Thursday, September 30, 2010

Middle Class Prostitutes and the Blame Game - Interview with Author and Former Call Girl Tracy Quan

I will admit, I knew very little about Wayne Rooney before all the hysteria surrounding his liaisons involving two very pricey call girls … and to be honest I actually still don’t. Despite the media frenzy and the staggering sensationalism, all I know is that Rooney is another high-profile sportsman who clumsily found himself somewhere he wasn’t supposed to be. I can on the other hand recite every last detail about the girls involved in the affair, particularly Miss Jennifer Thompson, and thanks to the dutiful British journalists from The Daily Mail (who with a shameless reputation for hyper-sensationalising seem to constantly thrive upon the dual approach of scaremongering while titillating), I can tell you all about what kind of school she attended, where her parents were at the time the scandal had broken out and what type of car they drive.

When it was revealed that the Manchester United star cheated on his pregnant wife with sex workers Helen Wood and Jennifer Thompson, tabloid media collapsed into fits of hysteria. This, however, appeared not to be due to Rooney’s status as a high-paid, high-profile sports figure, but rather the fact that these women seemed to hail from good and stable backgrounds, thereby compelling the tabloids to demand, “What have we come to?” The slew of coverage surrounding the young, well-bred middle-class temptresses reeks of unrestrained, puritanical sermonising as if the sex profession is somehow new, and men have not been straying from monogamy and consulting prostitutes for centuries. I am not concerned with romanticising the sex industry and sex workers, but surely such sordid tales are becoming rather tiresome. I am concerned, however, with the fact that the tremendous popularity of tabloid newspapers such as The Mail – which remains the second best-selling daily newspaper in the United Kingdom – undoubtedly has an enormous influence on public opinion, and with the recent finger-pointing and shameless dehumanisation of the so-called ‘tarts’ and ‘hookers’ involved in the Rooney scandal, this reveals a rather peculiar social mentality.

Now it doesn’t really come as a surprise that the villains in this tale are the women. Of course, Mr Rooney has been labelled ‘stupid’ and ‘classless’, portrayed as the dismissible caricature of a sporting star, but the true evil rests with the young, female sex workers sporting their glittered mascara, bright pink lipstick and stiletto shoes. Mortified columnists Bel Mooney and Melanie Phillips from The Daily Mail lamented the horrors of privately-educated, middle-class girls choosing to sleep with football stars for money, with of course no mention of the moral judgements made by Rooney himself. Phillips mourns the liberal sexual attitudes of young women today, reducing the female body to a “commodity”, not merely in the exchange of sex for money, but even in circumstances of the “predatory one-night stand”. Prostitution itself, she reasons, is slavery, and she expresses her fears that the profession, just like sex outside marriage, children born out of wedlock and homosexuality, will be accepted as a “lifestyle choice”. Mooney even goes so far as to summon the spirit of the Middle Ages, claiming that, “They (the women) think they are selling their bodies. They end up selling their souls.” These women, according to Phillips and Mooney, made a deal with the devil, and while their wretched souls burn in sneering, self-righteous condemnation, the preservation of Wayne Rooney’s ‘soul’ apparently remains firmly intact.

The unrelenting presence of our archaic Adam and Eve complex should tug at the sleeves of common feminists, but instead it appears to be generating a storm of blundering attacks and name-calling towards these women, which are significantly more boorish and callous in nature than the ones made towards Rooney; who, if we’re going to be all morally righteous here, consulted the two sex workers while his wife was pregnant with their first child. The dehumanisation of the women, who are rarely acknowledged by name but rather the derogatory labels, ‘tarts’ and ‘hookers’, demonstrates that many of us feel that we somehow yield the licence to discriminate and condemn the women (not the men) who step outside the divine borders of moral sexual behaviour. While there are more ‘immoral’ occupations that wind up destroying the lives of far more people, we are often very quick to judge women in the sex industry, blaming them for the helpless errors made by men and, as demonstrated by journalists like Mooney, damning their scummy souls to hell.

I turned to best-selling novelist and former callgirl Tracy Quan to ask her about such attitudes today. Her responses detail the ways in which these attitudes contaminate not only media representations of women and sexual mores, but also various political and public arenas in respects to the sex industry, particularly in the United States.

How do people react to your attempts to eradicate the stigma attached to sex workers and the sex industry?

Prostitutes are sometimes too busy juggling their multiple lives to notice the stigma other people put on them – that’s a theme in my novels. There’s an accusation that I glamorise the industry by telling this story, mostly from people who are part of the problem – the stigmatisers. They want to be in control of the culture at all times and that’s just not possible. Social attitudes are in a constant state of flux.

As a successful novelist and regular commentator on current sexual issues, you could be perceived as the antithesis of what people expect a sex worker to be. How much truth do you think rests behind the ‘struggling women from broken homes’ stereotype that people are inclined to give to sex workers?

Well, I certainly embody those stereotypes. I was a child of divorce, ran away at 14, began work in my teens, was never good at managing money; STILL don’t feel like a grown-up. If you don’t walk around with a looooong face calling yourself a victim, people assume you never struggled. But those who struggle to survive or get ahead are often stronger and happier than those who are comfortable. Having too many choices is almost never the key to happiness, and most sex workers are managing with limited options.

Do you think the sex profession is being glamorised today?

A lot of professions are mythologized, not just ours. In Diary of a Married Call Girl, an uptown hooker falls in love with a professor – and she has to deal with the way HIS work is glamorized. Think of Wall Street. People have all sorts of fantasies about high finance – as well as entertainment and espionage. Rock star chefs and archbishops make restaurant work and religion seem glamorous. When you put all that together, is prostitution more glamorized than these gigs? I doubt it. 

Why do you think girls from middle-class backgrounds are choosing to enter the sex industry?

Middle class girls have been doing this for a long time. It’s not a new thing.

It can be to maintain your way of life – a mortgage, a car, formal education. It can also be a sign of upward mobility, wanting more than your parents have. Or they might be rebelling against middle class expectations. Perhaps the idea of being a civil servant is unexciting? I can’t imagine why.

We have to remember that every girl who enters the industry is an individual, with her own reasons for doing so. There’s no one size fits all explanation just because you come from a particular class.

With the Rooney scandal, the ‘morality’ behind consulting sex workers within a marriage seems to be rearing its head a lot in the media, and people seem to point the finger at the female sex workers rather than the man in question. How do you think people rationalise such notions?

We still have the Old Testament stories rattling around in our heads, starting with Eve getting blamed for Adam’s fall. It’s not always conscious, I suppose.

What steps are you taking to legalise the sex industry in the United States? Why do you think that in this day and age it remains a significant struggle?

We’re in a defensive role because the anti-prostitution machine is really aggressive at the moment. In the US, we focus on reducing the damage new prostitution laws can do to our lives. In the state of Rhode Island, there used to be a loophole permitting indoor prostitution. Agitators campaigned to change that, and we fought against the new law – but we lost that battle. In New York State, we’re trying to get the police to stop using condoms as “evidence” of prostitution and we have the backing of the Urban Justice Center.

I think America’s fear of prostitution is very much bound up with fear of the foreign, exotic or non white outsider. Also, prosecutors have really taken over our society, and their response to every human situation is to prosecute or use the threat of prosecution. We need to take our country back from the prosecutors and redefine these people as public servants.

What are key issues faced by the prostitutes rights movement?

It depends where you live. In the US, there is a nationwide witch-hunt happening at the local level. A group of state prosecutors is going after the US websites where erotic service providers advertise. There are 21 states involved at this point. In response to these threats, Craigslist closed its adult services section in the US. Another website,, was pressured but they haven’t closed their section as of today. In 2007, employees of a Florida newspaper were charged with prostitution-related crimes, but they didn’t get the same attention as Craigslist. The outcome was unfortunate for the newspaper and led to the current crackdown.

Read Tracy’s article on the Craigslist shutdown, up on Asylum. 

*Published in Trespass Magazine, 30 September 2010


  1. Legalizing prostitution would probably take it out of the back alley and allow for more safe transactions.

    The there are guys that make that make prostitution a discouraging choice of careers for the average girl though.

  2. The only problem I have with what those girls did is that they told the newspapers about it. If prostitutes want to be respected as members of a profession they should behave in a professional way, i.e. discreetly. I hope Tracy Quan agrees with me.

  3. I'm not in favour of anyone selling or buying sexual favours, because I don't believe that the human body is a commodity. However, I do agree that demonising the sex workers while letting the men who employ the sex workers get off scot free is ridiculous. If men were not such slaves to their desires, there wouldn't be so many sex workers filling the demand.

    I thought it was interesting that Tracy Quan mentioned that many sex workers are coping with very limited options. I think that is the root the of reason why many people (specifically girls) choose that path. But it's not really a choice when it's the only choice, is it? Whatever class you come from, desperation can drive you to do things you otherwise wouldn't.


  4. Had I the power I would legalize prostitution in a heartbeat. Sex is one of the most basic of human needs, it is wrong to only allow it within "socially acceptable" constraints. There are people who do not feel they should have to court a permanent partner in order to have sexual freedom.

    In Nevada prostitution has been legal for many years. There are little problems reported by law enforcement, business people nor the women who do this by CHOICE! The key word, there!!

  5. I too am in favor of legalizing prostitution. I suspect doing so would enhance the 'choice' factor and minimize the slavery and pimp aspects of the whole thing. Some common sense regulation to protect both the women and the client would make it work.

    Would legalization make the business 'respectful'? In our society I doubt it, but we have to pull it out of any pain and suffering that has resulted from too many incidents of non-choice by some women.

    Prosecutors grab for the sensational and disgust me.

    Would I want my daughter to become a prostitute even if it were clean and legal? No. But it would be a different conversation if she chose the profession rather than was dragged into it by circumstance.

  6. Oh -- good synopsis of the issue and a thought provoking post. Thanks.

  7. This is very well written. I'm not sure I agree with Tracy, though. Craigslist's 'adult services' sites needed to be shut down. Sex trafficking of KIDS is the #1 criminal industry worldwide. Craigslist was the #1 venue for these connections. As Jai says, what choice is there? Girls do not make a conscious choice to be sex slaves. Women sex workers are the same, just older. (Over 90% were victims of sexual abuse.) The criminals are the johns and pimps. Until prostitution is legalized, though, the problem will continue to grow.
    Thanks for this post of such an important and complex issue.

  8. Interesting post. I agreed with Gorilla Bananas. The problem that I have is with going to the newspapers. The women are welcome to do what they want with whoever chooses to pay them, but exploiting it afterwards seems to indicate that they have little self-respect.

  9. Apparently it's ok to sell our brainpower by the hour.. it's ok to sell our labour by the's ok to sell anything but our sex by the hour?!
    The oldest profession has been around forever, men have always acted like jerks about it and the women have always been treated badly.
    If what youre doing isnt working it's time to try something different!

  10. Hi, very enlightened reading your this posting.
    I personally feel sad that women, thru circumstances have to resort to these work....
    Best regards, lee.

  11. Thought-provoking post on a very complex issue!

    I don't agree with the idea that for some girls/women prostitution is the only choice.
    I believe there are plenty of choices for everyone; working on a farm or in a factory is also a choice, even if it's for less money.They know it and we all know it. Perhaps,that's why women who choose prostitution are so bellitled in the press and everywhere else. Sad.

  12. DUTA, how can a girl get to a farm or factory (to ask for work) from the streets - given she left because she chose not to be molested daily, or was kicked out by her abusive parent? This is their reality. Most of us who have options don't realize that much of the world does not.

  13. Another great thought provoking article. It was good, for a girl, JK!!!!! Just enforcing the stereoytpe that all men are sexist pigs.