Hooking Without Crooking – Prostitution is nice work if you can get it decriminalized

Walrus Magazine 2009

by Juliet November

I’m buzzed into the storefront, which is
marked only by a street number, and walk through the empty lounge to a
garish pink staff room, where about eight women sit around chatting in
a cloud of smoke and hairspray. There’s Genevieve, the fortyish
French-Greek siren with cascading waves of black hair; and a
twenty-year-old Australian farm girl, Anna, who clomps around in her
high heels and trades her corset for a Led Zeppelin T-shirt the second
she’s off shift. I set myself up at the long, mirrored vanity beside
someone I haven’t seen here before, a short woman with flawless black
skin and enormous eyes. My ears perk up at her accent. I ask her where
she’s from. “Toronto, Canada.” “Me, too!” I squeal, and we spend the
rest of the night bonding over quirky Australian expressions. (Fair
dinkum? Seriously, what is that?) It’s my second month working in this
Sydney brothel, and I’m learning that the biggest pleasures are often
the most unexpected.

Rewind to a few years ago. I’m sipping a gin and tonic at a College
Street bar with colleagues from the feminist organization where I work,
and the subject of prostitution comes up. One woman shakes her head and
recites the familiar argument about the shameful exploitation of
prostitutes. Another disagrees, saying she loved working as a
professional dominant/submissive in a dungeon. I nod, silently
regretting that I can only guess what that was like. Then I say
something that surprises even me: “I think I may have missed my calling
as a prostitute.”

Of all my sexual adventures, I’d always found the power of giving
pleasure on my own terms especially intoxicating. But by the time it
finally clicked that prostitution could be a sensible, if highly
stigmatized, way for me to make a living, I assumed it was too late. In
Hollywood — my only source of information about the oldest profession —
prostitutes are all hot young blondes, and I was by then a
thirty-one-year-old, size twelve brunette with a gap-toothed smile. But
after my revelation, I got involved in sex work activism and met
ordinary women of all ages who simply knew how to work the magic of a
push-up bra and some lip gloss. Finally, one night, heart racing, I
placed an ad on Craigslist: “Lip Service, 28, out-call.” And two hours
later, I began my side career as a happy hooker.

And, of course, there is the money. I was making $1,000 a night on
weekends —until the financial crisis. Now we might wait an hour or
more, watching bad sitcoms, before anyone even rings the doorbell. I
told a friend who works in television about my money troubles, and she
asked me if I’d have to get a “real job.” As if! Slum it at a
predictable nine-to-fiver? I’ve simply moved into a cheaper apartment,
and now work six nights a month instead of four. If things get worse,
I’d rather move back to Canada and work illegally again.

It’s both a blessing and a curse to know how much better things could
be back home. One result of the Pickton serial murders is that groups
like Vancouver’s Pivot and the Toronto-based Sex Professionals of
Canada have begun challenging the constitutionality of prostitution
laws that risk workers’ safety. While the former group’s case was
thrown out last December because none of its members were active sex
workers facing a prostitution charge, the latter’s is still wending its
way through the courts. I daydream about setting up my own little
brothel back in Toronto — maybe just a few of us sharing the cost of a
three-bedroom apartment, offering services geared to disabled folks,
employing a friend to answer the phone and provide security.
Heartbreakingly, my little reverie always ends in terror as I imagine
being arrested. But tasting a bit of freedom is quickly turning this
happy hooker into a defiant whore.

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