September 2005

Arts & Letters

‘In My Skin’ by Kate Holden

By Zora Simic

The road to junkiedom and prostitution is littered with cliches. Kate Holden’s memoir – the tale of a good Melbourne girl who becomes a heroin-addicted prostitute – mostly avoids the romanticism that often plagues such stories. She’s not averse to shock value and In My Skin contains occasionally lurid moments, but not at the cost of genuine fidelity to the finer points of her experience. If her reasons for turning to smack and sex work read like indulgent undergraduate experimentation, that’s because she was a restless student, eager to test her boundaries. And if the junkie section – revisiting again and again the grind of scoring, the bliss of the hit – drifts along aimlessly, it’s because junkie life is like that.

Holden’s deft writing is most resonant when she traces her move from hustling on the streets to working in brothels. She comments as insider and outsider, as prostitute and writer: “The more I saw of the meek, the bored, the frustrated, the more I glimpsed how our society works.” One client becomes a friend; another finds her hitting the panic button. The vulnerable camaraderie among the prostitutes makes for compelling reading. “The girls were my social life ... a strange little community, brimming with intimacy, blocked by secrets.” In this world, Holden finds an ambivalent emancipation, perhaps the only sort. She concedes a few regrets, mostly to do with her long-suffering parents. But ultimately she’s not after absolution or redemption.

“I sometimes wondered, with my legs spread over the face of some eager man, if I felt regret for the invasion of my secret spaces.” Her answer? “I am still me.”

Cover: September 2005
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