Wages of Sin

Commentary: Stonewall Baby

It’s unlikely that anyone was more surprised than I when I found myself agreeing with Maggie Gallagher last week. Granted, her pro-marriage views tend not to scapegoat gay people as readily as those of some other pundits. On the phone, she’s downright reasonable.

Still, it would be wishful thinking to say she, president of the Institute for Marriage and a nationally syndicated columnist, and I share much common ground. So who or what made us strange bedfellows? That would be former N.Y. Gov. Eliot Spitzer (D). Gallagher was calling him out for having his wife, Silda Wall Spitzer, stand next to him during his public shaming after being outed as a purchaser of prostitution. In his case, as the elected arbiter of New York’s morality, the height of hypocrisy.

I agree with Gallagher that New York’s former first lady had no place in that arena. Maybe she insisted or demanded that she be there, either out of love for her husband or fear that she’d look as though she was turning her back on him. Whatever her reason for being there, I would hope that Gov. Spitzer did whatever he could to dissuade her. It’s really not her mess, and she shouldn’t have to lie in it. A loving spouse would’ve done all he could to protect her from that. Maybe he did.

But there ends the common ground. It’s unlikely that Mrs. Gallagher and I agree on the other main topic here: prostitution. I’m left scratching my head, wondering why this is an illegal vice. When did that happen? Is it a religious thing? With Spitzer-gate, I’m realizing that I’d never really thought much about it previously. Surprising, considering I’ve possibly played both sides of the equation in one way or another.

First, I think back to one haywire night in college. I was out with a friend from out of town who could be, well, needy. And he had sights set on exactly the boy he needed. Problem was, he had to go through the boy’s best friend. It was all relayed back to me by Needy: He could bed the boy if I’d pony up for his friend. ”Please!? I’ll owe you!” Fine. So while no money exchanged hands, I consider that the night I was pimped out.

Then there was the spa in Thailand. In the gay areas, there are always guys walking around with signs touting hot-oil massages for about $10. No mystery what’s going on there. Pass. Signing up for a three-hour spa package — perusing the online menu, ”Ooh, exfoliating body scrub!” — I had no idea a happy ending was included. Come to think of it, I’m not even sure it was. But since the price of the package was outrageous by Thai standards, I assumed this was all on the up and up. Maybe the ”happy ending” is what everyone expects. I was a little flustered, I have to admit, not knowing exactly what I was supposed to do.

In hindsight, I think I did what was right: hand over all my remaining cash — the equivalent of about $20 — and offer the respectful bow, or wai. The language barrier didn’t permit much else. And though I can’t read minds in either English or Thai, I’m fairly sure the masseur considered my awkwardness amateurish. Even a Canadian would’ve handled the situation with more international panache.

Beyond my own experiences, I’m far more fascinated by my pal Christopher’s tales of spending college summers in Amsterdam, working in a brothel. This arrangement allowed him to spend his summers abroad and save money for college. Did he lose his self-worth? Did he cry himself to sleep? Did he suffer beatings by a psychotic client, or turn his body into some sort of infectious playground? No, no, no and no.

I’ve had far worse summer jobs, all perfectly legal and respectable — and less lucrative, no doubt.

Maybe the problem is a gender thing. Violence against women is usually at the hands of men, and prostitution seems to bear that out. I don’t have any statistics, but that’s what I hear. Certainly I know of transgender sex workers in D.C. who have been murdered, let alone beaten. Maybe they would be safer is sex work was legal and regulated. Again, I don’t know.

What I do know is that there is no sound argument for denying a person the right to use his or her body as he or she sees fit. Pornography, in which people have sex and make money, is legal. Some would gladly make it illegal, but that’s beside the point. A dancer or football player can make loads of money using his or her body. What’s the difference? I’m sure the pope could lecture me for days on the difference, but I’m not Catholic. Neither is America.

That leaves the greater social good. Are we better off having prostitution as an illicit, underground business than we would be having it legal and regulated? And don’t think that prohibition will make it go away. They don’t call it the ”world’s oldest profession” for nothing.

We live in an exploitative world, where the strong prey upon the week, whether it’s in a slum, a factory assembly line or a boardroom. Telling people that they are not allowed to use one of the assets at their disposal to get ahead seems unfair. To borrow a line from the pro-choice fight, ”Get your laws off my body.”

Follow Will O'Bryan on Twitter @wobryan.

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