Interviewee: Paula Dyan
IWY TX 133
Interviewer: Rachael Myers
Date: November 18-21, 1977
Paula Dyan, of Atlanta, Georgia, was a master’s student in Psychology at West Georgia College. Dyan, 27, identified as a hooker and hoped to meet with COYOTE leader Margo St. James to discuss potentially a union for sex workers in Atlanta called PASSION (Professional Association Seeking Sexual Identification Observant to Nature). Sex work helped to support Dyan’s education. She hoped to be a clinical psychologist. Interview includes discussion of how Dyan came to be a sex worker and an erotic dancer in New Orleans and Atlanta. She also discussed how women become sex workers generally, what young female runaways experience, the dynamic between pimps and sex workers, the relationship to clients, and her perspective of the financial and personal benefits of sex work and erotic dancing.
Paula Dyan: Paula Dyan, from Atlanta, Georgia, P.O. Box 53167.
Rachael Myers: Okay. And your phone number?
PD: 524-1941, extension 712
RM: How old are you?
RM: And your occupation?
PD: At the moment, professional student.
PD: At West Georgia College in Carrollton, but actually that’s just a part of what I do. And quote “what I am” unquote.
RM: So, what do you do?
PD: Being a student is part of my requirement for fulfilling society’s obligations —i.e. getting the Master’s, getting a Ph.D. I’m working on my master’s in psychology, and my interest is in sexual and gender identification, as expressed through female identity, female roles. And the reason why I’m here is to talk to Margo St. James about starting a hooker’s union in Atlanta. And that’s what this is —says (indicating to an object or accessory) ‘Are you afraid of a woman’s PASSION’? It means Professional Association Seeking Sexual Identification Observant to Nature. That’s our name in Atlanta. We haven’t been officially organized yet, but that’s what I’m here for.
RM: So you’re a hooker?
PD: For lack of a better word, yeah.
RM: Talk about it. Why did you get into it?
PD: Quite honestly, in the past, in my undergraduate years, I was doing things —working for Ralph Nader, doing research for politicians in Mississippi. And I figured, moving down to New Orleans, that I could continue doing something like that. Well, New Orleans is a highly sexually discriminatory city. It really is. And I found that I wasn’t getting the kind of job I wanted.
So I figured, ‘Well hell, why don’t I go dance on Bourbon Street’? So I started dancing on Bourbon Street, and of course, other things led to other things…
For one, they advertise, “Dancers Wanted, two hundred [dollars] a week”; that’s bullshit. It’s a dollar fifty an hour, and the rest you hustle. And it’s pretty much true all over the country. They advertise, “Dancers Wanted” –like in Atlanta, it’s the same kind of advertisement, but you get about—you either get two-fifty an hour plus commission–that’s from b-drinking: getting a customer to buy you a drink–or they’ll pay you anywhere from a hundred and twenty-five, to two hundred dollars. And even that’s bullshit because they pay you in cash. And sometimes you don’t get what you‘re supposed to get. And you‘ve got to put up a real hassle.
Anyway, so right after Mardi Gras, business almost came almost to a standstill. And guys were always asking me to come home with them, and sometimes I would, sometimes I would [n’t]. I started out—sexually–very promiscuous, admittedly. So when business came to a standstill–and a lot of times, guys would offer me money, and I’d say no. I figured, ‘Hell, why not’? Kill two birds with one stone. That’s how I started. I had to work out a lot of guilt complexes and that kind of stuff.
RM: Was one of those guilt complexes a feeling that you were being used? Or as a woman you were doing something awful to other women?
PD: Not so much that I was doing some awful thing to other women. But my adoptive parents are Seventh-Day Adventists. It’s more like a religious guilt complex. ‘Nice girls don’t’ —that kind of thing. And I had a lot of people—men–ask me, ‘what’s a nice girl like you doing in a place like this’? I’d have to say, ‘serving a nice man like you’. (Laughter)
But there are a lot of things about hooking that people don’t realize. Businessmen ask “Why is a hooker hard’? It’s because they make hookers hard…For instance, if you don’t collect your money first, forget it. And then you have–a lot of men have not worked out their own guilt complexes about sex, like women aren’t supposed to enjoy sex. Women are to be used. Men expect for women to come to them open-legged. I mean that’s exactly the mentality that most men have. Being a prostitute, this attitude is even more emphasized.
So to be a really good businesswoman, you’ve got to have your shit together. That’s why a lot of prostitutes are so bummed out. COYOTE started out as more of a political thing, but we’re moving more into social services for women. COYOTE is the San Francisco chapter – Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics. It’s your first hookers union in the United States, started by Margo St. James.
RM: Tell me about the pimps. Did you ever have to work under a pimp?
PD: Women —I’ve never worked under a pimp. The thing about me being a hooker is I’m there because I don’t want a nine-to-five job, paying two-fifty an hour. I’d rather work for myself, so I work for myself. I’ve found that women who work with pimps are —first of all, they left home very young. This is a generalization, but I do find this generally true. They left home very early, anywhere from twelve, fourteen, sixteen years old. Society does not provide any place for a kid leaving home, especially a woman. So what does she do? A man picks her up on the street and turns her on to hooking, and he becomes her father figure, her big-brother figure, or her lover. It’s the guy that’s protecting her.
But by the same token, I’ve talked with some of the younger hookers —nineteen years old —you try to tell them that anytime they go out and bring home two hundred dollars a night, and if they don’t, they’re going to be locked out of the house. I’ve seen it done. That when they take home that two hundred dollars that night, and they turn it over to that dude, and he either buys everything down to her make-up, or just gives her a little bit back, that’s she not supporting him. You cannot convince them that she’s supporting him. She will swear that he is supporting her.
It’s kind of like the system where you have your employer and your employee. Your employee is doing the bulk of the work, but your employer gets the bulk of the profit. It’s pretty much the same thing. The only thing I see negative about prostitution is when you have prostitutes that rip off their customers. That’s a tangent. That’s an element of crime. The crime is not prostitution itself, but the rip-off. Just like any businessman.
RM: Do you consider prostitution a natural extension of yourself?
PD: A natural extension? Not when I started. I would say now it is. One thing about dancing topless and about prostituting is—I’m not saying this is always true —for me, it made me more aware of my passion. It also made me more aware that, ‘hey, I have a right to my orgasm’. If a guy’s going to use me, either I have a right to my orgasm, some kind of relationship, or money. And my experience with most men has been that they will use me, so I ask for money. Of every man, I ask for money–unless we happen to hit it off well anyway. If then they turn out to be a good lover and this is going to be a growing relationship, maybe I’ll drop the money part, you know… But it also supports me through school.
RM: That’s how you’re sending yourself through school?
RM: What age did you leave home?
PD: Late —I left at twenty-three. (Laughter) My parents were very middle-class, very over-protective.
RM: Do they know what you’re doing?
PD: I finally told them because they were going to find out, and I felt it was better for me to tell them.
RM: What happened?
PD: Well, my mother —my father didn’t say anything. My mother simply said —this is the only statement that’s ever been said about it–“Paula, next time, don’t tell me anything about your life.” (Laughter)
RM: Have you ever been hit by a customer?
PD: The most common abuse that any hooker has is being monetarily ripped off. I’ve learned one to get my money first, two to hide it. The other kind of abuse is the guilt complex that he throws on her. There are some customers who treat you beautifully– like this necklace I got from one of my customers–and we went out to dinner. We had a great time. And there’s some who don’t know how to handle their guilt complexes, and they throw it on you. It’s “wham, bam, thank you ma’am,” and then “get out of here, slut.” That kind of attitude. I’ve personally not been physically abused, although I know of other women who have. I would say that I’ve been lucky. One in choosing the kind of people I deal with, mostly that, you know?
RM: One of the things that I had always thought anyways was that a woman could not survive as a prostitute in a town unless she did have a pimp as protection. That if you didn’t work under somebody, they’d come get you. Is that true?
PD: That is a myth. I don’t who’s spreading it, but I’d almost say it’s pimps to sustain themselves. My observation is that most pimps are terrible businessmen, at least in the Southeast, as far as New Orleans, Atlanta goes. Basically, I’ve seen them —the ones in New Orleans are the worst.
New Orleans any way you look at it is a very sexy city. The pimps there, I’ve been approached by some in New Orleans and some in Atlanta to work with them. Number one, I’d never work with one–I’d work with a businessman, but not with a pimp. And the difference is a pimp —he’s a leech. That’s what he is. Whereas a businessman would not only setup my legal defense fund, he would also provide —he would manage my business. But I don’t see this with pimps. They’re very macho. Mostly they’re very macho leeches. Personally, I don’t like them. I have met some who are very interesting, very intelligent. But I would never work with them.
RM: Do you want to do this all your life? Or do you have other ambitions?
PD: Of course I have other — I think to survive as a prostitute you have to have other ambitions. First of all, my observation is that any business that is run out of desperation, number one, will not run well. Number two, can psychologically crush you. And that’s what I see a lot of these streetwalkers doing. They’re running their business out of desperation. Desperation breeds a high amount of anxiety.
RM: What are they desperate about? Getting old?
PD: Surviving – wondering whether they’re going to eat their next meal, basically that. Even though maybe they’ve been hooking for two or three years, and they know that, yeah, money comes, and sometimes it is slow. But you’ve got to have the attitude that you know you’ll always make it, whether you turn that many tricks or not. But on the other hand, probably your most desperate prostitutes are the ones who have pimps. I don’t know.
RM: Do you worry about getting old, getting older, not being able to get business? I hope I’m not insulting you.
PD: No, you’re not…I’m aware of that, and to be quite frank, twenty-seven is a little bit older age for a prostitute. Usually, the age is about sixteen to about twenty-five.
RM: How young have you seen? How young are girls? I say girls —
PD: The average age, from my observation, seems to be about nineteen.
RM: How do the other women, where you live, take to the idea of a union for prostitutes?
PD: I haven’t explicitly talked with them about it as a union. I’ve just been trying to gain as much contact as I can, know as many women as I can. And I don’t want to push it as you would say grassroots politics. I just want to set it up, and let them know that that alternative is there, and let them come.
RM: What is the alternative? What are you suggesting with the union?
PD: Conscious-raising sessions, mostly psychological services, legal services —I’d like to set up a legal defense insurance fund type-thing, health services. A lot of the women don’t take care of themselves too well. A lot of the women, I don’t know; they’re not that aware. Mostly services to make them aware of different alternatives to life, and most of all, vocational services. Some women are in it because they like it. This is what they want. And some are in it because it’s all they know. And I’d like to provide vocational services for women who, that’s all they know.
RM: You say you’re here to meet somebody, right?
RM: What else do you expect to get out of this convention?
PD: I’m looking at it mostly — I’m here explicitly for two things. One is to expand my contacts. I see this as a consortium of women’s groups. Two is to meet Margo St. James to organize a quote “a hooker’s union”, in Atlanta. That’s basically why I’m here.
One question you asked – ‘do I see myself doing this all the time’? No, I don’t. For one, I’m working on my master’s in psychology. I expect to write. I expect to publish. I expect to be a professor. I expect to be a clinical psychologist. But right now, my thing is organizing the hookers in Atlanta, and making people aware that they don’t have to be afraid of their passions. You have a lot of these ‘growth centers’ right now, people searching for themselves. To me, basically, everybody is looking for that energy of expression. And that energy of expression, to me, is passion. Passion to me is creative expression. Once we can overcome that, which a prostitute epitomizes that passion in a woman. She epitomizes it in the sense that I’ve seen a lot of women who say, ‘Hey, I wish I was a prostitute then it would be okay for me’, to quote, “be a whore”, be a passionate woman.” I feel that once people can overcome their fears about prostitution then they can start dealing as their own personal, sexual being.
RM: Do you feel that a housewife is a prostitute?
PD: I’ve heard housewives say, ‘You know, come payday, I do put out a little bit more.” So yeah, in a way, it depends on the relationship; but I see a lot of women that that’s their means of security. I’ve seen a lot of men too. They’re in a divorce, and he’s crushed because all these years he didn’t realize that all these years he’s being used. But men put women in that situation.
RM: Do you ever in the back of your mind or ever think that you would like to settle down, have a husband, children, the whole middle class thing?
PD: I’d like to continue to travel and continue to learn. My marriage is to the world. My children are its people. If I have any kids, I’ll adopt. I’ve already been sterilized because I know what I want already. Number one, this world is too fucked up —excuse me, delete that (laughter)–to have any more kids. I’d rather just have the ones that are rejected. I, myself, am adopted. I don’t know if it’s for such great reasons, but my parents did what they thought was great, good.
RM: I’m actually surprised at your mother’s reaction to learning what you do. That’s all she would say was ‘don’t mention it again’? Were you surprised? Were you anticipating a big, ‘oh my God, get out and never come back’?…
PD: She’s already disowned me once (laughter)—when I left home. Her thing was that I would get married to some doctor, lawyer, and have kids, and have a fifty thousand dollar home. And one of my sisters has done that, but I’m not into that. I was a governess for a summer, and the kids and I got along, but I couldn’t do that for eighteen years, or however many years, at least not right now.
RM: Would you like to see prostitution legalized?
PD: I haven’t quite learned what the difference between ‘legalization’ and ‘decriminalization’ is. What I’d like to see, is women able to provide their services or men able to provide their services and not be hassled by society and to see it as a meaningful and positive service. And to not be overtaxed or discriminated by society.
For instance, in some foreign country–I think it’s France–they finally decriminalized it…I can’t remember what country. But they finally decriminalized it, but they didn’t classify the prostitutes as a business. They classified it as something else, and they are overtaxed more so than your average citizen. I don’t want to see that kind of thing. It’s a service: period. In fact, to me, what I would really like, is when they legalize sex in the United States, I’d like to have a master’s in Johnson’s Type- Sex Therapy Whorehouse. I’d want my whores, male and female, to be trained in psychological counseling and in sex therapy.
RM: Why do you think a woman who sells her services is called a prostitute or a whore, and a man who sells his services is called an escort, or he comes from an escort service?
PD: It’s the double standard. People talk about sexual liberation, and well, ‘the double standard doesn’t exist’. That’s bullshit. Used to be, ‘nice girls don’t’. Now it’s ‘nice girls don’t until the third date’. They just push the days forward, that’s all. The double standard’s still there. Just like what you say: a woman’s a whore, a man —okay, take an example, this happened to me two days ago, in fact: one of my customers ripped me off, and in the process, he said, “Well, you can call the police if you want, I’ll just tell them that you’re nothing but a prostitute. And he’ll bust you, and he ain’t gonna do a thing to me.” And that was true. What I did do is press charges for simple assault.
RM: What happened?
PD: Right now, everything’s pending. Like I said, it was only two days ago.
RM: Is this Atlanta?
PD: This was in Atlanta, yeah.
RM: Anything else to add?
PD: I can’t think of anything (laughter)… Except for read my book whenever I get it published! (Laughter)
RM: I’ll remember your name.
(Tape cuts off at 23:24)
End of Interview