By Kendra Holliday | May 15, 2012
In our society, the world’s oldest occupation – prostitution – is still such a taboo subject.
I do it, I have friends who do it, but we can’t really speak of it freely.
You’ll notice when Rush Limbaugh called Sandra Fluke a slut and a whore, all of us sluts rose to her defense and proudly declared ourselves sluts. But the whores kept pretty quiet. No one was ready to own THAT word.
Pretty much everyone has an opinion about prostitution, which is fine, but personally I care more about the opinions of people who have firsthand experience, as seen in this comments thread on a blog post by Greta Christina.
Cartoonist Chester Brown is out about being a john. What’s more, he’s unapologetic and unashamed. Oftentimes, men who pay for sex are thought of as losers.
“I’m very far from being sad or lonely,” he says in his memoir, Paying for It. “I haven’t caught an STD, I haven’t been arrested, I haven’t lost my career, and my friends and family haven’t rejected me.”
Not only does this book allow us to peek into the world of prostitution (set in Toronto, where prostitution is decriminalized), but it also delves deep into the concept of polyamory, monogamy, jealousy and romantic love.
Brown came to form a series of relationships with various prostitutes (or “escorts,” as some huffily insist on being called) due to finally deciding that boyfriend/girlfriend relationships bring too much unhealthy baggage to the table. Better to be friends with someone and skip all the drama brought on by the false ownership of romantic love. (See the book Sex at Dawn for the history of marriage being a possessive endeavor with unfortunate consequences.)
The book offers an appendix that intelligently and logically explores the most common arguments against prostitution.
I was surprised the book was small and hardback – I had a little trouble with the small print, but I have bad eyes. Once I finally got a chance to sit down and read it, I devoured it quickly. I prefer the comic-strip approach to short essays, as I’m getting so accustomed to the bite-size information age ala blog posts and iPhone screens.
I love the design. Robert Crumb writes a nice Foreword, noting Chester Brown’s always stoic, robotic facial expression. Not an erotic look. I pegged him for Asperger’s Syndrome myself. One thing I noticed in the clean, black-and-white illustrations is the lack of eyes in the characters. Most are shielded with glasses or speech bubbles. Brown gets very close and personal, but not so close that you can look into the souls of the people portrayed.
I could TOTALLY relate to some of the stories he shares – the good, the bad, and the ugly, though his experiences never get too ugly. Sometimes he was misled and the woman who greeted him at the door was not who he was expecting. Sometimes she was unprofessional, running late and ill-prepared (“I forgot the condoms! Be right back…”) But for the most part, his experiences are surprisingly pleasant. He notes, “Paying for sex isn’t an empty experience if you’re paying the right person for sex.”
I hope you learn a lot reading this book about the men and women who participate in sex work, as well as the society we live in. This book reaffirmed some of my unconventional feminist beliefs and helped me understand where the men are coming from. I’m always wondering why I can’t seem to secure a regular relationship with men where we see each other once a month or so, like a scheduled massage. There are many factors that throw wrenches in the mix, such as the chaos of life, moods and whims, chemistry, the thrill of risk-taking, and novelty.
Our brains crave novelty, and some men find experiencing different women every month as natural as trying different restaurants. Certainly understandable – it’s not a cheap past time, and I’m glad for that. There is great value in this service, and it should be treated with compassion and respect.