‘Whore of New York’ Reflects on Sex, Love and Labor

, ‘Whore of New York’ Reflects on Sex, Love and Labor, The Habari News New York
, ‘Whore of New York’ Reflects on Sex, Love and Labor, The Habari News New York

Roux tackles her first appointment like an anthropologist, taking mental notes about the process of transactional seduction and walking away with $500 cash. (“Easy money.”) From there, the encounters vary. One man takes her to dinner, drops $10,000 on a shopping spree and books a room at the Ritz — only to announce that he won’t use a condom. (She walked out on him.) One client stalks her. Another tells her that he receives thrice-weekly massages, and Roux observes, with delight, that his skin is as smooth as “a pampered Wagyu cow.” Some clients are obnoxious, rude or paranoid. Some she likes — these, presumably, are the clients thanked in the book’s acknowledgments section for “their financial and emotional support, as well as their kind and thoughtful advice!”

Credit…Bảo Ngô

Roux has zero interest in pretending that her experience is typical of her profession. This memoir, like all memoirs, is about the particularities of an individual life. It’s not about the State of the Sex Worker in America. Roux likes her work, but that doesn’t mean it is without discomfort, anxiety, alienation and fear. She suggests that this is true of many jobs, though it’s clear that even a distinctly advantaged tier of sex work contains more perils than the average job. After one client wraps a belt around her neck, Roux has nightmares for months. “I became acutely aware of just how vulnerable I was,” she writes. “It’s why I was always so stringent about my screening, despite the occasional whining of my prospective clients.”

A companion book to “Whore of New York” might be Studs Terkel’s classic 1974 oral history “Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do.” In it, Terkel plunged into the lives of a gravedigger, a farmer, a photographer, a janitor, a steelworker, a barber, a dentist and dozens of others (including a sex worker). “Working,” Terkel wrote, was about the search “for daily meaning as well as daily bread, for recognition as well as cash, for astonishment rather than torpor; in short, for a sort of life rather than a Monday through Friday sort of dying.”

, ‘Whore of New York’ Reflects on Sex, Love and Labor, The Habari News New York

Along with being fascinated by the existential implications of work, Terkel was intrigued by each vocation’s logistics and vocabulary. These were the parts of Roux’s book that got my neurons firing, too. She methodically walks us through both the glamorous and ordinary elements of her job: scooting around the world on private jets, taking Pilates classes and logging time at the spa, but also getting tested every three months for S.T.I.s, managing a bookings calendar, dealing with Verizon when the stalker client won’t stop calling and convincing a doctor to prescribe H.I.V.-prevention medication. (The doctor insists his patient “probably” doesn’t need it; Roux pushes back and feels safer for it.)

While Roux’s domestic life crumbles — she ultimately files for divorce and moves back to New York — her career flourishes. She builds deep friendships and travels the world: Dubai, Amsterdam, Tokyo, Paris, London. At one party, she spots an “infamous writer” being led around on a leash by a dominatrix. Over brunch, she demonstrates an ability to glance at a stranger and guess “with a high degree of certainty” what his fetish might be.