Toronto High Class Escort
By Caroline Leung
Mary (not her real name) is a 22-year-old student, writer, and sex worker. She has no problem calling herself a hooker, or prostitute, or what her clients prefer: an escort.
“When I jokingly call myself a ‘prostitute’ — or not even jokingly, seriously, with a client — he’d be like, ‘don’t say that! That’s not what you are! You’re an escort!’”
Mary and I met in a creative writing class in university. We talked about being writers, about being women, about being women and writers — the two, for us both, inseparable. It’s now been about a year since we met. We’re sitting in her apartment. By a lone student’s city-dwelling standards, it is enormous: double-storied, triple bedroomed, with a rooftop deck. It’s airy and cool, and the glossy hardwood floors are littered with empty wine bottles and confetti.
“I had a party, ” she says. She’d offered to host one for her literature class, a course she still has to finish an essay for. She’s stressed out, because she’s only got until 6 p.m. on Sunday to finish it. “You’d be surprised, ” she says, “Sunday nights get busy.”
She had started out wanting to strip. It makes sense: She has the body, a performer’s aplomb, a healthy ego, a desire to please. As a teenager, she had posted nude pictures of herself on 4chan as a, perhaps, misguided attempt to garner virtual high-fives; it worked. It was last April when she went to her first strip club, Jilly’s.
“It’s, like, the bottom of the barrel in Toronto, ” she describes.
She was stoned and drunk, with a friend. Jilly’s is at best an eyesore, at worst a crime scene; a porno porta-potty comes to mind. But Mary’s take on this shithole is near revering. Temple is the word she uses.
“No, seriously, ” she says. “To me, watching a woman masterfully work the pole — a woman who is considered, by society, as the lowest form of woman; the woman who doesn’t have any other options — how do you explain the fact that she can get up to the top of the pole and hang upside down and stay there and spin? That takes dedication. That takes work. That takes strength. How can anybody say that this woman is a low kind of woman?”
By the way: For all her unbelievable joy and enthusiasm about the job, Mary has never, ever seen a single episode of Showtime’s prostitution-glamorization vehicle, Secret Diary of a Call Girl. She’s never seen Buñuel’s Belle de Jour; never read Tracy Quan’s columns on Salon. She’s never read a fictional account of being a prostitute; never had an interest, she explains. At least, not before going to Jilly’s, and it was easy enough to Google for a firsthand account of a real stripper. She began her education through the considerably more grounded chronicles of women like Kat (of Tits & Sass) and Holly O’Hare.
“Through them, I realized there was a way to do this without being degrading.” It was simple. Perhaps frightfully so, for some people.
Shoes were bought, a white pair with neon yellow straps that wouldn’t look all that out of place at a Preen show. With a barista’s salary, and a timely birthday present, she bought pole-dancing lessons and her own pole to practice with. I vaguely recall her playing me a song, something mellow and reggae-y, when I asked her back in November what kind of song she’d strip to.
This all happened in a period of eight months, and at the end of it, she met a series of people who all asked the same question: Why didn’t she just become an escort?
“Now, stripping seems almost… comical, ” she says. “Clownish. It was the kind of thing I could tell people; joke about it. Telling people you want to be a prostitute is a totally different ballgame. There is such a difference between teasing people and actually… doing it.”
But she doesn’t strike me as ashamed. She never did; I wouldn’t have asked her for this favor otherwise.
“Well, not anymore, ” she admits.
She told me a few weeks ago that she’d told her parents; her boyfriend already knew, and is fine with it. Her mom reacted as expected: worried and confused.
“She called me one night at 4 a.m., ” she says. “She’d felt like a failure as a parent, and I had to remind her: Mom, I’ve got dreams. How could you have forgotten so easily? It was like she’d erased it from her memory because she thought it was my end-all. Like, ‘hooking is something you can do with a grade-six education; why did she spend all her money on a post-secondary education if this is what I was going to end up doing?’” Her dad, in contrast, handled it well. She wasn’t surprised.
After Googling toronto high class escort agency — much like a john — she’d decided to call the agency with the spiffiest website.
“This madam had a fucking Twitter feed. She would say things like, just hired three new girls!” Mary never heard back, though, so she called another agency. “We had an interview the next week, and I started the day after.” There were, seemingly, few requirements: All she had done was show up, and she was hired without having to answer any questions.
A bullet dodged, then?
“Oh, yeah. I love my manager. Um, madam. Pimp?” She throws her hands up in the air in confusion.
Financially, the sex industry in Toronto is fairly self-regulated. There’s little variation of pricing between agencies. The first couple agencies that pop up on Google charge between $240 and $270 an hour. That’s not a lot, you might think. What about the Ashley Duprés and Sophie Andertons of the world? What about the filthy lucre that’s supposed to justify the appeal of this ‘whoring’ business? If not money, what else does it take for somebody to do something like this?
I ask her what was the most extravagant thing she’d bought herself with her earnings.
“Gold medal ping-pong game at the London Olympics, baby.”
She insists she’s good with her money, and I believe her. Her earnings are split into fours: one for bills, one for her travels, one for long-term savings, the last for instant gratification.
I ask her how much she earns.
“About a grand a week.”
Her clients pay $260 an hour. From that, the agency takes 40 pecent for advertising, photographers’ fees, gas if they’re an out-call agency, rent and utilities if they only do in-calls.
“Have you ever thought about going independent?” I ask, when what I really meant was, don’t you think you deserve more?
She says no. She’s grateful for the security and relative stability of business that an agency provides her, and doesn’t have the time to run a business.
“Because that’s what you are when you’re an independent escort, ” she says. “You are selling yourself as a product. There needs to be advertising, management — it’s too much of a hassle.”