Women are not altogether in the wrong when they refuse the rules of life prescribed to the World, for men only have established them and without their consent. – Michel de Montaigne
If you’ve been reading this column for the past two days you already know that I’m recounting my own story as a way of raising one small voice against the myriad slanders which are leveled against my profession by both misogynists and misandrists. If you haven’t read the two previous columns, I suggest you do so before continuing because otherwise some of this may be lost on you; as I told my husband yesterday, “If I’m a fallen woman, it sure was a long, slow descent.”
A few months after my 18th birthday, I took direct payment for sex from a man who was essentially a stranger to me, but this did not instantly transform me into a professional; I was content to keep doing things the way I had always done them. It wasn’t that I had anything against whores; I had been reading about them since my early teens and the Greek hetaera known as Phryne was one of my heroines. A close friend of mine often turned tricks when she was short of cash and I could certainly have asked for her help getting started, but I think I simply wasn’t quite ready yet. Though the anti-sex social conditioning had never really taken root in my head, my adolescent flirtation with feminism still colored my thinking strongly enough that I believed an “intellectual” career was better than one as an entertainer; I wanted to be a science popularizer, essentially a female Carl Sagan. Life is full of such fascinating ironies: I declined to pursue a career in prostitution because I wanted the opportunity to explain things to people in an accessible manner, yet here I am doing exactly that because of my later experience as a whore rather than instead of it.
But there was another issue, probably much more important; I only minored in psychology, but it doesn’t take a PhD to recognize that being essentially ignored by my mother would have some long-term effects, possibly including promiscuity. Even though I had plenty of attention from people of both sexes, I was still afraid that I would end up alone in the end, rejected by men who wanted to marry “good girls” no matter how much they enjoyed playing with me. And so it was that my happiness was undermined by nagging insecurity engendered by our old friend, the Madonna/whore duality. These fears were amplified by Jeff’s graduation and subsequent departure for graduate school at LSU, accompanied by the girl he would eventually marry; for the first time since puberty I was on my own, without his friendship and guidance. So I suppose it’s understandable that I accepted the first serious proposal I got at the ripe old age of 20, just weeks before my graduation in the spring of 1987.
Understandable, perhaps, but not forgivable, at least not to me. Saying “yes” to the man I’ll call “Jack” (short for “Jackass”) was almost certainly the single stupidest decision of my life. He was good-looking (if not quite tall enough for my tastes) and quite charming when he wanted to be; he graduated at the top of his class and already had a job in his field (resulting from a senior internship). My female friends liked him, and though my male friends generally did not I put this down to jealousy deriving from the fact that my engagement took me out of circulation. Would that I had not dismissed their misgivings so easily; I quickly discovered that he was almost my exact opposite. I was unconventional, he was utterly conformist; I was a freethinker, he was incredibly rigid; I was sexually open, he was deeply repressed; and while I was not close to my mother he was a hopeless mama’s boy. Years later, whenever clients would ask what caused my divorce my stock answer was, “There was another woman: His mother.” But though our relationship was incredibly stormy and he left me several times before finally marrying me in 1992, I always took him back because despite all reason I loved him. It is an unfortunate yet undeniable fact that people have the tendency to fall in love with those who do not deserve it, but I believe that love reflects upon the lover, not the beloved; pearls cast before swine are pearls nonetheless.
I continued to love Jack despite his mistreatment because I am incredibly loyal and believe in love, but I have often asked myself why in the world he ever proposed to a woman so outside of his comfort zone (and as my male friends put it, out of his class). I think it was due to his deep ambivalence about sex; though his drive was as strong as any man’s and perhaps stronger than most, the sexual repression imposed on him by his controlling mother and religious upbringing doomed him to endless guilt about it, with my body serving as the battleground. When he was with me he wanted to try all sorts of things and I gave him whatever he wanted, thus leading to overwhelming guilt which erupted into endless argumentation and ensuing breakup. Within weeks, though, his desire for me would overcome his repulsion and he would be back at my door again. Another factor may have been his desire to keep up appearances; perhaps he proposed to me precisely because I was among the most desirable girls at UNO, and with me on his arm nobody would question his manliness. His attitudes can probably best be summed up by the songs he said made him think of me: Grand Funk Railroad’s “Queen Bee” at the beginning of our relationship, and Alice Cooper’s “Poison” near the end.
He left me in January of 1995, and the divorce was bitter, acrimonious and expensive; he apparently decided to head off the possibility of alimony (which I had no intention of requesting anyway) by accusing me of every fault he could think of, including infidelity (with my best friend’s husband, no less) and Satanism (I’m sure the latter was his mother’s contribution). Once the proceedings got well underway he decided to add prostitution to the list; I’m not sure when he imagined I had time to do this, because between my full-time position as a librarian, helping him with a paper route, keeping house and editing books for extra money I barely had time to breathe, much less whore myself. Perhaps he thought it was something I had started doing since he left me; more likely he didn’t actually believe it and was just throwing as much mud as he could in the hope that some of it would stick. All this monstrous behavior at least served to destroy my remaining feelings for him, and by the end of 1996 it was all over; I was left with the house and $90,000 worth of debt on a $24,000 salary. I soon sold the house and moved into a really crappy apartment, but got more and more behind every month.
Despite what you might expect, my self-esteem was better than it had been in over a decade; I had come through the fire and been re-forged stronger than before. My long ordeal with Jack had taught me that it was better to be alone than in a bad relationship, and enduring all the lies in court had taught me not to give a damn what ignorant people thought of me. For the first time since my teens I was completely happy with myself, and I considered the problem of my enormous debt dispassionately rather than allowing it to overcome me. Then one day the solution hit me like a bolt out of the blue; I was beautiful and weighed only three pounds more than I had in high school, and men made passes at me every time I went out. Why not put my sex appeal to work again as I had back in the old days? I still wasn’t quite ready to whore in earnest, so about six weeks before my 31st birthday I went to work dancing for a very nice little club within bicycling distance of my apartment. Unfortunately, this precipitated the final step in the three-decade-long process of estrangement from my mother, but it couldn’t be helped; I needed the money and I refused to toil for endless years at “honest work” in order to repay my debts plus compounded interest.
I found I was very good at stripping, and my debt level dropped like a stone. Only a couple of months later I met my sexologist friend Dr. Helena while she was doing some research on strippers, and she in turn introduced me to Grace. We hit it off instantly and moved in together, which afforded me the use of a car again and thus allowed me to move to the more lucrative clubs on Bourbon Street. This continued for two years; I paid off my debt, gained quite a following (several of whom remembered me when I met them again later as escort clients) and developed so much sexual confidence that by November of 1999 I decided that I had endured enough strip-club bullshit. It wasn’t the customers, and it wasn’t really the work (though I was getting pretty damned tired of competing against 18-year-olds); it was the attitude of the managers, whose basic principle was “If you don’t like it, there’s the door.” I had long since discovered I could supplement my income via outside assignations with appreciative customers, so after a short holiday sabbatical I phoned an escort service on January 2nd of 2000 and started working the same day.
I had enjoyed stripping, but was wild about escorting; it was so much easier, and between jobs I could do whatever I wanted to rather than sitting around a noisy club talking to drunks. I caught up on my reading, started cooking a lot again, and soon discovered I could make literally TWICE my weekly average as a stripper. Best of all, I was able to spend time with my customers and really feel I was giving them something for their money; one thing that bothered me about stripping was that it was all a tease, with no real payoff for the client. But as a whore I could be fair and ethical; within weeks I had developed most of the principles that were to guide me throughout my career, and by the end of the Mardi Gras season I had begun to realize that Pam, the service owner, was slowly abandoning those principles due to a previously-hidden crack habit. Once I saw what an awful person she was becoming (she’s the one we later called “Pimp Mama”) I quit her agency, signed on with two other services, and started my own agency dedicated to treating customers fairly and honestly.
And that, dear reader, is my story. I realize that those who subscribe to the “broken doll” theory of prostitution will blame my mother, but those who read this without such preconceptions will recognize that the opposite is true; though the lack of maternal affection may have contributed to my teenage promiscuity, it also pushed me into a marriage I should never have contracted. But after the disintegration of that marriage I had sex with almost nobody until I started doing it for pay; poor self-esteem drove me into marriage, not prostitution, and it was only after I learned to love myself and accept my own sexuality that I became a whore. Rather than being ashamed of my profession, I am proud of it and consider the time I spent in it one of the happiest of my life.