The woman at the top of this blog is named Anita. Her pimp calls her Blackie.
I met Anita last October; I interviewed her in the back seat of a friend's car on a "ho stroll" in Garfield Park. She was the first of many sex workers I would meet over the next nine months, and continue to meet. My conversations with them shaped my master's thesis and are now shaping a grant-funded audio project that I'll be airing, I hope, somewhere later this year.
People ask why I became so interested in prostitutes. Sometimes I say it started in Peru, where I found myself on another late-night hunt for a source. That night felt thrilling and dangerous, and I loved every minute. If I'm being honest, the subject still feels thrilling and dangerous, and that's a big part of why I continue to pursue it.
But mainly, I'm utterly intrigued by these women's lives.
I'd be an idiot not to state the obvious right from the start - that these women have been abused and hated at levels that luckier people shouldn't pretend to understand. A woman named Linda comes to mind.
From the age of 5, Linda was regularly molested by family friends and an uncle - three people! - in her South Side apartment. Imagine for a second growing up in that apartment.
She started drinking vodka before bed when she was 7, prepping herself for the attacks. When she ran away from home, her parent sent her to live with her grandmother in Mississippi. Enter another uncle, and that's when things got really bad.
“For a long time I thought this was the way of life," Linda, now in her mid-40s, told me. "If I’m constantly going to have to give the pussy away, why not get paid for it?”
It was her way of life and still is. Last time I saw her, Linda was living with a roommate near Harrison and California, smoking crack and turning jobs and smoking crack.
These are not the things I find intriguing. I find these things scary and sad. What I'm intrigued by is how brave Linda has to be just to get through her day. She's been beaten up and raped way beyond what's fair, and somehow she goes on.
Anyway, I'll be using this blog to collect my thoughts and whatnot as I continue interviewing for the next several months. Feel free to follow along.