Red

Red is a mildly burned out stripper at what Kat termed "the weird club." She alienates her Instagram followers by taking many many pictures of her pets and not enough dressing room selfies. She watches too much TV and accepts donations of books and cash. Red is also our new Week In Links editor, and she blogs at clarawebbwillcutoffyourhead.tumblr.com (Go see Byzantium immediately if you don't get that reference)


Jacqueline Frances (Photo by Danielle Rafanan)

Jacqueline Frances has drawn attention and acclaim with her deceptively simple cartoons of everyday strip club doings.  The simplicity of her comics draws you in, and before you know it, you’re seeing men and masculinity from a sex workers’  view that few people can bring themselves to take on consciously. Frances toured last year with her baby-stripper memoir The Beaver Show, and is touring this year with her new project, Striptastic!, a comic book celebration of strippers.  She’s traveling the country for the next month and a half on the Sex Witch Tour.

Red: So, early on in Striptastic! you have a great illustration of a woman onstage saying she’s smashing patriarchy, and then you write a bit below that about how stripping is feminist and against patriarchy.

And I wanted to ask if you think it’s that simple, because there are later illustrations of “bad nights,” and one of a girl being groped where the caption is something like, “for every Instagram picture of a stripper with stacks, this is what she had to put up with” (which is WAY TOO REAL). These illustrations hint at a different reality, one where women/strippers don’t have all the power—or much power at all—and the work is a complex negotiations of boundaries with customers for cash and then with management for their respect (or for them to at least act like it) and with some management beggaring dancers before allowing them to leave after a slow night.

So, given these illustrations, I was wondering how you see stripping now, if you still see it as a patriarchy-smashing activity, or if it is in fact just another job with compromises like everything else, or if it can be both. Can it be patriarchy-smashing if the clubs are set up to profit men with as minimal benefit to the dancer as possible? Is a woman with low or no social capital being able to earn a living radical (I think it is!), but can that also co-exist with the fact that she’s able to make this living by working in a space that expressly centers men, male desires, and male conspicuous consumption of female energy, bodies, and services?

And is her work that benefits all these men, is that still smashing patriarchy?

Jacqueline Frances: No, it’s definitely not that simple. We exist within it and all have bills to pay. There are many ways to chip away at and/or smash the patriarchy, and I don’t believe there is one pure and simple way to do it.

Red: What’s your ideal outcome with the book? Are you trying to build stripper solidarity? What would you like to do with that, if that’s your goal? What are your visions?

Jacq: Yeah, I totally want to build stripper solidarity! Hmm, what was my goal with the book? I don’t know—the book kind of just happened organically, I started drawing and I knew that people were disappointed that The Beaver Show wasn’t illustrated—

Red: [laughing] Did you see the review—someone posted a review of The Beaver Show and it was clear they hadn’t even touched it, they describe it as a comic book and I was like, “Mmmm…”

Jacq: No, it’s not! But yeah, there are a lot of typos and it is a baby stripper memoir, it’s how you start. And so I was like, “I guess I should make a book of pictures!”

So I made it, and the survey made it not so much a book about me, more about other people. And I was talking to my mom today, [telling her that] I want it to feel like a yearbook, I want other strippers to open it up and relate to it and be happy about the positive memories and the strength they’ve discovered through stripping and sex work. I really want it to be an artifact for the women who’ve done the work, to celebrate their achievement. And I also want it to be educational for people who don’t do it, but that’s not my MO.

My MO is not teaching dudes, that’s all I do at work all day. I’ll offer some pearls of wisdom, or my zine, How not to be a dick in the strip club, which I just made available on Amazon again, but this is a gift for strippers.

…I’d love to usher in more women telling their stories. I know it’s not safe to come out, I know I have a ton of privilege that makes it safe—stripping is legal, I’m white, I’m educated—I have a lot of privilege that makes it easier to come out, so I want to use that. I want to start a dialogue. [READ MORE]

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Anyone who knows me will tell you I struggle with nuance.  Different people have different ways of expressing this: two of my friends describe me as a typical Capricorn, I’ve been called an “angry bumblebee,” “strident,” and “ideologically rigid” by some of my best friends.  They aren’t exaggerating! I’m capable of nuance, especially when talking about my own experiences, but when I see good things said about the sex industry without any mention of the bad, my internal alarm starts screeching.

Which makes me a really weird pick to review Jacqueline Frances’ (AKA Jacq the Stripper) celebration of strippers, Striptastic!, right?
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(Via Flickr user Bjorn Soderqvist)

(Via Flickr user Bjorn Soderqvist)

I worked as a nanny, and in a daycare. (Twice! I worked in daycare twice!) Once, one of the Pre-K kids’ parents gave their five-year-old a laxative, no, I don’t know what they were thinking either, and I was called to remove the giant column of shit that ensued from the toilet. There was nothing else for it but to put on industrial size gloves and reach in and manually remove it.

So believe me when I tell you that I’ve dealt with a lot of literal shit in my day.

I dealt with it and moved on. And I thought that entering this new phase of my life as a hooker I would be leaving poverty and, with it, all the gross, sad things we deal with resentfully to stave off poverty behind. Like shit!

So you know the one thing I was not expecting to have to deal with as an adult, a very intelligent and charming and attractive paid companion for other adults?

Shit.

And yet, the amount of times I have ended up dealing with shit—left on sheets, left on fingers, left caked on ass hairs—well, I’m sure you get the idea. 

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The intro sequence of >i> Flesh and Bone .

The intro sequence of Flesh and Bone.

Flesh and Bone is on Starz, and predictably over the top, and you know it will be from the moment the credits start. A tiny ballerina dances amidst red dust that’s maybe blood, maybe drugs, who even knows, accompanied by a cover of that Animotion song “Obsession.”

Flesh and Bone is a dance story, and as such, it needs a wide-eyed young woman in a new and anxiety-provoking dance environment: sadistic and deeply unhappy gay impresario Paul’s (Ben Daniels) company. The show adds some seriously Black Swan elements of grotesquerie and personal torment, and then its own unique take on compromise.

And that’s what made it interesting to me. Not the dancing, although I like it. And not the relatively few strip club scenes, which is how I got sold on it. I’m interested in the way it works with compromise, or what some would call prostitution. Not just actual whoring—although yes, also that—but the other dictionary definition, the exchange of personal values for some other kind of gain. What do we do for money, the show asks, in between shots of beautiful bodies stretched to improbable limits and monstrous shots of pain and suffering. What’s the price for a chance at success, and what does that cost?

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The cast of Red Umbrella Diaries, used with permission.

The cast of “The Red Umbrella Diaries”. (Courtesy of Red Umbrella Project)

Week in Links has been on hiatus. It’s come back to you in a new form: Month in links! This is gonna be good, you’ll see.

In the meantime, momentous things have happened!

In August, despite protest from such well-educated and experienced sex workers and sex work researchers as Lena Dunham, Anne Hathaway, and Meryl Streep, Amnesty International voted to develop a policy that supports the full decriminalization of sex work.  The move is based on international agreement among public health, HIV, and human rights organizations, from the WHO to the Lancet, UNAIDS, and beyond, but still faces opposition from the prohibitionist moral police.  Despite a year of highly visible police brutality and murders and protests against this brutality in the United States, prohibitionists continue to advocate for End Demand and other versions of criminalization that increase law enforcement power over sex workers.

Which is both very funny and very sad, because stories like this one, about police entrapping and raping sex workers, are only slightly less common in the news than stories of another police murder, and probably happen unreported with even greater regularity.

In the wake of the Amnesty vote, DC is contemplating decrim, Seattle is still pushing hard for End Demand (and Seattle SWOP is pushing back, here’s our own Maggie McMuffin talking about it); internationally organizations in South Africa are pushing for decriminalization as well, as are public health groups in Zimbabwe, while Vietnam officials say they need red light districts.

While the Amnesty vote encouraged LAMBDA legal to finally come out in support of decrim, gay male sex workers took a hit the very next week as the Feds and Homeland Security raided Rentboy.com. Unlike virtually every other raid on an escort site ever, this one was met with outrage and media commentary in support of Rentboy. With overblown commentary like “Is Rentboy the new Stonewall?” (Katherine Koster and Derek J Demeri speak for a lot of us when they respond with an emphatic “no) the history of raids on women escort sites and sex worker protests of that phenomenon was erased. Men, you know, have sexual agency and are able to decide what’s best for themselves, even as sex workers, while women’s sexual agency and ability to self determine must always be in doubt.  Did HuffPo post videos of sex workers affected by the seizure of MyRedbook?

So LAMBDA, what’s good? Will LGBT organizations support all sex workers, or just gay male ones? Where’s your support for Amber Batts, a woman who served essentially the same function as Rentboy for some Alaskan sex workers, and was sentenced to five and a half years in prison for “trafficking”? Lily Burana has some opinions on the disparity in coverage, and she’s not alone.

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