I was sitting in the passenger seat of my friend’s parked car recently while she ran into the shop to buy a few things. She was gone a good while and I sat there, watching the moving scene through the windscreen.
A man walked by with his little girl, who looked to be about three. She wanted to walk on a slightly raised area of cement beside some steps and a look of distress crossed his features before he steadied her with one hand and held her with the other one more tightly. He kept a firm grip of her as he carefully navigated her along the area of cement, not breaking his concentration for anything, until she was back down (about one foot lower than she had been) on solid ground beside him. Then he was able to relax again and she said something to him that I could not hear. That caused his face to break into the most beaming and adoring smile, as if he’d heard the most profoundly endearing comment ever uttered. The look on his face made my eyes fill with tears.
I’m not talking about the sort of misty barely-there tears we feel when we’ve just witnessed something moving. I’m talking about the sort of stormy tears that threaten to spill down your face immediately if you don’t choke them back; the sort of tears that signal a full-on emotional onslaught. It was so sudden, it shocked me.
I had to get myself together because, as my much as I love and trust the woman I was with that day (who is one of my closest friends) I just didn’t feel comfortable with the idea of her arriving back at the car with her diet coke and tea cakes and finding me a blubbering emotional mess. I think, more so, I didn’t feel comfortable with how I would explain myself, with how I would communicate what was wrong.
What was wrong had nothing to do with a man loving his little girl; what was wrong was what it, by contrast, called up for me, and that was just too big a conversation for that time and place.
Apart from being embarrassing it makes you feel very vulnerable, to have to explain the enormity of the distinction that is so often and so easily called to your mind; this understanding of the gentle pure love males have for the females close to them, their daughters, sisters, mothers, girlfriends and wives, juxtaposed with the contempt so often expressed for the females not close to them – the woman walking alone in public, or unaccompanied in a bar, or most potently of all, the malignant and abundant contempt for the woman in a brothel.
So when I see an example of male love for women and girls, along with uplifting me and moving me emotionally, and making me think how this is the way it should be, it also calls to mind that contrast, and it hurts me. It hurts me dreadfully.
I’ve had the same emotional response many times. Any time I see a man put his arm protectively around his girlfriend, or hand her a tissue for her snotty nose, or kiss the top of her head without giving a shite who’s looking, I feel the same way. I smile, and feel a warm gush of inner contentment. It provokes a feeling of love, this evidence of male love that exists in the world; but it is quickly and violently followed by a hammer in my heart. It is the brutal thud of its opposite – the understanding of male hatred.
Let me be clear about this: prostitution has to do with killing. It has to do with killing the human spirit, and beyond that, it has to do with getting off on it. It is evil, and when we see evil, when we live evil, I believe it is very important to name it. Evil can obscure itself very easily when we do not assign it its true name.
The evil of prostitution has been so thoroughly obscured that it is even taught in universities as a ‘sex positive’ autonomous choice. What a load of bollocks. I could put a gun in my mouth tomorrow and blow my own brains out; that is surely an autonomous choice – it doesn’t mean there’s anything positive about it. But I will leave the lies and the stupidities of ‘sex positive feminism’ to another day and get back to the subject at hand:
I was invited to attend the conference that launched the Turn Off The Red Light campaign in Buswell’s Hotel in Dublin last year. I had just been told that it was a conference, it hadn’t been mentioned that the press would be there, so I got a very big shock when I arrived to the scene of cameras rolling and flashing lights. It was a shock because something in me told me that I was supposed to speak, but how was I supposed to do that with every newspaper and TV station in the country present?
I was a little late and there was only one seat left in the back row. I sat down and felt a bit bad about grabbing the last seat when people, some much older than me, started filling up the standing room all the way out to the hall, but I was wearing ankle boots with a five inch heel so I decided I’d have to live with my own conscience.
The first thing I noticed about the panel was that they were all men. That kind of knocked the stuffing out of me. I was really surprised and listened very intently to hear what they’d say. As they introduced themselves it became clear that they were all men who were high-profile in one sense or another in Irish life; a poet and prose writer (Theo Dorgan), a playwright and theatre director (Peter Sheridan), the chair of the Board of Directors at the Immigrant Council of Ireland (John Cunningham), chairperson of Ruhama (Diarmaid O’Corrbui), CEO of Bernardos (Fergus Finlay), General Secretary of the largest craft union in Ireland, the TEEU (Eamon Devoy) and General Secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (David Begg).
Something happened which thoroughly moved me. They spoke, one after another, about why prostitution and trafficking should have no place in this country. Men, seven of them, high-profile men at that, talking one after another about what I’ve always thought, what I’ve always known. Probably because some of them were a good bit older than me I was reminded of the protective presence I used to feel when I was with my Dad, who died not long before I went on the game. More tears to struggle with. Another lump in the throat.
When they’d all done speaking the meeting was opened to questions and discussion and around a dozen people spoke. A woman stood near me with a microphone on a long extendable arm that she held up to anyone who’d talk, and when anyone did, the cameras pointed right at them.
The standing area behind me was filled with people, with politicians among them, all the way out and halfway down the hall and I had noticed that when anyone behind me spoke several people in front of me would turn around to look at them.
When the man chairing the meeting asked if there were any more questions before he wrapped the meeting up my heart gave a violent thump, but there was no way I could walk out of there if I didn’t do what needed to be done, which was to provide the voice of prostituted women, which was about the only relevant voice that was missing from the room.
I stood up and said I had something to say but asked the reporters to not photograph me and to point their cameras away. The first thing I said after that was that I was a former prostitute; it was at that point that every head in front of me, about a hundred of them, turned to look. I don’t know how I didn’t keel-over with the sense of vulnerability and exposure, and I was told afterwards that my voice shook audibly when I first spoke.
I went on to say I was glad that prostitution and trafficking were being dealt with together, and that I felt they should continue to be addressed together, as the routes into prostitution and trafficking are only two different routes that bring women to exactly the same place. I then explained that it had been family dysfunction followed by homelessness that had brought me to prostitution at fifteen years of age, and that there was no difference to be found in two groups of women selling their bodies because of sets of circumstances that were beyond their control, just because those circumstances were different. I felt a very great weight of relief when I sat back down, that I’d done what I had to do and that it was over.
Immediately after I sat down one male politician behind me seemed moved, frustrated, and there was angst in his voice when he said “we need to do something about this situation – now!” I was approached by another politician afterwards, and by the chairperson of the conference, who told me that I had made “the most significant contribution to the meeting”. Both were encouraging, both were respectful, and both were men.
After I left Buswell’s I walked to nearby Stephen’s Green and sat on a bench looking at the flowerbeds and popped the Xanax a friend had offered me the night before “for the sake of your nerves”. I was glad I had it, because my nerves were in shreds, although my anxiety was strangely mixed with a feeling of peace that day. I was anxious because of the deeply traumatic part of my past I had just visited so publicly, and I was at peace in another sense because I had been exposed to something I find wonderfully comforting: the gentle and sincere humanity of men.
When you have spent seven years being exposed to the worst of what men have to offer it will leave you dreadfully traumatised, and consequently hurt, embittered and angry. But we are multifaceted beings, thank God, and no one feeling remains constant and ever-present in our minds. A person might reasonably ask: why do you still love men? Because I can still see their humanity shining out of them, and I still draw comfort from it. That’s why.