This piece was nominated for The Best of the Net.
There are many secrets we want to take to our graves. Secrets we are scared to even admit to ourselves. Mine is I was pimped out by an acquaintance when I was at my most vulnerable. I know this is a hard story to tell and even harder to read. It may come across I’m cavalier with this, but I’m not. I’ve just let the shame of it all go.
Seven years ago, I left a verbally and physically abusive relationship. Verbal abuse is not new to my family: I’d learned to take it, internalize it, and accept the fact I was all the horrible things they said I was. The hitting, however, was new. Fragmented and alone, I did something I promised myself I’d never do: I called my parents and asked for their help. They sent me a plane ticket home. There’s a certain weird comfort that comes with being in your childhood home. No matter how difficult the relationship, I was relieved to be somewhere familiar. My anxiety reached monumental heights but at least I was with abusers who wouldn’t hit me.
Their love felt as good as placing your hand on the hot element of the stove. I didn’t have the type of relationship with my parents where I could trust them to believe me or understand how alone and scared I was. My mother, the saint that she was, gave me exactly six weeks to get over my ex and return to the world of the living. My mother has always struggled with compassion –the real makings of a serial killer. She dislikes people she feels are beneath her, including me. She asked why I couldn’t just go back home and fix my relationship. I told her it wasn’t possible and declined to offer any more information. That’s when she told me I could only stay at home for six weeks. She was sorry for my issues, but she had plans, and I couldn’t expect her to re-arrange her life to accommodate me. My father never said anything.
Wanting to be consoled by my parents had been a fantasy. I couldn’t explain how my partner had destroyed any shred of self-esteem my mother hadn’t already crushed. I couldn’t tell them how this man tried to stab me and how I still decided to spend the rest of my life with him. The embarrassment I felt was so overwhelming the only thing that kept it from swallowing me was the guilt: the guilt of allowing a partner to treat me this, the guilt of not being able to be his perfect woman, the guilt of not walking away earlier when the red flags were slapping me in the face. On some level I felt I deserved it, and sometimes, when the whiskey hits, I still do.
I left their house with $300 and one suitcase. My ex kept everything and refused to give me my stuff – one last act of dominance on my way out. Without a job or a place to stay, I decided to live with my best friend and her partner while I figured out what came next. But their landlord threatened them with eviction if they let me stay. I live in a city with a 0% vacancy rate, where an average apartment goes for $1200-$1500/month. The small amount of money I was making as a temp wasn’t enough. So I moved into my car. It was better than living on the street and riding the city bus to keep from freezing to death. If you’d ask most of the people who knew me, they would’ve been surprised to know I was homeless. It’s one of my best kept secrets. I know some of my friends will know about this secret after reading this.
I met Ray a few years ago. He was a local artist and part-time dealer. We weren’t friends, but we were friendly. We knew some of the same people, and even had a few friends in common. I’ll never forget the night he changed my life. I went to visit a friend in the hope of maybe finding somewhere to sleep for the night. At that point I had been living out of my car for a couple of months. I used the University’s showers when I could. I’d park behind small strip malls or on quiet streets, sleep, and be up and gone by 6 a.m.
Ray filled the room the best way he knew how: by making everyone laugh. The thing about Ray is he’s very unassuming: he’s 5’9, black, with big brown eyes that bulge out of his head. He’s fat and a little sloppy. I would be surprised if anyone pegged him for a pimp. I’m not sure I would either and I’m the one he pimped. There is something about him that makes him approachable, almost charismatic. He came in and sat down next to me. We talked for a bit and exchanged a few stories about the people we knew. At the end of the evening he asked if I could give him a ride.
As we walked to my car, I saw the shadow of my backseat and instantly remembered. My whole life was in there. I tried to think of an excuse but he got in the car before I could even think of a convincing lie. He looked in the back and asked if I was moving. My body tensed up, and he noticed. I told him I was in the process of moving. I know I didn’t owe this guy any explanation for my life but there we were sitting in a car, awkwardly trying to digest this lie. I drove him home and he invited me in. I smoked a few joints with him and his girlfriend. As the night was winding down, he asked if I wanted to spend the night on the couch because I looked tired. I went to bed that night thankful for him and that couch. That was the first time I slept indoors in months. I wasn’t in my car freezing, hoping the cops wouldn’t harass me. I just wanted to feel something other than misery. Ray could sense it, and saw the perfect opportunity to manipulate me. I lost an acquaintance and gained a pimp.
I’ve heard stories about sex trafficking and how it’s so widespread. There are thousands of accounts of women being grabbed while walking or pumping gas. I never for one second thought it would be something I’d have to worry about. I’m a fat, nappy-headed black woman. I don’t fit the stereotypical look of many of these victims. If anyone tried to kidnap me they would have a hell of a time picking my big ass up from the ground.
Ray didn’t brutalize me, he preyed on my declining mental health. I had no home, no money, and no one who loved me, so I was ready to do anything to stay warm. Ray pulled me aside and told me he knew I was living in my car. He told me he would let me stay on his couch for a few days. I thanked him and told him if he needed a ride, I’d be more than happy to drive him. I started driving him to and from the studio. I’d sometimes drive his girlfriend to her cleaning appointments. I’m not sure when I realized his girlfriend wasn’t cleaning houses but meeting clients for sex in exchange for money.
I remember talking to her and telling her she didn’t have to do this. This was probably my white-saviour moment. Many people are unaware of the dynamics between a pimp and his girl. She worshiped him as her everything, and she was willing to have sex with men to support his dreams and fund his lavish lifestyle. She wanted to be his ride or die, and she’d do anything to maintain that position.
Once he figured out I knew what his girlfriend was doing, he made me her driver. I was to go to all her appointments and wait in the car to make sure everything went well. He sometimes would have girls from “out of town” who came to the house to work, and I’d have to drive them too. After a month of doing this, he approached me about my contribution to the household. I naively believed because I was driving him around I was contributing. He reminded me he fed and sheltered me without asking for a penny. It was time to do my part and sign my pussy over to him. With the threat of being homeless again, I felt trapped. It’s easy to think I could’ve just walked away, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t go back to sleeping in my car. I fucking wouldn’t. This felt like my only option. He coerced me into taking off my clothes because he wanted to see my naked body. He took pictures of me and put them on Backpage without my consent. Pictures of my pussy are somewhere on the internet and I don’t even know how I would go about finding or removing them. I try not to think about it too much.
I did exactly as he asked, and I had my very first appointment that evening. An appointment that to this day makes me sick to my stomach. After that came many more, and their faces just started blending together. A part of me thought I deserved what those men were doing to me. I didn’t fight them – I didn’t say much. I didn’t see the value in myself, and I honestly believed I wouldn’t be able to survive without Ray. I deluded myself into thinking he rescued me – probably because I didn’t have the mental capacity at the time to take care of myself. I’ve done things for money I never got a cent for: all my money went to Ray.
I want to tell you I woke up from my mental slumber and ran for my life. That Ray got arrested and his girlfriend got away. None of those things happened. Well, almost none. I stayed with Ray for ten months, and it felt like I’d been there my whole life. I didn’t know how to tell anyone what was happening. I’d stopped interacting with most of my friends. I tried to harm myself; I wanted to die. There’s a haunting peace that comes when you decide you no longer want to live. Every other voice in your head shuts up, and all you hear is the reverberation of an echo telling you everything will be better once you are gone.
It’s a feeling I wore on my face the day a cab driver asked me if I was ok. I couldn’t answer – I couldn’t find the words – so I just shook my head. He told me I had too much youth to be that sad. I think it was the kindest thing anyone had said to me that year. He turned off the meter and asked if I wanted a coffee. I whispered yes, and we took off. He asked where I was coming from, dressed like I was. He looked in my eyes and knew the answer.
He was trying to be kind. He gave me the sermon that every person gives when they find out you are a whore: “You don’t have to do this.” “You seem like a smart girl.” “What do your parents think of this? Do they know?” As if any of that mattered. Those questions were not gonna save me. I told him to stop and I broke down. Loud yelps and the wettest tears flowed out of me. It was as if my despair wanted to be heard, wanted to break free – a final signal to my body that I needed to leave.
I told a complete stranger what was happening to me. I told him about Ray and his girlfriend. I told him I had nowhere to go. I was crying for what felt like hours and this man told me everything was going to be ok. That Allah had put me on his path to help. He told me he could help me get away tonight if I wanted to. Never underestimate the ability of a man who wants to rescue a damsel in distress. I didn’t care how sexist he was or where this mysterious safe haven would be. Something told me he was my lifeline. I took his number and told him once I was ready I’d get in touch.
It took me two weeks. That’s something no one tells you about leaving your abuser: you feel like you will not survive without them. It took me two weeks to convince myself I was better than being pimped. I don’t know where that tiny speck of self-love came from, but I heard the tiny voice inside myself.
I left everything behind. I told Ray I had to get tampons and I needed the car. He handed me the keys without hesitation. I was sweating: half in fear and half in shock. I had been ready for a fight to get those keys, and I wasn’t prepared for how he handed them over so easily. I got in the car and didn’t look back. I called Mohammed, my wannabe savior, and he came to meet me. I was waiting in an empty parking lot, wondering when Ray would start calling and looking for me. My pulse was racing and it didn’t slow down once I saw Mohammed.
I told Mohammed I needed to be inside somewhere. I didn’t feel safe sitting in the car, waiting for Ray to call. He told me his apartment was nearby and we could go there. I followed him to a familiar apartment building: I had previously seen a client there. We went up to the seventh floor into a tiny one-bedroom apartment with very little furniture. Mohammed told me he used to live there but now lives in another house.
He motioned for me to sit down. He told me he was happy I called, he had been worried about me. I told him I had needed time to get ready to leave, that it was a lot harder than he could ever know. My phone rang suddenly and I recognized the number; it was Ray. I’d been gone for over an hour. I turned the ringer off. At that moment it hit me. Here I was again, with nothing, running away from another man, trying to get to safety because of the people I allowed in my life. I cried for all the times I didn’t leave. They weren’t tears of sadness, but of anger. I knew something was wrong with me and I didn’t have the words to say what the wrong was.
Mohammed told me I could stay in his apartment until I got back on my feet. I told him I needed one month. One month was all I thought I needed to fix my shitty life. That’s how far out of touch I was with reality. I had a breakdown. Mohammed found me naked, walking in circles in the living room. I had been up for a few days and was talking about killing myself. I scared him so much he called 911. I was taken to the psychiatric ward for two weeks. It was both demoralizing and dehumanizing. I came out with a few diagnoses and the knowledge that as a black person I could never trust the medical system.
Ray had not given up on me, his precious cash cow. He left me multiple voicemails and text messages about how he was going to ruin me, how the entire city would know I was a whore. He also told me he would have his girlfriend beat my ass. I knew to take his threats seriously, but I also knew I wasn’t strong enough to fight back. Staying and fighting is not for everyone. I needed to go to a place where I could do something else. I sold my car for parts and purchased a plane ticket for the west coast. I didn’t have more than $700. Sometimes running away is the only thing you can do. I had to leave in order to live.
VENUS NOIRRE is a Black, queer sex worker and writer currently living on the Lekwungen and W̱SÁNEĆ territories. After many years working as a community art organizer and in communications, this fluffy Dominatrix has decided to publish her stories and is currently working on her first book; sharing stories about being fat, Black and a Dominatrix.