“You can call me Honey.”
“I’ll call you whatever you want me to, Honey. Now let’s get to business.”
Honey just stood, almost in a trance dreading what the next twenty minutes was going to be like. She hated herself right now. She hated this man. She hated all men who thought that a quick romp with a young hooker was going to make them feel better about themselves. But who was she to judge?
She had only been doing this for a few months, but it felt like a decade. Nothing had gone as planned since she left the Rez. She was so cocky and arrogant when she left. She was going to make it. She was going to be different. Now she was just another goddamn statistic; another failed Indian.
Vancouver was sucking her soul out. Such a beautiful city with such an ugly underbelly. She missed the trees, she missed the land. Mostly, she missed her mother and brothers.”
That excerpt is from Bawdy: Five women. 5 stories. I spoke with author J. Afton Forde about the sordid subject matter and her reasons for choosing to write about it.
Books and Brands: Is this your first novel? Why did you choose the topic of prostitution?
J. Afton Forde: Yes it is (first published). The topic was chosen for 2 reasons. I was interested in the debate that was going on between the City (of Toronto), the police and public around this issue. The police were not charging the prostitutes, as many of the cases were being thrown out. The city was talking about a red light district or legalizing brothels.
It begged the question, is either option opposed on a moral level or on a legal one? By controlling this industry are you making it easier for women to get into ‘the trade’? I wanted to know more. As well, I had a friend when I was in my early twenties who became an escort. I was appalled and thought she could do much better with her future, but she made a choice, and it ended our friendship.
B&B: Are these women’s stories non-fiction or reality based fiction?
JAF: I spoke with at least 45 active prostitutes, escorts and a dominatrix over 2 years, gathering their stories anonymously. Every story and woman in this book is real.
B&B: You said the women you spoke to trust no one – how did you get them to open up to you, or why did they choose to speak with you and share their, in many cases, horribly abusive stories?
JAF: It took time and repeat discussions, meetings over coffee and email. I could not pay them for their time, but once I explained I was not mocking what they do and simply wanted the truth, they opened up, slowly.
B&B: It’s challenging not to have judgments about women who willingly work in the sex industry – you said you had your own preconceived notions/stereotypes. What were some things that you learned from the women that shattered any stereotypes, or caused you to think of them in a different way?
JAF: That they are like every woman. They have bills to pay, lives to upkeep. They want a place in the world and to be loved. Nothing anyone can say to them will ever be worse than what their families or friends have already said. I really expected them to be from marginalized families. Some were, but many were not. They were from the suburbs and had a very typical upbringing. The only common factor was the ability for a man to undermine them emotionally, then exploit them.
B&B: From your research, did you find that prostitution is not hard to miss, is rampant in Toronto, or is it a small, hidden industry? JAF: It is less visible in terms of driving around and seeing the girls on the street. Kingston Road was notorious a few years back for the girls being out on the street. Church and Wellesley was also well known. With the yuppification and gentrification of many of these areas, they have been pushed out. A lot of it is now on-line (just look at the back of Now Magazine) or in private events – that is the norm now. About 20 years ago, Bloor West residents marched and took photos of the John’s licence plates until the hookers left. Queen West was also quite bad (I lived there at the time) in the 80’s. It has moved father west into Parkdale since the Hipsters took over Queen and Dufferin. Who you see on the streets are mostly addicts with no protection.
B&B: After the brutal acts committed against Glory, one assumes she wouldn’t want to have anything to do anymore with selling sex, yet she doesn’t run from it, but becomes further involved. What did that tell you about the choices she felt she had, or the realization she made that she could cash in on prostitution in a bigger way?
JAF: It is all she knows. People tend to hover near the familiar. It is why women tend to select abusive mates when they have experienced the same abuse at the hands of a father or parent. They know how to work with it, it is familiar. It may be wrong and it is a destructive pattern, but they often don’t know how to handle what some may call a ‘normal’ relationship. Glory made horrible choices. She heard the voices in her head telling not to do things, yet she did them anyway. She never had the advantage of anyone guiding her in a positive way, or providing her with the tools to deal with these situations.
B&B: How much of your own self or view point comes through in your writing?
JAF: I am in here too. I know what it is like to grow up under the dark cloud of alcoholism and abuse. I have seen first hand family members spiral downwards and make the same self-destructive choices again and again. I enjoyed adding some eccentricities and –isms here and there to try to add some depth to the characters.
B&B: What do you have planned next, are you working on something now?
JAF: Bawdy is actually the 2nd book I wrote. The first one ‘Sisters’ was put onto the back burner when I got consumed by Bawdy. Sisters dove-tails into Bawdy, but is not as heavy handed. It is about a woman (Jos, from Dawson City in Bawdy) who is at a breaking point in her life, wins the lottery and …. Well, you will have to wait for it to come out in 2017. 😉
Until next time,