Ex-Hooker’s Advice to Her Younger Self
Recently, I wrote about Stella Marr who had been kidnapped and forced into prostitution, but who eventually escaped. Below is a letter she wrote to her younger, enslaved self. With details changed it is good advice for anyone, especially those who have lived through trauma.
Words of wisdom from a survivor:
By Stella Marr @ Secret Life of a Manhattan Call Girl
Dear twenty-year old Stella,
Work hard on learning to ask for help. It’s the only way you’ll ever break free. No one ever does anything alone. You don’t have to.
You’ll learn how to make the men happy. The happier they are the nicer they treat you. You’ll get very good at being a hooker. But when the Johns say “baby you were born for this” that doesn’t mean it’s true.
Now when most men come near, you feel a stabbing at your eyes, your throat, and your gut that you know isn’t real. You don’t want to admit it but you’re terrified. You start, you tremble. Your hands shake. Think about it, you’re being stabbed a lot these days. This is a quite reasonable reaction to being used by man after man, day after day, in this prison of a brothel. It doesn’t mean you are so miserably flawed that you can’t do anything but be a hooker.
Being a hooker doesn’t make you subhuman. It’s not OK for your (white) pimps to smack you and tell you they’ll kill you.
You have to work up the nerve to pay a cashier for a soda. You’re too scared to ask that guy behind the deli counter to make you a sandwich. This isn’t weakness, it’s biology. Trauma changes your brain. Your hippocampus, where you form narrative memory in the brain, shrinks. This is a symptom of PTSD – a neurophysiologic response to repetitive trauma – not evidence that you deserve to be in prostitution.
In the middle of the winter in the middle of the night when that guy in the Doubletree suite invites you to sit while he pours you a seltzer trust your gut and back out of there before the five guys you can’t see who are waiting in the bedroom have a chance to get between you and the door.
Being vulnerable means you’re alive. There’s no shame in it. It doesn’t mean you’re a terrible person. You don’t have to apologize for doing what you must to survive.
When Samantha stops working for your pimp, Johnny, find her and make her get out of the city. Otherwise two weeks later Nicole, the madam who works with Johnny, will show you Samantha’s diamond initial ring and tell you Johnny murdered her. Though you’ll always hope she was lying, you doubt it.
You’ve lost all sense of the linear — time disappeared and you felt it leave. Now you’re living in the immediate and eternity. It’s scary and bewildering, but you need this — you need each moment to stretch infinitely so that you can be acutely aware of each man’s tiny movements and shifts in expression, which can reveal a threat before it happens. This hyperawareness will save your life. One day you’ll see this being untethered from time as a kind of grace.
When that shiny classical pianist you meet at Au Bon Pain says he wants to know everything about you don’t believe him.
A lot of what’s happening doesn’t make sense now but it will later. That habit you have of writing poems in your mind to the beloved you haven’t met yet as you’re riding in cabs to calls? There’s something to it.
Your ability to perceive beauty is part of your resilience and survival. When a man is on top of you watch the wind-swirled leaves out his window. Seize the gusty joy you feel as you run three blocks to a bodega to buy condoms between calls at 3 AM. When you think for a minute you see that friend, who’s death you never got over, standing in the brassy light under a weeping linden, be grateful. All this has a purpose.
Being a hooker can seem to mean you’ve lost everything you hoped to be, but that’s not true. You’ve splintered into a million pieces, but you’re still you. You’re alive. It’s in the spaces between those pieces where you learn to feel how other people are feeling. It hurts so much you’re sure it’ll kill you, but it won’t. Later when you’re out of the life it’ll be so easy to be happy. The mundane will buoy you.
When your madam sends you to the Parker Meridien at 3 AM and you meet a British professor who says he wants to help you, believe him. He will set you up in a beautiful condominium across from Lincoln Center that he deeds in your name. Of course you’ll have everything to do with this — you are so “good” at being a hooker, so “good” at fucking that you can make a guy want to buy you a condo. Shame is a hollow stone in the throat.
During the two years that this voracious man ‘keeps’ you as his private prostitute the condo will come to feel like a platinum trap. But it’s still your chance to get out and heal. Take it.
After you’ve sold the condominium and are living in a graduate dorm at Columbia University, a man with eyes like blue shattered glass will sit beside you in the cafeteria. When he begins to speak you know he’s the unmet beloved you’ve been writing poems to all these years. You’ll try to run away, but he won’t let you. Fourteen years later the two of you will be hiking through pink granite outcroppings with your Labrador retriever. You’ll feel like the freest woman in the world.
One afternoon when you’re twenty-one you’ll be at the Metropolitan Museum of Art with your best friend Gabriel, who’s a hustler, a male prostitute. When he says you ‘remind him of his death’ don’t lash back. Even though he told you the doctor said he didn’t have that rare new virus named AIDS, it would behoove you to realize he’s still coughing.
Stop thinking about your own hurt. Don’t lash back with that vicious phrase your mother’s said to you so many times – “I hope you die a slow death.” Don’t tell Gabriel you never want to see him again and storm out of the sculpture gallery. Or it will be the last time you see him. Gabriel will die of AIDS five months later. When he said you reminded him of ‘his own death’ he was trying to tell you he was dying. You’ll regret what you said for the rest of your life. But even more you’ll regret running away from his friendship.
Say forgive me.
Say I love you.
This was originally posted By Stella Marr @ Secret Life of a Manhattan Call Girl and is reposted here by permission.
This is a rerun.
Becoming A Sex Worker – The Brutal Side
In-laws Rip Off Girl’s Fingernails, But Who Cares?
Learning to Say No in 520 Languages
Posted on March 10, 2017, in violence against women and tagged sex trafficking, sexual slavery, Stella Marr. Bookmark the permalink. 30 Comments.
This article was interesting because it gave me a different insight into the world of prostitution. I never thought deeply about this subject nor try to put myself in these young girl’s shoes. The outside world seems to just shun these types of people and act as if they’re not somebodies’ daughter, sister, etc. After reading this, I am quite shocked at how horrific her life is. I think that from this story, I can see that a lot of people need to gain perspective on how cruel life can be and why everyone should work hard to be financially stable to have an opportunity at living a good life. On top of that, I think the more privileged people can also lend a helping hand to girls in this poor situation and help them get on their feet in the world.
Yeah, I was really surprised to learn about the brutal side– Which seems to actually mark the great bulk of prostitution. Very sad.
This was truly inspiring. Never have I been in such situation but I have a friend who has. Not actual prostitution but being what she re-calls as a sex slave for her boyfriend. I think it all comes down to mind control and having someone to confide in. Had she been open about the abuse when it began she would not have been in a different country miles away from anyone she could run to for help. As for the trauma, I don’t think that will ever go away. It does shape people though, whether it’s in a good or bad way. I think learning to accept the past helps you move forward. I do not know how women in theses situations do it but I think they are one the strongest women I know.
I hope she’s okay now. So sorry.
Wonderful words by Stella…quite inspirational as well. Thanks for sharing this… 🙂
Yeah, I think it could be a good way to be more kind and generous with ourselves, including our younger selves.
Thank you for sharing this story.
This testimony opens the discussion for the legalization of public prostitution. If properly monitored, these types of negative experiences (where one could even be risking their life) may be reduced. Harm to hired staff would be monitored rather than tolerated or expected consequences of under the table employment. Proper labor laws could be applied, clientele would probably be background checked at the least, and health monitorization could be more closely regulated. The safety of both worker and client could be more thoroughly handled, which would likely produce a less stressful and more enjoyable environment. There are people against this opinion for various reasons, but those I have heard basically narrow down to personal thoughts of it being “icky” or societally unacceptable. To that I ask you to consider if you are against a growing involvement of prostitution participants, would it not be more beneficial to monitor those who would be participating anyway? This profession has been around for quite some time to say the least, and it is better to produce a better tomorrow if it continues to affect the whole of our society—whether directly or indirectly.
Reading this article was very saddening but also gave me a lot of hope. I appreciate the authors ability to be so open about her experience of being a hooker and the trials and tribulations that came with it. With prostitution in America I feel that there’s a stigma that prostitution is something mainly women do and ultimately a choice because they are in desperate need for money or to feed a drug habit, when that’s not always the case. Reading the previous post you made “Becoming A Sex Worker – The Brutal Side” helped to give me some insight on Stella’s background and the troubled home life she had and the torture that she endured when tricked into prostitution. Many of us who haven’t gone through a traumatic experience like that so we are unable to understand the trauma associated with it. In her letter Stella talks about how small acts terrify her and how her sense of self is gone since being forced into prostitution, but that shouldn’t define her. Hearing her story and her thoughts after that time in her life can help inspire other women going through something similar to see that someone made it out alive and well. Thank you for sharing!
I think her advice to her younger self can inspire all of us.
After reading this self letter, I have to say I was really impressed. Being able to ask for help is always hard. Regardless of what kind of situation you are, but it’s especially harder when you want to be able to do something on your own and prove to yourself that you can accomplish what you’re working on. People need to realize and look at prostitution as something that isn’t a choice but as an abuse towards women. This self letter made me wonder if all the women who are forced to sell their bodies feel this way; closed and out of possible ways to escape, and how often do they think about themselves as failures for not being able to get out of this world and impotent to do anything else but to sell their bodies. Or if they’ve just given up and resigned themselves to the life they are living. This letter also made me happy because this woman; Stella is out of the prostitute world, and trying to survive out in the real world. A world that itself can be cruel, but I hope she finds the strength and peace to live a life that she deserves without judging herself so much, and asks for help when she needs it. Asking for help takes courage, especially in Stella’s situation, because she doesn’t know if she can trust anyone, especially men, and for her to be able to trust people will take a while. But her gaining trust in people has made herself grow as a person and brave to live out of prostitution where she didn’t receive love and respect, where as now she can make decisions for herself and not wait for someone to tell what she can and can’t do. A lot of the times persons who have had a past where they are vulnerable and people take advantage of they lose the thought that they can be happy and do as they wish, and forget of all the capacities and talents they have to be successful and happy.
This is such a beautiful, heartfelt, real letter. If Stella had read this earlier somehow, I think it would’ve changed her life. In this letter I can feel all of the pain but I also can see such an incredible, resilient woman who always found the little details in the midst of the chaos of the outside world- something to try to connect with, to help ground her, soothe her, and it somehow worked… She got out of there, she found love, she found freedom (some), she found herself- the self she was looking to be all these years when she was suppressed. I hope she forgives herself and is happier today. I too, have had troubles accept vulnerability because I deemed it as weakness, as sub-par to being invincible. I want(ed) to be so strong even the worst things in life couldn’t bring me down. But growing with wisdom and accepting life as-is, I found that vulnerability and tenderness to the self is extremely important in self-growth, self-appreciation, and in helping one attain our true self, the one we’ve been searching to be/excited to meet.
What a beautifully written response.
As I was reading this it made me think that she felt weak and powerless when she was in there. I think in order to survive in these types of situation you need to be strong. You can’t be weak or scared because you will not be able to survive it. She learned it the hard way, and because she became strong, she was able to escape. She thought this was going to be like this forever. The worst part is that that’s true for majority of women who are in the sex trafficking industry. Many don’t make it out alive. There should be more awareness of this in America.
And the girls to get manipulated into it actually are often weak because of the difficult circumstances in which they were raised. That doesn’t make them bad people. But I think that we can all learn from this woman’s attempt to be generous with her younger self.
This blogs has many messages but, somewhere in there is the message of resiliency and friendship. Honestly, I would not like to see my future but, stories like these make me realize that maybe that’s all we need to hear when we are in that position. We need to know that everything will be ok and you will make it out alive. I think the best gift is life and no matter where it takes you, be mindful of all the possibilities and consequences you’ll have to face after it’s done. The goal of life is to stay alive and happy. I would absolutely ask for help if I am in a vulnerable position because I know if I don’t speak, no one will listen. We also need a lending ear so we need to stay close to those we trust and maintain a healthy relationship especially in their time of need. If Gabriel had AIDS and he new he was going to die soon, he should have told her and maybe things were different. Speaking the truth will always get you far in life.
Stella Marr’s story is terrifying and all too familiar. I lived in New York at twenty and faced minimized versions of Stella’s pain- while I didn’t have to sell my body to survive, I definitely dealt with a handful of toxic, patriarchal human parasites. An insight into Stella’s psyche paints a vivid picture of not only “hooker paranoia”, but parallels the concerns urban women dodge on a daily basis. Should I walk down this corner so the token, middle-aged troll won’t catcall me this morning? What if I resist his advances- does that render me a complete bitch? Seemingly irrational thoughts like these race through the minds of ordinary women en route to work, volunteering and home. Several measures like the delegalization of “manspreading” surely help, yet barely combat patriarchy.
I hope Stella continues to fight for her visibility and the rights of the most vulnerable- writing about personal experience can be pretty daunting, so I commend her for such genuine and poignant storytelling. Most importantly, I hope she doesn’t criticize herself too harshly- losing an important friend to AIDS is in no way her fault. It can take years for the abused to let others in- not everyone in recovery is ready to be a good friend right away.
Me too. And I hope the rest of us can learn from her.
That was an incredible letter. Thank you for sharing it. I don’t know much about prostitution, or the deeper side of it- the emotional side. This is a roller-coaster letter. It makes me sad that this woman had to endure such pain at such an early age. It makes me feel so much more grateful for what I have and the life I live. I think the experience might have made her more grateful for what she has now as well. This just puts into perspective the difference in how people can live such different lives, and we know nothing about them. This letter is written so beautifully and it is so raw. I think the most touching part about this letter is the fact it is written by the older version to the younger version of herself. She is such a brave woman for continuing on with her life and using her past to make her stronger.
Stunning and inspiring! Thanks for posting.
You’re welcome. I think everyone can learn from her experience.
It can teach us a lot, can’t it?
Yes it has a lot to say
very insightful thank you
This is such an amazing and enlightening story. Thanks for re-posting it.
You’re welcome. I think there’s a lot to learn in this letter.
Work hard on asking for help is a biggie for me. I need to get better at it. Lot of powerful and wise commentary in her letter to her younger self. Happy weekend to you and thanks for this post.
I was just talking to a friend about how hard it can be to forgive ourselves, how much harder we can be on ourselves than we are on other people. When i’m hard on myself I sometimes try to imagine that I am talking to someone else — and I am much kinder. This letter to her younger self reminds me of that. I find it very touching.