A John Comes Forward: “I don’t see them as people”

Translated from Norwegian

Original published by Martin Gedde-Dahl on www.nd.no on 06 February 2014

A John Comes Forward

Father of two Ottar Stangelang buys sex without feeling any shame.

-If the money doesn’t go to her, at least she got herself some good dick, says Ottar’s friend and laughs loudly and hoarsely at his interjection into the conversation.

Ottar disagrees. He has no illusions about having given the more than 200 – a number he later has doubts about as it is “impossible to keep count” – women he has bought sex from any pleasure.

–I know she gives as little of a damn about me as I give about her, he says.

We are at Grei café in Skippergata, a few blocks further out towards the docks than proper folks normally go. The address was the 1838 site of Henrik Wergeland’s courtship of his would-be wife Amalie Sofie. Today the place serves as the local pub for Oslo’s prostitutes. Meeting here was one of the conditions Ottar had for appearing as a sex buyer with his name and photo: “If it’s to be done, it must be done right.”

“Right” in this context means beer and fernet in a locale mostly populated by Eastern European-looking women in worn bubble jackets.

The initial background was finding a sex buyer’s reply to Danish ex-prostitute Tanja Rahm’s blog entry “To those who buy sex” which was published in Aftenposten and read by more than 500,000 Norwegians over the course of only a few days. Even though the subject is given many column inches and attention in a series of debate shows on TV and radio, there is a group that has remained unheard for the most part: the actual addressee of the text, the sex buyer. 13% of Norwegian men state that they have bought sex, but so far none of them have come forward and answered the accusations. Ottar wants to give “the sex buyer” a face.

I read the introduction aloud: “Dear sex buyer. If you think I ever felt attracted to you, you are terribly wrong.” Ottar responds with a roar of laughter.

– Who is she talking to? Haha! A sum of money gives me “wham-bam”, miserable sex and unloading. Nobody goes from you feeling pride.

– Surely there are some? Some prostitutes offer a so-called “girlfriend experience”.

– When it comes to feelings I prefer the real deal. But yeah, sure, there are probably those who dig stuff like that. That’s what she doesn’t get: people are different, there’s no such thing as the sex buyer. The same goes for whores, by the way: they are individuals with unique feelings, thoughts and opinions.

He takes a short break, sips his beer and adds:

– But I’m sure as hell not interested in them. They’re not people in my eyes.

Before you write him off as a monster, let me specify: Ottar Stangeland appears to be a good guy. Polite, bright, funny and well-spoken. You would probably like him, at least when he’s not talking about prostitution. You would hardly reject him as being especially evil or stupid, at least not as some kind of social deviant or as somehow incapable of telling right from wrong. The father of two from Stavanger is, on the whole, pretty normal. Aside from some stories of drunk debauchery, a slightly more colorful group of friends and a few more things weighing on his conscience than average. Yes, and a more passionate relationship with buying sex, an interest he has had since he was on a guys’ trip to Denmark at age 17 and paid for sex for the first time.

– We knew there were whores there and we had our minds made up that here we would fuck something that’s not white – try something new! – so we got Thai from the shop. It was a revelation. A hell of a lot better than that fake courtship in the city. I saved myself hours of lying and spending money for maybe being allowed to touch a tit.

Is the reason that you buy sex that you dislike the pickup situation?
– I’ve never had any trouble getting by, but when I pull ladies in the city, I feel like I’m selling myself. I see it from a whore’s perspective, if you will. I’m completely aware that she’s lying, because I do it myself.

 You think buying sex is more honest than one night stands?
– Yes, and you end up spending roughly the same. We can also see it from the other side. You know the saying “all women are whores”? It’s an over the top statement, but there is some truth to it. To stand at the bar and rake in drink after drink from guys who are lying to get to sleep with you – that’s a form of whoring. Just like so many other things people do.

Ottar asks me to clarify that he is currently in a relationship and doesn’t avail himself of prostitutes (“beyond faithful” as he phrases it). He only buys sex when he is single, and preferably abroad. As the singer of the punk band Haggis and with his job as a travel journalist, among others for the men’s magazine Alfa, he has accumulated many days of travel, he says. And wherever he travels, there are temptations.

– They’re everywhere, in different shapes – and I try everything. Street whores, brothels, or whatever there is. I have no preferences.

Don’t you have any criteria? Some say they only buy sex from women who aren’t being exploited.
– Haha! If you want to be sure of that, you have to stop buying sex – and many other things people buy without thinking about it. It’s not my responsibility to ensure the well-being of people I don’t know. I take care of my nearest. The whole point with the whoring is the distance. You buy a service, and done.

And you manage to distance yourself?
– Yes. But I understand that it can be horrible. I have daughters myself, and I wouldn’t wish this profession on them for anything in the world. It’s just the men who sit and grin, the women don’t have it so damn great. That Danish one should walk a few meters in real whore’s shoes. Look at the girls who stand out here teeth chattering waiting to be taken along in those rape vans. Fucking hell. The whole thing is on the shady side, but that’s the stuff that’s really dark.

The reason they are standing out there is that there is a sex market, though. If you agree that they have a horrible life, how can you not feel some responsibility?

– And your clothes are most likely made by small Indian children’s hands. You can say stuff like that about anything. Everything can be dragged into a moral abyss by telling horror stories. That mentality of “if I don’t do it, someone else is going to do it” – well, that is actually the case too. Should we all, like, quit it, then? Stop buying whores?

Yes?

– That’s a utopia! Like the war on drugs, it’s impossible to win. It’s much better to do it like in Portugal. Let them pay tax! It’s gotta be better for them to become a part of society than to live with fifty other girls in an apartment where they are beat on by some Nigerian baron or something.

Could a happy industry exist? Or is that an inherently boring thing?

– From what I know about women, I don’t think it’s possible to separate sex and feelings one hundred percent. Not over time, and continue to be happy.

You don’t believe in the sex-loving happy hooker?

– She does exist, but she’s the exception that proves the rule.

Ottar’s friend is more optimistic, and starts dishing out about women he knows who thrive in selling sex. Completely ordinary mothers of toddlers who make a year’s earnings by going on a summer tour in a trailer.
– It’s those who are independent and have full control that are happy.

Ottar interrupts.

– They thrive when they’re raking it in, yeah. It’ll be like this for many whores: do they like the men? No. Do they like the job? Meh. Do they like the money? Haha, you bet they do!

What do you think about girls who sell themselves? Do you look down on them?

– Absolutely not! You have a tough profession there, all respect to those who can do it. I know I said I don’t see them as people, but I actually think they are worth as much as everyone else. What I mean is that I don’t see them as my people. I don’t behave towards them like people.

Ottar speaks quickly and animatedly. Every sentence opens up new associations and thoughts that don’t always lead to a conclusion. A parallel between buying sex from trafficking victims and clothes produced with child labor subtly glides into experiences with Colombian street prostitutes and ends in a rant against the Swedish justice minister, Beatrice Ask, who recently came down hard against hash after having been fooled by a false report of a hash overdose with a deadly outcome.

– I mean, she knows nothing! And people like that are supposed to tell us what’s right and wrong. People who haven’t lived a day in their lives. Those who yell the loudest about morals are those I trust the least.

“From the top down” people, he calls them. “Those who declare themselves judge over other people’s actions but don’t want to show their own weaknesses.”

– The only things that are black and white are the keys on the piano, says Ottar.

– At least I’m honest about that shit.

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