At least once every week or two, I would have to talk down an angry, injured wife. These women would call, often in tears, railing at me, calling me a slut, a whore, asking me how I felt fucking another woman’s man. I would drop the cutesy voice, explain to her that I was just some girl sitting at her kitchen table in Chicago, and that she needed to take this issue up with her husband anyway, not the girl who was just trying to make a living.
Of course, it’s tough to hear that one’s husband isn’t just a cheater, but also a whoremonger, so I tried to break the news as gently as possible. I would assure her that yes, men are dogs, and no, it wasn’t her fault. I would reassure her over and over again that, had I known her husband was married, I never, ever would have provided him with an appointment, but that I had never seen his face, let alone his ring finger. People of both genders called just to talk and, though I turned them away, I always wished I had the luxury of hourly pay so that I could talk.
Posing as a prostitute on the telephone was bizarre. I knew that men talked to the sex workers they hired, but it quickly became obvious that it wasn’t just men and it wasn’t just to sex workers they’d actually hired. Our culture sees all sex workers (but especially prostitutes) as both subhuman and superhuman, in that we provide release for impulses that are still considered to be most base and ‘wrong,’ we become also some kind of semi-supernatural sin eaters. We are not daughters, sisters, mothers, wives, or girlfriends, we are not real girls. We do not exist outside of our work and therefore it is acceptable to use us, especially as vessels for the baggage of others. We are Other, and so people call us for no reason other than to insult us. We are Other, and so the people who find dead baby jokes disgusting think dead hooker jokes are funny. Yet despite all this, people tell us their secrets and turn to us to talk when they are lonely.
I lost the job in February 2010, four months after I was hired, when I contracted a month-long bout of what I am sure was a mild case of swine flu. It was a relief more than anything, I had grown to hate my work with a passion, dreading the moment when I had to turn on my phone, and as a result my bookings were suffering. Working as a telephone sub-madam may have been one of my worst sex industry jobs yet, but it did teach me a few things about how civilians see us. That alone is worth something.
Cathryn Berarovich is something of a renaissance sex worker; she’s currently employed as a stripper (and writer) but has held numerous interesting jobs in the industry. Each week, she shares her stories in Harlotry.