The Whore on Christmas
That's sadder than a whore on Christmas."
The first time I had sex for money on Christmas, I was 21 and I'd been a call girl for a little over two years. I don't care a whole lot about Christmas. I have no objection to a one-day holiday, but I hate being beaten over the head with stockings and carols and Santa Claus for eight weeks, and I hate being told when I should feel jolly or giving.
However, contrary to the sad-and-lonely whore stereotype, I have a large extended family. I may be the black sheep, but my family is determined to gather me into the fold—whether I like it or not. It's not that my relatives aren't nice people. It's just that when we all get together to have a Christmas celebration, it's as if the punch bowl was spiked with 151-proof banality and tedium.
Granted, at 21 I was still baiting my Southern-conservative family with my spiked hair, goth clothing, and sweeping pronouncements about the virtues of nationalized health care and gun control. I was used to being the target of some teasing. But attempting to be patient throughout a day of speculation about why I was the only female grandchild not married and pregnant left me deeply envious of orphans.
I was sitting in a plaid recliner in my grandmother's living room, hoping the rum in my Coke would deafen me to the screams of my cousins and the roar of the football game my uncles were watching on TV, when my mother said, "Honey, something in your purse is beeping."
My pager? The only person who had that number was the owner of the escort service I worked for.
"Must be the alarm on that sports watch I got," I offered. "I'll go turn it off."
I took the phone from my grandmother's bedside table, dragged the long cord into her closet, closed the door, and dialed my service.
"Hi, sweetie," said my boss. "Thanks for calling back. Listen, I'm sorry to bother you on Christmas, I know I said we'd be closed. But this guy I know called, he's really nice, and he's stuck here on business. He wanted to know if we had anybody who'd come down to the Hyatt to see him. Any chance you'd do it? He'll tip you big time."
An automatic, "No, I can't" rose to my lips, but before I said it, a piercing wail penetrated the closet door, as the effects of too much sugar and too little sleep took their toll on the Fisher-Price set. I heard my Aunt Alice calling me to come to the kitchen and whip the cream for the pies. I thought about my options for a moment: kitchens, football, and screaming children—or go fuck a strange man for money.
"What's his room number?" I said. "I'll be there in half an hour."
I told my family that my neighbor thought she'd smelled smoke by my apartment door, and it was probably nothing, but I just had to run home and check. The client was pleasant and uncomplicated, and the sterile beige serenity of the hotel, with its silent hallways and clean white sheets, was a balm. I returned to my grandmother's house to have some pie—someone else had whipped the cream—and then it was time for everyone to go home.
It was the best family Christmas party ever.
The expression "sadder than a whore on Christmas" is based on the notion that whores, presumably ostracized by loved ones (not always the case), are also deserted by their customers on December 25. While I am a pro domme now, I spent the first 10 years of my sex-work career straight-up fucking for money. And my experience says that while other people's Christmases may be white, Christmas can be nicely green for whores.
That's because I'm not the only one who needs relief from the pressure of enforced family togetherness. Whenever I've worked on Christmas, most of my clients have also been ducking out of family gatherings and they've fallen through my door like men pursued by wolves. And most of them have said something like: "I gave presents to everybody else, this is my present to myself!"
"Oh yeah, they say the same kind of thing to me," said my friend Jae as we stood surveying the buffet at a holiday party. Jae works as a call girl, and she's had similar experiences working on Christmas. "So I started putting long ribbons and bows around myself—if I'm a present, unwrap me."
And, yes, she really does that.
"Some years I get the sexy-Santa outfit request a lot," Jae added. "Especially if there's some kind of TV special with chicks in sexy-Santa outfits. Guys get triggered by the visuals. Guys will bring over those big, fat candy canes and want you to put it up your ass—or his ass, for that matter. Particularly if they've been drinking. You do have to watch out for that on Christmas—guys who've been hitting the eggnog all day." She shrugs. "But the tips are usually good."
When my friend Natalie was an escort we had weekly vent-about-work sessions over dinner. She's since left the business, but we still do weekly dinners, and she still has plenty of opinions about sex work.
"I may be a Jew," Natalie said when I asked about her experiences on the holidays, "but I didn't work on Christmas. The way I see it, if you've got nothing else to do on Christmas, then you're nobody I want to deal with. All the good clients have other places to be."
Even the Jewish ones?
"Christmas is a secular holiday, too, now," said Natalie, "not just a religious one. Only weirdos and losers call on Christmas."
Natalie has a point. I've been to Christmas gigs where it was clear that the guy wasn't escaping from a family gathering—because he didn't have a family. Some of them were contented loners, just looking to be entertained. But some of them—well, Jae pretty much nails it:
"Sometimes you show up at the guy's house on Christmas and you feel sorry for him, you know? Like there's this sort of Charlie Brown-ish Christmas tree with one present under it, and it's for you."
Now that's sad.
I remember one particular Christmas client.
It was midafternoon on Christmas Eve. The client and I had never met before, but I showed up at his house at the appointed time, and he quickly ushered me inside. The man of the house was thin and pale, with faded blond hair, and he looked nervous. I could understand why: There's a reason married guys rarely have whores come to their homes.
How could I tell he was married? Well, the fact that the house was decorated in a nauseatingly cutesy-country-crafty style was a big tip-off. Not just decorated—the place was stuffed full of ruffled chintz and gingham, designer teddy bears and American primitive wooden plaques with bunnies and angels and hearts burned on them. There was a flowered platter of homemade iced cookies sitting on the hall table. And there were a lot of family portraits on the foyer wall, with Mom, Dad, and three little rug rats.
"So you can be gone by six, right?" he asked.
"Sweetie, I'll leave whenever you want," I replied.
I paused before asking the obvious question.
"Is your wife coming home?"
He nodded jerkily. "She and the kids are at church."
I couldn't believe it. This guy had a hooker come to his house on Christmas Eve while his wife and kids were at church? He is so going to hell for this, I thought, and I'll undoubtedly see him there.
"Well, let's not waste playtime," I said, moving toward the stairs. "Where would you like to...?"
"No, not upstairs!" he said, practically panicking. "I don't want to mess up the bed. Let's just—do it in the living room."
Easier said than done. We edged around the eight-foot Christmas tree that dominated the room and sat down on the powder-blue couch. He handed me an envelope with the cash in it. I tucked it into my purse and then looked at him, waiting for him to give me some sign of how he wanted to proceed. But he just stared at me like a trapped rabbit. The room was dim, and the lights from the tree threw alternating red and green splotches on his face. The effect made him look like he had some kind of facial tic, and I doubted that it was enhancing my complexion, either.
"Okay," I thought to myself, "if I have to be gone soon, I am going to have to take control of this fuck."
I stripped down to my tarty black lace lingerie and stockings, got his pants around his knees, and started unrolling a condom onto his dick with my mouth. He moaned and leaned back on the couch—and then we both gasped and jumped as the tinkling strains of "White Christmas" suddenly rose into the air. He looked wildly around the room for a moment, then relaxed and said, "Oh, wait, it's this pillow. It's got a music box in it, when you lean on it, it plays..." He fished a red-and-green throw pillow from behind his back and tossed it away. It played on for a minute, before ceasing abruptly with a mechanical click.
He lay back again, but it seemed that our musical interruption had made his little Saint Nick unhappy. Or maybe it's this house, I thought, as I sucked him. It's completely antisexual. Interior decor as visual saltpeter.
I stood up, pulled off my panties, and bent over the couch. I knew I should give him some dirty verbal encouragement, but my vast repertoire of porn talk had deserted me, and the best I could manage was a come-hither expression that felt as painted-on as the faces of the knee-high nutcrackers flanking the fireplace. I watched him maneuver into position behind me in the gilt-framed, holly-draped mirror over the mantel. In my black bra and stockings, I was jarringly out of place in the room, an affront to the relentless, smothering cozy cuteness. It was hard to even breathe. As he fumbled around behind me, the bowls of cloyingly sweet potpourri that sat on both end tables began to make my eyes water and my nose itch. I was going to start sneezing uncontrollably in a minute, I thought, and my mascara was going to run down my face in black streaks. It was like a Stephen King Christmas house, where it looks all sweet, but if you don't behave, it kills you.
It certainly killed our date. After 45 minutes of unsuccessful fumbling, he looked at the clock and announced that I should leave.
"Thanks anyway," he said, holding the door open for me. "And, uh—Merry Christmas. Would you like a cookie? They're gingerbread."
Like any customer-service job, sometimes whoring is a breeze, sometimes it's a grind. But there's one thing that always makes the season bright: the money. Because Christmas—secular and otherwise—means presents, preferably expensive presents. Every sex worker I know drops a lot of cash at Christmas. Especially when she's new enough to still be astonished by how much money she's suddenly making. The urge to share the wealth with your loved ones at Christmas is strong.
I was 19 the very first year I was working. My mom had separated from my dad a few months before, and she was down about her first Christmas alone. So I bought her a ton of presents—a VCR, obscenely expensive bed linens, and blue topaz earrings that matched her eyes. After we opened them and she stopped crying, I took her to one of those ridiculously extravagant buffets with ice sculptures and hand-carved roast beef. She cried a little more, and then we laughed at how silly it was and ate too much.
The Christmas I was 23, my lover had just won custody of her two daughters, aged 4 and 6, after a lengthy battle with their father. She weighed her staggering legal bills against her low-paying job, and said to me, "I want to do what you do." The tricky thing was that Martina was a butch dyke, not exactly a sought-after look in the sex industry. But under her auto-shop jumpsuit, she had long legs, a narrow waist and D-cup breasts, and with a little makeup, we figured we could femme her up enough to get by.
She grudgingly agreed to practice walking in high heels, but she flat-out refused to wear dresses. We bleached her crew-cut hair platinum blond and told my agency to describe her as a Brigitte Nielsen type. Martina didn't have much of a knack for the prefucking chitchat, but as she put it, "Once I can take those stupid girly clothes off, I'm fine." A surprising number of guys found her unstudied tomboy manner quite attractive.
Martina took the cash and bought her two little girls so much stuff at Toys R Us that she had to make two trips with the car to get it all home. We could hardly see the tree on Christmas morning, with all the boxes stacked around it. I have never seen two children so shiny-eyed with gratified toy lust.
"I would even wear a dress if I had to," Martina told me later that morning, "just to see them happy."
What do people mean when they speak disparagingly of "a whore"? Someone who sells her or his body? I have news for you: Unless you're a ghost who still draws a paycheck, you use your body to make a living, too. Ever been nice to a customer you really didn't like, or acted enthusiastic about something you really didn't care about, just because you were getting paid? Congratulations, you're a whore, too. You're just not getting paid as much as I am.
I got into sex work thinking, as everyone does, that it would be something I'd do for a little while before I went on to a real career. The culture of sex work was different then. This was preinternet, and most sex workers were isolated from one another. The popular media presented sex work as a one-way ticket to hell. Clients and workers were both much warier, each fearing violence, disease, or exposure at the hands of the other. I dealt with a lot of disapproval from friends and lovers who I came out to. In spite of all that, somewhere along the way, I realized I wanted sex work to be my real career. I liked the money, I liked the independence, and I liked using my sexual skills.
There's still a lot of stigma. Even now, my mother would be distressed if I gave her exact details of what I did to get the money I used to buy her all those gifts. Martina's daughters might be disgusted to find out their mother was once a call girl. But the world of sex work looks very different now. The lonely-whore stereotype has been replaced by the hooker who snags a book deal by blogging about her exploits. Buyers and sellers talk to each other and among themselves online; escort-review websites allow clients and whores to hold each other accountable. Since everyone is a bit less fearful, we're all a bit more relaxed and kind and human with each other. When I first began working, I usually saw a client only once, maybe twice. Now I have guys who I've been seeing frequently for years. The relationships have their boundaries, but I am my real self when I am with them, and they are my friends as well as my clients.
The vast increase in the visibility and dialogue of real sex workers has changed my nonworking life as well. The misconceptions that I have to overcome on a daily basis have gone from massive to manageable. I have sex-worker pals who I can talk to when things get stressful. I have two committed partners who love me and understand and support my career. And I have a wide circle of friends who think I'm a good person. My family? Well, I'm still the black sheep, but they love me anyway. I am about as far as you can get from lonely, at Christmas or any other time of the year.
I'm not on the run from any big holiday parties this year, so I'll be spending a mellow Christmas at home with my lovers. If you're a sex worker doing dates on December 25, I wish you happy clients, heavy tips, and an equally sweet Christmas of your own to go home to.
Ho, ho, ho.