Ho Stories

So I’ve been researching the genre of whore memoirs lately, looking for a good agent to help me publish the Lunch Guy as a book, and here’s what I’ve uncovered:

First – there has been a big surge in prostitute memoirs in the past decade (I knew that, but my research reaffirmed that sense). More of us have been coming out & getting published than ever before. 

Second – they tend to fall into 3 sub-categories:

  1. Horror stories – trafficking, coercion & abuse victims who experienced the sex trade against their wills and survived to tell about it. (I personally don’t consider these prostitution stories – if it’s against one’s will, it’s kidnapping, slavery, rape & torture – not prostitution. The experiences may look the same on the outside, but there are significant differences on the inside. To me, conflating choice with trafficking is just another way of reinforcing cultural blind spots). I found a bunch of these & probably won’t ever read any of them. Not because I disapprove of the genre. But frankly, there’s enough trauma in prostitution even when chosen – I don’t need to subject myself to more & worse. What’s of interest to me is not the acts (there’s enough overlay whether you choose or are trafficked) but the psyche that chose and how that psyche manages that particular stigma of having chosen in the aftermath.
  2. Fluff Jobs – happy-hooker-type tales that present prostitution as a job like any other, with its pros & cons (no puns intended). This category also veers into the ‘how to’ genre (how to enter the biz, how to manipulate men, how to give a BJ like a pro, etc.), and is often intentionally titillating. This one is also uninteresting to me – I get the political impulse to white-wash & I share the yearning to be treated like anybody else. But in our culture, I personally just can’t buy that prostitution can be that agreeable. I wish it could. I wish we understood the need for & value of the Sacred Whore, and could structure the work to reflect that value – but our economic paradigm does just the opposite. To me, nothing is as complex and challenging as our society’s relationship to the intersection of sex and money (by which, perhaps I mean – hyper-masculinity), and working with that just can’t be light & fluffy.
  3. Reality Stories – the kind that say “I made this choice. No-one forced me into it and no-one prevented me from leaving it. And here’s my honest effort to tell you what that experience was like”. They usually steer a path somewhere between the first two – neither white-washing nor overtly victimized, refusing to be ashamed, feeling somewhat put-upon (often as much by the stigma as by the sexual experiences), sometimes graphic, but trying not to come across as gratuitously so. Efforts at serious writing. These are the ones I read.

My memoir would have been the third kind if I’d written it 10-20 years ago. I read them in part just to know what’s been written, in part to find kindred spirits, and in part to understand myself and my tribe better – because I think there is value in understanding us. But over the years I’ve concluded that the insight I’m looking for doesn’t  emerge in the first decade after prostitution.

I applaud all those writer’s for having the guts to write at all. I applaud & cherish their hearts for sticking with the memories long enough to write about them clearly.  I applaud and rejoice in their ability to affirm themselves enough in the face of society’s disapproval to believe they’d find readers. I didn’t have all those things when I was at where they were when they wrote their stories (generally in their first post-ho decade). But as I come out again after 20 years in my ho-closet, it becomes more and more clear to me:

  1. The way the sex industry works, it takes decades (seriously, it does) to recognize and work through everything that happened (the initial causes, the deep psychic impulses, the actual events, the mandatory dissociation, the profound stigma, the inevitable secret shame in spite of refusing to buy into the shaming, the inability to be authentically intimate that either preceded or comes from so much transactional affection). It’s just not reasonable to think there can be much insight to be gained from those soon-after tales. It’s still too fresh and raw. Prostitution requires a long time to gain any perspective on.
  2. The paradigms that create that profound stigma work, both from the inside and the outside, to block understanding. I wonder now if I’d ever have come to understand what I did and why I did it and how it impacted me if I’d written about it for the public back in the day. If I hadn’t given myself 20 years of privacy. If I’d spent my entire adult life walking through a world that saw me as a whore. The weight of that and the defenses that requires, I think now, would be about all one could manage in one lifetime – insight would be too much to ask.

What does that all mean to me today?

It means:

  1. I’m grateful for those bold (or naive or reckless) souls who have gone before – the ones on the bleeding edge of this emergence of the missing voice of the whore in civic discourse.
  2. I’m glad now that I’ve waited – the story from 30 years later is really different from right after, and this is the one I’d prefer to write.
  3. I’d bet there will be more old-lady long-ago-whore stories published along with or soon after mine, and I’d bet they will blow people’s minds. People keep registering shock (like in Amazon comments, etc.) that ex-whores can be intelligent, well educated, and successful at non-fucking things. But I take that for granted. There is a fundamental difference between women who choose prostitution and other women, and the more our voices get heard, the clearer that will be. It’s not a mistake that in the old stories the king’s concubine is his closest adviser. As a prostitute, I knew plenty of bimbo-y victim whores, but I also met an unusually high percentage of fascinating brilliant iconoclasts who weren’t afraid to take risks or to transgress in pursuit of greater wisdom and personal efficacy.
  4. As more of us come out, those stigmatizing, understanding-blocking paradigms will begin to shift and we will become more and more able to both understand and articulate the wisdom of whores.
  5. I eagerly anticipate a ‘hundredth monkey’ moment when all these whore-voices tip the scales into a whole new paradigm, and the healing and reuniting power of the Sacred Whore really kicks in.

I know most of you are laughing at me for points #4 & #5, or shaking your heads at how delusional I am – or what a blasphemer. But that’s ok. That’s my truth – I really do hope to see that day when it comes. So go ahead, be appalled at my absurdity, I’ve lived through far worse.

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"For a woman to explore and express the fullness of her sexuality, her emotional and intellectual capacities, would entail who knows what risks and who knows what truly revolutionary alteration of the social conditions that demean and constrain her."

-Louise J. Kaplan - Female Perversions