‘Are these men paying you for sex?’ The nurse said.
I considered her question.
‘No.’ I eventually said. I’d saved up all my Franks for a private health screening and I wasn’t about to blow it now. I even had my best dress on.
Perhaps I shouldn’t have told her the exact number.
I’d counted the men, I was responsible.
She pursed her lips and carried on.
‘So, 16 in the last three months, and you see six of them on a casual basis?’
It looked bad. But then it was... well it wasn’t bad. It was what it was.
I was a prostitute.
Lyon. 1974. I was paying my own way.
‘No.’ She said. ‘We can’t see you here.’ She ushered me out of the door and out onto the street.
‘Shit.’ I said.
My legs up on the stirrups I held my tongue this time. It was a hospital further out of town.
‘Oh yes, I’m married.’ I said. ‘I’m just not sure my husband is being faithful. He’s in the navy.’
The nurse eyed my unbanded hand. I kept my smile as steady as I could.
Even if she suspected the truth, or a variation of the truth, she carried on. And thank God. She diagnosed me with Chlamydia and I wouldn’t have known otherwise. I knew something was wrong, but I wouldn’t have known, and been able to treat it.
Well that was me broke again. Back to work.
Pierre knocked on my door about quarter past six.
‘You’re late.’ I said.
‘No condom, please.’ He said. I’ve had a rough as fuck day.’
‘How’s your wife?’ I said.
‘Ugh,’ he said, and pulled his trousers down. I found the bulge and started to stroke. I reached round for a condom.
Small as he was I wasn’t letting that prick inside me. He’s had a rough as fuck day, I was just about to have a rough fuck day.
He grabbed my hair.
‘Down you go,’ he said. I went down. He paid well.
Pierre left and I went to wash up, then I grabbed my bag and headed out to mean Jean.
‘Sorry I’m late... customer.’ I said, holding up my hands. She knew the score. She knew the game. A fellow... how shall we say it... player. ‘You wouldn’t believe the day I’ve had.’ I went on. ‘Those bloody hospitals.’
I looked up. ‘Shit.’ I said. ‘What’s happened?’
There were tears in her eyes. She looked like she’d been crying for hours.
‘No,’ I said.
She’d been attacked again.
‘This is enough.’ I said. ‘This is the last time. You’re staying at mine. I’m paying the bills. You...’
‘I...’ She interjected.
‘You can find a new job.’ I carried on.
‘We’ll go to the police and get that bastard...’ But we both knew that wouldn’t happen.
‘Christ.’ I said. ‘It shouldn’t be this way.’
And that was when the idea first started to emerge.
‘We should have better rights Jean. Better protection. We’re a profession.’
‘That bastard’s going to...’
‘I know.’ I said. If you’re a criminal in the eyes of the state they don’t give a shit what happens to you. The police would do nothing. He’d attack again.
But there was one thing we could do, at least, and that was to warn our colleagues.
‘Let’s go to the pub and warn the girls.’ I said.
She nodded and we went.
‘Marie!’ One of my besties called out.
‘Yes,’ I answered her.
I looked over. Our group was sitting by the fireplace in our old favourite pub. The crowd of them in the corner, smoky and lit up by the flames always made me smile. Pretty much everyone was here. There were twelve of us. I ordered a gin from the bar before I sat down. I knew I’d need some fortification for the forthcoming conversation.
‘Stephanie,’ I said before my friend could start another conversation, ‘Jean’s been attacked again.
‘No.’ She said.
‘We have to do something.’ I said.
‘But the police...’
‘I know,’ I said.
I don’t know if it was the strength of the gin that made me so bold, but the more we talked about it, the more I got it into my head that we should change the way we were seen.
‘We’ll hold a demonstration, all of us.’ I said.
‘Ha.’ I heard from round the table. But Jean was listening.
‘Can we?’ She asked.
More eyes looked at me.
‘Of course we can.’
The next morning I had a headache.
I probably would have left it there, if I’m honest. If this hadn’t of happened:
About a quarter past ten a knock came from the door. It was a small woman from a few roads over.
‘I’ve heard you want to do a demonstration,’ she said, ‘and I just want you to know I’m in.’
She left her number.
Five to eleven, another:
‘My brother owns a printing press if you need flyers.’
Twenty to twelve –
‘Where will we have it?’
It carried on through the day. I was flabbergasted.
CALLING ALL SEX WORKERS
Decriminalise it Now.
Meeting tonight, Rue De -, 7PM
The French Prostitutes Collective
We held the meeting in a huge university lecture room.
I sat on my wooden seat and listened to the buzz of women. There must have been at least a hundred of us.
Everyone looked brilliant. Everyone had clearly put their best clothes on.
I walked to the front of the room when 7pm arrived. I was shaking.
‘Ladies,’ I said. ‘We all know the dangers of our profession.’
I heard a hum of agreement, the tut tuts.
‘We all know we are not supported by the state... by our state. Our police. Not even safe on our streets... It’s time for a change!’
Some ladies clapped. One put her hand up.
‘Yes.’ I said, pointing my head her way. She had a brilliant haircut.
‘Are we really going to hold a protest?’ She asked.
I took a deep breath.
‘Yes.’ I said. ‘Yes we are.’
I looked around. Everyone was on the edge of their seats. I thought I should grab the mood while it was there.
‘The only question left to us now is where and when. Hands up if you have an idea.’
A woman with a pointed grin stood up.
‘Now.’ She said.
I nodded. I looked around. Everybody else was nodding.
‘But we’ll have things to sort.’ I suddenly remembered. ‘Tomorrow.’ I said.
‘Tomorrow sounds good.’ She said, and everybody leaned back a bit.
I might have lost my audience a tiny bit, but everyone looked more relaxed and high energy still. Another woman stood up.
‘The church on rue de –’ she said.
‘Sanctimonious.’ I said with a smile.
Everybody got it. You could tell by the laughs that spun round the hall.
‘Yes,’ I said, ‘the church.’
The next day we were all nervous as hell. This was our moment.
Jean and I made Banners and the lady whose brother owned a printing press made some fliers.
‘SAFETY ON OUR STREETS!’ They read. ‘POLICE SHOULD PROTECT!’
We outlined our cause on the flyers and looked forward to handing them out.
We got to the church about quarter to one ready for our one o’clock start. I’d brought my mac in case it rained, but it was a gorgeous autumn day. The leaves were falling as, I hoped, would their prejudices.
But no one was here yet. Where were they?
Five to one and I walked around the church to check they weren’t anywhere else. No, I couldn’t see them anywhere. I felt really let down, and I felt so sorry for Jean, this was for her.
‘Jean I...’ I said.
But to my surprise she was smiling.
‘Look inside.’ She said.
‘What in..?’ I moved my head towards the church.
‘Yep.’ She nodded.
I looked up at her beaming face and I got a flutter of excitement.
I went into the church and there were the hundred sitting on the church floor pouring over banners and papers of all kinds.
‘Sit in. Surprise.’
‘Oh my God this is the best idea ever. Who’s was it? How didn’t I know?’
I turned around – there was Jean full of justified pride. She’d done this.
The sit in was a huge success. Me, Jean and the girl with the printing press connections stayed outside and talked to journalists and basically anyone who would listen. Several people came up and shook our hands. And we made sure the girls inside had food too.
Did the government do anything about it? Did they fuck. But I like to think we changed public opinion in our favour.
The movement inspired the birth of the English Collective of Prostitutes, and as a force we still fight today!
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