The day I found out that grandma Dolly was a prostitute, I realized that I’d never given much thought to the sex industry. But now that I was thinking about it, it was everywhere, from the obvious stuff (prostitution, strip clubs, porn, back alley blowjobs, and so on), to the marginally less obvious stuff (most of the film and television industries, nearly all of advertising, everything in women’s magazines, a good portion of the stuff in men’s magazine’s, Tiny Tots in Tiaras (otherwise known as The Apocalypse is Upon Us: a reality TV show for those who hate themselves, and those who should).
Listen, I’m not a terrible looking person. There are those who refer to me as ‘cute.’ Sometimes even ‘adorable” or ‘attractive’ or maybe even ‘beautiful’ (though this is usually by men whose eyes say “I’m imagining bending you over the nearest hip-heighth object rather than focusing on the conversation in which this compliment is supposedly taking place” (you’d be amazed how specific (and often explicit) some people can get with their eyes)).
Anyway so my point is that I – look – I really don’t want people to be attracted to me. It’s weird, you know, I want to be attractive… but I don’t want people to react to it. When I said as much, GJ (a.k.a. Gina Johnson LCSW, my therapist) raised her left eyebrow unprofessionally high, if you ask me.
Right, but my point is that it’s… I can’t really avoid being on the receiving end of an assortment perks from other people’s sexual fantasies about me. And I know you think that sounds vain, but it’s just the reality I live in – it would be difficult not to notice it happening. Late to work? It’s fine, you look like you got some much-needed rest (read: I’m just glad you finally did your laundry and started wearing a proper bra again, because those 32 triple D’s really weren’t handling the two-week-sports-bra thing you had going too well). Anyway I can’t prevent it, is my point. I genuinely fight against it, I do – but I can’t do anything about it, most of the time. So why not capitalize on it? Wouldn’t it be easier just to bring the transaction to the surface?
A week after finding out about the whole prostitute thing, I co-hosted a party with my sister’s new boyfriend Dane. You know, for like, group cohesion and camaraderie and so forth. It was a pretty dismal affair, in the end, because Dane had overestimated the number of romantosexually available female friends I had, which had, as it turned out, been kind of the point of asking me to cohost to begin with (something I’d normally pick up on long before the actual event). Anyway the only person who actually got laid that night was a frat boy also invited by me, who took advantage of my clinically lonely (as well as unbelievably out-of-her-mind-drunk) best friend from grade school. Anyway, at one point I ended up at a different house in a room with 8 college boys between the ages of eighteen and nineteen (by this time I was already twenty-one, which you would think wouldn’t make a big difference, but I’m telling you – it does), and a bong (naturally).
Now, there were a variety of problems, from my perspective, with this situation. The first was that I was the only female in a room filled with a brood of males who were (a) horny, (b) unattractive, © lacking in the self-awareness to know how unattractive they were, and (d) verbally and ethically underdeveloped, meaning that they were neither (d.1) polite enough to care whether I was aware that they were all simultaneously focused to an inappropriate extent on my apparent reproductive health, nor (d.2) capable of maintaining a conversation which did not make it painfully obvious that I (as an offshoot of my apparent reproductive health) was the center of attention in the room.
So, here’s what happened. I wanted to get stoned, so I couldn’t leave. The room’s air conditioning was broken, though, so I began to sweat. A lot. This wasn’t terribly unusual, since I’d suffered from a pretty conspicuous case of hyperhidrosis since an eighth grade dance party during which I tried to hide my sweat stains by dancing with my arms pinned to my sides, and all the boys in the class started doing “the penguin” in imitation, resulting (obviously) in enduring psychosomatic damage. This, it would seem, produced some sort of pheromone which just made things worse – although it could also have had something to do with the fact that I’d foregone underwear that day. And also pissed my pants just the tiniest bit earlier in the evening as a result of being too nervous about navigating the crowded hallway to face the restroom in time.
Right. So we passed the bong around our enormous, ridiculous, circle, and they all watched me when it was my turn because who isn’t turned on by watching someone anti-fellate a porcelain object? And ye who are without sin, and all that jazz.
Okay but so then I had like a tiny self-contained panic attack, which they all noticed, of course, because they were noticing every single fucking thing that I did. And so then, because I’m stoned now and I’d starting reading An Invitation to Sociology that week (you know, to try and understand why most social situations made almost zero sense, and whatnot), I tried to explain something about how I’m not talking because I’m distracted with thinking about how group dynamics work, or some shit, I don’t even know what I said, and they all nodded like it made sense which made my heart sink all the way down to my ever-so-captivating genitals.
The guy sitting next to me was actually a really nice guy who I’d hung out with before in less horrifying settings – the sort of person who goes out of his way to compliment a stranger’s shoes. His name was Daman, and he was originally from India. I’d been holding out hope that he would be my conversational escape, but when the group nonconversation inevitably died, Daman turned to me and told me that he knows how to read palms, and I said what does that mean, because I’m thinking of the palms they burn on ash Wednesday. And he took my hand, and said he wanted to read it – and of course I didn’t want him (or anyone) to touch the pooled sweat on my stupid hand, but now he already had so I don’t really have a reason to say no, so I let him continue.
Then, slowly, – tenderly – he wiped the sweat from my palm.
Let me say that again: He wiped. The sweat. From my palm.
I was exactly as unnerved as I would’ve been had someone offered to q‑tip my ear wax out for me, and then actually did it. But so he went on pretending to read my hand for a while in the key of gibberish. I looked at the other boys in the room (some of whom had left the sad show at this point), trying to find Dane, who looked comfortably uncomfortable.
“Does this even make sense? Is he even saying things?”
Dane just shook his head with a little frown of something like embarrassment.
Then Daman looked at me again (if he’d even stopped) and he said,
“No, I’m telling you the truth, you’re going to choose a path and it will follow the line from your thumb to your…”
I pulled my hand away. And he sat up so straight, like his spine was a string hanging perpendicular to the ground from a point high above the earth. He put his hands on his knees so calmly, and looked me in the eye – bored into them — and he said,
“Stacy, you don’t have to be in so much pain. You’re beautiful. Do you understand?”
I looked at the floor, feeling simultaneously moved and violated. His words were touching – but they were the kind of touch you want, in a vague sense, but without wanting to be touched that way like this. Like when my sixth grade math teacher gave me a shoulder rub while I was visibly struggling with multiplication tables.
He was right, though. I was in pain. But I couldn’t just choose not to be because he pointed it out. I mean, I sort of understood: yes, I was dripping from most of my orifices, and yes, I was a little self-conscious about it. But he was misattributing, as far as I could tell, my intense anxiety to that factor alone, when in fact the matter was grotesquely complicated, and my anxiety wasn’t just a scar or a burden, it was the glue that kept the puzzle that was “Stacy Brooke Wade” together.
He kept looking at me with those prying eyes, and finally he said,
“You’re beautiful and any man would be happy to have you – you don’t have to be so shy, why do you lock yourself up like this? Let yourself be free. Let yourself – you could have so much fun – you could, Stacy you could give… you could make money by giving…” his hand formed a circle around the air and bobbed up and down, up and down, up and down…
“Daman,” Dane finally cuts in, the words fumbling in his mouth like bite-sized hot-potatoes, “you’re stoned. Daman, you need to stop. Leave poor Stacy alone. She doesn’t want you to read her palm, look at her, she’s scared!”
“But that’s what I’m saying, is that she doesn’t have to be scared! Why should she be afraid when she’s beautiful, why should she not come to parties and have friends and do other things that she would enjoy, and she could…”
“Okay, okay Daman, you have to stop, don’t say that again – things are different in India, do you understand? You don’t say things like that here. I don’t know what it’s like there, but you don’t say things like that here. Women don’t do that here. I mean they do, but it’s only some of them and you know who those ones are, but people like Stacy don’t just do that here.”
And then it dawned on me.
“Did he just suggest that I should give handjobs for money? Is that what happened?” I asked, and Dane’s face fell visibly by a quarter of an inch.
“Um, I – Daman’s a really good guy, I’m sorry Stacy, but I think that things are just a little different in India, he doesn’t mean it that way, you just have to be more… you have to learn how to…”
Daman turned to me again, saying, “you could do it, Stacy, you could… I would… a lot of people would…”
And that’s what it came down to. A lot of people would pay for a handjob from me. A lot of people would pay for a handjob from anyone, but they would also pay for one from me. And my favorite grandma had done it. She’d been more of a courtesan, I imagined, but the idea was there: why not make sex your job? God knows it’s a skill that can be honed or buried. I’ve run the gamut, and if there’s one thing I know for sure it’s that some dudes will wiggle on top of you for a few minutes and then come, and some will lick your asshole and find the spot and the angle and ride it so hard you forget who they are, and if you’re really lucky, you forget who you are, too.
But that’s not the point. The point is that I fall in love with strangers every goddam day. I’ve made out with, and made love to, a handful of people who probably didn’t deserve it. I have the ability to see the good in people and to want the best for them, and to give freely of myself to people just because I believe they need to feel a connection with someone. Doesn’t everyone? And what’s so wrong about giving physical acceptance to people who need it for money? What’s so wrong about giving in to all this pressure from every side to be appealing, to be polite, to be nice and generous and evenhanded…
At least then I could talk about it. At least then I could just tell people the price and take it or leave it. At least then I could tell people whether or not they meet the standards for an acceptable candidate for admission into my clientele. I guess I just started thinking, you know, maybe it wouldn’t be so bad. But then I thought about Daman. Would I do it for him? Would I give him a handjob for money? How much was a handjob worth to me? It’s not like they’re pleasant, but they’re also minimally effortful, generally. And it could all be pretty impersonal, really. But would there be kissing? Probably. And how do you approach something like that with the guy who just told you to sell handjobs because your hands are naturally lubricated with sweat?
I don’t know. I didn’t know. But I thought about it in my own little world for quite a while as the rest of them argued Daman down and awkwardly discussed what should happen next. Eventually, I decided to table the question and get the hell out of there. But, of course, I didn’t get the hell out of there before a slew of exiting-rituals were carried out with a slew of people I really didn’t feel all that comfortable performing exiting-rituals with. But at least those little concessions to what’s polite and appropriate were relatively painless. And at least this time I didn’t piss myself before I’d troughed through the obligatory social barriers between myself and my destination.
Cassie Adams is a recent graduate in psychology and philosophy at the University of Utah. In her free time, Cassie enjoys getting some fresh air in Southern Utah, and her interests include coffee, sweaters, and bubble wrap.