Author Steve Cuno just published a book about sex workers in Salt Lake City, Utah.
If your first reaction to that is thinking about how the Mormon Church is also headquartered in that city… well, now you understand the gist of the book that explores the overlap between “the quintessential American religion and the world’s oldest profession.”
It’s called Behind the Mormon Curtain: Selling Sex in America’s Holy City. Cuno spent three years speaking with the workers, clients, law enforcement officials, and others to understand how (or if) they deal with the obvious hypocrisy.
In this excerpt, Cuno speaks with one sex worker who falls right into that mix of religion and “sin”:
Eva preferred attending church without drawing attention to her looks. Having grown up Mormon, she knew the importance of not “becoming pornography” through immodest dress. Form-fitting clothes were out. Skirts and shorts were to reach the knee. Sleeveless tops were a no-no.
Dressing for clients, of course, was another matter.
Eva walked the short distance from her single-wide mobile home to the church building where her ward, that is, her local Mormon congregation, met. Arriving a few minutes before 9 a.m., she sat quietly near the back of the chapel and waited for the Sunday service to begin. Seated on a dais facing the congregation was the ward bishopric—the bishop, his first counselor, and his second counselor—unpaid ministers with duties akin to those of a pastor with a pair of assistants.
It was the second counselor’s turn to conduct services. He was a picture of wholesome Mormon living: thirtyish, well-built, gray suit, white shirt, blue tie, and an off-the-ears haircut that would have passed a Marine sergeant’s scrutiny. At nine o’clock, he stepped to the pulpit, adjusted the height of the microphone, and said, “We’d like to welcome you to sacrament meeting on this lovely Sabbath day morning.”
The service took just over an hour, after which adults and children filed off to their respective Sunday classes. Eva teaches four-year-olds. Her eyes glisten when she talks about the kids. You can tell she loves them.
That evening, Eva changed into her work clothes. She traded the modest dress for a tight black minidress with a plunging neckline, applied heavy makeup, donned false eyelashes, and stepped into black, rhinestone-studded 4.8-inch stiletto heels. After a final mirror-check, she drove in her late-model luxury sedan to a four-star hotel in downtown Salt Lake City for a rendezvous with a new client. The Mormon Church discourages working on Sundays, but Eva figured the Lord wouldn’t mind if she ever so slightly bent the rule. As a self-employed sexual services provider, she understood the importance of making herself available at a client’s behest. Surely the Lord understood that, too.
Eva made it a practice to ask prospective clients for names and phone numbers of providers they’d already seen. Though not foolproof, checking references reduced her risk of running into an undercover cop or finding herself naked in a hotel room with a psychopath twice her weight. Eva had called the man’s references, and they assured her that this fellow was on the level. Nice guy, they told her, gentle, generous, and damn good looking, so she agreed to meet him.
Eva parked her car in the hotel garage and texted a terse “I’m here” to the client. He immediately replied with his room number. Pushing through the revolving door, she walked purposefully past the registration desk and across the lobby, took an elevator to the third floor, found the room, and knocked lightly on the door.
Eva wasn’t prepared for what she saw when the door opened.
The other providers hadn’t exaggerated. The man standing in the now open doorway was damn good looking.
He was also familiar.
In fact, Eva had no difficulty placing him. She had seen him just that morning.
Her new client was the second counselor in her ward bishopric.
The usually talkative Eva stood speechless. The increasingly crimson-faced second counselor managed to open his mouth but not to speak. At last finding her voice, Eva said, “Well, this is awkward.”
* * *
Eva shared stories from her life as a sexual services provider as we lingered over alleged Mexican food at Del Taco, a primarily western U.S. fast food chain with fare no better than you’d expect. I was willing to pop for something better. Honest.
Continuing her story, Eva told me that on the following Sunday at church, it was as if the encounter never happened. She and the second counselor paid each other no heed.
In a church claiming that all leaders at every level are guided by divine revelation, you might think the Holy Spirit would tap the bishop on the shoulder and whisper in a still, small voice, “Guess what your second counselor and Eva did. Er, almost did.” But God, who prefers working in mysterious ways, usually waits for the guilt-ridden to confess, or for busybodies to rat them out, which the church encourages. Eva did not come forth and confess. Not surprisingly, neither did the second counselor, and no busybodies had witnessed their brief exchange. Eva resumed her life and professional activities as if nothing had happened. So did the second counselor. The Holy Spirit, for reasons of its own, kept mum.
We can surmise a few things about the second counselor with a high degree of confidence. He was probably married and had kids, such being not quite but nearly a prerequisite for a call to the bishopric. He held down a day job outside of his church duties. He probably hid his extracurricular activities from his wife, or thought he did.
This much is certain: as part of his bishopric duties, he was a member of the Ward Disciplinary Council. Once called “church courts” and referred to as “courts of love,” Disciplinary Councils are convened for Mormons accused of serious sins. Most sins aren’t all that serious. Say you snuck a beer, flipped off some bozo for not letting you merge, or pleasured yourself thinking about a Cosmo cover you saw at the grocery store. Of such you may repent discreetly and on your own. But it’s another matter when it comes to committing a felony, having gay sex, fraternizing with polygamists, preaching false doctrine, publicly criticizing church leaders—or engaging in nonmarital sex. Do one of those and you will find yourself before the Ward Disciplinary Council, your church membership in danger.
The Ward Disciplinary Council consists of the bishop and his two counselors. In other words, it’s the bishopric. It’s just that when you appear before them to be tried for having been seriously naughty, the church prefers the other moniker. If the Ward Disciplinary Council finds you guilty, the bishop has the option of letting you off the hook with a stern warning, disfellowshipping you, or excommunicating you.
All of which gives us one more piece of information about Eva’s second counselor: on behalf of God, he sat in official judgment of people for doing exactly as he did in his secret life.
Eva was well aware that her occupation might someday land her before the Council. Should that happen, she assured me when I asked, she would not out the second counselor. Even if he voted to excommunicate her.
The irony clobbered me. Between the church leader whom society praises and the prostitute whom it reviles, in this instance the reviled prostitute would show the greater integrity.
You may wonder how the second counselor lives with himself. But then, he is not unusual. You haven’t heard the smallest part of what goes on behind the Mormon Curtain.
Behind the Mormon Curtain: Selling Sex in America’s Holy City (Pitchstone Publishing) is now available wherever you get your books.