I worked in the sex industry from 1979 to 1987. During that period, I was a go-go dancer, men’s magazine model, wrote pornographic articles, wrote and performed phone sex tapes and was a porn star. Most notably, I was one of the leads in Gerard Damiano’s Throat: 12 Years After, the sequel to his original Deep Throat.
I suppose my descent into that dismal world began when I became a sex surrogate soon after my eighteenth birthday. Some months before, I had run away from home to escape the abuse of my mother. She demanded complete control of every aspect of my being. I was not permitted to socialize with other children, talk on the telephone, wash my own hair or take a bath when I wanted. Normal activities such as sitting in the living room and dining at the kitchen table were forbidden. I was forced to spend all my time, including eating all my meals, in a tiny bedroom. My mother was paranoid and kept every window nailed shut, with the shades down and shutters closed. She was convinced the neighbors were plotting to kill us. After my father abandoned the family when I was very little, my mother’s abuse escalated. I was yelled at every day and beaten whenever I broke one of her many rules. My mother told me I was a worthless burden and sadly, I believed her. Craving freedom, I finally escaped.
After arriving in New York City, I worked a series of minimum wage jobs, quickly learning that I needed a significantly higher salary to survive on my own.
I answered an ad in The Village Voice for a sex surrogate, even though my carnal knowledge was seriously limited. I was a true innocent. My mother never allowed me to date a boy or even go to a school dance. A few months before, my virginity was taken from me by a case worker at Covenant House, where I had stayed after leaving home. The men who were my surrogate clients were supposed to suffer from sexual dysfunction. Yet when they were with me, they seemed to function just fine. The office was run by two men who had no medical qualifications. Their only concern was making money. The onsite “therapist” was a woman Gita who would call me into her office before I saw each client. She proceeded to describe each man’s particular dysfunction and tell me exactly what I was to do during the session. To this day, whenever I think of that place I can still smell its stench: a stomach-churning brew of latex, baby oil and men. I hated every minute of it.
Someone told me about go-go dancing in Jersey and put me in touch with an agent. Compared to being a sex surrogate, go-go dancing did not seem that bad.
“At least I don’t have to have sex with anyone,” I rationalized.
I was directed to a Times Square go-go agency called “Joe M Enterprises.” It was located in the Castro Convertible building. The smoke-filled two-room office had its walls plastered with yellowed 8x10 glossies of 1950’s burlesque queens named Bubbles or Fifi who sported feather boas and balloons.
Neither Joe M nor his partner Carmine asked me for ID. They gave me my first bookings in New Jersey and directed me to a shop on the main floor of the Castro building that sold go-go garb. I purchased a gold lame number with gold sequined trim. It scratched my skin - a lot.
So there I was, parading around in my little gold lame G-string, a kid really, being leered at by dollar-waving, cigarette-puffing drunken men perched on tattered bar stools.
At first, I worked exclusively in New Jersey, where the laws were strict - no topless dancing, no touching by the customers, and pantyhose worn at all times. Clubs had names like La Vien Rose, The Red Shingle, The Flamingo, The Caboose, The Zoo, The Toy Boxx, Uncle Charlie’s…
As time went on, I found myself also dancing in Manhattan - topless and without stockings. I danced at The Mardi Gras, The Metropole, The Pussycat and The Babydoll.
I was still trying to get into legitimate show business and weekly read the trade paper Backstage. I came across an ad for “promotional models.” The agency was called International Escorts & Promotions and it was located at 330 West 56th Street.
I was asked to bring professional pictures to the interview. The young woman who ran the office described two types of modeling positions. The first was a “promotional model,” meaning that I would work at boat or car shows wearing a bikini and looking pretty. The second was a “private model,” meaning I would be a professional escort, accompanying men to diner and special events.
I said, “I think that ‘promotional model’ job sounds great. Sign me up for that.”
I left the agency and for the next the next three weeks waited for my phone to ring, to no avail.
I returned to the agency and asked what was the problem.
The office gal told me, “Well, actually we don’t get that many calls for promotional models. If you become a professional escort, we could book you tonight.”
So I agreed.
That night my first “call” was at the Hilton on Sixth Avenue. The man was very handsome, in his thirties and from the Middle East. He had a suite and we sat on the sofa and talked for awhile. He then asked me to get comfortable and I began to figure out that we weren’t going out to dinner or a special event. So we had sex and I went home with $300.
I continued to work for escort services on and off for seven years. With each call, I lost a little bit more of my soul.
One woman who owned an Eastside agency said to me, “What’s so bad about it? Someone loves you for an hour!”
I also posed in men’s magazines - Cheri, Gent, Adult Cinema Review…
There was a magazine called Velvet published by David Zentner. He was absolutely the most disgusting man I ever met in the adult magazine business. David Zentner’s casting couch was notorious. He had a gross-looking brown plaid couch in his office and if a young woman wanted to get a cover or spread in one of his magazines, she would have to pleasure that dirty old man on that dirty old plaid couch. Yuck.
I was offered a role as a dancer in a porn film called Flash Pants. I wouldn’t be nude and got to dance on film, so I did it. There was a young woman who was one of the porn actresses. She was covered in bruises and told the rest of us that her boyfriend had beat her up. No one even bothered to cover up her black and blue marks with make-up. They were perfectly visible on film. Another porn actress on that set looked young - very young. Her mother was also on set and brought the cast and crew homemade macaroni salad. I later learned that the mother accompanied her daughter on all her jobs, both in magazines and films, and sometimes participated in the shoots. Double yuck. I feel ashamed of myself that I did nothing to help this girl. However, my own moral barometer was so skewed, I myself did not know right from wrong, or appropriate from inappropriate.
I danced in another film, Piggy’s and then was cast in my first lead part.
Like most women in sex industry, the longer I worked in that business, the lower my standards became. Dancing led to becoming an escort, which led to posing in men’s magazines, which led to becoming an extra in porn films. Within a short time, I was meeting with Gerard Damiano, who made the original Deep Throat. He cast me as one of the leads in the sequel.
After about a half dozen porn films, I was finished. I just could not handle it anymore. Having sex on camera was the absolute lowest thing I had ever done. I understood why all the other women had to do lines of cocaine before the cameras rolled. Not only was I selling my very soul, but I was doing so in a room full of people who were recording my humiliation on film for the entire world to see. I was the only porn actress I knew who did not do drugs. The down side of that was I was perfectly alert during filming and therefore clearly remember every single disgusting detail.
Though I quit porn films and go-go dancing in 1985, I continued to sell my body as a professional escort for another two years. My self-esteem was nonexistent. I felt I was of no value and the way I lived my life reflected that. For two years, I was a call girl and nothing else. I decided I was going to be the best escort in New York. Whatever revolting thing the men asked me to do, I complied. After every call, I would go home and surrounded with hundred dollar bills, sit on the floor and cry. No, not just cry, I would wail. It was a slow suicide indeed--a suicide of shame.
One day while at the escort service, I was told that one of the other women had passed away. She died of AIDS. This was someone I knew. She had an adorable three-year-old boy. I had just seen her at the agency weeks before and she looked fine as she gleefully modeled her new mink coat. When I heard the news, I began to shake as I was overcome with sadness and pure horror. It was a monumental wake-up call. Right there and then, I walked out of that office and never worked as an escort or anything else in the sex industry again. I was twenty-six and the year was 1987.
Since then, it has been my faith in Jesus Christ, sense of humor and sheer determination that have propelled me through life.
Why did I degrade myself all those years?
My childhood was fraught with abuse, neglect and abandonment. I had been sexually molested by doctors as well as a family member. When I was a teen, I was raped. I had no sense of self-worth and thought I did not deserve respect. Because of the sexual abuse, my sense of identity became based on my sexuality. I craved the male attention I never received from my father. I craved love - from anyone - any little scrap of love. The sex industry offered me those scraps. Someone, many actually, “loved me for an hour.”
In addition, I had mental health issues that I did not address until I was long out of the sex industry. Over the years, I have been diagnosed with (at least) eighteen different mental disorders.
An Autobiography of Michelle Maren explores my search for wholeness, forgiveness, recovery, healing, closure and love.
What has been the outcome?
Please watch for the release of An Autobiography of Michelle Maren to find out…