inkwell.vue.123 : Tracy Quan: Diary of a Manhattan Call Girl
permalink #0 of 183: Linda Castellani (castle) Thu 20 Sep 01 11:03
    
 Tracy Quan is the author of "Diary of a Manhattan Call Girl" (Crown), a
 novel inspired by her career in the sex trade and her work as an activist
 in PONY (Prostitutes of New York). "Diary" is a continuation of Nancy
 Chan's adventures which first appeared on Salon.com as a fiction series,
 gaining a wide international readership.
 
 For more than ten years, Quan worked as a call girl, starting her sex work
 journey when still a teenager. Her involvement with prostitutes' rights
 began almost as soon as she entered the industry, and she is also a member
 of the International Network of Sex Work Projects, a human rights NGO
 active in 30+ countries. Her articles about topics ranging from early
 puberty to artificial intelligence have appeared in Salon.com, Urban
 Desires, Civilization and many other publications. An archive appears at
 www.tracyquan.net   She lives, works in (and is still madly in love with)  
 New York.
 
 Leading the discussion is Jef Poskanzer, who has been playing with these
 computer thingies since the early 1970s.  These days he does consulting
 and software development, mostly relating to high-performance web
 servers.  He has been involved in online communities also since the
 1970s, and has been on the WeLL since 1986.  He reads a lot, which is how
 he got nominated for this interview gig - he read the original Nancy Chan
 series in Salon, and sent Tracy some email commenting on it.  He was born 
 in New York City, and, while he has never lived there, he loves to visit.
 
 Please join me in welcoming Tracy and Jef to inkwell.vue!
  
inkwell.vue.123 : Tracy Quan: Diary of a Manhattan Call Girl
permalink #1 of 183: Jef Poskanzer (jef) Thu 20 Sep 01 11:31
    
Thank you.  Tracy and I actually weren't sure the interview would
proceed, given last week's events in New York.  But the consensus
response seems to be to return to normalcy as much as possible.
The British were very good at this during WWII.  Even so, I think
my first question has to be:

Tracy, what has life in Manhattan been like for the past week?
  
inkwell.vue.123 : Tracy Quan: Diary of a Manhattan Call Girl
permalink #2 of 183: Tracy Quan (tracyquan) Thu 20 Sep 01 14:41
    
I think it depends where you live or work. I know a few people who
were at the scene of the disaster -- about to enter the WTC or walking
around the neighborhood. They feel very lucky to be alive and intact --
yet displaced. The gal who does my facials came into work on the "day
of mourning" because she needed to get back to work as quickly as
possible and start making money to buy clothes for her two kids. She
couldn't get back into her home, didn't know if it was still standing,
and the weather had turned cool all of a sudden. So the day of prayer
was a work day for her... I guess what I'm saying is that daily rituals
can be more valuable than national rituals.

I've often felt (and said) that "work is the most important thing we
do" -- now I really feel it more strongly than ever. When your worklife
is disrupted by outside causes, you feel everything start to fall
apart. A beautician's work seems on the surface to be about adornment
and pampering but this event makes everything harsher and more about
survival. 

Walking around the Upper East Side, on the day itself (September
11),was not as traumatic as being downtown. The corporate chain shops
were closed, the banks, and so on. But the small shopkeepers, for the
most part, were open -- the shoe repair, drycleaning, barbers, nail
salons, discount stores, food shops. Small businesses that give the
area its real character and soul and its slightly frumpy unpolished air
-- these people were just getting through their day. They made my
neighborhood feel real. Those corporate chains were empty and absent
from the neighborhood -- it made me think about how they were never
really part of the neighborhood in the first place... New York is all
about its neighborhoods.
  
inkwell.vue.123 : Tracy Quan: Diary of a Manhattan Call Girl
permalink #3 of 183: Jef Poskanzer (jef) Thu 20 Sep 01 18:20
    
"Work is the most important thing we do" - a quintessential American
attitude, I think.  In this country we tend to ask people upon meeting
them, "So what do you do?"  I've heard that this sounds weird to folks
born elsewhere.

Very interesting about the chain stores closing and the local shops
staying open.  Maybe something about large corporations being more
risk-averse.  I assume they're opening back up by now.

So did either you or Nancy ever work in the Marriot that was between
the Trade Center towers?  Personally I tend to remember the places
I've had sex as much or even more than the people I did it with.
  
inkwell.vue.123 : Tracy Quan: Diary of a Manhattan Call Girl
permalink #4 of 183: Tracy Quan (tracyquan) Thu 20 Sep 01 19:34
    
Like Nancy Chan, the narrator of "Diary", I'm better acquainted with
the uptown and midtown hotels, like the Pierre or the Peninsula, which
are more steeped in Manhattan mystique because of location or age. The
Peninsula, for example, is "new" but only because it was not always the
Peninsula -- it was once a rather worn-out looking hotel which
attracted a different kind of guest. Now it's very glam and expensive.

The Marriot Between the Towers brings to mind the Salon.com series
where Nancy's diary first appeared. Her diary was illustrated with an
image of a Nancyish character at one with -- "straddling" is how a
highly respected newspaper put it -- the World Trade Center. At first I
didn't know how I felt, when I saw this drawing -- somebody else's
vision of your written creature does not always to mirror your own. But
I came to like Tim Bower's over-the-top depiction of Nancy Chan and
now I appreciate it more fully. 

Perhaps, after last week, I get something that I did not get before
--as a New Yorker, it rarely occured to me that the World Trade Center
had more meaning to the world than my own visual symbols of the city.
Mr. Bower obviously understood this, though.

Since we're talking again about work -- working as an illustrator
versus a writer -- I want to add: Though I think it's the most
important thing we do, it doesn't follow that we must ask everybody we
meet "What do you do?" right upfront. There are other ways to find out
about the most important thing someone does -- and some people do not
wish to discuss the most important thing they do. Especially if their
occupation is illegal! Something may be important but private.

Work defines Nancy Chan and her friends but they spend their lives
dodging and evading the inevitable "What do you do?" query. Call girls
in London or Paris tell me they can go for weeks without having to make
up a cover story because a new friend won't ask right away "What do
you do." 
  
inkwell.vue.123 : Tracy Quan: Diary of a Manhattan Call Girl
permalink #5 of 183: Tracy Quan (tracyquan) Thu 20 Sep 01 22:51
    
This is Tim Bower's drawing of Nancy between the towers: 

http://www.salon.com/health/sex/urge/1999/07/12/nancy/index.html
  
inkwell.vue.123 : Tracy Quan: Diary of a Manhattan Call Girl
permalink #6 of 183: Jef Poskanzer (jef) Thu 20 Sep 01 23:46
    
Oh yes, that was a nice graphic.

Yeah, Nancy does spend much of the book obsessing about which of her
friends knows what about her.  Managing a fragile web of lies.
Tracy, on the other hand, seems to be completely open about her life.
Are you in fact out to all your friends?  And relatives?  And how
recent is this?
  
inkwell.vue.123 : Tracy Quan: Diary of a Manhattan Call Girl
permalink #7 of 183: Tracy Quan (tracyquan) Fri 21 Sep 01 01:18
    
The short answer: "sort of." I have not announced my past to each and
every friend or relative. I told my parents and my brothers some time
ago. Of course, my brothers knew before my parents did. 

I never told my grandmother. I had an urge to protect her from the
shock! horror! of discovering that I was a scarlet woman -- I thought
she might blame my mother for abandoning the Catholic church, and I
felt that my family would be upset with me for upsetting *her*. I never
felt that my family would be seriously upset with me for having
commercial sex, just that they would be distressed if my grandmother
had been confronted with this information. 

It's a fairly practical approach to sexual morality, don't you think?
  
inkwell.vue.123 : Tracy Quan: Diary of a Manhattan Call Girl
permalink #8 of 183: Jef Poskanzer (jef) Fri 21 Sep 01 01:27
    
It's all about the practicality.

So have you started to get friends who previously didn't know asking
you about the book?
  
inkwell.vue.123 : Tracy Quan: Diary of a Manhattan Call Girl
permalink #9 of 183: Tracy Quan (tracyquan) Fri 21 Sep 01 02:11
    
Ha. Yes. One or two. But the people most surprised were those who knew
about my sex work without knowing about the novel, until they read
about it somewhere or saw me on TV. One of my friends in PONY was
saying, last night-- "I am *shocked* because you've always been so
private!" 

So the people most genuinely surprised are those who knew some of my
secrets -- while imagining that a writer's career can be almost totally
reclusive. 
  
inkwell.vue.123 : Tracy Quan: Diary of a Manhattan Call Girl
permalink #10 of 183: Jef Poskanzer (jef) Fri 21 Sep 01 10:08
    
Well, presumably you could have published it anonymously.  Did you
consider that?
  
inkwell.vue.123 : Tracy Quan: Diary of a Manhattan Call Girl
permalink #11 of 183: Tracy Quan (tracyquan) Fri 21 Sep 01 11:49
    
I'm not sure what that means. There isn't a huge market for first
novels by totally unknown -- and unknowable -- authors.*I* certainly
have no interest in reading or buying such stuff! I do want to know
something about the author when I read something currently published.

And I'm intrigued when I stumble across a secondhand book from, oh, 80
years ago by someone I've never heard of -- who was this writer? How
did he or she live? Was she a success? Did she go to lots of parties?
Read Freud? Or just talk about him at cocktail parties? Wear lipstick?
Sleep around? Have a happy marriage? 

I'm thinking of Alice Duer Miller whom I just discovered this past
winter -- I'd never heard of her before but it was obvious to me that
she was a commercial success when I saw a row of her books at the NY
Society Library in the stacks. It was breathtaking! In some ways, more
interesting to me than writers who are still widely talked about.
Though she's not a big name today she was not seeking anonymity at that
point. 

What I'm saying is -- anonymity is what most sensible working artists
*fear*. Maybe when you've already achieved a lot as a writer, you can
dabble at being anonymous, but a struggling writer is already
anonymous, so what's the point? That's just my take on it. I realize
other writers may feel otherwise but all the writers I've met recently
are preoccupied with getting as much public recognition as possible. 
  
inkwell.vue.123 : Tracy Quan: Diary of a Manhattan Call Girl
permalink #12 of 183: Linda Castellani (castle) Fri 21 Sep 01 13:07
    

For those of you reading along on the Web who are not WELL members and
would like to participate in this discussion, please e-mail your comments
and questions to:  inkwell-hosts.@well.com and we will see that they get
posted.
  
inkwell.vue.123 : Tracy Quan: Diary of a Manhattan Call Girl
permalink #13 of 183: Linda Castellani (castle) Fri 21 Sep 01 13:12
    

I would also like to mention that, if you have not yet read the book, you
can get a taste of what it's like by going to the URL that Tracy posted in
response 5, which contains links to the stories that originally appeared
on salon.com.

Tracy, I have a question for you, which actually goes back to the question
that Jef asked in response 1.  In addition to wondering what life is like
in general in New York right now, I'm wondering what you might have heard
from folks you know about how the terrorist attacks have affected their
business.  Is there more interest in sex, now?  Less interest?  Or is it
completely different in unanticipated ways?
  
inkwell.vue.123 : Tracy Quan: Diary of a Manhattan Call Girl
permalink #14 of 183: Tracy Quan (tracyquan) Fri 21 Sep 01 13:46
    
The first thing which comes to mind is religion and commercial sex --
which "Diary" addresses in a modern, light-hearted way by looking at
the goddess-worshipping faction in the hookers' movement.

But this recent disaster in New York has put religion in the
spotlight, especially religious prejudice. Prostitutes are often highly
cynical about that kind of rhetoric. Our customers come from every
religious group and that's especially true for those of us who work in
larger cities -- like New York or London. I like to think we are less
easily swayed by certain forms of racism because we've had sex with so
many different kinds of people. This isn't always true, of course, but
it's something that comes up in a lot of the discussions I have with
other sex workers these days...
  
inkwell.vue.123 : Tracy Quan: Diary of a Manhattan Call Girl
permalink #15 of 183: Jef Poskanzer (jef) Fri 21 Sep 01 14:56
    
I guess when I said publishing the book anonymously, I actually meant
pseudonymously.  Like for example Pynchon.  You can still establish a
brand-name identity for your work, while maintaining a degree of
separation from your real life.  Of course going on TV to promote the
book kind of blows that (and also quashes the rumors that you're
actually Mike Godwin in online drag!).  Anyway, I'm certainly glad you
stuck with your real identity.
  
inkwell.vue.123 : Tracy Quan: Diary of a Manhattan Call Girl
permalink #16 of 183: Mike Godwin (mnemonic) Fri 21 Sep 01 15:07
    

jef, you're such a joker to hint that I might be Mike Godwin in drag.

Uh, ooops!
  
inkwell.vue.123 : Tracy Quan: Diary of a Manhattan Call Girl
permalink #17 of 183: Tracy Quan (tracyquan) Fri 21 Sep 01 22:51
    
Cute. But - er, I had no idea --where did you hear this rumor? It's
common knowledge that Mike is a great editor. But what does Mike know
about handbags or, for that matter, mixed used neighborhoods?

Answering Linda's query... I have heard reports from working
girls...Some clients feel guilty about seeking pleasure because so many
other people are traumatized or worse. But these are younger clients.
Sexual guilt is really a younger person's problem. Older clients are
more matter-of-fact about their sexual and emotional needs. In fact,
many older guys in New York -- the typical call girl customers -- are
Europeans who lived through some major 20th century traumas. They bring
an adult perspective to the current situation. 
  
inkwell.vue.123 : Tracy Quan: Diary of a Manhattan Call Girl
permalink #18 of 183: Linda Castellani (castle) Sat 22 Sep 01 00:23
    

Huh.  Thanks.  So it's business as usual then, with the only difference
being that the younger clients feel guilty about needing to do it?  Very
interesting.
  
inkwell.vue.123 : Tracy Quan: Diary of a Manhattan Call Girl
permalink #19 of 183: Tracy Quan (tracyquan) Sat 22 Sep 01 10:07
    
Well, business as usual if you live/work in midtown or farther north,
like the girls in "Diary" who dwell in the untouched neighborhoods. And
if your clients are alive. Or feeling solvent. Men sometimes feel
guilty about spending on sex -- it's money guilt, not sex guilt. The
catastrophe had an effect on individual business deals -- if a john has
lost some clients of his own or watched an ongoing deal fizzle out as
a result of last week's mayhem, of course he will be reluctant to
indulge his wallet. Some guys think of a call girl as a luxury,  others
visit call girls for "maintenance sex" -- we're not extracurricular,
we're basic to their lives. In the novel, a good example of this is
Jasmine's regular, Harry, who zips in and out of her apartment like
clockwork -- he's the male counterpart of the call girl in Klute
looking at her watch while she's "coming." A man who is that organized
about his sexual needs does not think of this as dessert -- it's more
like taking vitamins.

In real life, I want to add, there are (were?)discreet brothels and
individual girls working in the residential parts of the financial
district. For them, of course, it's been a very upsetting,
destabilizing time -- and that's how our lives aren't so different from
the lives of other New Yorkers. 
  
inkwell.vue.123 : Tracy Quan: Diary of a Manhattan Call Girl
permalink #20 of 183: Linda Castellani (castle) Sat 22 Sep 01 16:34
    

Whew.  Thanks.

I'm 7/8th of the way through the book and dying to find out whether or not
Matt finds out what she does for a living!

And, I'm very interested in your descriptions of some of the sexual
activities.  I didn't realize how much at a distance the girls keep
themselves.  Like when you discuss the threesome with - I can't remember
if it's Jasmine or Allison - and you talk about the agreement about
penetration with a dildo, i.e. not much, or about pretending to lick each
other, and about not kissing the John.  That was fascinating, I had not
realized that there was such a code of conduct.  Is it because if you are
really participating, it's harder to remain in control, and harder to
concentrate on the john's experience without getting lost in your own?

And why can't johns kiss the girls?  I've always wondered about that.
  
inkwell.vue.123 : Tracy Quan: Diary of a Manhattan Call Girl
permalink #21 of 183: Tracy Quan (tracyquan) Sat 22 Sep 01 17:45
    
Some girls kiss but most -- like Nancy -- don't. If you have lots of
sex partners --  three to five a day,or more, it's not very practical
to kiss. Kissing is rather special and it just would not feel right,
physically, to be kissing so many people in a given day or week! It's
easier to fake or exaggerate the enjoyment of intercourse than, say,
the enjoyment of kissing. A pro's repertoire should consist of
pleasurale acts that will go smoothly for her, that can be easily
repeated -- kissing every guy would be rather draining, emotionally.

The code of conduct keeps things fair -- there have to be some agreed
upon sexcual mores so that girls can compete and stay friendly. It's
like other businesses where competitors need to get along...You're no
less a participant for being professional, it's just another way of
having sex. And you are there to take care of someone else, so you must
stay focused on the client and on getting him finished in time for the
next date. Clients try to push the boundaries but they very often like
it more when they can't get over on you. :)
  
inkwell.vue.123 : Tracy Quan: Diary of a Manhattan Call Girl
permalink #22 of 183: Jef Poskanzer (jef) Sat 22 Sep 01 21:01
    
That's very interesting.  When you say 'not very practical to kiss',
are you thinking about catching colds?  The rest of your message
is more about emotional issues, not practical ones.

Did you ever work with another girl who wanted the sex more real
than you did?  Or the reverse?  How did you negotiate?
  
inkwell.vue.123 : Tracy Quan: Diary of a Manhattan Call Girl
permalink #23 of 183: Tracy Quan (tracyquan) Sat 22 Sep 01 21:56
    
Emotional issues *are* practical issues. As Nancy could tell you.

It is impractical to put yourself through a lot of emotional
discomfort in the course of a day's work. It makes sense to have a
comfort zone because the more at ease you are, the more unoffended your
senses are, the more clients you can handle. 

The ideal working partner is another girl with a light pleasant touch,
not too intrusive, who makes you feel kind of happy to be there but
doesn't try to become your lover. Even when you fake it, you want to
feel that there's some basic physical harmony, you don't want to be
with someone who's paranoid *or* pushy.

If you start with the assumption that you'll fake it, and then see how
it develops, you can't go wrong. Often, some nice vibes start to
develop during a session with two girls but the pleasure is almost
never discussed after, it's a purely sensual experience and besides,
it's business. In the novel, Jasmine is the kind of girl who takes
offense if another girl "does it for real." Nancy's more flexible but
she lets Jasmine set the pace. 

I rarely took offense but once I did get annoyed with another girl --
because of the way she touched me. She was very mechanical and brusque.
Perhaps she thought the client could not tell the difference since he
was watching, not feeling, the action. But I do have nerve endings and
it's important to touch your coworkers gently. 
  
inkwell.vue.123 : Tracy Quan: Diary of a Manhattan Call Girl
permalink #24 of 183: Linda Castellani (castle) Sat 22 Sep 01 22:42
    

I hadn't thought about the repeatability of the activity, even though it
makes perfect sense now that I think about it.
  
inkwell.vue.123 : Tracy Quan: Diary of a Manhattan Call Girl
permalink #25 of 183: Tracy Quan (tracyquan) Sat 22 Sep 01 23:16
    
Nancy's friend Jasmine started her career in a high turnover house --
a brothel where the clients were in and out in 20 minutes, where the
emphasis was on "volume." In a house like that, a girl might see ten or
more clients a day. She worked her way up to a more leisurely style of
hooking but her old habits stay with her. A girl like that would be
extremely reluctant to kiss!

Even when you're a private call girl, seeing a few good clients, you
see as many of these good clients as you can. A prostitute has to
maintain a steady flow yet remain sexy and cheerful -- she cannot
afford to tax her nerves and emotions. It's much easier to get through
your work day if you are the sexually aggressive party, setting the
pace. That's another reason for the very strong codes of conduct. When
money changes hands and you start dealing with something as a
profession, there is also the question of quality control. If you just
let sex happen, without having an agenda for the session, who's to say
that the customer will achieve orgasm? Johns actually *want*
professional sex to be kind of structured -- they want to know that the
woman will make it happen.
  

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