book reviews, careers, money

Sephe Haven’s My Whorizontal Life: An Escort’s Tale: The First Six Months…

After recently reading about the fall of the Falwells, I decided I needed something a little lighter and faster to read. I ended up finding Sephe Haven’s memoir, My Whorizontal Life: An Escort’s Tale: The First Six Months. This book, which was published in 2019, gives readers a look at one woman’s unlikely journey into sex work. I’ve never been one to shy away from controversial topics, so when I saw the memoir being suggested on Amazon, I decided to take the plunge.

Who is Sephe Haven, and why did she become an “escort”?

The first thing to know about Sephe Haven is that it’s not the author’s real name. She uses a pseudonym. But before she became a sex worker, she was reportedly an actress who graduated from Juilliard in the 1980s. Amazingly enough, Haven writes that Juilliard was the only drama school of several good ones that accepted her.

Like a lot of people– especially those who study the arts– Haven left school with a lot of debt. While she was talented and well trained as an actress, she wasn’t finding work that could support her adequately. One day, she saw an ad for escorts. Big money was promised. She was 26 years old and relatively good looking, so she called the phone number and was invited in for an interview. There, after an initial screening, she met “Susan”, a very strict madam who immediately laid down the law.

The author was given two names. When a client paid $200 an hour, she was “Gwen”. When the rate was $300 an hour, she was “Tasha”, a name she eventually changed to “Natasha”. Although it was the 1980s, when AIDS was still very scary and kind of new, Haven plunged into the new job with only slight trepidation. Soon, she found that she was kind of a natural, as she learned what men like and even managed to empathize and humanize the work a bit.

The money was good, and it came easily… but soon, she broke one of Susan’s rules and was cut loose. The prospect of going back to regular employment was unappealing for a lot of reasons– especially financial. Haven started looking for other opportunities in the sex worker industry and tried a couple of places. Neither were as satisfying as working for Susan was, as Susan was strict, but very professional. And Susan made sure her girls were safe, which was more than a lot of the madams bothered with. Not surprisingly, the author got another chance with Susan and never broke another rule… and if we’re to believe her story, she was richly rewarded for it. Yes, she made money, but she also made some connections… or, at least that’s how the story goes.

My thoughts

I’m of kind of a mixed mind about this book. It’s a quick and easy read, which I enjoyed. Haven is sometimes funny, or at least endearing, and the book is well-written. My Whorizontal Life is also priced reasonably, so I wasn’t out a lot of money when I downloaded it. And, I have to admit, it did make me think… and have some empathy for people in the sex industry. In some instances, Haven really seems to provide a much needed service to lonely men of means. We often forget that a basic human need for most people is a connection to someone… being touched or even just talking to someone is very important to the vast majority of humans. So, on one level, Haven was providing a needed service.

However, although she changed the spelling of “horizontal” to the punny “whorizontal”, Haven kind of ripped off comedian Chelsea Handler’s title. Handler wrote My Horizontal Life: A Collection of One Night Stands in 2013. That was the first thing I noticed.

The next thing I noticed is that the book feels a bit incomplete. I felt like it ended kind of abruptly. There were a few stories in the book that I felt like she might have fleshed out a bit more. Maybe one more anecdote would have been good, although it does look like Haven meant (or means) to make this into a series. I don’t see another book yet, though, so I’m not sure if she scrapped the idea or what. I would read another installment if she wrote one.

I did appreciate that Haven sort of channeled the hooker with the heart of gold stereotype, as she also incorporated some of the acting skills she learned, as well as some comedy chops. She also included a story about the disappointing reaction she got from one guy she knew at Julliard when she told him how she was earning money. I’m sure he wasn’t the only one who knew. I would have liked to have known a bit more about how people in her life reacted to this line of work. But then, this volume was just about the first six months. Maybe that was meant for a later book.

It’s important to remember this book is about a bygone era. Haven was doing this in the late 80s and early 90s, so you will read about a lot of people smoking, watching videocassettes, and playing tapes. If you’re a young person, that might seem odd… but if you’re middle aged, it will all make perfect sense.

As I was reading this book, I thought this might make an interesting show for Netflix or something… With the right actors, I think it could work as a comedy. This book is mostly comedic, with almost nothing in it that would make you think sex work could be dangerous or scary. That’s probably another problem I have with it. Haven makes sex work seem like a great gig. Maybe it really was for her, but I know that’s not always how it works out for those who get into it. And, as Haven found out, it can hard to leave that job behind. In her case, it was because the money was so good, but in other people’s cases, it’s because of scary pimps and the like.

Anyway, if you think My Whorizontal Life might interest you, I’m happy to recommend it. I’m glad it helped cleanse my mental palate of the sleazy business promoted by the so-called Christian Falwells. At least Haven is somewhat honest about what she was doing, right? That’s more than I can say for certain evangelical “Christians” in Lynchburg, Virginia.

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condescending twatbags

Overbearing, obnoxious, opinionated, and obstreperous…

Okay, now that I’ve cooled down a bit, I can write something. It may be pitifully brief and non-sensical, but I’m gonna emote anyway.

Yesterday, I wrote about my new “friend” Jordan on RfM. I haven’t been hanging out there as much recently, mainly because I no longer really care that much about the Mormons… or frankly, my husband’s ex and her brood. I think it helps that younger stepdaughter is no longer so mean to Bill. Also, a lot of my favorite posters have moved on, so the site doesn’t interest me as much as it used to.

However, I’ve been experiencing a touch of writer’s block lately, so I’ve stopped in a few times to see if anything piques my interest. I ran into Jordan yesterday on the thread about Chelsea Handler. Today, I ran into him again. Someone asked for votes for their “incoming” baby daughter (is she going to be born in a foxhole?). They asked RfMers to pick which name they liked better— Bentley or Petula. People sure are becoming more creative with first names these days. I mean, yeah, I’ve heard of Petula Clark. Bentley reminds me of Mr. Bentley on The Jeffersons. Of course, Bentley is also the name of an expensive car.

I’m partial to Petula, although it’s not a name I would choose. Good song, though.
Mr. Bentley to me…

Jordan initially piped up with the following comment:

One is the name of a make of car and the other sounds like “petulant”. Neither gets my vote!

Thanks for your input, Jordan. In a way, I can kind of see Jordan’s point. Kids can be cruel. I think parents should take into account the teasing a child might have to endure due to an unfortunately chosen name. For instance, people used to call me “genitalia” because of my maiden name. Even if they hadn’t called me that, I would have loved it if my mom hadn’t chosen the most popular girls’ name of 1972. There were way too many Jennifers, Jennys, and Jens in my classes.

More people weighed in. One person offered a name that wasn’t a choice, which Jordan said he liked. The supportive among us offered which one we liked better. But Jordan wasn’t having just offering his opinion and moving on like a normal person. Nope. He added this comment:

A child called Bentley is going to have car jokes all their life.

Bentley also contains the element “bent” which has all kinds of meanings which aren’t usually positive.

Alright. Point taken. Moving on… But no, the overbearing one was back with this comment, as well as definitions from the dictionary of “bent” and “petulant”:

Bent from MW

3 slang
a : different from the normal or usual
… she was so bent that she’s probably a woman who ought to be locked up somewhere …
— Robert Redford
b chiefly British : DISHONEST, CORRUPT
a bent cop
Like to get bent? This hangover beater will help you get back on track.
— Vibe
bent out of shape
: extremely upset or angry
get bent
slang —used as an angry or contemptuous way of dismissing someone’s statement, suggestion, etc.
I try to call him the next morning to apologize, but he tells me to get bent.
— Chuck Klosterman

petulant adjective
pet·​u·​lant | \ ˈpe-chə-lənt \
Definition of petulant
1 : insolent or rude in speech or behavior
2 : characterized by temporary or capricious ill humor : PEEVISH

You have to be very careful what you name children. Even if it is well meaning. I was at school with a very nice girl called “Gay” – the amount of abuse she had to put up with because of it. (Gay wasn’t actually gay AFAIK either). Children aren’t pc.

There was also a guy called Denholm who was always getting called Denim, and ended up being nicknamed Levis.

This advice, coming from the person who is so very sure Chelsea Handler is about to fly a light plane while rip roaring drunk. Okay, I know that’s not really what he said, but he’s awfully sure he’s right about things, isn’t he? I would imagine it might be difficult to spend a lot of time in his company.

Well… maybe the person who is taking this poll is now regretting the decision to ask people on RfM. I think it’s a very personal decision, what to name one’s child. You could choose your child’s name with a lot of love and care, and then they grow up and change it. My mother-in-law legally changed her name when she was about 60. When we mailed out wedding invitations, Bill’s dad, who has been divorced from his mother since the late 60s, called him up and asked who the hell “Parker” was. Parker is my MIL’s name. She didn’t like the more pedestrian name, Mary Beth, so she changed it. And, of course, all three of ex’s three oldest kids have changed at least one part of their names. Her eldest child– son from the first marriage– has had three different names. But then, his mother has had about five different last names. So, I guess, for some people, names are a transient thing.

Anyway, besides being an expert on alcoholism and the “alcoholic look”, Jordan the opinionated is also an authority on baby naming. Good to know.

complaints, condescending twatbags

“Alcoholic face”…

Got into an interesting discussion on the Recovery from Mormonism messageboard yesterday. Someone shared a clip of comedienne Chelsea Handler, who was disparaging Mormonism. Ms. Handler was raised in the church by her LDS mom, though her father was Jewish. She was on Bill Maher’s show, and the subject of Mormonism came up. Chelsea Handler said she thinks “Mormonism is really, really ridiculous.” Personally, I agree with her, but I also know a lot of people love the church. I know there are many good people in the church, too. But if you know more than the basic stuff about the church, a lot of it is really ridiculous. It is. And a lot of it is also ripped off from other churches and organizations.

“But they can’t even drink alcohol!”

For instance, yesterday, my sister sent an email and briefly described my uncle’s funeral. Apparently, a lot of people were there to pay their respects. The receiving line went on for over two hours and the Masons, of which Uncle Brownlee was a proud member, came to offer their thoughts. My sister mentioned some of the symbolism and their dress, which I remarked the Mormons have ripped off. That’s because a lot of the early Mormons were also Masons at one time. Mormons have also ripped off traditions from other churches. I won’t get into that right now, though, because I’ve already written extensively about it, and I want to comment on something else that came up in that thread.

A poster named “Jordan” commented that she made kind of an erroneous statement about Mormons and Hell. Mormons aren’t really into “Hell”, per se. They are into “Outer Darkness”, which is a complete divorce from God. But there’s no fire and brimstone Hell in Mormonism… or, at least that’s how I understand their depiction of Hell. Mormons also have three levels of Heavenly Kingdoms. There’s the lowest level– the Telestial Kingdom, which is much better than Earth, but not as good as the Terrestrial Kingdom. The highest echelon of Heaven is the Celestial Kingdom. Chelsea Handler didn’t get into that. She kept her comments generically Christian, probably because trying to explain this stuff on a show like Bill Maher’s would be too complicated and take too long. Most people understand the concept of Heaven and Hell, so that’s where she kept her remarks, even if it wasn’t technically correct.

Jordan, who obviously doesn’t like Chelsea Handler, also made a comment about Ms. Handler’s drinking habits. He wrote, “Going by the appearance of her skin, she has imbibed frequently.”

A few posters took Jordan to task for making a comment about Chelsea Handler’s appearance and drinking habits. He then became oddly insistent that she’s a drunk, and started making other comments about people with “drinking problems”. The tone of his posts were “holier than thou” to the extreme, and it was clear that he was annoying a lot of people.

You know what? Based on what I’ve read about Chelsea Handler and her candid comments about alcohol, I would agree that she probably is a drunk. She even seems to admit it. However, I take exception to people who make judgments about other people’s health, sobriety, and character based solely on their appearances. So I joined in the fray, bringing up the fact that a person’s skin condition does not, in and of itself, indicate that someone is an alcoholic.

Take, for instance, a person with rosacea. Rosacea is known as the “Celtic curse”. People of Celtic descent often have problems with this skin disease, which causes ugly red blotches and spidery veins on a person’s face. Drinking alcohol can certainly make rosacea worse. So can eating avocados, exercising, spending time in extreme temperatures, or eating spicy food. A person can be a teetotaler and have blotchy red skin on his or her face. I have blotchy red skin, broken capillaries, and spider veins myself. I am of strong Celtic descent. I also drink a lot of booze. But my mom doesn’t drink much, and she has the same issues I have with blotchy red skin. It’s in our genes. In fact, when either of us drinks any alcohol, we flush. Many Asians also have this same issue with alcohol, although truth be told, a person can flush or blush for lots of reasons ranging from menopause to embarrassment.

My point to Jordan is that you can’t make a solid determination about a person’s health status or habits based only on one or two physical clues. And even if Chelsea Handler is an alcoholic, why is it anyone’s business other than her doctor’s or her loved ones?

Jordan went on to write this:

Or if you’re an interviewer/employer, lover, business partner, tenant, franchiser, passenger, in law enforcement, a car driver, a landlord and a hundred other situations

If someone’s high functioning they may be able to get away with it, but this phase doesn’t last forever.

And my response was, “The same could be said about finding out if someone is an asshole. I bet people pick up on that about you right away.”

So he wrote this:

Takes one to know one, right?

Totally subjective opinion, whereas alcoholism is a recognized medical condition with physical symptoms.

So tell me HONESTLY. If you got in a light aircraft, and the pilot stank of drink and was unsteady on their feet, would you allow them to fly off with you? Really? Or would that be too judgemental?

Don’t dodge the question this time…

Unfortunately, the thread closed before I had a chance to respond. If I had responded, this is what I would have written.

First of all, I am not in the habit of flying in light aircrafts. If I were, I would not expect Chelsea Handler to be the pilot. We’re discussing Chelsea Handler, right? So what does a drunk pilot of a light aircraft have to do with anything?

Secondly, having grown up among alcoholics, I would tell Jordan that most alcoholics generally hold their liquor pretty damned well. I would expect a novice drinker to “stink of drink” and be “unsteady on their feet” more than I would a functioning alcoholic to present that way. I also would expect a novice drinker to lack the judgment to try to fly a light aircraft while obviously drunk. Alcoholics generally know how to hide the disease pretty well. In fact, secrecy is a big part of the illness. The scenario Jordan presents is pretty unrealistic, although I won’t say it’s never happened. I’m sure it has.

The fact is, we’re surrounded by people with “drinking problems”. Most people would never know the difference unless they happened to live with the person or the person with the “problem” got to the point at which they simply didn’t care anymore and stopped trying to hide it. However, even the simple term “drinking problem” is kind of subjective. To some people, anyone who drinks at all has a problem. To others, a person has to be on skid row, falling down drunk, and about to die of liver disease to be considered an alcoholic. My dad came out of the closet as an alcoholic in 1997 and many people who knew him were very, very surprised about it. In fact, I myself didn’t really know he had a problem until I was in college. To me, his behavior was normal. My mom was very co-dependent and she helped him hide it. Most alcoholics have co-dependent accomplices who help them hide their conditions.

Now, it is true that chronic overconsumption of booze can have an effect on a person’s looks. Too much alcohol can dry out the skin and make it feel rough. Excessive boozing can lead to liver problems, which can cause jaundice– yellowing of the eyes and skin. But so can liver and gallbladder issues from diseases not caused by drinking. Some people do get blotchy skin, broken capillaries, and spider angiomas from drinking too much or vomiting due to drinking… But a person with sensitive skin can also get blotchy skin and broken capillaries from vomiting due to a stomach bug. Sneezing, coughing, and violent dry heaving can have a permanent effect on your skin in the form of broken capillaries. Someone could get spider angiomas from having a high level of estrogen. A person can get dry, leathery skin from all sorts of skin diseases or environmental conditions that have nothing to do with alcoholism. Too much alcohol can make a person puffy, flushed, and fat. But so can eating too much food, taking certain medications, exposing oneself to certain allergens, or having certain medical problems.

My point is, while Jordan may be technically right about Chelsea Handler’s allegedly excessive drinking habits, it’s generally not cool to assume something about another person’s health simply by casually looking at them. Another poster wrote that s/he has rosacea, but doesn’t drink alcohol. Sometimes the rosacea flares up, but Jordan apparently thinks it’s okay to assume s/he has a drinking problem simply based on that skin condition. In that person’s case, Jordan would be wrong. I would hope that if he was hiring for a position that required sobriety, he would do more than simply make an assessment about the person’s character based solely on the appearance of their skin.