Blast From the Past

"Vampire Days," a self-portrait by Leslie Feinberg on hir 60th birthday. (Photo via Feinberg's Flickr account)

“Vampire Days,” a self-portrait by Leslie Feinberg on hir 60th birthday. (Photo via Feinberg’s Flickr account)

Trans/queer writer and socialist hero Leslie Feinberg died last week. The event rekindled my memories of squatting on the floor of Barnes and Nobles at the age of 17, reading the work zie’s1 most known for, Stone Butch Blues, a bildungsroman set in the lesbian working class bar scene during the Stonewall era. I was blown away by the novel and the way it brought together class politics, trans rights, and queer rights so explicitly. I’m not the only sex worker for whom the book was important. When I wrote to him about Blues, St. James Infirmary program director and sex working trans man Cyd Nova responded:

When I read Stone Butch Blues nine years ago I was just beginning to understand my gender as something other than female, while working as a stripper and seeing the club as the only place that I felt a sense of home…The way it illustrated feeling at odds with the world and the precise quality of needing to find a community who could guide you to your ultimate true self, navigating the path against the tide, was such an important read for me at that point…I would say that this book gave me some of building blocks to understand my desire to transition, before the internet was such a bastion of resources for trans folks.

In fact, my Facebook feed was awash with queer and trans sex workers linking to obituary pieces on Feinberg last week. So many of us could identify with hir writing about finding one’s people and working along with them in factories, bars, clubs, and the street to keep ourselves afloat. That’s why I was aghast at learning from The Toast that Stone Butch Blues is actually permanently out of print. (“How is that possible, when every dyke in America has at least two copies on her bookshelf?” inimitable Toast editor Mallory Ortberg opined.) But what I remembered most clearly was my rereading of the book in my mid-twenties, when I realized just how much of it was about valorizing femme sex workers as an integral part of the queer community.

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The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas, based on Larry L. King’s The Whorehouse Papers, was a seminal work of sex work-themed pop culture. The successful 1982 film version of the musical, starring Burt Reynolds and Dolly Parton, included “I Will Always Love You,” a ballad that would later become Whitney Houston’s signature showstopper in The Bodyguard, and “A Lil’ Ole Bitty Pissant Country Place,” a showtune that would become the go-to performance choice of future musical theater strippers across America. Undoubtedly, many young children of the 80s were first introduced to the very idea of prostitution by the film.

But before all that, the Chicken Ranch in La Grange, Texas, was a real place, and a massive news story in 1970s Texas. The brothel was brought down thanks to the, ahem, consumer advocate reporting of Geraldo Rivera precursor Marvin Zindler. During its final days, the Chicken Ranch was run by Edna Milton (later Chadwell), who had started working (yup) at the brothel in the 50s and later bought it for $30,000. The real life Miss Mona said she’d never had an affair with the local sheriff and that their relationship was all business. Somehow, this doesn’t make her story any less interesting.

Edna died this week after sustaining injuries in a car crash last October. Unfortunately, she never published an autobiography, but went on the record whenever she was asked. Although she often said the fictional stories about the Chicken Ranch were sensationalized, it’s hard to imagine her actual story was in any way boring.

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photo by Julian Cash

Sex work activist Annie Sprinkle was the mind behind the original International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. After the conviction of “Green River Killer” Gary Ridgway, Sprinkle and activists from SWOP decided that a holiday was necessary to commemorate people in our community who have been the victims of violence, and to draw the public’s attention to the danger of working without legal protection and under harsh societal stigma.

Eight years later, the holiday is unfortunately as poignant as ever, as the Long Island serial killer has been occupying headlines for the past year. Annie spoke with me about the origins of December 17th, and the most memorable moments in her several decades of activism. [READ MORE]

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Editors Note:
There’s no sex work film as iconic as Pretty Woman, which is why we needed a total of three Tits and Sass-ers to tackle it. We figured we might as well start today, on Richard Gere’s birthday, with Bettie’s thoughts on the highest profile hooker with a heart of gold, followed by Charlotte’s take on Gere’s turn as provider instead of client in American Gigolo, and ending with an anonymous escort’s rebuke to the world Pretty Woman presents. Is there something about Vivian and Edward that still needs to be said after all that? Feel free to leave your own PW thoughts in the comments.

I have to admit, I’m not really a fan of Pretty Woman anymore. I used to be, before I started working. Now, though…

But it’s not because it’s an awful film. Indeed, it’s probably because it’s so good that I find it abhorrent. Even writing this review about it is getting on my nerves. That’s how far I’d like to stay from it at this point.

So, the story (as you all know) goes like this: Woman is a prostitute. Woman gives guy directions and ends up in his hotel room doing what prostitutes do when they are working. Guy’s kind of a dick…or socially awkward, whichever works for you, so he decides that instead of spending the week alone and perhaps trying to get another woman to spend time with him, he’ll just have Woman stay, for $3,000 and use of his credit cards. Woman thinks that’s swell. They spend time together (after she goes through a transformation the likes of Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady…or Sabrina, without the trip to Paris) They fall in love.

The last scene where he’s on the white limo with the rose in his mouth is just, ugh. My nerves are bad. Why didn’t he use the Esprit SE? I would totally fall for a dude in one of those.

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Aside from having one of the best theme songs in the world, Willie Dynamite being the film with the best so far, The Happy Hooker was also one of the cutest films I’ve watched in a long time.

We’ve been here before, so I don’t need to stress how much I love 70s fashion. I mean, it’s garish sometimes, but so is the austere minimalist stuff Phoebe Philo was selling us a couple of seasons ago, so… I also adore Xaveria Hollander for riding a bike to sessions, because I am a bike-riding sex worker myself.

I suppose this story is pretty normal, right? Lady has a taste for independence and uses sex work to better her life. Lady sees a hole in the market and uses her ability to fill it. This story is cute, even if it’s not groundbreaking. Actually, she’s charming. I think we are supposed to understand that she’s kind of irresistible. I doubted her appeal at the beginning, but afterward I was in love! [READ MORE]

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