Shortly before I became a full-fledged prostitute, my mother found out I was a sex worker. While not quite an abolitionist, my mother–who grew up during the 1960s and came of age in the 1970s–has always taken a dim view of the sex industry.
During my teen years, even during my first month as a sex worker, I didn’t own a cell phone. I arranged all appointments either exclusively through email or by calling prospective clients from my mother’s house phone after blocking the number. Not owning a cell phone was so natural that it honestly didn’t occur to me to buy a prepaid phone. Besides that, I had gotten along fine up until I started seeing a man named Grant.
Grant was the ultimate submissive cliché. He had a high-powered job that trod the fine line between exploitation and economic necessity, had a beautiful office downtown, and enjoyed being degraded by young women. After two appointments, I decided Grant was sufficiently trustworthy and could be given my phone number, so long as I told him that I shared the line with a fictional roommate and told him to call only at specific times of day.
Unfortunately my estimation of Grant was absolutely incorrect, and he would prove himself to be not only untrustworthy, but also legitimately creepy. And, of course, entirely disrespectful of the discretion he valued so much from me, his sex worker.
Although we already had an appointment set for later in the week, Grant began to call me as soon as he had my phone number. Rather than calling in the afternoon–as I’d instructed him–he would call repeatedly in the morning, starting at eleven, and then trying earlier and earlier with each day as I ignored the calls. I began to be concerned about his stability and my safety, but more than that, I became terrified he would call me at an early enough hour that my mother would answer the phone and learn exactly where my money was coming from. I started keeping the phone beside my bed every night, just in case I had to get to it before she did.
It only took four days for my mother to answer the phone before I could silence it. She woke me up at eight in the morning–the crack of dawn for me–to tell me that she’d just had “the most interesting conversation.” Even in my groggy state, I knew exactly what had happened and my dread was immeasurable.
…Not that I was really worried about getting grounded. I was more concerned about the loss of my very first regular and what exactly this (seemingly) imbalanced man now knew about my real life.
On the phone, my mother and I sound almost exactly alike, so naturally there was some confusion when Grant asked if he was speaking to ‘Miranda’. For better or worse, my mother is a chatty and helpful person and her natural inclination to remove all obstacles from her path caused the misunderstanding to be cleared up almost immediately. Once established he was talking to his underage mistress’ mother, most normal people would probably hang up the phone and send an email to that mistress canceling future appointments. But Grant was not a normal man.
Instead of cutting his losses and extricating himself, he proceeded to cross-examine my mother, claiming that he had met me on an internet dating site (a lie that my mother says immediately aroused her suspicions). He knew that she was recovering from surgery–because I had cancelled an appointment with him in order to pick her up from the hospital–but he wasn’t sure what kind. Being the proud cancer survivor that she is, my mother was quick to tell him that she had just gotten reconstructive surgery on the breast removed in her mastectomy.
This is when the conversation got weird.
He started to ask her about her scars, both from the mastectomy and the reconstruction, and asked if I was helping to take care of her. He asked if she had other children, and when she revealed she had two daughters, he began to question her about my younger sister. She withheld.
Perhaps Grant admired my mother’s ability to dodge questions about my young sister, or perhaps he assumed she would be an older, more domineering version of myself. Regardless, something about her manner inspired him to ask her out for coffee. She prudently declined, said goodbye, and immediately went to perform her own cross-examination on me.
I was too sleepy and shocked to say anything as she recapped their conversation. Eventually, she demanded to know what was going on. Since it seemed that she was about halfway to the truth on her own, I had no idea what to tell her. I also suspected Grant would call again and my mother would continue to investigate the situation until she found a satisfactory answer. It was clear that the only option was to tell her at least most of the truth.
So, I told her the expurgated version of how I had started doing sex work and I explained that Grant was my first regular client. I’m sure I also accused her of ruining everything, or something to that effect. Teenagers.
To my great surprise, my mother did not seem terribly shocked by any of it (in hindsight, it must have been fairly obvious as I amassed increasingly valuable possessions and had abruptly stopped asking for money). While she wasn’t happy by any stretch of the imagination, she didn’t fly into a rage, burst into tears, or otherwise react hysterically. Of course she was concerned about my safety–and upset that I had given out our shared home telephone number to a client–but when I outlined my security measures to her, she was genuinely impressed.
Neither I nor my mother have a very clear memory of that conversation. We were both in such shock, not only that my profession had come to light but also at the way in which I’d been exposed. Even the fact that my mother and I were able to have such a calm and level-headed conversation about the situation was stunning since, at the time, it was difficult for us to settle who would do the dishes without bickering.
I remember that morning the way I remember peculiar dreams; it’s more a series of feelings and images than a coherent event. I remember my mother’s voice waking me, her expression a mix of concern, irritation and perplexity, my panic at the prospect of a potentially crazy client knowing too much about my real life, her initial look of incredulity when I told her what I was doing and why, and my relief at her ultimate ambivalence.
When I asked my mother about her memory of what happened in hopes she would recall more clearly, she found that the same was true for her. It’s strange, sharing this non-dream dream with her. While both she and I know that my being outed by a creepy client was a real thing that actually happened, the details slip through our fingers. The whole affair seems like something close to magic, partly because I am still completely astounded by my mother’s measured reaction.
Grant never tried to exact any harm on myself or my family. He continued to call for several weeks, including one time when my sister answered the phone and was subjected to an incredibly creepy interrogation of her own. Soon after, the calls stopped and Grant’s emails became fewer and farther between.
While things might have been different if he had been a little more imbalanced, as things turned out I am in some strange way grateful to him. Without Grant, my mother might never have learned that I was a sex worker (I would have died before I gave up such information willingly) and I would have continued to live a double life, hiding my work from the parent I was closest to. One thing that made my experiments with the sex industry so much easier was the fact that I had people in my life who knew what I did and didn’t judge me for it.
My mother’s view of the sex industry is as dim as ever. When I texted her to verify that this was true, she responded with a diatribe about how all sex work was an automatic dead-end that provided no opportunities for personal growth and could very well ruin the life of anyone who pursued it, but followed said diatribe with an assurance that she has come to understand and accept that sex work–and my affinity for and love of it–is part of who I am.
I’m sure that Grant has no idea where his creepiness led, but every time I have a frank discussion about sex work with my mother, I almost want to say a little ‘thank you’ inside my head to him for bringing it about.
Cathryn Berarovich is a former sex worker and current writer. She’ll share her stories each week on TheGloss.
(Still from Pretty Women by Touchstone Pictures)