Thursday, August 11, 2005

I saw a young woman walking down Broadway a few days ago, and it made me sad. I don’t know her, but I know who she is. I recognize her from her website photos, although she’s changed a lot since they were taken. And not for the better.

The photos I saw, beginning about a year ago, showed a thin, disturbingly young-looking woman posing on a bed. She called herself “a Lolita” and offered her services as an escort. Now, ya’ll know I support sex work and sex workers. But several things about this woman bothered me. Aside from the fact that I wasn’t convinced she was eighteen, underneath the artlessly brazen sexuality of the photos and the text, she just seemed…dangerously fragile somehow. Not someone I’d pick out as being well-suited to the job.

But I learned a long time ago that I can’t fix people who I think are broken. They have to choose to fix themselves. Or not. I could only hope that she’d take advantage of the resources sex work offers – more free time and more money – to take care of herself and work out the issues I suspected she had.

She hasn’t. She looked like shit, frankly. I’ve seen her a lot on Broadway in the last year, and she always looked a little…odd. But this last time, I would have thought she was a homeless person if I hadn’t just seen a post from her on one of the local escort boards a few days before. She was very dirty - the kind of dirty that takes days of not bathing to really accumulate. Her hair was straggly and matted, and it looked like she’d been hacking at it with scissors. Her clothes were stained and mismatched. And just the way she was stumbling along the sidewalk, slump-shouldered and vacant-eyed... If you looked up “junkie homeless person” in the dictionary, this would be the illustration.

Of course, I thought, I don’t really know that she’s a junkie. But it’s extremely likely. The other possibility is that she has some kind of undiagnosed/untreated mental illness. And it could be a double-header: drugs and mental illness.

I'd seen posts from this little waif - long, rambling, badly-spelled missives inviting guys to just come meet her at a certain rendezvous. Don’t try to call, she said, because by some mistake on the part of the phone company, her cell had been shut off. Yeah, a mistake. It’s just sad, because once upon a time she was a sweet, pretty little girl, and she lost her way somewhere.

Sex work isn’t the cause of her downhill slide, though. I’m quite sure that she was broken inside when she came into the industry. And it’s funny how doing sex work affects broken people in either one of two ways.

For some people, it sort of buoys them up for a while. They feel relieved from the pressure to try to be well, and they just relax into a state of somewhat-functional craziness. If they live modestly, they don’t have to work very much to keep the rent (more or less) paid and have food to eat. The rest of the time they can just feel however they’re feeling, and if that means talking to people no one else can see, or staying in bed with the covers over their head for two or three days, well, they can do that. No need to worry much about appearing normal and showing up for that eight-to-five thing. And even when they are actually working, a certain level of quirky weirdness is okay with clients, as long as one fulfills the job description.

I’m not saying this is a good thing in the long-term, you understand. But I’ve known a lot of women who were able to sort of limp through life in this way, never getting to a place of wholeness and wellness, but managing to avoid out-right implosion.

But for other people – like this little waif - it just speeds up the race to self-destruction. They have lots of time and money to spend trying to numb themselves to the pain they’re in, and there’s a lot of ways that can go badly. They remove themselves from places where people might say, “Uh, hey, honey – you don’t look so good. Maybe you should see a doctor or something.” Their isolation works against them, not for them.

It’s not that clients won’t say something. There are plenty of soft-hearted guys around who’ll try to help out a damsel who’s clearly in distress. But even if she’s willing to accept help from them – which is unlikely - there are limits to what they can do. Their first responsibility is to their own lives, and unless they have some training in dealing with her issues, their efforts are likely to be kindly-meant but ineffectual.

I myself have gotten burned trying to rescue people way to often too get involved with this young person. That’s been a hard lesson for me to learn in this life. But I have learned it, so she’ll have to work out her destiny however she chooses.

But it is sad.

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