At the insistence of several friends with good taste in television shows, I began watching HBO’s True Blood. I’ve only seen the first three episodes but so far, I like the supporting characters more than the leading couple, who are way too Twilight-ish for my tastes. This show, just like every other HBO series, does not shy away from sex.
In an honest, straightforward conversation, one character, a gay man named Lafayette, tells his cousin Tara that he is a prostitute (part of it is my Quote of the Moment on the sidebar). This conversation happens after Tara sees one of his clients, a local male Senator, leave Lafayette’s house as she arrives:
Tara says to Lafayette, “So, you’re a prostitute now?” He takes a casual drag off his blunt and answers, “I’m an entrepreneur.” Tara scoffs with disapproval. “What, did you think I was going to be satisfied being a fry-cook for the rest of my life?”
This is the exact reasoning many people have when making the decision to enter sex work. Moreover, Lafayette, as of this episode, doesn’t show any of the stereotypical pathological “triggers” for entering prostitution. He lives in a regional environment that prohibitionists (and honestly, many Americans) consider to be “third world” or “substandard” for making certain decisions: Lafayette is a gay, black male living in rural Louisiana; I doubt he went to college though he’s very smart regardless. These facts of his life are enough to make people dismiss his choices and assign him to a victim status he sure as hell would never accept.
As he stated, Lafayette works as an evening-shift fry cook at a local diner where the main character, Sookie and his cousin, Tara, work. During the day, he occasionally works on a road crew, which he described as “one step up from a chain-gang”. He is clearly a people person, as he enjoys his jobs that require social interaction (fry cook, prostitute, V-drug dealer) over that which demands hard physical labour (road crew), though he does credit the latter job with giving him the body that makes his job as a prostitute all the more profitable. He does his illegal jobs with the ethics of a person who has pride in their job and what it provides to others, which shows that legality of a profession does not necessarily dictate ethics (see also: law enforcement).
As much as I love this character, and I do, I can’t help but to be cynical. Would a female in the same position be so positively and self-assuredly portrayed? In the first episode, one female character Maudette, who was dead by the end of the episode, admitted to accepting $1000 for sex from a vampire. There was just that bit of, “But I had to in order to survive” element. Of course, when that genuine survival element is present, the discussions around social reform that would remove this decision to be a prostitute as an act of desperation is never discussed in earnest; that would require too much self-reflection. That said, Maudette pointed out to her questioning human lover that it would be insane to turn down that amount of money for sex. The repentant female whore still has the higher command of respect from the general public over that of her proud sister.
But I don’t want to distract the main point of this post with discussions of sex and gender regarding sex work. What is truly so positive about Lafayette’s decision to be in prostitution is that it is nuanced. The decision was based on many factors, including economic survival. Every decision is based on the best known solution available at the time and pat, one-dimensional, dismissive explanations for those decisions (especially the “you shoulda done…” or “I would’ve done…” type) is horribly ignorant and simple-minded.