November 12, 2005

"Prostitution isolates you, with all its little ways that people not in it don't understand, much in the way some religions do, or drug addictions."

So writes Lisa Carver in an essay called "I Was a Teenaged Prostitute and It Was Kind of Great." Carver, who was nineteen when she took up prostitution, writes:
It's hard to explain certain things, and after a while it's easier to not talk to anyone outside much at all. I thought that as a prostitute, I would no longer be inside a dream; I'd be flung, newly sharp and capable, into life. Actually, I discover, the opposite is true. Prostitution is a complex, shared dream where everyone agrees to not wake up, for just a little longer....

I buy a ticket for France. I have to quit my job because I like it too much.

No one still "in life" will talk about it, and it seems like those who left will only talk about the bad side. But as I walk away from prostitution and drug addicts and gain back my own life and body, I know I'm losing something too. I lose nothingness.

Abandonment has always led to advanced creativity.
Via Hit and Run, which has a lot of comments, but I anticipate better comments here.

34 comments:

Dave said...

Religion and isolation--calls to mind that blog post you had the other day about Ave Maria Law School-- the one that wants to move to rural Florida so as to insulate themselves from non-Catholic things like girlie mags

PatCA said...

This is what the film world calls "edgy." But color me cynical. I think she took up whoring precisely to write about it--meta-whoring? And did she leave "the life" because she liked it too much or because she had enough to shop her story to lit/film agents?

Brendan said...

I love the way she lumps in "religion" with two vices. Surely there were better analogies at her disposal.

Starless said...

PatCA said...
I think she took up whoring precisely to write about it--meta-whoring?

You may be onto something there.
This is purposely self-conscious post-modern navel-gazing gone mad.

Undercover Christian said...

You can color me extremely cynical. Before I take off on this rant, I should point out that I am female.

This writing is only interesting until you see writing by or listen to a hundred girls just like her--not paid whores but regular, run-of-the-mill sluts with the same attitude. They always come with "daddy issues." They always claim a certain independence, but when it comes down to it they desperately want validation from other people. The easiest way to get that validation (though fleeting) is by having sex. I don't find it "edgy" just "trashy."

Pastor_Jeff said...

I think Pat and Starless have nailed it. Obviously, she did this to have an "experience" which she could write about. How many drug-addicted streetwalkers keep diaries and have pubishing deals?

And don't forget to check out the DVD companion: "Lisa has coughed up a visual aid to the paperback version of Drugs Are Nice in the form of a DVD, and whether she's passed out on the sidewalk, pissing in a bucket on stage and wallowing in filth, you never saw a cuter, more f****d-up doll screaming for help."

Help? I know this is all arty and introspective, but come on. This isn't about prostitution; it's life as performance art. It's post-punk Plimpton.

Pastor_Jeff said...

And I think Ann put up that link to the other site's comments just to dare us to go look, knowing it would make us appreciate what we've already got here.

Undercover Christian said...

I think it's the opposite. I think she writes about it to justify it to herself.

Ann Althouse said...

I don't think there's anything wrong with doing something so you can write a book about it. Everyone remembers Gloria Steinem working as a Playboy bunny to get an inside view. Barbara Ehrenreich did that book about working for minimum wage. Or is it that we expect women to take a more sociological or feminist attitude? Male writers often do something that they are curious about or thrilled by with the hope of getting a book out of it. What's the problem? (Other than that you disapprove of the sexual/illegal activity.)

Starless said...

Alex Harrison said...
I think it's the opposite. I think she writes about it to justify it to herself.

Looks like both to me, actually. Became a hooker because it seemed cool and hip (and because there's gold in them thar hills, or valleys, or whatever), and she's writing about it because it seems cool and hip (and there's money in "me, me, me" rhetoric these days).

ann althouse said...
What's the problem? (Other than that you disapprove of the sexual/illegal activity.)

I think it crosses a line of self-abuse for the sake of self-promotion. But it would be disingenuous to say that there isn't quite a bit of Western European Judeo-Christian disapproval mixed in there.

FXKLM said...

No offense to the Althouse commenters, but I generally prefer Hit and Run.

Undercover Christian said...

What's the problem? (Other than that you disapprove of the sexual/illegal activity.)

The disapproval of the sexual/illegal activity isn't the main thing at all. It's disapproval of looking for validation from other people and then putting a dishonest "I'm empowered" face on it. It's disapproval of glorified lack of self-respect.

Ron said...

I agree with fxklm; the Althouse commenters have dropped the ball here.

Sally said...

I went to art school, so of course I know a lot of professional hookers/lap dancers. Most tend to move on after several years in the industry realizing that the identity of a sex worker becomes much more intoxicating then the identity of an artist. Some go back to art making, and others take on "regular jobs" with the wonderful lure of mediocrity. (I prefer mediocrity myself). But some stay in the field and I know a few who have, and I find people to be unfairly judgemental towards their line of work.

On this thread alone people are criticizing prostitutes for believing they are "cool and hip", for "needing validation", and for having an agenda to "write about it". I'm sure many Bankers, Conde Naste girls, Nannies, Teachers, Lawyers, etc. might also have these qualities or some of these qualities in relation to their jobs. So why the agressiveness towards prostitutes? Of course people find it immoral.

I do not. Hookers range from being horrendously immoral and grotesque people to having extraordinarilly beautiful hearts. And lets face it, some men need them! They are providing a service in a more honorable way than Girl Friday. My prostitute friends have told me stories of shy guys and traumatized men who had never had sex, or who hadn't had sex in years. How wonderful that these men can be taken care of by a sex worker!

Lars said...

"Oh, let me reassure you, ma'am. I can assure you profssional hygeine, discretion and animal gratification"

--Fred Garvin, Male Prostitute

Starless said...

allicent said...
On this thread alone people are criticizing prostitutes for believing they are "cool and hip", for "needing validation", and for having an agenda to "write about it".

I never said all prostitutes were this way, just this one person. Her prose drips with it. It succeeds in being both revolting and annoying at the same time.

I don't take issue with someone writing about her experience as a prostitute, just this particular one.

lindsey said...

"My prostitute friends have told me stories of shy guys and traumatized men who had never had sex, or who hadn't had sex in years. How wonderful that these men can be taken care of by a sex worker!"

Sounds more like a tragedy to me.

PatCA said...

I don't care that she did it or wrote about it; I object to her shtick, that she just was compelled to do this because she's so sexy and edgy, and then suddenly woke up and said, golly, maybe I should write about this!

Gloria Steinem was honest about her Bunny experience--it was the effort of a feminist to expose sexism. Miss Thing IMO is far from honest. But I guess that's the way we want it, or agents want it, which in a funny way makes her still a whore.

Ann Althouse said...

PatCa: Apt observation. But then, I wonder: Is it really worse? "Miss Thing" had sex with "Frankenstein." If she did that for her book.... why are we condemning her? I'm not disrespecting Steinem. She had her agenda, and it was a good one. But for Carver... what did she do wrong to set you against her? I can only think of one thing: the essay is insufficiently well written!

Robert said...

The problem with prostitution is that it turns sexuality into a capitalistic commodity that privileges male dollars over female autonomy. "Give me some money, and I'll let you degrade me". There is little love, little bonding, little of that which distinguishes human sexuality from animal sexuality.

The tragedy of Ms. Carver's situation is not her choices or her self-promotion; nothing wrong with self-promotion, because Parnassus isn't going to come looking for you. The tragedy is that she is apparently completely cut off from the spiritual and philosophical tradition of the West that says she is more than a vagina or a mouth or a rectum oriented to male sexual pleasure. She shows no sign of understanding that she is a full and complete human being.

miklos rosza said...

I don't think Lisa Carver is a trustworthy narrator. "All the other girls are on drugs except me." Oh, sure. Then she tells about drug deals she's been involved, how she prefers stimulants (i.e., cocaine and crystal meth) to heroin and other downers. And the title of her forthcoming book is "Drugs Are Nice."

But there's a lot of money to be made by posing as a baaad girl. The "Prozac Nation" author rode that trendlet a long way. Look at the fame given to porn-stars these days.

Here in Portland, where there's an awful lot of strip clubs, many of the dancers want to write books. "Hot Box" came out a couple years ago, published by a poetry press.

And of course Portland is home to Suicide Girls, which if you're not familiar with it is a website featuring piercings and tattoos.

I don't know if it's accurate to say we're living in a "masturbation culture," but it sure seems like that's the trend.

Pastor_Jeff said...

Pat, Starless and Robert - Yes.

My opposition to prostitution is not so much because "It's wrong and you shouldn't!" as much as "It's degrading, damaging and dehumanizing" to everyone involved. There are lots more ways to hurt yourself than physically. At the end, her experience has made her empty, lonely and dissatisfied.

There's nothing wrong with self-promotion or trying something to write about it. But I think this crosses a line, like a performance artist mutilating his body. We don't need any more glorified self-destruction. It's not interesting, pretty or cool. It seems just ugly and sad. As a parent, I can't imagine wishing this for my child.

XWL said...

Where are the commenters saying that the Europeans have a healthier attitude towards sex and that legalized prostitution shouldn't be a big deal?

The thought of directly paying, or being paid for sex has never crossed my mind, it really just seems bizarre.

But I don't think prohibiting an exchange between adult private parties of an activity that without money being transacted would otherwise be legal has been wise or productive.

Legal and regulated is a lot safer for all involved when it comes to paid sex. The moral judgements are a side issue in my opinion. I wouldn't pay not due to moral compunction, but rather for reasons of ego and self-regard.

If my charms, intellect and looks fail to attract someone to me than why would I want to exchange fluids with them?

And as far as this particular person, she does come across as just a navel-gazing thrill seeker who is basically the female equivalent of an illegal base-jumper who videos himself jumping off of private buildings while trying to stay ahead of the cops and trying to justify their behavior with pop-psychology nonsense.

Slocum said...

I went to art school, so of course I know a lot of professional hookers/lap dancers.

Great line -- almost made me snort my coffee.

I have a hard time working up much enthusiasm for condemnation or support for this chick--the whole MFA grad going to work as a pole dancer/ escort/ blah, blah, blah and then writing an edgy article/ book/ poem/ performance art piece about the experience is just tired, tired, tired (or so it seems to me).

I have a friend who, when he was that age, thought he was going to be a writer and went to work on a fishing boat for a while. That'd be more interesting--I think one of these chicks should go do the 'Bubba Gump' thing and write about that instead. Or maybe the two genres could be combined -- you know, sign on as 'boat slut' to the crew of a long-line trawler. It would be more efficient, the crew could fish and go whoring at the same time and blow all their money as soon as they earned it without having to wait to get back to port...

PatCA said...

I actually think she's a pretty good writer. I hope she continues writing and gets her proverbial s*** together in the meantime.

Miklos, good point, she is the Ultimate Unreliable Narrator. She is playing us. She lied about her intent and perhaps, too, her drug use, all to attract more middle class clients...er, book buyers. Unfortunately, Nerve doesn't question that.

She's manipulating us, denying that she had an agenda going in. That's my problem with it. Either call it "fiction" or call it a lie. There's nothing in between. Had she written a novel, I would be okay with it.

Starless said...

PatCA said...
I actually think she's a pretty good writer.

Ugh. Her writing style is really what makes my gorge rise. Her approach to the subject seems like the logical end of all of those girls who walk around with "slut" or "porn star" written in glitter on their t-shirts. It's supposed to be ironic or challenging but it really just ends up being degrading.

Sally said...

Pastor Jeff -

I find many bankers, traders, and (sorry Ann, I don't mean you) lawyers that I know to be far more soul depleted than my prostitute friends. I think prostitutes are too easily targeted as being victims or morally bankrupt, and some show incredible kindness, compassion and empathy towards their clients. And some just really love sex!

But yes, I agree with those who have said, this writer is indeed a bore.

KaneCitizen said...

Show of hands: How many people think prostitution should be decriminalized?

(Raising hand.)

amba said...

LOL, Slocum. SMC.

Julian Morrison said...

(raising hand)

Odd that everyone jumps on the assumption that she's bad, lying, pushing an agenda, got into whoring just to have something to write about.

What exactly rules out the possibility that she's telling the pure truth and means exactly what she says?

Jeff said...

LIsa "Crystal" Carver is a fairly well-known writer who emerged of in the early 90's 'zine scene and is a pillar of GenX hipster culture. Zine's were essentially blogs in dead tree format). Her zine Rollerderby became a magazine and has been collected in book form.

Lisa is well known for her wackiness, positive attitude, extremely un-pc attitude, and overall charm. She is not a cynical person. She is fearless, and I admire her. She has a certain cheerful determination to make the best of life and have fun doing it. She seems free of the anger and arrogance that I despise in so many writers, especially of the Riot Grrrl type on Salon. She is infinitely preferable to the clever immaturity of Sarah Vowell, who is so poular with the npr/nytimes set.

One of my favorite pieces by her is a short essay about the History Channel and the relationship between bookish scholars and the bloodthirsty barbarians that they so clearly love.

wildaboutharrie said...

"While I attend the school of soft knockers and hard transactions..." Her editor should have made her delete this...

I realize she's talking about a whole lifestyle here, but you don't need to experience prostitution to discover that sex with another person can be isolating.

Sally said...

Jeff-

You are right! She is free of angst and sardonic wit, which is quite refreshing! I do find most writing about the sex industry extremely boring, but you've convinced me to give her another look. The History Channel piece seems does seem interesting. And yeah, Riot Grrrrl angst is so tiresome now.

Simon Kenton said...

Prostitution is about constant repeating attempts to control the Dark Father, and since a man is never more controllable than after ejaculation, it works. It leads, of course, to contempt for the male. Long-continuted contempt for either sex is not a positive, though we all find doses of it bracing, but until we men stop acting like Dark Fathers, some women will need this. It also follows that if you don't wish to be controlled, you have to decouple ejaculation from orgasm.

I wound up 18 years as a bachelor last summer, and took a second wife who is the 'apple of my eye.' In those years I never commerced with a professional, nor yet (once it became clear) with amateurs who were using sex as an adjuvant to position or security. It was too much like 'hunting' within high-fence enclosures. If you know the outcome in advance, if the evening's end is fore-ordained, the pleasure and excitement seep away; there is no point in finishing where there is no doubt what the finish will be.