Story by Jeff Lily | Illustration by Gary Bedard
Imagine that your occupation involves being in dangerous situations, with strangers in strange homes, late at night, and for the purpose of providing sexual gratification. Sound like a really gritty crime drama?
Welcome to the “glamorous” world of escort work. This was reality for one Ferndale resident, who came forward to tell her story. Her name, and many details, have been changed to protect her identity; the pertinent facts, however, are all true.
This is Alice’s story.
She tells it to me while sitting on the sofa in the small, neat front room of her friend’s house. She’s younger than you’d think, and looks it despite all she’s experienced. She’s petite, willowy, almost fragile-looking. That last is an illusion, though, which disappears when you look into her eyes. They’re dark, sharp, and intelligent; they measure and weigh you, objectively calculating, cautious. There’s strength there, too, the kind that comes from facing down tough situations and coming out alive.
“I got out of jail. Two felonies and a misdemeanor, all drug- related.” She says. Not ashamed, and not flippant, either. Just the facts. “I had about $2500 in debt that needed to be paid. I was working three jobs, and still not making it.” They were waitressing jobs, she explains when I ask, because after jail there’s not many places that will hire you. One night, a friend of hers who worked as a stripper suggested stripping “as a joke.” Alice declined, but when she heard about escorting, it sounded appealing.
“All you do is go on dates, and they pay you,” is how she says it was described. It turned out to be more complicated than that.
Looking at Alice now, it’s difficult to believe that someone like her — smart, good-looking, charming — would need to go to these extremes. But anyone can have a bad start in life.
“I have the perfect background for it.” Alice explains. She was adopted, bounced around in a series of foster homes, and suffered abuse. “No one becomes a stripper because you were loved too much as a child. No one escorts because their daddy told them they were the best. Everyone in the business is broken, one way or another.”
So it was that she found herself in a hotel room one night, photographed in lingerie, and advertised. The money was more than she’d ever made before. But after a couple of months she’d had enough, and quit.
But she still needed money, so she went into stripping. The hours were long, the work exhausting. She still has side effects from wearing her costume shoes, which made her feet swell and bones
curve. There were other dangers as well.
“We (the dancers) all drank pretty heavily.” Alice admits. She didn’t get into drugs, but some of the women she worked with did MDMA, cocaine, Xanax, and others. At the very least, “You’d go home drunk and wake up the next day hung over. Every day.”
The work also affected her personal life. “My boyfriend couldn’t tell his friends what I did for a living.” Alice recalls. “He couldn’t tell his parents. That put (a lot of) strain on our relationship.”
Finally, she reached her limit. “I watched this documentary about girls in the porn industry. I never did porn, but they were saying the same things, the exact same things, that I said to justify stripping. Things like, ‘It makes me feel beautiful. I get paid to party. I’m having the time of my life.’ Hearing them say that scared the life out of me. I couldn’t do it any more.”
Despite everything, she won’t condemn the whole adult entertainment industry, or try to tell anyone how to run their life.
“It’s not the industry that’s bad. What they do to the girls is,” she says. Because so much of the business is illegal, it operates undercover and can’t be regulated. “I’ve talked to a couple of girls since I got out, and they asked if I could help them get started.” So she told them the truths that the pimps and the club owners won’t. Bottom line: You’ll lose too much of yourself for a paycheck. It just isn’t worth it. The girls she talked to decided not to take the leap.
Alice is putting her life together. She has steady work now, still too close to the industry for comfort, but no longer in it. She finished her high school education, all AP classes, with honors, and is looking forward to starting college.
She’s also determined to take the hard lessons she’s learned and educate other young women who are considering working as strippers, escorts, or in adult films. Her eyes light up as she talks about her project, joining with a large group of former adult entertainment workers to collectively develop a blog.
“All you do is go on dates, and they pay you,”
“It’s called ‘Married to the Money’ because so many girls have trouble leaving, because of the money.” Alice explains. The blog will tell the stories of adult industry workers, with the goal of educating others about the realities of working in the business. What anyone does with the information, and if they choose to believe it, will be their choice.
Creating the blog is painful work. It dredges up a lot of memories, and of course the stories hit close to home. But that the point. “I want something honest. Almost too honest. If I can make even one person stop and say, ‘Wait a second. Maybe this isn’t as good, as healthy, as I think it is…” She pauses. One of her jobs while stripping was to recruit other women into the business. “I wasn’t very good at it. It hurt me to tell them, ‘Oh, you’ll just be waitressing.’ Because I guarantee, if we recruit you, within a month you’ll be on the pole…”
I see then that the blog will have a lot of uses. I understand that it’s not just helpful information, or a public service. It’s also therapy.
As of press time, the blog isn’t quite ready. Ferndale Friends will publish the address when it goes online.
Meanwhile, Alice is busy with her studies, dreaming and planning.
“The best feeling in the world is leaving that stage for the last time, knowing you’re never going back.”
At that, she finally cracks a smile. The stage is behind her now. Her life is just ahead.
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