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Photograph by George Sakkestad

Seasoned Gals

What happens when prostitutes grow older? Well, in some cases, they get wiser. These veteran hookers say they're still in the game, and what's more, their clientele is still young.

By Dara Colwell

TODAY, VICTORIA Schneider is in excruciating pain. As she sits awkwardly back onto the sofa, covered in an elaborate, faded brown rug, the tall, sinuous-looking woman takes a deep and noticeable breath. The pinched nerve, shooting spasms of pain along the span of her back, is an irksome inconvenience--she has already had to reschedule a client.

At first glance, Schneider appears somewhat androgynous. A dramatic-looking redhead, with large, blue-gray eyes and finely penciled eyebrows, she looks like either an incredibly handsome woman or an ingeniously talented drag queen. Her ample chest, tucked into a maroon sweatshirt, seems at odds with straight hips and a sensuous voice as gruff as gravel being dragged through mud.

At 49 years old, Schneider has seen it all. Her face lends several clues. Wrinkles gather around a generous mouth used to chain-smoking, insults, begging for dope, sweet-talking johns, working it. "Are you going to pay me for this interview?" she asks immediately, with no pretense. "A whore's always going to ask."

Schneider is still a working girl, a working woman, a semi-retired street prostitute who pulls tricks, a professional who, quite frankly, enjoys her job. She started out in her "10s, 11s, 12s" and, some four decades later, she's as much on her game as any woman who has built a skill set over a lifetime. What's more, her expertise attracts young men, clients who are looking for a mature professional who's well-schooled and well-trained.

"In Sydney, I got $1,500 one night. That was cool," she says casually. Schneider took the city of San Francisco to court last year after the police wrongfully strip-searched her. She won and took a vacation on the settlement. "He was in his 30s and real cute. We put on a couple of videos, lay on the bed and massaged each other, had sex and that was it. It was real nice."

In Australia, Schneider came across several brothels specifically for older prostitutes. "I met a 70-year-old hooker when I was in Sydney," she says, her voice lowering in admiration. "She was fine, you know, 70 years old. Not bad." At 49, Schneider doesn't exactly shirk the age thing--she knows she's slowing down--but, not one to cater to expectations, she simply sees aging as better business. "(Older prostitutes) can talk, we can get a conversation going and we're willing to spend the time," she says. "Some guys want mature women who aren't going to rip them off. So there's an advantage both ways."

Woman
Photograph by George Sakkestad

Please Mr. Please

IN HONORE DE BALZAC'S DAY, there were five times as many prostitutes in Paris as there are today. During that early 19th century era, prostitutes were proficient teachers providing sexual initiation for young boys, who filled the local brothels on half days and holidays. A great way, it could be said, to spend a kid's lunch money.

Coming from Europe, a place where the sexy older woman historically exists, Cosi Fabian, a somewhat gamine, 52-year-old prostitute, has that dry English wit that lends an intellectual twist to her musings. Becoming a prostitute at 42, Fabian saw her career change as a political move. When she picks up the telephone, a harsh, morning voice, deepened by nicotine, greets me, requesting me to phone her back--on my dime.

"I think what age gives you, regardless of what you do, is grounding wisdom and acceptance of human foibles," she says. "I don't think age is a disability. Of course, I wish I looked 20 years younger, but I've gained other things." Those "other things," professionally speaking, as Fabian touts them in her online ad on cosifabian.com, are giving "joy, integrity and compassion" to her clients. Or, as Fabian puts it in person, "being older, sexier and very, very good."

And Fabian heartily admits to having lots of practice. Her initial training came during the 1960s, a time when the maxim "Nice girls don't" was replaced by the liberating mantra "Yes they do, and they like it, too." "The first quality of a good whore is [determining], 'Were you a good slut?'" Fabian says. Having hit 15 with a great pair of legs, just as the pill and the miniskirt sashayed into popular use, her answer is apparent. "Yes! And I was damned good at it!"

Fabian's ad, which caught the attention of ABC Television's 20/20 and resulted in the Downtown episode "Women of the Night," also advertises "Pussy 101," a training course to teach young men the erotic arts. "With 'Pussy 101' I was trying to explain it without shame," Fabian says. "Men really want to be good lovers, but in a relationship, everything is so loaded. It's like, you'll get pussy, but then you have to spend the day with the mother-in-law. This offered men a chance to learn." A healthy contingent of young men eagerly responded to Fabian's ad.

Fabian admits she is always pleasantly surprised that younger men find her sexually attractive. And her time with them makes her appreciate what an older woman can give: experience. "Men think they're supposed to like young, blond and bouncing," she says. "I hear from younger guys, who are almost ashamed, that say they don't know why but they've always found older women attractive." Fabian begins to laugh slyly. "I tell them that means you're very smart."

Boys Boys Boys

WEEDING THROUGH salacious material and talking sex first thing in the morning, even before the caffeine hits, I find the song "Nasty Girl" keeps running through my head: "Tonight, I'm living in a fantasy, a whole little nasty world./Tonight, do you want to dance with me, do you think I'm a nasty girl?" I can't help but wonder what the fantasy is for men.

"It's illegal--it's an adrenaline rush," says a 31-year-old marketing guy who wishes to remain nameless--so nameless, in fact, he won't leave a callback number on my voice mail. "Guys can truly divorce intimacy from sex. This is not a loving, sensual thing--it almost doesn't matter who it is." This interviewee, who has been to several massage parlors around San Jose and toured the brothels of Nevada, says he regards the transaction as similar to good customer service. "It's about rapport and enthusiasm and plain old technique," he says. "The better they do it, the more convincing it is for you--it's a fantasy thing."

While declining the services of a 50-year-old prostitute donning a cheerleader's outfit, as "it wasn't [his] scene," he has slept with one whose age hovers around 40. "I'd be just as happy with an older one. Older prostitutes are comfortable with their career. You don't get the feeling you're abusing them," he says. And generally, he finds less-attractive prostitutes tend to be more skilled in technique. "The less attractive, usually the more attentive," he says. Not that age necessitates lack of beauty, but in prostitution, looks are not what's for sale. Sex is.

Paradoxically, within the parallel industry of S&M, age is actually a bonus. Annalise Ophelian, a 27-year-old professional dominatrix, has found her clientele increasing as she heads toward 30. "Some of the most successful [S&M] women in the Bay Area are mature women whose expertise is appreciated and sought after by clients," she says. Ophelian will lie about her age because in S&M, the experience is amplified by the appearance of authority. And authority equates with age. "It's interesting, in this society that disempowers women who are 'too old' to be sexual, that I would find myself presenting myself as older," she says.

Ophelian, who is a graduate student at UC-Berkeley, puts a decidedly academic spin on sex work and how older prostitutes challenge society's perception of it. She explains that in the U.S., we tend to assign younger women victim status, assuming that they are too young to make their own decisions--especially when it comes to engaging in prostitution. However, when we see an older woman doing this work, it's more subversive. "Everything we are told about sex work--that it's demeaning to women and always forced--is contradicted by a woman in her 40s or 50s," Ophelian says. "At that age, she's supposed to be professional and make the right choice."

Woman
Photograph by George Sakkestad

Here's to You, Mrs. Robinson

AS A SOCIETY, we now stand at a time when the course of our lives has gone beyond marrying and reproducing, straight to death. "We have to stop equating aging with dying," says Laura Carstensen, director of the Institute for Research on Women and Gender at Stanford University. Carstensen, who specializes in the social and emotional impact of aging, sees old age as an outstanding phenomenon populated by pioneers with no social script. "What we've done in the last 100 years is create a new life stage. We've added 30 years life expectancy in a century," she says. "Our culture created old age--in terms of the species, this is brand new."

As far as older women are concerned, Carstensen discovered that women find aging liberating. "They don't worry so much about turning heads, or is their makeup just right," she says. While the initial transition into losing one's looks is difficult, "old women don't give a hoot. Once, it's gone, forget about it," she says. "But women do stay sexually active."

Seeing women pursuing sex into old age challenges the traditional vision that consigns women to cookie-baking grandmas. It's a vision that counters the reality of many older women, including that of a local author who remains nameless, is in her early 50s and who typically dates younger men. Describing herself as "still attractive enough to be intriguing," she says her younger lovers prize her for having the kind of sensuality that comes with wisdom and experience. "They expect an older woman to know what she wants; she doesn't have the same fears as a younger woman about acceptance," she says.

The author recently posted a personal ad seeking a younger lover and the responses just tumbled in. "I've always fantasized about being with an older woman--ever since I was barely old enough to have dirty thoughts," reads one response. "To this day, my greatest fantasy remains unfulfilled."

Perhaps this is just the role that prostitutes like Schneider and Fabian fill. And Fabian finds younger men, too, are stretching their roles. "Young men in their 20s are much looser, they're less concerned with macho considerations," she says. "There's much less front and they're open to the idea of learning--this isn't seen as a failure."

WHILE LONG GONE are the days when brothels were as tolerated as cafes and men said that "nature moved them to go to sport," older prostitutes, it seems, are still initiating the young. If anything, Fabian's recent experience while shopping underlines the point.

After the second airing of the 20/20 episode, Fabian, across a rack of T-shirts in the GAP, had a conversation with a mother, who had her teenage daughter in tow. The mother, half-joking, said she had a couple of young boys and would love to send them to Fabian when they were older. "I thought, 'She's got it, there's no shame here,'" Fabian says. The two women laughed because such a gesture would cost the mother custody of her children and Fabian her freedom, but the sentiment was real.

"I think it's becoming the new fashion," Fabian says, exhaling on her cigarette. "We'll announce it in your article--only the most discerning are doing it!"

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From the September 14-20, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.




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