Rent Girl

by Lisa Baumgartner, Alex Reid

Posted in on Thursday, Dec 4


RENT GIRL


"...People like to say things like 'all work is prostitution'. Most work is exploitation, but most work is not prostitution. Prostitution is prostitution, a very specific sort of exploitation... And while I am doing literal corrections to flippant turns of phrase, the earth doesn't get raped. It gets mined and poisoned and blown up and depleted, it gets ruined, but it doesn't get raped."

Rent Girl is a graphic-novel enriched with colorful illustrations by Laurenn McCubbin and witty, genuine type by Michelle Tea. Based solely on the demystification of sex work, Rent Girl opens up its readers to the undiscovered world of prostitution and same sex relationships. It's a personal account of author Michelle Tea's past experience working in the sex industry. Michelle, the main character struggles throughout the piece to find true contentment with money, love and boundaries. She is plagued by the financial freedoms hooking offers and the spiritual and moral consequences hooking drudges up. Reading this novel was a true awakening; its honesty and in your face attitude is exactly what I look for in a book. I couldn't put it down once I had started, and that almost never happens.


"Avoiding stereotypes of prostitute as victim or superhero, author Michelle Tea instead explores the complicated occupation in all its nuances-absurd, somber, hilarious, and disturbing" (1). A Boston native, Michelle (the main character) is looking for financial freedom. After moving out of her parents house and stumbling upon the likes of Steph, her new quasi-lesbian girlfriend, Michelle's world is turned upside down or right side up, depending on how you look it. After Steph reveals herself to be a prostitute, it's hard not to fantasize about the sex industry and the amount of money that can be made in it. Instead or working 40 hours a week at a minimum wage job Michelle wonders what it would be like, financially speaking, to enter as a prostitute into the sex trade. Her reasoning for choosing this path besides the obvious financial benefits is summed up when she says, " I wanted to try things, everything, especially things that are illegal and have a faint whiff of glamour." A faint whiff of glamour is exactly what hooking provided. Making 700 dollars on her first trick Michelle is literally and figuratively hooked to hooking. Her misadventures through her years in the sex trade are at times, humorous, tantalizing, and heartbreaking. Constantly struggling between the worlds of poverty and prostitution, Michelle must make the eventual decision to stay in the business with its financial freedoms or quit for spiritual serenity. The rawness of Michelle's character is what made this book impossible to put down. Her struggle to make ends meet is more than enough for readers to relate to and the illustrations are just detached from real life to not scare you away but close enough to be simply elegant and excruciatingly powerful for every reader.


The way Michelle Tea turns the iconic symbol of a prostitute into a real human being with emotions, hang-ups, doubts and desires is sure to put every reader's personal prejudices and judgments into check. Tea daringly talks about the untouched and undiscovered industry of sex. She brings hooking down to a human level that all women can empathize with. By the third page my opinions and preconceived notions of what hookers were had been changed immediately. Not that hookers or prostitutes are inferior or suspect for my judgment but I've never been exposed to the actual workings of the trade- how it's done and the effects of doing it. For me the book took a very rigid and cold, fictional character that I had stored in my head and turned her into a breathing, bleeding, crying, beautiful woman, who not only knew what she wanted but did what she had to do in order to get it. As odd as this may sound, I imagined Michelle to be me. For the most part she reacted and acted in ways that I would have if put in similar situations. Her conscience and moral code are what make the book touching rather than disturbing. She is never excited to turn another trick but, because of the money, she has to. Her resilience is admirable and yet pathetic at the same. She must feel that her inner strength is something to be reckoned with, because even through all her ups and downs, by the end she does not regret the life she has chosen and keeps the option of hooking always at her waist side. It makes those mornings when you wake up with a pounding headache and the taste of vodka still lingering on your lips seem not so bad. Your biggest slip ups or sexual regrets seem cavalier in comparison. I'm telling you this book could make the most promiscuous girl in the world feel like a virgin. The character's escapades are really that detailed and graphic.

Perhaps the most notable quality of Rent Girl is the humanization of the 'working girl.' We all have our preconceived notions of what a prostitute looks like and how a prostitute carries and conducts herself, but most of us don't know a real prostitute- at least I don't. I've seen them in movies and read about their sexual escapades in the news and online but I've never met a prostitute in real life. Rent Girl makes that happen. This book is a synthesis of prostitute and 'non-prostitute.' It's the unveiling of a veiled industry and the type of woman that works in it. Women who do not assume a career in the sex industry, consciously or unconsciously disconnect themselves from 'that type' of women. But what Rent Girl speaks to is the demystification of these constructed characters. It's the synthesis of two types of women who may be socially or professionally different but not physically different. We are all made up of the same matter: blood, veins, heart, body, and soul. This book reveals the truth that no matter what path we've chosen or the jobs we've taken, these things cannot and do not define us. We aren't as different from one another as we'd like to think, we've just been dealt different hands.

Work Cited
(1) Tea, Michelle and Laurenn Mccubbin. Rent Girl. San Francisco: Last Gasp, 2004.

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