Hassan* wasn’t exactly well regarded at our brothel. He haggled, was pretty rude, sometimes even smelly, so when he phoned in asking for our cheapest services with whoever was on, everyone in the lady’s lounge said a big firm ‘NOPE!’ and was passed on to whoever needed the extra booking the most, or perhaps the unsuspecting new girl who knew no better. And one day it was my turn to take one for the team.
And yeah, he was a bit of a dick to be honest. He haggled the rate, he was pretty pushy, expressionless and his hygiene really could have been better. But, even though I was new at the brothel, I’d had worse, and I was fast adjusting to smiling through displeasure and just trying to appease clients the best I could to get through bookings easily. It wasn’t a bad tactic, and I was pretty natural at it.
Hassan started returning and specifically requesting me. I wasn’t overly pleased about it, but I was clearly doing something he liked, and it was money that no-one else wanted to make. Maybe the third or fourth time I saw him, he finally started talking to me. He said to me ‘no-one else is nice to me. They hate me because I’m Muslim’. I looked him deadpan in the eyes and said ‘that’s not why they hate you - you just aren’t the easiest client to see’. To which he asked me, ‘then why are you so nice to me?’. I was honest and said everyone deserved a chance, besides, I could handle him. He thanked me, genuinely and gave me a deep, meaningful kiss. I realised that perhaps he had been a little misunderstood, but I was not hesitant in telling him that if his personal hygiene was better, maybe he’d be given more of a chance by others. I’ve never been afraid to say what needs to be said.
Next time I see Hassan, he smells great. He tells me he got a professional dental clean and bought some cologne, just for me. Clearly, he saw me worthy of making an impression. And he did, from that day on, we had kind of an understanding. I was patient with him and kind, and he listened to my requests in the room. His guard started to go down, and his behaviour towards me improved. He saw his time with me as lessons in how to treat women, and he was a good student. I saw Hassan every week for about 6 months, much to the amazement of my colleagues who had written him off. I guess he just needed some stern guidance and understanding. I do really like to melt cold butter.
His faith specifically never came up, but he would tell me if he had just come from prayers, and he would talk about the community and his friends at the mosque, and how they sponsored his visa with a good job, and how much they were like his family. He says that New Zealanders are so lucky to have so much freedom, and that his family back home were devout and strict, and that seeing sex workers would see him killed in his country (known for it’s turmoil), and I too would suffer the same. I could tell Hassan was enjoying his freedom in New Zealand, after all, much of his spare money was spent in a brothel, on me, more specifically.
One day I didn’t come in for my shift, I can’t remember why, and Hassan turned up at the brothel without an appointment (a big no-no for our establishment), begging to see me. He was hysterical, and the ladies on shift were going to call the police. A crazed man turning up looking for a specific girl is pretty alarming to anyone. He left, but came back the next day to see me when I was there. Hassan was completely beside himself - one of his friends from the mosque had seen his car parked outside the brothel and started watching him, and saw him coming and going from our place repeatedly. They dobbed his activities in to his community with surveillance pictures as evidence, becoming the subject of much scandal. He lost his job, and subsequently the visa sponsorship, and was likely to be deported. The community was organising to have him sent home to his family, who were well esteemed by his community as they were known to be pious. He got on his knees and begged me to marry him, to keep him in the country (it doesn’t quite work that way unfortunately), because he insisted his uncles back home would murder him on his return.
Hassan came back every day, exhausting the last of his funds on booking me, to beg to stay. I couldn’t help him, but I would comfort him, and we would fuck ’til he wept, and then he would leave.
Finally I came into work and there was no booking from him, but he had left a letter in the brothel’s mail box for me, telling me he was returning to his home country and would likely meet his death, but that he’d always remember everything I’d done for him. I never heard from him again, but he was often on my mind.
I recently found myself thinking of him again, as his NZ Muslim community was attacked and many of them murdered in my town, and I thought, perhaps safety in NZ had been an illusion, and hoped that he had been wrong about his fate. I guess I will never know.
And religion does have a way of reappearing in my work life.
A few years later, I met John*, a middle aged devout Christian who didn’t believe in sex before marriage. However life hadn’t quite worked out how he had hoped, and had been researching sex workers for about a year, to finally lose his virginity. I was working independently by then, and John sent me a lengthy text message, letting me know that he didn’t morally approve of my work (uhhh thanks), but he would like to give it a try. Ok I guess, I took his booking because I try not to take the self stigma of others personally. And we had a fun time. John was lovely, we didn’t talk much about God or anything of that nature, and I brushed off some of his judgmental comments, but all together it went swimmingly. John had a spring in his step when he left, and I felt I had given him something of significance. So much so, that he left me a glowing review on the NZ forums singing my praises. Excellent, I thought.
Until a couple of weeks later. I guess John had a crisis of faith, or some such thing. Because my lovely testimonial was suddenly rewritten, by John, saying that I was a sinner and going to hell, and that all those who visit me are also going to hell and must repent. I mean, to be honest, I was pretty shitty, because I had been more than understanding and accomodating for him. We definitely didn’t do anything that he hadn’t wanted, after all, he had contacted me for my services, I certainly didn’t go out of my way to solicit his business cold. It hurt I think, to have been so intimate with someone, and to have really tried to make allowances for their sensitivities and faith, to be so reassuring to a grown adult about what feels to me, a natural activity, only for them to turn around and say really quite hateful things about me. But I had to let it go, remembering of course, that it wasn’t my internal struggle, but his.
But I certainly learned a few things from these experiences, that clients too, have their own battles that they deal with, in terms of sexuality, judgement and self acceptance. Only recently I was asked to perform a Muslim ‘marriage’ ritual to allow the client to engage in sexual activity, without fear of the consequences of his faith. It was new to me, honestly it was pretty interesting, but I was really very happy to do what was necessary for my client to feel safe and comfortable in regard to sex and his faith.
I have very limited background experience in regard to religion. I’m agnostic/ spiritual with interests in religious philosophy, and the stories that religion preserves and teaches, but I am not of one singular faith, nor was I brought up with any. My parents are atheists and very cynical of organised religion and as such I really can’t pretend to understand what it is like to have any kind of restrictions on my life based on faith or it’s ascribed morality. But the people I meet through sex work, continually teach me and expand my knowledge on these things, and I try to be respectful of faith, as best I can without putting myself in the line of fire.
Even outside of clients, it is still around the industry, and underlies the feelings many people have about being a sex worker. A close sex worker friend and I had our friendship dissolve after she refound God and Jesus Christ, and I can’t say that it didn’t hurt, to have someone I care about suddenly decide that our job, was intrinsically bad. In the end it just wasn’t possible to maintain a friendship with someone who now thought so badly of me, for the job that we had once done together. To have her staying in my home, paid for by my job, while she said such awful things about it, just didn’t sit right with me, as much as I cared for her. And so again I experience the consequences of my life choices in regard to religion, still so foreign to me.
Sex work has exposed me to many different cultures and people, that I just otherwise never would have. And it can be a really good thing, definitely opening up my mind to the experiences and plight of others. I have met people from many different backgrounds - refugees, celebrities, criminal mischief makers and CEOs of global enterprises, and yet still, I find myself from time to time, in situations unfamiliar to me, and people who have so much to teach me. Sometimes those lessons are hard, perhaps they don’t put me in good favour, particularly in regards to religion, but many times it is rewarding. I hope that I bring to people’s lives more than self flagellation and religious regret, but hopefully a taste of something much more that they will remember fondly, even if those memories evoke questions within them that I can’t answer.
* Names changed