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Whore to Culture

The first thing I realize about grad school is that it's not like a strip club: There is no saying “fuck you” to a patronizing middle aged man who tries to tell me what to do and still waltzing across town and clearing a grand at another club by the...

“You can lead a horticulture, but you can't make her think.” - Dorothy Parker

The first thing I realize about grad school is that it's not like a strip club: There is no saying “fuck you” to a patronizing middle aged man who tries to tell me what to do and still waltzing across town and clearing a grand at another club by the end of the night. I have personally fuck-you-peace-out-ed from dozens of strip clubs, waitressing jobs, relationships... well, you get the idea. For the record, I think it's our culture, not me, that has issues with authority.

At orientation, the program coordinator, my adviser, stood in front of us and explained (with the help of PowerPoint, of course) exactly what we had to do and were not allowed to do for the next four years if we wanted to put those magic letters after our name: MSW. I willed my butt to stay in the chair even though I couldn't breathe with the humming lights and rules pressing down on me. Sure, there are other master's social work programs out there, even radical ones, but none that I could get into, afford, and live near.

In my life I've forced myself to do some things, and they have not turned out well. There was the time I made myself stay in a horrible foster home because my therapist said the foster parents were good people. There was the time I agreed to shit on a guy for a thousand dollars and then I hated it so much I puked on him and he didn't want to pay me. The time I stayed with an ex because they needed me. The time I got in a client’s car because I needed the money. I tried to put those thoughts out of my mind and tell myself this was only the first day of school.

Three days into the program, I finally met a professor who acted like a regular human being, and I begged my way into her office. Ms. Tulip had a big smile and a big purple mumu and an office door cluttered with cartoons. She said that I was very bright and she definitely thought I could make it through the program. They didn't kick people out for anything but academics or barrier crimes.

What about prostitution? I didn't ask.

Maybe I could have, but social workers especially have a habit of thinking escorts are poor unknowing self-destructive little wenches. I could have told her I don't do drugs or have a pimp, but that never comes out right. I could illustrate my freedom and empowerment by telling her about the email I got the day before from a conservative politician that I refused to see. It all just seemed too risky and exhausting.

“But I don't understand why you want to do this program,” she says.

There are so many reasons, but it's not any of them, it's all of them. I start to stammer through a list of justifications, reasons why I'm here. Why am I here?

“I know,” she says, “I read your application essays. But I don't understand.”

I nod and the conversation turns to local communities, then problems, then ethics. She's a pacifist, she doesn't believe in killing or maiming. Hitting either, I suppose.

“Not even to save a life?” I ask.

“Only if it was very clear-cut.”

“What if you knew of a person who had tortured and killed several women, and you had the ability to stop them?”

“I would call the police,” she says.

Fuck, if only I could be that innocent, to think I could just call the cops and they would do something. I don't tell her any sad stories though.

I don't tell her that when my auntie was sixteen – not my real auntie, but the woman who took me in when I was a teenager – a customer in a strip club offered her a hundred dollars to go to lunch with him, and she accepted. Soon she was in chains in his basement. He told her about the women he’d already killed, about turning them loose in the woods and hunting them like animals. He told her to start thinking about how she might use the head start he would give her.

She got away. Somewhere between his house and his airplane.

The cops yelled at her. They said she was obviously just a hooker mad about not being paid, and she was lucky they didn't lock her up for making a false report.

That man went on to kill dozens of women. When he was finally arrested, it came to light that there had been at least one other report similar to my auntie's. Hers, they hadn't bothered to write down.

I don't tell Ms. Tulip about the time my boyfriend, trying to do the right thing after I'd been raped, shoved me out of the car and abandoned me at a police station in the middle of the night. I'd squared my shoulders and told myself that I was, after all, a very well-spoken college student and that surely in the last fifteen years cops had been trained not to be mean to rape victims. They made fun of my dress and threatened to arrest me for making a false report.

I don't tell Ms. Tulip about my friend who killed the man who was raping her when she was six. One day after he'd passed out drunk with a cigarette, she opened the valves on the propane stove and walked out the door. She's hated herself ever since. I've been telling her for years that she was the smartest and bravest six-year-old ever, but she already knows murderers are awful people.

I don't tell Ms. Tulip any of those stories because they wouldn't sound real to a person like her. She would think I was making them up, or I was just dramatic, or worse, irreparably damaged.

Instead I say, “I think that's a very naïve and privileged point of view.” Words like this mean people like me might exist, without having to say I am one of them.

She shrugs. “I'm a social worker. Cops listen to me.”

The casual power in those two sentences almost takes my breath away. That's what I want, why I'm doing this, it comes to me. I want that power, to make them believe.

Tara Burns is the author of the bestselling Whore Diaries series. Her latest installment, Whore Diaries III: Retirement is available today (and tomorrow) for just 99 cents.