Doing the Write Thing: Ashley Chan and Gerrie Lim
Twenty-four-year old Ashley Chan (not her real name) leads a double life. She's a final-year university student by day, and an escort by night.
Having spent five years in the industry, she has gathered a wealth of anecdotes that she has shared in Scarlet Harlot: My Double Life, an intimate memoir that invites readers to step into the inside world of Singapore's high-end escort industry.
Working with veteran pop culture writer Gerrie Lim (author of Singapore Rebel: Searching for Annabel Chong and Invisible Trade), Ashley breaks down the stereotypes and judgements that often plague escort workers, and at the same time, weaves a cautionary tale for those contemplating the profession.
How did this book come about?
Ashley: I decided to share my life story in a book to serve as a guide for young ladies who think that sex work is “easy money” and also to allow people to understand better the life of a student sex worker in Singapore.
Gerrie: The stories were originally conceived as a blog, starting in January 2017, and after eight blogs as the ghostwriter I realised that it could be a book, with extensive writing on the reasons why she was living a "double life." The blog was called "Scarlet Harlot" and I pitched it to Epigram and they agreed. I then began rewriting it as a book with numerous interviews with Ashley, and the results are what you see now.
A: Gerrie is amazing – he has empathy and is experienced with the sex work industry. It really helps that he can articulate my thoughts and give depth to my feelings. There are numerous details about my background and how I got involved with the sex work industry and how I navigated the difficulties involved. This was done through many interviews and he also talked to people who had worked with me or knew about the various issues. I had read the other books he had done on sex and knew I could trust him with my life.
G: I think these stories should be heard by the public because sex workers are viewed as "the other" – as Annabel Chong (who was the subject of my last book) said, they're marginalised figures that are not considered "human". Consequently, these sex workers are read according to the stereotypes handed down in mainstream discourse. It's my own opinion, and also Ashley's, that these people should not be seen as victims and my books are a way of saying that they have a voice.
How did you ensure that Ashley's story is properly portrayed in the book?
G: That's an interesting question! The book is a mixture of a first-person memoir coupled with sociological narratives and there is a complicated line between the two. Ashley also says that as an escort, it's about "propositioning" and you have to maintain that certain image, but managing her facade is so tiring and she doesn't like to show what she is like on social media. There is a lot of yin-yang balancing, and I would say it is my ability to walk that fine line that ultimately makes the difference.
What are some common misconceptions people have of escorts?
A: There are a few common misconceptions. Firstly – that money is easy; and secondly, that this is something you can do for a very long time. Thirdly – that sex work can replace other normal civilian jobs. Regarding the last point, in sex work there is no longevity and eventually you will reach a plateau – and then what are you going to do? Life is so very long and you need other soft skills. I feel that sex work should not be your main thing, just treat it as a form of supplementary income.
What do you hope readers can take away from this book?
A: I hope that readers can understand the importance of education. You shouldn’t over-rely on sex work, but still be diligent in chasing other pursuits.
G: I hope they will find in themselves a sense of compassion, that this is really about a certain kind of "female empowerment" that does away with judgmental thinking. It also shows that an escort's life is about making a choice, about making money to achieve a quality of life that was denied them because of circumstances – in Ashley's case, her parents birthed her out of wedlock and chose not to pay for her education; and so she had to fend for herself. She chose escorting as the best way she could express herself, despite the censure of many people. Being "looked down" by others is the brave choice she makes, and I hope readers can identify with that.
Before we go, Ashley, what would you say to people who are thinking of entering the industry?
A: As I said in my book: don’t be stupid. Enter the industry with an open mind and with very clearly defined goals. There’s nothing wrong with pampering yourself with luxuries here and there, but don’t lose focus. So many girls have branded items but you’ll come to realise that really genuinely rich people don’t really care about such things. It’s more than sex that they want – they want companionship and your ability to converse with them. Many girls get too caught up with luxuries, and very very pretty girls often lose focus and don’t save up for things like houses and cars. Girls who want these things, that’s fine; but other girls would like the supplementary income. At the end of the day, just don’t lose focus on what you want – that’s what I’ve learned in these last five years.
Get Scarlet Harlot: My Double Life here.