News & Politics

Lay Off My Body, Girls: Xaviera Hollander


Clip Job: an excerpt every day from the Voice archives.
March 9, 1972, Vol. XVII, No. 10

Lay off my body, girls
By Xaviera Hollander

When I read about prostitution being “degrading,” I think back to a time when many women went through a process known as an “illegal operation.” For many women that too was degrading. In most cases what made it so was not the operation but the fact that it was illegal. The same holds true for any act that exposes woman to exploitation and blackmail. That is degradation. When a woman loses her freedom of choice, when she becomes a slave to narcotics, a pimp, or a husband, then she is a prisoner and deserves pity. Compulsion is degradation.

What I have never understood about the so-called Women’s Liberation Movement is this inconstancy: my sisters want to destroy the old stereotype which defines them by what does or does not go into or come out of their sex organs, yet when it comes to prostitutes, such as I was, many “liberated” women want to treat us as the outcasts of the Movement. Believe me, those of us who were able to make a good living selling our bodies need no condescending, superior attitudes from “respectable” women.

When does a woman become a prostitute anyway? The first time she makes love for cash? For fancy presents? For a good dinner? For a moment’s warmth? Maybe the first time a little girl finds she can wheedle something out of Daddy by acting cute.

Those are philosophical questions. As to reality, women become prostitutes for many reasons. Sure, some women are forced into it because they need money for drugs. Some women lack the talent or training to become the actresses, the models, the writers they want to be. As our “straight” friends know, jus about any girl or woman is likely to have the “opportunity” to turn a trick.

More reality: I like sex, I like men. I do not like the poverty of the typing pool. With me so far? I have a talent I was able to use to make a better living than the vast majority of respectable women. It was varied work, it gave me the chance to meet interesting people, it was rarely boring, and it was work I enjoyed.

The myth says that the prostitute is at the mercy of the men in her life — the John, the pimp. This may be so for the street hooker, but it need not be so for the call girl, who is in a position to be selective about customers and to operate with a madame she trusts. The call girl has the power to control her life if she has the will to do it. Are you listening, Suburbia?

Even in the nitty-gritty technical aspect of her work, the girl working for a high-priced house is usually in a position to satisfy her own sexual needs. How many women have the same variety and diversity? Let’s fact it, sisters. Some of us seem to like experimenting if we can control or minimize the risks. Tell me again about the “happily married” ladies with “”wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am” husbands. Either they stay married — which is really trading with the body for material security — or they find a lover, or they shock their innocent husbands out of their minds by suggesting experimentation, including things no “good girl” would think of.

Why is it that studies show most “wife-swapping” is started by men but embraced even more enthusiastically by women? Is it just possible that women have a sexual identity separate from any particular man? Is it possible that women may have deeper and more complex sexual needs and responses than men? Gosh!

I have not even brought up the question of those women who, like me, enjoy other women. In my case, it is not a matter of choosing one or the other. Since I was a young girl, I have gotten as much pleasure from the taste, the smell, the feel of a woman climaxing from my tongue as from feeling a man climax inside me. The myth says that most prostitutes become man-hating lesbians. In my observation this is only true of women who have been exploited by pimps, by street pick-ups, by their inability to control their own destinies. For me — and women like me — bisexuality is simply another part of the spice of life. Anyone born in Indonesia loves spice!

Suppose for a moment we could take all the hookers off the street corners as a gesture of public decency. Suppose no one had to turn tricks to feed a dope habit. Would there still be prostitutes and prostitution? Consider who the men are who seek out women to pay for play. Out-of-towners form one big category. When a man is accustomed to sex, he is going to get horny even if he’s got a love goddess back home in Kalamazoo or Chillicothe. Needless to say, I pick those names at random. In my book, “The Happy Hooker,” I was careful never to name names or towns close to the real ones.

Besides the visiting firemen, you have the men looking for special sexual acts. Many women seem to have the notion this means wanting to beat up or chain the prostitute (“degrade” them); much more often it’s quite the reverse! In some cases — hard though this may be for “enlightened” women to accept — men come to call girls because their wives will not permit such strange practices as oral sex or love doggie-fashion. Yes, indeed, in this day and age.

Assuming there will always be men who are willing to pay for sex without involvement, the solution seems to me not trying to “do away” with prostitution (moral prohibitions always work out badly), but legalizing it.

First of all, legalizing prostitution would do away with all the pay-offs and corruption I describe in my book. As things stood when I was a madame, the call girl is exposed to blackmail and brutalization. By the male power structure, if you like. Instead of hassling working girls, the police could be put to work on little things like fighting narcotics and making the streets safe. (One measure of how unsafe they have become is the large number of customers who paid by check because they were afraid to carry cash on the fashionable East Side!)

Second, legal prostitution could be organized around two types of houses which would eliminate the worst aspects of economic exploitation. Either women’s collectives or capitalist enterprises controlled by women would do away with the pimp. By legalizing the business, prostitutes would be able to turn to the police for legitimate protection in those situations where a John got out of hand. After all, taxpayers have a right to be protected.

That brings me to my next point: with prostitution made a legitimate business, licensing fees could be charged for the purpose of maintaining medical standards, and, much more important, there would be enormous new tax revenues available, revenues for such things as day-care centers, training of women psychologists, gynecologists, and lawyers to fight the iniquities of male domination of fields so important to all women; job retraining to ensure that no women would be forced for lack of choice to be a hooker…or a file clerk, for that matter. Also there would be new funds for such neglected areas as child health and research into contraception and drug addiction. Legalized prostitution would provide enormous opportunity for improving society in all these areas so important to women.

There would be other benefits — psychological ones — from removing the legal stigma. Take a woman who wishes to pursue a long course of study or career, who wishes to satisfy her sexual needs, but who does not want he often burdensome complications of an emotional involvement. In a free society as I envision it she might have tow courses open: (1) male stud services run by women (who are likely to understand another woman’s needs more than a man would); (2) based on my experience, no matter what a woman might desire sexually, she would be able, through legal referral service, to find a man who would pay her. In other words, she could have her cake and eat it too. Or, “Try it, you’ll like it!”

Part-time, drop-in prostitutes? Forget that we have them now. If a woman needs sex and/or money, why not? As long as the choice is hers, as long as the choice is a free one, who gets hurt?

Along about this point, there is always some respectable straight type ready to ask what she feels is the clinching question: “But if a girl was a prostitute, what decent man would…?” Full circle. Back to defining women in men’s terms. Sisters, that’s degrading. That’s what we’ve got to liberate ourselves from. A woman must be considered more than the sum of her private parts.

[Each weekday morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the Voice, going in order from our oldest archives. Visit our Clip Job archive page to see excerpts back to 1956.]


The Latest