“Don’t Go in the Basement!”
One of the best parts of writing the Prostitute Laundry letters was waking up to twitter reactions of shock, excitement, and sympathy, and no reader more reliably catered to my craving for recognition than Malcolm “I like to think my whole being in the world is an act of worshiping the devil on weed” Harris. Below, the transcript of our summit to discuss writerly indiscretion, gchat, and the never-ending horror movie that is love and lust.
Malcolm Harris: Hi! I’m surprised we’re not already gchat friends.
Charlotte: I never use it! I focus all my wasted energy exclusively on Twitter.
Malcolm: I don’t use it either except for business and like three people.
Charlotte: You’re my token male for this series. I hope you feel the pressure of repping your whole gender well.
Charlotte: Don’t worry, the bar is set very low.
Malcolm: It’s true, such is my life.
Charlotte: But having said that, almost all the guys who read PL were great — at least the ones who made themselves known. And you were one of my favorite readers. Your responses were so gratifying.
Malcolm: That’s very flattering. Mostly I think of myself as just being a very engaged fan.
Charlotte: Joking about you representing all men aside—and not to presume you are or would be this reductive—but I’m wondering if, while reading the letters, you ever felt like, “oh, so that’s what women are thinking,” or if gender never asserted itself as an aspect of the experience. Did it just seem like an individual’s story, independent of all the demographic details? A lot of the women I’ve spoken with who felt moved by the letters point to the thoughts about men and women in relationship to each other, as being satisfying for them to read.
Malcolm: If there was a gendered insight, it was more about what men were like then women. I mean, as a guy I don’t have a lot of natural access to how other guys behave within intimate relationships with women—besides taking guys’ word for it. Women seem to do a lot of work sparing the men around them from knowing about other men’s behavior, unless they really need a guy to understand something we can’t get without that extra context.
Charlotte: Did you talk about the letters much with anyone else? (This feels like the most narcissistic thing possible to ask but I’m sincerely curious, because women told me about forwarding them to friends or talking about them with other readers.)
Malcolm: Yeah, totally. I don’t know if I talked about it with other guys, but definitely with some women who read it. Gchat monday mid-morning.
Charlotte: Ahh, with one or more of the special non-business three!
Malcolm: Haha, exactly. But I’m not exactly in the real discussion circles, my experience was more like following a tv show: Oh my god, I can’t believe X, what do you think will happen with Y?
Charlotte: I liked when people had those reactions. It made me happy to know the writing could be good old fashioned entertainment and not always some heavy emotional meditation.
Malcolm: And I got to tweet those reactions at you! It was like being one of those One Direction fan accounts if Zayn always tweeted back at you like, “lol I know right?”
Charlotte: Especially since that was so often literally my reply.
Malcolm: It was like a really good reality show.
Charlotte: Did you identify more with me or more with the men I talk about, then? Or with no one?
Malcolm: I don’t think I identified with anyone in the story, I was in the back of the theater eating popcorn yelling, “Don’t go in the basement!”
Charlotte: Was the basement George?
The basement was definitely George.
Malcolm: Often. But more generally heterosexuality or love or romance or whatever. Like, you understand why a character is doing what they’re doing and maybe you’d do the same thing in their place, but you also feel like you know how it’s going to end.
Charlotte: Damn, too true.
Malcolm: Way easier when you’re watching/reading it on a screen.
Charlotte: Het love is a basement with the light switch not working and a very eerie, echoing drip…
Malcolm: I’m a straight guy and those basements can be very nice sometimes, for the record. But people don’t usually write or read newsletters about a couple sitting down enjoying each other’s company.
Charlotte: Was there any level of discomfort at some of the sexual aspects, not out of prudery but more from objectification, maybe? I fondly remember the occasional Ethan/ “truncheon” morning twitter hubbub, which all seemed really goodnatured and fun. Part of me hopes men read some of the writing and are like “oh shit, women really DO care about our bodies. They don’t just like a ‘sense of humor.’ Maxim lied!” A guy writer I respect a lot told me he unsubscribed kind of early on because it was too much to read first thing in the morning. Which I actually took as a compliment.
Malcolm: No, I always enjoyed that part. It’s like the Game using his dick as credibility to write Instagram posts. All for it. I’d love to see dick prints as widespread and socially acceptable as cleavage.
I don’t know what that writer guy’s mornings are like, but I’m a freelancer.
Charlotte: Did you have any political reaction to some of the portions more concerned with sex work or rich clients? I think of you as being so engaged in that way, I could imagine you having a strong response to, like, the financial submissive wanting to blow 10k on pointless shit in the span of an hour.
Malcolm: Not condemnatory ones. My mom always liked the phrase, “Nice work if you can get it” and that certainly seemed to apply to those scenes.
Also the letter itself undermined what they were paying for in a way, which they might think would include the dignity of not being an unnamed fool on the Internet. Unless that was part of the deal.
Charlotte: Some of my clients bought the book! I’ve only talked about that with one of them, though, and he isn’t described in it. We saw each other too long ago.
Malcolm: What a bonus! He’s the real winner. I mean, besides you.
Charlotte: He backed the Kickstarter at a high level. He’s a very sweet guy.
But I admit, I love imagining some of the guys I only saw once or twice (or even regularly) connecting Charlotte with my escort name and buying the book hoping to read about themselves and then not being in it and feeling disappointed. Serves you right: you should have bought me 10k of pointless shit!
Malcolm: Wouldn’t they be flattered? They get to think: “See, these guys are clowns, but she’d never talk about me like that.” Not that you describe everyone badly, of course.
Charlotte: I imagine just the opposite, that if I wrote about them negatively, they’d refuse to recognize themselves. They’d assume they were the client I was super hot for, even if none of the details or circumstances lined up. (Though, yeah, I think I’m nice about most of the guys.)
Malcolm: Never underestimate the power for self-delusion, I guess. And you are genuinely very nice to most of them in print, I guess I see something intrinsically embarrassing in having your intimate life described publicly like that, especially if you’re paying. But a lot of things are embarrassing.
Charlotte: I’m disappointed when the writers I know don’t write about me. And no one ever writes about me. I guess that’s how I keep the horrible secret of my lazy eye, though, so I shouldn’t complain.
I just assume if a (former) client is buying one of the books and reading it, they’re hoping they’re mentioned. Even if they’re also getting kind of angry in anticipation like, “if she says anything about me, I’ll sue her.”
Malcolm: I can imagine that. But being written about is way more exciting as an idea I think than in almost all actual circumstances, at least in my experience.
Charlotte: Ooo, how many people have written about you? Did they disguise your identity at all? Obviously, those forays can be completely amoral and hurtful (Dare I say “Adrien Brody”?) but even if it were negative, I think I might be of the “at least they’re talking about me” mind.
Malcolm: Lol, I am in “Adrien Brody” for one thing.
Charlotte: Oh shit, wait, you are him, right? I forgot!!!
Malcolm: No no no. Lol. Jesus.
Charlotte: I have to go back and read for you now.
Malcolm: Some people did think that at first without looking at the details. I got some very confused messages.
Charlotte: I’m sorry. That sounds stressful.
Malcolm: Meh. My name is blanked in the book at least. And my few conversations with the author never made the record because I was like, “Hello Miss, I haven’t met you before, are you contacting me because you’re interested in submitting to the magazine I help edit? How can I direct your call?”
Charlotte: Lol, spectacular. You should be so impressed with yourself. Very canny.
Malcolm: More like clueless. And I’ve also had one of my life’s stupidest evenings predictably immortalized in a Thought Catalog ebook so…
Charlotte: Oh no, I’m sorry. So much indiscretion in this New York media world.
Malcolm: Don’t go in the basement! You’ll end up on Thought Catalog!
Charlotte: I guess given all the naked pics of women guys nonconsensually take and/or post online, a few revealing nonconsensual stories is a fair turn. It’s just the battle of the sexes. We have to keep being awful to each other until we all die.
Malcolm: I don’t think consent really applies, though. I mean, they’re their stories too.
Charlotte: That’s true. And the best retaliation might just be writing your own revealing story in response. Not that anyone who’s in Prostitute Laundry should get any ideas.