At 17, I started sleeping with men in hotel rooms for cash. A lot of cash. It was easy. All it required—besides my willingness—was a car and the internet. The time between placing my first ad on a message board for sex workers until I was meeting a man in his 50s who could have been my principal or one of my teachers was maybe 48 hours. After that first appointment, I was hooked. I worked regularly my junior and senior year of high school. I had my last appointment over Thanksgiving break my freshman year of college. I did it by choice. I was a good student in high school. I was elected president of the debate team. My parents gave me a generous allowance. I didn't have a drug habit to support. I didn't even smoke pot until my senior year of college—five years after my first appointment. I am an only child who was given every advantage in the world: sports, dance, theater, summer camps. I skied all over Europe. I did well. I was arrogant. I was curious. I was smart. And I was turned on by the idea of being paid to fuck grown men who presumably knew more about sex than the boys at school.
A decade later, I decided to tell my story. And I told everyone. I bothered people at bars, on planes, on dates. I wrote an article. I did podcasts. I couldn't stop talking about it. Nothing bad happened. The angry mob I had envisioned so clearly in my nightmares never materialized. The only people I didn't tell were my parents. I didn't exactly know how. I knew my mother would both willfully misunderstand my choices but ultimately be fine. But I was convinced the revelation would kill my father. Eventually, of course, they found out because… the internet.
My father is a Green Beret. He served in the Dominican Republic, two tours in Vietnam, and in Desert Shield/Desert Storm in the Middle East. He's seen a lot of combat. He calls himself an independent despite believing most of what Fox News tells him—he's difficult to label. He's principled. He wants to do what's right, even if it's inconvenient, even if it's unpopular. So do I. We have similar values that way, although they were forged by radically different life experiences. We've both walked away from opportunities because we weren't willing to compromise our integrity, as we define it for ourselves.
I almost believed he would have an easier time accepting me as a murderer than a whore.
We both run red lights if there's no traffic, because "I'll be damned if I'm going to let a light bulb tell me how to live my life." In all my battles with teachers, principals, administrators, he could see me stubbornly fighting for what should be, against the inertia of what is. Even though he didn't always agree with me, he was always on my side. And even later, when we threw politicized insults at each other, he always recognized himself in me. We've both got a healthy dose of "fuck you, watch this," woven into our core personalities.
I was afraid to tell him about my having been a prostitute because he was a great dad. I didn't want him to think one had anything to do with the other. I didn't want to burden him with this indulgent, selfish secret because I feared the images that "your daughter was a prostitute" would conjure might break him, even when his various tours of duty didn't.
I showed up at the house. I had a key, but I rang the doorbell anyway. My dad opened the door. "I guess you want to talk," he said. He was curt. He was white knuckling his way through a lot of feelings. He asked if I wanted a drink. It was 2 PM. I did. We both did. I almost believed he would have had an easier time accepting me as a murderer than a whore. I didn't know what to expect. My father didn't talk to his sisters or his mother for 20 years over a fight I still don't fully understand. I knew that type of behavior wasn't outside the realm of possibility here.
We talked for hours, never addressing my prostitution directly. We got tipsy, and my father turned into the charming storyteller he becomes at parties. He caught me up on his ongoing "war" with those "damned chipmunks." We commiserated about strange relatives and teased each other about old political fights. But in between all that he said a few things I think are important, that he was proud of me, and that I could always come home. "No matter what."
I could see he wasn't angry. He was nervous for me the same way he's always been. "I'm sorry you're just like me—life is tough for hard-headed guys like us." My father has been to three wars. He's killed people with his hands, and I've had sex with strangers for money. We've both seen and done things. Neither of us is particularly eager to hear the details, but we trust that it was intense.
Thanksgiving with the whole family came and went shortly after. I held my breath the whole time. No one had any questions. Life goes on, and the sexual choices I made a decade ago simply aren't that important. We had job opportunities to fret over, weddings to plan, hunting trips to discuss, relatives to mock. I exhaled.
Recently, my father wrote me this, "You have done things I wish you had not done. You have done things I am extremely proud of. And really that is how it is supposed to be, and how it has always been. When a child grows to adulthood they become their own person. They make their own decisions. They reap the rewards, or suffer the consequences, of their actions. I would never try to tell you how to live your life. I have no right. Hopefully I raised you to weigh your options honestly, and make your decisions with clarity of purpose."
Dad, you did.
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