men, masculinities and gender politics

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Fucking & fabrication

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Five young guys are in the waiting room. In the staff-room, Tanya is re-doing her eye-liner. Josie and I are bopping to "Rage" while we wait for her. My taffeta skirt swishes as we twist and go-go, giggling under our breath. Tanya is ready and the three of us go out, Josie in red with a tan and cheekbones, Tanya in a black bondage dress with pale Irish skin and masses of dark curls, and me with long red hair and a green sequined formal dress. We introduce ourselves. "We're the three ladies available at the moment and honestly, what more could you ask for?".

We're glamourous and ebullient, but they leave anyway. Probably to shop around the other parlours. We go back to "Rage". 'Hunnas' are on now and we sing along for a while. Tanya steps down off her stillettos and goes to lie down on the makeup-room sofa. Josie finds her glasses and settles to her book. I make a cup of coffee and wish I wasn't wearing this cheap face powder which is weighing down my skin. I try again to write about why men pay money to fuck me. It's a mystery to me. I guess what they think they get from me is different to what I think they get from me.

One reason many men see me is conversation, a non-judgmental ear or a shoulder to cry on which will remain ultimately uninvolved. Mark has seen me before, he's in his 30s, fat and gingery.

He likes to cuddle after the sex and chat about his business or current affairs. I avoid putting my own left-wing views forward -  my radicalism scares many people, even when they're not naked in a bed with me. If he becomes a regular he'll encounter feminism anyway.

Geoff is 19. He's had girlfriends but has been coming to brothels since he was 18. "I just prefer this because it's so straightforward". He says "I like you girls much better".

Some men come to get sex without the complications of a relationship. "I'd rather pay $80 and know what I'm getting than spend the same on dinner and drinks and end up with nothing but a goodnight kiss to show for it" says Tony, who's 22 and a friend of our receptionist. Jeremy's long-term lover has R.S.I. and can't caress him at all, which leads to a lot of tension. He enjoys just the human contact and touch, and likes me because I'm a feminist and I still think he's O.K. Some clients would be better off using their hand - my existence seems pretty peripheral to their experience of sex. Fred, a 52 year-old plant operator, fingers me as if beckoning a mate across a pool table. Macca, an elderly widower from Goulburn, keeps asking "Is he in yet? He's not in, is he?" Peter broke up with his girlfriend last month. It's his 18th birthday and his friends have hassled him into seeing me. He's a bit pissed and terribly nervous. "I'm sorry! What do I do? I don't know why I'm here!" He's actually quite sweet and friendly. Jim, 24, a writer, appears to want a sordid encounter to write about. He's a bit perturbed by a prostitute as articulate and literary-minded as me!

Jim is paying $165 for the standard hour. I get $100, the parlour gets $65 "studio hire fee". For this, Jim enjoys a massage, part French (oral sex without coming), penetration (usually until coming) and a spa. The client can ask for fantasies - slow strip, spanish sex (not bullfighting… cock between breasts), double trouble (two women and the client), schoolgirl, light bondage and domination, golden shower, lingerie parade and lesbian acts. These all cost $50 on top of the usual fee, except where more than one worker is involved, when we each get $50 on top of our percentage of the usual fee. Fantasy money is our own, and doesn't get split with the management.

When we see a client we work hard to create a fabricated reality involving glamour, myths about female sexuality, and the manipulation of fantasies. The contrast between the suave, glamourous, responsive image we project in the viewing room and the vulgar humour, T.V. and tracky-pants in the staff room vividly exposes the gulf between the feminine mystique and the reality, in prostitution and in the world at large. In this mythical world, women are turned on by penetration alone, are always wet, never have periods and will play almost any role the man finds exciting.

As a sex worker I see aspects of men's sexuality that other women don't see. The idea that men can have an orgasm regardless of the lack of closeness, affection or emotion involved seems very alien to a lot of women, who have been trained to experience sex differently. To me it seems indicative of how much men have been socialised to shut down their emotions. The emotions are subjugated to the pursuit of orgasms and the relationship, if any, is purely incidental. This is certainly true of men with prostitutes, and I wonder to what extent it is paralleled in other heterosexual relationships.

I rarely get turned on while with a client. Usually I keep myself fairly removed from the experience and project a fine blend of professionalism and playfulness. Even if I were turned on, which sometimes happens with a client I particularly like and feel relaxed with, I would still need to use lube for penetration. I use a fair bit, as the friction of eight or nine penises rubbing the walls of my vagina each shift can be painful.

"Difficult" clients are those who pay for half an hour and expect to come twice - the chances are they wouldn't be able to even if I let them try, and why should I exhaust myself on a $40 job to the detriment of other clients later? The management encourage us to pretend to each client that they are our first and only for the day to "make them feel special", but with a difficult client, I take delight in saying "Think of all the other men I have to see tonight, they don't want me all shagged-out from seeing you!"

"Easy clients" are those with whom I have some rapport, who can have a conversation, relax and enjoy themselves rather than holding their whole body tense until they come. I have one or two regulars who enjoy my company and with whom I can really have fun. Then it's more like a relationship, but always bounded within the framework of a professional relationship. I still take their money first.

As soon as I've taken anyone's money, I check their genitals for any rashes, sores or warts, 'milk' the penis to check for pus, and give them back their money and send them to Dr. Plowman if anything is suspect. If it's all fine, we use condoms anyway, even with oral sex. If they complain I say "Oh alright, we won't use a condom … we'll use two!".

Another client arrives. We go out in turn and he chooses Josie. She's good at chatting them up in the waiting room, joking, putting them at their ease. She struts up the corridor to the 'green room', client in tow, the picture of worldly sophistication trailing a singlet-clad, slightly pissed bloke. The parlour owner, Mario, comes into the staff room without knocking, as usual. He trickles something small and glittery into my palm. Green sequins from my dress. "I was picking them off the carpet, saving them to sew myself a little cocktail number," he says. "But maybe you'd better have them back before your whole dress comes apart." Josie returns from checking her client. "His foreskin was so long, I thought I'd give the room a vacuum while I was there." We crack up. She grabs some condoms and lube, and arranges them on a cocktail tray with a glass of O.J. for the client. I set the timer for her. "See you in three-quarters of an hour, have a nice time," I trill, smirking.

Mario follows her out, and the room is quiet again. I step out of my dress and plonk myself on the sofa in my black bra, French knickers and suspenders. Across my lap, the sparkling green dress is a limp form, with a suggestion of femaleness. I search for my needle and begin to replace the sequins, one by one.

First published in the magazine XY: men, sex, politics, 1(3), Winter 1991. XY, PO Box 26, AINSLIE, ACT, 2602, AUSTRALIA. Reprinted with permission. © Copyright 1995