There is a wicked myth that has resurfaced with this impotent economy. The sex industry, I heard a blowhard exclaim, is bulletproof, no matter how hard times are, there's always men who are harder. Everyone laughed. Everyone except me. Because I know differently. Sex workers have been hit below the belt, and they've been hit hard. High-end and low-end, all of my ho, hooker, callgirl and rentboy friends are suffering. And since they work in an industry that's stuck in the era of Prohibition, they are not entitled to any of the protection normal citizens take for granted, like unemployment benefits, severance payments when they lose their jobs, and health care. But I believe we can learn a great deal from them, because most of them are resourceful, hard working survivors, and they have not given up on the American dream. They're trading services and bartering, slashing expenses, evolving themselves and their businesses to suit these desperate times. And they're working the most important bone any sex worker has access to: the funny bone.
Mochaluv (not her real name) works out of Oakland, California, or Oaktown as she calls it. She looks like Venus Williams, if Venus Williams were wearing six inch hump-me pumps, a plunging halter top and a blingy micro mini. I first met mochaluv at one of those hideous little GitnGo-StopnShop-FoodnFuel gas station/convenience stores that have sprouted like fungus all over America. She was purchasing two large packs of condoms. Trojans. Unlubricated. With some Diet Pepsi and Cheetos. We struck up an instant friendship. I spoke with her recently about the violent downward turn of the world economy. She told me that customers are demanding more and more bang for their buck.
"One mu-f*cker," said mochaluv, "he calls me up offa my Craig's list ad, ax me how much for five minutes. Five minutes! Before all this economy bullsh*t, I never done incall for less than 200 an hour. But what the hell, I need the caish. So I tells him $25. Sho' 'nuff, mu-f*cker gave me his sad little 25 roses, and he got the whole thing done in five minutes."
Mochaluv confessed to being a angry about the way President Obama's bailout is being distributed. "Where's my unemployment benefits?" she asked, "Where's my health insurance? Where's my economic stimulus package? Fa' real, I believe if I could get Obama alone in a room for an hour, I could get me some of that $800 billion. Stimulate this, baby!"
Ashley (not her real name) is on the other end of the economic bell curve. She estimates that her business is off by between 40-50%. She has the overhead of an expensive Upper West Side Manhattan apartment, where she entertains her affluent clients. "A year ago," said Ashley, "at least once a month I'd be taken to Europe, or Hong Kong, or Dubai. I'd make between $5000 and $20,000. That high-end clientele has virtually dried up. And yes, lots of women who are getting fired from their straight jobs are reconsidering their employment options. Funny how that line in the sand we all draw moves the more desperate we become. And there's this fantasy that, in the high-end market, it's glamorous work where you make stacks of money getting adored by rich handsome men. Believe me, it's not like that. It's a high risk, high stress job, and sucks out a little piece of your soul every time you work, no pun intended."
Ashley has, along with so many Americans, been the victim of of unscrupulous investors who gambled recklessly with people's lives and lost. "One of my clients was an investment banker. He just disappeared one day. And he took a big chunk of my money with him. I am absolutely livid. So I'm going after him. One way or the other, that cockroach will pay me what he owes me."
She also said that is reassessing her career path, but sees few options. "I considered getting a straight job," Ashley said, "but businesses are firing, not hiring. I have a Masters degree in French literature. The thing I'm best qualified for, in terms of skill sets and compensation, is upscale sex work. So I decided to invest in my business. I bartered to get some new pictures taken, I traded with another client who's updating my website, I've been doing lots of networking, I'm downsizing, getting rid of the dead wood, getting lean and mean and hungry again."
Uptown and downtown, sex workers are suffering. So, even though many of you are feeling considerable pain, I urge you, the next time you run into a ho, hooker, callgirl or rentboy, being nice to them. Chances are, he or she will be doing a lot worse than you are.