Been There. Done What?! | Books | Los Angeles | Los Angeles News and Events | LA Weekly

Been There. Done What?! 

Jillian Lauren opens up about her life as a teenage harem girl in Brunei

Thursday, Apr 15 2010

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People regard her with either repulsion or fascination, or both, once she starts telling her story. "You were where?" friends say, when they find out. "How come you never told me this?"

Usually, it just doesn't come up.

It's the folks closer to home she worries about the most. The religious family across the street, for instance. The families she shares a front-yard culture with, which is about to kick into high gear as winter melts into spring. In the late afternoons, the block comes alive with kids on bikes and moms and dads tending their gardens and nosing into one another's business. Everyone here knows everyone else. What would her 85-year-old neighbor, Helen, bless her heart, think when she finds out the mommy next door was once an international teen prostitute? Helen who has lived in the neighborhood for more than 50 years, to whom Lauren brings cookies, and to whom she brings her baby to play at her house, and who she feels looks at her with respect and love.

click to flip through (5) PHOTO BY MATT HOYLE

"You did what?" says Helen, craning her neck to hear. "You wrote a book? Well that is just really interesting."

"To be honest, I'm not 100 percent sure she completely understands," Lauren says.

Her parents do not completely understand, either. One afternoon not too long ago, she sat with her mother and father at a therapist's office in New York, a list of items covered in the memoir in her hand. They went over it point by point.

Mom and dad already knew she was in Brunei, had a sense of her activities there. "What did you think?" said her father, "I thought you were a diplomat?"

That she'd written a book about it, however, was news to them. Lauren grimaces now, grips her cup of tea and admits, "They are very sad and hurt about it. They are fearful of what will happen. They live in a very conservative community."

Her mother returned from New Years vacation to an article in the New York Post and 15 messages on her answering machine. Your daughter did what?

"I knew I was a hooker, but somehow I felt like Cinderella," the Post quotes from the book. Her mother was aghast. "Right now we're not really speaking," Lauren says. "I wish they were being more supportive. I think the portrayal of them in the book is ultimately compassionate and loving."

It is a parent's worst nightmare, the daughter who grows up to be a hooker. Or a memoir writer. They got both.

Curling up on the floor in front of the coffee table, Lauren turns the pages of the photo album, rewinding further into the past to a time before the prince, before nights spent lounging on sofas in evening gowns waiting to be picked. There are pictures of her at 16, leaving for college. Pictures at her junior prom, at her bat mitzvah. Pictures of summer camp with the pervy counselor she fooled around with. He was 21 and handsome. She was 13 and innocent. "And where am I?" she asks, searching the photo. "There! That's how old I am. No boobies, nothing. He was cute though. He really was. What can you do?"

Who knows what her life would have looked like if she hadn't gone to Brunei. "I recognize that my story sounds surreal. But nothing is surreal that happens to you. For me, it's just my life," she says.

Soon her baby patters in, thick with sleep from a nap. Tariku is from Ethiopia, adopted, as Lauren was. He sidles up to the sofa, smiles. He cannot get enough of her.

"He loves the ladies," she says, smiling back.

Jillian Lauren will read from and sign Some Girls: My Life in a Harem at Book Soup on Friday, April 30, at 7 p.m. Party afterward at Ghettogloss.

Reach the writer at

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