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Social Science Prostitution & Sex Trade

Modern Whore

A Memoir

by (author) Andrea Werhun & Nicole Bazuin

Publisher
McClelland & Stewart
Initial publish date
May 2022
Category
Prostitution & Sex Trade, Erotica, Personal Memoirs
  • Hardback

    ISBN
    9780771098413
    Publish Date
    May 2022
    List Price
    $45.00

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Description

Oh, the places a whore will go: Strip clubs, four-star hotels, stinking basement apartments, luxury cottages. A striking memoir by Andrea Werhun and Nicole Bazuin documents Andrea's sex work career in lush photography and powerful words—in all its slippery, sexy, silly and sometimes heartbreaking glory.

Andrea Werhun's sex work career gave her money, freedom, joy, and a lot of dick. A natural performer, she revelled in the opportunity to invent Mary Ann, her escort counterpart, and introduce her to men all over the city. She whores, she learns, she writes it all down, and then, as per a signed document she handed to her Catholic mother in her early twenties, she quits. To become a stripper.
 
Andrea and Nicole revisit the idea of the modern whore, with the enhanced perspective of Andrea's experience at the strip club. This new, engorged edition of the sold-out memoir-cum-art book expands on the original concept--a series of vignettes exploring the many identities sex workers adopt in the service of their clients and in the eyes of the public--in both a literal and literary way. But Andrea doesn't shy away from the serious side of sex work, either, exploring the risks sex workers take, and the rights our culture is constantly taking away from them.
 
This series of stories and portraits investigate the many ways we imagine—and mistake—the modern whore. It's Playboy if the Playmates were in charge. 

About the authors

Contributor Notes

Writer, performer, and sex worker advocate ANDREA WERHUN is a former peer outreach worker with Maggie's: Toronto Sex Workers Action Project and has given university lectures, led workshops, hosted and participated on panels, and performed countless readings of her work. She holds an undergraduate degree from the University of Toronto (2012), with a major in English and a double minor in Religion and Paradigms & Archetypes. She has been interviewed by The New York Times, The Guardian, The Daily Mail, VICE, CBC, and Hazlitt, and posed nude alongside her essay about sex work for the 65th Anniversary print issue of Playboy. Award-winning artist and filmmaker NICOLE BAZUIN is the creator/director of the comedy art show This Art Works! (CBC), and the doc series Climate Talks With Kids (Bell TV). Her film Sleeping With Family was an official selection at the Hot Docs Film Festival. Nicole's media artworks have been exhibited in the Art Gallery of Ontario, and commissioned by festivals such as Nuit Blanche and Luminato. She is co-founder of Madeleine Co., an all-female interdisciplinary art collective reimagining social issues through experiential storytelling and multimedia art.

Excerpt: Modern Whore: A Memoir (by (author) Andrea Werhun & Nicole Bazuin)

My Peers
 
When I first started doing outreach work, I was nervous. Enthusiastic, but scared. In 2018, I’d applied for a peer outreach worker position at Maggie’s, Canada’s longest-running sex worker advocacy organization, because I had a deep yearning to be more involved in our community. I’d been an agency escort and was now a stripper, but I’d never worked the street or known anyone who had engaged in outdoor sex work. I felt sheltered.
At most, street-based outdoor sex work accounts for 20 per cent of the overall trade. While those who work outdoors are a minority in the sex industry, they are, by far, the most vulnerable to violence—both from clientele and from law enforcement. Disproportionately represented in street work are Black, Indigenous, and other people of colour; lgbtq+ folks, especially trans women; the precariously housed or homeless; drug users; the disabled and neurodivergent; and those who are in and out of the justice system. As far as the whorearchy is concerned—that is, the class hierarchy within sex work—you’ve got your high-class independent escorts at the top, and street-based sex workers on the bottom.
In Canada, the federal law against “public communication for the purposes of engaging in prostitution” accounts for 90 per cent of all sex work-related charges—and excessively targets outdoor sex workers. That’s why sex workers like me—white cis gendered women who work indoors and cater to a well-heeled clientele—can comfortably trust that the cops will turn a “blind eye” to our work. Because they do.

*
 
When I started my training at Maggie’s in 2018, I was so naive. As my new peers and I discussed the police, I wondered aloud if it were possible to create some sort of coalition with law enforcement, to reach out and get them to understand the sex worker’s perspective. My peers laughed at me.
“Ha, working with the cops—that’s rich.”
“The police would rather get freebies than help us!”
“They’ll threaten you with jail time just to get a free blow job.”
That happens?” I asked, an innocent, ignorant, privileged little child.
“Of course it does!”
“Journalists should be covering this!” I said, indignant.
“Oh, no one cares about us,” came the response. “No one believes us.”

*

Sex worker street outreach isn’t a daytime gig. I worked the trans stroll at 2 a.m. after my Saturday night stripping shift, a convenient two-minute taxi or bike ride away from the club. My outreach partner was Miss M, a sixty-something streetwise wonder known and beloved by all, who suggested I keep my earnings hidden in a money belt during our shift. Luckily for me, I’d found an old, discarded stripper ankle wallet in the locker room donation bin, perfect for securing cash to my person on these outreach nights.
         The locker room donation bin, it must be said, was a wonder of collective stripper-ware re-distribution. Lightly worn shoes, outfits, and bandanas were tossed in the bin to be accessed by all. On my first week, eager to replace my high-heeled vinyl shoes for a pair of Pleasers, I snatched a black pair from the bin in my size. All they needed was a trip to the cobbler to replace the broken ankle clasps, and $15 later, I had my perfect shoes. They lasted me my entire career.
         When I became an outreach worker, I had to figure out how to do outreach with my strip club peers. Since the donation bin was a well-established self-regulating sharing scheme, I placed a small, inconspicuous bin on the edge of a mirrored counter where the girls did their makeup. When no one was looking, I filled the bin with tampons, condoms, and lube, all supplied by Maggie’s. Not only were dancers taking from the bin, but I was happily surprised to discover they were leaving goodies as well. Unopened lipsticks, half-used perfumes, more condoms. I rejoiced: the system was working. One day, alas, the bin disappeared. I assume it was discarded by the owner who probably felt it was more appropriate for the dancers to pay for their tampons at the front desk than access them for free.
The first time Miss M and I went out together, I arrived at the corner fifteen minutes early, surprised to discover how close the club really was to the stroll. At five minutes to two, Miss M called to say she’d gotten on the wrong bus. Would I mind waiting another twenty minutes? For Miss M, anything.
I sat across the street on the grass of Allan Gardens, slurping down a Don Wan meal with chopsticks. The park wasn’t as sketchy as I’d imagined it to be at that hour, and the street was mostly vacant. The stroll, however, was bumping, and I was eager to get started.
Miss M arrived, gasping, apologizing profusely.
“Oh,” she said, “let’s get to work!” We charged up the stroll with our names on lanyards and kitbags in tow.
“Maggie’s outreach!” Miss M called cheerfully to every worker. “Ya need any supplies? Condoms, pipes?”
We had safer sex kits, crack kits, meth kits, needle kits. Sometimes they’d take a kit, but mostly they asked:
“Do you have any water?”
“What about food?”
“Maybe a pair of winter gloves?”
Doing outreach gave us an opportunity to find out exactly what street sex workers needed, directly from the sex workers themselves. Harm reduction is essential, but it’s nice to have water and granola bars on hand, too. Gloves, scarves, and hats for those long winter nights is even nicer!
Sometimes, when I couldn’t get a hold of Miss M, I worked the stroll with Saharla, a beautiful Black trans woman the same age as me. If I wanted to get out of the club a little early, we’d meet before outreach at Fran’s, the local 24-hour diner, and share a meal before our shift. If I wanted to meet a little later because I was on a roll at the club, that was all right, too. She lived nearby and was easygoing. Besides, it’s sex worker code to never get in the way of a peer’s money.
Saharla knew people on the stroll. One evening, I stepped out of the cab to find her chatting on the corner with two working women, old friends. Both were sitting pretty on a wooden rail and smoking cigarettes, one eye always on the street and the passing cars that slowed to give us a look. Saharla could point out which cars were driven by regulars, which were driven by undercover cops—and which undercover cops were regulars. One of the chatting women was a dead ringer for Paris Hilton, blonde and blinged out. As a car approached, without hesitation and with only a few words, she jumped into the vehicle’s passenger seat, and off they went.
“Lucky bitch,” her friend said jokingly. “I don’t feel like working tonight. I’m just gonna sit here and play it cool. If they want me, they’ll come to me. I’m not doing shit.”
I laughed and shook my head.
“I literally just got outta my shift down at Tomcat’s,” I told her, struck by the similarity in our on-the-job laments, “and said the exact same thing to myself tonight.”
Whether it’s on the street or in the club, the hotel room or the parlour, the incall or the dungeon: the setting may be different, but the hustle is the same. The whorearchy divides us, but we are all equals. Doesn’t matter if you’re making bank at the top or working to survive on the bottom: a whore is a whore.
It struck me, too, how unlike the stereotype many of the street workers looked: some dressed like high-class escorts; others, like homeroom teachers. Were they on the street waiting for a cab, or were they scoping out clients?
One evening, Miss M and I approached a woman standing in the recessed doorway of an empty storefront on the corner.
“Hi,” I said. “We’re with Maggie’s outreach.”
“Oh, I’m fine,” the beautifully made-up woman quickly replied. “I’m a dental hygienist. I do this for fun.”
“Awesome!” I said, merrily taken aback. “Good luck and have a great night.”
“Let us know if you need anything,” Miss M said as we walked away. “We’re here every Saturday!”
“God bless you!” the woman called back to us with a wave.

*

The sad reality of peer outreach work is that death, too, becomes a peer. With uncanny regularity, we experience the sudden loss of people we saw just last week, people we worked with, people with whom we shared stories and hearty laughs.
I started outreach work feeling like a privileged outsider, but quickly found common ground with my sex-working sisters. I had just published the first edition of Modern Whore, and I was happily surprised, honoured, and a little embarrassed when our program manager announced that she would be buying copies of the book for every single peer and for Maggie’s to have on hand for our service users. The peers were excited, and each one, over the next few weeks, shared how much they loved the book.
After one of our weekly peer meetings, Amanda, a sweet woman with street-based experience, pulled the book out of her bag and said, “It makes me feel like I don’t have to be ashamed of myself.” My eyes welled up and so did hers. Within a few months, she was gone.

Everyone knew Miss M, and to know Miss M was to love Miss M. She was kind, funny, and a talented teller of tales. Once we finished the first round of our route, I’d pass her a container of Don Wan’s food and we’d sit and chat.
Miss M was the same age as my mother, born in ’53. She asked about my mom, asked if she was good. I told her my mother was very good.
“You’re lucky,” she said. “My mother made it clear she didn’t want me around. That I was unwanted. A mistake.”
I winced at every word.
“Ah, it’s okay,” she said, sensing my empathy pains. “Just the way it was.”
She told me about the son she was very proud of, his house and family in the suburbs. They didn’t talk much.
Miss M started hooking at seventeen at the Royal York Hotel. A young, stunning Black girl.
“Back then,” she said, “they had a separate entrance for the hookers. They knew what was going on. And I was pretty, believe it or not. Very pretty, and very popular.”
I believed it. My grandmother worked at the Royal York Hotel, too, as a cleaner. So did my great-grandmother. Imagine—had they ever crossed paths?
Miss M had worked the streets but, “I never did anything for less than a hundred,” she said. “Too much pride. Just couldn’t do it.”
She advised me to make as much money as I could while I was still young, because looks don’t last forever. “Nobody wants to buy pussy off an old lady, trust me!”
But her most important lesson? “Never let a man manage your money. He starts doing that and then he wants more. And then, he’s beating you.”
When our hour was up, I’d walk Miss M to the stop and wait with her till the streetcar arrived. It was usually around then she’d ask, “Hey, can I borrow a twenty? I’m good for it!” For Miss M, anything. I’d roll up my pants, look over my shoulder, and fish out a $20 bill or two from my tattered ankle money belt. Next time I’d see her, whether it was at outreach or at Maggie’s, she’d have the money owed in hand.
“See,” she’d say. “I’m a woman of my word!”
“Yes, you are,” I’d say, smiling. Never doubting her for a second.
Surrounded by family, Miss M passed away on November 9, 2020.
A peer loved by all.

Editorial Reviews

"Modern Whore is for the daring heart in all of us. This is not just a sex worker’s story, it is the work of an artist, of partnership, of sisterhood, of where storytelling becomes the body and the body becomes the story. The romance in this memoir isn’t literal, it’s unapologetic. This is about advocacy. It’s about choice. Andrea Werhun pulls you in with her cabaret-esque personality, full of wit and wisdom, championed by Nicole Bazuin’s keen understanding of the moment. It is a privilege to witness someone dance their way into their authentic self, saying: this is where it hurts, this is where it feels good, and this is where it matters. In parts a whore’s victory guide, but it is also a fierce reminder of why we create." 
—Téa Mutonji, author of Shut Up You’re Pretty
 
"Delightful and righteous, Andrea Werhun spits in the face of tyrants and single-handedly unpacks the body/mind conundrum for girls. Proving that there is no story without the body, Modern Whore is a CanLit shakedown." 
—Tamara Faith Berger, author of Maidenhead
 
"By turns breathtakingly fun and poignantly serious, Modern Whore is an original—a feminist memoir that fearlessly explores sex, money and taking life into your own hands. But the book also deserves to be recognized as a classic coming-of-age story about an adventurous young woman, who just happens to be chasing her dreams in the sex industry. I loved how Modern Whore turns the tables on men, making the hard-working, shrewd and hilariously honest women in the sex industry like Werhun the centre of the story. Werhun never lets us forget that life in the strip club has more than one dimension."                        
—Chanelle Gallant, writer, strategist, and sex worker advocate

“Andrea is not only a gorgeous woman, but also a most talented and witty writer. Her story in mindblowing, revealing because it’s real. Whilst I was reading her book, a lot of memories from my past as The Happy Hooker came back. Flashbacks of my time as a famous madame. Not only does Andrea have a great story, she also knows how to write about it.
I introduced real sex talk, 4-letter words like dick, cock, suck and cunt—no Latin BS. And Andrea did the same for her generation and her time: her story entertains and shows how empowering sex work can be.
 
This whore’s playbook can educate future sex workers and make readers aware of the pros and cons of being a prostitute. If you want to find out more about the sex industry, this is the right book for you: a real whore’s playbook.
Andrea is more than just the sum of her beautiful private parts. She has got all the weapons and knows how to use them. She certainly knows the sex worker’s “fuck and suck” etiquette!
If I had a daughter, it would be you, Andrea. Who else could carry the legacy of the Happy Hooker! I would be a proud mother. No sad little girl without a choice—a smart, beautiful woman who knew exactly what she was doing, because she wanted to.
—Xaviera Hollander, author of The Happy Hooker
“With wit, insight, and honesty, Andrea Werhun takes us behind the scenes of her ‘journey into the sexual underworld,’ along with the ironic ‘thrills and revelations’ of her experiences as an escort. Following a very ‘simple desire to live happily and independently,’ she discusses family confessions while exposing the quirky motivations of her clients. In an era where ‘Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion’ are buzzwords, it’s time for Canadians to remove the stigma and provide legal protection for this forgotten sector of the #MeToo movement.”
—Gerald Cupchik, Professor of Psychology, University of Toronto

"Nicole Bazuin's photographic body of work in Modern Whore is as much a love letter to friendship as it is to sex workers. Her challenging and alluring portraits define the nouveau aesthetic of visual sex culture and spank the worn-out male gaze back to the 20th-century where it belongs. If you have an issue with sex workers being seen as smart, sassy, hilarious, free-thinking, free-spirited characters and well, let’s be frank: as human beings then you are going to hate this book.
 
Bazuin is a firecracker of a photographer. With every photograph, she renounces tired visual tropes of the romanticised and sensationalised images of sex work. 
A natural-born visual storyteller, with Modern Whore, Bazuin has spectacularly helped establish a new era of the sex worker gaze.” 
—Camille Melissa Waring, Feminist Visual Arts Academic, The Photographic Theorist
 
“In one sense this is a familiar kind of story, a story about growing up, finding your place in the world, accepting yourself for who you are and asking others to do the same. But the similarities to Anne of Green Gables pretty much end there. Prepare yourself for a candid, entertaining, intelligent window on a set of experiences too often left in darkness by a writer who is as honest and straightforward with her reader as she is with those she encounters and with herself. Also, a lot of cocks.”
—Nick Mount, author of national bestseller Arrival: The Story of CanLit

"Werhun, in collaboration with Bazuin, brings a powerful sex work skill to the art of book-making: the ability to find harmony in meta-layers of story. Their book brazenly denies that the sex working artist must choose between humor or politics, cheesecake or intellect, vulnerability or persona. This Modern Whore is all that and more." 
Tina Horn, creator of SfSx and Why Are People Into That?!