The first time J.C. Nouveaux took money for sex, her ex-husband of a single day was the john. He gave her $200 for a blowjob. Nouveaux laughs without mirth recalling it. “That was the last time I had sex with him.”
There have been a lot of other men since. In 2005, the Missoula woman says she earned $40,000 from prostitution, on which she says she paid the appropriate taxes. She is confident and assertive with her financial self-assessment—proud she has a job that affords her enough money to live comfortably and still leaves enough time to be there when her daughter needs her mother.
She also has misgivings. Some doubtless stem from the sequence of events that have culminated in her current career: three children by three different men, at least one of them abusive, a contentious relationship with her parents, aborted engagements with college and mainstream religion and a history of “conformity issues” that have made it difficult for her to hold traditional jobs.
In addition to her misgivings, Nouveaux also has a mission. In February 2006, she founded the Maternal Order of St. Eve, a “church” incorporated as a nonprofit corporation in the state of Montana that’s predicated on making men pay $200 per encounter for any and all premarital sex. It’s a movement Nouveaux hopes will revolutionize gender relations and protect adherents from prosecution. It’s also, she hopes, her way out of hooking.
Nouveaux is matter of fact about what it takes to work as a hooker. “If I work,” she says, “I have to figure out babysitting and get to work.” That work always takes place at a location secured by clients—“outcalls only” as Nouveaux puts it. The job itself “doesn’t take that long. It’s a couple hours of work; it’s a couple hundred dollars. And that’s about it.”
There are drawbacks, of course, among them the variable volume of business. “There’s a lot of market fluctuations that a person has to deal with,” Nouveaux says. “I’ve gone through two Christmases and that first one I couldn’t quit working. It seemed like everybody was lonely. But this last one was slow; it was a very hard time.”
There’s also the illegality of selling sex, Nouveaux’s main concern when she started hooking, when she was most afraid johns “were going to call the cops on me.” The prospect worried Nouveaux because she didn’t want to go back to jail, where she’s been for a variety of misdemeanor offenses.
Nouveaux has since judged that “cops in Missoula don’t bother the prostitutes,” of whom she estimates there are something like two dozen working in town, mostly through escort services. Though Nouveaux is a little concerned that being written about might raise her profile, she believes “any publicity is good publicity.”
She doesn’t dismiss the danger of being alone with strange men either. “I worry,” she says, “about getting killed,” but she also says she has yet to feel herself in danger. “I feel like I can keep the Montana boys in line…I have a pretty good way of verbally dominating a situation.”
Domination, verbal and otherwise, is sometimes a part of the job, as in the instance of a customer who wanted to be tied up and insulted and shot with a BB gun while being sodomized—treatment for which Nouveaux says “he paid extra.”
Still, while her customers “are very specific about what they want,” says Nouveaux, most “just want to get laid.” For that they pay a base rate of $200, which limits the demographic Nouveaux serves, she says, largely to men in their mid-30s to 40s. College-age clients sometimes call, but “a lot of times, they’re broke.”
Making it clear just what clients can expect for their money is key to Nouveaux’s mercenary sexuality. That’s why she charges by the act rather than by the hour. “Most people request that I do it by the hour, but I find that men tend to take advantage of that rule. I don’t feel the need to draw that hour out if I can get in and get done in a half an hour.”
Nouveaux calls such attempts to drag sessions out “sexual harassment,” saying, “I can take a certain amount of sexual harassment; it comes with the job, but I like to limit it as much as I can.”
What counts as sexually harassment of a hooker? “Talking or licking or touching,” says Nouveaux. “You gotta limit that. If I liked the guy, I would welcome that sort of attention, but if I don’t like the guy I don’t want to be contractually obligated to sit there andtake it for an hour.”
And of the john who fails to abide by the rules of the relationship? “I have the right to refuse service to anyone. I should have that posted.”
Nouveaux first considered a career in prostitution years after her ex-husband’s $200 blowjob. Another man supplied the impetus, at the end of another relationship ending badly.
In November 2004, Nouveaux was living in a Missoula shelter for battered women, trying to reconcile with the man who had put her there, an ex-boyfriend living in Seattle. Nouveaux traces her turn to hooking to a phone call during which the man made clear his disinterest in fixing their relationship.
“The man I was in love with, the man I thought could be the one that could take care of my situation with [my daughter], accept me for who I was…and my inability to function in…a real job…made it sound like he would be able to do that for me, but what I found out was that what he wanted me for was a whore. He expressed that to me. All he wanted me for was for the vagina. The lies about what he would do or what he might be, they were just lies to get into my pants, and so I felt like I should be compensated for that. And I realize that it wasn’t just him that did that. Everybody before him did that too.”
Recalling the conversation, though it led to a life she now embraces, agitates her. Thinking back to that phone call, she leans forward, eyes wide, and says, “And I’m like ‘Huh, is that all you fucking guys want us for?’” She shakes her head and her muttering grows into a growl as she continues: “Fuck, fuck, is that all you fucking want?” In seconds, she’s nearly out of her seat, arms spread and her whole body turning red as she screams, “Jesus fucking Christ. If I would have known that 10 years ago I would have been making money for 10 fucking years. Jesus Christ.” And in the space of one breath, her voice is calm and even again. “That,” she says, “is when I got a little jaded.”
Having thus come to the decision that she should be compensated for letting men into her pants, Nouveaux entered the world’s oldest profession in its modern guise—the escort service—by starting her own with an ad and a cell phone. In December 2004, immediately after placing her ad, the phone started ringing.
Nouveaux was born Misty Shipman in Circle—a town of less than 1,000 people in eastern Montana’s McCone County that Nouveaux insists on referring to as “the empty circle.” As a teenager, she moved with her family to Townsend, where she graduated from Broadwater High School, having given birth to her first son midway through her senior year. At the time, Nouveaux says, she didn’t know who the father was, since “there were a couple of possibilities.”
Paternity was established by a genetic test a year later when the young mother went on welfare; she and the father “never had a relationship” and Nouveaux was left to raise her son alone while living with her parents in Townsend. Nouveaux’s firstborn, a son, still lives there with his grandparents, who gained custody of the boy as a small child, and she is prevented by a restraining order from contacting him until his 18th birthday because, she says, “I was trying to discuss with [my parents] my religious beliefs and got a little filthy with them on the phone.” As to what her son knows, Nouveaux says at this point he “probably knows about whatever ugliness my mother wants to convey to him.”
To “replace” the baby that had been taken from her, Nouveaux had a second child, another son. At the time of his birth, almost four years after the birth of her first, she was living in Helena. The relationship with her second baby’s father lasted until the child was eight months old, at which point Nouveaux says the father “decided to have another girlfriend.” Her second son still lives with his father, who won custody following a hearing in which Nouveaux represented herself, an attempt she says “went badly.” Still, she maintains contact with her second son through a cell phone she bought him for his most recent birthday. As to what he knows about her occupation, Nouveaux says he “knows I’m the high priestess of a church. He’s kind of proud of that.”
Her experience with the law sparked an interest in practicing it, so Nouveaux moved to Missoula in autumn 1997 and entered college. In November 1997, she and the man who was to father her third child signed a certificate of common law marriage, a decision she attributes largely to wanting to move into the University’s housing for married couples. For the next four semesters, she studied criminal sociology, working as an exotic dancer much of that time. The period is one Nouveaux describes as among the happiest of her life: “I liked to take the classes that I wanted to take. I liked to try to excel at them. I liked to have the opportunity to write. I liked to do papers. I liked to have homework. I liked to study and think and read.”
Soon after beginning college, however, Nouveaux became pregnant with her third child, a daughter, and gave birth in June 1998, an event that prompted her to drop out of college after a year of trying to be both a mother and a student while also working.
During the two years Nouveaux was in college in Missoula, she became friends with a woman named Leah, a former prostitute in her 50s who was about to be married in a Mormon ceremony. Leah’s conversion inspired Nouveaux to convert as well, and because the Mormon church would not recognize her common-law marriage, she and her common-law husband were married in a Mormon ceremony in September 1999.
Soon after, she moved to Arizona with her husband and daughter, in search of better job prospects and because, she says, “If you’d been here all your life, you’d kind of want to get out too.” In Arizona, she secured a job as a receptionist at Deseret Industries, a Mormon-owned company that supplies jobs and training to church members, an employment decision Nouveaux incongruously attributes to not feeling “like I could compete at the tittie bar because I didn’t have no boobs.”
But eventually, bored with the desk job routine and faced at home with a marriage that was going poorly, she sought solace outside church and family. “I tried to do the husband thing, gave it a shot,” Nouveaux says, “and I gave up and started going to the bars and probably meeting people who weren’t Mormons.”
When she moved in with one of them, a new boyfriend, her husband left Arizona for Montana, taking their daughter with him. With her three children back in Montana, Nouveaux followed her husband back to Helena, where the couple’s on-and-off relationship continued over the next two years while Nouveaux cycled through a series of jobs in radio ad sales, restaurant bussing and hotel housekeeping, as well as spending some time on welfare.
She and her husband divorced in December 2003 and Nouveaux went to Seattle to get her breasts enlarged. She stayed there, working as a stripper, living with a new boyfriend and eventually bringing her daughter—who’d been left behind in Helena with Nouveaux’s ex-husband—to Seattle during the summer of 2004. Following an episode in October of that year during which Nouveaux’s new boyfriend kicked her in the ribs and threw her out of the house, leaving her homeless and without the ability to work as a dancer, she fled to Montana, winding up in a shelter for battered women.
She soon left over personal conflicts with the staff. “I probably could have eventually gotten out…and gotten an apartment,” she says, “if I would have played my cards right, but because I couldn’t deal with the staff I couldn’t go that route.” Instead, Nouveaux moved in with a girlfriend she met in the shelter who had gotten an apartment on her own. Nouveaux earned rent money by starting work as a prostitute.
The first call she answered did not go smoothly.
“I think I hung up on him,” Nouveaux says, reenacting the call by putting her hand to the side of her head and making a noise like static on a phone line: “‘I think my phone is dying’ and then click.” Her confidence improved with practice though. “It got easier as [the calls] came in and there were, you know, a lot of calls to practice on.”
Nouveaux thinks a lot about family—her own specifically and the institution in general. While conceding that prostitution is “an occupation of last resort,” she hastens to add that “it’s also an occupation that allows me to stay at home with my daughter. I don’t have to work full-time and worry about the things that the 40-hour-a-week, four-weeks-out-of-the-month moms worry about.”
In fact when it comes to what’s come to be known as moral values, J.C. Nouveaux sounds a lot like a moral majoritarian advocating a society of married parents. “The children of our society suffer because the moms aren’t at home anymore and I feel that’s a tragedy, and I feel that in order to improve that situation or get past it, we have to make a role for stay-at-home moms. We have to make that role more important so that our children are raised better and so that they have better ethics, so that they have better morals, so that they can have more successful relationships when they come of age.”
Nouveaux sees stricter adherence to traditional gender roles as the natural way to accomplish the revitalization of the family. “You guys make more money than us, and you guys are supposed to be the ones working. We’re supposed to be raising the babies. We’re supposed to be at home supporting you. We’re supposed to be wives for you. But all the women are striving to do now is to be men. They’re all working 40-hour weeks.”
The increasing self-reliance of women, Nouveaux says, has diminished the historic importance of motherhood, and she finds the roots of that diminishment in the fact that dowries are no longer paid for brides. In the absence of an explicit economic value placed on domestic and familial labor, a disproportionate burden inevitably falls to women, Nouveaux says, because “girls are chained to the outcome of their children…[Mothers] have to provide for [children].” By seeking work outside the home, Nouveaux says, women “proved that we can go out and do whatever job we want, so now we have to do a job or we’re useless. We’re useless but it shouldn’t be that way.”
In response to women’s plight, Nouveaux believes prostitution should be not just legal but, essentially, a moral obligation. “If you’re going to have sex outside of the bounds of marriage, then men should be paying $200 per time for that.” Nouveaux says the price tag is “a way to sanctify the union of marriage,” because “not getting anything for sex is completely demoralizing and degrading. To have a partner, a sexual partner, and not get anything back from him is humiliating—is being used—and taking money puts a stop to that.”
Sex, Nouveaux says, is always part of a transaction more complicated than the simple exchange of affection, and people deceive themselves by claiming otherwise. “People pay for sex in a lot of different ways. People buy drinks. People buy dinner. People get married and take care of their spouse. It’s not unpure just because it’s paid for.”
As an example, Nouveaux cites the First Lady. “Our highest-paid prostitute in the nation is Laura Bush. I don’t know what she does, but her sexual relationship gets her paid. Any wife of any husband that doesn’t work, that’s a prostitute. I’m saying ‘prostitute’ is not a bad term. If people ask me what I do for a living, I say I’m a hooker. I don’t feel like that’s a bad thing. I feel like I should be paid. I feel like when I am a wife, I will also be a prostitute. I will be a dedicated prostitute, but I will be a prostitute.”
Though Nouveaux makes a good living from prostitution, and believes other women should join her in making men pay for sex, she says she really just wants to settle down as a happy housewife. Her feelings about prostitution, marriage and relations between the sexes, she says, derive from being “upset that I can’t find a husband, basically. I’m upset that I can’t find a man to man up and marry me. I am a project; you know I got some problems. But the problems are a result of men that screwed me over.”
Before you make a dash for the chapel with J.C. Nouveaux, there’s probably something you should know about what she’s looking for in a husband.
“I need someone who is going to accept me as the Messiah, to help me, to be the voice of the new God in the Bible.” She realizes that it’s going to be tough. “I’m not maybe what a man would consider to be a good choice for a wife. I’ve had three children. Two of them don’t live with me. One of them lives with me. I’ve got issues…A lot of people might think I’m nuts because of this whole Messiah-complex Bible-rewrite situation. There’s a lot of things that might put guys off.”
The whole Messiah-complex Bible-rewrite situation? It turns out that changing thousands of years of tradition and reinventing gender relations is tough to do without an imprimatur of legitimacy. That’s where Nouveaux’s church, the Maternal Order of St. Eve, comes in.
Registered with the state of Montana in February, the church, as Nouveaux describes it, has two basic precepts. “I believe that God is flawed because he is not married; there is no Goddess and so that disempowers women. And I also think that making prostitution illegal takes away from the sacrifices we make as women, and it allows men to have had 2,000 years of constant free sex without paying for it because that’s the church law.”
When she began to feel the call to start her own religion, Nouveaux was still a part of the Mormon church, though hardly a doctrinaire member. “I don’t think I really gave them my whole entire brain like you’re supposed to,” she says.
In April 2005, Nouveaux took what she considers an important step toward becoming the new Messiah when she changed her name from Misty Shipman to J’aila Ciel Nouveaux, which roughly translates from the French to “I have the new heaven.” Nouveaux knows the gender of the nouns and adjectives is incorrect, but adds, “I did that on purpose.” The resonance of her new name with that of Christianity’s founder is no accident either: “Jesus Christ is pretty important so I wanted to have those initials in there.”
If it seems blasphemous for a prostitute to identify with Jesus in an attempt to supplant Christianity with a new religion, well, others—most prominently some who have made their own modifications to Christian orthodoxy—share that judgment. In May 2006, Nouveaux was excommunicated from the Mormon church for “apostasy and moral transgression,” a state of affairs reported to her in a letter hand-delivered by emissaries from the local bishop. That disciplinary action followed a hearing requested by Nouveaux in which, she recalls, “I was just honest with them about what I was doing and what I wanted to do. I asked them for assistance…I asked them to recognize flaws of the church.” Their response—that Mormon doctrine would not accommodate Nouveaux’s beliefs—does not vex Nouveaux, and she retains affection for the Mormon church regardless. She learned from her Mormon experience that “If you have a good husband, they can set you up a good life. Their teachings are very family-friendly, and if society wasn’t so fucked up, or maybe if I wasn’t so fucked up, I would like to be a good little Mormon wife. But I have certain barriers that block that.”
One of those barriers would be Nouveaux’s belief that the dysfunctional state of the world stems from a biblical bias against women as manifested by its exclusively male deity. Her response, an element of her messianic quest, is to rewrite the Bible. Not all of it, just “what’s necessary to be rewritten.” So far she’s redone the first 12 verses of the Gospel According to St. John, an oft-quoted but cryptic section of scripture that reads, in part, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” A video of Nouveaux masturbating while reciting her revised version of scripture—featuring feminine pronouns and references to the “darkness of the womb” rather than “the darkness of the world”—is among the contents of snatchtemple.com, a website Nouveaux conceived and launched to propagate her faith.
The site is a result of Nouveaux’s visit to “The Howard Stern Show,” and even its inception smacks of the profane or predestined, depending on your predilections. As Nouveaux tells it, “When I was on ‘The Howard Stern Show,’ everybody was like, ‘Do you have a website?’ I’m completely computer illiterate. I believe it’s the tool of the Devil…but I said I would blow a Web page designer if somebody was willing to help me with it. I found somebody willing to help with the website.”
The site, Nouveaux believes, is a way to improve the lot of all women by spreading her faith and providing legal cover for women to keep it. The theory is that any woman who pays a $30 annual fee to join the church can “have the same excuse that I have: for religious reasons they are doing this job, so they can’t go to jail.” In addition, snatchtemple.com will be an ordinary members-only porn site where the content, like the John 1 video, is religiously themed. Some ideas for the future include a video of John 3—containing the famous “For God so loved the world” passage—as well as a “mock snuff film of Job 21” in which, Nouveaux says, “Jesus will have his neck broken by me when I am in a dominatrix outfit.”
(Job 21 is a passage in which Job, a righteous man who lost his wealth, family and health as part of a wager between God and the Devil, responds to a friend who insists that Job’s travails must be a punishment from God; Nouveaux conceives the video as one in which she recites Job’s speech, which rails against the plain injustice of a world in which the wicked prosper and God allows it, to an actor playing Jesus. As the speech is part of the Old Testament, it’s hard to see how Jesus would fit in, but Nouveaux justifies the anachronism with the thought that “what they say in Job 21 is something I would essentially like to say to Christ.”)
Nouveaux concedes that while she aims to found a religion, she is no scholar of the Bible. “All the Bible knowledge that I have is based on [Sunday School],” she says. “I’ve never read the Bible…I just remember enough from the time I was 3 to the time I was 14 that I’ve covered the stories, so I know what’s going on in it.” And while Nouveaux would like to return to college and pursue a theology degree, she says, “I don’t feel like I need a theology degree to finish what I want to do with my church anyway. I would like to know better how to market it and gather support, disciples.”
That’s where Howard Stern comes in. Nouveaux first appeared on his show in February 2006. The visit, during which she espoused her beliefs while disrobing and taking phone calls, resulted in a half-hour show of her own that evening on Sirius radio, an opportunity for Nouveaux to spread her “guilt-free gospel porn” uninterrupted by the man behind the microphone. It’s a visit Nouveaux describes by saying, “He was mean to me, and he didn’t like my boobs, and he made fun of me.” (Stern described Nouveaux’s breast implants as “little rubber balls.”) “But for the most part he was entertained by my ideas.”
Entertained enough that Nouveaux was invited back for another visit on June 6, 2006. Stern did not fly her to New York. Instead, Nouveaux had to drive there and back, a journey she financed by “working” truck stops. How many men did she have sex with to earn her way to New York? “If you want a ballpark figure, it’s less than a ballpark,” Nouveaux says. Then she guesses 50.
Nouveaux had hoped for two things from her most recent visit to Stern. First, she wanted to defend her “abilities and capacities” as a mother, skills she felt Stern insulted during her first visit. And Nouveaux’s fitness as a parent did come up again during the June 6 show, resulting in a heated exchange between Nouveaux and another guest, former model Janice Dickinson, during which Stern offered Nouveaux $500 to let Dickinson adopt Nouveaux’s daughter.
Nouveaux was upset and insulted by the exchange, but remains committed to the show. “Every time I go on there, he pisses me off. Last time he made me cry.” Still, Nouveaux says it’s worth the exposure. “I always send a card afterwards to let him know ‘I was upset. I’m not upset no more. Let me know when you want me back or give me a call.’” She adds hopefully, “They asked me if I would come back.”
Despite their failure so far to deliver, Nouveaux is hoping Stern’s people will help her make connections in the entertainment industry. She would like to connect with Paris Hilton, whom she describes as a role model, and with whom Nouveaux would like to record an album remaking songs like “Rape Me” and “Daughter” originally recorded by men (Kurt Cobain of Nirvana and Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam, respectively) but which Nouveaux feels would be better done in a woman’s voice.
Nouveaux is not just in it for herself either. She also asked Stern’s producers to connect her daughter with a modeling agent. Nouveaux doesn’t exactly approve of modeling, saying she’s “not down with that kind of thing” because models “just look cute” and Nouveaux considers herself “a person who has something to say,” but because her daughter “likes that kind of stuff,” she would allow it.
Nouveaux sounds commanding while describing what she wants from Stern, and from her future husband, and from the rest of the world. Yet gaps in the façade emerge. After listing what she expects Stern to do for her and her daughter, Nouveaux squeaks out a stark admission: “We need help,” she says. It doesn’t sound like she means an agent.
As Nouveaux and I sit on a stoop and talk about her job as a prostitute, groups of small children walk by. They are well-mannered, led by wholesomely attired and attentive teachers. I’m pretty sure this is the way Nouveaux imagines the world should be, and it’s passing by as she tells a prying stranger about peddling her flesh.
It’s a profession she admits wanting to give up, which she says she’ll do once the “right situation” comes along. The right situation could be success for her church’s website. She sometimes questions her faith that she will be recognized as the Messiah, but her doubts seem more concerned with romance than religion. “I’m stuck in this catch-22 in the dating scene. I need—I feel like I need a man. I feel like codependency is not a bad thing, but if I can’t get to that I don’t know what else I’m going to do. It depresses me. It makes me cry.”
Working as a prostitute does not appear to have furthered her search for a soul mate either. “I think that the job creates a lot of issues with dating and sexuality that I’ve not found a way to overcome, for me and for them,” she says. “There are obvious trust issues. A person couldn’t commit to me because they would have trust issues, they would think that I always have this need or way to get what I want through other sources or men. Plus they have jealousy issues with me seeing other people.”
And while hooking might make Nouveaux a comfortable living for now, she says she realizes it’s not something she can do forever. Still, she can’t seem to save enough to try something different because, she says, “I limit the amount I work to what I need because it’s a hard thing to do…I just tend not to work if I feel like I have all my bills covered.”
As for the church in which she seeks both cover for and escape from her life of prostitution, Nouveaux insists its mission stems not from cynicism but optimism. She views its purpose as divine but its goal as perfection of this world, a world whose flaws she’s more familiar with than most.
The idea behind the church, says Nouveaux, is the same as “why you have a family…why you raise children within a family. You’re just striving for that perfection that they might reach generations and generations down the road from here. I’m not worried about heaven. I think when we die, the same maggots eat you as eat me. That’s the end. That’s the end.” firstname.lastname@example.org