Kaytlin Bailey first wrote to me several years ago; she had started hinting at her sex work experience in her comedy act and wanted my opinion about coming out more fully. I was honored that she had confided in me, pleased when she started to make it in comedy, and proud for her when she decided to fully own her experience. We went out together one of the nights I was in New York last summer, and I’m grateful she replied positively to my request for this guest column. Her story isn’t funny, but it is, I think, a triumph. Her one woman show will debut in New York City at The Tank Theater July 10th, 11th & 12th. You can follow her on Twitter at @kaytlinbailey.
People tell me I’m brave. I try to remind them that I might be stupid.
I will never sleep with anyone ever again who doesn’t know. Not after he threw me up against a wall, or held me down on the sidewalk until I apologized for the things I had “done to him” five, six, seven years before we met. I was never afraid of a client, but I was terrified of a man I loved very much, who I thought I knew very well.
I started working as an independent escort when I was 17. There were other things going on in my life: I was the president of my high school debate team; I maintained an impressive GPA; I had a nice, age-appropriate boyfriend to whom I had dutifully lost my virginity months before; my parents gave me a generous allowance; I didn’t drink or smoke pot. I had never been raped, but I was sure that if I ever was I would report it and that my rapist would be punished. I had never been hit by a man. All of that came much later. For the first few months I couldn’t even legally rent my own hotel room; I remember one incident where after-school detention cost me over $1,000.
There were, of course, consequences. Making $400 an hour before I had any bills to pay, and spending hours in bed with deeply-unhappy rich men, gave me a lot of weird ideas about money & intimacy. I maxed out my Roth IRA for a few years and paid for a few decadent dinners with my friends, but mostly I parked wherever I wanted to; every morning I parked directly in front of the “no parking” sign in front of my high school, and never cared about the tickets because I thought I had “fuck you” money. I continued to see clients until it wasn’t fun anymore; I had the luxury of doing that. I went to college, got a few degrees, then started working in politics. At first I loved it; then I burned out, started doing open mics, became a comic and moved to NYC, in that order. And that’s when I met the man I thought I was going to marry.
I had so easily dismissed the slut shaming language of my hometown, the colloquial idea that there was such a thing as “the marrying kind”, or that anyone interesting enough to fall in love with would want such a woman (the kind I imagined busying herself with making cupcakes and saying no to perverse invitations). I saw the Madonna/whore complex, and maybe I bought into it a little too much; if there were really only two types of women, I was going to be the free & wild kind. I rejected the pervasive and perverse myth that when a man and woman go to bed together the woman gets up having lost something, and the man gets up having won something. I thought it didn’t matter how many men I slept with, because I was still me. And so I told him, and even though I hadn’t seen a client in over 6 years it broke his heart. His whole body crumpled up, and he shook first with grief, then with rage. He wanted so badly to make sense of me, to reconcile his love for me with things he thought he knew about “whores”.
Sometimes he would press me to give him the narrative of a desperate woman using her body as a last resort, or a victim of some horrific crime, or a stupid girl who got tricked into turning tricks. He was enraged by the truth, and couldn’t accept that I had been curious and turned on by the idea. I was not ashamed of what I had done until I saw what it did to him. It drove him mad, and so I left him even though I believed that he loved me. I left him because I knew that if I didn’t, he would kill me. And after I left I believed for a really long time that he was right, that there was something fundamentally wrong with me.
After I left him I started telling my story; I wanted to see if people who didn’t love me as much as he did could get past what they thought they knew about being a whore. They could. I started by telling audiences, tentatively at first. As a stand up comic I can tell my story with quite a bit of winking distance with lines like “its hard to go from making $400 an hour without a high school diploma, to making $10 with three degrees.”
I know there are consequences to telling my story. I’m afraid that stupid people on the internet are right. I’m afraid that when the sum total of my life is calculated I will have taken more than I have given. I’m afraid of giving birth to children that hate me. I’m afraid to tell my parents; what if I tell my Dad and it drives him to suicide? What if I give my mom the ammunition she’s always wanted to prove I’m not just difficult, but crazy? I’m afraid that I will find myself old, living in poverty, and neglecting myself and my dependent (a smelly dog who, justifiably, resents me). But at the same time, I’ve always suspected that people without a complicated history aren’t taking full advantage of life’s exhilarating opportunities. Sometimes I think I’m wired weird; maybe I’m crazy, or a “bad investment.” Maybe I’ve put myself in a percentile of people who are undatable…unloveable? But that’s what New York City is for; it’s where all the unmarriageable go to mate with each other.
I’m not an activist or a role model. I know it’s complicated & I don’t pretend to have a prescription for making anything “better.” I’m not even sure that the human experience can be made to be “better”; it’s pretty messy for everyone, even “the marrying kind” of girls. People ask me if I’m worried I’ll be pigeonholed. Yes, but also no. Was Dave Attell pigeonholed a porn addict? Jim Norton a pervert? Amy Schumer a slut? Chelsea Handler an exhibitionist? Well, yes, they were, but it didn’t limit them. I don’t know the future, so I’m choosing to talk about my experience, and I hope my audience finds me.
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