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N.B. (2015)

NB coverI found this line weeks ago.  I can’t remember when I wrote it or what brought it on.  It was isolated on a sheet with other notes, none as dramatic.  ‘I wanted to make strange men touch me.’ When did I want this?  Or rather, when will I stop wanting this?

Nightmare Brunette was originally a blog which Charlotte Shane, long time sex worker blogger and co-founder of Tits and Sass, decided to republish to coincide with the release of her Tinyletter memoir collection, Prostitute Laundry. Now she presents almost the entirety of Nightmare Brunette’s material in book form.

I love the way Shane discusses her customers most of all. She’s very open and honest about how relationships with clients are often blurry, strange things—the good, the bad, and the ambivalent.  There are bits of unexpected humor:

Most amusing of all was her dismounting line: ‘I can’t believe how many times you just made me come!’  Well.  No other woman in the room [would] believe it, either.

I really appreciate that Shane doesn’t write about clients with contempt.  She does discuss their flaws and her sex work-related irritations, but I never get the feeling that she is mocking anyone. Shane also discusses clients who crossed boundaries:

“So what’s the moral of the folktale?  I still can’t figure it out.  Is it that human beings are weak and at the mercy of their own urges?  That curiosity destroys?  That even in great love, it is impossible to refrain from harming others?  I don’t know.  I recognize the truth of it but I could not articulate a lesson beyond that of the importance of respecting someone else’s boundary, even if you don’t understand why that boundary exists.”

While Shane’s Prostitute Laundry focuses less on escorting, and more on the way her personal relationships are evolving and changing, N.B. touches more on the minutiae of sex work.  N.B. feels a bit more open to me, possibly because at the time the material was written, Shane wasn’t out as its author. Since this work was originally on a blog, her voice here feels more personal, like she is trying to hold back less.  This is a conscious choice—in N.B. Shane discusses the delight she sometimes takes in feeling unknowable, and deciding what to reveal and what not to reveal. She ends up sharing quite a lot in these pages. I especially appreciated the frank talk about her abortion.

Bob Kolker on Lost Girls (2013)

9780062183637The search for the supposed Long Island Serial Killer began in December 2010, when the bodies of four women who had worked as prostitutes were found in the course of the search for a fifth who had disappeared that May. No suspect has been found to date. I spoke with New York contributing editor Robert Kolker via chat to talk about his first book, Lost Girls, which is a study of the five women who disappeared there and their surviving friends and family. Chat edited from its raw form.

Bubbles: Did your personal attitude about prostitution/prostitutes change a lot over the course of reporting this book?

Kolker: When I first reported on the serial-killer case, I was coming into the subject with no real knowledge of sex workers or sex work. In hindsight, I had a lot of preconceived notions. My first impulse, as a reporter, was to join the crowd and try to report on the whodunit aspect of the case. I didn’t occur to me to learn much about the victims at first because I assumed, naively, that they had no stories at all—that they were “dead” long before they were really killed. (I actually thought of Season 2 of The Wire, in which the bodies of trafficked girls are found in a shipping container. I thought these women were like that—people who were social outcasts who might never be identified.)

Then I quickly learned they all had families, of course, and loved ones and friends. And as I got to know the families I realized that sex work, in part because of the Internet, attracts a very different sort of person from the stereotype. I wanted Lost Girls to be about that change—about the lives of these women—as much as I wanted it to be about the case itself.

About that change in their lives?

About the change in the world of escorts. How the shift from outdoor to indoor sex work has allowed a wider variety of people to find the work appealing.

The ease of entry.

Yes.

Now, I’ve talked with plenty of escorts who say that the Internet has actually made their work safer—that they can do background checks on clients and so forth—and so I didn’t want this book to beat up on the Internet itself. But I do think the field has changed and the professional challenges have changed, even as the risks remain in place.