GAYLE BELL

“Poets Live The Questions,” the interview with Jewelle Gomez and Minnie Bruce Pratt (two of my fav poets by the way), questioned and workshopped with “lesbian mothers, armed revolution, women in non-traditional jobs”.

They lamented about making up the rules as they went along. I have always, even as a very young sex worker; loved women and tried to be available whenever a woman would come into my life as a buffer from our shared pain. Internal shame at the work we had to do to survive, and fight for a semblance of “normal”. In some ways, I still offer my home and heart to a woman first. We deserve sanctuary.

Snapper and Black Betty: The Damn Thangs Gone Wild

Snapper

I have one, a “snapper” one man named it. I was at the apex of my powers; so I thought. I was an old man’s pass around; he gave me a place to lay my head that weekend, much better then sleeping in an abandoned car. I got paid $20.00 and a new nickname: catfish, make a man’s nature rise like that R&B song extols.

I was hooking; selling ass out of both drawer legs my momma called it. The narc looked like a drunken trick. My pimp Cornbread and his main piece CaroLine were, unbeknownst to me, clipping tricks in the alley. Married men wouldn’t report them. I was finally caught underage at a club; spent the night in the adult drunk tank, told I was pregs by my cell mate and deposited back to my mom’s. I could give it away for free to all comers.

I preferred married men, I was in my 20’s: one child; one thug as a part time lover/jailer; one milquetoast freak as my semi-regular man. Momma ran the juke joint next door, had 3 men rooming in the front room of our one-bedroom duplex.

Married men gave formula and diaper money. One man had a chain of convenience stores; momma pushed me toward him; he was a regular in the joint and he liked them young. I had a snapper he called it. I kept it lemony, I even used honey. It was sweet and sour; like life. I finally got an awareness of the pain I was causing the women. The saints who were raising their bad ass kids, washing their stank ass drawers. The drawers I was pulling down, my shame and anger. The nerve of me.

My 30’s and 40’s found me in a so-called sanctified marriage. He knew the score; I was hiding my bi-ness, hiding my same-gender love. I ate gay-related books and magazines. We had a threesome with my neighbor. She wasn’t into me. If the Lord is just, may He forgive this Jezebel; before I paid dearly with my girl child’s innocence for my moral sin, he was into my daughter and my friend’s daughter. He went to jail. My snapper did not save those girls.

There is sanity in my life now. My 50s find me heighted. I have been called hot natured. My ob-gyn told me my cunt cramps are because my vaginal walls are so thick they constrict of their own accord. My last partner was jealous of my vibrator. She could not put her whole hand in me; damn baby your snatch is tight, wish I had my dildo with me, I’d wear you out. Or get sore trying. I grabbed the lube. We have honey on our lips, honey stains on the bed. I still do my Kegel exercises. I touch my dark pearl and laugh. I’ve got a snapper.

Black Betty: The Damn Thangs Gone Wild

Author’s note: This Black Betty piece has been a mental work in progress for sometime. A Black Betty is a Black woman who dates or tricks with white partners. This will be a longer narrative. I have been exploring my sex work journey on and off for decades and how it shaped the person I am against the spiritual backdrop of who I am now. I do not see any contradictions.

I was Momma Turtle’s middle baby; I had a Snapper; (tight pussy), and let myself off momma’s semi protective guard. At almost 16 I ran away with her dog on a leach. I was headed for San Francisco, I knew my grandfather Alonzo lived there. I knew there was a community for me. I was a misfit. I liked boys; I loved girls, ran from truck stop to bar. That night, I gave momma’s dog to a kindly diner owner and his wife; that pretty thang aint gon do you much good out here lil lady, I cried for 2 seconds, gave Trixie the rest of my chili dog, hit the ground running. Fucked a long haired hippie with good herb, a black man in a caddie and Hispanic in a trans to get enough money to get up the road. I got land locked, didn’t make it out of the metroplex.

I was given a fake id, some Flori Roberts makeup and a fish sandwich from a part-time madam from a no tell motel in South Dallas. Now remember baby, to catch a Latin trick, you say Para dos dinero pinoche, got it? Got it! Do I! She told me how to look for crabs and other diseases; Don’t sell it for less than $10.00 (I took $7.00 once so the trick could pay the 30 minute room rate and got the scolding of my life). Dumbass gal the girls out here will whup your ass good if they found out about that, you cutting you and they throat, don’t do that again! How to hold a condom in your mouth when a trick didn’t want to use one. How to eat pussy proper. I practiced on her till I ate her right. Her trick set her with the deed to the motel before he died in bed with her.

The street PhDs already warned me not to get a heroin pimp who’d get me strung on the shit; I’d be working for him and the needle. Yuk, I hated needles even from professionials be damn if I’d let a rank amateur use one on me. I reasoned I was battle scared enough to survive. I’d run away from a stepfather who used me as his ad hoc wife. Slept in a abandoned car with a half gallon of Southern Comfort and Coke. Been gang raped, been an old man’s pass around, until I’d made enough money to go to my family’s homestead. I’d lived with my Great Aunt and my older sister, until Aunt Bert’s Gideon Bible rules were too much for my wild head.

I was in the afterhours joint in Ft. Worth TX. with my pimp, Cornbread and his main lady, CaroLine. I was sucking on an Eve Filter and getting a shotgun hit from CaroLine. JeanNate was this day old beard, sequin gown, drag woman; who was the top bitch at the club. It was a slow night but JeanNate was making her quota and then some in the back alley. They were schooling me on how to id a Narc. Now bitch, a Narc has shiny shoes. No bitch, that just a trick that just like to look good, Replied Jean. Cornbread countered with, that’s just a trick with good fashion like Jean said, look at his hair, if he has a flattop that 5/0.

A week before, JeanNate had saved me from being robbed at gunpoint by a trick set to kill me. In her prophetic words she said gal, get your stupid ass off these street, I won’t be here forever. How I’d wished I’d listened.

A man fitted a Red River (beer and tomato juice) in my hand; I was flattered that he asked the barman what I was drinking. Wanna date, I smiled up at him. Yeah, he said. I looked at his long blond hair and his ratty shoes and my companions. They smiled the go smile at me. $10.00 changed two hands. I walked outside with him chatting about the night and the full moon. Next thing, two silver cuffs and a siren greeted me.

When I was deposited in the cop car, the bust officer got in back with me, put his hand on my leg and looked at my fake id. Well, he drawled, are you gonna give me your real name and address. He took off my wig, fondled my breast to the laughter of the cop in the driver’s side. By the way, I’ve got your two players, we’ve been looking for those two for months, and they’ve been rolling tricks in the alley. You do know what means don’t you. I nodded yes.

Officer All Friendly also told me that they told him I was the mastermind of the clip operation, he discounted it and said as JeanNate stated, I was too Stupid to Mastermind anything. I nodded an emphatic YES

He put me in Ft. Worth’s Finest adult drunk tank to jog my memory. In the cell a woman with a busted lip and eye. She told me I was pregnant with my Baby Girl; Lea one of the two best things I’ve ever done; James was my other best thing I did 6 years later (another story, another day). Waking up to black coffee and 3 raisins in a bowl of gummy oatmeal is not what I call breakfast fare.

I still used sex work on and off for another couple of years with local married men, until I could find stable work in other industries. I still admire sex workers for their grit and courage. A milk faced therapist sneered at me and said she didn’t think I should admire them because she studied them in school (like a museum exhibit), does pro bono work them; the people she talks to are so messed up; compared to who in these shelled shocked p.t.s.d times.

In 1973, when Margo St. James created, C.O.Y.O.T.E. CALL OFF YOUR OLD TIRED ETHICS, it hit the political/social sphere with a gasp. I thought yeah, hopefully the legalization of prostitution with be on the ballots in Texas where they should have been since the Best Lil Whorehouse in Texas and Dolly Parton made hooking fun.

Warp drive and hyperspace to now, I’ve seen some things, done some things I’m not especially proud of. I did finally make it to San Francisco to escape a monster and a nine-year abusive marriage. I had a three-year hell ride with crack cocaine that I unfortunately took my kids on. We are healing from it. Some of the time, I’m smarter, bam a lam.

GAYLE BELL
  • Gayle Bell’s work has been featured in numerous anthologies, print and online publications. In 2013-2014 she was a co-docent for “My Immovable Truth: a Dallas Lineage”. She facilitated her and other GLBTQY’s oral history and performance, sponsored by MAP (Make Art With Purpose) and displayed at the African American Museum in Dallas TX.

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Made possible in part by a grant from The Creative Work Fund, a program of the Walter and Elise Haas Fund that also is supported by The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation

Also supported through UCSC by the Arts Research Institute, Arts Dean’s Fund for Excellence and Dickson Emeriti Professorship Award

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Homepage Image Credit
Queer Nation kiss-in at the cable car turnaround.
© Rick Gerharter
San Francisco, 1991.