He was falling in love.
From the start, Lola was clear that her heart lay elsewhere. Her boyfriend of four years lives 1,000 miles away, and though they see each other only a few times a year, Lola maintains that she is deeply in love with him. When B. K. asked Lola what gift she wanted for Christmas, she demurred, but when pressed, she asked if he would pay for plane fare to visit her boyfriend. B. K. said yes — and felt great about it. “Isn’t that what love is?” he told me later. “It’s not about trying to own someone.”
Ha ha, no, IT IS ABOUT RENTING THEM. ACTUALLY, LITERALLY RENTING THEM. WITH YOUR ACTUAL MONEY.
What’s fascinating here is how much of the conversation is determined by class. If a poor woman has sex for money, particularly if she’s of color or trans, she’s a “streetwalker,” a whore, a criminal, a victim, unrapeable, subhuman, stupid, etcetera: all those comfortable cliches we don’t really need to address because sex workers aren’t anyone we’d know and definitely no-one we need to worry about. If a middle-class or comfortably wealthy girl does it (there’s a reason why those “Hipster Hooker” and virgin-auction stories always focus on how very college-educated and middle-class and white and cisgendered and just, well, normal the women are) there’s a solid chance that the words “sex worker” or “prostitute” will not even be mentioned in the story, or that the prostitution will be framed as somehow debatable (whereas, if I know my definitions, “receiving payment for sex” is kind of exactly what prostitution is) and that the sex work will be framed, not as a job wherein one exchanges one’s services for money, but about a woman’s daring and scandalous and oh-so-empowerful voyage into the realms of getting money for sex.
Which is just what women are all about anyway, right, fellas, ha ha? Because women are all essentially prostitutes: because guys go for looks and girls go for bank accounts: because women are happier when their partners make more money than they do and even have better orgasms: because women don’t have a sexuality, they have a response to male sexuality, and sex is something that women dispense and men receive, so the idea of exchanging payment (what women want) for sex (what men want) can blend pretty easily into our conceptions of what heterosexual relationships are all about, to the point that we can look at a blatant economic exchange and not even identify it as such or wonder what it says about how little women’s subjective sexual experience or desire is valued by the society in which they live or by the very men who fuck them.
So, right about here is where I start to think about the fact that we live in a society where men are so highly valued that we have created an entire industry to ensure their sexual access to women (if you can’t pay for a girlfriend, you can pay for a single sexual encounter, and if you can’t pay for that, you can pay for phone sex or a lap dance, and if you can’t even pay for that, you can get porn on the internet for free), and about the fact that women are paid less than men in most industries but that sex work typically pays much more than any other kind of “unskilled” female labor (which is why we’re not tolerating crapping on or judging sex workers in Ye Olde Tiger Beatdowne Comments Section, now or ever: this is the world we live in, and it requires us to pay our bills), and I think about how much women’s economic dependency on men has always, in marriage or in prostitution or now in the ridiculous media-created “gray area” of dating for money, been about getting dudes off, and here is the point where I think I might take a break because Andrea Dworkin is actually making sense to me, holy crap, and when that happens I have to take a walk in the sunshine and calm down and remember that I do, too, have a sexuality, and I also get to enjoy my life, because reclaiming this stuff is what I do.
This weekend, Reclaiming Act #1 will be avoiding the New York Times.