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Hookers at the Point & Click

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 OPINIONS




Hookers at the Point + Click by Leif Ueland
        
I worked him over orally for awhile. He seemed to enjoy that but couldn’t keep a hard-on when he was penetrating. I tried to go back to oral, but he just couldn’t turn on again.
     The “I” in this non-blushing statement was Faye Desiree, a prostitute. The “he” was a client who previously canceled one appointment, then showed up half an hour late for a second. Although Ms. Desiree described the client as attractive, young and fit, she also noted that he was acting strangely, mumbling and avoiding eye contact. In the world of late-night television, the near future would likely involve an ice pick and copious amounts of red corn syrup.
      This encounter, however, was being retold on the discussion boards of TBD, a.k.a. The Big Dog, a website devoted to prostitutes and the men who pay to love them. I first heard about TBD on public radio, during a Marketplace report on the underground economy. An “escort consultant” described the various ways in which prostitutes market their services. Sites like TBD, she explained, had advertisements, reviews, and discussions, all about prostitution.
     Aside from the hookers-to-the-stars who occasionally turn up in the news, prostitution often calls to mind a downtrodden lot — abused women badly in need of therapy and creepy men who are one ATM-card swipe away from becoming pederasts. A social-worker friend of mine used to work with Hollywood street kids whose primary currency was “survival sex,” and my own view is that such an assessment is too kind.
     Still, the notion of escort reviews was irresistible, and off I went to the laptop. The site was there, as advertised, at bigdoggie.net, but the escort-review feature was restricted to members only. Not wanting to rule out a future run for public office, I wasn’t inclined to join. The discussion boards, however, required no incriminating credit card to access.
     Like any other message board on the Internet, TBD comprises notes which participants post by topic. Successive posts create an ongoing discussion, or thread.

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Much of what transpires is a simple exchange of information: a guy trying to track down a specific prostitute, a hooker announcing she’s visiting a certain city. (One escort recently posted details about her upcoming visit to Alabama, mentioning that she was into, among other things, spanking. This led a fellow escort/spanking devotee to suggest that it might make sense for the two working girls to get together and spank each other.) The longer threads, though, were often frank, surprisingly literate discussions about what the participants referred to as “the hobby.” The first note I saw was Faye’s.
     As she recounted, Faye thought music would help her tardy, obviously disturbed client. She played a country Celtic CD, the its “melancholy strains” of which she thought might trigger repressed memories. Faye began stroking her john’s face and looking into his eyes, and the tears started falling. She held him until he was all cried out. Then, Faye — who noted that she believed in the healing power of animals — left him alone with her cat Noah, whom he played with for a half an hour.
     She concluded her post by saying, “It was one of the most memorable sessions I’ve ever had.” Faye also wrote that she had recently participated in a workshop in the desert and done her own psychological exploration. She assumed that the process had lent her a “resonance” that announced itself to her client and gave him permission to “let go.”
     Among the bouquet of weirdness surrounding that anecdote was the obvious implication that Faye considered her choice of career to be, um, a good thing. And she was not alone. An epistolary e-chorus cheered Faye on, pronouncing her a “gem,” a “rare lady indeed” who belonged on a “very high pedestal.” One “hobbyist,” as the men are called — and they are all men — was moved to share his own struggles with premature ejaculation. One “provider,” as the women are referred to, wrote of her efforts to help a client who had been raped as a child. Another poster concluded, “It’s angels like you who make this business so damn wonderful!!”
     Such ebullience, as it turns out, is not unusual on TBD. In another thread, a client commented: “My worst moment in the hobby is still better than my worst regular dating moment.” Another provider pronounced the business “wonderful” for allowing her independence and for feeding her two addictions: sex and shopping. “No other job could fulfill my needs! I love it!” she wrote.

     

  

 OPINIONS



 
     Although such enthusiasm wasn’t about to change my feeling that these were folks I didn’t want to be trapped with in an elevator, the boards hit on a personal weakness. Some people listen to police scanners; I have a thing for eavesdropping on subcultures that seem to clash with preconceived notions. In this regard, TBD rarely disappoints. Reading it is like buying a copy of Street News and discovering a headline that proclaims: Transience Kicks Ass!
      For example, the amount of retro formality found on the boards is disarming. Hobbyists and providers often refer to each other as “ladies” and “gentlemen” and are quick to discuss appropriate behavior for those in the hobby. Anyone who disregards their informal code earns the cutting epithet of “slob.” Most of the gentlemen who rhapsodized over Faye said she was on their “must-see” lists the next time they were in her state. This sort of thing often occurs in discussions, and dialogue usually goes like this: “What an interesting point about the wildness of Alaska and the ruggedness of the human spirit — by the way, let’s have sex.”
      Many of the participants have already slept with each other, so it’s not unusual for a hobbyist to sing the praises of one provider to another hobbyist, and for the provider then to thank the guy who recommended her. This might happen in a discussion that innocently started out about favorite movies. With barriers to sex virtually nonexistent, getting together — or having been together — comes off with all the gravity of an introduction in the straight world. Yes, nice to fuck you, too.
      Predictably, the boards exhibit a total lack of shame about sexual interests that might strike the mainstream as perverse. A hobbyist might be looking for an escort with a “really great schoolgirl uniform,” or the provider with the “biggest nipples in town,” or someone who has “given birth and is still lactating,” or even “pregnant and starting to show.” (As it happened, there was indeed a young lady who was four or five months along and still working.) But the quality most central to the site is something referred to as GFE. As a TBD neophyte, I saw the term used repeatedly but didn’t understand what it meant. I only knew that it was a compliment. “A real GFE,” a hobbyist would write, praising one of the providers. Or a provider, announcing her arrival in town, would refer to herself as “true GFE.” Finally, I found an on-site glossary: GFE stands for “girlfriend experience,” and it refers to a session involving:

      A provider that makes the experience seem unrushed, enjoyable, fun, relaxing and more like a “real” date than a quick commercial encounter. In practice, though, it seems to depend on chemistry, personality and mutual expectations, as YMMV (“your mileage may vary”) for both the provider and client — and involves either the illusion or reality of passion on the part of the provider.

      To the outsider, this might translate simply as “someone who can fake it.” TBD participants, though, would suggest it is something more. One hobbyist I spoke with earnestly described his encounters as, “very passionate, very caring, very intimate, for a fixed amount of time.” A madam also addressed the paradox: the hooker-john relationship is business-based, but it doesn’t mean that the individuals involved can’t become friends, like each other or have fun. “The women who can remember that tend to like their work and can have a good life,” she said. “The others end up quitting or on drugs.”
      In The Crack-Up, F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.” I’m never sure exactly what it means, but I think of this whenever I consider the hobby. For most of us, when commerce enters the picture, the opportunity for human warmth disappears. But hobbyists are arguably more capable of feeling “chemistry” when the circumstances of their intimacy are clearly defined. With sites like TBD, strangers in the night suddenly have a community. They’re prime examples of how prostelyzers of the internet predicted people would be brought together in our brave new future.
      Last June, law enforcement officials in Florida, where TBD is based, concluded an internet-prostitution sting titled Operation Flea Collar. Fourteen people were arrested, all of them involved in some way with TBD. Charges included racketeering, conspiracy to racketeer, committing prostitution, deriving support from prostitution and aiding and abetting prostitution. As part of the investigation, undercover agents posed on TBD as a fictitious provider named Lia Nice. The men who were busted after arranging to “meet” with Lia were then used to target women they had previously hired. Criminal allegations against the two male owners of bigdoggie.net are more wide-ranging. It has been suggested that they were more involved in pimping than operating a discussion board (which would be protected by the First Amendment) and that they may have used their positions to solicit sex in exchange for favorable treatment on TBD.
      The result is that TBD’s future is uncertain. As of now, the site is still operating despite a state prosecutor’s attempts to shut it down. Until the trial, it’s difficult to tell whether the site will be defensible on the grounds of free speech, and to what extent corruption was involved in its management. Although I started following the boards for their stony entertainment value, as the TBDers face an uncertain future I find myself pulling for them, or at least their community. My sympathy isn’t so advanced that I advocate legalization. I haven’t even gotten past the point of finding it all a bit depressing. But I would say that if I had the power, I would grant the TBD-ers their primary wish, which is to be left alone.  

  

     

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Leif Ueland received a Master’s Degree in the Professional Writing Program at the University of Southern California. He has written for public radio’s Marketplace and several newspapers, and had a play produced in Minneapolis. His first book, Accidental Playboy, was published by Warner Books in November 2002.

©2002 Leif Ueland and Nerve.com