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Stela’s Story.

Stella Marr was a prostitute in New York City for almost ten years. Then a London-based Oxford professor gave her a grand piano, a beautiful condominium across from Lincoln Center, and kept her for nearly two years. She sold the condo, using the money to finish her BA at Barnard College, Columbia University where she studied extensively with Kenneth Koch. She graduated with distinction, majoring in writing. She’s deep into a memoir about these experiences.

Stella’s Story

An Ex-Hooker’s letter to her Younger Self

Dear twenty-year old Stella,

Work hard on learning to ask for help. It’s the only way you’ll ever break free. No one ever does anything alone. You don’t have to.

You’ll learn how to make the men happy. The happier they are the nicer they treat you. You’ll get very good at being a hooker. But when the Johns say “baby you were born for this” that doesn’t mean its true.

Now when most men come near you feel a stabbing at your eyes, your throat, and your gut that you know isn’t real. You don’t want to admit it but you’re terrified. You start, you tremble. Your hands shake. Think about it, you’re being stabbed a lot these days. This is a quite reasonable reaction to being used by man after man, day after day, in this prison of a brothel. It doesn’t mean you are so miserably flawed that you can’t do anything but be a hooker.

Being a hooker doesn’t make you subhuman. It’s not OK for your (white) pimps to smack you and tell you they’ll kill you.

You have to work up the nerve to pay a cashier for a soda. You’re too scared to ask that guy behind the deli counter to make you a sandwich. This isn’t weakness, it’s biology. Trauma changes your brain. Your hippocampus, where you form narrative memory in the brain, shrinks. This is a symptom of PTSD – a neurophysiologic response to repetitive trauma –not evidence that you deserve to be in prostitution.

In the middle of the winter in the middle of the night when that guy in the Double tree suite invites you to sit while he pours you a seltzer trust your gut and back out of there before the five guys you can’t see who are waiting in the bedroom have a chance to get between you and the door.

Being vulnerable means you’re alive. There’s no shame in it. It doesn’t mean you’re a terrible person. You don’t have to apologize for doing what you must to survive.

When Samantha tries to stop working for your pimp Johnny. make her get out of the city. Otherwise two weeks later Nicole, the madam who works with Johnny, will show you Samantha’s diamond initial ring and tell you Johnny murdered her. Though you’ll always hope she was lying, you doubt it.

You’ve lost all sense of the linear — time disappeared and you felt it leave. Now you’re living in the immediate and eternity. It’s scary and bewildering, but you need this — you need each moment to stretch infinitely so that you can be acutely aware of each man’s tiny movements and shifts in expression, which can reveal a threat before it happens. This hyperawareness will save your life. One day you’ll see this being untethered from time as a kind of grace.

When that shiny classical pianist you meet at Au Bon Pain says he wants to know everything about you don’t believe him.

A lot of what’s happening doesn’t make sense now but it will later. That habit you have of writing poems in your mind to the beloved you haven’t met yet as you’re riding in cabs to calls? There’s something to it.

Your ability to perceive beauty is part of your resilience and survival. When a man is on top of you watch the wind-swirled leaves out his window. Seize the gusty joy you feel as you run three blocks to a bodega to buy condoms between calls at 3 AM. When you think for a minute you see that friend, who’s death you never got over, standing in the brassy light under a weeping linden, be grateful. All this has a purpose.

Being a hooker can seem to mean you’ve lost everything you hoped to be, but that’s not true. You’ve splintered into a million pieces, but you’re still you. You’re alive. It’s in the spaces between those pieces where you learn to feel how other people are feeling. It hurts so much you’re sure it’ll kill you, but it won’t. Later when you’re out of the life it’ll be so easy to be happy. The mundane will buoy you.

When your madam sends you to the Parker Meridien at 3 AM and you meet a British professor who says he wants to help you, believe him. He will set you up in a beautiful condominium across from Lincoln Center that he deeds in your name. Of course you’ll have everything to do with this — you are so “good” at being a hooker, so “good” at fucking that you can make a guy want to buy you a condo. Shame is a hollow stone in the throat.

During the two years that this voracious man ‘keeps’ you as his private prostitute the condo will come to feel like a platinum trap. But it’s still your chance to get out and heal. Take it.

After you’ve sold the condominium and are living in a graduate dorm at Columbia University, a man with eyes like blue shattered glass will sit beside you in the cafeteria. When he begins to speak you know he’s the unmet beloved you’ve been writing poems to all these years. You’ll try to run away, but he won’t let you. Fourteen years later the two of you will be hiking through pink granite outcroppings with your Labrador retriever. You’ll feel like the freest woman in the world.

One afternoon when you’re twenty-one you’ll be at the Museum of Metropolitan of Art with your best friend Gabriel, who’s a hustler, a male prostitute. When he says you ‘remind him of his death’, don’t lash back. Even though he told you the doctor said he didn’t have that rare new virus named AIDS, it would behoove you to realize he’s still coughing.

Stop thinking about your own hurt. Don’t lash back with that vicious phrase your mother’s said to you so many times –” I hope you die a slow death.” Don’t tell Gabriel you never want to see him again and storm out of the sculpture gallery. Or it will be the last time you see him. Gabriel will die of AIDS five months later. When he said you reminded him of ‘his own death’ he was trying to tell you he was dying. You’ll regret what you said for the rest of your life. But even more you’ll regret running away from his friendship.

Say forgive me.

Say I love you.

Stay connected.

Love,

Stella

Stella’s opinion on legal brothels.

Well-meaning people who’ve never been commercially sexually exploited often think that legal brothels will protect the women in prostitution from pimps and violent johns. They are mistaken.

In the 10 years I worked in New York City’s sex industry, where the pimps were part of organized crime and could follow through on any threat, I met many women who’d experienced Nevada’s legal brothels. They all preferred the New York sex industry.

If we legalize brothel and escort service pimping we’ll only be giving these predators more power, while we help them protect their cash.

Women who worked in Nevada’s legal brothels said they were like prisons where you have to turn tricks. Rimmed with high-security fencing and an electronic gate, they can look like a detention camp. The women live in lockdown conditions and can’t leave the premises unless they’re accompanied by a male pimp. Living and working in cramped, dark rooms, they’re on call 24 hours a day. This is what happens when the law protects people who profit from commercial sexual exploitation. It’s the ideal business model. It’s the best way to get a woman to turn as many tricks as possible.

Most of the women I knew in the brothels and escort services, had a history of trauma and abuse. I was homeless at the time I entered the life and, had multiple sclerosis. That vulnerability makes them even more easily victimized by pimps. And pimps don’t stop being pimps when you legalize what they do. If we legalize brothels we’ll only be giving these predators more power, while we help them protect their cash.

As the prostitution survivor and activist Natasha Falle has said, “Where there’s high-track prostitutes, escorts, strippers and masseuses; there’s pimp violence.”

Stella says, ‘Never again will I be silenced. They tore out my tongue but I learned to regrow it. Now I will always speak.’

Bravo Stella!

Comments

  1. says

    Stella’s remarks on Nevada brothels are illuminating. One of the owners said in an interview that the workers were checked out for immigration status and criminal record. Does sound like a jail !

    The relationship between organised prostitution and law enforcement is long standing. The reasons are obvious to the 99%. Police often have to enforce arcane laws debated and codified by the finest legal minds in the country, but most police themselves are working class. The police themselves make on the spot decisions as to whether to harass and arrest suspects or merely to take a bribe, or present, kado, drink, service in kind etc.

    antony goddard
    twitter @d4maths

    • Emburii says

      Many legal brothels bear an uncanny resemblance to indentured servitude as well; the owners of the establishments often set rates for the cost of (often subpar) room and board and medical that just so happen to take a huge chunk out of the worker’s earnings, enough so that it’s very difficult for them to save any money to move on. Nor are they generally given recourse to see the place’s finances, so they have to rely on the work of the people employing them.
      And they can often be stuck in a such a situation, not allowed to live outside the brothel, because the local county has laws against doing housing business with sex workers except within certain zones (usually the square footage centered right on the brothel’s location). The prejudice against sex work and the mistreatment of such doesn’t go away just because the law gives grudging consent to their existence.

  2. Krulac says

    I question the existence of this “Stella” – I have not seen an ounce of proof that she even exists in real life. I’ve seen lots of posts but those could have posted by a man!

    If Stella was abused by these men (whom she can identify) – doesn’t she have an obligation to report them to the authorities so that they can be taken off the street? Or does she intend to allow these men to continue to abuse women?

    This story is a sham to me until I see some proof of her existence.

    • Emburii says

      …what is so unbelievable about this story? Any and all of the things detailed could easily have happened, have happened under documented circumstances to various women. Why are you so eager to dismiss it out of hand.

      Then you ask why she didn’t report these men…maybe she did report some of them and wasn’t believed, that’s happened before. Her word against theirs and all. Maybe she was told she’d have to put herself on trial, in essence, to even try to make things stick, letting the prosecution bring up her occupation or sexual history as though it somehow excused what her abusers had done. In one court case where a woman agreed to sex with one man, she was gang-raped by his friends as well but the judge decided that their real crime was not paying her afterwards. Maybe she was threatened, or even just aware that they could have her injured and no one would even care, see a serial killer up in Canada who preyed primarily on sex workers (who complained to the authorities on multiple occasions) and got away with it because people considered his victims so disposable. For that matter, they could just threaten to have her arrested and then she’d be dealing with the first problem of not being believed anyway. Given all these possibilities, coming forward as herself does no harm to them and no good to her.

      That you label this story as a sham to so easily dismiss its implications says more about you, none of it good, then the credibility of the account itself.

  3. can you get your ex back after 3 months says

    Excellently written editorial, if only all bloggers offered the same content as you, the net would be a much better place. keep going! Cheers.

  4. Caerie says

    Stella’s descriptions of the Nevada brothels is quite close to the descriptions I heard from the women who worked there as well. Those women seemed to have all of the trauma of prisoners of war, with a healthy dose of internalized misogyny and self-loathing on top of it.

  5. says

    “If we legalize brothel and escort service pimping we’ll only be giving these predators more power, while we help them protect their cash.”

    Non-sequitur. In most countries where prostitution is legal, pimping is not. Typical straw-man argument.

  6. Gorbachev says

    Indeed, as *always*, the hysterical porn-like stories of “survivors” of Western prostitution are once again proved … complete, total fabrications.

    Stella Marr is a fraud and a hoax and a scam. She’s not unique: almost all of these stories are like this. The reason prohibitionists fall for these stories is that their belief systems are religion, not reason.

    Here. Read this:

    http://maggiemcneill.wordpress.com/2012/07/09/tangled-web/

    “Many of us sex worker rights activists have been well aware of the vicious lies told about us by an abolitionist calling herself “Stella Marr.” She has bullied us and lied about us in numerous articles, forums and on her blogs. There was nothing we could do about it because we did not know her real identity. She felt free to spread her falsehoods anywhere and everywhere, knowing that there was nothing we could do as long as her cloak of anonymity protected her.

    It seems her whole story is a fraud, that she is not who she claims to be (in addition to her fake name), and that she was never the victim of pimps who trafficked her into prostitution. Her real story is much more interesting, but I will not share what I learned if she agrees to publicly apologize to all of us who were defamed by her. A number of you already know who she really is, because the person who outed her originally has shared that info with many other people.”

    More on the links.

    It’s ver yeasy to get caught in the lies, deceptions and outright scams of the hard-core prohibitionist “feminists” (quotes because they’re not proponents of equal rights or even rights).

    Unfortunately, like someone who believes almost religiously in an authoritarian, absolutist doctrine of “salvation”, Ms. Nasrin was utterly taken in by Stella Marr’s obviously phoney story.

    That Stella Marr was a complete scam artist was obvious to anyone who read *anything* she ever wrote.

    Except to the other Disciples who Believed.

    As I said before she was outed, when I noted her story was ridiculous and more like victim pornography than anything real: An obvious huckster that only the “True Believers” of a religion would fall for.

  7. says

    If you want an honest look at a sex worker’s life story from the very same years and one city away from where Stella Marr’s takes place, that would be me. I don’t have a book deal, I turned down an opportunity for a book many years ago when approached by a writer/editor with connections to major publishers.

    You won’t find screaming women being gang raped in it, or any sort of obvious horror story, but then you won’t find me associating with dishonest researchers or academics who put out bullshit on their blogs like is done here, either. Have a nice day.

  8. says

    Here’s a video which proves that I actually exist.

    http://www.livestream.com/stoppornculture/video?clipId=pla_29034644-bde7-45c8-9888-b7cbbd5846d8&utm_source=lslibrary&utm_medium=ui-thumb

    Here’s some details on the serious threats (rape, physical harm …) I received which were supposedly issued on behalf of ‘sex worker activist’ orgs which were founded by people with convictions related to pimping or who were admitted male or female pimps — of course what I say is threatening, because nothing is worse than a victim becoming articulate about what they’ve experienced
    http://secretlifeofamanhattancallgirl.wordpress.com/2012/07/12/our-bonds-are-just-too-strong-for-you/

  9. says

    What’s really extraordinary to me is how brazen these people are — you write about them harassing you, and show proof, and they up the ante and threaten to come to your house, inflict physical harm, and hurt your husband’s employment. These activities completely discredit these parties and the people who approve of their tactics.

    I hope they learn that whenever they pull try to intimidate me, they are only providing me with proof of their disgusting tactics. They merely strengthen my resolve, and the resolve of my sister survivors. Can’t stop us.

  10. lunia says

    Hi Stella your story is very charming. Im Italian woman and I did your job in Italy, but believe me that I never had any problems because I did it myself without any protector or someone to tell me what I should do with my body! It ‘was my choice. Getting organized appointments as I wanted, with who I wanted and I have never had problems in rifutare a meeting. I put ads on sites escort roma, which led me to serious customers and other forms of advertising always studied by me … In a few years I have made a fortune! The time now is married with a son and I put an end to that part of life but it has allowed me to realize myself. I know it is not easy to achieve such a life. I’m lucky like you! But I cel’ho made​​. The secret? Only lie in ourselves! Do not compromise with anyone. kisses lucia

  11. saelpalani says

    I know this is an old post but I feel the need to comment. I was also a prostituted woman. I didn’t do it by choice. It was hunger and home that drove me. I am well known to the ‘sex workers’ on Youtube. They have threatened me, harassed me endlessly and just in general are a bunch of bullies.

    I disagreed with them on one thing: the model to be used in dealing with prostitution. I am a Swedish Model proponent. My country is currently deciding what’s going to to happen, if anything, with this issue. The neighbourhood I live in is called Coast Salish Territory. Most of the prostituted women are Native Canadians and even they say, loudly, they don’t want anything but the Swedish model. None of them WANT to be prostituted.

    The sex positive (whatever that means) ppl are a bunch of bullies who label ex prostitutes as fake or in my case they told me I just wasn’t cut out for the ‘job’. They’re vicious and intimidating.

    I haven’t changed my stance and unless another model comes up that I like I’m sticking with the Swedish one. They haven’t been able to bully me out of my position. Stay strong.

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