Inside the World of Tracy Quan, Literary Hooker-Cum-Novelist

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

grown-up.”

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

Salon.com.

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

activity, probably.”

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,”

she said.

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

Hobby’

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

push-up bra.

“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

identity.”

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.”