What's So Strange About A Well-Spoken Sex Worker?

You'd think that after the outing of Belle de Jour, nobody would be surprised at a well-spoken prostitute. But when the Atlantic interviewed a sex worker who knew the word "hypocrisy," commenters rushed to call bullshit.

As part of her "Recession Road Trip" series, Christina Davidson interviews Princess, a forty-something woman who took up prostitution to help pay her father's medical bills. A former office manager, Princess was unable to find a new job after her company folded in 2008. So she put the word out through friends that she was "opening my pussy for business," and now she works independently, without a pimp or even a Craigslist ad. But it's Princess's description of her life that seem to have triggered Atlantic commenters' bullshit alarms. She says she "won't service married men or women, men of the cloth." And of the moral status of her occupation, she explains,

Like daddy says, there ain't no shame in bein' a ho. Society may look down on us, but that don't mean society's right. Catholic priests tell us how to live while they's diddling little boys in their free time. Reverends tell us how to live while they's hiring male hos and doing meth. Nu-uh. Don't no one tell me how to live. I have a mind and I can decide what's right and what's wrong for myself. [...]

Hurting people's wrong. Causing pain's wrong. Lying's wrong. Judging people's wrong. Stealing and murder, obviously, wrong. And hypocrisy, that's sometimes the worst wrong.

Commenter OGWiseman responds,

[S]ome of the quotes don't sound right. Would a Philly ho really say she doesn't service "men of the cloth"? Would "hypocrisy" really be on her list of sins? That sounds like an educated woman writing, not a prostitute speaking.

A commenter named decklap concurs:

Maybe Im sheltered here but my life experiences have not lead me to encounter many women who will proclaim "I's opening my pussy for business" AND be able to hold forth on the state of decline in the Catholic church, the whole thing is a clunky re-working of the hooker with a heart of gold cliche. Its an editorial masquerading as a story to suggest that it is representative of something more than Ms. Davidson's personal opinion on prostitution.

Commenter AswanDamn chimes in to defend Princess, sort of:

[D]id you guys read the section that describes her previous life as an (wait for it) office manager of a design firm? Did you stop and think for a moment that maybe this story wasn't about a typical "philly ho," but about the lengths desperate people will go to for their families?

But then jake4357 smacks Aswan down:

The office manager part is made up, too.

Whether or not Davidson is guilty of fabrication (which is, I'd remind the commenters, a very serious charge), the whole exchange is pretty upsetting. It seems impossible for some of the readers to believe that a prostitute can also be educated, or that someone could move effortlessly between slang and elevated language. But this is something college students and hipsters do every day, and you don't need a pair of Chucks and Phoenix tickets to mix high and low diction. The idea that someone poor enough to turn tricks must exhibit speech patterns that are completely predictable to people who read about her on the Internet is not only offensive but ignorant — OGWiseman and the others forget that who is "poor enough to turn tricks" was never completely obvious and has changed drastically with the recession, and that human language is far more nuanced than simple class categories would suggest.

Even AswanDamn, who tries to defend Princess, ends up doing so at the expense of "the typical philly ho." The implication of Aswan's words is that someone who once held a white-collar job would only turn to prostitution out of "desperation." But is it true that most "typical hos" have never worked in an office? That they are qualitatively different from Princess because they turned tricks before the economy got really bad? Who are these "typical hos" anyway? Perhaps the most interesting comment of all comes from summer, a commenter who claims to be a sex worker herself. She writes,

I started in "the business" as a masseuse nearly two years ago when my financial company shut its doors and the major lender who supported our institution crumbled. I have two college degrees, 6 years in the military,an outstanding resume and references. After 8 months of scraping by on unemployment and selling nearly everything I had of value, I was down to the beds that me and my little girl slept on. I saw an Craigslist one day regarding "sensual massage" - used the last $50 I had - got some cheap lingerie, candles and a spa CD at Wal-Mart - and set up shop. The only experience I had was a UC extension class on massage at that point - but at the end of the first day - I made enough to cover the rent.

And:

Now - when I am with my children - I am totally focused on them and their activities. I have a "provider phone" - linked to THIS business, a personal phone and a number for my financial business. We are relaxed and so much happier. I enjoy making people happy all day and have made a lot of wonderful friends. I only work when my daughter is in school (my sons are in college and out on their own now) and I am truly the captain of my own ship.

We can't prove summer's story anymore than we can Princess's, but the fact is that educated women do become prostitutes, and some who turn to sex work out of necessity stay because they like it. Some may disagree with Princess's assertion that prostitution isn't wrong, but it doesn't do either side of the debate any good to assume that prostitutes are all degraded women who can't make a coherent argument — or to artificially divide them into "typical hos" and nice women just providing for their families. The changes brought on by the recession should spur us to reconsider our preconceived notions about class, work, and language — not let them calcify into prejudice.

"Ain't No Shame In Bein' A Ho" [Atlantic]