It’s not often that you hear from the men who pay for sex. This is a long, but informative interview. The following are some snippets. I highly recommend you read the whole thing (here).
From The Rumpus:
Paying to Play: Interview with a John
By Antonia Crane
To use a tennis analogy, I played all four corners in an attempt to interview clients. I hit up escort friends of mine with long-terms regulars, old clients who were articulate and thoughtful and guys I’d never met who had contacted me with sex work-related questions. I figured the client viewpoint—the missing piece, would be easy to obtain. After all, I’d had many a deep and intimate conversation with clients about sex workers and the negative way that clients were viewed in our culture. They openly shared their feelings about paying for it—what it meant culturally and what it felt like in the context of their lives. Men who thought of themselves as powerful came to me stripped of their routine status and its burdensome accessories. They wanted to tell their secrets. They’d crawled up my stairs in marabou slippers and a pink spandex thong, glided around my pole in the living room. They wanted to share their innermost desires and act them out. But, when I sent along my questions, I was met with silence.
I guess I was supposed to disappear in a puff of stripper-smoke. I guess they were put off by my confrontational, searing inquiries. It was one thing to tell me stories about their cancer-stricken wives and college-bound daughters while I listened in a fishnet bra by the paid hour. It was another to type their story in print. I was told my questions were too “hard.” The irony is not lost on me. I’d nearly given up when Max finally responded. He agreed to do the interview if it were 100% anonymous. I thought of the NY broker wearing my dress in my living room, red-faced and trembling with terror at the thought of giving up control. I remembered telling him “Stand up.” I held his damp chin in my gloved hand and said to him, “You’re safe here.” This was one of those moments. Max’s gentle courage was by turns surprising and tender as he flipped from sex worker to client. I was inspired by his vulnerability. I hope you are too.
The Rumpus: Growing up, what messages did you receive from your family about sex workers?
Max: Even though my home town is known for vices of various kinds, I can’t say I was ever aware of sex work going on in the 70’s, other than seeing strip clubs from the outside. I certainly never saw any prostitutes, or if I did, I didn’t know that’s what they were doing. My father was a sailor and spent long periods of time stationed overseas, and in recent years I’ve learned that he used to have relationships with women when he was stationed there, some of which involved financial arrangements. Some day I hope to get up the nerve to ask him more about it.
Rumpus: Tell me about your most positive and negative experiences you had with hiring women for sex acts/entertainment/ lap dances.
Max: The most positive experiences were always ones where there was a real emotional connection, where the sex part of the relationship took a back seat to just talking.
I remember one night going to a strip club. It was late on a Friday night, and I hate Fridays in clubs. It’s always really crowded and loud, everybody’s drunk, there are frat boys and bachelor parties, the girls are all making tons of money and you can’t really talk to anybody. But I was bored, and lonely, so I went, and this dancer that I had not seen in a year or two recognized me across the room and ran up and practically jumped in my lap. We were both sober by this point in our lives, and we just talked. For four hours. She was sick of the business— didn’t feel like working, I didn’t really want a lap dance anyway, and we just sat and talked until the club closed at 4am (about marriage and boyfriends and school and careers and music and life). It was just nice. Especially when you’re a socially awkward guy who has trouble talking to people and meeting people, you don’t drink any more so your old social life is dead, being able to sit and have an intense conversation with a really pretty girl all night is a precious thing. And there was really no other way I could see that ever happening. I couldn’t talk that way with my wife any more. I didn’t have any friends. I couldn’t meet a “civilian” girl somewhere, because I was married and unavailable. This was what I had, this was a rare moment, and I took it.
Rumpus: That reminds me of good nights I’ve had in clubs on Bourbon Street. During the Occupy movement, I remember sitting at a table with a group of guys discussing politics and education—just having a brilliant conversation for hours and enjoying that I was sober and sane and speaking to smart, engaging guys from various states with letters after their names. They paid me for some dances but it was secondary to the fun discourse at the table.
Max: The negative experiences were usually when I found myself in a situation where I felt I was doing something wrong, dangerous or exploitative. I think my situation is not uncommon, and I think most of us do not want to hurt anybody. Not wanting to participate in anything that’s harmful, that’s wrong, that’s cruel. But like a lot of other industries, both black-market ones like drugs or gambling and legit industries like food processing or farming, there are abuses. And so you go into it navigating through the abuses.
You’re in this for a connection. Physical—but also emotional. And a shadow of the dark side of sex work kind of hovers around in the background.
It’s like with drug use. You just smoke pot once in a while, and then one day you find yourself buying a little more weight, from a guy who’s got a gun in his car, and you realize there is this whole other big scary reality behind the little bit that you can see.
Rumpus: What is the thing you are most ashamed of? Afraid to tell me?
Max: I think the thing I am most ashamed of is that I’ve been to Asian massage parlors. These are places with women who are very recent immigrants from China and Southeast Asia, and for a fixed door fee you can get a massage, and for a fixed “tip” you can have sex. On the one hand, it’s convenient; it’s cheaper than a typical escort and you don’t have to make an appointment in advance or have your references screened by the woman. You just show up. On the other hand, the sex is often not that great.
And call me naive, but what I discovered after a couple of trips to these places is that many of these women are victims of sex trafficking. They’re imported into the country under the ruse of getting a good American job, and then their handlers make them work off their exorbitant “travel fees” in the sex spas before they are cut loose. And even after they work off their debt, often they just return to the sex industry, because they lack skills, they lack a verifiable work history, they don’t speak very good English, and the sex work is what they know and it becomes, in a way, easy money.
Thing is, they are not glassy-eyed robot slaves sobbing under their oppressor like you see in movies about this kind of thing. They’re funny, they’re charming, they’re nice to you. And they’re very much in control as far as the sex goes: they set fierce limits about what is and is not allowed, and are usually much stricter about condom use for every act than regular escorts.
Rumpus: Do you think that any of the women you hired felt degraded or exploited? Did you? Do you think the women you hired considered themselves feminists? Do you think they considered themselves victims?
Max: Other than the women in the massage parlors I visited, I honestly don’t believe that most of the women doing this felt degraded. The ones that were escorts who didn’t have pimps, didn’t have drug problems, and weren’t trafficked, I honestly believe that they chose their profession about as much as any of us choose our profession. I don’t think they feel any more exploited than all of us workers feel exploited. We all have to work to live, and most of us would rather be doing something else.
Many years after my first blowjob-for-money experience, I went through a bi-curious phase and I guess I have to say now that I’m really a bisexual who leans hetero. Speaking only for myself, if my only two choices were becoming a warehouse picker for Amazon for $10 an hour, or sucking dicks ten times a day for $50 bucks a pop, I’d buy me some kneepads. Somebody can point to, say, a fellatio porn scene where the guy is rough on the girl and calls her names, and say that it’s inherently degrading, and my argument would be that it’s only inherently degrading if the girl doesn’t want to do it. I mean, I’ve had it done to me. I thought it was a blast. And I didn’t even get paid.
I really don’t know whether they considered themselves feminists. Do people even talk that way, outside of literary and political forums?
We didn’t talk about it, specifically, although I imagine many of them did, and some of them didn’t, for the same reasons that non-sex workers do or do not.
Rumpus: What did you get out of your experiences with sex workers? How did you feel afterwards?
Max: Seeing women for money, made me a little less sad. It was a brief respite from loneliness, from my skin being hungry for human touch the way a drowning person is starving for oxygen.
Rumpus: If you think sex work is humiliating, how is sex work more humiliating than, say, working at Wal-Mart?
Max: I don’t think sex work is humiliating in and of itself, I think society makes it humiliating. You want humiliating? Try cleaning vomit-filled toilets in a frat bar on a Friday night. Try mopping floors for a person who spent more on their car than you will earn all year. Try being lectured in public by a man ten years younger than you because you poured his wine wrong.
Next time you’re in a fast food drive-thru at 2am on the way home from some bar, look through the window at the people in the kitchen, see how they are spending their Friday nights for minimum wage, and think about humiliation. Read about chicken-processing plants, Amazon warehouses. There are a million humiliating ways to make a living in this capitalist world we live in. At least escorting takes place in private.
Rumpus: Why do you think people react so strongly against sex work?
Max: It’s a combination of things.
First is the conflating of the worst abuses of sex work with all of sex work. A drug addicted single mom being pimped and beaten and coerced to walk the streets is a horrific and inhumane thing, but it’s the extreme end of the scale. It’s not inherent to sex work that it be done that way, any more than it’s inherent to casual drug use that drug cartels have to leave dozens of beheaded bodies by the side of the road every week. Otherwise everybody who laughed about smoking up on 4/20 has an awful lot of blood on their hands.
Also, people react very strongly against sex— or at least against sex done in a way that they disapprove of. People are going to say that sex work was created by the patriarchy, to serve the patriarchy, that it commodities women, treats them as objects to be bought and sold. I don’t agree. To believe that, you have to believe that all of these women lack agency, lack any will at all. That’s not been my experience. I’ve never “bought” a woman, any more than I’ve “bought” a guy to mow my lawn or “bought” a barista to make coffee.