So here's a charming new twist. The area where I live - in the heart of a small suburban town, flanked by several retirement buildings and Mom & Pop shops, only a few blocks away from the local high school, and surrounded by homes with families - has become the new stroll for streetwalkers. You see them standing at certain intersections in clusters of two or three in the afternoon, and every couple of nights, as I walk between my Mom's apartment and my own, I'm getting asked if I want a date, or more frequently if I have an extra cigarette to sell, by rather rough looking women dressed in tight skirts or short shorts and high heels, many of them looking like they're kind of in need of a fix - like they're already doing the math in their head, calculating the amount of time it would take to get me off, separate me from my money, call their dealer, and get whatever it is they need into their bloodstream. There have always been prostitutes in Maple Ridge, but suddenly this summer, they've become much more visible and numerous; their appearance has become a regular part of the landscape.
I know that there are people out there who have abundant compassion for working girls. I've interviewed a couple - Chris Walter writes pretty sympathetically about them in his books; Annie Sprinkle used to be one. I realize that most women on the street don't have the best of lives or the largest number of options, that many have experience of poverty and desperation that I should be grateful I know nothing of, that many have addictions to support, and that they face all sorts of safety issues in doing what they do, from abusive pimps to weirdo johns to the Picktons of the world roaming free. The ones who don't have HIV or hepatitis or some other STD probably don't want it; the ones who do have these diseases (or others) probably don't enjoy it. Neverminding their geographical proximity, I live pretty far from the world of such women, but I firmly believe that their trade should be legalized and regulated, like any other victimless crime - because I think these women have the right to sell their sex if they want to, and that men who want to buy it shouldn't be stopped, and that legalization is the key to making it a safer, healthier profession (and reducing situations like the one I'm presently writing about). Prohibition obviously doesn't work - it's not stopping these girls from being out there on my street, it didn't protect them from a trip to the pig farm, and it probably won't help them get them off the street once they're on it. If anything, it makes their work more dangerous, since they have to do it covertly, without the protection of or recourse to the law. Present me a candidate who runs on a reformer's platform for the benefit of sex trade workers, and I'll happily vote for him or her. Whatever can be done to reduce the stigma, the danger, and the health risks these girls face, I'm all for it - legalized brothels in a red light district (at a remove from residential areas) sound like a definite starting place.
But you know what I really, really don't want? Scraggy, impoverished junkie ho's in high heels and trashy costumes approaching me with offers of sex-for-money, or even a hint in that direction, a block from where I live. I really, really do not care for this experience and would like it to stop. What I wish I could communicate to them, what I wish they understood is that what they register as, to me, when they turn their hungry eyes in my direction, is not very different from the homeless people who spare change me; the point is still that they want what money they imagine I have, and they only make the whole scenario that more grotesque and pathetic with the implication that I am desperate, incautious, or otherwise insane enough to want to have sex with them in return. Uh, no thanks! Whatever compassion I strive to maintain for them in the realm of my politics is far from my instinctive emotional response when one of them turns her attention my way. When I hear, "Hey, mister, do you want a date?" - if I could speak with 100% honesty to this request, give them the full uncensored reaction that I feel welling up in me, I would recoil, shuddering, and declaim something like:
"With you? Are you fucking kidding?"
I don't say this, of course - it would be potentially bad for my health, for one, and probably hurt their feelings. I don't want to do that, but nor do I want to just swallow my bile and steel myself and just mutter "no" and keep walking, because the distaste at being thus solicited does not lessen in the slightest, and a polite "no" does nothing to dissuade them from asking me the same fucking question the next night. They're almost as annoying as the two weirdo Christians who lurk in suits in the alleys at odd hours and want to talk to passers-by about God, frankly.
Well, no. I'll give them that - the hookers aren't as bad as those two weirdo Christians (they come off like really slimy Mormons but may also be Christ Scientists, since they do their shtick in proximity to a Christian Scientist church. If they had any idea how creepy they seem they would evaporate in shame; you just don't approach strangers in an alley at night in teams and try to talk to them about God!). Still, I have no idea how to wrestle with the etiquette of the situation - maybe I should ask Dan Savage! - and no desire to HAVE to; I would rather it not be part of my daily life in Maple Ridge, frankly. Part of the resentment and rage I feel is a simple nimby conservatism; this is the small town where I grew up and it really just doesn't NEED this new development. It's not like Maple Ridge isn't depressing enough...
Anyhow, I think I came up with a strategy tonight that might work to get at least a few of them - the hookers, not the Christers - to stop approaching me.* When an obvious workin' girl asked me the cigarette question a short while ago, I said "No, no I don't" in a way that was just a little too loud and a little too firm, as if to emphasize that not only did I not have a cigarette, but that I understood how the rest of the conversation would go if I did, and that I was speaking to the whole implied transaction. She said something in reply - I didn't quite catch it off the bat, but walking away - hearing the clack of her high heels receding in the distance - I realized it was probably "okay, I won't bother you again."
I actually kind of admired the way she handled that, to be honest. I may try that strategy again with the next one... If not I think I'm just going to have to politely explain to them that I am not now nor will I ever be interested and I would really, really rather they didn't bother me, and/or took their trade somewhere further from my door.
*I feel no need whatsoever to be polite to these two Christers - I think the words "fuck off, you freaks" or their equivalent ended my last interaction with them, after which I half-ran home, looking behind myself periodically to make sure they weren't following; their approach was that unsettling. They have, in point of fact, not bothered me since, and only ever solicited me twice - if dealing with them was a regular aspect of this town I would have moved long ago. At least I know exactly what the hookers WANT...