My daughter is a sex worker. Stark fact.
When a few years ago Vicky first told me she’d scored a job at a strip club I wasn’t sure how to handle the news. She’s a determined young woman and smart with it. She left uni to join a circus troupe, and quickly mastered aerial silks, hoop and trapeze. Before long, she explored burlesque and became a photographic model. To put some butter on her bread she taught circus skills to others. For years things were tough. But she persisted. She’s resilient. But as anyone in the performing arts will tell you, don’t give up your day job. Casual teaching is intermittent and unreliable income. So when the chance to take up exotic dancing came her way, she didn’t question it.
And neither did I. Even if my motherly buttons were pressed. Even though I didn’t want all those leery male eyes ogling my daughter’s flesh. Even though I knew she would be judged by members of my family, a slut a tart a whore. Or, worse, lost. That somehow, I, as her mother, had failed her. Families are like that. Society is like that. Quick to judge.
Me? I knew I’d never persuade Vicky out of it. So I had to deal with it. Somehow. I talked to a few girlfriends, all about my age. And their response was ‘Good on her.’ Which surprised me. Perhaps they were lying. Or they weren’t giving it much thought. Or maybe, just maybe, I was being a prude. But I changed. I changed on the spot. I changed my attitude because I love and respect my daughter. If I hadn’t changed, I would forever have judged and condemned her. And lost her.
As a feminist, Vicky’s job has forced me to re-evaluate my principles. I’ve had to expand and nuance my values to accommodate what she does. I’ve learned that virtue is a construct. One that divides women against each other into virgins and whores. When we label our sisters whores it is only because these women we have boxed-up and labelled threaten our chaste upright selfhood.
In the past the feminist in me would have viewed sex workers as betraying my gender, selling out to the enemy, or as victims of patriarchy. My view was similar to that voiced by Ann Summers in her book, Misogyny (I could almost hear the condemning scowl in her voice). I’d have wanted someone to save these misguided souls from themselves (I was never going to go there), while I shunned them as a lost cause. I would never, ever, have wanted one as my daughter.
My values have had to shift. I could labour on about Hestia and the male appropriation of the ‘Vestal Virgins’ at this point, but I won’t. Neither am I going to segue into a discussion of other cultures or cite the endless cases of abuse of sex workers the world over. This offering is just one mother’s perspective, and how as a mother, like all mothers who grow through their children, Vicky has provided me an opportunity to change.
I like to keep things simple and straightforward. Vicky has made a choice. She has a well-paid job and she works hard at it. Like any other job, much of what she does has become automatic. There’s no evidence that she’s been damaged by it. It isn’t an easy job. The hours are shit, the clientele questionable and there’s an element of risk. Vicky deals with all that, and she’s developed many strengths as a result. She is, to her core, dignified.
As an author, I’m privileged. I can write about things. I haven’t wanted to. It seems a bit like an ‘outing’. And coming out is the relinquishing of shame. Yet Vicky has no shame in what she does, so why should I feel shame on her behalf? Shame in this context is triggered by ‘virtue’; it’s a judgement, a condemnation, a natural feeling ‘virtue’ has appropriated in order to keep us chaste. Therefore, as I fling open the door and let the world in on my private life, I need to state clearly that I am not and never have been ashamed of my sex working daughter.
She leans back against the pole; hard metal cold on her skin.
Yeah, Paco Rabanne.
She poses, pirouette style, in her high high heels.
Or Armani maybe.
She isn’t sure.
Whatever it is the douche in the Tom Ford suit must have taken a bath in it.
She slides her butt down, nice and slow for him; pictures his face. Holds the squat, legs splayed, marks time with the music, one two three, and pushes upright.
Rihanna yodels to a backbeat. It’s like muzak in a shopping mall. She’s sure she heard it in Woolworth’s the other week.
She tilts her hips, eyes the guy in the chair, now with a bulge in his Tom Ford suit. She arches her back, rolls her pelvis forward, undulates her belly, lets the movement flow up her body.
The guy with the suit bulge stares. It’s a Zombie stare.
Not a talker then.
A steady bass throbs through the space, making the air swell and contract.
She sways to the beat, effortlessly, snaps off her bra and gives the slow reveal, putting on a lip-parted pout.
His hands grip the arm rests exactly where she left them. ‘No touching,’ she said.
He would obey.
His whisky glass, mobile, billfold and keys are on a small table beside him.
They are almost always boosted.
Yet he’s nervous, and guilty with it too. Wears his guilt in gold wrapped around his ring finger.
There’s gold all about him. Fingers, wrists, neck.
Probably in his teeth.
What’s his name again?
Or is it Larry?
Could be Harry.
She takes a step forward. Pings her thong, lets it fall.
He ogles her flesh.
She really doesn’t care.
She really doesn’t care about Zombie Frank, all schmicko in his Tom Ford suit.
To his heat.
To his stink.
To his gold ringed finger.
To his crotch bulge.
The song ends, the next beginning on its tail: the slow intro of Partition. She wonders what her friend in the next booth is up to.
Another forward step in her high high heels and she kneels on the chair, hooking her feet on the insides of his thighs, pressing them open.
No closure: No contact.
As she gyrates her pelvis.
As she teases.
As she strokes at the air down there between her thighs and his.
She goes in close, breathes in his ear.
And takes a peek at her watch, its huge silvery face as large as her wrist, distinct numbering to be seen in the dim.
She leans away from Frankenbulge, arches her back, grasps her breasts, rubs them against his cheeks.
She thinks she still has half a protein bar out the back.
Maybe some of last night’s stir-fry.
Or did she finish that earlier?
The song pushes on.
Beyonce pushes on.
Her pelvis grinds to the rhythm.
She leans forward, rests her arm against the cold brick wall behind him, sinks her flesh into his face, ignoring the hungry lips, the scratch of stubble.
Swanky Franky lets out a slow throaty moan.
She parts the velvet curtain and peeks into the next booth.
Her friend’s on her punter.
They exchange eye rolls and a grin.
She lets the curtain fall.
Lets her mind drift.
The song seems too long.
Her butt, locked in the slow steady groove, starts complaining. She feels a cramp in her instep.
She eases her body back and pushes off him.
He grabs her waist with his hot damp hands and pulls her down.
She swings round.
Backhands his face.
She steps forward, grabs the pole, twirls round slowly.
Twirls round slowly again.
As Beyonce cuts out and Carmada eases her way to her first ‘Maybe,’ she turns from the guy—Swanky wanky Frankenbulge—sits down in his lap, leans against him, feels the hard of him up against her butt. His breath hot on her shoulder.
She throws her head back, grabs her breasts and puts on a show of self-pleasure.
He releases a slow rumbling groan.
She thinks he sounds like a bloated frog.
Feels her laughter rise.