When I was close to launching my career as Shae, something gave me pause. It gnawed at me.
It wasn’t the challenge of launching a small business from scratch. It wasn’t the possibility of scary or dangerous situations. It wasn’t the fear of the unknown, or of failure, or of stigma. It wasn’t the objections of a romantic partner, or the residue of a religious upbringing.
It was the blandness and sameness of “high-end” escorts.
Pages and pages of Stepford Escorts.
The Stepford Escort dominates “high-end” escort ad sites. You’ve probably seen her; dozens of versions of her, in fact.
The Stepford Escort wears La Perla or Agent Provocateur lingerie and Louboutin high heels. The Stepford Escort has straight or wavy medium or long hair. The Stepford Escort has thick dark lashes, a heavily made up face and skin so airbrushed it makes her look uncanny and doll-like. The Stepford Escort is skinny — no more than a size 6 — often with large breasts or lips that suggest surgical intervention.
The Stepford Escort has a vague biography that hints at an affluent upbringing. The Stepford Escort hints at a quality education — the sort of education that makes her a charming date, without being overly opinionated, ambitious, academic or political. The Stepford Escort is affluent, with a relaxed, low-stress life. The Stepford Escort derives her primary joy through feminine pursuits, such as getting manicures, wearing fashionable clothes, and staying fit and healthy for the sake of you, the client.
The Stepford Escort likes champagne. The Stepford Escort likes low-calorie, “sexy” foods such as sushi or oysters.
The Stepford Escort has few or no desires, beyond the desire to please you, the client. The Stepford Escort isn’t too young or too old. She isn’t too much of anything. The Stepford Escort is a cipher — a blank slate upon which the client can project his own desires and fantasies.
The Stepford Escort is…not me.
And so, the endless parade of Stepford Escorts threw me for a loop. “Is that what it takes to succeed in this business?” I wondered. Would I have to sand down all my rough edges, tamp down my quirks, and invent a new personality and set of interests from whole cloth?
I wondered that for a year, give or take.
I wonder why we do it — why we turn ourselves into Stepford Escorts.
Is it to make ourselves palatable to as wide an audience as possible? Is it to protect ourselves — to erase the parts of ourselves we wish to keep from clients (or from ourselves)? Is it because it’s the easiest and most convenient thing to do? Is it because the legions of seemingly successful Stepford Escorts create a strong pressure to do the same?
It's probably a combination of all of those things.
On some level, being a Stepford Escort is easy. You can’t be a Stepford Escort and be fat, or not conventionally attractive, or have an offbeat sense of style. But if you have a certain body type, and you are white or white-passing, and some money for key class signifiers — you are potential raw material for a Stepford Escort. Buy the lingerie and shoes, groom yourself appropriately, write your vague ad copy and voila! A new Stepford Escort has rolled off the assembly line.
On another level, it’s not easy, and — more importantly — it does ourselves a disservice. Why should we dim our lights in order to appeal to potential clients? Why should we sand away all the contours of our personalities, pasts, bodies and faces for the sake of marketability? Why should we deny everything that makes us interesting — our messy and colorful identities, histories, weird hobbies, opinions, best friends, worst enemies, points of view, likes and dislikes?
Escorts are women — messy, human, complex, conflicted, zany, deeply strange and sensitive. Let’s give ourselves permission to be exactly that — human, messy, complex, flawed. Why put ourselves in tiny boxes? Why play to all the worst stereotypes men have about women and sex workers?