Prostitution: A Hot & Cold Retrospective
2006, 2009 by Christine Beatty

Sexwork defines the gamut of the sex/adult industry, including prostitution, pornographic acting and modeling, professional domination, exotic dancing and phonesex, to name the more common jobs. Given the cultural ambivalence toward sex especially in the United States, where puritanical and timid attitudes often create a fascination with sex confounded by discomfort it is difficult to write about sex, much less have a mature or rational conversation on the topic, without being pejoratively labeled ("slut," "pervert," and so on). However, by virtue of being a transsexual woman, I usually draw those labels anyway, and since I'm already labeled let's go for it. ______________________________________________________________________________
Being a former prostitute, my practical experience takes me out of the realm of theory and ideology. As a progressive, social libertarian, I find the illegality of prostitution antithetical to the very freedoms this country stands for. How ironic the people who scream for "limited government" and whine about a "nanny state" still support the enforcement of their morality on everybody and they expect everybody to pay for that enforcement (while bitching about high taxes in another breath.) My own observation and common sense concludes that the marginalization of sexworkers, especially prostitutes, and the illegality of prostitution create far more detriment than any social good. Here's my retrospective on my own experience and the conclusions I've drawn.

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.

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. __________________________________________________________________________________