Joe Thomson My Afternoon With a Prostitute

Her voice is worn, indicative of someone who has probably seen a lot, been through a lot. She gets to the point in a long winded way that is at once blunt and circuitous, emphasizing her point multiple times, to make clear her thoughts as she speaks.  I feel that she is open, but careful about what she says, and how she portrays herself.  Walls appear when her personal life is brought up; her usual rapid-fire responses are replaced by long pauses to my probing questions. What I want to know is what its like to be a prostitute. What she wants is to make sure she is not portrayed as a victim. So her candid admissions about sex work are always shrouded in a veil of self-confidence, assuring me she has sex for money because she wants to, not because she has to.

Over the next 2 hours she outlines the business for me, a naïve child compared to this experienced mother of 2.  Our conversation meanders and touches on her entry into prostitution, her divorce, and the rights of sex workers in Canada.  She lets me ask her questions that most middle-aged women would find embarrassing, but keeps me at arms length expertly, preferring to discuss the business as a whole rather than her personal experience.  I can feel a tightness in her voice when I ask her about her kids and their feelings on her line of work.  She probably isn’t where she thought she’d be at this stage in her life, but doesn’t complain, she is stoic and sure of herself, the kind of woman that scares the shit out of men, myself included.

***

How does one get into fucking for money exactly? Well in her case she was a driver for an escort company (someone who drives escorts to hotels or other locations and makes sure they are safe).  She was in between jobs, in her early 30’s, had 2 daughters and a fledgling marriage, so she decided to make the leap from escort- escort to just plain escort.  The popular entertainment narrative of victimized women being pimped out to sleazy men and abused constantly influenced her naivety towards the industry. She claims however, the truth is nothing like the movies and escorts are entrepreneurs that make people happy for a price under the protection of companies that ensure their safety. 

Even still she couldn’t help but be nervous her first time, her co-workers calming her nerves by proclaiming, “give her a shot of tequila”.  She laughs nervously recalling the story of her first time to me, embarrassed by her inexperience and puritanical approach to her trade.

At this point in the conversation I am somewhat skeptical.  I bring my own biases to this conversation and have a hard time believing that women aren’t the victims, that there must be underlying emotional issues driving this seemingly normal woman to have sex with strangers for money.  Even if she is an empowered woman, she does not seem proud recalling the story of her first time, not like a doctor saving their first patient or a policeman arresting their first bad guy would be.  (I actually think that in my head “policeman arresting his first bad guy” as she’s talking.) What an infant I am. I realize I am more of a child talking to her than I would be with anybody else.  I have a weird desire for her to like me, and I don’t know why.  It’s clear I am bringing my own psychological issues to this conversation, but I can’t broach the subject because she’s being so forthright and I don’t want to scare her off.  I press on.

As the conversation goes on I find it slightly easier to extract personal information from her.  She confesses that her profession was a topic that came up during her divorce proceedings, and that her ex husband told the neighbours of her sins leading to calls to Children’s Aid.  She describes these events as “traumatic” for her kids but again faults the general publics lack of knowledge of sex work, for these overzealous intrusions.  She states that she was a better mother to her kids because of her flexible schedule and that lack of understanding forces people to judge her as either a victim or a deviant.

I ask myself: Does working as a prostitute affect your ability to be a good mother? My answer is the same as most young men’s.  The last thing I want to view my mother as, is a whore. So I realize that when we think about prostitutes as mothers, we don’t think about their situation but our own, and our hang ups surrounding sex work and motherhood come not from viewing mothers as prostitutes but viewing our mothers as prostitutes.

***

After my motherhood epiphany I find it easier to talk to her.  We discuss some dangerous situations she’s been in, although she assures me they are few and far between.  We talk about the two occasions when she had to deny clients because they “stunk”.  I’m surprised by the infrequency of this occurrence, having been around enough men to know that we frequently stink.  She feels bad and her compassion for men astounds me.  She admits she has clients that are handicapped or disabled and that providing them with the gift of sex is one of the most rewarding aspects of her job.  She makes people happy.  People who wouldn’t have access to their sexuality were it not for people like her.  These are the ghouls of our society, the ones we look at sympathetically and then never think of again. She actually helps those people.

The job does bring some uncomfortable moments.  Like the time she ran into one of her daughters friends at a 5 on 5 get together.  This is when a group of men order a group of hookers and a party ensues.  She had no idea her daughter’s friend worked for the same agency she did and described it as “a little awkward”. These are the Larry David moments for an aging prostitute, but hey it comes with the territory.

Again her role as a mother impinges on her ability to work in this industry.  It seems to come up over and over again. She admits her kids “were not super thrilled” when she finally admitted to them what she did.  When they found a boatload of condoms in the glove box of her car she decided to fess up. Her kids did not want to experience the public shame of having an escort for a mom and so they eschewed her attempts to go public with her story or speak at media events. She is involved with many organizations that advocate for the rights and safety of sex workers, seeing this work as an inevitable next step as she ages.

***

That’s her life.  Walking the tightrope between normal and unusual. Unapologetic of her profession. Hardened and wise and logical, but also compassionate and kind. Talking to her for a few hours gives me a window to a three dimensional person with strengths and faults.  I encounter, with this person, a kind of candor and honesty that I rarely get from anyone else in my life.  My friends and family bury their secrets, only exposing the kind of person they want me to see.  I wear a mask too. But she gave me most of herself and did not apologize. She has no problem being a mother, a prostitute, a person.

Comments

I love seeing realvutionory articles like this with such good quality info compiled as well as talked about. I think should you have dug even a tiny bit further, this particular article could almost become a good academic article or even a useful academic resource. I just added your website to my RSS reader to be able to watch for what you have in the future.

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