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At Home on the Stroll: My Twenty Years as a Prostitute in Canada

by Alexandra Highcrest

“I’m conservative and I’m old fashioned,” says Alexandra Highcrest, male-to-female transsexual and former prostitute, in a recent interview with Quill & Quire. It’s true, and this conservatism is both the strength and the weakness of the Toronto activist and journalist’s autobiography.

It’s a strength, in that it manifests itself throughout At Home On the Stroll as down-to-earth pragmatism. Highcrest’s goal is to convince ordinary, mainstream Canadians that prostitution should be decriminalized, and she’s far more likely to win converts with her chatty, no-nonsense style than she would be if she took a more militant or strident tone. Her practical arguments against current prostitution laws score some solid points. Most Canadians outside the sex trade, for example, accept without question the need for a law against pimping in order to protect women from exploitation and abuse. But Highcrest points out that women being abused by pimps ought to be protected by laws against assault and harassment, and that anti-pimping laws, in practice, allow the gratuitous persecution of anyone who lives or even associates with a prostitute – including friends, spouses, parents, and children.

But Highcrest’s rigid insistence on a purely practical approach to the issue – “Prostitution is a job, not a lifestyle” – is ultimately her book’s downfall. She’s hostile and dismissive towards all attempts to analyze the psychology of prostitution, or to link public hostility and ignorance about the industry to larger issues of sexism and sexual repression. Consequently, she displays a profound lack of insight into her own motivations, and those of other people. Her discussion of her own adolescence is surprisingly banal; she writes that she felt she didn’t fit in because she wasn’t interested in sports, guns, and fishing like all the other boys in Sudbury. As a woman trapped in a man’s body, her alienation must have been deeper and more complex than this, but she seems unable or unwilling to articulate it. The reader comes away understanding that a “normal” person may be a hooker and a transsexual, but none the wiser as to the deeper reasons that lead people to make these choices.