RETROSPECTIVE AND PERSPECTIVE
Most people look down on prostitutes, even the guys who frequent them. Prostitution
is a highly stigmatizing profession, and I'm sometimes amazed how easily I slipped
into it. On one hand it made perfect sense, considering I was already
stigmatized just by being transsexual woman. Many transsexual people regularly face a
gauntlet of discrimination and hateful treatment. As obvious a transwoman as I was in 1986,
I found myself a sitting duck for abuse. Between the need to pay rent and eat, and my need
to live as a woman no matter what, hooking was the only option I saw at the time. It was
also a rebellion against the straight world that had rejected me. Finally, it was nearly
my sole source of self-esteem.
I have no regrets about my time spent in the "Sisterhood of the Towel."
It gave me life experience, taught me empathy, forced me to acquire emotional toughness
and survival skills, got me over my lifelong shyness, paid my bills, brought me excitement
and occasional friendship and it even helped my self-image. That experience gave me the
credentials for my later sexworker activism and peer support, and it overall made me much
less judgmental of people (except for certain contemptible men and sex-negative "feminists"
like Dworkin, MacKinnon and Raymond). However, I'd be lying to assert I didn't have
baggage from my prostitution days — a post-sexwork contempt for men that lasted half a decade
and asexuality that lasted twice as long — though it's likely much of the latter was also
attributable to my gender issue.
Being shy I was forced to overcome my self-consciousness or I would have starved
turning tricks. Compelled to interact with a wide variety of strangers, most of them
motivated either by horniness or loneliness or both, I gained insight into some of the
complexities of human nature and a compassion for some of the most primitive and
misunderstood human instincts. Aside from a few exceptions I liked most of my customers
— or at least I did not dislike them — during my time doing sexwork. I did not always
understand their sexual needs, but I did my best to accommodate them without judgment.
As a result I became more tolerant and accepting, a more mature person. However, there
were a handful of utter creeps whose contempt for women (or at least transgender women)
or whose deceptive ways, lying to get what they want, for the longest time made me wary
of all men.
Financially, prostitution saved my ass in 1986. Fired from my job in late 1985 for
transitioning, I was on the fast track to either starvation or reverting back to living
as a guy, both of which were unacceptable alternatives. As a hooker I made more than even
the Air Force paid me as an E-4. Sometimes the income was so good I could afford not
only my basic living expenses, female hormones and new additions to my wardrobe, I also had
extra money for music gear, a new television and other toys. However, the elation of my newfound
independence was soon subducted under the depression caused by being ostracized as a TS woman,
compounded by the isolation of sexwork. Like many sexworkers, I felt like an outsider.
The lion's share of my emotional distress was caused by transphobic bigotry, and the daily
putdowns and invective hurled at me by total strangers. More often than not the praise of my
clients — "you're so beautiful, so sexy" — made a welcome counterpoint to some lowlife on the
street hollering that I was a "freak" or a "faggot." At times hooking was partly an ego trip: the
relatively easy money and an indescribable sense of power as I saw how desired I was, at least
in those moments in the session. The flipside of that was that, after they got their nut, some
of them seemed to feel guilty or even disgusted, and at times I took on their baggage,
transferring their negative feelings to myself.
SEXWORK, SOCIETY AND A SOLUTION
Our cultural ambivalence about sex, heavily compounded by the stigma of sexwork, contributes
significantly to the misgivings customers and even some sexworkers may have. Even
if both feel the exchange is a fair one — they both get what they realistically expect — the
taboo can create guilt and low self-esteem. Aside from a wife or girlfriend he may be cheating on,
though perhaps "cheating" is a misnomer, a customer has no reason to feel guilty for satisfying his
sexual urges unless they involve harming another. A sexworker has even less reason to feel bad;
if anything she can take pride in her work for the different levels on which she does good.
Those who condemn prostitution do not consider the various social needs that prostitutes
serve. People, men in particular, will always have sexual needs. It is at best unrealistic
to expect all men to be able to always suppress these needs or to always satisfy them solely
with masturbation. This leaves a man with limited options
when it comes to expedient sexual gratification: deceit, finding a partner with similar
inclinations or buying the services of a prostitute. (I exclude rape as it's more of a
sadistic act than a sexual one.) While leading on a partner with lies is not as bad as
forcible sex, it's a selfish and cruel act that leaves its own scars. Since women are
typically not as sexually driven as men, thus fewer willing to have sex for fun, this
leaves prostitution as a means for a man to most easily
scratch his sexual itch, and with the least harm to others.
A good prostitute not only gives her clients a convenient and honest means of having sex,
she can also teach him safer sex techniques — mostly by insisting on them in her work — and
how to please other women partners. Many prostitutes also lend a sympathetic ear, sometimes
acting an a quasi-therapist, (as I did), providing companionship along with sex and a
level of intimacy. Because I did like many of my clients, I was not falsely showing concern
or kindness, and they knew it. I provided a valuable service that made my clients happy and
helped prevent others from being hurt. From that perspective it's a far more honorable way
to earn a living than other "respected" professions.
Social conservatives, self-righteous moralists and other busybodies often argue that
prostitution breeds crime, however that is akin to asserting that smog creates automobiles.
It is the illegality of prostitution that gives greedy, hateful and sociopathic people an
opportunity to commit real crimes in conjunction with sexwork, because they know that the
victim is less likely to report it. This is true of both a john ripped off by a dishonest
whore — especially if he is married or somehow otherwise vulnerable — and also true of the
prostitute robbed, beaten or raped by a trick or a pimp, because for good reason they
believe the police will not take the victim seriously.
If anything, the criminalization of prostitution makes society more unsafe. Aside from crimes
facilitated by the underworld nature of the prostitution, sexwork laws squander police
resources at a time when government budgets are strained to capacity. In addition, the furtive
nature of prostitution makes health monitoring next to impossible. Only when a prostitute
is arrested and convicted may she be tested for sexually transmitted disease, and even then only
for HIV. Given this setting, a client buys a hooker's services at his own risk. Were the
profession legalized and regulated as most service businesses are, both prostitute and client
would be much more protected from violence, actual crime and disease. Though some sexworker
advocates prefer to draw the line at decriminalization, they overlook the important benefits
that health regulations and standard protocols would be provide to sexworkers and their clients.
Regulation also makes sense politically; it will be far easier to pass legalized, regulated
prostitution rather than mere decriminalization, especially in terms of getting law enforcement
onboard. The benefits from a criminal justice perspective are already considerable. Police
resources could be directed toward real crime, making our society safer. Regulation could keep
sexwork out of neighborhoods where it is either dangerous for both buyer and seller, and
also away from residential neighborhoods where children are present. Finally, it makes great
fiscal sense. Not only could we divert more tax dollars toward true crimefighting, prostitute
license fees and collection of income tax would also generate revenues for government.
So long as men desire sexual release without the responsibility of a relationship, there will
need to be prostitutes. From my perspective, while I can't quite claim to look back on my work
as a prostitute with only fond memories, I can assert I do so without regret or shame. I have
some fascinating and funny stories to tell (of course, never divulging my clients' identities),
I much better understand the human condition, and I have better appreciation for my life today.