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. But only almost.
What I didn’t know at the time is that Grant is what’s known in the industry as a hobbyist.
I’m a smart girl, but I wasn’t always the smartest hooker. When I started out working independently, I didn’t even think to get client references from other girls. I looked to my hooker friends for emotional support, but that network didn’t really extend to my profession. If I’d asked around I probably would have discovered that Grant has patronized pretty much everyone in the Chicago pro-fetish scene, and a lot of vanilla escorts besides. You’d be hard pressed to find a lady who hasn’t seen him.
When I started working at Dolorous Delights in February, it didn’t even occur to me that I might encounter Grant again. My experience with him was so far in the past that it might as well have happened a lifetime ago. I’d seen countless other clients, and had nearly five years of on again, off again sex work experience under my belt. It took me completely by surprise when my boss, “Cecilia” put the phone on hold and informed me that “Grant Caroll” was calling for me. The tone of her voice and the fact that she used his full name was enough to tell me this was the same person.
My first instinct was to bug out my eyes and make a rapid swiping gesture across my throat.
“No no no,” I said, “he’s a creep. He outed me to my fucking mother when I was eighteen. I can’t see him.”
“But he isn’t on your will not see list,” Cecilia pointed out.
“I had no idea he came here! He would be if I’d known!” I replied.
I’m not sure if Cecilia sensed my curiosity or if she just didn’t want me to turn down a client who would mean money for the dungeon, but she persevered.
“So, will you see him or won’t you?” She asked.
I started to say “no.” I was worried he might recognize me by my tattoos, that he might start calling my mother’s house again, that he might go so far as to find my house–but suddenly I remembered that I have a column to write, and more than that, I could never, ever forgive myself if I didn’t indulge such morbid curiosity.
“Fuck it,” I replied, “I’ll see him.”
Cecilia gave me the phone. As I reached out to press the mute button and take him off hold, I realized my hand was shaking. What if he did remember me?
I hoped my voice wouldn’t shake as I greeted him. Luckily, it didn’t.
“Hello,” I said, “this is Mistress Lillian. I hear you’re interested in seeing me?”
“Yes,” he replied in that voice I had grown to hate, “today, if possible.”
“That sounds good,” I said, “what are your interests?”
“Wait,” he said, “I have a few questions first.”
This, I thought, was what I’d been dreading. He was going to ask me if I’d ever worked under a different name or tell me I looked familiar or something. He totally knew exactly what was going on! He had deduced that I was that same dumb girl from all those years ago! I was screwed!
Fortunately, I know better than to let fear get in the way of money. I asked him what he wanted to know.
“First,” he asked, “is your hair red or brown?”
This was easy. I explained to him that although my hair appears to be dark brown when I’m indoors or in low light, the minute the sun or any other bright light hits it I become an instant redhead. The explanation seemed to satisfy him, and he moved on to the next question.
“I see you have some interesting tattoos,” he remarked, and suddenly I was sure it was all over. Despite the fact that I no longer had the piercings and choppy black hair I’d been sporting when he met me, he’d found me out, I just knew it. My stupid fucking stick-and-poke tattoos had given me away.
Once again, though, I kept my cool.
I laughed, “yes,” I said, “yes I do. Anything catch your eye?”
“The tattoo on your hand,” he said, “’Dresden was Firebombed.’ Are you a Kurt Vonnegut fan?”
I breathed a partial sigh of relief. Long ago I’d told Grant that I had that tattoo because of my love of Slaughterhouse Five, but questions about my love of absurdist science fiction are a fairly common response to my hand tattoo. It was possible that he’d forgotten all about Miranda, the baby hooker he’d seen so long ago. I confirmed that yes, my tattoo was indeed a reference to Vonnegut, exchanged a few pleasantries, and booked him an appointment at noon.
I had an hour and a half before Grant was set to arrive. As the minutes ticked away I grew more and more nervous. He was a cagey bastard, I knew, what if he was waiting until his arrival to make the big reveal? I smoked cigarette after cigarette on the back porch.
About twenty minutes before his arrival, I confided to “Sadie” that I was growing increasingly nervous.
“So why are you seeing him?” She asked.
“Curiosity,” I replied, “morbid curiosity that’s going to get me killed one day. Also, I want to tell my mother about it.”
When Grant arrived, I tried my very best to remain cool and unruffled. He walked straight up to the door, rather than calling and asking if it was clear–the way he and all other clients were instructed to. I opened it and ushered him inside. He was shorter than I remembered, and uglier. I had forgotten that he actually looked like a scumbag, rather than just being one. He had wrapped the money in a piece of newspaper, and as he handed her the money, my boss, ever the diplomat, joked that it was kind of him to have brought her something to read. She briefly made eye contact with me and gave me the faintest of all eye-rolls, as if to say, “what a douche.”
Our session was blessedly unremarkable. Grant fancies himself an intellectual, and mostly wanted to talk about Vonnegut (of whose work he’s read very little) and explain to me how he’s very intuitive, how I seem so masculine despite my hyperfeminine appearance, how he’s a “sapiosexual”, and how I must have grown up Catholic. If he remembered me at all, he never showed it or gave any sign of recognition.
I was almost disappointed. I had hoped for some kind of epic tale to regale my mother and sister with, possibly something that ended with me throwing a dildo at Grant’s head and making sure he was blacklisted from our building, but all that happened was… he lied about never eating his own semen as he licked my feet clean.
I wasn’t sure if I was relieved or irritated. How dare he deprive me of a potentially epic story? All I had now was a tale of nervousness in the face of, well, nothing.
Perhaps it was my frustration that allowed me to put professional behavior aside the next time Grant called to make an appointment with me. As I’d learned from the other girls at my dungeon, he goes on runs where he’ll see one girl for a few months before he stops abruptly, having imagined some slight.
It was almost a month after our first appointment at my new place of work that Grant called to see me again.
Secure in my anonymity, I was no longer nervous–simply irritated that I’d have to put up with his pseudointellectual mumbo-jumbo for an entire hour. I was out on the porch painting my toenails and smoking a cigarette with Sadie as I griped about having to see him again, when she made a brilliant suggestion.
“Do you want me to like, piss on your feet?” She asked.
Did I? Oh my god, suddenly I had an opportunity for secret revenge.
“Yes!” I responded, kicking my feet in a mixture of glee and a desire to dry my nail polish,
We were in high spirits as we pranced indoors. We revealed our plans to “Daphne” and “Severine” who not only rejoiced with us but suggested that they–as they were both on their periods–bleed on my toenails. The red nail polish, we decided, was dark enough to hide the bloodstains. Grant would be treated to a disgusting cocktail of bodily fluids and would never, ever know.
I washed the outdoor dirt off my feet. Next, I took my place in the shower, negligee hitched up, as Sadie squatted over my feet and soaked them with disgusting whiskey piss.
Every so often I find myself observing my life and the things I do, and wondering how the hell a nice girl from a nice family ended up being such a fucking weirdo. This was one of those times. Here I was, standing in a shower as one of my co-workers peed on my feet and two other co-workers waited to rub menstrual blood on my toenails and somehow this was our idea of an hilarious prank? I was and am aware, on some level, that this is not a typical example of a good prank.
Once Sadie was done bathing my feet, I dried them off a bit, rubbed Daphne and Severine’s tampons on my toenails, and put my shoes back on just in time to greet Grant at the door.
It wasn’t hard to pretend I was glad to see him, I could barely contain my smiles, so happy was I when I thought of how disgusting my feet were. I was glad they didn’t obviously smell like piss, and hoped they would still taste bad.
I couldn’t wait to get Grant into the room we were sessioning in. He stripped, as was his custom, and went straight for my feet. As he took off my shoes I could hardly contain my amusement; I was beyond tempted to stick my tongue out and waggle my fingers in my ears like a bratty child, but I suppressed the urge. After deeply inhaling the scent of my shoes, Grant finally, finally brought his mouth down to my toes and took the first three toes of my right foot in his mouth.
I smiled broadly, “Oh,” I purred, “your tongue feels so good on my toes. Do you like the way they taste?”
Grant took my foot out of his mouth to enthusiastically reply that yes, they were delicious, and just like that I had my revenge. The hour flew by. I didn’t care that Grant was being particularly pretentious, he had licked menstrual blood off my toes! I didn’t care that he was asking exceptionally nosy questions about my personal sex life, he was sucking piss off my feet while I lied about the answers! Everything was perfect and Grant was a creepy little scumbag who’d just been had and didn’t even know it.
I know it’s wrong and unprofessional and all those other things to have played such a childish prank on a client. My enjoyment of his unwitting consumption of bodily waste is petty and stupid, and this is something that, were I writing under my real name or even my other professional name, I would never admit to anyone. I want to feel guilty for this stupid prank, but I can’t bring myself to.
There is a code in sex work, we have an unspoken understanding with our clients. On some level, they know we don’t use our real names, they know we aren’t flawless fantasy creatures, and they know we have lives and families that are entirely removed from our work personae. We know, though we never talk about it unless they initiate the conversation, that most of them are married and have children our age or sometimes even older.
There is etiquette in place, you do not cross the line between fantasy and reality. Grant crossed the line, he violated the etiquette, and because of that he is fair game for whatever we want to do to him, so long as we ourselves do not violate our own etiquette by messing with the money he pays us. It’s unprofessional and petty, yes, but he deserved it and I can and will do something similar the next time I see him.
In fact, Grant will be sucking piss off my feet until he gets sick of seeing me.
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