), essential oil therapy, manifestation, and—surprise—yoni eggs. She stresses the importance of gazing at yourself in the mirror each morning, liking what you see, and saying affirmations to like yourself even more. With her amber eyes and ability to look good with a shaved head, I imagine liking what she sees isn’t particularly difficult. She demonstrates this in the mirror at the front of the room, her eyes dancing in their reflection as her disciples drink her in. Predictably, she pulls out her favorite platitude: “Nothing lasts forever,” she intones, “but while I’m here on earth, I blossom into my best self.” Blossom—she actually says that. Then she directs the group in a “dynamic” yoga practice and encourages participants to “let out any noises that need to be expelled” to make room for their “best selves.” They don’t hold back, mewling and moaning, and it’s repulsive.
Each day, when these devotees lie down for their hour-long final meditation, The Leader lightly rouses those who have paid extra and shepherds them into the back office for private audiences. That she chooses to do this while they’re in an impressionable state is no accident. During these meetings, she listens to them kvetch, and more often than not recommends the balm of her merch— essential oils, herb bundles, yoni eggs—sold via her website at exorbitant markups. She’s always subtly hawking her bestselling book—that goes without saying. Some claim her powerful stare heals, as it bores into their souls. More like bores into their bank accounts. To her, steady eye contact means money.
At the beginning of the week, she bestows Crystal Names upon the participants. This provides them with a source of pure energy to meditate on, she says—what she doesn’t say is that it serves to distinguish them from her. Here is a room full of crystal named-women, but only one Leader. Most of them are insufferable, and the Crystal Names only make it worse. This is especially evident during “Rehydration Breaks” as The Leader calls them, because that’s when everyone speaks. Today, while drinking alkaline water (a recent addition to the website), one woman, Amethyst, goes on and on about how she found a stray kitten and nursed it back to health by feeding it kale and kombucha. To me, this all sounds highly improbable, but the others smile and nod like the story is the peak of profundity.
These self-help enthusiasts approach navel gazing like it’s an Olympic sport and they aspire to medal, but Topaz is the worst. She’s always harping on what “resonates” with her. “Wow, Amethyst,” she says, eyes misting, “that story really resonates with me, because I also found a stray kitten once.” Shut up, who asked you? is what I want to say. But I don’t. Instead, I stand at the Rehydration Station and refill her empty glass when she extends it without so much as looking at me. The Leader jingles a chime, which signals everyone to return to their mats for final meditation (and, for some, rather expensive commercial breaks).
These participants are rich, good to go in the material world, but insecure for whatever reason and searching for someone, something, to fix that. That’s why the 20 of them are willing to spend $4000 a pop for this one week with The Leader. The price doesn’t even include accommodations or food, just being lectured to and led through various exercises in a glorified dance studio off the side of the highway. With her good looks, air of mystique, and bestseller, The Leader can convince most people of whatever she wants. Here in America, where commodity fetish reigns supreme, those who can are delighted to pay a pretty penny for anything having to do with her, and she’s not afraid to cash in. Blossoming into one’s best self doesn’t come cheap.
The Leader hits a Tibetan singing bowl, signifying the end of today’s session. The participants slowly, self-indulgently rouse themselves, some continuing to let out hums, moans or growls, mewling their bodies around, slowly blinking. It’s unbearable to witness, but reminds me I could use a good stretch, myself. Assisting takes its toll in more ways than one. The class files out, bowing thanks to The Leader, a chorus of Namastes, and then it’s just us. She fixes her amber eyes on me.
“Quartz,” she says, using the Crystal Name she gave me, “Thank you for your assistance today. Ride home?” It’s not so much a question as a command.
We walk out shoulder-to-shoulder. I lock up, and we get into her Prius. As she starts to drive away, that’s when the transformation begins, as it always does.
“Jacket,” she says, and I reach into the back seat, throw off the yoga blanket she uses as cover and pull out her leather motorcycle jacket. Driving with one hand, she snatches the jacket from me and presses the decidedly un-vegan leather to her nose, inhaling deeply. “I’ve missed you, baby,” she says. Then she shimmies into it, spiking my adrenaline as she momentarily takes both hands off the wheel.
Jacket on and with her left hand back to steering, she glances at me sideways and says, “You liked that, didn’t you?” while placing her right hand on my thigh and gripping. We’ve played this game plenty and I do and don’t like it, but I like what’s to come, so as usual, I say, “Yes.”
“You know what to do,” she says. “Be a good girl and place the order.”
I take out my phone, open my go-to food app, click Repeat Order, and say, “Done.” She smiles, and moves her hand up between my legs. Yoni Space, I think, and almost laugh out loud, but banish the thought so I can focus on her handiwork and enjoy myself.
Shortly after we arrive home, the delivery guy rings the bell. The Leader stays out of sight, and I answer the door and bring the box in, plopping it down in the usual spot on the coffee table.
“Thanks,” says The Leader, who’s still wearing the leather jacket but is now otherwise naked and lounging back on the couch, in the shadows. I open the box’s lid, and she smiles at the family-sized pepperoni pizza while lighting a joint rolled from the weed she had me buy yesterday. Because she has to maintain a pristine public image of her veganism and drug-free lifestyle, it’s my job to procure all forbidden treats, because who remembers assistants? I’m not entirely unattractive but am unremarkable, and standing next to her I’ve always faded into the background. She offers the joint but I shake my head. Tonight I want to stay lucid.
Believe it or not, the alkaline water we drink all day doesn’t exactly satiate, so we descend upon the pizza. Then we languidly pick up where we left off on the ride home, and I repay her for shifting my gears. After we finish, her eyelids start to droop, and I know she’ll be out cold soon. This—pizza, pot, sex, sleepiness—is the part of our life together I like most, because it reminds me of when we first met, before all the bullshit.
We’ve been putting on these workshops, or some version of them, for five long years. When I was 20 and she was 25, we met at the strip club where we’d both just been hired. Prior to that we’d been artists, she a dancer and I a poet, vocations for which cash flow is relatively nonexistent. A need to not starve is what landed us at the club, and as she became a stripper and I, a server, we bonded. That we were the only single queers working there must’ve played a role in pushing us together as lovers. Also, neither of us was big into community—family members had either died or were out of commission, and we had both always moved around too much to form significant attachments—until we met each other.
Most of the wealthy men who frequented the club were terrible, but easy to manipulate. We liked their money, but that was pretty much it. Then we got to thinking: what about the untapped market of their wives? One night, while getting stoned over pepperoni pizza, we hatched a plan to start these high-end self-help workshops for women. We came up with the most ridiculous name we could think of: Yoni Space. Oh, how we laughed about it…but the next day I realized she had every intention of following through, and casting herself as guru. Since I didn’t have a better idea, I helped her research and prepare. I took self-help books out from the library, read choice excerpts to her, and she made the concepts her own, developing platitudes. Thanks to the Internet, we familiarized ourselves with the latest in alternative wellness trends and their accouterments. Over the course of her dance training she’d learned a few yoga moves, and, with the assistance of YouTube, brushed up on enough terminology to pass herself off as a teacher. She invented her credentials—all the made up masters she claimed to have studied various healing arts under hailed from remote reaches of the world, plus were conveniently deceased. She rehearsed like it was the biggest show of her life, and in some ways, it was. As a dancer she knew how to perform; as a stripper she knew how to read people and deftly direct them to do her bidding while convincing them they were the ones in charge. Her youth, beauty, charisma and chutzpah didn’t hurt her cause, and she knew it—the confidence with which she wielded it all was enviable, the hottest commodity. I typed up the written materials for the class, she cast me in the role of assistant, and after a month we were good to go. We held the first workshop across the river in a town where we didn’t know anyone. There was no room in the “Leader” persona for inexperience—most importantly, inexperience wouldn’t pay—so we billed it as her “first U.S.” workshop. Much to our surprise, it was wildly successful. The attendees clamored for more Yoni Space.
We’ve been at it ever since, traveling, staying elusive. When she stripped she always wore long wigs, so her current shaved head is enough to throw off any former club patron who might see her face somewhere and feel a glimmer of familiarity. It’s amazing what a change of context can do. Her book, which I edited, doesn’t talk about the specifics of her background or give any name other than The Leader—she says she channels her wisdom from a Higher Power, so her earthly human origin is of no concern. As herself, she was just one more hustler trying to make it. As The Leader, she is rich and revered.
Nothing she does is technically illegal, but it should be. I can’t believe people continue to go for it. They’re hungry for a quick fix, thinking a yoni egg will magically transform their self-esteem, or an essential oil will help them manifest whatever they want. They pay top dollar to bask in The Leader’s supposedly healing amber stare. I stop short of calling these people her marks, only because they’re so willing. But personally, I’ve tired of this never-ending game of Follow The Leader. It all started out as a grand joke, but it’s gone too far. A year ago when I alluded to feeling stuck, she said, “Maybe there’s a blockage in your aura.” I used to be able to tell when she was kidding, but now I’m not so sure, plus don’t know if she’s so sure, either. When we first began my role-play as assistant it was fun and kinky, but now I think she sees me as little more than an intern with benefits. She still pays me as such, which is to say not at all, but she justifies this through subtle yet pointed reminders that she feeds, houses and clothes us—even the food app I use to buy her contraband pizzas is attached to a bank account she controls. This arrangement leaves me feeling trapped, which she likes and I don’t. She may be the face of Yoni Space, but I developed it with her, and I also deserve to profit and enjoy the spoils as I see fit.
Post pizza and coitus, The Leader has passed out. Or rather, Lola has. Funny, people used to think Lola was just her stripper name, but it’s her real name—at least, that’s what she told me. This is the only time I still think of her as Lola—she even looks like she did when I first saw her in the club’s dressing room taking cat naps: naked and curled up under her leather jacket, face nearly guileless, this preposterous existence not yet even a dream. I wonder what she dreams about now. Probably her newest merch, her next big scheme. Other than her schemes, I’ve come to think of her as empty.
I most likely have a few hours before she wakes up and wonders where I am, so I take my laptop and head to the bathroom. It’s the most private spot in the house, and the only one she won’t enter without knocking. Little does she know she isn’t the only author here—I’ve already published two books of poetry under a pen name. But this project is far from poetry. It’s a tell-all exposé, a candid, snarky account of these workshops and how they came to be, fairly verbatim but with details changed for my legal protection. I started writing anecdotes simply to exorcize them, and the next thing I knew, I had a manuscript, and now, a movie in the works. My agent says it’ll be huge, and I agree, I can feel it in my assistant-weary bones. Who knows how far I’ll be able to take this thing…next stop: Yoni Space, The Musical! I’ll have to leave Lola once she realizes I’ve done this, since it’s not like she’s spared—on the contrary, she’s the star of the show—but after all these years she owes me, and I deserve to get mine. Hey, nothing lasts forever—she’s the one who taught me that. I always used to think she was the grifter in the relationship, but what can I say—I’ve learned from the best, and I’m ready to blossom.