This is a piece I wrote when i had just started working in Australian brothels. It was pre-2008 economic meltdown and I was having my Pretty Woman moment–y’know the one where the money is fast, the work seems easy and you have the energy to hustle all night long.
Gold Plated Ho
I am one godamned successful prostitute. In only 3 weeks I’ve hauled in over $5000 cash. That’s big money. It’s so much money in fact that it requires a serious re-think on my priorities. I’ve had to ask myself questions like: how much money do I WANT to make? In an economy of such plenty, how much is “enough”? Are there dreams that previously seemed out of reach?
My goal was to raise another $3000 in Oz–enough to keep me traveling for a many more months. I blew past that goal after 2 weeks and I’m now considering my next steps. It’s strange to face the decision about whether to just keep milking this cash cow or get out of Sydney and actually travel. y’know, the great barrier reef! The outback! Melbourne night life!
Imagine asking yourself “Hm, is this queer dance party worth a thousand dollars to me?” because that’s what it costs me not to work on a Saturday night. I’m going on a 3 day buddhist retreat this weekend and will be trading off about $2000 to do it. That’s bizarre. TWO THOUSAND. I can’t think about it too much or i’ll never leave the house again except to work. Instead, i need to focus on the other things i like about life. I will likely go to Melbourne early next week but i’m certain to come back for one last go at the Sydney brothels before i leave Australia. Money isn’t the only thing—but it sure is nice to have the luxury to decide that.
Did i mention that this is SLOW SEASON? Mother of god! it’s raining $50 bills! Lady friends, should you decide that you’d like to take care of that student loan of yours or finance the vegan bakery you’ve always wanted to open, they’re hiring. I’m not kidding. I’ll help you find a place to stay and give you the name and number of the owner at my brothel. I have never had to show ID or be registered in any manner. Just get on a plane and come cash in. A tattooed, pierced mohawked dyke friend of mine dropped by to pick me up yesterday and the receptionist said to her “just let me know if you want to work!” Much can be accomplished with a wig and a tube of mascara.
At about 4 am on my last shift, the brothel owner Johnnie jokingly called me “the mercenary” and said i was his perfect employee. And i am. I’m friendly with everyone, create no trouble, follow the rules and simply do my best to make heaps of money for both myself and the house. Clients love me. If the brothel is busy and i’m feeling “on”, I’m a stone cold money maker wrapped up in an $8 second-hand babydoll slip. The blonde highlights, heels, nails, tan, friendly smile and “cute canadian accent” are all carefully designed to extract the maximum amount of money possible while still providing a friendly and competent service with a smile. It’s a winning combination and as the receptionist put it: “there’s no way for you NOT to make money tonight is there?” Nope.
But it’s all about finding the right brothel where i feel comfortable, relaxed and supported by the staff and other girls. Then all I have to do is show up, smile and make heaps of money. One night I tried another brothel in “the entertainment district” and hated it, making only $500 in a place that was all bad vibes. But at this one, I’m on fire. This kind of money won’t last because eventually I will not be The New Girl and new girls always make the most money. Still, it’s amazing to be able to experience access to this kind of wealth.
I love sex work. Specifically I love being a prostitute. I don’t know if there’s any other form of sex work i’d enjoy as much as this one. Sometimes I’ll catch myself in the mirror while some guy is sniffing coke off my ass and smile. It can be such a riot, especially for someone like me who isn’t even remotely tempted by the drugs and alcohol on offer and enjoys the adventure. Every single booking is different and because I need to stay on my toes and “manage” the experience, I’m forced out of my head and into the moment—unlike much other work i’ve done where I might be planning, researching, writing or ruminating on something for weeks or months. When i just stay present and ride it, i find there are so many unexpected moments of humour, tenderness and always, always learning.
In general, clients are agreeable and a bit nervous. Sometimes they’re excruciatingly polite and usually they need to be reigned in at least a bit. Working with other women—which is illegal in canada—makes it all so much easier. If the guy is known to be a bit pushy, they’ll tell you. If he’s an easy and generous client, they’ll tell you that as well so you know that you can let down your guard a bit and offer him perks. The women i’ve worked with have been nurses, grandmothers, single moms (lots), students, activists and addicts. They come from Britain, Japan, Malaysia, Thailand, India, Jamaica, Canada, Vietnam, Samoa, are Maori New Zealanders and of course, rural Australia. Some of them are keen to befriend me and show me the ropes and some just want to watch Big Brother and smoke.
Every shift surprises me in the most delightful ways. Often it’s the last booking. I think it has something to do with the night—as it gets later, the world gets a bit less predictable. As with the experience i wrote about in my first post, I had decided that it was time to call it a night but figured i’d squeeze in just one last booking. It was after 5 am but the brothel still had plenty of clients and at that point only two of us were still working. I’m guaranteed to keep making money but more than that, I’d be doing the house a favour. “Only a half hour booking” I told the receptionist.
A skinny, white indie-rock bike courier named Drew booked me immediately. With his thick beard and chunky black glasses, he was the kinda guy you’d see at your local independent coffee shop smoking cigarettes and talking bike shit with other dudes. He asked for an hour and the receptionist glanced at me. Sure, i shrugged. What’s the difference between going to bed at 7 am or 8 am after all?
I was quietly warned that Drew could be a bit obnoxious so as we got to the room, I addressed and corrected any attempts he made to subtly exert dominance. With a guy like that you have to let them know who wears the pants straight away—even if your “pants” are lacy undies from the Victoria’s Secret sale bin. I’ve become a pro at retaining all my fierceness while naked. It seems to have worked for Drew because the poor guy fell in love.
After or first hour he said “i really like you!” We had just discovered a mutual love for Elliot Smith’s music while lying in bed after having sex. He actually grabbed me to his chest in a big hug though i didn’t understand why. We spent the second hour listening to songs on his ipod and talking about bands, at which point he said “shit, i adore you”. In the third hour, we talked about bikes and cycling and he cursed his misfortune at having met me at a brothel.
“I’m a bit heartbroken” he said as he went to light another cigarette. Why? I asked. “Because i know I’ll never see you again.”
I didn’t know what to say. I liked Drew well enough and could see us hanging out in his apartment, listening to vinyl and talking about movies. I thought about giving him my number but then imagined the moment where i’d have to remind him that there was no way I’d sleep with him (or even kiss him. That’s $50 on TOP of my hourly fee) unless he came to visit me at work and paid for it. And that would be weird. So I said “I’m sorry hon, but you fell for a hooker.”
“yeah. I know” And he sat on the edge of the bed with this smoke. “Why can’t more girls be like you?!” he moaned. I smiled and shrugged. It reminded me that to some folks, i’m a serious catch.
All told he spent nearly a thousand dollars to hang out with me for 3 hours.We had sex one and a half times. How a courier can afford that, I don’t know. We lay in bed talking about love and friendship till he fell into a deep vodka-enhanced sleep. I showered, gathered my stuff and left a note buried in his messenger bag. I can’t entirely remember what i wrote—after that long without sleep my memory goes and i was trying to write fast so Johnnie wouldn’t see me and think i was making a private booking with a client — but i wrote something about how much i’d enjoyed hanging out with him and how while he was more than just a client, i never date clients. I told him that if i saw him in the hood (he lives near the brothel) i’d be sure to give him a hug.
Then I went downstairs to collect my end-of-night bonuses. Johnnie counted out my money and and we chatted about how i had managed to do so well: “it’s because you communicate with the clients!” he’d say over and over. This turned into an hour long conversation about why he opened the brothel, creating your own reality, about emptiness, death and drugs. Standing around in a towel at 10 am with a fistful of fifties, eating chocolate and chatting with a Chinese-Australian brothel owner—it’s these moments i love. The slightly surreal ones where I’m learning about someone i’d never otherwise never meet in a situation i never could have predicted. One of my favourite things about sex work was also my favourite thing about being a therapist—you never know what’s going to happen and if you are attentive and aware, the most amazing things can and will happen. That’s why i never touch any kind of substance while working. I want to be there for every minute of it.
I left to find a room to sleep in and a little while later I overheard Johnnie rousing Drew out of bed and getting him out of the brothel and into the chilly Saturday morning sunshine. I half hope i run into him so i can ask him if he’s listened to the bands i suggested.
It’s not entirely accurate to say that I don’t see clients. It’s that this kind of high-volume prostitution (5-8 on a busy night) renders me deeply uninterested in sleeping with straight men, clients or not. Not because I dislike like them but because it would seem like a donation to the Dude Fund and I can think of plenty better places for my generosity. The chef does not want to cook on her day off, so to speak. So I’m straight-for-pay at this point. I’ve gotten crushes on a couple of Sydney girls recently but my sexuality is in some kind of limbo where I rarely feel lust. Strangely, I have felt celibate for months and that didn’t change when i started working here in Oz. All i seem to want to do with these crushes of mine is be near and hold hands. I haven’t gotten that close as of yet and it remains to be seen if I’ll want to take things to second base should i get the chance! Funny eh? here i am, a pro who hasn’t even managed to get a girl to hold my hand in months. I don’t see that changing anytime soon either. I expect to remain celibate-in-my-heart for a while. If I imagine my “main” crush right now, I can see her dimples perfectly and i feel a sort of sad-wrenching-happiness. She has a monogamous girlfriend. I haven’t asked her to hang out again because i couldn’t stand to be alone with her and not tell her how lovely and wonderful she is. Lovely and wonderful.
Okay friends, there ya have it. I spent the whole day in bed with my PJ’s on, writing this. I can’t resist pointing out that unlike sex work, writing on a laptop wrecks my body. I’m sore everywhere and in desperate need of a massage! Gee, how come when i tell folks i’m a writer they never worry about my health? Computer use is injurious and in fact, I’ll spend the rest of my life dealing with injuries i’ve acquired from it starting from my undergrad and continuing today. For some reason i’m much more careful about my health and my body while doing sex work.
I hadn’t thought about this until right now but I think I’ve internalized some judgments about sex work and feel a responsibility to be a “good hooker” who is scrupulously careful with my body, my money and a perfectly cheerful and responsible employee. I.e. a good girl. I’ll have to think about that.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this or other stuff. Y’know. just how you’re doing and your thoughts n stuff.
ps undying love to Scarlet Alliance, the aussie sex workers association. The prez E totally hooked me up with work here in Sydney including explaining my rights in the workplace and how to maximize my earning potential. Go solidarity go!!
pps. About a month after I wrote this, someone finally told me that “prostitute” was unacceptable to the sex working community of australia. Slowly the word has faded from my vocabulary.