The things you learn in the course of your research. And the way it constantly makes you readjust your preconceptions about all sorts of things. Specifically, what I’m talking about this time is the subject of escorts – some men but mostly women who provide a range of services, usually but not always sexual, to paying clients.
You’d maybe think such a topic didn’t need much in the way of research. We all know, for example, that it’s just prostitution by another name. But even if that false generalisation were true, it still involves people, with characters, personalities, foibles, inadequacies, dreams even, and so the coupling (or whatever form the congress takes) is not always purely mechanical.
At its most clichéd basic, booze gives the man the hunger for a woman, any woman, (and the confidence to make the approach), and the woman needs the money for her next fix so badly that she’ll do anything to get it. Either that, or she’s been shipped in from abroad on the pretence that there’s a real job waiting for her. Apart from what it says about our continuing abuse of women, the bleakness of such transactions seems to me too far removed from the joy of sex to have any meaning or satisfaction.
My research was aimed at creating a realistic character in my latest novel, The Darkness. She’s a woman who’s been raped but who wreaks a sort of vengeance on males by becoming so good at providing what they want that they pay plenty for it. There are plenty of websites offering escort services and, through the contact information on one of them, I got in touch with someone whose postings made it clear that she was articulate, intelligent and had a realistic awareness of her profession. I explained what I wanted and she agreed to answer questions which I emailed to her. Let’s call her Lucy.
On the whole, the perception of ‘upright’ citizens is that transactions involving escorts are sordid, even though they may involve fine dining and rooms at plush hotels. They assume that men who need them are sad inadequates, incapable of ‘normal’ relationships and, however friendly and understanding the escort, the personal attention their money buys them is illusory. The answers I got from Lucy painted a different picture. All my queries about the dangers of the profession were acknowledged but she’d never, in several years of escorting, experienced any difficulties. Indeed, for her the biggest risk was the potential embarrassment if one day she found she’d been hired by someone who turned out to be a friend’s husband. She wrote with tenderness about some of her clients, understood their needs, saw their weaknesses and, in fact, became friends with some of her regulars. And when I asked her if there were times when she wished she hadn’t accepted a commission, she said the worst ones weren’t those with personal hygiene issues or alpha male delusions, but those who bored her. I’m not suggesting she’s a sort of social worker, but the service she’s providing obviously goes beyond physical satisfactions for her clients and also enhances her experience of life.
Before we go any further, I’m not condoning the process, nor am I ignoring the degradation and pain into which it plunges many women. I’m not side-stepping the fact that there are too many men – pimps and clients – whose treatment of women is abominable. These are unpleasant, unfortunate facts. But when you exchange ideas with someone such as Lucy, who knows what she’s talking about, you have to extend your perceptions to include the more positive aspects of the arrangements.
So pigeonholing the whole process of escorting as an activity for losers is far too simplistic. Sex is still a taboo thing for lots of people and I can imagine that, for them, sitting with someone who’s attractive, personable, interesting and (apparently at least) interested in what they’re saying is a sort of release. They can forget whatever their hang-ups are, get rid of the tensions attaching to ‘will she/won’t she?’, and just step outside of the constrictions of their life and pretend for that short space of time that everything’s possible. Some will say that’s still illusory but if, for the duration of that particular ‘now’ they feel fulfilled, it’s real.