6 Realities Of Life When Your Mom Is A Working Prostitute
In movies, prostitutes are either walking tragedies -- invariably addicted to drugs and doomed to a life of crime and sadness -- or used as comedic relief -- pure fodder for a series of wacky misunderstandings. In reality, of course, neither is accurate. We exist, all of us, on a complicated spectrum somewhere between Oscar Bait and Rob Schneider bit. So we spoke to "Felicia," whose mother worked at a New Zealand brothel when Felicia was a teenager, and she told us ...
The Kids Will Find Out Eventually
Talking to your children about sex is tricky enough without bringing economics into it. So for Felicia's mom, it was a "cross that bridge when we get to it" situation. "I didn't know about her job until I worked it out in year 10 ," she says. "Until then, I had been told that she worked in a casino, which I couldn't tell anyone about because they would disapprove. Oh, the irony."
But when Felicia finally pulled up to that bridge, her mother wasn't quite ready for the traffic. "I overheard phone calls with her boyfriend and they were talking about work, and she would say things that, to me, didn't fit with that job," she says. "Just subtle things that I can't even remember now, but it was enough for me to subconsciously doubt."
Felicia was stuck with that mystery for a while, because "Hey Mom, I was just wondering if you have sex with people for money" isn't exactly cool dinner table talk.
But one night, "they were talking about a client that had been a bit creepy," she says. "I thought it was weird that she would call people 'clients' if they were just at her table in the casino, and when talking about other clients, she seemed to know them better than a croupier would, and that's when it kind of clicked ... After she got off the phone, I went to her room and just asked her outright if she worked as a prostitute. Subtlety was not my strong point back then."
Thankfully, her mom wasn't caught completely off-guard: "Apparently, she had been planning on telling me for a while, as she thought I was old enough to know."
The Work Bleeds Over Into Home Life
"It's very weird to have your mother sexting on her work phone while you are sitting right next to her in the car," Felicia says, "even if (at least, on her end) it is all fake and just a way to get the guy to book her. Mum often used her phone in the car as a GPS and stuff, so it would always sit on a stand by the windscreen. This meant that when a text came through, it would ring and show it on the screen so that she could read it. Because it was right there, I would often automatically look at it when it went off and would see the beginning of the texts being sent to her before I looked away." Hopefully there was a quart of brain bleach in the trunk, next to the ice scraper and single inexplicable dirty towel.
Wherever Felicia's mother went, her occupation went with her. "We had to take precautions, like not going to certain cafes that were her clients regular spots," she says. "She worked in a neighboring town, so when we went there to shop or something, we didn't actively avoid places or wear disguises or something, but it was a worry that we would meet someone, or that someone would find out who she was in real life (as she used a fake name, obviously, at work) and try to blackmail her."
It wasn't a paranoid delusion; that happened once. "When my year 13 ball came around, we were both worried that some of the fathers of my classmates would be her clients, as she worked in the same town as my school and I went to school with people who had a lot of money and so could afford that kind of service. Thankfully, Mum did not recognize any of my students' fathers -- but she did recognize the security guard, and he recognized her. Thankfully, he didn't say anything, but there was some awkward eye contact before he waved us in. After we had gotten inside, I asked her why he acted weird, and she told me that he was a client."
In case you thought your school dances were embarrassing.
Meeting Your Mom's Co-Workers Is Even Weirder Than Usual
Sex work is legal in New Zealand, which meant Felicia's mom and her family never had to worry about her getting arrested, but it also meant she had a legitimate workplace. That had its upsides and downsides. Take Your Daughter to Work Day was generally ignored, but "I spent a bit of time, actually, in brothels," Felicia says. "Sometimes Mum would have to in on the way home from school to pick things up, and I would go with her."
Felicia took an anthropological view of the experience. "Coincidentally, this was my first time seeing any sort of sex toy. They were displayed in cabinets in the reception area." She also got to know some of her mother's co-workers, which "was kinda awkward, as they were all just dressed in corsets, but they were all really nice."
Thanks to some life events that left them living in their car for about a week, Felicia even showered at the brothel a few times. Yes, New Zealand brothels have showers. "This is probably one of the weirdest and most awkward experiences of my life," Felicia says about it. "Apart from the obvious things of, you know, being in a brothel at all, there was also porn playing (my first experience of such a thing), so I had to stand in the room with my mother and try to ignore it while we took turns showering. My mother, being the cool person she is, said that it was fine if I wanted to watch it while I waited. This did not make it any less awkward."
It Can Mess You Up In The Head
"I felt incredibly guilty, and still do, about what she was doing," Felicia says, which at first sounds a bit repressed. But it's understandable when you realize why her mom was doing the work in the first place. "I was bullied badly at my primary school, to the point where going to the local high school was not an option for me if I wanted to stay mentally well," Felicia says. That meant private school, and since Felicia's mother also had a mental illness, which doesn't always go well with high-paying professional careers, "she ended up working as a sex worker."
Try living with that over your head. "I severely overworked myself and put a lot of pressure on myself to get good grades, despite how busy I was," Felicia says. "I felt that I had to make the most of the opportunity to go to such a good school, and so involved myself in a large number of extracurricular activities. In my final year of high school, I was involved in five clubs, I took six subjects when the regular was five, and I also had extra half-hour lessons in drum, piano, voice, and drama during my lunch hours throughout the week. I was also a prefect, school librarian, and involved in the school production and stage challenge ... The earliest I would ever get home would be 6 p.m. (although often when I had rehearsals for productions, I would not get back till either 11 or 12, and then I was up at 6 a.m. the next day to get to school). This was before I had begun working on homework or assignments for at least two hours a night ... I felt that if I didn't do these things, then I would be wasting the opportunity and the sacrifices that my mother was making."
That self-imposed pressure took a huge toll: " felt that the only thing that I could spend less time on was sleep or eating time, so that's what I did." As anyone who's ever gone to work hungover could've told you, this had some downsides. "I did get sick at one point continuously for two months during mock exams, as I was really tired and refused to take time off."
"I really don't know how I managed not to have a breakdown," she says, and she still has a hard time shaking those habits. "I am still a perfectionist to this day in almost everything I do." That's probably not exactly how you expected the child of a sex worker to be screwed up in the head, but there you go. Parental issues are beautifully infinite in their variety.
The Parent/Child Relationship Gets ... Complicated
"At the age of 16, I was largely in charge of my mother's safety," Felicia says. "She used to work out of hotels as well as brothels, so I had a separate phone that she would text the numbers of her clients to, so that if her other contact didn't get a message saying that she was safe after meeting him, then they would call me."
Whereas most teenagers stay out late while their parents watch the clock, the situation was flipped for Felicia. It's just as well; she had a lot of homework to do.
"I also used to spend some time in the hotels that she worked in," Felicia says. "She would get a room with two beds, and I would stay in the other one, and when she had a client, I would have to go and wait in the car until they were done." Walking into, overhearing, or otherwise knowing your parents are having sex somewhere is every teenager's nightmare, and it was a regular reality for Felicia.
"It did make me uncomfortable being in the hotels, but it started to become normal very quickly," she says. "I never had an argument about mum's job even if I wanted to, as I knew that what she did was hard on her and I didn't want to put any more pressure on, especially since it was mostly for me that she was doing it. I just internalized any anger I may have had, as she needed someone to be supportive."
"On the positive side, my mother and I are very comfortable talking about sex or anything, should I want to," Felicia notes. She's extremely good at finding silver linings.
It's Hard To Engage In Pop Culture
Think about how often you've heard people throw around jokes about dead hookers. Now imagine hearing that as a teenager who's just found out Mom is one (uh, one of the latter, not the former).
"Yes, my friends have made derogatory jokes or comments about sex workers," Felicia says. "I never really confronted them, and would instead just kinda go quiet and disengage from the conversation ... At times, I would challenge their assumptions, like if they were saying that all sex workers were drug addicts or were somehow immoral because of their jobs."
It's all but impossible for Felicia to sit down and take in a stupid rom-com without being reminded of what the world thinks of her mother. "The job is either treated as a joke or the worst thing in the world," she says. "If a prostitute is ever a main character, like in Pretty Women, then it is always in spite of their job. They are able to rise above their occupation to still be a good person, as if the job automatically defines someone as immoral and a bad person. Crime shows are also a minefield, as all detective shows, from CSI to Bones, have multiple episodes where a prostitute is killed, and everyone is shocked as she was 'such a nice girl,' as if her job changes that fact." To be fair to the crime shows, she says, "the prevalence of prostitutes as murder victims may just be art imitating life, rather than an easy target for an interesting story."
"I don't think many people would really notice how often they are mentioned in passing in everyday life," Felicia says. But she does, because to this day, "it can leave me feeling off and uncomfortable for the next few hours."
Even a group outing to see Deadpool turned out to be a shitty time: "Basically, the love interest of the main character is a prostitute, and although she is not treated too badly because of it, there were a few slightly disparaging comments made ... Although it's a good movie, I can't bring myself to rewatch it." Quite possibly the saddest part of this entire story.
Manna tweets, maybe.
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For more insider perspectives, check out 5 Ways Life As A Prostitute Is Nothing Like You Expect and 5 Myths About Prostitutes I Believed (Until I Was One).
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