Prostitution illustrated

“Every day I was witness to the worst of men. Their carelessness and their grand entitlement. The way they can so profoundly disconnect from whatever it is they’re having sex with, the way they think they own the world, watch them purchase a female. … There was a system in place that was older and stronger than I could begin to imagine. Who was I? I was just a girl. What was I going to do about it? If I had any power, I would make it so that nobody was ever bought or sold or rented and that chickens kept their beaks and cows could lie and nurse their baby cows with all that milk, but I didn’t have any power. I would ride the system until it knocked me off. I would get as much money as I could and feed my hate like a glutton. I had found the perfect job for both. In-Call, Out-Call, Boston, Massachusetts.”

So begin the adventures of Rent Girl, the fascinating new autobiographical work by San Francisco writer Michelle Tea. The book, released last month by Bay Area publisher Last Gasp, opens with Tea’s introduction to prostitution by a live-in girlfriend at age 21. Before her girlfriend reveals she works as an escort, Tea considers prostitutes “beings that occupied a magical mental territory ever since I was old enough to watch cable television in the ’80s.” After Tea discovers that several of the women in her clique are secretly hooking, it isn’t long before she joins them—lured by the promise of money and angered by sexual abuse from her stepfather.

Tea reveals a world most of us never get to see, and she withholds no details. The embarrassing fashion at hookers’ birthday parties; the paranoid, coked-out clients; the perils of getting crabs—it’s all there. Her candid writing style travels from light humor to creeping revulsion without ever glamorizing her experiences or resorting to heavy-handed morals.

Illustrator Laurenn McCubbin, creative director of Kitchen Sink magazine, puts the “graphic” in autobiographical with a series of illustrations for this not-quite-a-novel, not-quite-a-comic-book narrative. Rather than the paucity of text found in traditional graphic novels, McCubbin’s drawings are punctuations to Tea’s words. Each glossy three-color page features a dominant image, with the text flowing around the borders and edges of the pictures. The illustrations achieve a gorgeous balance with the words. It’s a compelling package that ought to delight art fans, readers, sassy dykes and anyone curious about the, ahem, nuts and bolts of the world’s oldest profession.

Copies are available at The Open Book, located at 910 21st Street. Get Tea to sign yours when she reads at Luna’s Café on Thursday, September 16. Homo-hop poet Katastrophe opens for Tea, who will read from her current novel-in-progress. The free event begins at 8 p.m. at 1414 16th Street. Call (916) 441-3931 for info.