Geena Leigh has overcome a lifetime of obstacles. She experienced abuse as a child and at 15, found herself homeless, addicted to drugs and alcohol. She entered prostitution and spent the next two decades working in the industry. She turned her life around to create a career in corporate management and earned three university degrees. Today she travels around Australia sharing her story with teenagers to promote resilience, positive thinking and listening to ones’ inner guidance.
Here Geena shares the moment she decided to enter the sex industry.
Charlene enthusiastically proceeded to tell me and my mother all about her work. She told me how the men ‘usually don’t even want sex, they just like the company’ (this was a lie). She told me how it was ‘really safe’ and the men were ‘really good looking’ (these were also very big lies). Her animation and excitement—later I realised that she was still high from the night before—aroused my curiosity. Mum seemed amused by Charlene’s account of prostitution, and quite horrified at the same time.
I was sick of feeling controlled by Brett. I believed that money would give me more choices and freedom. Charlene made it all sound so exciting, easy, and glamorous even. I was broke, bored and desperately looking for a way out of an abusive relationship. I didn’t know what else to do. This opportunity was presented in front of me and I took it. I wasn’t one to languidly stew on a problem. I thrived upon change. I figured that anything different would be better than what I was currently doing and how I was feeling.
Slowly an idea formed: this might be how I could get rid of Brett—he would surely break up with me if I was a prostitute. Maybe I earn some money, leave Brett behind and travel. I was sick of being broke.
I made my decision, and announced to Mum and Charlene that I was going to become a prostitute. My words were met with silence, so I focused on Mum—I could see that she was in shock—and said, ‘You can’t stop me. I’m eighteen. Don’t try and stop me.’
She didn’t. She just sat there in disbelief, looking at the ground. It wasn’t because she didn’t love me, or because she approved of my becoming a prostitute—she didn’t stop me because she knew she couldn’t stop me, and she would lose me if she tried. Later in life she apologised for not trying. She told me that, in a screwed-up way, she was showing me unconditional love—showing me that she would love me no matter what I did.
I kind of wished she’d tried to stop me. I was scared about what I was getting into. I didn’t even particularly like having sex with boys. I wanted her to tell me that it was a stupid idea and that I didn’t have to be a prostitute in order to get away from a doofus boyfriend.
I wanted her to tell me that I didn’t have to be a prostitute in order to travel. Yet no matter how hard she might have tried, I’d already made up my mind.
Charlene offered to take me to the brothel she worked in. ‘They’re always looking for new girls—especially young and pretty ones,’ she said. ‘Let me make a call.’ She went outside and came back a few minutes later, and told me I could go in for a trial shift. As she handed me a bunch of multi-coloured condoms, she told my mother she’d keep an eye on me. I stuffed the condoms into my bag and went home, wondering what to wear.
I was walking around in a slight state of shock. I had no idea what I’d just agreed to do. It all happened so quickly. Later I found out that this was very common in the sex industry. A girl can walk into a brothel and begin working straightaway; but if she gets complaints from the customers, she can be asked to leave straightaway. Most brothels have a ‘mystery shopper’ as one of a new girl’s first clients—one of the boss’s friends, who samples the merchandise and provides him with feedback.
I had only seen prostitutes on TV, and those all wore slutty clothes. Sifting through my limited wardrobe for something similar, I found a short black skirt, a sheer top, black lace bra and black high heels. I would usually have worn opaque stockings with the skirt and a camisole under the top, but not this time. I went to the local chemist and bought the brightest hot-red glossy lipstick they sold. I was nervous but I also began to feel excited about being a prostitute. I’ve always been one to make a decision and act on it quickly. Maybe if I was a procrastinator I could have saved myself years of pain.
Brett was at band practice. Charlene picked me up at 6 p.m. and drove us to the seediest part of town. Along the way thoughts rushed through my mind. Would the brothel have a red light hanging outside? Would it be glamorous, like an exclusive nightclub? Yes and no. It was a standard three-bedroom mustard-coloured house, and it had been due for a re-paint about a decade ago.
A sinister side to the sex industry is exposed in the trailer for "Hot Girls Wanted". Post continues below...
The rickety stairs creaked beneath my feet, and the smell of sex greeted us as we walked down the hallway. The feeling of shock started to set in again. My expression must have reflected it. Charlene said, ‘You’ll be fine, love.’ I tripped on the carpet that was sagging in a few places before making my debut entrance into the lounge. Three women sat around reading magazines. They looked at me, uninterested, and went back to their magazines. Either they didn’t see me as much competition or it was a busy enough place for everyone to make money, or maybe they didn’t care much about anything at all. In hindsight, I think it was the latter.
There were some plastic plants and a few glass ashtrays brimming with old butts placed around the room. Two 1980s-style framed fluoro prints were attached crookedly to one wall. One picture was of a woman with big hair and tall skinny legs wearing black platform-heeled boots, set against a background of geometric shapes. The other was a close-up of a woman’s face. She had thick black eyeliner with bold-red lips and was looking despondently out of a window. I assumed that both of the women in the pictures were hookers.
I followed Charlene to the counter and she introduced me to the receptionist.
‘Here’s the new girl starting tonight,’ she said.
‘What’s ya name, honey?’ the receptionist asked in a hoarse voice.
‘How about Sasha?’ I said.
‘You look like a Tiffany. We’ll call you Tiffany,’ she said.
Charlene had a regular client waiting for her in a room and I didn’t see her again until much later than evening. The receptionist took me into one of the rooms and fastidiously showed me how to place a pale pink towel in the shape of a fan across the bed after every job, so the bed looked pretty. At the time I thought it was such a stupid thing. It looked really tacky, like everything else in the place. She shook the towel out for me to do it. I tried not to laugh as I re-folded the towel into the fan shape for her approval. She was very pleased and led me to the linen cupboard that was full of fresh, neatly folded towels and showed me where the basket was for putting the dirty ones in. Looking back, I think she could have taught me something more useful.
She showed me into a kitchen where a couple of women and a forty-something-year-old man were sitting around a large dining table. Pizza boxes and cans of Coke were scattered around the room. ‘Help yourself, love,’ the receptionist said. I stepped forward and saw the pizzas overloaded with ham and pepperoni. I was a vegetarian at the time and said ‘Oh, no thank you—I don’t eat meat.’ The man yelled out ‘You’re in the wrong job then!’ and they all burst into laughter. I felt embarrassed, and walked back into the lounge.
I flicked through the magazines on the table and saw a pamphlet about safe-sex practices. I looked through it and saw a series of photos of disease-ridden genitals, which made me feel increasingly nervous, curious and repulsed. Those visuals imprinted on my mind. From day one I never did anything without a condom. That was the extent of my training, other than being told my cut from each job. ‘We pay you at the end of the night,’ the receptionist said. I felt uncomfortable doing the work before getting the money in my hand. Later on, I only worked at brothels where I felt the notes in my palm before any item of clothing was removed. Psychologically it was easier for me that way—it was a business transaction.
As well as providing an in-house service, the brothel did out-calls. On that first night, I sat in the waiting room and assumed that I would wait for the clients to arrive like the other girls were doing. Then the receptionist introduced the driver to me. ‘Your first job is an out-call,’ she said. ‘Go with him, he’ll wait outside until you’re done. The client has paid in advance, just make him happy.’
‘Okay,’ I said.
As I followed the driver out of the house to the car, one of the girls said to me, ‘You’ll always remember the first!’ We drove for about thirty minutes to a house in the outer suburbs. That girl was right, and I wish she hadn’t been.
The driver must have been to the house before, because he didn’t read any map to get there. The street was dimly lit. We pulled up outside the house and my heart was beating fast. The driver smiled and pointed to the house. ‘You’ll wait for me here?’ I asked and he nodded. ‘I’ll only be half an hour,’ I said. He nodded again and turned up the radio.
All I could hear was the click-click of my high heels as I walked up the concrete path. It didn’t look like any special kind of house—it was a regular Queenslander, perched up on poles with the carport underneath. I knocked on the door and a chubby, balding man wearing a robe ushered me inside. I followed him down the hall to a bedroom at the back of the house. The house smelled like old people and was cluttered with antiques.
I tentatively entered the bedroom. The dark wood and ornate cushions and curtains made the room seem boxed in. My breath became shallow and the room closed in on me. The room was getting smaller and the overweight man was getting bigger as he walked towards me holding a couple of glasses with ice cubes tinkling inside them. He looked me up and down as I stood under the light, and he was smiling. He put down the glasses on a crocheted doily and from a crystal decanter poured scotch, which submerged the ice. I had a sudden thought that he must have been married; what single man has doilies as coasters, for goodness sake? ‘Do you have any coke?’ I asked. He smirked and shook his head at my naivety. ‘Coke? That spoils the flavour.’ And he licked his lips and sipped the scotch.
He removed his robe to reveal a body that had clearly never entered a gym in the fifty or sixty years of its life. I sculled the scotch and the fire in my throat managed to distract me for a few moments. He unzipped my skirt and it fell to the floor. He took me over to his bed and indicated for me to lie down.
Author Geena Leigh today. Photo source: Geenaleigh.com
I suddenly felt quite ill, as my mind raced. So that’s why they brought me out here in the suburbs for my first job—there was nowhere to run to if I wanted to get out of it. That’s why he had paid with his credit card in advance over the phone, too—so I couldn’t give the money back to him and leave. I had to go through with it.
I felt his rough hands on my body as I lay on his lumpy bed. He peeled off my knickers and pressed them hard onto his face, inhaling my scent. I tried to hide my disgust and vowed I would never wear those knickers again. He pulled my top up over my arms and tossed it on the floor. I fumbled as I unhooked my bra and threw it on top of the pile of my clothes on the floor.
I handed him a condom that was scrunched up tight in my fist and he slid it over his penis in one smooth motion. I turned and stared at the wall as he panted and sweated while he pushed his thick old cock deep inside me. As he wheezed in my ear I thought he was going to have a heart attack, but apparently that was the sound of his pleasure as he came. He collapsed his weight on top of me and I squealed, hardly able to breathe under his fat body. He half rolled, and I half pushed him off me. He chuckled to himself and lay motionless on the bed beside me. The stretched condom was still attached to his now slowly shrinking penis. It was stuck to the side of his chubby leg and dangled down onto the bed with the cum swooshing side to side inside it.
I instinctively raced to the bathroom and got in the shower to wash his musty scent and stray loose pubic hairs off me. Then I quickly dressed (except for my knickers, which I stuffed in my handbag). We didn’t speak as he walked me to the front door. He was as eager for me to leave as I was.
The smell of chlorine overpowered the smell of sex as soon as you walked into The Club. The darkness of the bar contrasted with the brightness of the lights above the pool table and the back-bar mirror. The armchairs and sofas were comfortable—too comfortable, because the guys would often sit around for hours before making a decision.
Geena would walk into The Club each evening, but it would be Sasha who would walk out onto the floor and own it, soaking up the attention. The men thought that they were there to choose us, but it was the other way around. It was my choice who I was going to take into a room. I liked scanning the room and picking the man I wanted. It made me feel powerful—like I was Queen of The Club. Once I was in the room, though, the reality of the work would soon unfold, and it ranged from mild abuse to general humiliation.
I would hate it vehemently.
This is an edited extract from Call Me Sasha by Geena Leigh, published by Allen & Unwin, available now. For more information visit http://www.geenaleigh.com/.