In praise of Philip Roth and older sex clients

I’m thinking a lot about Vincent these days after a 73-year-old man in Cape Breton was charged with soliciting a prostitute who was not a prostitute but a police officer pretending to be a prostitute


“To those not yet old, being old means you’ve been. But being old also means that despite, in addition to, and in excess of your beenness, you still are. Your beenness is very much alive. You still are, and one is as haunted by the still-being and its fullness as by the having-already-been, by the pastness.” 

 Philip Roth, The Dying Animal

A few months ago my cowhore Felicity and I were discussing our mature clients. I was reminiscing about Vincent, a man from Montreal who had stopped seeing me suddenly in the fall of 2014, just prior to the enactment of Bill C-36. 

Vincent was in his late ‘80s and, I just have to say it, had a bangin’ bod. Years of running had kept his legs in superb shape and he had great hair—the charged remains of a lefty scholar’s Jewfro still orbiting a good section of his pate. 

Vincent and I spoke avidly about Philip Roth and the lifelong criticism the author faced about his unlikeable male characters. We talked about a recent interview wherein Roth addressed this issue, stating, “It is my comic fate to be the writer these traducers have decided I’m not. They practice a rather commonplace form of social control: You are not what you think you are. You are what we think you are. You are what we choose for you to be.” 

This is often the misfortune of sex workers. Unlike Roth though, I am unable to see the humour in it as we continue living with laws impaired by religious ideology and a monistic interpretation of feminism. 

Vincent had at one point given me Roth’s novella The Dying Animal. Felicity recalled that two of her older clients had also given her this book. We talked fondly about these “dying animals”: men who still have travel agents, who ask the waitress if the bar has Galliano for a Harvey Wallbanger, who simply cannot conceive of a restaurant that doesn’t have a surf and turf on the menu. 

We talked about another sex worker we knew who had attended a half dozen of her aging clients’ funerals. We wondered if we would be allowed, if people knew about us. 

When I imagine these scenes I always picture Gone With the Wind and Belle Watling – the first prostitute I ever clocked in a film yet only one of so many perfectly silenced Magdalene foils – saying to the saintly Melanie Hamilton, “If you ever see me on the street, you don’t have to speak to me I’ll understand.” 

Belle, despite having saved Melanie’s husband’s life, was tactfully acknowledging that she understood how being seen with her tainted Melanie. Noted. 

I’m thinking a lot about Vincent these days after a 73-year-old man in Cape Breton charged with soliciting a prostitute who was not a prostitute but a police officer pretending to be a prostitute, went before a judge to argue that he had been entrapped. 

There’s a lot to be outraged about when it comes to this type of lurid deception but let’s start with the underhanded funding of coercive repressive state interests. 

At a starting salary of $75,000 a year (and six figures for many more when you factor in overtime), it is unquestionable that female police officers posing as street-based sex workers make more money than many street based sex workers do. 

They also have more agency over marketing, meaning they are allowed to approach potential clients. Our street-based sisters have no such legal right real street-based sex workers are constrained from making bold sales pitches. 

But since police officers are lawfully permitted to approach men they classify as looking for paid sexual encounters, they suffer no legal risk. Female officers posing as sex workers are permitted better and more efficient tools for luring clients than real sex workers. 

I can’t be the only one who wonders, given the allegation inscribed in our current prostitution laws that witnessing sex transactions in public is damaging to communities – including children – how police officers posing as sex workers in public rationalize their presence, particularly when they are actually encouraged to approach potential clients so boldly. 

If they are dressed exactly like sex workers and acting even more obviously “for sale,” wouldn’t their presence engender the same unwholesome effect? 

The current laws in Canada take the view that sex work is harmful to those selling and criminalize all clients. 

As such, in the Cape Breton case, this man and 26 others had their names and addresses published after this costly yet very cheap ruse. 

Clients are now written in Canadian law as de facto sex offenders, paradoxically situating those creating these laws and enforcing them in the same position they locate clients: as people who willfully eliminate a sex worker’s ability to consent to sex. 

Conceivably these laws have the potential to convict more non-rapists than they do actual rapists. 

It is also possible, with these news laws and given the infrequency with which genuine rapists are charged, for the client of a sex worker to actually rape someone outside of the context of sex work and not be charged with rape yet be charged for having consensual sex with a sex worker. What an odd turn from the days when sex workers were argued in legal contexts as unrapeable. 

Despite the discursive shift in blame, once again, sex workers’ bodies are rendered insignificant in this equation. 

I keep returning to Megan Walker, the executive director of the London Abused Women’s Centre, who, when testifying during the C-36 hearings, implored the Senate to consider the “forgotten and silenced with no voice to fight for equality” and stated that if they “listen carefully enough, they will hear the cries for help from survivors and those prostituted women who will not be represented before you this week.” 

Dozens of current sex workers voiced their opinions during these hearings but it is the mawkish deployment of the ambiguous “voiceless” that everyone is directed to hear.  

These tropes are mobilized to shame clients, to construct them all as abusers. Despite the problematic stereotypes, I am pleased that this man, knowing the risks of standing up for oneself in the face of prohibitionist vitriol and laws that construct him as an aberration, is challenging his arrest as a violation of his Charter rights – in particular, what his lawyer refers to as the “public shaming” component of his arrest. A decision is expected August 22.

Fleur de Lit is a pseudonym.

news@nowtoronto.com | @nowtoronto

Leave your opinion for the editor...We read everything!

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *