In high school, I hung out with the riot grrrls. We’d skip class to shop at the army surplus store, listen to Hole and give each other DIY haircuts. As a skinny gay boy, those chicks kept me safe. They smoked and drank and had self-inflicted razor-blade scars. Angry, scary and slightly crazy, not even the jocks fucked with them.
Their brand of feminism meant rejecting everything decent and normal. Not limited to clothes and music, it also shaped their sexuality. Being a slut was a form of empowerment. Fucking was supposed to be violent and dirty, preferably involving handcuffs and hot wax. Hickeys were worn like a badge of honour. Courtney Love was their goddess.
The first time I sold sex, I put a special notch in my riot grrrl belt. Eighteen years old and fresh from my parents’ place in the suburbs, I’m stumbling home drunk through Toronto’s gay village when I clock this scraggly, older dude, puffing away on a Player’s Light. I’m at the point when awkward teenage shyness is giving over to the realization that older men find me attractive. Whether it’s free drinks, drugs or cab fare, I’m figuring out I can usually get whatever I want from them, just by asking.
It doesn’t occur to me why he’s standing on a deserted street at 4am. I’m drunk, out of smokes and desiring the tiny thrill of knowing he’s going to give me what I want just because he thinks I’m cute. When I ask for a cigarette, he smiles a mouthful of crooked, stained teeth, pulls out the pack and holds it open for me. The cigarette has barely landed between my lips when he lights it. He asks me how my night was, what I was doing, if it was fun. I bask in his attraction for me, speaking easily, confidently. His pockmarked skin and poor oral hygiene don’t matter. I just want his adoration.
When he asks for a blowjob, I don’t even think twice. It’s one of those weird, split-second decisions. Any other time I would have been revolted, but my inner Courtney kicks in. And in this moment, that means letting some ugly guy have his way with me, just because I can. The words “Got any money?” are out of my mouth before I realize it.
He fumbles in his pocket and produces a crumpled 20. “I’ll take the cigarettes, too,” I say. He hands me the pack, and a quick glance reveals half a deck. I don’t actually need the money and although I’m out of cigarettes, I could easily buy more. This transaction isn’t happening out of need. It’s about desire. Right now, I want to feel like a slut, and he’s going to give me that. I try to seem confident, even though I’m not sure what to do next. He smiles, takes my arm and leads me down an alley.
His cock is small, and there’s a distinct odour emanating from his crotch. He ejaculates quickly and without warning, not bothering to pull out. Suddenly confusion sets in. What the fuck did I just do? I leave him to zip up and stumble back into the street. I keep checking over my shoulder to see if he’s following me, but he hasn’t come out of the alley by the time I round the corner. By this point, my inner Courtney has evaporated.
The clouds part to reveal a half moon. That’s when I notice the smell. If you’re from Toronto, you’ll know what I mean. There’s a species of tree that’s been planted throughout the downtown core: its proper name is Ailanthus altissima, but locals know it as the semen tree. Blooming in late spring, it fills the streets with the scent of cum.
Now with some dude’s jizz in my mouth, the overwhelming smell of semen around me and the moon streaming down, I feel like I’m in a Munch painting. I want to fall on the sidewalk screaming, throwing him up, along with the tequila shots and whatever else I drank that night. But I just keep walking, putting one foot in front of the other, focused on the safety of my tiny attic bedroom.
Back home, I sit on my single bed fingering the 20 and smoking one of the cigarettes out my window. It feels a bit like I’ve lost my virginity all over again.
I knew from then on the world would always look a little different, even though I wasn’t sure exactly how. I wouldn’t sell sex again for seven years, but in that moment I realized I’d crossed a very particular line. Trading a blowjob for 20 bucks and a half pack of cigarettes had brought me to a new level of debauchery. Courtney Love would have been proud.