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"Shorts, Outtakes and Rants"
Stopping At the Redlite"Women really are different from men, you know." -- Candy, a Nevada prostitute in Square One
Unexpected and sometimes outlandish things often happen in the development of the Spearfish Lake universe, but the Redlite Ranch Bordello in Antelope Valley, Nevada, was one of the more unexpected and thought-provoking ones. It's provided me some different perspectives on the roles of men and women, and more than a few lessons. I hope it also has done some of the same for the reader.
I certainly never had any intention to use legal prostitution in Nevada as a main subject in one book and as scenes or backdrops in several others when the place first came to life at my fingertips while writing Alone Together. All I was really trying to do in that book was to throw in an exotic character to set Jon and Tanisha on a different, less-paranoid mindset about their new relationship.
"You're at Lambdatron," Jennlynn tells them. "We care about what people can do for the company. We do not care about things like sex, race, color, or what people do on their own time, so long as they don't do it in the driveway and block traffic at quitting time. Now lighten up on the paranoia, you two. I fought the tolerance battle around here years ago, and I won it."
I have no idea why Jennlynn or licensed prostitution in Nevada proved to be that character, but she worked well for what I wanted her to do in the story.
However, there was a subtle problem I hadn't anticipated: Jennlynn proved to be one of those characters who couldn't be used for one scene and left alone. You don't honestly think I could let a character like her go, do you? A beautiful, complex, flamboyant, rule-bending, and rich pilot of a gleaming white Learjet -- who owns her plane and the charter company flying it, not to mention being a highly regarded electronics and mechanical engineer -- but still works in a Nevada brothel? How could I not write more about her? It almost makes me wish I wasn't so into developing character, because what an action-adventure hero a woman like her could make!
At the time I wrote Alone Together, about all I knew about the subject was that house prostitution was legal in some counties in Nevada, but I knew that I wanted to reflect reality as closely as I could, rather than make up the situation out of whole cloth.
Lest anyone think that I researched this personally, I have to point out that the closest I've ever been to any of the Nevada houses is about eighty miles, the distance between Las Vegas and Pahrump. But, thank goodness for the Internet. At the time there were a number of web sites and several message boards in which management, customers, and girls all participated. For some time I lurked extensively, soaking up backgrounds and attitudes, gripes, and joys. In addition, I went through several books on the subject; many weren't useful at all, but a couple were, especially Lora Shaner's Madam: Inside a Nevada Brothel.
During that time, the Redlite came to shape in my mind. More importantly I developed some understanding of legal prostitution as it's practiced in Nevada, the people involved, and the dynamics on both sides of the issue, and they were considerably different than the stereotypes in my mind when I introduced Jennlynn to Jon and Tanisha. What's more, I had achieved a broader understanding of prostitution in general, and I had realized just how stereotypical most people's views of it are. While many prostitutes are admittedly virtual slaves kept in bondage through drugs and violence by their pimps, there are many, legal and illegal, who have entered the business voluntarily and stay there because they see an advantage for themselves in it.
That much having been said, I write happy stories, and I decided to stick with the aspect of the business as presented in Jennlynn's story rather than get into the downers of the often frankly horrifying side of street prostitution.
Sex is big business, and prostitutes are right on the front line. Yet, in spite of the dehumanization of it, the frank danger, and the illegality in every place in this country besides a handful of places in rural Nevada, there are still a lot of prostitutes out there in real life. No one can tell you how many, but tens of thousands of women and homosexual or bisexual men are doing it professionally. That number is valid even if you don't include other things that kick around the edges of the business, like strippers, lap dancers, porn industry workers, and so on -- it gets much higher if you do.
At the bottom line, I can understand the reasons for the existence of prostitution: if there's a demand for a service, a market will arise to supply that demand. 'Twas ever thus; they don't call prostitution "the oldest profession" for nothing. Whether induced by nature, testosterone, society, or whatever, men seek to have sex with women rather more than women seek to have it with men. While most men will be more or less satisfied with one woman if she's making an attempt to supply his needs, those needs vary. Some men need variety more than others, and some don't have that one woman available at all.
I don't think I'm making a particularly surprising statement when I say that sex is the engine behind a great deal of the economy and the way we live. If the drive to have sex were not so strong, our lives would be very different than what we see now. Sex appeal is the driving force behind many industries and the force behind the advertising for many more. The whole cosmetics industry is obvious, but is there a good and logical reason for car companies to have a beautiful and alluringly dressed woman standing by the gleaming fenders of vehicles at a car show, for example? What does the girl have to do with the car? Nothing, really, other than it indicates sexually desirable girls like her prefer this specific car, and the drivers who would choose to buy one. Simple, when you understand the marketing. You know it, the car company knows it, the girl knows it -- but it all links back to that basic mating instinct. And it works, and keeps working, as no car companies have abandoned the tactic.
With that kind of motivation behind everything, and the amount of money linked to sex, is it surprising that there are those who earn money by getting right down to the basics? Of course not -- the surprising thing is that there is not more of it!
The toughest problem I had in writing most of the stories that involve the Redlite is in getting my mind inside that of a prostitute, trying to look at the world from her viewpoint, at least one of a woman in the business more or less voluntarily. This is not to say I understand all motivations, or at least in some cases, anyway. It's fairly easy to understand a woman who is in financial difficulty, on drugs, or in some other sort of trouble, turning to the trade as a way out, even though I still can't imagine what it must be like for her.
But there are as many reasons for a woman being a prostitute as there are women doing it -- and desperate need does not describe a good many of the legal professionals I came to know through their message board postings. They are serious about what they do, work very hard at being good at it, and in general, are in it for the long haul, a decade or more, sometimes much more. Mercenary? You bet! Capable of milking the trade for every cent possible? Of course, or they wouldn't be there.
Jennlynn is obviously atypical and fictional, but the story I've painted for her is not out of the question. In the stories involving the Redlite I've also modeled characters on several actual Nevada prostitutes I grew to know through the message boards, and their motivations differ. One of my fictional Nevada prostitutes is a smart but penniless med student -- like Jennlynn, she needs the money to further her education, but is even more mercenary than Jennlynn about it. I never really got another's initial motivations onto paper, but she hinted that it was a pretty gutter thing, and being a Nevada brothel prostitute was actually climbing out of the gutter for her. For yet another, it was a combination of liking sex and needing to make it pay. For Shirley, it was sheer excitement, bright lights, and laughter after years of being marooned in the middle of nowhere -- she learned to enjoy the life so much she spends the rest of her life involved in the business in one way or another. It started pretty casually for Candy, a girl we briefly meet in another story: "A guy buys me a nice dress or piece of jewelry or something, and I went to bed with him to thank him. After a while it turned to straight cash, and I quit caring quite as much about whether I liked the guy."
Although Candy turned pro, there are lots of amateurs who approach it much the way she does, and they don't consider themselves prostitutes. Soon you find yourself considering what prostitution really is, anyway. A straight commercial exchange is pretty clear, but it's easy to think of many other situations where a woman would have sex with a man for the sake of remuneration in one form or another. Candy was obviously being a prostitute when she had sex with a guy for money, but what about her having sex for a cocktail dress? Or dinner? Or an engagement ring? Or just because she liked the guy and wanted the reward of feeling closer to him? Or maybe using the sex to get closer? For that matter, what about the woman I heard about once who charges her husband fifty bucks each time he has sex with her -- is she being a prostitute? In each case, the woman is exchanging the use of her body for something that's of value to her. Don't most of us sell ourselves to our employers for many hours each week, for the sake of the paycheck? No sex is involved, but beyond that, where's the difference?
Obviously there is a line in there somewhere between what prostitution is and what it's not -- and it's important to know who is drawing the line. When considering this whole topic, one does well to watch their step, because there's a lot of slippery ground out there. It's easy to be stereotypical and judgmental, and being that way is very wrong.
I did not understand prostitutes or prostitution very well when I first sat down and wrote about Jon and Tanisha meeting Jennlynn, who is wearing a T-shirt reading, "Come party with me at the Redlite Ranch Bordello." Over a period of some months, I came to understand that the legal prostitution in Nevada isn't a weird aberration. Rather, it is a reflection of the people of the state recognizing the way things really work, and no less a reflection of their courage for the willingness to admit to it.
The simple fact of the matter is that prostitution exists. It has always existed and probably always will. As I noted above, if there is a demand, a mechanism will arise to supply that demand. Mostly, it's an unregulated system, unsafe for the women, often unsafe for the customers. But, in Nevada, the legal portion is concentrated into a few locations, the women all have background checks and health checks on a frequent basis, and the business is conducted in both a manner and an atmosphere where there's little room for strong arm tactics on either side, at least within the house. "It's perfectly legal," Jennlynn tells Jon and Tanisha in Alone Together. "It's a heck of a lot simpler, and a heck of a lot safer, since we always use barriers and condoms, get regular checkups, have bouncers on the place, and like that."
If prostitution exists and has to exist, then it strikes me that the Nevada system, despite its inequities and restrictions, is a much better model than a system where a pimp forces a girl to stand on a street selling herself to guys who drive by, so she can give them a blow job for fifty bucks -- without a condom, so she's open to contracting and passing on every sexually transmitted disease known to man.
I hadn't really thought the situation out that far when I first started to develop Jennlynn, so it's not surprising that few people have, or would be willing to take the effort to understand the advantages of legal prostitution nationally. That is why there will almost certainly be enough opposition to the introduction of a similar system elsewhere that it won't happen unless there are other radical changes to society. That's a shame, because it's a better system than exists now.
On top of that, the world of legal prostitution is so limited to rural Nevada that there's little room, or little motivation, to rethink the paradigm. Given enough competition and enough potential reward, people will start to think of better ways to build a mousetrap.
Frankly, the only way I can ever see to control prostitution is to legalize it. It's very similar to gambling. For many years, the Mafia and others made a big part of their existence from a "numbers racket", literally a drawing where people picked three or four or five numbers and the winner won big. Attempts to control the numbers racket went on for decades, with no success. The only way it ever got knocked out is when states got into the lottery business -- the numbers racket could operate above board, now controlled by the state, rather than the Mafia, and the profits went to the state instead of to the mob, as well. Legalized prostitution can be taxed, and taxed heavily, because the demand will be there to be supplied. I suspect the vast majority of customers would rather do it safely and legally than illegally with considerable risk.
Point in fact: prohibition was repealed not only because of reaction to its failure and the vast illegal traffic and crime that resulted, but largely because in the depths of the depression both state and federal governments realized they were losing out on a great deal of tax money they could take in if liquor were again legalized. Despite the cries of the moralists, once that fact was driven home, prohibition died a quick death.
Still, though it makes a heck of a lot of sense, I don't expect legalized, licensed prostitution to be put into effect on a widespread basis any time soon, if ever. Yes, there are downsides, but it makes more sense, and is less dehumanizing to both the prostitutes and their customers than the system that is in place elsewhere in the country now.