Really, this all started seven years ago with a toothbrush, a twig, and a tampon.
I am staggeringly, disappointingly, astronomically normal and boring. I am no great beauty. In my civilian clothes, I would not turn heads on the street. When I’m working, men approach me to tell me I’m beautiful, but I am now at a point where my looks will begin to slide.
If my attractiveness is nothing special, it seems fit that my life wouldn’t be either. I was born in Hamilton to a firefighter and an administrative assistant twenty-five years ago. I had an uneventful aughts adolescence in the suburbs of Toronto. One morning, at fourteen, I woke up with a woman’s body. None of my clothes fit me and my band sweater stretched until the music teacher finally gave me a boy’s model to accommodate my almost completely horizontal upper body growth spurt. Finally, my mother marched me past the Bay’s junior intimates department one Saturday afternoon to the seemingly “Matron” section and told me not to come out of the change room until I found a D-cup that fit.
At eighteen, I became a nude model at McMaster University. I heard about the opportunity through a friend who wanted to pursue it, but didn’t have the guts. Most people would balk at the job now; I, however, quickly calculated that at the pay rate of twenty dollars an hour, I could make enough in a morning to finance a week’s worth of booze and cigarettes or a quarter of my rent.
My first modeling class was utterly ridiculous. The students were instructed to paint a figure using anything except a paintbrush. On the day, it was clear how many of them had forgotten about the assignment, walking into class carrying twigs they’d found on the ground or pencil erasers. I stripped out of my clothes and into a thrift store bathrobe and took my place in front of the expectant artists.
The woman I was modeling with was in her late forties and had frizzy, dark brown hair. “I’m a nudist” she explained, and I nodded as if that made any sense. This is Southern Ontario. The winters here are colder than in Alaska or Siberia (that is historically true according to the climate record), how the hell can you be a nudist in -30°C?
In four hours, I had made eighty dollars. To a university student, that is winning the goddamn lottery. I was hooked. All I had done was take my clothes off and stay very, very still and someone had paid me for it. I wished I had started earlier.
When I lived in the suburbs as a teenager, all I dreamed about was escape. Something inside me leapt when I sat in the theatre and watched American Beauty for the first time at thirteen and realized I was not alone when I saw the suburbs as a prison. I fought tooth and nail not to go to McMaster in Hamilton. I was all about Vancouver, Calgary, the States anywhere that I could forget where I came from.
I made my first tuition payment to Mac the day acceptance letters came from UBC, Simon Fraser and University of Alberta. I was trapped in Ontario forever. My first day on campus I promised I would get out of there as a fast as I could. I worked year round to finish my degrees early and go to grad school. I was going to be a Literature professor and impart wisdom to the unlearned masses and be published and be a cause celebre of the Canadian literary scene, which of course is what every little girl dreams of.
Some papers and recommendation letters impressed a quirky Irish professor at University College Dublin, and my acceptance letter to their Master’s program in Modern British Literature arrived two weeks before classes began. I closed down my entire Canadian life and was on a plane to Ireland with nowhere to live, no friends and no ideas.
Dublin, like Toronto, is hard to love. It’s a distant first date who never calls, but after a few months, it expresses an opinion or an interest that makes your ears prick up. There are street signs for about 20% of the roads in Dublin, which even then have an annoying habit of renaming themselves every few blocks. My first apartment was somehow over two bars. But before you realize it, you’re deeply in love, describing things as “grand” or exclaiming, “Jaysus!”
Two weeks after my arrival, my intense Canadian boyfriend left me for one of my friends. I drank, I never ate, I never slept. I would leave the house to go somewhere and not realize I had passed my destination until I was two blocks beyond it. I was heartbroken, and so I mended my broken heart the way I knew how the least, by sleeping around with strange men. I visited the beds, of surely half the men in Dublin—Irish, English, Canadian, French, French-Canadian—and so on for several months.
I continued modeling at the National College of Art and Design until one morning when I came in so hungover I fell asleep in the pose. The money disappeared, as money tended to do at the end of Celtic Tiger. Tuition money from my parents went to rent and partying with no way to pay them or UCD back. Somehow, somewhere €8,600 was gone.
A year after I graduated, still owing the full amount of tuition to the university, the calls from collections agencies began. I could not even come close to making ends meet.
I became a sex worker, if only over the phone. I signed up with a British phone sex line and stayed up until 4 a.m. talking dirty to, and hearing dirty from old English men. I claimed I was American and asked them to tell me what they were doing while describing in detail a fictional character who would fulfill their bizarre fantasies. The most memorable of these clients was the man who was clearly sublimating his paedophilic urges by talking to a grown woman as he masturbated. One day I will see a therapist about all of this, I promise. The money came easily, as it had with modeling. Easy money, like any drug, is an addiction.
When the world economy crashed in 2008, Ireland, usually the straggler, showed the world and went into recession first in Europe. This was marginally ignored thanks to Leinster Rugby winning the 2009 Heineken Cup, letting the people of Dublin breathe at least sigh one sigh of relief. However, this was not enough for me to stay in Ireland.
I left for Toronto, to try to build a life
I rented a furniture-less apartment in Riverdale. The collections calls had not stopped, but I became better at ignoring them.
If the sex industry is a global network of horny people with money to spend, the Craigslist Adult Services section (still alive outside the US) is surely its Wall Street.
I found a fetish modeling site, which still exists and displays my “spreads.” The fetish world is not so different from the escort world. All of the language is code. The fetish scene in Toronto is boosted by a small, dedicated group of perverts. BDSM isn’t about pain, but about the connection between slave and master. I never found the scene interesting in my personal life, but the ability to lose myself into someone else’s control awoke something in me. I was able to convince myself that the quiet literature student from the suburbs was gone, and someone sexy, who didn’t wear glasses or research STP credentials, had taken her place.
This led seamlessly into a brief career in very tame pornography. When I got in touch with the website I would be featured on, the producers asked me if I’d be okay with performing in “semi-public” places. This turned out to be several very public parks in Scarborough. All I got for a day’s work with them was groped, sunburnt, and $300.
My most advanced move towards becoming an escort however happened when I met Paul. We met over emails and texts on Craigslist. Paul was looking to audition for porn. He needed a partner to showcase his skills on camera. He would pay $500 for an hour’s work. I could make my weekly pay check in 60 minutes.
We set a date and I prepared myself. I was more nervous than the night I lost my virginity at age fourteen in my friend’s Toyota Corolla. Paul texted me that day to say he had “forgot” his camera. We would be having sex for money with no pretense of any other purpose.
I showed up at his hotel room door, sweaty from cycling from work. He moved me into the shower and I emerged naked. He was a young hedge fund manager. He positioned me in front of the mirror and we had sex. Afterward, he handed me ten $50 bills.
I had been paid for sex.
To me, there was always a line. On one side is most of the women I know who have never been paid for sex; on the other side are hookers. The crossing of the line goes only one way. That afternoon, at the Days Inn in downtown Toronto, I crossed it and there was no going back.
I wrestled over becoming an escort over the following weeks until one night, stomach full of liquid courage, I emailed Adele.
She replied within the hour, asking me to come see her at her office that week. I cycled to her Bloor Street office as fast as I could one day after work.
I locked my sweet ride up to one of the precious few Annex bike racks and waited for Adele to come out of her office. I wore a black halter top and jeans on the hot August day. In ten years, my “top shelf assets” had not changed in shape, size, or position. I thought I could see Adele’s pupils turn into dollar signs, a la Bugs Bunny, when she first saw me.
“Why do you want to be an escort?” she asked. Adele wore a simple, black wrap dress and periodically responded to texts as we talked.
I said the obvious answer: money. I felt like I was frozen. I was in a cage I could see out of, watching others, who has gotten better returns on their educational investments, enjoying life. They were being adults. I wasn’t an adult, I was something else. Everything I did now was to atone for my past foolishness. I was living forcibly in the past. Frozen in a credit card charge from years ago that was only being paid off now.
Adele led me up the stairs to an aqua painted office, one wall covered with damask wallpaper. She asked how much I was in the hole for; how hard I would have to work until I was free. I told her I needed $25,000.
Adele nodded as I explained how deep I was into it for. I felt tears come more than once. Finally she inhaled and spoke certainly, “I had three times that much when I started. Now, no man has anything on me. I bought my house with cash.”
Adele spoke softly, but with an enticing timbre that I could tell had been perfected over hundreds of hours of acting like the average man’s wildest fantasy. She explained that I would see mostly white men, between the ages of 35-65, upper middle class. A driver would take me there and pick me up. Once in a blue moon, I would charge a credit card with an old fashioned imprint machine, but 99 times out of 100, it would be cash.
“No drugs,” Adele purred, gentle but firm. “You can_not_ be high or drunk while working. Safety first. The clients might want to do drugs and might pressure you to do drugs. They will even say that I will get mad and fire you if you don’t do their drugs. Don’t do it.”
She explained that prostitution is all but illegal in Ontario. I would, at no point, be doing anything illegal. What I would be doing is known as “outcalls.” It meant that I would always go to the client, the client never coming to me. The arrangements, home or hotel would be up to him. Incalls bordered on illegal if they happened at the hooker’s home, since it is illegal in Ontario to live in a place that is supported by prostitution. It is not illegal however, to rent an apartment, conduct your work there and live somewhere else.
Logic and Puritanism, apparently, were mutually exclusive.
With a flourish, she pulled out a contract. She took down all of the information that would be relevant for the website; my height, weight, and hair color. I found a dotted line and signed that I would follow all of the policies and procedures that would keep me safe and keep hundreds if not thousands of men, my future clients, satisfied.
“Now, most importantly, what do you want your name to be?”
I thought about it. I saw myself a year down the road. I was happy. I was sexy. I wasn’t the girl who was tied to a desk, making sure all of the spacing on a software readme was consistent. I was tanned. I was free of all of the chains educational debt and credit cards had wrapped around me.
“I want to be Bianca,” I said, confidently. It might have been the last true thing I said in my new job.