Lawrence Block is a successful mainstream writer whose plotlines often include call girls and prostitution, in a normalising way. Matthew Scudder, the detective protagonist in one of Block’s series, has a long-term, friendly, sex-for-favours relationship with a New York call girl that eventually turns into marriage. Block doesn’t avoid portraying the dangers and problems inherent in the lives of women who sell sex, but he gives us other sides of the picture, too, particularly refreshing given the usual police view of vice and prostitutes.
In Eight Million Ways to Die (1982) one woman explains her lifestyle.
This is something different, she said. The johns who come here, they don’t think they’re johns. They think they’re friends of mine. They think I’m this spacey Village chick, which I am, and that they’re my friends, which they are. I mean, they come here to get laid, let’s face it, but they could get laid quicker and easier in a massage parlor, no muss no fuss no bother – dig? But they can come up here and take off their shoes and smoke a joint, and it’s a sort of a raunchy Village pad, I mean you have to climb three flights of stairs and then you roll around in a waterbed. I mean, I’m not a hooker. I’m a girlfriend. I don’t get paid. They give me money because I’ve got rent to pay and, you know, I’m a poor little Village chick who wants to make it as an actress and she’s never going to. Which I’m not, and I don’t care much, but I still take dancing lessons a couple mornings a week and I have an acting class every Thursday night, and I was in a showcase last May for three weekends. We did Ibsen, and do you believe that three of my johns came? (p 145)
I was living in New York the year this was published, and my friend Mona was just like this character. Mona didn’t call herself a prostitute or any other name. Using a casual feminist analysis, we thought she was doing what a lot of wives do, in a careful, choosy way and without ceremony. In a context in which rents are sky-high and lots of people are trying to make it in demanding professions, Mona’s choice was sensible. She got to take her lessons and audition for parts, and, in the rare case that she got one, she was free to accept it. I don’t know whether she would have advertised GFE as a service had the Internet been available, but that’s what she was offering.
Mona’s lifestyle illustrates how sex-for-money occurs in casual ways that are part of normal life (and informal economies). If you recall the obsessive quality of hustling culture that John Rechy conveyed so well, this Village chick sounds serene – or spacey. But her way of looking at things is also common. In order to bring out more of these situations, I proposed a field called the cultural study of commercial sex. Scholarship without moralising. In my view, in fact, if you are moralising you are not a scholar.
–Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist