I was no stranger to men — usually white men — offering me money for pleasure. As a young woman in Los Angeles, I attracted the attention of men who seemed not the least bit hesitant to make clear their desires for me and their willingness to “put a little something in my piggy bank,” as one man put it.
My mother was a prostitute, and she often reminded me that men would happily pay for her time and sex. Occasionally, she’d take me on a lunch date with a regular client of hers. He’d swoon over her and smile at me as we ate. She was “big momma” with this particular man, sexy but willful. He’d pay at the end of the date regardless of whether they’d had sex.
I never saw them have a sexual encounter; he paid her for her time. I was around six years old and unaware of what was taking place. He would drop us off at home and my mother would throw the money on the table for my father to count. “White folks are good for money," he would say, "if nothing else.”
By the time I was a young woman, I was certain that my love and body were not for sale. I had sex with whom I wanted because I desired it — not as a financial transaction. I was not my mother.
Still, I was not entirely surprised when the little white man started making eyes at me while shopping at Trader Joe’s. Considering that I was dressed in my yoga attire (not my best look), I thought it interesting that he’d try to pick me up. He didn’t seem to care about my appearance. He started to make small talk as we stood in the checkout line, and by the time we exited the store, he was in full campaign mode.
I patiently listened to him go on about how he was retired and had made a good deal of money in real estate. “Now I spend most of my time traveling, at my beach home or playing golf,” he boasted.
It all sounded very nice, but I wasn't impressed with his lifestyle, money or self-promotion. I do, however, enjoy meeting interesting men, so although there was no love interest on my part, I gave him my number and told him we could continue the conversation later.
Driving out of the parking lot, it also occurred to me that I was in dire financially straits. I needed money fast and perhaps I'd just met my first patron. I wondered if I might be capable of doing what my mother had seemingly done so easily. After this brief encounter, I called a male friend of mine with whom I’d often shared my feelings about prostitution and my desire to flirt with the experience. I could always trust that he’d never judge or think any less of me.
“You just don’t have it in you, Monique. You're not a prostitute," he said. "I know prostitutes; I’ve spent time with them; I know how they think, and the genetic coding that was in your mother skipped you. You don’t have what it takes.”
I found his words strangely insulting and I'm not entirely sure why. In truth, I’d spent years talking with my mother about her work and how she did it. She told me stories of waking up before her clients and taking their jewelry while they slept. She was never fearful or concerned for her safety, and I was completely fascinated with her world. On the other hand, I was scared to death for my safety. What if he rapes me or kills me? I had watched enough episodes of "CSI" to know that women who take risks with strange men don't often fare well. I might not be as lucky as my mother.
When the man from Trader Joe’s called me, he got straight to the point.
“I’d like it very much if you’d watch me while I masturbate,” he said.
“Oh, that’s easy,” I thought. But my mouth said something entirely different. “I don’t know, I’ll need to think about that.” And then we hung up.
I calculated how much money I might get for watching him play with himself. Maybe I could tell him, “Sure, but it will cost you $2,000.” I thought about calling a girlfriend who’d made so much money as a prostitute that she bought a house at the beach and put her son through college. But I was sure that she’d only try to dissuade me.
I sat down with the hope to find something within me that could do this, but after an interminable amount of consideration, I realized that I just didn’t have it in me. My friend was right. He knew me better than I knew myself. I was not cut from the same cloth as my mother.
When the little man from Trader Joe’s called again the next day, I told him I wasn’t interested and said he was not to call me again.
Even though she died more than fifteen years ago, my relationship with my mother continues to offer pearls of wisdom. While her life fascinates me in many ways, her sexuality and sexual expression haunt me to this day.
These are the aspects of myself with which I have struggled the most. They cause me to look at my heart, hoping to refine the parts of her that live on inside of me.