Sunday, July 05, 2015

The day I interviewed to be a sex worker

One summer day when I was a young reporter in Kamloops, my bosses at the newspaper sent me off to pretend I wanted to get hired as a lingerie model.
    The advertising department at the paper had been running classified ads seeking young women interested in working as lingerie models. The paper wanted the advertising revenue, but was worried the real nature of the business was prostitution. So they sent me off to pretend to be a job applicant so I could report back to them, a task that I accepted without hesitation.
     The interview was in a hotel room at The Dome, a fairly popular place in mid-1980s Kamloops. I can’t remember what I wore. An average man of average age – 35, maybe, with the everyman feel of someone who, like myself, had known life in a B.C. resource town – invited me to sit down. A few minutes later, a woman of about the same age joined us.
    My managers back at the paper had sent me to the job interview in the company of a male reporter, who was to park outside and be ready to save me from whatever darkness might lie within. This made me laugh then and now, although I do appreciate that my bosses at least wanted somebody to witness me disappearing behind the door where unnamed depravity was possibly lurking.
    In fact, the job interview was notable for its complete ordinariness. The man didn’t seem concerned that I had never worked as a lingerie model, and talked about how my job would be to go to private parties - some of them in hotel rooms - where I would model lingerie to potential buyers and be paid a commission.
    We got to the point where we had said pretty much all there is to say about lingerie modelling, but the feeling of an elephant in the room just kept getting bigger. I saw that it was going to be up to me to cut to the chase. I asked if there was an opportunity to make additional money selling something more than lingerie.
    The man and woman who were interviewing me both let out these huge sighs of relief, and instantly relaxed into  much more personable, jokey versions of their previous selves.  Yes, yes, exactly, the man enthused to me – I was welcome to sell much more than lingerie. Once that door shut between me and the lingerie enthusiast and the big wide world, he said, the two of us were free to explore any opportunities we wanted.
    The interview went on for probably an hour, and got a lot more comfortable for all concerned once we got past the lingerie cover story. As we wrapped up, the man told me I would have to come back the next day and take my clothes off in front of the woman, who would verify that I had no "huge scars" or obvious disfigurement. The man reassured me that as far as he could tell, I almost certainly would get the job. I left the hotel room feeling strangely exhilarated.
     I never returned for the second interview, although I’ve always liked to think that if I had, I could have had that job. My bosses were waiting for me the second I got back to the office, and I'll never forget the riveted looks on their faces as I recounted my interview. They hung on every word. I came to see that verifying the legitimacy of a lingerie seller might not have been their only motive for sending me on the assignment.
    I never went undercover again in my journalism career. It’s a fairly dishonest way to land a story, and I frown on it other than for the rare stories that simply can’t be told without subterfuge. 
    I suppose that might be why the story of my sex-work interview has gone unwritten until now. Or perhaps I simply had to grow old enough not to care that I might hurt my former bosses' feelings by revealing that what was most striking to me about that notable day was the hungry looks on their faces as they listened to me. I think I learned something new about men that day. 
    I trust no reader will take this anecdote of mine to mean that I “know what it’s like to be a sex worker” or something insane like that. There is much more to sex work than a job interview. I will leave it to my many brilliant and fascinating friends who really do work in the industry to tell those stories.
    All I'm saying is that one time maybe 30 years ago now, I did a job interview with a couple of people trying to set up an escort agency in Kamloops. And I’m still pleased that I nailed it. 

Catch the video on sex workers' rights that I put together in conjunction with Peers Victoria for the June 13 Day of Solidarity for sex workers.