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.
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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