One glance at the Tantric Temple website and a civilian would assume the barefoot girls seated in Lotus Pose were advertising yoga classes. A click on the bio photos revealed more: tanned, flexible calves stretched against a mirror and cleavage draped with shimmery fabric, soft curls dusting delicate necks. The text below our pictures reads: sacred sessions with tantric nuances, which are euphemisms for oily massages with happy endings by crystal-wielding naked chicks in a candlelit room in the space of a fifty-minute hour. Book today!
Sensual Massage ads are meant to allure hobbyists and hoodwink vice so they’re veiled in immaculate delight and sprinkled with flirty riddles. The women never show their faces or use their real names on Craigslist, EROS or Backpage but at the Divine Temple, where I worked, we stared straight ahead with confrontational glossed-lipped gazes, the whites of our eyes clear and fearless. Look at us. Our faces demanded. Here we are.
Another way our ads stood out from the others was our quirky lingo. Sex workers often referred to themselves as providers but we called ourselves therapists and had non-stripper names. We weren’t allowed names that were flavors or brands like Gucci or Luscious. We were assigned mythological Greek heroine names like Venus Starlight, Artemis Grace and Lampetia Dream. Our names could easily be seen on tarot cards or an MK-18.
Shortly after I got hired, there was some discussion about my name. Did it express serenity? Was it open hearted? My tattoos were aggressive so my name had to be soft and inviting, according to my boss, a gorgeous and unusually tall woman with long black ringlets that reached her ribcage, I was given the name Aphrodite Grace after an old goddess who was born from the foam of Uranus’ snipped genitals, and I got busy booking clients. I doled out 40% of my earnings to my boss, her called herself Monarch Divine and delivered the bills in white sealed envelopes at the end of my ten-hour shift.
Language is the thin membrane that connects and separates my skin from yours. Words pinpoint the place on the map to navigate my culture, my neighborhood, my home and my handjob menu. I learned by making mistakes. At age two, I thought the stove was called hot-hot-seet-heart, because every time I got close to it my mom said, That’s hot, sweetheart. Like the stove, I learned the lexicon of sex work by getting burned. Words were mighty hot and they could seriously fuck up my life, like the time I met a man named Joe in the lobby of a hotel.
You’re giving me a handjob, right?
Yeah, I said. No money was exchanged and no clothes were removed, but the yeah was enough to handcuff me and throw me in the back of a van. After spending the night in jail, I removed all of my ads and studied the craft of sex worker code. Knowledge was power.
First, I learned what I couldn’t say: happy ending, hand release, full contact, stimulation, prostate, fingers, orgasm or cash. Never say erection, cock or pussy. Never, ever say yeah.
For pussy we said kitty and bliss refered loosely to an orgasm. But not always. Massage-plus meant more than a handjob, possibly a blowjob, prostate massage or perineum stimulation. GFE meant the girl would probably make out with a client. If you enjoyed Greek, it meant you might allow a client to eat your kitty. Happy making and deep tissue massage is a Hollywood handshake, a slick romantic comedy with a happy ending and free parking. Tissues, antibacterial wipes, rubbers and towels were included in that package.
When in doubt, said energy. Its definition vague but it suggested strength and vitality, vigor and heat with the capacity to move. I learned about energy when I met another girl for a job with her regular client. When I asked what to expect, she replied, He’s a lot of energy. When I arrived at the hotel, she fell to her knees. Her client expected oral sex and water sports, more former than latter. After the job, I was catatonic under a fuzzy blanket, hoping a Law and Order marathon would keep me from puking. I don’t like giving oral for cash. It makes my blood ache. It’s not that I think it’s intrinsically wrong or boring.
I learned that the lexicon of sex work is layered with nuance and agenda. At the TT, we didn’t say body sliding massage. We said integrity, abundance, and manifestiny as if we were winged, untainted nymphs, our farts dipped in gold, fluttering from above in garter belts and flip-flops, giving guys magical boners. When a client asked What exactly do you do in the session? the protocol response was: I offer sacred touch body work.
In this hazy world of code, one fact remained clear:
I was giving handjobs to dudes for cash and on a good day, I stacked about five hundred bucks. Clients were Googled and ID’d and I didn’t have to drive to the Four Seasons on Wilshire alone, vibrating with a secret in my throat. I didn’t give blowjobs. The TT allowed me to conserve my energy.
The women I worked with were travelers, dancers, performers and juicers.
Sex worker lingo was not only used to describe our world but to protect ourselves from the dogma against sex workers in this culture where cops delighted in rooting one of us out, like Dorothee.
A notorious arsonist was detained recently in Los Angeles, charged with 52 counts of arson. His motive, according to an LA Weekly writer, was that his mother, Dorothee faced deportation for fraud. Turns out, Dorothee was a sex worker and her ads were printed in the article. I imagined Dorothee’s son lighting a match and grinning while his fires raged. For you, Mom.
Dorothee’s ads contained subtle cues. She hinted at extras: Loving, erotic touch in combination with deep tissue, G-spot and Hotspots, Sensual, relaxing, Happy making, very different!!!
Like me, her menu changed according to her shifting needs. When she panicked, she did more for less: She stimulated their perineum with her fingers, which is the male version of a G-spot. She gave them a Happy Making- an anally infused handjob. Like all providers, she longed to stand out. It’s a competitive business, clogged by young, augmented girls and Dorothee knew the score. She taught her son how to light the kind of fires that are impossible to put out. And so they blazed..
She got increasingly desperate; offered a special for limited hours in order to extract some quick funds, and used words to sound credible and legitimate, urgent and wise:
Traditional TANTRA massage techniques, based on DOCTORS’s knowleges (sic) about the body, spirit, psychology of MAN!!! $100 promotion. Earth shattering erotic touch, body-to-body sliding massage until midnight.
Dorothee’s manic post reminded me of a night, before my stint at the TT. I had three bucks to my name and rent due in two days. I scanned Craigslist for a wild-card client who wanted a session now! and lived nearby. An attorney called. He wanted to be paddled for $150. He was short and rude with knobby knees. I was afraid my landlords would hear me whack him with his wooden paddle. I accidentally hit his tailbone. You want too much, I told him. He wailed and tried to pay me only $100. I had to yell to get him to leave.
Dorothee’s ad in the LA Weekly showed her pale neck and sucked in waist. Only the bottom half of her face was in the blurry shot. Her blond frizzy hair reached her shoulders and her lips were downturned at the corners. She had the lips of a mature woman, over forty, a mother of the man who lit 52 fires in closed carports. Her son.
I wondered if Dorothee was relieved to be incarcerated. I wondered if she grew tired of rubbing and sliding the blubbery flesh of dodgy clients with hairy backs and lint on their balls. I wondered if she had high energy clients. Would they remember her earth shattering touch? Did they know her by her flames? I wondered if she held their secret in her throat like a hot stone and if they held hers in theirs.
Dorothee, the fire keeper, touch healer, enflamed with fraud, awaiting trial. I wondered where she wanted to be, more than anything and if she burned she wrote this ad: You can lead me to the places you will like to be.. You can trust me to be respectful of your –Secret.