Not Everyone Can Do It
By Molly Barrieau
“Bonnie and Clyde?”
“Honey and Bunny,” adds the other, laughing.
Two women sit across from me in a bustling joint downtown, contemplating pseudonyms for the purpose of this article. I tell them I’ll make something up.
Jordyn, 19, sports a new purple lipstick, while Erin, 22, wears burgundy-framed glasses around her kind blue eyes. Both are dressed in mid-winter hooded coats and leggings; one leans in to the other and says something, then the two get up to order in unison.
Born and raised in Nanaimo, they have been best friends for three years, a yin and yang of personalities. The girls share a mutual understanding of an unordinary profession – escorting.
Erin was the first to enter the profession nine months ago, realizing she could not support herself financially on minimum wage after she and her boyfriend split up. For a year, she contemplated an escort job as a means to pay tuition.
“I found the safest agency, the only legal, licensed agency in Nanaimo,” Erin says. “I approached my best friend for advice, and” — she motions to Jordyn — “she told me, ‘as long as you’re safe and smart about it, I think you’d be really good at it.’”
One month later, Jordyn started at the same agency as Erin. She hid it from her boyfriend initially, though her decision was made in part to help him during a time when he was missing work due to high anxiety.
Unable to take care of him with the job she had, Jordyn lied to him, saying she was working as a makeup artist and housekeeper. “I wasn’t as secretive as I could’ve been. Part of me was hoping he would find out, so we could have the conversation.”
Erin gets it. “I did the same with my parents,” she says, “because I wanted to talk.”
Both Jordyn and Erin’s parents found out, but reacted differently. Erin’s parents were supportive, asking questions and raising safety concerns, while Jordyn’s parents were irate; her relationship with her parents, who were teens when they became pregnant with her, was only further compromised by the news of their daughter’s new job.
“My dad was never ready to be a parent,” Jordyn says. “My mom kicked me out of the house – she always resented me.”
Jordyn, now 19, stands by her decision to drop out of high school just before graduation. Her choice juxtaposes Erin’s, who has chosen to pursue a degree in Psychology at Vancouver Island University.
Jordyn and Erin answer call-outs at the client’s home or host dates at the agency’s on-site location. Their manager, a middle-aged woman who worked as an escort for 16 years, ensures that condoms are available on site at all times, preventing the chance of sexually transmitted disease at the workplace. Erin and Jordyn swear by these preventative measures on the job.
“There is a stigma attached to prostitution,” Erin says. She uses “prostitution” as an umbrella term to describe the exchange of money for sexual services, although escorting, she thinks, is more dignified than street-walking or picking up men in bars. Erin believes that the negative assumption towards her work is born out of ignorance, a result of shame and the inability to talk openly about what it actually involves.
Commonly regarded as a dangerous job, escorting can in fact be very safe when controlled and respected. “I feel safer in my bookings than the alternative option, being out on the street,” Jordyn says.
The experience varies drastically from client to client, but can be empowering for the woman, Jordyn says. Some clients have treated her even better than some partners or boyfriends. “I need to remind myself that these guys are around for only an hour,” she says. Erin adds, “Sometimes it feels like my job is to be worshipped for hours at a time, essentially. You have to worship them back, to make it about spoiling them, too.”
The laws governing sex work in Canada are contentious. Bill C-36, which came into effect in December, 2014, permits prostitution but criminalizes much of the activity leading up to and surrounding the act, including procurement and payment. Sex workers have criticized the law, insisting that it forces the industry underground and creates unsafe working conditions.
However, police and escort agencies often cooperate in order to improve the safety of the women. Cpl. Dave LaBerge of the Nanaimo RCMP says that managers may legally arrange dates — considered “companionship” — on behalf of their workers; it’s when escort and client meet in private that illegal negotiations for sex commonly take place. Nevertheless, agencies stay in regular contact with the police, advising them of any disrespectful or non-compliant clients who may represent a threat to sex workers and need to be tracked. “We are not enforcing morality,” says LaBerge.
Despite the hazards of the life, both Erin and Jordyn have found a measure of stability in it. “I had a normal job before escorting,” Erin says, “But then I got sick – I wasn’t getting the energy I needed from my food, my digestive system was crashing.” Sex work offers her a flexible schedule, high-pay ($100-$250 per booking), and, unlike her previous job, the ability to support herself despite her medical condition.
Jordyn is in a similar situation. “I need a job that caters to my health conditions,” she says. “I suffer from chronic leukemia.”
When business slowed down on Vancouver Island this past winter, the women traveled to Prince George in northern BC to work from the agency’s second location. Life in the north was isolated and lonely outside of work hours – but adding five bookings a day made the trip worthwhile.
“I’m an introvert,” Erin says. “She’s the extrovert. It’s funny when we get into a duo.”
“We have a joke that I’m a watcher,” Jordyn says with a laugh. “Erin gets right on top.”
In addition to threesomes, their services range from satisfying fantasies and fetishes, to acting out role-play scenarios, to dates involving no sex at all. Jordyn says she was once asked to dress as Catwoman in a suit purchased by the client.
When they started at the agency, their boss shared the same truism with them that she offers to all newcomers. “You’ll know by the third booking if you can handle being an escort,” she told them. Looking back, Erin offers her own assessment, with which Jordyn agrees: “Not everyone can do it.”