One of the obvious criticisms I was expecting when I agreed to write this series of columns about Fatima the sex worker, is that doing so was going to promote a lifestyle inherently harmful to women. And I certainly received a fair number of reader comments precisely to that effect. Especially because I'm a man, I've also been accused of trivializing an issue I don't know anything about.
Let's ignore for now the obvious fact that male prostitution also exists, and that plenty of knowledgeable people say it's just as inherently harmful to male sex workers, whether they be working for a gay or straight clientele. It's one of those less-known facts that there are all kinds of sex work out there, and that one is no better - or worse - than others by their nature. I strongly believe most of it depends on circumstances. A person who chooses to trade access to their body in exchange for money just to see what it's like, or, say, to test the proposition that sex is better when it's bought, or to earn enough cash on the side they can hide from the rest of the family as a way to treat themselves to special clothes or a trip somewhere or who knows what-all is a lot different than someone selling their body on the street corner to get a dose of heroin.
"You know," she interrupted reading his draft, "you're going around the pot so many times here. It's like you're afraid to give your opinion."
He was tempted to defend himself, but he knew better. He'd learned so much from excellent editors and knew the value of listening to good criticism. He took a deep breath. "I see. Maybe you're right. I don't think I did that on purpose, if that's any consolation. But yeah. Maybe I am scared of saying what I believe. Or maybe I just don't know what I believe at this point. That would explain the rambling. Have any idea how to fix this?"
Boy, among the situations he never thought he'd ever find himself in, asking a hooker for writing advice had to be pretty near the top. But this was no ordinary hooker. And besides, he was in a bind. She was right that his draft sounded like a toddler struggling to tell a short story. There was no obvious point anywhere.
"Well, I see two different ways. Either you tell us clearly and simply what you believe - once you figure it out, of course. Like 'As a libertarian I don't believe it's my business to judge and further, I believe adults should be free to do what they want with who they want for how much they agree on,' or 'I'm actually conflicted on this issue,' or 'I think it ought to be illegal like slavery.' You could just come out and say it straight and get ready for the hate mail."
Marc didn't like the sound of that. Not the hate mail part. The saying it straight part. He just didn't know anymore. "I don't really know what my position is at this point."
"Well, the other solution is to tell everyone you're not sure where you are on this and just ask me to give your readers mine instead."
Wasn't that weird. He hadn't asked her...
"I assumed... I mean, aren't you in favour of it?"
She smacked the table. "THERE! He just asked me the $64,000 question!" She made a sound that prompted Marc to jot down "Hollering Hooker" in his notebook. He was always so keen to write down powerful images whenever they struck him. That made him a very tedious dining companion.
"I'm actually not a big fan, in theory," she said. "I'm a feminist and I really don't like the idea of treating a woman's body as a commodity. Mind you, I feel the same about guys selling their bodies - being traded, bought and sold, rented out like a car - but maybe because I'm a woman, I'm more sensitive to what prostitution does to women than to men."
He had to interrupt. "So... you're a prostitute who's against prostitution?"
What a headline this would make.
"I'm going to need a minute to absorb all this. Why do you do it then?"
"For the money. Like the person who only does a job he hates for the paycheque. In the Pretty Woman movie, Julia Roberts makes prostitution look great because she gets to have sex with Richard Gere and at the end he falls in love with her, and who wouldn't want to have sex with Richard Gere even if they didn't get paid? But let me tell you something. The guys who pay for sex with people like me look like the exact opposite. They're far from handsome. A lot of them are fat. Or hairy."
"Ew! I don't like hair on a man's body."
"Who does? It's gross. Especially on a jiggly belly."
"Hey, I suffer through it, you will, too. Then maybe you'll write all this properly. Your readers have to know. Some clients smell funny. Also, newsflash, they're not especially good in bed. In fact most of them are terrible. They don't hurt me or anything, but sometimes I almost wish they did just to break up the monotony. I'm kidding."
He was glad to hear that. "Don't think I'll put that bit in the column."
"You should. Because that's what I'm often reduced to. Wishing for something to happen to distract myself from the fact that I'm having terribly boring sex with ugly people I don't care about, and I'm only doing it because I'm getting paid. That's as exploitative as the bureaucrat who hates his job but goes in at 8 am every morning anyway because he knows at the end of 30 years he'll get a pension and be set for life. Unless boredom kills him first."
"Still, why do you do it?"
"Because we all, at one point or another, make compromises. Don't we? This is mine."
"Do you hate yourself for it?"
She shook her head and ruffled her hair. "Listen. I won't lie. There are times when I wonder what the hell I'm doing. Why am I doing this to myself, you know? Yeah, money. But I don't need it that bad. I just want it."
He felt so much vulnerability coming out of that small body of hers. "Why not quit, then?"
She snorted. "There's not a day that goes by where I don't tell myself I should. And maybe I will soon. But not just yet. I try to take it one day at a time."
"Do you drink, or take drugs because of that?"
"No, not really. I mean, I drink like a normal person. No drugs, unless you count dark chocolate."
"I do, actually."
"That's because you're smart. But no, I don't have a substance abuse problem, if that's what you're asking."
He smiled. "You believe it or not, Sophie, but I'm glad to hear that. I've covered a lot of people in my life, many of whom are abusers. It rarely ends well for them. Good for you to stay clean."
"Is that what I am?"
"Covered by you?"
"That's kind of cute. Gay journalist covers lesbian straight prostitute - scandal when he is found on top of her. Wouldn't that be a funny headline?"
"Hey, since when are you the better newspaper person?"