Sunday, April 6, 2014

Shutting up is an art form

    "Honey," my wife called from downstairs. "The Bulls game is on."
    "Just a minute...," I replied, from my office, "I'm arguing with prostitutes in Australia."
    Strange world, this.
    Watching the Bulls play on television with the family is a joy. In the mornings we ask each other, "Are the Bulls playing tonight?" Someone checks the schedule hanging in the kitchen, and, if there's a game, we all sigh in happy expectation. Regular readers know that I'm not much of a sports fan, and generally that's true —I went to the Cubs home opener Friday, reluctantly, invited by a reader, but could not name a single player on the team, before or after. It was nice to sit there and eat peanuts and trade baseball trivia. But the Cubs didn't do anything memorable. One of them hit a home run. That's it.
     The Bulls are different: tremendous athletes, passionate competitors, each an individual, all trying to make the best of a tough situation: Derrick Rose being out for another season with another injury. It's still fun to watch them play. I never thought that passing the ball could be a thing of beauty, but when Joakim Noah does it, it is, sometimes. Often.
     Yet I lingered upstairs Friday. Because there is a strange mix of intimacy and invasion to the Internet, particularly Twitter, which has replaced Facebook and email as the dynamic communications form of the moment (and don't write in informing me that no, it's now Spotify, or LeadPipe, or something even newer. I'm 53 years old. I'm by definition behind the times. I catch up when required).
     What happened is this: Wednesday night I got a call from Attorney General Lisa Madigan's office, telling me that Amnesty International, which generally has a sterling reputation somewhere between Doctors Without Borders and Miss Bianca of "The Rescuers," would be debating, in Chicago, on Friday,  whether to endorse the decriminalization of commercial sex: basically saying that prostitutes, madams, pimps, brothels, should all be legal. Their argument is that selling your body, or someone else's, is a civil right, like voting.
     Madigan passionately believes that is wrong, that all commercial sex is coerced, either now or in the past, the result of child sex abuse. "The reality is, no young girl dreams of becoming a prostitute," she told me, Thursday morning, when I was writing the story. Her view made sense to me.
    I felt confident the column laid out the situation in a balanced way. "The issue pivots on that notion of consent,"I wrote. "Is Madigan right, that prostitution is invariably the result of sex abuse and coercion? Or can it be a choice, a business transaction among consenting adults?"
    Now I admit, I didn't line up testimony to back up that second premise, never thought: "I better find some hookers to talk about how wonderful their lives are." My belief, from 30 years of reporting, is that prostitutes are invariably damaged in some way, typically drug addicts feeding a habit, and fall or are lured into that way of life, trapped without recourse. 
     While no doubt some are working the bar at Gibson's and having a grand time, at the moment, that is rare enough to be insignificant, compared to the general awfulness of the trade experienced by most women. Heroin addiction doesn't become a good life choice merely because Keith Richards pulled it off. That said, I did not do a thorough and comprehensive review of world prostitution. And in posting my story here, I gave, as I try to do on the blog, a little extra background that didn't fit in the paper, a look at the bias I brought to the story:  years ago, I went out with the Cook County Sheriff's Police as they swept streetwalkers off Cicero Avenue. It was a scene from hell; I was amazed that men would pay these women for sex, because I was uncomfortable standing on the same block, breathing the same air.
     That wasn't offered as a sweeping indictment of all sex workers everywhere, but rather a description of what I felt, honestly and sincerely, standing there. 
      The column hit the world of Twitter Friday afternoon, tweeted more than 100 times. And a furious opposition sprang up that caught me completely off-guard.
    "Pure hate..."
    "Polemics and damaging stereotypes..."
    "You are afraid of your own sexuality, so you condemn others for theirs. It's fairly textbook..."
     The reaction was not from Chicagoans, but Australian sex workers -- as far as I could tell -- plus various sympathetic sorts: London party boys, Irish good time gals. Dozens of them.
    "So horrendous. Not even slightly professional."
     "Comparing SW to drug dealers rises to a whole new level of cluelessness."
     "Neil Steinberg is a pustulent, rotting WANKCHARIOT."
     The thing to do would be to ignore it all. I had my say, now they have theirs. A columnist should have a thick skin.
     But to me, a thick skin leads to a thick head. What I do requires being sensitive to nuance. It's not a choice, really. Constitutionally, I'm not the shrug-things-off sort. I'm an explain-myself sort. That's how I'm able to do this job. So I waded in, trying to answer all these people, tweeting in batches of five and 10, trying to make them understand my perspective, to tamp down their outrage. But the more I tried, the angrier they seemed to get, and the more personal. My comment about hookers on Cicero Avenue, about not wanting to breathe the same air, really rattled them, and each tweet exaggerated it a bit more, until it was no longer about a certain group of prostitutes on Cicero Avenue, but about all sex workers, then about all women everywhere. 
     I tried arguing back. No, not all sex workers. Actually,  I was thinking about one specific, real person -- Pam Bolton, I remember her name. I talked with her. The cops said she had AIDS. She was scary. Two weeks later she was murdered. I never forgot her. 
     The next thing I know, I'm arguing with a dominatrix in Seattle and Dan Savage, the sex columnist -- and my friend, someone I have had lunch with, talked to, read all his books, and deeply respect—is trying to moderate between us.
      "I know you both," he writes. "If you got together, you guys would get on like a house on fire. 1st round - or 3 - on me?"
     I almost wrote back, "You know I don't drink, Dan," but then too much of my personal life was already being dragged into it, dug up by Down Under doxies racing online, grabbing what sharp details they could find in 30 seconds and rushing back to scratch at me with them. Personal and mean, behaving very much like right wing religious zealots do when challenged, a rare point of commonality between the two groups.
     Dan's becoming involved gave me clarity, because I thought of his recent book of essays, American Savage, and how it frustrated me when, in places, he detours into various pissing matches and inside-baseball parsing with angry people from various sexual subgroups, who do not see Dan as he really is, big picture — an important writer, a man of integrity and courage and humor who spotlights important issues that most people never even thought about, never mind sympathized with — but instead measure him on some partisan standard insisted upon by their particular clique, find him lacking in that one regard, then condemn him broadly for some lone sentence or passing thought plucked out of his decades of writing.
     Which is what I was getting now, from people who didn't know me, but were waving a phrase they didn't like—"breathe the same air— and trying to smear me across the floor, demanding automatic sympathy for themselves while extending none to me. I was the Bad Man they had uncovered. The classic slasher movie dynamic -- identify someone as evil, quickly establish his guilt and then punish him with all the cruelty that supposedly left you aghast in the first place. You're free to be as vile as you like if you have the right victim.
     I wanted to say, "You know, I was attending secret transvestite dances in Chicago while you were learning the alphabet, honey, so cut me some slack..."  I kept trying to disengage from it, yet kept being drawn back, to face this howl of disapproval. I finally leapt up, fled downstairs, and caught most of the first half of the Bulls game. The Bulls dominated, of course.
     At halftime I was back at my computer. The more I looked at the fireworks on Twitter, the more I recognized the pattern. This is what you get from insular groups—motorcycle riders, gun fanatics, sex workers—who are so used to trading pieties among each other, they forget how to deal with outsiders. They see themselves as besieged. Everybody outside the wall is either a friend or an enemy, a zero or a one. Thus, if I make a statement that seems just a dry, factual rendition of reality—riding motorcycles without a helmet is dangerous; so is carrying a loaded pistol on your hip; prostitutes are mostly degraded victims—expressing that thought flips the switch in their heads, their targeting systems boot up and lock on you, and they automatically blast away. Piling on, flooding the zone, rushing with a snarl down the hillside, clubs raised over their heads, is their mob-mentality response to anything perceived as an insult.  
     Eventually I was overwhelmed by the sheer numbers and their corrosive bile. I started just blocking everybody who commented on Twitter—the examples I gave are actually the mild ones, the ones I didn't block, because the worst ones are gone. When that was too much had the presence of mind to ignore the thing and head downstairs for the fourth quarter—I missed the third trading quips with harlots—where my wife had prepared some peppermint tea. 
     That helped. Peppermint tea always helps.
     The Bulls crushed the Bucks. I came back upstairs, refreshed and determined to extract myself. Consider the source. I looked at the bios of the people writing in. You need a glossary. "Sex-pos Feminist, Bi, Ply, Libsoc, Agorist..."etc. from Wellington, New Zealand. ("Libsoc" is libertarian social philosophy, Agorism is a kind of utopianism where society is based on voluntary exchanges). "Genderfluid Feminist Dominatrix EXTREME MISANDRIST" (hater of men. Well knock me over with a feather.  I had a hunch, but still looked it up, to be sure). 
    You have to marvel at that. "EXTREME MISANDRIST." In all caps. Because a plain old lower case misandrist who merely hates men moderately doesn't do the trick. That took an edge off the criticisms. To be honest, there is something so heartbreaking, it's almost sweet, advertising your own bigotry in your bio and then caterwauling that people aren't treating you fairly. It's like the guy who complained that a supermarket bakery was discriminating against him because it wouldn't put his son's name, "Adolf Hitler," on his birthday cake. Well boo-hoo pal, maybe you should have thought of that before you got into the hating business. 
     It would seem too obvious an irony in fiction, which is why I so love journalism. You can't make this stuff up. A reminder that even marginalized groups can be haters—especially marginalized groups; sometimes, it's all they've got.
     You can't be hurt by that, I kept telling myself. You can't. At least you shouldn't. Because this isn't about you, this fire hose of on-line antipathy. They may have your name, and a few dusty facts they grabbed off Google. But they don't know you, don't what they're talking about. They're just taking the common dodge of using what they consider their victim status to be bullies. And yet — almost touchingly — they somehow expect respect for it in return. How's that workin' for you guys, as a life strategy? Make many friends that way? 
     Enough. There's no winning, just stopping. The tragic part is, they have a point somewhere. I see that through the haze. I'm not the Welcome Wagon for banning sex work. When not channeling the attorney general, I'm pretty open to any stab at fixing intractable social problems like prostitution. If the goal is to reduce the harm, as with drugs ("Foxxie! He's comparing us to drug dealers again!"), then the solution seems a kind of quasi-legalization that kills the secondary market. If Scandinavia can cut heroin use by giving the drug away for free, under controlled settings, maybe making prostitution legal, for the prostitutes, while keeping being a pimp or a madam illegal, would help. It seems to work in Sweden. Maybe instead of banning brothels, the government should run them. 
    Or maybe not. Given how terrorized and abused prostitutes often are, how they'll testify that the man who beats them and takes all their money is in fact merely their boyfriend, not their pimp, this is an area where glib solutions should be viewed skeptically. 
     Enough. Shutting up is an art form, one that requires practice. I'm bad at it, but I'm trying to be better. I don't understand people who live online, endlessly sparring with others who disagree. Not my idea of fun. Which is why I'm glad I call the shots, and can move on from their world, at a quickstep, while they're stuck there. Though to be candid, I'm glad for this episode, because it taught me, not only what agorism is, and how to crank up the filter on my Twitter Interactions feed, but also the heretofore unimagined notion that some women will claim that being a prostitute is the fulfillment of their childhood dreams (pride is the last possession of those with nothing, and the more abject a person's situation, the more they insist on elevating themselves. I try to remember that when some debased soul is glorying themselves over me). It also reminded me of the importance of walking away and waiting for the storm to pass. 
     None of the women who claimed that prostitution was their childhood ambition took me up on my request that they write in at length, explaining that journey. "Someday mum, I'm going to blow strange men in cars, just like you..." I kept asking my Twitter correspondents, if you have a point to make, why not write to me directly and make it fully instead of getting me in their crosshairs and squeezing off 140-character bursts? Only one, Dan Savage's dominatrix pal, who wrote a column for Seattle's The Stranger for many years, actually did.  This post is already too long, and this letter makes it longer—you might want to take a break and have some peppermint tea; it's revivifying—then return. But I asked for it, so I'm presenting her letter uncut and without comment, and you can judge for yourself. I think she makes some good points:

Dear Mister Steinberg,

Mistress Matisse
You said in your tweets on this subject that you were open to more information, so I’m taking you at your word.  This letter may look long, but the situation is complex, so I hope you take the time to acquaint yourself more fully with the issue of sex worker rights. 

First, some basic terminology. People who exchange sex - or sexy activity, if not actual penetrative sex - are sex workers. That’s a catch-all term that includes everyone. Categories break down from there: an escort, a massage worker, a street worker, a dominatrix, et cetera. Some people write it as one word: sexworkers, and as the Chicago Manual of Style hasn’t yet made a rule for this, either way is acceptable.

Those are all neutral terms. The word “hooker” is a slur, and so is “whore”. Prostitution is a crime, and calling someone a prostitute is making a statement about their legal status, so unless one is talking about a legal situation, it’s better to avoid that word. Those are the terms I’ll be using in talking to you, and that’s how sex worker activists will speak of us in any further reading you may do. 

Background: There is a worldwide sex worker rights movement underway. It’s been going since the ‘80’s really, but it’s been moving in higher gear for about the last decade. In the US, what we want is: any nonviolent and non-coercive exchange of sex/sexy activity for money to not be a criminal offense. Basically, if a sexual act would not be illegal if no money changed hands, then simply adding money to the situation should not transform it into a crime. We have a long way to go in achieving that goal here - America is the last Westernized nation that arrests a LOT of people for nothing more than offering to have sex for money. Not pimps, not traffickers, the actual sex workers themselves. Most of them are women, most of them are poor, and a lot of them are people of color. Some of them go to prison for it, and all of them are seriously harmed by the experience of being harassed by police and arrested. Laws against sex work are unjust and unfair, and we want that to change.  

There is more to sex worker’s rights than simply not being arrested. But in the US, that’s the biggest hurdle to overcome. What American sex workers specifically want is: Decriminalization. That means that all laws making the offering/purchasing of sex for money a criminal offense are abolished. An example of decriminalized sex work would be the systems used in New Zealand and parts of Australia, where sex workers can work independently or in a brothel, under reasonable business regulations.

Decriminalization is different from Legalization. An example of legalized sex work would be the counties in the state of Nevada where there are a few licensed brothels. The state imposes very strict regulations, not comparable to any other industry, on the daily lives and personal behavior of women who work in the brothels. Women have little control over their surroundings, when they work, and how they meet with clients. They must pay a large part of their earnings, including tips, to the brothel, and they may not work anywhere except the brothel. They must live in the brothel full-time – they cannot work a shift and then go home. If they are not in the brothel, they are not permitted to be anywhere in the county, and are subject to arrest if they are. Sex worker activists do not favor legalization. 

I have been a sex worker for over fifteen years. I am an activist for the rights of sex workers. As part of that, I would like to see a world where no one is forced to do sex work. That does happen sometimes, and it's bad. But forced sex work is not the huge and scary problem some people would like you think it is. It is not okay that it happens at all, but it simply does not happen NEARLY as often as anti-sex workers say it does. The pivotal fact: When lawmakers and anti-sex work activists say “sex trafficking” they mean ANY exchange of sex for money, even if it is between two adults and completely voluntary. Let me say that again, because I think it bears repeating. To an anti-trafficking activist, an adult person, fully in possession of her rational faculties and completely independent of anyone else’s influence, who chooses to exchange a sexual act for money equals: a sex trafficking victim.

I think this is deeply insulting to people who really are victimized. I think one should only use the work trafficked to mean a person who is truly being forced or coerced, or controlled by another person in a way that's harmful or exploitative. I also think it's unjust to invalidate the agency of an adult person. I own my body, and if I, as a consenting adult, choose to have sex with another consenting adult, the state should not have the right to say, "No, we don't approve of your reason for having sex, so we are declaring your act to be a crime and arresting you both." It does not matter if I decided to have sex because someone bought me dinner, or because they offered me a diamond ring, or if they offered me a hundred dollars. Further, no one should declare that I am a "victim" of anything without my consent. It is for the person who has had the experience to identify whether she/he was a victim of something or not. It’s wrong to impose a label on someone they did not choose for themselves. 

Since about 2008, the state rhetoric about any act of sex for money has changed, and the state now defines all of it as "trafficking". That's happened for a variety of reasons, most of them to with the allocation of grant money and the erosion of civil liberties. There is a War On Sex Workers, much like there has been a War On Drugs. There is a system of restrictive ideas about what kind of behavior is socially acceptable, which have been woven into government policy and law, and there are a lot of people whose jobs and money and sense of power are all dependent on keeping that system in place. If there is no social panic about shadowy international crime rings and millions of women and children being abused in sensational ways, those people will lose power. That's why when you read scary headlines about “X Bazillion People Are Being Sex Trafficked", it does not necessarily mean the person is underage, or has been taken from one place to another, or is an undocumented immigrant, or is being forced or coerced into doing sex work against his/her wishes. (It also doesn't mean that anyone can actually see/find those supposed victims, since they are often pure invention.)

People can be abused in systems of sex work - just as they can be abused in non-sex work forms of labor, and in all other social systems. But criminalization and stigmatization of all sex work is not the right answer. People are abused in the social institution of marriage, too. But we do not outlaw marriage and arrest anyone who says, "I do." People are raped, but we do not respond to that fact by outlawing all consensual sex. On a moral level, we do not want anyone to be harmed. But when it comes to allocating public resources to combat that, the current system does not work.  Some of the systems that are ostensibly used to "help" people are not what those people themselves want, and may actually cause even more harm. It is not useful to treat a very wide spectrum of people around the world as if they were all the same one-dimensional “victim”, and neither is it wise to try to condense this multifaceted issue into a few bits of bumper-sticker wisdom. 

To that end, this is the reading that I recommend to get a fuller understanding of the challenges of helping those who need help, without criminalizing, stigmatizing and generally imposing a very binary victim/criminal worldview onto a large and diverse set of people.

A good place to start: "The War On Sex Workers", by Melissa Gira Grant: http://reason.com/archives/2013/01/21/the-war-on-sex-workers

And this, also by Melissa Gira Grant: "What the New York Times (and France) Got Wrong About Prostitution" http://www.slate.com/articles/double_x/doublex/2013/12/sex_work_laws_the_new_york_times_praises_france_s_new_legislation_and_gets.html

An excellent piece by Maggie McNeil debunking false statistics on sex work and trafficking: "Lies, Damned Lies, And Statistics" http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-watch/wp/2014/03/27/lies-damned-lies-and-sex-work-statistics/

If you just read those three pieces, you’ll have some idea of where we are coming from and what we are fighting against. I can recommend LOTS of further reading if you want it, from big-picture pieces to really granular stuff. There is a lot of good work happening, and good things being said. Ask me for any sort of information about sex worker rights, and I’ll happily direct you to it.

But the best way I can sum it all up is: listen to the sex workers themselves. Not the state, not rescue organizations – the people who do sex work and who suffer under unjust laws. We have voices and we know what we want. We say “Nothing ABOUT us WITHOUT us”, and that’s what we are fighting for. 

Sincerely,

Matisse


   

14 comments:

  1. I have to totally agree with your comment on the Cicero Ave. hookers.
    Every once in a while, I'll end up at a site that publishes the mug shots of arrested street walkers & I'm always amazed that there are men so desperate for sex, they'll actually pay these women for it.
    Often there are also mug shots of the men arrested & they look just like they were grown from the same egg, they're the male losers & failures of the genetic lottery.

    As for the legal Nevada brothels, I saw an episode or two of an HBO series on one of them & it was truly depressing.
    There was no glamor, no sex appeal, no interest there of any kind & I'm a straight guy.
    Prostitutes just don't look like their somewhat popular portrayal on TV shows where most are really hot call girls that make thousands every night!

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  2. I patronize higher end sex workers. They are wonderful. Of course it should be legal.

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  3. I completely agree with Matisse. Much of the degradation, exploitation and abuse in the sex for money business occurs because of the legal or criminal status of this activity. It's more important to focus on the true sex traffickers and abusers of minor children, who trade bodies (both male and female) not sex acts. Money for sex by consenting adults should not be a crime; in fact it occurs all the time under the guise of escort services.

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  4. So Nevada regulated slavery, interesting what happens when something gets government control. They become a more powerful pimp.

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  5. me, myself, and IApril 6, 2014 at 10:15 AM

    Many marriages are just legal prostitution in all honesty. In my case, I went 20 years paying without any sex. Going to a sex worker would have worked better and been more honest. If I ever get married or live with a woman again, a sex worker is the only type of woman I would even onsider.

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  6. Matisse makes some strong points, and I urge anyone who is willing to open their mind on this issue to at least read the three pieces she recommends. The stereotype of the disease wracked street prostitute with needle track lines up her arms working for a pimp because she is forced too simply does not apply to the vast majority of sex workers who are independent women and men (read no pimps) who have made a conscious choice to do the work they do.

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  7. As always Neil, a wonderfully insightful and interesting post. I particularly appreciated this: "This is what you get from insular groups who are so used to trading pieties among each other, they forget how to deal with outsiders. They see themselves as besieged. Everybody outside the wall is either a friend or an enemy, a zero or a one." So very true, and so well stated. We have make sure that WE don't become those people who are closed to others' ideas and opinions.

    I also appreciated your inclusion of Matisse's letter; however, I object to her claim, "It does not matter if I decided to have sex because someone bought me dinner, or because they offered me a diamond ring, or if they offered me a hundred dollars." This is a defensive position I've heard expressed before, as if any woman who has sex is some sort of a sex worker. I find that a convenient excuse on her part, and one that actually equals her argument. Women who do not choose to be sex workers don't appreciate being called one for merely having an ordinary relationship and sex life.

    One of the commenters above above says, "Many marriages are just legal prostitution in all honesty. In my case, I went 20 years paying without any sex." Wow. So it's all just a transaction for sex? And all those other things in a marriage - sickness, health, fat years, lean years, being there for each other when a parent dies or a job is lost - all of that is part of a transaction for sex?! I feel I don't need much more explanation as to why that marriage apparently didn't work out!

    I'm not sure where I stand on the decriminalization of commercial sex. Removing trafficking as part of the equation seems much more complex than the sex worker advocates make it out to be. I've spent time in northern Europe where prostitution and brothels are legal, yet, the majority of women in the trade appear to be young and foreign from various disadvantaged backgrounds and countries. And that, in itself, is a form of trafficking. They have no other opportunities and few choices. I suppose it's all pie in a big blue sky, but I'd like a see a world where women have more choices. And if sex worker is what they truly choose, out of all their choices, then OK.

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  8. Neil,

    Fascinating. I'm just going to offer a few observations, though I don't really have a strong opinion about this topic.

    When I read the original column, and again here, I questioned the value of Madigan's remark: "The reality is, no young girl dreams of becoming a prostitute." Whether that is true, or not, it seems to me to be irrelevant. Many, many people do work that nobody "dreams" of doing as a young girl or boy. That doesn't mean that all such work should be illegal, nor that only people pursuing their dreams should be employed.

    If you were only going to get one non-Twitterized argument, the one you got was a very cogent and well-presented one, and you deserve credit for adding it to the post.

    I believe that WendyC made a fine comment, as well.

    Finally, sorry for being so trite, but whatever one thinks about all of this, I hope that you at least appreciated, when compared with the run-of-the-mill insults you receive regularly, the rare opportunity to be called a wankchariot!

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  9. I think many people have a lot of misconceptions about sex workers and their clients. So let me share a personal story with you that might put this in a different light. I am a 50 something man. My wife, who I am still very much in love with after many years of marriage, has progressive remitting MS. She is at this point a very sick woman. One of the side effects of this disease, and the medication she takes, is that our once vibrant sex life is now none existence, and has been so for several years. It's hard to live a life of celibacy, particularly when it's not what one would chose to do. I could have had an affair, I have certainly had the opportunity, but I did not want the emotional entanglement that inevitably comes along with that.

    A year ago I decided to see a sex worker. Until my wife became quite ill I never even considered this. I thought about the idea for two years before I finally took the step. I didn't know what to expect, and was fully prepared for a disaster.

    Too cut a long story short, I ended up seeing a handful of women before I settled on becoming a regular of a high-end escort. She is an independent, strong-minded, charming and intelligent woman of around 40 with an education from a well know Liberal Arts College. She has been in "the business" for 20 years, entered it freely, and says that it was a conscious choice. She works for no one but herself, has her own place, has no regrets, and pays taxes on her earnings, just like the rest of you. I see her once a month on average. She has become a friend and a lover, but one where there are clear boundaries. For a few hours each month, I venture into this alternative world that provides me with a sanctuary and sustenance, and then I depart. It helps me to deal with the realities of my daily life, and in my view it does not threaten the core of my marriage.

    Just for the record, we always practice safe sex. Indeed, the sex worker I see insists on that with all of her clients. There are no exceptions to this rule, period. My understanding is that this is the norm in the profession, and it has certainly been my experience. If you think about this, it makes total sense. When an STD can threaten your livelihood, you are going to be very careful to make sure that does not occur.

    The point of my story, of course, is that neither the escort nor I fit established stereotypes. Yet from what I have discovered, we may be more of the norm. The other women that I saw prior to meeting her were also independent women in their 30s and 40s who had made a conscious choice to enter the business. They all had their own places and worked for themselves. When I told my story to one provider, she replied: "yes, your story is not at all uncommon, I see a lot of older men who truly love their wives, but their marriage lacks some spark, and I provide that spark". Another one told me that the average age of her clients was 60. Indeed, one provider told me of a regular who was in his mid 80s and wore a pacemaker. He instructed her that if he died during sex, she was to dress him, drag him into the corridor, then call the police and report the dead man outside her door – and I have no doubt she would have done that.

    Now I am not so naïve as to be ignorant of the other worlds out there; of the harsh world of the street prostitute on Chicago’s South Side, or the heavily indebted Asian girls that are recruited by loan sharks into prostitution, and bought to the United States where they work long shifts to generate the cash flow to pay down their debt. I do not support those worlds. But the fact that those worlds exist does not mean that all sex workers are trafficking victims who do not know their own minds, have no agency, and are controlled by pimps. That is a stereotype born of almost total ignorance, and a highly misleading one at that.

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    1. This. This is what is mind-boggling. Lonely guys that have never been able to have a relationship and never get sex...ok, fine. It's pathetic but hire a hooker. But you're story is ludicrous to me. You cannot possibly "love" your ill wife because you put your selfish needs before her feelings and disrespect your marriage. Kudos for not having an affair but how you can do this and sleep at night eludes me. You're delusional. You do not love your wife any more than you love your hooker. Buy a Fleshlight and subscribe to pornhub. At least then you are not hurting this person you claim to love so much.

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  10. Bludog,
    I believe you misinterpreted Matisse. I don't think she's saying that all those women are sex workers, I believe she's pointing out the hypocrisy of a system that says that if a woman chooses to have sex for some reason...be it a ring, a dinner, a flattering complement...that is her choice, but if she has sex because she asks for money directly that suddenly becomes a crime. I think we are naive to assume that many men might have other motives. Many are not simply taking a woman out for dinner and drinks and dancing (or the theater, the museum, etc) without any additional motive.

    Is it not odd that if a man and woman to out consensually and she feels, for whatever reason, that the experience warrants sex, that it is acceptable...unless we pair it down to an exchange of money?

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  11. It never fails to surprise and sadden me that people are closed-minded enough to think their experience is the only one. I used to engage more in (what I imagined was) constructive argument. But it's a waste of time. As I get older, and feel my life growing shorter, I try to avoid ideological exchanges. What's the point? People have their beliefs and whatever I say won't change them. And vice versa, I suppose - making me part of the problem. I happen to be against "sex work." Because I don't believe it's a choice a healthy person would make. (And I'm certainly against the kind that's actively forced. Hopefully we all agree on that, at least.) But I also believe in live and let live. I've debated enough to know that one's opinions aren't worth a hill of beans. Now where's that peppermint tea?

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  12. "prostitutes are mostly degraded victims"

    I have a fact for you too, Steinberg, the majority of mainstream writers on prostitution treat as a voyeur sport. Like you, it's all about beaten women and mug shots so you can get yours warped white knight fantasies out. None of you care about what they need or even about the beaten and battered who women who sometimes find their way to sex work (btw, you'll find many housewives are beaten to. Women who've had nothing to do with sex work. Partner violence has always been an epidemic, one we're just starting to udnerstand.) Hell, you and your commentors even degrade them calling them hideous and worse.

    You don't care about sex workers, Steinberg. And it's insulting that you pretend you do. But what's truly disgusting is how you turn the women who complained about the stereotypes you hoisted onto them, who's voices you dismissed, into the villains in your story. You and your readers just want to see mug shots of women trying to take care of their children on the six o'clock news.

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    1. What a sad and warped perspective. You have no idea what the motives of anybody writing on this subject are. Prostitutes who claim that the image of the happy hooker is the norm offer no evidence, have no sympathy for the victims among them. It hardly merits a reply.

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