A recent diary, Are the Laws Against Prostitution Doing Anyone Any Good?, inspired some lengthy discussion, but it seemed to create more heat than light. It also hit some personal buttons, as you may have surmised from my title. Many commenters expressed their feelings, some violently enough for their comments to be hidden, and few participants spoke from any kind of direct experience. There were posts by one or two people who had been clients, but no responses, let alone a diary, by anyone who had actually been in the business.
That's why I'm here. I escorted all four years I was in college, starting shortly after I turned 17, and though it was back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, I doubt the experience has changed much. I don't know if I'm the first person to "come out" here as a sex worker or former sex worker, but here it is, ladies and gents, my midnight confession. To paraphrase the immortal Cristal Connors, I was a whore, darlin'.
Whether all this will lead to banning and infamy, polite interest, or just sink like a stone, I don't know, but after the previous diary, I wanted to declare. There probably aren't many of us here who can offer this kind of perspective, and I hope it brings out some productive discussion.
Understand, my purpose is not to tell you about the life of a typical prostitute. I was not typical. I am a man, my clients were screened, I was never dependent on the money to feed a child or keep a pimp from beating me, and I was paid very well. I can only tell you about my life as a prostitute and how I got into it. I also hope, given my past association with other men and women in the sex business, to find some insight into how the abstract issue of prostitution is complicated by the sex, and sex acts, of the participants, and to do so in a way that is honest without being lurid.
This diary will not be pornographic, but it will be frank.
You have been warned.
It was thirty years ago this October that I began my "career" of offering my body to strangers for money. (Could 1979 really be that long ago?) I entered the business as a 17-year-old college freshman, determined live life in the big city fast lane and leave the people in the narrow-minded Gulf Coast town where I grew up choking on my dust. I left the business some four years later, richer in money and experience, far more understanding of the gray areas of life and the darker recesses of life, but feeling no regret or shame, even as I knew it was no longer the life for me.
I was lucky; my memories of those days are not memories of debasement--though it's fair to say I was objectified regularly--but of freedom and excitement. There were strange episodes, sad ones, exhilarating ones, many routine ones, and a few humiliating ones. I was an amateur shrink, frequent dinner companion, pretend boyfriend for light social occasions, and all-around sexual journeyman making a living by fulfilling the fantasies of gay men who had never got what they wanted when they were my age.
Unlike the popular image of what we now call sex workers, I did not grow up poor or friendless or abused. Though my family was close and loving, they knew nothing of my feelings, and I was utterly alone, the only gay person I knew of anywhere in my school or town. I was pretty sure my parents wouldn't reject me, but I didn't have the courage to tell them. Everyone else I was sure of: not only would they reject me, I'd be lucky to make it out of town with my head intact. It was a terrible secret to bear. There was no one to look up to as an example of freedom or dignity, let alone real liberation.
The only semblance of freedom I had was eight weeks in the summer when I visited my mother's parents, who had a house on the Jersey Shore. The place was teeming in summer, and like most kids my age, I made summer friends. Somehow, the queer kids managed to find each other, and inevitably, we explored and tested as adolescents do, determined to make up for our sexless "normal" lives before returning home to our isolation and our secrets.
Still, as painful as it was to keep my secret, I was willing. Pretending allowed me to be popular and, most of all, to be let alone. It was a lot of work, but I was never questioned. I was a big, polite, good-looking kid who swam and ran track, got excellent grades, and went to church on Sunday. How could that kid be queer?
I got through it by imagining what my life would be like once I was on my own. I applied only to schools in New York City and got into the one I wanted most. Finally, I was far from home in the Gay Jerusalem, feeling freedom and joy for the first time in my life, and making lots of new friends. It's not a new story. The Manhattan gay scene was justly legendary, and I was determined to be a part of it. Knowing nothing of the calamity that was about to befall us, it was paradise. I lied about my age everywhere and nobody checked ID's in those days. And I looked over 18, so why bother?
One of these new friends--one of these tricks--suggested I had the requisite qualities, including a very evident wild streak, to become an escort, and make excellent money doing it. I thought about it for a few days, called him back, and he took me to see his pimp/dispatcher/client coordinator. He looked me over, asked some pertinent questions, and told me to take my clothes off. After several years of Speedos, locker rooms, and being treated like a side of beef by coaches and doctors, it was no problem. Very few male athletes are shy about nudity. He also wanted to see me and my buddy perform for him, but by that time being watched was not new or strange to me. I'd been going fairly wild since I arrived in the city early that summer, plus several times the summer before when I'd persuaded my grandparents to let me go into the city for the day to "visit the museums". I reveled in it.
I was hired--but not before we discussed what I was willing to do with clients, and how often, which was no more than two, maybe three clients a week since I was still in school. Otherwise, I was willing to perform with some of the other guys for clients to watch, and to let clients touch me and "service" me as "trade", meaning a masculine, possibly dangerous, and ostensibly heterosexual man willing to let you service him, but offering no hope of pleasure in return. The latter was to become my specialty. My buddy told me I could be picky, since my "type" was in demand, and in those days, there were still many gay men who didn't want to be with another man who "looked gay". They wanted the college athlete they couldn't have when they were younger, the street corner tough, the young tradesman. That's what I gave them.
My first couple of gigs were in scenes with another one of the guys until I was comfortable on my own. Stupidly, I never thought about my physical safety or venereal diseases. I was bigger and stronger than most of my clients, and except for a few times with some of the other guys, I never came into professional contact with anyone else's body fluids except saliva, and I was never interested in being on the receiving end of anal sex. Not serious protection, but I was very lucky. I never contracted HIV or hepatitis and I was never attacked by a mentally unbalanced client.
As to being found out, so long as our facilitator/pimp was careful and our clients were discreet, we were in no danger. Of course, the clients wanted nothing but discretion. Otherwise, I was usually just another clean-cut, well-spoken young fellow riding the elevator up to someone's hotel room or apartment. Who'd think there was anything queer going on?
There's not much more to tell about my "career". I didn't keep a little black book that would one day be used as evidence in a scandalous court case or escort anyone famous. I didn't get hurt, didn't get any offers to retire, didn't fall in love, didn't end up hating myself--I don't think I've ever been capable of such nonsense. I put the boredom, prudery, and narrow-mindedness of my home town behind me and made almost more money than I knew what to do with, was smart enough to save a lot of it, and never let the desires or behavior of my clients become my mirror on myself. I did get seriously bored, and I knew with graduation coming, I couldn't and didn't want to make a real career of being a whore.
Since I never figured out what I did want to do, I decided to take my money and travel the world. If I ran out of money and still hadn't figured it out, I'd come back to the states and get a job or, as a last resort, go to law or grad school. But that's another story.
Some of my best memories are the bull sessions where we’d let loose with others who had been in the trenches. I was friends with some working girls and knew others casually. Some of both sexes were made for the business and others plainly were not, like the ones who continually replayed personal dramas or had active contempt for their clients regardless of the client’s attitude or behavior. They either quit as "high end" escorts (an interesting term given the nature of the work), or ended up as street hustlers.
From my point of view, the business was obviously a lot harder on women than on men. Sexual politics and sexual anxieties were always part of the deal, both for clients and escorts. Female escorts, even the expensive ones, were treated mostly as commodities by men who assumed they had a right to whatever they could afford. They often pushed, sometimes violently, for more than the women were willing to give them. We men, while still commodities, were usually regarded as fantasy treats. Among a large proportion of gay men, a masculine demeanor and an athletic physique confer instant status.
With my clients the issue was usually access to physically desirable qualities that the client wished he possessed in his own body, but did not, all wrapped up for him in a package he could think of as masculine and "straight". This also increased my status relative to client. For the women, clients’ issues ran not just to access, but to domination and control. Being attractive made you an object of anxiety as much as an object of desire. Either way, you had to draw boundaries between yourself and the client, or you were in for serious emotional trouble; it’s a lot easier to maintain boundaries with the client when he looks at you like a present to be unwrapped instead of a cause of anxiety to be controlled.
Part of maintaining those boundaries was avoiding penetration. The most invasive penetration I ever had to endure was a tongue, and rarely in my mouth, either. For women, invasive penetration was almost always a given. Being touched by clients who held you up as a specimen of what’s socially and personally desirable was psychologically worlds away from being penetrated by clients who regarded you as both someone to be desired and as a source of dangerous anxiety. Unsurprisingly, the escorts who seemed happiest were the ones with the most control over the boundaries of the transaction, the men like me who worked as "trade" and the women who were hired for discipline and domination. We did "scenes" for the client where we were positionally dominant and rarely penetrated. At the end of the day, the psychic load was lighter and the rewards proportionally much larger.
Obviously, this is not a comprehensive discussion of what it’s like to be a prostitute of any kind. I can only relate my personal experiences and insights (such as they are) with the hope of starting a more grounded discussion speaking as someone who once lived that life. If there is one thing to take away, it may be that the experience of prostitution is as varied as any human pursuit, and that reliable assumptions about it, and about its practitioners, are hard to come by. Your friendly neighborhood whore may be a lot more like you than you think.
Update: Thanks for your recs. Of all the things to get on the rec list for... Maybe someone who is not as lucky as I was will see this and figure out that you can be in the business and operate with integrity and self-respect and come out on the other side just fine. Again, thanks.