Archive for July, 2010

Come yourself to me, and in this enclosure we will fall into each other’s arms. –  Phryne

I mentioned in yesterday’s column that one of my heroines was Phryne (390-330 BCE), the hetaera of classical Athens, whom I first read about in the paperback version of The Book of Lists when I was 13 or 14.  Though it is not difficult to find information on this great lady online, I felt it only right to compose my own tribute to the woman who was one of my earliest examples of the truth that degradation is something jealous people try to impose on whores rather than something intrinsic to our profession.

Any discussion of Phryne herself is pointless without a brief introduction to the world in which she lived.  By the 4th century BCE the ancient tradition of sacred prostitution was a mere shadow of its former self; the practical Greeks had largely replaced the whore-priestesses with exceptionally beautiful slave-girls given to the temples as offerings, and though these sacred harlots were honored as representatives of Aphrodite they were still technically slaves.  Though religion remained very important to the Greeks it was no longer the all-encompassing institution it had previously been, especially in progressive Athens;  the old aristocrats had fallen out of power, and the temples were increasingly under state control.  This was due to the birth of democracy, which was quickly followed by that of her bastard child the professional politician; then, as now, power-hungry individuals were willing to do anything to increase their personal power.

“Phryne at the Festival of Poseidon in Eleusin” by Henryk Siemiradzki (1889)

One of these early politicians was Solon (638-558 BCE), whom nearly a hundred generations of male historians have lauded as wise and credited with helping to usher in the Golden Age of Athens.  Female students of history are not so quick to praise him, however; Solon established a set of laws intended to curtail the relatively high status of women in Greek society, thus making a lie of Athenian talk of “freedom” and “democracy”.  Athenian wives were denied education and public life; like women in modern Islamic countries, they were segregated to their own quarters in Athenian homes and not permitted to go out except to religious ceremonies, and even then they were closely guarded by male family members.  They were not even allowed to do their own shopping; this task was performed by slaves.  Wives and daughters were condemned to toil and drudgery, discouraged from speaking and handed down as chattel from their fathers to their husbands to their sons.

Given this grim regime, it is certainly no wonder that many women rebelled, as illustrated in this passage from Geoffrey Grigson’s The Goddess of Love:

A girl disenchanted with spinning and weaving and all the chores which withered and wasted the flower of a girl’s life, made a bonfire of her gear outside the door of her house and chose garlands and music and the sweet life instead; she became a courtesan and in her new career naturally called on Aphrodite: “Cyprian, you shall have ten per cent of all I earn,/Just find me work, and you shall have your cut.”

This is still true of many whores today, but for “spinning and weaving” substitute “office work and the rat race.”  It should come as no surprise, then, that many of us still worship an aspect of Aphrodite.

But Solon was not to be so easily foiled; he responded to the explosion in secular prostitution by establishing state brothels staffed with (mostly Asian) slave girls captured in war or purchased on the open market.  Solon set a very low price (one obol, equivalent to ferry fare or the cost of three liters of cheap wine) on these girls so as to drive down the market value on the services of independent whores, and the lives of these poor captives was even more wretched than that of the Athenian wife; they were confined to cramped cells and saw no profit from the Aphrodite-only-knows how many low-class men they were required to service each day.  It was no doubt because of these horrific conditions that wealthier men still preferred to hire streetwalkers, so they continued to thrive despite competition from the public brothels; Solon responded to this by outlawing streetwalking, so the girls were forced to bribe the police with money and sexual favors in order to avoid arrest.  These Ancient Greek cops, like those of 18th century France, were therefore the forerunners of pimps as I discussed in my column of July 27th.

After Solon’s death persecution of streetwalkers declined, and in many other Greek city-states there never were any such laws.  And so conditions were ripe for the rise of the hetaerae (courtesans), the very first call girls.  They were independent, educated and shrewd, and many of them became fabulously wealthy.  Alone among Greek women they belonged to no one and could even own property for themselves; they went about in public as they pleased, even attending the theater and other venues forbidden to “virtuous” women.  Some of them even retired by establishing gynoecia, schools for the education of young courtesans.  The services of the hetaerae were even sought by kings, philosophers and poets; one of them, Aspasia, was the mistress of Solon’s later successor Pericles (495-429 BCE).  This, then, was the world in which Phryne lived.

The Colonna Venus, a Roman copy of the Aphrodite of Cnidus

She was born Mnesarete in the city of Thespiae in Boetia; Phryne (meaning “toad”) was her stage name and referred to the fact that she had a yellowish complexion.  This does not appear to have detracted from her beauty, however, which was so great that she became the model for several contemporary paintings and sculpture, including a statue of Aphrodite by her client Praxiteles.  This statue was purchased by the city of Cnidus after the city of Cos (who had originally commissioned it) objected to its being nude, and became such a popular tourist attraction that the city was able to pay off its entire debt.

Phryne’s beauty did not only make money for others, however; she became so fabulously wealthy that she even offered to rebuild the walls of Thebes after they were destroyed by Alexander the Great in 336 BCE,  on the condition that the words “destroyed by Alexander, restored by Phryne the courtesan” be inscribed upon them.  The prudish government of Thebes refused her, just as the modern government of Nevada refuses to tax brothels on the grounds that it would “legitimize” them.  Though her regular price was high, she adjusted it depending on how she felt about the client; since she considered the King of Lydia to be a tyrant she charged him a ridiculous price (which he paid and then recovered by a special tax on his subjects), but she gave herself to the philosopher Diogenes free of charge because she admired his mind.  And when the Athenian leader Demosthenes offered her a sum equal to the annual salary of a regular workman, she turned him down cold; this may have been a contributing factor to her legal troubles described below.

Eventually, she became such a celebrity that she went about veiled so that only those who paid could look upon her; however, at the festival of Poseidon in Eleusis, she stripped completely and waded into the sea in full view of everyone as an offering to the god.  The event impressed the spectators so that it inspired several works of art, including the Aphrodite Anadyomene of Apelles.  The politicians, however, were impressed in a different way; they were jealous of her power, wealth and popularity and so used the occasion as an excuse to arraign her on the trumped-up charge of “profaning” the festival by her offering.  In those days, blasphemy was a very serious charge; if convicted, she would have been executed.  She was defended by the renowned lawyer Hypereides, who was one of her clients, but despite his skill Phryne appeared doomed by the prejudice of the court; after all, she was independent, proud, educated, outspoken, powerful and wealthy, the diametric opposite of everything a “virtuous” Athenian woman was supposed to be.  As a last effort, Hypereides tore off her gown to display her naked body to the judges, crying ““How could a festival in honor of the gods be desecrated by beauty which they themselves bestowed?”  The desperate gambit succeeded; the Ancient Greeks viewed physical beauty as a gift of Aphrodite, and Phryne’s figure was so perfect the judges had no choice but to accept it as a sign of divine favor.  Since they dared not risk incurring the anger of the love goddess, the judges were forced to acquit the famous courtesan, but they were so unhappy about their failure to make an example of her that the “nudity defense” was henceforth specifically banned in Athenian courts.

“Phryne Before the Areopagus” by Jean-Leon Gerome (1861)

Contrary to what some male historians would like to believe, the hetaerae did not regard each other as rivals but as a sisterhood, as evidenced by this excerpt from a letter of thanks written to Hypereides by the hetaera Bacchis soon after Phryne’s acquittal:  “We courtesans are grateful to you, and each one of us is just as grateful as Phryne.  The suit, to be sure…involved Phryne alone, but it meant danger for us all, for…if we…face prosecution for impiety, it’s better for us to have done with this way of living…you have not merely saved a good mistress for yourself, but have put the rest of us in a mood to reward you on her account.”  History does not record whether the ladies rewarded him in the manner implied, but he and others like him soon had many cases, for the Athenian government and those of other city-states (under Theban and later Macedonian domination) began to prosecute the hetaerae more maliciously and much more often, forcing them to form some of the earliest recorded corporations in order to keep experienced defense lawyers on permanent retainer.  Less than a decade after Phryne’s death the Golden Age of Greece gave way to the Hellenistic Era, and courtesans did not again have it so good until the height of the Roman Empire over 300 years later.

Yet Phryne’s story survived the ages, and her legendary beauty has continued to inspire not only visual artists but also literary ones:  Baudelaire wrote two poems about her, the composer Saint-Saëns wrote an opera about her (Phryne, 1893), and several modern writers have penned novels about her.  And I’m certainly not the only modern whore who feels a strong sense of sisterhood and connection to her; like her, we know what it is like to be vilified by “moral” women who lack the strength and imagination to live as we do, and persecuted by powerful men who employ our services, then offer us up as sacrificial lambs whenever it’s politically expedient to do so.

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Women are not altogether in the wrong when they refuse the rules of life prescribed to the World, for men only have established them and without their consent. –  Michel de Montaigne

If you’ve been reading this column for the past two days you already know that I’m recounting my own story as a way of raising one small voice against the myriad slanders which are leveled against my profession by both misogynists and misandrists.  If you haven’t read the two previous columns, I suggest you do so before continuing because otherwise some of this may be lost on you; as I told my husband yesterday, “If I’m a fallen woman, it sure was a long, slow descent.”

There are billions and billions of whores in the cosmos…

A few months after my 18th birthday, I took direct payment for sex from a man who was essentially a stranger to me, but this did not instantly transform me into a professional; I was content to keep doing things the way I had always done them.  It wasn’t that I had anything against whores; I had been reading about them since my early teens and the Greek hetaera known as Phryne was one of my heroines.  A close friend of mine often turned tricks when she was short of cash and I could certainly have asked for her help getting started, but I think I simply wasn’t quite ready yet.  Though the anti-sex social conditioning had never really taken root in my head, my adolescent flirtation with feminism still colored my thinking strongly enough that I believed an “intellectual” career was better than one as an entertainer; I wanted to be a science popularizer, essentially a female Carl Sagan.  Life is full of such fascinating ironies:  I declined to pursue a career in prostitution because I wanted the opportunity to explain things to people in an accessible manner, yet here I am doing exactly that because of my later experience as a whore rather than instead of it.

But there was another issue, probably much more important; I only minored in psychology, but it doesn’t take a PhD to recognize that being essentially ignored by my mother would have some long-term effects, possibly including promiscuity.  Even though I had plenty of attention from people of both sexes, I was still afraid that I would end up alone in the end, rejected by men who wanted to marry “good girls” no matter how much they enjoyed playing with me.  And so it was that my happiness was undermined by nagging insecurity engendered by our old friend, the Madonna/whore duality.  These fears were amplified by Jeff’s graduation and subsequent departure for graduate school at LSU, accompanied by the girl he would eventually marry; for the first time since puberty I was on my own, without his friendship and guidance.  So I suppose it’s understandable that I accepted the first serious proposal I got at the ripe old age of 20, just weeks before my graduation in the spring of 1987.

Understandable, perhaps, but not forgivable, at least not to me.  Saying “yes” to the man I’ll call “Jack” (short for “Jackass”) was almost certainly the single stupidest decision of my life.  He was good-looking (if not quite tall enough for my tastes) and quite charming when he wanted to be; he graduated at the top of his class and already had a job in his field (resulting from a senior internship).  My female friends liked him, and though my male friends generally did not I put this down to jealousy deriving from the fact that my engagement took me out of circulation.  Would that I had not dismissed their misgivings so easily; I quickly discovered that he was almost my exact opposite.  I was unconventional, he was utterly conformist; I was a freethinker, he was incredibly rigid; I was sexually open, he was deeply repressed; and while I was not close to my mother he was a hopeless mama’s boy.  Years later, whenever clients would ask what caused my divorce my stock answer was, “There was another woman:  His mother.”  But though our relationship was incredibly stormy and he left me several times before finally marrying me in 1992, I always took him back because despite all reason I loved him.  It is an unfortunate yet undeniable fact that people have the tendency to fall in love with those who do not deserve it, but I believe that love reflects upon the lover, not the beloved; pearls cast before swine are pearls nonetheless.

I continued to love Jack despite his mistreatment because I am incredibly loyal and believe in love, but I have often asked myself why in the world he ever proposed to a woman so outside of his comfort zone (and as my male friends put it, out of his class).  I think it was due to his deep ambivalence about sex; though his drive was as strong as any man’s and perhaps stronger than most, the sexual repression imposed on him by his controlling mother and religious upbringing doomed him to endless guilt about it, with my body serving as the battleground.  When he was with me he wanted to try all sorts of things and I gave him whatever he wanted, thus leading to overwhelming guilt which erupted into endless argumentation and ensuing breakup.  Within weeks, though, his desire for me would overcome his repulsion and he would be back at my door again.  Another factor may have been his desire to keep up appearances; perhaps he proposed to me precisely because I was among the most desirable girls at UNO, and with me on his arm nobody would question his manliness.  His attitudes can probably best be summed up by the songs he said made him think of me: Grand Funk Railroad’s “Queen Bee” at the beginning of our relationship, and Alice Cooper’s “Poison” near the end.

He left me in January of 1995, and the divorce was bitter, acrimonious and expensive; he apparently decided to head off the possibility of alimony (which I had no intention of requesting anyway) by accusing me of every fault he could think of, including infidelity (with my best friend’s husband, no less) and Satanism (I’m sure the latter was his mother’s contribution).  Once the proceedings got well underway he decided to add prostitution to the list; I’m not sure when he imagined I had time to do this, because between my full-time position as a librarian, helping him with a paper route, keeping house and editing books for extra money I barely had time to breathe, much less whore myself.  Perhaps he thought it was something I had started doing since he left me; more likely he didn’t actually believe it and was just throwing as much mud as he could in the hope that some of it would stick.  All this monstrous behavior at least served to destroy my remaining feelings for him, and by the end of 1996 it was all over; I was left with the house and $90,000 worth of debt on a $24,000 salary.  I soon sold the house and moved into a really crappy apartment, but got more and more behind every month.

Despite what you might expect, my self-esteem was better than it had been in over a decade; I had come through the fire and been re-forged stronger than before.  My long ordeal with Jack had taught me that it was better to be alone than in a bad relationship, and enduring all the lies in court had taught me not to give a damn what ignorant people thought of me.  For the first time since my teens I was completely happy with myself, and I considered the problem of my enormous debt dispassionately rather than allowing it to overcome me.  Then one day the solution hit me like a bolt out of the blue; I was beautiful and weighed only three pounds more than I had in high school, and men made passes at me every time I went out.  Why not put my sex appeal to work again as I had back in the old days?  I still wasn’t quite ready to whore in earnest, so about six weeks before my 31st birthday I went to work dancing for a very nice little club within bicycling distance of my apartment.  Unfortunately, this precipitated the final step in the three-decade-long process of estrangement from my mother, but it couldn’t be helped; I needed the money and I refused to toil for endless years at “honest work” in order to repay my debts plus compounded interest.

I found I was very good at stripping, and my debt level dropped like a stone. Only a couple of months later I met my sexologist friend Dr. Helena while she was doing some research on strippers, and she in turn introduced me to Grace.  We hit it off instantly and moved in together, which afforded me the use of a car again and thus allowed me to move to the more lucrative clubs on Bourbon Street.  This continued for two years; I paid off my debt, gained quite a following (several of whom remembered me when I met them again later as escort clients) and developed so much sexual confidence that by November of 1999 I decided that I had endured enough strip-club bullshit.  It wasn’t the customers, and it wasn’t really the work (though I was getting pretty damned tired of competing against 18-year-olds); it was the attitude of the managers, whose basic principle was “If you don’t like it, there’s the door.”  I had long since discovered I could supplement my income via outside assignations with appreciative customers, so after a short holiday sabbatical I phoned an escort service on January 2nd of 2000 and started working the same day.

I had enjoyed stripping, but was wild about escorting; it was so much easier, and between jobs I could do whatever I wanted to rather than sitting around a noisy club talking to drunks.  I caught up on my reading, started cooking a lot again, and soon discovered I could make literally TWICE my weekly average as a stripper.  Best of all, I was able to spend time with my customers and really feel I was giving them something for their money; one thing that bothered me about stripping was that it was all a tease, with no real payoff for the client.  But as a whore I could be fair and ethical; within weeks I had developed most of the principles that were to guide me throughout my career, and by the end of the Mardi Gras season I had begun to realize that Pam, the service owner, was slowly abandoning those principles due to a previously-hidden crack habit.  Once I saw what an awful person she was becoming (she’s the one we later called “Pimp Mama”) I quit her agency, signed on with two other services, and started my own agency dedicated to treating customers fairly and honestly.

And that, dear reader, is my story.  I realize that those who subscribe to the “broken doll” theory of prostitution will blame my mother, but those who read this without such preconceptions will recognize that the opposite is true; though the lack of maternal affection may have contributed to my teenage promiscuity, it also pushed me into a marriage I should never have contracted.  But after the disintegration of that marriage I had sex with almost nobody until I started doing it for pay; poor self-esteem drove me into marriage, not prostitution, and it was only after I learned to love myself and accept my own sexuality that I became a whore.  Rather than being ashamed of my profession, I am proud of it and consider the time I spent in it one of the happiest of my life.

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You must be a lost angel
Dressed in your silk lace
Born somewhere between heaven
And hell, I don’t know what place
Yes, I can tell that you’ve cast your spell
The way you hold me, somehow
If this is sin, baby, count me in
I can’t turn back now.
– Don Felder, “All of You”

Moralists, male “experts” and neofeminists love to regale anyone who will listen with their “explanations” for the reasons a woman becomes a prostitute, and the hopelessly gullible accept their opinions despite the fact that none of these people have ever practiced prostitution or even bothered to talk to any of us objectively and without prejudice; it’s a little as though every anthropologist who was considered an authority on some African tribe derived his conclusions from seeing a few members of the tribe at a distance and interviewing some of their enemies while completely discounting the testimony of a large number of them who were educated in England.  Some of these ignoramuses state that all prostitutes are poor and/or uneducated and have few if any other options; moralists claim that we are lazy or lacking in proper moral upbringing; neofeminists insist that we are all victims of childhood sexual abuse (whether we remember it or not), and all of these “authorities” agree that the vast majority of us are drug addicts.  The fact that many educated whores have spoken or written about our lives at great length over the past few decades seems to completely elude these twits, who maintain that they know more about us than we do.  I therefore have absolutely no hope that anything I say will be taken seriously by any of these ostriches, but that’s all right because it isn’t for them I’m writing this but rather for the intelligent and open-minded reader who actually bases his opinions on facts rather than on his cherished beliefs.

Undoubtedly, many prostitutes have one or more of the aforementioned problems, but then so do many non-prostitutes (including many members of the groups who pontificate against us).  But a large number of others have none of these problems, and that includes me; I came from a conservative, middle-class Catholic family and am both well-educated and unusually intelligent.  I don’t drink or smoke, have never as much as tried any illegal drug (not even marijuana), and was never touched sexually by anybody until I started voluntarily experimenting with boys when I was 14.  In yesterday’s column I talked about my sexual history up to the end of 8th grade, so if you haven’t read it yet I suggest you do so before continuing with today’s.

In the mid-‘60s my home town was beginning to expand, and several members of my father’s family purchased lots together on a new street; I therefore grew up next door to first cousins on one side, third cousins on the other and a number of cousins by marriage across the street.  My favorite of these cousins (whom I’ll call Jeff after his hero, Thomas Jefferson) was three years older than me and very protective; he taught me to read when I was four and suggested the majority of my reading matter for the next ten years, and it was his pet name for me that I adopted as my stage name when I started dancing and kept throughout my professional career.  I thought he could walk on water and told everyone who could listen that I was going to marry him when we grew up.  I never stopped loving him, but though third-cousin marriage is completely legal in Louisiana our families would never have accepted it because they thought of him as like a brother to me.  And indeed he was; my overprotective mother trusted him and so I got to go places and do things I would not otherwise have been able to do because she did not allow me to date until I was 16, and even then only in groups to chaperoned events.  As I’m sure you have already surmised, however, this didn’t stop me for one minute.  I was a clever, sneaky and fiercely independent little minx who chafed at arbitrary restrictions (come to think of it, I still am) and Jeff encouraged me to think for myself, disdain arguments from authority and accept responsibility for the possible consequences of my actions.  The latter is very important because though he never stopped me from doing what I wanted to do, he insisted that I make only informed decisions and warned me that if I chose foolishly or disregarded his advice he would let me fall flat on my face.  And though he was always there to pick me up afterwards, he never refrained from saying “I told you so” if I deserved it.  I owe him a great deal, and never would have made it through my teens without him.

Jeff started introducing me to his friends soon after I turned 14, and I’m sure that my lifelong preference for older men has something to do with the fact that most of these guys were not only older than me, but mature for their ages.  I reckon they viewed me as a sort of mascot at first, but soon came to like and respect me in my own right.  They all treated me with perfect  chivalry (either by inclination or because of respect for Jeff), and I tagged along on every group outing and therefore got to see lots of movies my mother would never have allowed me to see.  I of course enjoyed all the male attention, and before long was discovering the power of my sexuality.  It certainly wasn’t because of my looks; I was actually quite plain at the time, not blossoming until 16.  But I was one of those girls with a pronounced sexual aura, and coquettishness came naturally to me.  Jeff answered every question about men I could come up with, and I was as eager to learn as he was to teach me; he understood what my mother did not, which was that if I were kept sexually ignorant I would quickly get myself into serious trouble.  He extracted a promise from me that I would not give my virginity away until I was at least 15, and I kept my word to the letter:  My first time was with an 18-year-old university freshman of my own choosing at my 15th birthday party (the parents of the party’s host were out of town, and we went off to a bedroom while Jeff was out picking up some guests who needed transportation).

The guys I knew through Jeff were really the only ones I socialized with, because as I mentioned in my July 22nd column I attended an all-girl Catholic high school in New Orleans; it was a long bus ride back and forth, but worth it since there were no quality schools in our area and I wanted to be out from under my mother’s gaze as much as possible anyhow.  One might think that the nuns would be worse but this was not the case; I felt so much freer in a school where nobody knew my family and I could simply be myself.  My new friends came from all over the area and few of their minds were mired in small-town provincialism, so they accepted my sensuality and tendency to speak my mind; thus encouraged I grew ever bolder except around teachers and other adults, in whose presence I behaved like a perfect, virginal little angel.  After I started socializing with Jeff’s friends in my sophomore year my budding whorishness become more difficult to hide, however; one girlfriend used to tease me by singing “Hot Child in the City” and “Bette Davis Eyes”, and I’ve already told you what my favorite teacher said about Mary Magdalene being my patron saint.  After I became sexually active in my junior year with boys, and in my senior year with one of my girlfriends, I worked harder at hiding it and generally succeeded, though people still perceived my precociousness; as a friend of the family once said, “Maggie was born adult.”

I will still never know how I managed to talk my mother into letting me stay with Jeff the summer after my senior year; I used the excuse that I wanted to learn the area around the University of New Orleans and get a summer job at the neighboring amusement park (alas, in its last year of existence then) in order to make a little pocket money. But convince her I did, and because I had matured into a beauty my sex life took off in earnest once I turned 17 and Jeff replaced his final objections with “just don’t do anything stupid.”  I only stayed in the dorm for two semesters because I had discovered that roommates are an impediment to promiscuity, but by the end of 1984 I was beginning to realize just how difficult it could be for an 18-year-old university student to make ends meet.  Since I had no shortage of suitors I soon hit upon the idea of getting money from them; after all, I reasoned, was there really a difference between a guy spending money to take me someplace nice and his directly giving me the money instead?  I’ve already described the method I used in my column of July 12th so there’s no need to describe it again; suffice to say it worked well but not quite well enough, so I was forced to supplement it with odd jobs.

One of these was near the beginning of 1985, and is important to my story for reasons which shall soon become clear.  An engineer who was a friend of one of my professors had to go out of town on business; his wife, also an engineer, was away as well, but they had been waiting for some time for a contractor to do some work on their house and he had offered to squeeze them in between two long jobs.  The gentleman was willing to trust the contractor in his house but not with his keys, but I came highly recommended so I was offered a house-sitting gig.  All I had to do was open the house at 8 AM, supervise the contractors until they left and close up by 6 PM.  For this I was to be paid $5/hour, 10 hours a day for seven days, or $350 total; not bad for a broke coed in those days.  The contractors got done ahead of schedule, by Friday morning, and the engineer also came home early and arrived about 4 that afternoon.  While I was showing him a few things the contractor had asked me to point out, he kept finding excuses to rub up against me and eventually came right out and propositioned me.

I honestly don’t know what got into me, because without hesitation I said, “Can I stay on the clock?”  He raised an eyebrow and I elaborated, “I was counting on being paid through the weekend.”

“OK, if that’s what you want,” he said, and he was as good as his word.  It took less than an hour, and when he forked over the whole $350 I felt rather proud of myself.  Yes, I had earned most of it by house-sitting, but I had made the last hundred merely by doing what came naturally to me.  I had crossed another invisible line, and though the final step into whoredom was still more than a decade in the future, I was two-thirds of the way there.

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The weakness of little children’s limbs is innocent, not their souls.  –  St. Augustine

Neofeminists consistently claim that all prostitutes are the victims of sexual trauma which renders us incapable of making competent choices.  They arrive at this conclusion via the psychological defense mechanism known as projection; since the majority of neofeminists are themselves victims of sexual abuse which causes them to hate and fear men, it is their cognitive processes which are warped and delusional, not those of normal women.  But since they cannot face the painful truth that their entire world-view is the product of severe neurosis, they explain the difference between their thinking and that of others by concluding that it is everyone else who is irrational while they are paragons of sanity.  Since whores do not see the world as neofeminists do, we must in their minds be insane, and to have been made that way by that which they imagine as the source of all evil, the male sex drive.  Having arrived at this convenient conclusion, they must then find evidence to support it in order to maintain the pretense of scholarship; this is accomplished by interviewing streetwalkers who are either in prison, drug rehab facilities or reclamation programs (in other words the most maladjusted segment of the lowest class of whores) and making it clear which answers they want by the use of leading questions.  Women in such circumstances will generally provide authority figures (including researchers) with whatever answers they think that authority wants to hear, and those who do not provide the desired answers are explained as being “in denial” or suffering from “repressed memories”. In other words, neofeminist “researchers” practice a looking-glass version of science; first they decide on a conclusion, then hand-pick a sample which they believe will provide the proper results, then discard all results which despite precautions still tend to disprove the conclusion.  The White Queen herself could not come up with anything more backward.  But as I said in yesterday’s column about pimps, those in authority never let facts get in the way of their attempts to control others, and since the neofeminist position gives them a rationale for what they already intended to do anyhow they embrace it wholeheartedly.

Unlike neofeminists and politicians, I do not subscribe to a Machiavellian morality in which any amount of deception or sophistry is allowed as long as it serves to further my agenda.  I wish that I could provide you with one study which disproves everything the neofeminists say, but you’ll have to content yourself with looking over a number of them which are generally less accessible because government grants tend to go to those groups which will produce the results the sponsoring agency wishes.  I can also suggest that you peruse the websites, blogs and other writings of the literally scores of whores who will tell you the same thing I do:  That in the 85% of our profession who aren’t streetwalkers, the majority are happy with our lives and decisions and did not embrace sex work because we were “damaged” in any way, but rather for the same reasons anyone else chooses any career, namely inclination, aptitude and perceived rewards outweighing those of our other options.  I can also tell you about my personal history, which will at least explain how one individual whore came to pursue this profession.

I was born in New Orleans in the autumn of 1966 and raised in a small town nearby as the eldest of several girls born to middle-class Catholic parents, and though I’m sure my mother did her best she never quite knew what to do with me.  You see, I was quite precocious, both intellectually and sexually.  Not that I knew what sex was at that early stage, mind you; I just knew that watching certain scenes on TV made me feel “funny”, and even embarrassed if other people were in the room.  Perhaps my early attraction to science fiction was partly due to the fact that a disproportionate number of these exciting situations appeared in Star Trek.  In any case, I quickly learned that if I asked my mother about certain subjects I was invariably answered with complete silence, “What are you talking about?” or the dreaded “Oh, you know that already.”  She seemed to labor under the misconception that my voracious reading must have already answered any question I might conceivably ask, so no other information was necessary.  I suspect this is the reason I never developed the unhealthy attitude about sex with which many girls are inflicted; my mother never told me anything about it, positive or negative, beyond the obvious things like “it isn’t nice to pick your dress up over your head to show people your underwear.”

Mind you, I don’t believe she was that unhelpful with my little sisters; I honestly think I just made her uncomfortable.  Because even though menarche took me completely by surprise (I had read about it in The World Book Encyclopedia but didn’t expect it before my 11th birthday), I know for a fact she explained it to my little sister ahead of time. By that point I knew better than to open my mouth about anything connected with sex, so I was forced to attempt to discover for myself the answers to such burning questions as why I found Mrs. Emma Peel so fascinating; not that the books I could find in the public library at that time were much help, but they were better than nothing.  I was able to find information on such sensitive subjects all by myself thanks to the instruction of my 5th grade teacher, who also convinced my parents and the principal that I was so far ahead of the other kids I should be promoted directly to 7th grade, bypassing 6th; perhaps the fact that I was already starting to develop also had something to do with their decision to grant her request.

The first time the word “prostitute” was ever applied to me was almost two years later, toward the end of 8th grade; I was 12 years old and despite skipping a grade still the brightest kid in class.  At that time the nuns used to give a form of punish-work called a “lollipop”, which was simply a complex math problem which had to be worked in ink with no errors or scratch-outs.  I was often given them for talking in class, passing notes or the like, but found them childishly simple; the other kids disagreed, so “lollipops” were fairly dreaded.  Well, one day during lunch I saw a male classmate fretting over such a problem, and being an insufferable little snot to people I disliked I couldn’t help saying, “Oh, those aren’t so hard.”

“If it’s so easy, you do it,” he sulked.

“Why should I do your punish-work?” I asked innocently.

“I’ll give you a dollar,” he said.  This instantly caught my attention; my parents did not believe in allowances so I never had any disposable income until I could start cutting my grandmother’s grass in the summer.  I knew I could work the problem in under two minutes, and $30/hour was pretty damned good for a 12-year-old in 1979.  I agreed in a heartbeat, the money was paid and the problem quickly worked.  This started a nice little business for me for several weeks; I was perfectly willing to work other kids’ problems for cash, and I reasoned they were still being punished by having to cough up the money.  It might’ve gone on indefinitely but for the laziness of the boy who had hired me first.  He was given a punishment composition, and I charged him $10 (2¢ a word) and told him he had to recopy it because the teacher would know my handwriting was not his.  Well, the retard ignored my warning and turned in his composition done in what was obviously a girl’s handwriting; it was but the work of minutes for the teacher to compare previous assignments in order to determine whose writing it was, and we were both summoned to the principal’s office.

There was no way on Earth I was going to lie to a nun, and I didn’t really think I had done anything wrong anyhow.  Ah, innocence!  What followed was not pretty.  The boy was dismissed and given a new punishment, while I was forced to listen to a lecture from the principal, then to wait in her office after school until my parents were summoned to a conference about how concerned she was about “Maggie prostituting herself in this manner.”  That was the term she used several times, both to me and to my parents, and yes I knew what it meant.  The trip home was made in silence, which was far worse than any yelling would have been, and later I had to endure several more lectures about how what I had done was wrong.  But through all of this neither Sister nor my parents could answer to my satisfaction the simple question I asked more than once:  How was what I had done different from performing any other service for money?  After all, the assignments were not for grades, so it wasn’t cheating; I had in fact turned down several contracts for doing homework because that would have been.  I was subjected to a lot of platitudes about punishment being for the edification of the one punished, and how paying me money wouldn’t teach them a lesson even if I had raised my rates dramatically.  But I was no fool; I could see that what upset them had nothing to do with other kids getting off easy, and that if I had done their punish-work out of friendship it wouldn’t have been viewed as such a catastrophe.  No, it was obviously the fact that I had charged for my services that disturbed them all so.  I had clearly crossed an invisible line, and though my parents walked all around it Sister had clearly used the exact word she meant to use.  Despite a middle-class background and Catholic upbringing, despite intelligence and education, despite never having abused any kind of drug, and in the complete absence of any history of sexual abuse, I was already on the road to whoredom.  And as we shall see tomorrow, neither high school nor a university education did anything to change my course.

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‘Tis the strumpet’s plague/To beguile many, and be beguil’d by one.  –  William Shakespeare, Othello (IV, i)

In a reply to my column of July 18th, Sailor Barsoom said “Everybody talks about streetwalkers and pimps, but I hear that pimps aren’t as common as they used to be,” to which I replied “They were never as common as they used to be.”  I promised to explain this more fully, and today is the day.  As we have discussed before, most people think the vast majority of whores are streetwalkers; they also believe that nearly all of us have “pimps”, men who dominate and control us, beating us up and taking our money.  Ignorant men like to believe this because it reduces the whore to a slave under male control; cops like to believe it because it lets them pretend they aren’t the chief danger in our lives; neofeminists like to believe it because it feeds into their lurid fantasies of male oppression and the whore as damaged, exploited victim; legislators like to believe it because it gives them an excuse to harass us even in countries where prostitution itself is legal; Hollywood likes to believe it because it’s tawdry and provides material for cheap melodramatics; and moralists like to believe it because it gives them something to “save” us from even though extramarital sex no longer carries a social stigma.  The fact that the pimp as he is generally imagined is actually relatively rare does not matter to any of these people; after all, if the facts do not conform to the theory it is the facts which must be disposed of.

We’ve all played the game of looking for shapes in the clouds, and many have taken the Rorschach test which asks what we see in inkblots.  The ancients made pictures out of the stars, and fundamentalist Christians used to take great pleasure in playing records backward in order to “find” Satanic messages therein.  The human mind is very good at imposing order on chaos, and this is harmless unless we start to delude ourselves that what we see is actually there.  Unfortunately, many people do just that, and others to whom they point out these imaginary patterns usually see exactly what they’re told they will see.  This is a universal tendency of the human psyche, and not one limited to the stupid or weak-minded; many a scientific experiment has been ruined because of “experimenter expectation”, the tendency of even the intelligent mind when confronted with data it does not comprehend to interpret that data according to its preconceptions.  Put more plainly, when any person looks at something he does not understand, he tends to see exactly what he expects to see.  So when an outsider looks at a whore’s life, he tends to interpret every non-customer male who has any kind of relationship with her as a “pimp”, because of course everybody knows that all whores have pimps.

If we’re going to talk about the men who aren’t pimps, it’s probably a good idea to start by defining what a pimp is in the first place.  Once all emotion and exaggeration is stripped away, a pimp is essentially a manager (and indeed some girls even call their pimps that).  He may book calls or provide housing for the girl, advertise for her, protect her, and arrange for bail if she is arrested; in return for these services she pays him a percentage of her earnings.  As in any business, there are good managers and bad ones, and a bad pimp can be very bad indeed; the fees he demands could be wildly out of proportion to the services he provides and he might use coercion, intimidation, violence or even more extreme means to have his way.  But the same thing could be said of husbands or boyfriends; what makes a pimp different?  Now, at this point I must disclose that I am very prejudiced against pimps; the idea of an adult man being supported by a woman grates on my nerves like nails on a chalkboard.  However, I am trying to view this subject dispassionately, and as I said in my July 14th column my dislike for something is insufficient grounds for banning it.  In a way, I’m almost as much of an outsider to the reality of pimps as you are; I have never had a pimp, and only rarely encountered girls who did because they’re quite rare in the world of escorts.  In all fairness, I don’t know for a fact that even those were pimps; it may merely have been my perception.  And though it galls me to have to say this, is a non-abusive pimp really anything different from a low-class, low-rent, unprofessional escort service?  I’ve run into service owners who were only barely above the level of pimps; one in New Orleans whom I will discuss at length later was referred to by escorts who had left her service as “Pimp Mama” because of her lack of concern for her girls and her frequent attempts to control them by threats and histrionics.  Despite my dislike, is it right to oppose pimps merely on principle, even if they treat their girls well and actually give them their money’s worth as good escort service owners do?   In good conscience I must say no.  The government must judge criminality on the behavior of an individual, not merely his status, and the right of individual choice MUST be respected in a free society, even if the majority don’t like that choice.

The stereotypical pimp is male, but in most times and places prostitution was a female business controlled by females; until recently streetwalkers always ran their own shows, and most brothels were owned and managed by women.  The only places in which this was not true were those in which the state controlled the brothels, and even in those most were still run by women and the only men involved were the government bureaucrats sent to collect the state’s cut.  Considering that these governments gave whores nothing but the promise that they would not be beaten, raped and arrested, they could be considered the first pimps.  This system of “toleration” became widespread (most notably in France) in the early 19th century; though prostitution was not technically illegal, the police were given wide powers to “control” prostitutes and generally did so by what later generations called a “protection racket”, squeezing whores of every level for money and beating, raping and/or imprisoning those who refused to pay up.  I find it terribly ironic that modern police tend to be so sanctimonious about pimps when they in fact were the first men to use violence to control and exploit whores, and even today tend to be a much greater danger to those at every level of the profession.

Pimps as we now know them did not appear until just before the turn of the 20th century, when the widespread “purity movement” (an outgrowth of early feminism which was also responsible for such brilliant ideas as Prohibition and attempts to prevent little boys from masturbating) pressured legislatures throughout the West (especially in the US) to ban prostitution outright rather than merely seeking to “control” it.  Since under these new laws women could in many cities be arrested on suspicion of prostitution for simply walking in the street unescorted, streetwalkers began to employ men either to escort them so as to throw the police off, or to keep a lookout at the ends of streets so the whores could rush inside when the cops showed up.  And when a whore was busted despite precautions, a male contact who held some of her money could arrange bail.  In other words, the first true pimps appeared as a direct result of the criminalization of prostitution, which puts modern “anti-pimping laws” on shaky moral ground indeed.  Sadly, this is not the only time in which the government’s excuse for some tyrannical law is the suppression of a problem which would not exist but for other tyrannical laws.  If prostitution were not illegal there would be no need for pimps, and the streetwalkers who keep pimps only do so because they fear the cops more.

Even among streetwalkers, though, the stereotyped abusive pimp is fairly rare.  American studies show that fewer than half of all streetwalkers have pimps, and of those that do the majority of them control the pimps rather than the other way around.  The English Collective of Prostitutes estimates that fewer than 10% of English streetwalkers are encumbered by a “heavy ponce” (abusive pimp) and French estimates are lower still, about 5% of streetwalkers.  Using the English estimate as a median between the higher American and lower French figures, and applying it to our standard 15% estimate of the percentage of all whores who are streetwalkers, we arrive at a figure of roughly 1.5% of all Western prostitutes who are controlled by pimps.  This is a far cry from the “vast majority” claimed by the anti-whore propagandists who infest government and the feminist movement, and similar to most estimates of the number of women with abusive husbands or boyfriends.

Given these figures it seems likely that there are more pimp wannabes in this country than actual pimps.  So, who are all of these men that the authorities and neofeminists claim are pimps?  Many of them are simply boyfriends or husbands of whores; my own husband could have been accused of being a pimp from 2004-2006, a period when my income exceeded his by a narrow margin.  Some are just male friends or roommates, including gay prostitutes.  Others are men employed by escorts or call girls as drivers; some girls prefer not to worry about parking, and it’s nice to know there’s a big burly man nearby who knows exactly which hotel room one is in should a problem arise.  Still others are dependent family members, such as minor sons or invalid fathers or brothers.  The assumption that any man who keeps company with a whore and isn’t a customer must be a pimp has its roots in the old Madonna/whore duality again, specifically the virulent 19th-century “whore as monster” variety, because it pretends that whores are abnormal and therefore incapable of having the same sort of romantic, familial or economic relationships as any other woman.

As I said in the first paragraph, though, most people never let the facts get in the way of their preconceptions, especially when there’s political coin to be made.  So in many countries (such as Canada and the UK) where public opinion and/or feminist pressure has caused laws criminalizing prostitution itself to be repealed, there are still plenty of laws which criminalize nearly everything a prostitute might do either to perform her trade or even just to live, and some of the most pernicious of these are the “living off of the avails” laws.  These laws, supposedly intended to control our old bogeyman the pimp, criminalize any person who is supported even in part by a whore.  So though prostitutes themselves are no longer criminals their boyfriends, university-age dependent children, invalid parents, other prostitutes with whom they share expenses, or anyone else they as much as ASSIST with money are.  Thus whores are once again made pariahs, prohibited by law from having families or even roommates, while the legislators can feel “progressive” about repealing their old discriminatory laws and replacing them with ones intended to “protect” us from domination by males (except, of course, for the male government officials who write laws to control us and collect “fines” from our earnings).  So at the end of the day abusive, controlling pimps who steal whores’ money and give them nothing in return really aren’t that rare after all; they just have government plates on their pimpmobiles and wear uniforms or judicial robes rather than garish outfits with silly hats.

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Women are called womanly only when they regard themselves as existing solely for the use of men.  –  George Bernard Shaw

One major professional hazard for whores is the possibility of rape, and though it is much less likely for call girls than for streetwalkers it does still happen sometimes.  In yesterday’s column I defined rape as I use the word and discussed the appalling ignorance which causes many people (including some women) to conclude that whores cannot be raped; I then described the first time I was raped on the job.  In today’s column I will describe the second time and another incident in which I only barely avoided being raped; strangely enough it was the latter incident which was the most frightening of the three, for reasons which will soon be made clear.  For those who missed yesterday’s column I will repeat this warning:  Though I will do my best to describe these events as neutrally and without lurid detail as possible, it may still be a bit difficult for those of delicate disposition or women who have themselves been raped.  If you belong to one of those two groups, you may wish to skip both this column and yesterday’s because I really have no desire to cause anyone distress.  As I said yesterday I would rather not have to talk about it at all, but the only way to combat ignorance is with complete honesty, and that means discussing the ugly aspects of harlotry as honestly as the beautiful ones.

It was perhaps a year after the first incident that a regular customer of mine who was a wrestling promoter called me for one of his professional wrestlers, a champion from Honduras.  The man spoke almost no English and I only half-forgotten high-school Castilian Spanish, so the details were arranged by my regular.  The hotel wasn’t nearly as fancy as the Windsor Court but it was by no means cheap, and my regular was going to be in the next room, so even though I had a slight sense of foreboding I went ahead with the deal.  As in the other call the first part went as usual, but soon after the client was inside me my true predicament became apparent.

The first sign of trouble was that he wouldn’t stop trying to kiss me.  As I mentioned in my column of July 24th most whores never kiss our clients because of the desire to maintain emotional distance, and though I sometimes broke that rule if I felt some chemistry with a friendly, clean client, I certainly never did with men who seemed unable to  kiss without being disgusting (which I will discuss in a future column).  This guy I most definitely did NOT want to kiss; he had a huge, wet mouth and was a heavy smoker in addition to just generally being gross.  But despite my protests and fighting he continued to kiss me roughly, biting my lip and sucking on it so hard it throbbed.  When I finally succeeded in getting him to let go by biting him back, he started laughing like an idiot and sucking on my neck.  Again I fought, pushing him off, and he moved to one of my tits, then the other, laughing and keeping me down in a wrestling hold so I could not escape.

Finally, I got my opportunity; he withdrew from me, reared up on his knees and announced, “No like condom!” and proceeded to pull it off.  My legs slammed shut like a steel trap and I rolled off of the bed and dropped to the floor so quickly it almost made me dizzy.  This seemed to take him off guard, so I quickly got up and started pointing at my watch, trying to make him understand that his time was up.  It wasn’t, of course, but I managed to confuse him enough to cause him to hesitate while I started to get dressed.  The next five minutes or so were like some grotesque comedy; he kept trying to hug and kiss me while I was trying to get dressed, then actually lifted me off of the floor several times and turned me around in his hands, talking to me in thickly-accented Spanish I couldn’t quite make out.  If I hadn’t been so concerned for my safety it might’ve been funny.  At last, though, I managed to get out the door, only to find my regular coming up the hall from the bar where he had been for the last twenty minutes, oblivious to my noisy struggles next door.  It was the last time I ever saw him, needless to say!

I raced straight home and took a hot shower, then examined myself in the mirror; my lips were swollen and purple, and I had ugly bruises on my neck, chest and nipples.  I was utterly furious and frightened at the same time, and I cried for some time before I could explain to Grace what had happened.  I did not go out again that night, and the next day the bruises were even uglier so I had to take the night off; not even makeup would have covered them.  By the second day following, however, I had figured out a makeup combination which would hide the marks until they got pale enough to ignore.  I think the reason I was affected so much more strongly by this abortive rape than by the completed one was that, while the Frenchman had been very quick and nonchalant and even seemed to think he had done nothing wrong, the wrestler clearly recognized that he was hurting me and obviously took sadistic pleasure in it.  In addition, the Frenchman did not remove his condom; I shudder to think what disease I might have contracted from the wrestler had he succeeded in penetrating me again after removing his.

The one factor these two calls had in common was obviously the language barrier; I do not believe that the problem with these men was their ignorance of English, but rather my ignorance of their languages.  Many people have a tendency to perceive people who don’t speak their language as stupid; think of the stereotypical “ugly American” shouting at non-English-speaking people as if increasing the volume will somehow help them to understand.  Perhaps it is easier for some people to dehumanize those with whom they cannot communicate, to think of them as somehow lacking human feelings and rights.   I believe that is what happened in both of these cases; because I could not speak the language of either man it was easy for him to dismiss me as stupid, even subhuman, like some kind of animated sex doll.

The third (and last) client who violated me to that degree didn’t have the excuse of a language barrier; he was just completely fucked up on some drug I could not identify.  It was at a big Super Bowl party; a group of eight men had hired eight girls (four strippers and four escorts from two different agencies) for three hours, but the negotiated fee just covered our being there (dancing, socializing, and the like).  As is usual in this sort of arrangement, the escorts were picking up “side bets” and entertaining them in the bedrooms off of the main room.  These rooms weren’t locked or anything, so while I was engaged in one such deal there was actually another girl (whom I did not know) in the room changing clothes or something.  The client was taking me from behind, then without warning it was like the Frenchman all over again; he bore down on me with his full weight and switched holes too quickly for me to stop him.  I of course protested and tried to move away, but he was far too heavy for me to move and far too stoned to care about my protests (I’m not sure what he was on but it wasn’t pretty); I therefore went into my usual rape-defense mode, relaxing as best I could with this moron resting his full weight on my arched back.  As with the Frenchman, I was perfectly calm and my thinking was absolutely crystal-clear; though I could easily have attracted attention by shouting, I realized that to do so would probably blow a multi-hour deal not just for myself, but also for seven other girls.  So I kept quiet and resolved to endure it, but I think the other girl realized what was going on because she left the room immediately and apparently summoned one of my girls, a fiery redhead called Karla, who came into the room and asked if I was OK.  Now, picture this bizarre situation; there was a big party going on in the next room, and here was this guy holding me down and raping me, completely oblivious to the fact that another girl was there talking to me.  He was high, all right.  “Yeah, I’m fine,” I gasped.

“Is he doing what I think he’s doing?” she asked, visibly bristling.

“Yeah, he is, but I’ll be all right,” I replied.  She seemed to be getting angrier, so I added, “really.”  And bless her heart, she stayed right there until he was done (which wasn’t much longer) and collapsed on the bed, at which point she took  me into the bathroom and cleaned me up with a warm washcloth, cursing him all the while.  I was really touched by her solicitude and told her so, explaining that I didn’t want to mess things up for everyone (including her, who was saving up to buy a car).  She said she understood, but stared daggers at the stupid ape when he stumbled out of the bedroom an hour or so later.  As with the Frenchman, things worked out for the best because I collected several more “side bets” and when the guys decided to keep four of the girls for another two hours, I was one of them; altogether I went home with over $3000 cash in my purse for five hours of work.  As before, my “pushing past” the ordeal rather than dwelling on it got me through, though I still remember the episode with complete clarity down to the smallest detail.

These three incidents, the only ones of the kind I ever experienced while working, demonstrate the value of establishing oneself as a real person in the eyes of the customer.  Whenever I had the opportunity to talk to the client, to let him see me as a normal woman like his sister or daughter or mother, I automatically invoked the protection of the social conditioning which encourages a man to treat a woman with respect and to refrain from harming her.  But in these three cases I was prevented from doing so, twice by the language barrier and once by a drug-induced neurological haze, and so the old Madonna/whore duality came into play; unlike the vast majority of my customers these three men saw me only as a degraded and even subhuman creature out of the age-old propaganda of the false moralists, and therefore merely a thing to be used rather than a businesswoman who had come to perform a service for him.  If I could believe that these men were just freaks, part of the small criminal element which has no compunction against harming others for their own gratification, it wouldn’t be so bad.  But when I look at society as a whole and see cops violating our rights and persons, the media presenting us as pathetic addicts, legislators treating us as legal incompetents, neofeminists portraying us as damaged psychotics and judges ruling that we don’t even deserve protection from violent assault, I realize that the attitude which allowed those men to violate me is still that of the majority.

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That which does not kill us makes us stronger.  –  Friedrich Nietzsche

Every profession has its dangers, and an omnipresent one for whores of every level is the possibility of rape, though obviously it is much more likely for streetwalkers (especially at the hands of cops, but we’ll talk about that another day).  Because call girls deal with a much higher class of clientele in much more controlled settings, our chances of being raped are far lower than those of our sisters in the street, but those chances still exist and if a girl works for long enough the possibility of rape becomes a virtual certainty.  I was raped twice in my career, and one other time I barely avoided it; strangely enough it was the latter incident which was the most frightening of the three, for reasons which will become clear when I talk about it tomorrow.  In any case, I feel compelled to issue this warning to my readers:  Though I will do my best to describe these events as neutrally and without lurid detail as possible, it may still be a bit difficult for those of delicate disposition or women who have themselves been raped.  If you belong to one of those two groups, you may wish to stop reading now (or at least when you get to the paragraph starting with “the first time I was raped on a call”) and skip tomorrow’s column altogether because I really have no desire to cause anyone distress.  I would rather not have to talk about it at all, but the only way to combat ignorance is with complete honesty, and that means discussing the ugly aspects of harlotry as honestly as the beautiful ones.

First of all, what is rape?  There are probably a dozen ways to define it, but there are things that are legally called “rape” which are not, in my mind, rape; chief among these is statutory rape.  I lost my virginity on my fifteenth birthday to an eighteen-year-old, and I’m sure that at least a few of the guys I had in the next few years were over the imaginary line which separates “child” from “adult”.  By law, all of those experiences were rape, to which I reply “Bullshit”; I was completely in control of every one of those encounters, even the first one.  What’s more, few of the men I slept with had any idea how young I was; though I look much younger than my real age now, as a teenager I was the opposite.  Throughout my late teens people consistently estimated my age as 25, and I was “carded” for the first time in my life in 1996 (at the age of 29).  But despite all these facts, any of the men who enjoyed me when I was 15 or 16 could have been prosecuted for “rape”, which IMHO only dilutes the strength of the word.

Conversely, there are people who would claim a hooker cannot be raped because she has already consented, and many of these ignoramuses are actually in positions of power.  In 2007 a municipal judge in Philadelphia, Teresa Carr Deni, dismissed the case against a group of men who raped an escort at gunpoint, charging them instead with “theft of services” (read story here).  What makes this even more reprehensible is that though local feminist organizations reacted to the story, the response of national feminism was lackluster at best; I’m sure if the judge had been male or the victim a teacher they would’ve had a field day.  Note that the girl was rescued by a fifth man who was invited by the rapists to participate, but realized what was going on and instead rescued her; note also the first response to the linked story, in which a neofeminist uses the incident to argue for the abolition of sex work.  A man recognized rape when he saw it while a “career woman” and “feminists” used the victim to further their agendas, and that is nothing short of disgusting.

I would define rape as “the taking by force of that which a woman cannot be persuaded by other means to give.”  So yes, we can be raped.  Consent to one act does not equal consent to ALL acts, and once force is used all bets are off.  I must also point out that deception is a form of force, since the fraud tricks a woman into giving something she would not otherwise have given; if any of you men out there have ever paid an escort with your credit card and then charged it back when your wife discovered the bill, YOU ARE A RAPIST.  You took her favors after agreeing on a price, then stole the money back.  That is rape, no less than drugging a girl with Rohypnol and fucking her while she is unconscious.  In fact, it’s probably the sleaziest and most cowardly form of rape.  It is, however, not violent; the very few times I’ve had a credit card chargeback that actually stood up (they can usually be successfully challenged) I felt angry rather than violated.  This column is not about such collection-plate thieves, but rather about bona fide, hands-on violence.

The first time I was raped on a call was not the first time I had been raped in my life; that was five years earlier, long before I became a professional, and was both more brutal and far more frightening.  I don’t really care to discuss the incident right now, and I may never do so in this column; suffice it to say that there were three men in positions of power, and that both guns and a massive violation of trust were involved.  But I was a tough little bird even then, and by the time of the incident I am about to describe I had largely dealt with it.  I was enjoying the freedom and money that goes with being a call girl, and sometimes I was even enjoying the sex.  The nightmares and flashbacks had become fairly rare; my experiences with boyfriends in my youth and customers in the preceding months had been so overwhelmingly positive that the trauma was largely drowned in a sea of good experiences with men, both before and after the rape.

There was no way I could have guessed what awaited me that night; I had already done five calls and was high on the knowledge that I had already made a large profit, with another fee on the way!  The customer was at the Windsor Court, New Orleans’ only five-star hotel, which I always enjoyed visiting because it is so beautiful and the staff so friendly and respectful.  The only oddity about the call (though it sent up no red flags at the time) was that I had not spoken to the customer myself; the arrangements had been made by Doug, the best agent of the several I worked with.  This was necessary because the client was from Paris and spoke no English, nor do I speak French.  Doug does, and so was able to set up the call for me.  I trusted Doug’s instincts (and still do; this incident could not be blamed on him as you will see), the customer was in a very expensive hotel, and just before I arrived Doug gave me ANOTHER call to set up for afterward at the hotel next door, which would bring my total to seven if it went through! The client seemed very nice, smiled at me and paid as soon as I came in; I had absolutely no sign of possible danger, no indication that this was not going to go smoothly and quickly.  Things went as they usually do on a call of this type (except for there being absolutely zero talking) and after a bit of foreplay he indicated he wanted to enter me.  After a few minutes of that, however, he suddenly pulled out and attempted to change orifices.

I was not remotely an anal virgin; I had experienced and enjoyed such sex many times with boyfriends and with my ex.  But I never did it with customers for the simple reason that it can be excruciating if done incorrectly, and a stranger simply cannot be trusted to take his time and follow instructions so as to make the experience pleasant for the woman.  So when he started probing there, I said “No” firmly and squirmed backward to get away from him.  Since that word sounds the same in French as in English and my body language was unmistakable, what happened next can only be called rape; he grabbed my shoulders, dropped his whole weight down on me, and rammed into me in one rapid motion.  I started to scream but he put his hand over my mouth, also getting my nostrils in the process so that I couldn’t breathe.  At that moment my brain focused instantly; I felt utterly calm and realized that if I stopped struggling he would probably let go of my face, or at least relax his hand so I could get my nose free.  The pain was at that point secondary to survival, so I went completely limp.  As predicted, he loosened his grip enough for me to twist my nose clear of his hand, and then I was able to concentrate on willing myself to relax so the rest of the experience would be something less than agony.

Fortunately, it didn’t take him long after that, and when he withdrew the pain subsided fairly quickly, though of course the soreness persisted and would for some time.  He went to the bathroom to clean up and though it took me a minute or so to compose myself I soon followed him, silently going over to the toilet; a warm washcloth removed the blood, and when I was fairly sure I wouldn’t stain my underwear I got dressed in silence.  He didn’t seem to think he had done anything wrong, and he smiled and said something in French; when I slung my purse over my shoulder to go, he even spoke a cheery “Au revoir!”

Adieu,” I replied, and went on to my next call.  I was not exactly in the mood to continue working, but since I had already made the appointment professional ethics and greed combined to get me over there.  As it turned out, it was the best thing I could’ve done; both the next customer and the one after him (I did eight calls in all that night, a record which stood until December of 2005) were very nice, very gentle, and were looking for nothing out of the ordinary.  I have often thought how lucky I was that it happened that way; it’s like the folk wisdom that if one is thrown by a horse one must immediately get back on if one wishes to avoid being afraid of horses forever afterward.  I did indeed get right back on, and as a result suffered no lasting ill effects other than a sore anus for a few days.

I didn’t understand then why it was apparently so easy for him to do what he did; men had tried unwelcome things with me many times before, but had always stopped when I asked them to.  The body language of “no” is impossible to misread, and I didn’t believe there could be such a cultural gulf between France and the U.S. that he would ignore my wishes.  Besides, I had seen plenty of European men before, including Frenchmen, and nothing like that had ever happened.  So I put it down to his simply being a complete asshole and went on with my life, and it wasn’t until the second incident many months later that I figured it out, as I’ll discuss tomorrow.  For that second incident bore a striking similarity to the first, and thereby demonstrated in no uncertain terms the value of forming a rapport with clients.

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For everybody knows that it requires very little to satisfy the gentlemen, if a woman will only give her mind to it.  –  Margaret Oliphant

In a comment to my July 21st column, Imnoangel asked “How easy is it for a prostitute to play her part if the man concerned is personally unattractive to her i.e. smelly feet, bad breath, body odour, etc? That’s something I’ve always wondered about.”  I gave her a short reply, but as I think it’s a question which deserves a full column I’ve decided to talk about that today.

For the most part, the customers of call girls are a higher, more affluent class of man with good sanitary habits who genuinely wish to make a good impression; I think most of them recognize that women are repelled by poor hygeine and they feel that offending the girl may result in a rushed job, which they usually don’t want at our price level.  At least half of my customers were obviously freshly showered, shaved and tooth-brushed when I arrived, and even those who weren’t rarely had any noticeable problems.  In my experience, the only customers with an offensive smell were those who were drunk and a few who clearly had physical problems such as extreme obesity or very advanced age.

There are, however, repulsive features which have nothing to do with hygeine; what about the obesity or age I mentioned above?  What about physical deformity, massive scarring or just plain ugliness?  Don’t these come into play?  Paula, who started working for me on her 18th birthday, asked me the same thing:  What if the guy is just really gross or ugly?  My reply to her was, “You know who was the sexiest man who ever lived?  Benjamin Franklin, and you get three pictures of him every time you do a call.” Paula took my meaning immediately and saw the truth in it, which is that this is a job for us, not a date; everyone who deals with the public has some unpleasant clients, and we are compensated much more generously than most for having to deal with them.  It will probably be a lot easier for my female readers to understand this than my male, firstly because physical attraction is a much larger part of the male sexual equation, and secondly because men need to be aroused to sexually perform while women do not; on the most basic level, all that is required of a woman is her physical presence.

Obviously, it’s not a good idea for a call girl to offer that bare minimum; a low-rate girl may be able to get away with just lying there, but a client expects something more for $300.  Still, that’s no problem for most girls; my male readers probably don’t really want to hear this, and most of my female readers already know it, but here goes:  It really isn’t that difficult to convince a man that one is enjoying sex, even if one would much rather be elsewhere.  All it takes is experience and practice, which are also the requirements for honing one’s other professional skills; my stock answer to the oft-asked question “Where did you learn to do that?” was a smile and a “Practice makes perfect,” before returning to what I was doing.  And that raises an important point:  Since sexual service is our profession and livelihood rather than an expression of intimacy or a mere pastime, we have to be good at it; men are a great deal more critical of expensive services than cheap ones, and the call girl who performs no better than the girl next door will find she has little in the way of repeat business.  A professional level of skill at anything only comes with paying attention to the work, carefully noting what accomplishes the desired result and what doesn’t, and concentrating on doing one’s best without the distraction of one’s own feelings.

And this, of course, is another part of the answer to Imnoangel’s question; the whore does not focus on the client but rather on the job.  Yes, she’s trying to please him, but in order to do so she must concentrate on what she’s doing rather than on her own sensory and emotional experience as the non-professional woman does.  This focus on the task rather than the man not only allows her to ignore any repellent features he may have, but also creates an emotional distance between them which serves to insulate her from possible negative feelings most women might experience in such a situation.  It’s also why most professionals (especially in the lower strata) don’t kiss; it requires face to face intimacy which would close that distance.  I have found that my professional detachment even helped me to get through the times I was raped by clients (as I will discuss tomorrow and Monday), though in those cases I was concentrating on relaxing (so as to avoid injury), keeping myself calm and planning my next move should he become even more violent.

I think the fundamental reason most men and non-professional women are so confused about whoring is that they forget that it is essentially a performance, no different from acting or singing.  And given that many people cannot separate other performers from their performances, it should come as no surprise that they are unable to understand our essential natures either.  When I was a little girl many people believed that Cher was part American Indian merely because she had performed the popular song “Half-Breed” in which her character was, and Leonard Nimoy was sought after as a documentary host because people associated him with his cerebral character Mr. Spock.  And I daresay few Americans over 35 will ever forget the commercial in which an actor introduced himself with “I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV” as though that qualified him as a medical expert.  For most of human history the majority of actresses were also harlots, and though our professions have diverged to some degree the whore (especially the call girl) is still essentially an actress in a private erotic drama, with the customer as her audience rather than her equal partner.

It was the recognition of my role as entertainer which allowed me to bend the truth in performance of my profession.  In case the title of my site hasn’t tipped you off, let me say that I consider honesty to be among the greatest of virtues; as I mentioned yesterday it even annoyed me to have to lie about minor details such as my weight or age.  But an actress is not “lying” when she portrays a part, nor is a stage magician when he claims to have made a lady vanish.  A film audience wouldn’t like an actress who broke character in the middle of a scene to talk about her personal life, nor do most people really want to know how the magician does his tricks; they pay to be entertained, and the illusion is intrinsic to the entertainment.  At the same time, a good actress draws on her own personality and experience in order to flesh out a role, and the greatest performances are those which make the audience forget for a time that what they are watching is unreal.  A great actress cares about her craft and her audience, and her audience in turn cares about the person she portrays in the play even if they intellectually know that the character they see does not exist in objective reality.  There is a vast difference between truth and fact, and the persona and behavior of a whore or an actress can be true even if not factual.

I know this maybe a difficult concept, so I’ll try to explain it in another way.  Many clients want to feel the sense of connection which can only result from honest personal interaction, the feeling that they are spending time with a real human being with hopes, dreams, loves, sorrows and quirks which make her a distinct individual.  But at the same time, nobody wants to hear that his escort is having boyfriend problems, or that her kids are sick, or that she just found out her house is infested with termites; he has paid her to make him feel good, not to depress him.  The competent professional knows how to strike the perfect balance between illusion and honesty which will give her client the most memorable and satisfying experience possible, and this is the secret of creating what “hobbyists” call the Girl Friend Experience, or GFE.  As an unusually perceptive regular told me once, “I know that the face you show me is largely an illusion, but I love your illusion.”

Like a film actress, however, a great whore must draw upon her own personality and experience in order to create a true interaction with her client, and unlike her actress sister she must do so without either a script or a director to guide her.  One of my male correspondents recently suggested that “although a prostitute enjoys getting money from men, she also very likely feels underlying dislike, contempt, fear or animosity towards them”; I told him that although this might be true of many streetwalkers, a call girl who felt that way wouldn’t be very successful.  An actress who had such feelings toward her audience would unconsciously project them in her performances and thereby rob them of their essential truth, and this is even more true of the high-class whore.  As I said in my column of July 13th, I genuinely like men and sincerely want to make them happy, so whenever I arrived at a call I tried to use the initial conversation to discover something in the client that I could truly love or admire and concentrate my erotic energies on that thing.  And this of course provides yet another answer to the question with which we began today:  If one can find something to love or admire about a client, one can focus on that and ignore things which might cause one to dislike him.

For the most part, it was rare that I lied to customers about anything other than my weight and age; if there was anything I didn’t want to tell him I simply omitted it rather than falsifying it, and I found this both simpler and vastly more rewarding.  For example, I often heard girls lie about how long it would take them to arrive at calls, or come up with ridiculous excuses as to why they would be late; I just told the truth instead.  “Oh, I’m in the grocery store right now and I’ve got cold things; I just need to run home and put these in the fridge, then I’ll be right over.”  Or, “Oh, honey, it’s raining really heavily outside right now and I’m a bit afraid to drive in it; do you mind if I wait until it slacks down?”  Once I told a customer I was baking cookies and I had one batch left to go, so I would leave as soon as I got it out of the oven in twelve minutes.  He asked what kind, and when I told him “chocolate chip” he asked if he could have some; of course I said yes and he was that much happier to see me.  Yes, these truths (and the many others I told clients about every conceivable subject) were unromantic and unglamorous, but they were real and honest and established me as a real, honest, true person rather than some con artist or a stripper type (long on flash but short on substance).  And this not only gave my clients a richer experience, but also protected me from a very real danger I will discuss in tomorrow’s column.

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The Numbers Game

The years that a woman subtracts from her age are not lost.  They are added to the ages of other women.  –  Countess Diane of Poitiers

I described myself to customers on the phone so many times that it became entirely automatic.  “I’m five foot five and weigh one hundred twenty-five pounds; I have long, curly brown hair and brown eyes.  My bust is thirty-four triple D, my waist is twenty-five inches and my hips thirty-six.”  If the gentleman was from another country, I expressed it metrically (166 centimeters tall, 57 kilograms, bust 105 centimeters, waist 63 and hips 90).  All of these numbers were (and still are, I’m proud to say) exactly accurate except for the weight, which was actually 132# or 60 kg, and still is.  And that of course raises the question:  With a figure like mine, why lie about my weight, especially for a measly seven pounds?  The answer is that I had to because every other woman does.

During Countess Diane’s time (the early 16th century) body weight was not the big deal it is today.  Few people owned a scale at all, much less one large enough to weigh a human on, and few that did would have bothered to weigh themselves anyhow.  There was simply no point; at the time beauty was judged by its qualities rather than its quantities.  Either a woman was beautiful or she wasn’t, and without mass media the only way to judge beauty was in person.  The advent of modern telecommunications, however, made it possible for the fame of a beauty to spread to people who would never meet her, and though the typical photo might show her general appearance it gave little clue as to her physical presence.  Furthermore, the Industrial Age had engendered a mania for quantification, and by the end of the 19th century the desire for exact measurements of everything, including human beings, had become the rule.  The measurements of film actresses were included in their publicity, and by the 1920s it would have been a rare woman who did not know her own by heart.

Even then, however, weight was not the sore point it has become for modern women.  A woman’s weight wasn’t nearly as important as how it was distributed, so even actresses who would today be judged as heavy for their height (including Mae West and Marilyn Monroe) were considered sexy if they carried that weight in the right places.  It wasn’t until the thin look became fashionable in the late ‘60s and the advent of the modern health craze in the ‘70s that absolute weight, no matter how a woman carried it, became the most important quantitative factor of pulchritude, eclipsing even bust and waist size.  Yet, most men still prized the voluptuous figure which cannot help but add weight to a woman’s frame, and since not all curvy girls are shorter than their slender sisters this presented a problem.

Every woman knows that men and women sometimes have different standards of beauty; a look which other women may hail as beautiful may leave men unmoved, and one which engenders lust in men may strike other women as unattractive.  A truly great beauty is one who appeals to both, and since most women wish to be seen as attractive by everyone this can often present a dilemma to the voluptuous woman who also wishes to be fashionable.  Men find her figure appealing, but fashion demands a low weight number, and so she has little choice but to lie about her weight lest she be declared “fat” by silly people no matter what she looks like.  And thus the chain reaction begins.

Back in the ‘60s I sincerely doubt most men cared about what women’s bathroom scales said, so long as they looked good; but once women started routinely lying about their weights, men got used to the figures they heard.  If every shapely woman of my height, both in person and in men’s magazines, claims to weigh 120#, sooner or later guys believe that this is the proper weight for a shapely woman of that height.  And the obvious consequence of this is that I have to lie about my weight as well, because if the customer (who obviously cannot see me through the phone) hears that I weigh 132# he will immediately think of me as chunky and will not wish to see me.  My seven-pound adjustment was relatively modest, but I’ve heard some which border on the absurd.  A year or so ago my husband showed me a girl in Playboy who had exactly the same waist, hips and build as I do with only a barely smaller bust; she was, however, three inches taller than I am and yet claimed to be seventeen pounds lighter.  Another time I heard a 5’10” actress of athletic build claim to weigh two pounds less than I do, and so on.  The practice is so prevalent that one of my regulars, an expert in the security field, told me that most cops and security guards are completely unable to form accurate estimates of the weights of female suspects, who are routinely described as thirty pounds or more below their actual weights.

It goes without saying, then, that it would be a rare escort who doesn’t at least fudge her weight.  Many do more than just fudge, and don’t restrict themselves to weight; I knew a particularly egregious example, a veteran escort in New Orleans who would tell a client absolutely anything she thought he wanted to hear.  Her bust, weight and age were particularly variable; I was once told by a customer that this woman had described herself as 25 years old and busty, when in actuality she was well over 40 and a B cup.  He had of course turned her away, and several other girls as well; one of them actually called me when I was en route to see him in order to warn me away from “this guy who has refused girls from every service in town.”  I assured her that he wouldn’t turn me away, and indeed he did not.  Why?  Because he was honest with me on the phone, and I was comparatively honest with him.

The customer was obviously a New Yorker of Italian heritage; he sounded like a character out of a movie and expressed himself bluntly and honestly.  He wasn’t asking for the moon; all he wanted was a pretty, busty girl in her twenties, and nothing else mattered.  But that was what he wanted, and he told me point-blank that he wasn’t going to settle for a bait-and-switch.  All of the girls he talked to had assured him that they were indeed what he was looking for, but none had been; as he described it, several hadn’t been remotely busty, and the only one who was might have been pretty 15 years ago, but not any more.  When he opened the door to me, however, it was completely different; he instantly broke into a wide grin and proclaimed, “That’s what I’m talkin’ about!”  He welcomed me in, told me about the other girls, and said “I’m not hard to please, all I want is a little eye candy!”  And he was as good as his word; in fact he was one of the easiest calls I ever had.  He explained that though he found it impossible to enjoy intercourse with a condom, he was sensible enough to recognize that unprotected sex was not an option for either of us; he therefore merely wanted me to put on a show for him while he handled things from his end.  Since all he wanted was visual stimulation, he needed an exceptionally attractive woman rather than one who could just do the job, and he was totally satisfied with me.  I got undressed, obeyed his instructions as to what I should do, and he was done in ten minutes.  He then tipped me an extra hundred dollars, told me I was beautiful, and walked me down to the lobby on his way back to the casino.

This story of course illustrates the danger of dishonesty; though many customers will indeed accept whatever they get because they’re either too horny to wait or too intimidated to turn a girl away, some others will not.  And no matter what the outcome of the initial call, nobody is ever going to give a girl who lied to him a second chance.  As I’ve described above, it’s pretty safe to fudge weight because most men are unable to judge it anyhow, and lying about measurements is just stupid because it doesn’t take a lingerie saleslady to know the difference between a B cup and a D.  But what about that most important of numbers, the one about which women have lied since the invention of the calendar?  How much can a woman understate her age without being revealed as a fraud?

The appeal of the young girl to the male psyche cannot possibly be overstated.

Men ask for lots of different things when calling escort services, but the single most common request is “as young as possible”.  Other men specifically request women in their 20s, older or highly-educated men often prefer those in their 30s, and a few even want an escort in her 40s or even older.  But except for the latter group, even the clients whose primary concern is some other factor (big tits, red hair, Asian ancestry, etc) usually prefer younger girls to older, so it’s generally a good idea for an escort to claim as young an age as she thinks she can get away with.  I never stated my age unless a client specifically asked it because I hate having to lie, but whenever I was asked the age I gave for the first few years I worked was 28.  As the years went by I increased it to 29 and 30, and just before I retired I was claiming 31; in actuality I was just a few months short of my 40th birthday at the time.  Now, I look a great deal younger than the average woman of my age; I am 43 now and most people still guess that I’m in my early 30s.  Good health, regular exercise and never having borne children have combined to give me a smooth, even complexion free of wrinkles or lines, and my skin retains all the elasticity it had when I was 25.  So most of the clients I saw never even guessed that I had stretched the truth a bit, and those who did probably didn’t care because I was beautiful and sexy and sweet and gave them their money’s worth.

Once in a while, though, I gave myself away, especially if the pillow talk turned nostalgic or intellectual.  Sooner or later I would demonstrate just a little too much wisdom or knowledge for a woman of the age I had claimed, and at that point the client might ask (though always with a smile) “how old are you, really?”  And I would always answer truthfully, adding something like “if I had told you that I was 38 but look 30, you wouldn’t have believed me.”  They always agreed that I was right, and always assured me that they were totally satisfied despite the deception.  After all, a call girl is not a girlfriend; giving her customer an exciting and satisfying experience is vastly more important than providing him with scientifically accurate data on the exact physical characteristics of her body.  So in the end, it’s the motivation behind the distortion which determines its morality; when I slightly adjusted my weight and age it was because I knew that I was going to give the client a better experience than he would have with anyone else in town, and that is a far cry from flagrant dishonesty intended to cheat a man of both his money and the positive experience he deserves.

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After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Cuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.  –  Luke 8:1-3

Like many Catholic girls of affluent or upper-middle-class families from south Louisiana, I attended an all-girl Catholic high school run by nuns.  And though my path is quite different from theirs and would undoubtedly horrify most of those good ladies, I have nothing but respect for them as a group and will still greet them politely upon meeting them in public.  The education they gave me has served me well, and despite our different philosophies and spiritual beliefs we have in common a decision to pursue a life different from that of most women in modern society.

Nuns, like everyone else, are individuals.  Some are strict, others easygoing; some are stupid, others brilliant.  They can be friendly or reserved, dogmatic or liberal, pompous or humble; and so it goes without saying that any girl educated by them will have some nuns she remembers fondly and others she would prefer to forget.  My favorite was one of my English teachers, a learned and spunky little lady who always said what she thought whether anyone liked it or not, and whose ideas were rather liberal for her generation; it was by her that I was first exposed to the idea that there are many paths to God, and we are called upon to follow the one which our hearts tell us is right despite what others might think.  For the year she taught me and whenever she met me in the halls afterward, she often spoke her mind to me in terms the other girls sometimes considered shocking, but always did so with a twinkle in her eye which let me know that it was said with genuine affection and phrased in a way that she knew would get my attention.  For example, at my senior prom (which she chaperoned) she said to me “Miss McNeill, you are the only woman I know who can wear an evening gown and still look naked.”  I remember especially that I was struck by her use of the word “woman” rather than “girl”, considering that I was 16 at the time.  And on a much earlier occasion, when we were discussing patron saints in a literary context, she gestured toward my blouse (which was, as usual, not buttoned as high as it was supposed to be) and asked, “Who’s your patron saint, Miss McNeill?  St. Mary Magdalene?”

“Mary Magdalene” by Anthony Sandys, circa 1860

And that is my rather roundabout introduction to this brief discussion of St. Mary Magdalene, whose feast day is today (July 22nd).  For many centuries the tradition has endured that she was a repentant prostitute (which is obviously what Sister was referring to that day), but is there any real evidence of that?  And if she wasn’t a whore, what was she?

First of all, she was one of four women named Mary mentioned in the Gospels (the other three being Jesus’ mother, James’ mother and Mary of Bethany); she is distinguished from them by the adjective “Magdalene”, which has generally been interpreted to mean she was from the town of Magdala on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee.  However, “Magdala” in Aramaic (the common tongue of the area at the time) means either “tower” or “exalted”.  So her name might also mean “Mary of the Tower” or “Mary the Exalted”, both of which have implications we’ll look at a little farther down.  With the exception of the reference which forms the epigram above, she is not mentioned at all in the canonical Gospels until the crucifixion, which she is said to have witnessed to the end along with Jesus’ mother and some other women.  All four Gospels state that she was the person to whom the resurrected Jesus first appeared, after which she promptly vanishes from the Bible.  So how in the world was she ever identified as a prostitute?

The first clue may lie in the events of the 4th century, a time when the Church changed dramatically in several ways.  The most important of these is probably the harsh suppression of Gnosticism, a pre-Christian mystical tradition which became interwined with early Christianity until the Church fathers began to see it as divisive; Gnostics were driven from Christian congregations early in the 4th century and their doctrines declared heretical in 388.  Before this time there was no official consensus on which texts actually constituted the Bible, and among those used by Gnostic congregations (and subsequently excluded from the canon) were four more Gospels:  Thomas, Philip, Mary and Judas, all but the last of which assign a much more prominent role to Mary Magdalene than the four canonical ones; indeed, the Gospel of Mary is actually attributed to her.  These Gospels refer to Mary as Jesus’ “companion” and describe him as loving her more than his other disciples and often kissing her on the mouth; indeed, the Gospel of Mary identifies her as the unnamed “disciple Jesus loved” mentioned so often in John.  These clear expressions of favoritism appear to have perturbed the male disciples, particularly Peter, who is said to have argued with Jesus about his allowing a woman to be not only equal to the male apostles, but actually preferred to them.

The early Christian church was fairly egalitarian by the standards of its time and Gnosticism was even more so, but the masculine hierarchy descended from Peter (who became the first pope) had by the 4th century changed the Church into a far more traditionally patriarchal institution which frowned upon the idea of Jesus favoring a woman above men.  The Pauline view of sex as inherently sinful grew along with the institution, and by this time the doctrine of Jesus’ celibacy was firmly entrenched and priests were generally expected to treat their wives like sisters; it should therefore come as no surprise that Gospels which not only showed Jesus as preferring a woman but clearly displaying sexual interest in her would be suppressed.  But just because a text is forbidden to the common people doesn’t mean the leadership is ignorant of its contents, so it is perhaps due to this tradition (and the desire to combat persistent oral tradition of it) that in a sermon in 591 Pope Gregory the Great identified Mary Magdalene as a repentant harlot, possibly by identification with the “adulterous woman” whom Jesus rescues from being stoned in the 8th chapter of John.

Greek Orthodox icon of Mary with red Easter egg.

The early Church was not remotely as monolithic as it later became; there were wide doctrinal differences from diocese to diocese and even between congregations, but from the 4th century on a long series of councils, purges and declarations of heresy shaped the Church into a form more closely resembling its modern one.  The most important of these for our purposes was the Great Schism of 1054, which divided the Church into what we now know as the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox faiths.  The primary reason for this split was of course a power struggle; the Pope claimed jurisdiction over all other bishops, while the four Eastern Patriarchs considered the Bishop of Rome (i.e. the Pope) and that of Constantinople to be equal as the dual emperors of the divided Roman Empire had been.  The Pope had long struggled to impose Western dogma over Eastern churches, which in many cases disagreed with it; one of the controversial doctrines was that of the celibacy of priests, which had become mandatory in the West but fallen out of favor in the East.  Given these differences, it is unsurprising that the growing Western view of Mary Magdalene as redeemed whore never caught on in the East, where she was instead portrayed as a woman so virtuous that a popular legend claimed Satan thought she would be chosen as the mother of Jesus and therefore sent Luke’s “seven demons” to trouble her.  In Greek tradition she is said to have invented the Easter egg when, in an audience with the Emperor Tiberius, she turned eggs blood-red (the traditional color of Easter eggs in Greece) as a sign of the resurrection of Jesus and thereby gained his permission to preach in Rome.

In the West, however, the idea of Mary Magdalene as a reformed harlot quickly took hold; she was generally depicted in art as having long red hair which she left immodestly displayed (rather than covered by a veil as was traditional in the Middle East even then).  She became the symbol of penitent sinners, especially prostitutes; because of this her name was applied to the “Magdalene homes,” asylums for the “reclamation” of prostitutes which began to spring up all over Europe early in the 13th century.  Conditions in these homes ranged from the tolerable to the terrible depending on their endowment and management; a few cared for ex-whores indefinitely while attempting to find them husbands, but the majority were semi-prisons in which the women were “cleansed” by teaching them the “value of honest work” (i.e. unpaid drudgery) with a harsh regimen of long hours, short rations and strict rules while supervisors read from the Bible or various didactic tracts.

Irish “Magdalene laundry”, circa 1910

Most of the Magdalene homes died out after the Black Death decimated 14th century Europe, but a few survived the centuries and the movement actually experienced a revival throughout the English-speaking world in the mid-18th century.  Their numbers dramatically increased with the rise of the “purity movement” in the late 19th century, but by the early 20th their treatment of ex-whores had become so harsh that only the truly desperate were willing to go there and they largely vanished in all countries but Ireland, where they were called “Magdalene laundries” because the inmates were used as washerwomen.  The last of these laundries only closed in 1996 in the wake of a public scandal over physical and sexual abuse in such facilities; the Irish government is still investigating the staggering number of claims against them.

Though the Catholic Church repudiated the doctrine of Mary the Harlot in 1969, the popular image continues in movies such as Jesus Christ Superstar (where I first encountered it at the age of 12), The Last Temptation of Christ and The Passion of the Christ.  Other media have suggested the possibility that she may actually have been Jesus’ wife; this idea was popularized in 1982 by the book Holy Blood, Holy Grail, which suggested that the Catholic Church had suppressed the knowledge of Jesus’ marriage not only to support the doctrine of priestly celibacy, but also to prevent his blood descendants by Mary from challenging the authority of the Pope.  Those familiar with The Da Vinci Code will of course recognize this premise, which was borrowed from the earlier nonfiction work.  A few Neopagan writers have even proposed that Mary Magdalene may have been a temple prostitute for one of the mystery religions such as the very popular Isis cult; they suggest this could not only be the source of the seemingly contradictory harlot and holy woman traditions, but also explain her name (“exalted tower” could equal “temple”, thus “Mary Magdalene” = “Mary of the Temple”).

We may never know the true story of Mary Magdalene; across such a stretch of time it is difficult enough to verify details of the lives of kings, much less those of low-born women.  But no matter what the truth may be, I think it is likely that her name will continue to be associated with our profession, at least in Western popular culture, for a very long time to come.

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