Loving the Johns

Others tried to convince her that she was heading toward disaster, but she discovered love in every needy look and aching heart.


Andrea Rodriguez
June 5, 1999 8:00PM (UTC)

I remember every one of them. The guy with the pimply back. The guy who talked to himself in the bathroom and seemed gay. The one with the awful scars. The one who had to get stoned to work up the nerve to call me. I remember every time. One once asked me if I was a cop. One just wanted to play with my toes. One was hyper, maybe on drugs, and kept pestering me for intercourse. There was the one who wanted to rub various objects in the room against my nipples. Then there were all the ones who kept telling me how different I was. What did I know about it? Nothing. But then I knew very little about anything else, either. Why did I get into it? Did I need the money or the adventure?

One semi-homeless, punk-boy sex worker once asked me if I was slumming. The question surprised me and I didn't know how to answer. He answered for me that I wasn't because I allowed myself to be moved by people, that I saw beyond their "street-currency," as he put it. Now that I'm out of it, back to my studies and with a middle-class boyfriend, I'm beginning to believe he was wrong. About me and about his definition of not slumming. After all, those "authentic" people from his strata weren't ever particularly open to anyone.

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Yes, I was open to those desperate sex workers still reeling and eternally disordered from childhood molestation and abuses that had landed them on the street without a high school diploma. On the street, you cannot simply offer, as I was allowed to offer, a nice massage and a hand job. You have to perform what we in the industry referred to as "full service." But in as much as I was open to them, I was also open to their diametric opposites, the clients.

For many, the clients -- rich white men desirous of often insidious beauty ideals -- were the locus of danger. They had the prejudices, the diseases, the spontaneous rage that we were vulnerable to. They were the enemy. But that's not how I saw them. I didn't carry the survivor baggage, the callused resentment of someone forced into this work from an unprepared and unwilling age. To me, the men were the fearful ones, nervous, ashamed, pitifully grateful for any amount of sincerity, any genuine response. I never learned how to be detached from them. They seemed to need me too much. For them I saved up my energy and affection. From them I returned to my room, invigorated and high with anonymous love. So high and full, in fact, that I found myself fooling around freely in my spare time. Who didn't deserve love? Who, rich or poor, didn't bear a piece of my perfect lover?

Who, on the other hand, was worthy of all my attention? Nobody could lay a claim to me because at work it was all understood and at play, I made clear it was play. I could thus float above earthly attachments while diving into the depth of the apparently seedy. I could be present in my nudity but clothed in my pseudonym. I could act the desperate street girl to make a play-space for my unfeigned sensuality. I could risk the dangers my college friends worried over to revel in the safety of my success as a nurturer, an object, a giver of counsel, a masseuse.

"How did you get into it?" A common question. I believe if it hadn't been one way, it would have been another. I met a girl, she gave me a number and suddenly I was in a dark place, holding a man's body to mine. It was so easy, so pleasingly aestheticizable. It brought back memories of curiosities I'd always had. Once, long before, I'd considered having been a prostitute in a past life. I'd always related to them, somehow. My best friend said I was glamorizing sexual commerce, making it perversely desirable and objectifying the victims. How had I known?

I remember pushing my hands into the back of a huge man I straddled like a horse, and hearing him mumble something about Nirvana. I'd been distracted as I massaged him, and worried that my lack of focus would leave him displeased. Realizing that I was in fact performing beautifully brought back another old dream. Years ago, I had been a dedicated Buddhist. I had read of a breathing exercise in which you sucked in all the pain of the person before you and then blew into them pure blue goodness. I had tried it repeatedly with my clinically depressed sister, managing only to fill myself with the black I was trying to remove. Now here I was, filling strangers up with visions of their own goodness, with renewed images from my eyes of themselves as strong, handsome, capable men, one flesh-filled hour at a time. All without depleting my own store of strength. At the end of that hour, the huge man said he felt too good to move. He then reached for his wallet and, unsolicited, handed over a 50 and two 20s on top of the $200 he'd already paid.

Wealthier than I'd ever dreamed, I could spend days in bed doing nothing but panicking over how my parents would die if they found out. And how I was never going to get hired again if I couldn't account for all these months on my resume. These fears eventually conspired, along with meeting my Prince Charming about a decade sooner than I'd planned on, to make me leave the work. But at that time, and for the seven months I did it, anxiety only motivated me to go out once more and lose myself in the arms, hearts and desires of strangers. Flesh, the perfect distraction, was calling me from countless points all over the city. So I would listen to my messages, jot the numbers, call the guys and listen for friendliness. Sometimes it wasn't there. But sometimes I made the appointment and called the cab anyway.

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Next to deceiving my parents, getting a last-minute cab was the most difficult part of my job. Talking to the drivers through my pre-session jitters, on the other hand, was one of the most pleasurable. I remember all of them: the one who gave me a free ride in exchange for letting him take fully-clothed pictures of me, the one who told me about immigrating from Vietnam and having the Virgin Mary appear to him and cure him of a gambling habit, the one -- a woman -- who explained that our jobs were essentially the same.

"It's when you're so desperate that you mess up," she said. "You haven't had work all day, you're getting nervous, low in cash and your suspicions are down. You'll take anyone and that includes someone that'll fuck you over."

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She told me this right as I was going to the house of a man whose conversation had been filled with humorless pauses, as if he were waiting for a convincing pitch about my services. When I arrived I saw my mistake. Although free of the tell-tale accent that usually accompanies the haggling, the pushiness or the insistence on explicit description, the man was Asian. Less pleasantly shocking to friends than the admission of what I do are such details as this: that the need for self-protection, to my own surprise, had taken the form of racism.

When I made a move, after stripping to my underwear, to start on his back, the man asked me to "just stand there." He wanted to begin by feeling me up, before we became comfortable with each other through the massage and conversation. I told him there was plenty of time and to let me get to my work. As my hands attended the worst knots they'd known, my words coaxed out ex-girlfriend stories and loneliness woes. The session ended with a long, mutually bearish hug in his doorway and these words from him: "You are the nicest person I have ever met." This happened to me.

I once had a woman tell me that as an educated and therefore privileged person, I was taking work away from others who needed it more. Another told me that I was encouraging negative stereotypes of women. A third claimed I was living out a death wish. Those women sought not so much to understand, but to humble me. With each new man and each intensifying joy, their concerns moved further away. I no longer needed justifications. The dream I was living had taken over. Now that reality has set in with its comforts and its safety, I sometimes allow myself the luxury of wondering whether the awakening kiss didn't arrive too soon.

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Andrea Rodriguez

Andrea Rodriguez is a San Francisco writer.

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