“It is hard to unravel ten years of prostitution into non fictional coherence. To put all the years of confusion and compromise and cognitive dissonance and bent consent onto a page. One year (this month, as it happens) after my last ever ‘appointment’ with a ‘client’, I am trying to retrace my steps through prostitution, with the clarity that comes from distance. Distance being the only thing that enables the human ego to confront its frailties and falsehoods. It is like the clarity a dipsomaniac obtains months, years, from their last, mind altering drop of booze. …
Sometimes we can really see things through a sharp telescope, more closely and more profoundly, than if the object is smack in front of our dazed faces.
When I entered into prostitution, two communicating anxieties plagued me. The anxiety I felt as a working class woman, who was incapable of acquiring for herself the accoutrements of modern, urban living. The trinkets and entertainments that I ‘needed’ to be an ‘empowered’ woman post a Sex and the City re-imagining of female success, even feminism. Secondly, there was the anxiety that I needed to manufacture myself to accrue the validations of men; to have the image of myself, that was transiently comforting in a misogynistic world, reflected back at me.
I had read The Female Eunuch and Pornography by this point and I agreed with many of the elements and arguments. But I was so winded by my own insecurity – and so blind to it – that I didn’t make a solid connection between what I had understood within the discourse of feminism and my own courses of action. Unlike contemporary feminists I did not so much justify being involved in prostitution, via a contorted and distorted feminist lens, as much as ignore the contradictions completely. The desire for money (and my belief in its abilities to bring me power) and the desire to be valued, thought worthy, proved adequately distorting.
I was only 18 when I got involved in prostitution, after an adolescence fettered by bullying, homelessness, depression and a predilection for self-harm. I was not in a position to make this choice freely – if we are to understand the nature of freedom to its fullest extent. And nor were most of the other women I met. I worked across the flimsy class divides in prostitution – working class brothels, middle class escort agencies – and all of the women I met carried with them the same bundles of neurosis, addiction and melancholy. Without exception. Many were desperate to scramble out of destitute circumstances, abusive husbands, redundancy, or the assumptions of ignobility that society presumes of the poor. Most had some relationship with addictive, impulsive or ostentatious, attention seeking behaviours. Oscillating between self-damage and crying out to be liked, respected and admired, as a remedy for whatever incompleteness they falsely believed of themselves.
One doesn’t consent, simply, to prostitution, it is rather an impoverished form of bargaining. However as time moves on, the worth of your chips further degenerate. Your self-esteem erodes, your understanding of yourself becomes confused, as the labour necessitates self-denial and psychological suppression.
Added to which, it is one of the few transactions wherein you become of less economic ‘worth’ as you progress with age. Occasionally older women are able to maintain their ‘value’ but often as a result of giving in to ever more of the punter’s rapacious demands. The increasing compromises made, further threaten to exhaust even the most robust of spirits.
So whatever amount of brittle self-determination exists when one enters prostitution depletes as time moves on. Though I began my journey in this industry with a certain amount of naive zeal, by the end I felt increasingly trapped. The initial high of the money gave way to the dank, uncomfortable awareness of how nauseating suffering through a prostitutional encounter actually was. I remember one day, when I was charged with having the penis in my mouth of a man I found neither attractive nor affable, and having a sudden meditative like realisation of what was going on. A sharpening into focus. Why was I doing this? How could he enjoy this? The questions, like bile, I swallowed down, until they could no longer simmer underneath. Eventually, every time I had to engage with a punter I became physically sick.
I didn’t choose to leave prostitution, my body chose for me. In the end, it knew better. Sometimes, our bodies do not suffer the indoctrination of patriarchal conveniences so easily, as do our fronter-most consciousnesses.
Having to manifest sexual activity due to desperation is not consent. Utilising a poor woman for intimate gratification – with the sole knowledge that you are only being engaged with because she needs the money – is not a neutral, amoral act. Recognising that any state or community cannot wholly function on purported amorality or false notions of neutrality, is not stuffiness or frigidity. And neither is believing that women are not for sale.”