Many people think of choice as I might have done, had I never worked as a prostitute. For many, choice is something perceived akin to standing in front of a deli-counter. Choose this, choose that, pick out your preferred option. The men who choose which woman they’d like to fuck as they stare at those lined up for their consumption understand choice in just this way. Their concept of choice is rooted in the privilege of a genuine alternative. Their concept of choice itself is limited.
Choice does not always present as balanced; it does not always offer a different-but-equal alternative. When I think of my choices there were simply these: have men on and inside you, or continue to suffer homelessness and hunger. Take your pick. Make your ‘choice’.
People will never understand the concept of choice as it operates in prostitution until they understand the concept of constraint so active within it. As long as the constrained nature of this choice is ignored it will be impossible to understand the pitiful role of ‘choice’ for women within prostitution.
I’m going to reveal something very personal now, and I’m going to do that simply to illustrate how warped the concept of choice was in my circumstances. I had a conversation recently with my sixty-something aunt who is currently spending a few months visiting Ireland, after having lived forty years in America. She reiterated something I’d heard many years ago in our family. It was a conversation my paternal grandmother had with the psychiatrist treating my parents in the local mental hospital. My grandmother (and this was before I was ever born) had made an appointment with the doctor, very upset as she was that my manic-depressive father and his schizophrenic girlfriend had just announced their intention to marry.
She wanted to know what could be done. How could this marriage be stopped? How could these two very unwell people be allowed to go ahead and marry? The doctor told her that mental illness could not be used as a reason to curtail a persons civil liberties and that was his view of the matter. But what, my grandmother wanted to know, would happen to any children born into that union?
I wish I could go back in time and give my grandmother a hug for having the compassion and the foresight to think of where that situation would leave us. She was right to worry. It left us in state care, one after the other. And as a young teenager it left me homeless, hungry, and prostituted, in that order.
The constraints of my own choices began even before I did. And if we were to shift this situation into the deli-counter analogy, there is no young girl standing there deliberating on what choice to make. There is only a young girl standing waiting for what’s already been selected and pre-wrapped for her, and she can take it or leave it. Those are her options. That is her ‘choice’.