On a recent Friday afternoon in the bar of the Hotel Mark on
East 77th Street, Tracy Quan pulled out an alcohol swab and cleaned her hands
before dipping into the nuts. The gesture could have belonged to the
protagonist of Ms. Quan’s new novel, Diary
of a Manhattan Call Girl. Like her fictional alter ego, Ms. Quan has lived
the life of a happy and hygienic Upper East Side hooker who avoided kissing
clients on the mouth, was handy with a condom and got squeamish at the prospect
of sharing food. Ms. Quan said she has recently taken a hiatus from the world’s
oldest profession to focus on writing.
“I love hotel bars,” said Ms. Quan, sipping a kir.
“Especially now that I’m not working in them anymore. They’re so homey and
Ms. Quan is the sort of woman that a gentleman could have a
drink with in a hotel bar without anyone suspecting she’s a hooker. Just over
five feet tall, she was demurely dressed in matching olive-green pants and
loose shirt, a barely visible pumpkin bodysuit and Bottega Veneta sandals with
transparent beads. Her novel , to be published by Crown in
mid-August, grew out of a series of columns she wrote for the online magazine
As an upscale call girl, Ms. Quan had her own private book
filled with high-paying clients, many of them distinguished Wall Street types
who shelled out $300 to $500 per “date,” each of which usually lasted one hour.
She said the career change from hooker to writer had been a study in contrasts.
“Writing is very solitary; it’s almost antiphysical,” she
said. “The part of yourself that gets expressed as a call girl is so different
from that. Writing makes you selfish, reclusive and hermit-like. But hooking is
all about relating to others and meeting them halfway. It’s a much healthier
In Diary of a
Manhattan Call Girl , the main character, Nancy Chan, is at the top of her
game as a turn-of-the-millennium call girl: cell phone, e-mail, multiple
identities and a black book full of well-heeled clients. But she also has a
problem: a sweet banker boyfriend who wants to marry her and is innocent of her
profession. Nancy isn’t so sure she wants to get married. She’s 35 and finally
realizing the full economic potential of her sexual expertise, while her ego
gets its share of stroking from adoring clients. Why should she give that up?
The author herself is dating Will Crutchfield, a conductor
and former music critic for The New York
Times . He sent her a fan letter after reading her Salon.com column. They
e-mailed back and forth for a month before meeting. Asked his feelings about
Ms. Quan’s former profession, Mr. Crutchfield said, “It’s obviously been a
source of lively material for her writing. And I suppose if there are people in
need of evidence that someone from that business might be classy,
well-balanced, intelligent and interesting, she clearly provides that.”
Asked her age, Ms. Quan said she was 35, then retracted it. “Having to tell the exact,
honest truth about everything in your personal life is very Protestant-very
puritanical,” she said.
She did say she lives in the East 70′s, works out three to
four times a week, is not currently in therapy and avoids the summer Hamptons
ritual. “I abhor the outdoors,” she said. “The last time I was in Southampton,
it was a nightmare of relentless sunshine.”
She does a lot of her writing on a laptop at the New York Society
Library on 79th Street and Madison Avenue. “I like the communal tap-tap-tapping,”
One of her favorite movies is The World of Suzie Wong , a 1961 film starring William Holden as a
struggling American painter and Nancy Kwan as the beautiful Hong Kong
prostitute who falls in love with him.
‘Love Is Like a
Ms. Quan grew up in a small Canadian city. Her father was a
biology teacher in a convent and later a computer programmer; her mother was an
editor of science materials. Ms. Quan was precocious: At age 4, she wanted to
be a librarian; at 7, she wanted to open a progressive school; at 8, “I
noticed,” she said, “that there were women who made their way in the world with
their bodies. That really intrigued me.”
Her parents divorced when she was about 7, and she and her
brother went to live with their father. She said she didn’t resent her mother
for giving her up, but rather admired her as an independent working woman who
wore cute clothes and had better things to do than raise children. Then her
mother took custody, but she wasn’t much of a homemaker. It frequently fell to
Tracy to cook dinner for the family.
She first traded sex for money at age 13, Ms. Quan said. She
was already sexually active and on the pill when a professor paid her
baby-sitter’s wages to have sex with him. “I moved away from the perversion and
toward the profession,” she said. She ran away from home when she was 14: “I
wanted to get out and do my own thing. It was difficult to contain me.”
She moved in with an agoraphobic boyfriend and started
sneaking around on him to begin her apprenticeship in the world of paid sex,
working her way up from soliciting men in hotels to an escort agency to,
eventually, her own list of clients. She met Xaviera Hollander, the “Happy
Hooker.” “The first time I heard Xaviera’s voice on the phone, it was like
hearing God,” she said. “I felt like she had made me.”
Ms. Quan said hookers
usually give themselves a weekly quota, say $2,000, but she blew the money as
fast as she made it. Sometimes the money had to be split with a madam, or with
another girl if it was a threesome. In the novel, Nancy Chan spends a bundle on
upkeep: waxes, haircuts, manicures, cosmetics and the search for the perfect
“I was not good at handling money,” said Ms. Quan. “I think
if I ever did have a daughter, I’d want her to be an accountant.”
But she enjoyed her work. “If you really enjoy the company
of men, if you like male companionship, it can be very glamorous,” she said.
Like many modern call girls, Ms. Quan sees herself as
something of an activist and post-feminist. “I was a feminist when I was 10
years old, so you would hope that I’ve evolved since then-unlike, say, Naomi
Wolfe,” she said.
But she said she does not always see eye-to-eye with
so-called pro-sex feminists like Susie Bright.
“They talk like they’re in a locker room all the time,” Ms.
Quan said. “Listen, I have my sexual hang-ups, too”-one being, she added, an
obsession with being “ladylike.”
In fact, she said, she shares some of the views of
neo-conservative writers such as Wendy Shalit and Danielle Crittenden. “Sexual
politics makes for strange bedfellows,” she said. “I think those neo-con chicks
might be on to something. They are sharper-and sometimes better-looking-than
many of the pro-sex feminists, who tend to be rather idealistic.”
It’s unlikely Ms. Quan will encounter any neo-cons at
meetings for PONY (Prostitutes of New York) and other groups that lobby for the
rights of sex workers. “I have a love-hate relationship with the movement,” she
said. It was through such activism that she met her best friend, a businessman
named Hugh Loebner who wrote a letter to The
New York Times in 1994 admitting his own use of prostitutes and protesting
Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s crackdown on hookers and their clients, defending the
rights of “fellow sleazoids.”
Mr. Loebner, who is
president of Crown Industries, which manufactures crowd-control equipment such
as the brass rails at banks, said that he needs to pay for sex because, at age
59, he is only attracted to slender women in their 20′s. “I have high taste in
women,” he said. “I wouldn’t want to have sex with anyone who would want to
have sex with me. In fact, I would question their sanity.”
Mr. Loebner and Ms. Quan both insisted that their connection
is not as hooker and client, but one of mutual intellectual admiration. “Some
of my friends in straight life really admire her,” he said of Ms. Quan. But he said he didn’t know much about her
personal life. “Tracy enjoys compartmentalizing,” he said. “A lot of sex
workers do. It’s part of the attraction of sex work-the ability to shift your
Writing her novel
certainly allowed Ms. Quan to play with her identity a bit . Although it’s a work of fiction, she said that “there have been
elements of Nancy in my personal life: intrigue, hidden feelings,
respectability looming, a certain kind of hope.”
She said that she ended up falling in love with two of her
clients. Her favorites were chatty men-like her father.
“I think call girls repeat with clients some patterns
pertaining to our dads,” Ms. Quan said. “This is great if you have a good
connection with your dad to start with-but some women have horrible problems
with their fathers, which they re-enact with clients, and it’s kind of sad.”
As for marriage, she said she thought it would work best if
both people keep separate apartments. She doubts that she’ll have children. “My
characters are my children,” she said.
Like many writers-and perhaps many hookers-Ms. Quan said
she’s a romantic at heart. “It’s healthy when women acknowledge that sex is a
commodity,” she said. “This doesn’t take away from the pleasure or the romance.
In my experience, it actually improves your love life! I am a very romantic
creature; love is like a hobby for me. People are confused about the whole
question of commodifying sex; they think it’s unromantic. No, no, no.
Squandering your sexual treasure- that’s
the unromantic part.”
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