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Stripped: The Bare Reality of Lap Dancing (2011)

Jennifer Hayashi Danns says she wrote Stripped: The Bare Reality of Lap Dancing “to give a voice to women who have direct experience of lap dancing but are often unheard, and to peel away some of the gloss surrounding this industry”—a laudable goal in an age in which pole-dancing classes are offered at every gym but the exploitative aspects of the strip club industry go largely unexamined in the media.

Danns is herself a former lap dancer and the first section of the book, “Experiences,” includes a series of personal stories by dancers, all of which speak complex truths about working in the industry. Most of the contributing dancers started stripping because it was the only way they could pay for college, and their stories chart familiar trajectories: starting out clueless, learning to make decent money, getting burnt out due to exploitative management, poor security, competitive new girls, and/or pressure to push boundaries, starting afresh at a new club, etc. Most look back on their stripping careers with mixed feelings, appreciating the financial benefits and maybe the friendships, regretting much of the rest. Some of them reflect that in hindsight they could’ve—should’ve—avoided the industry and gotten through college by taking on more debt or living more humbly—a tough choice that many people face on a daily basis.

Off the Street (2011)

 

I was excited to read and review Off the Street. The true story of Las Vegas vice cop Christopher Baughman, leader of the Pandering Investigation Team (PIT) and Human Trafficking Task Force, it seemed like the perfect read for a sex-work-loving, law enforcement supporter such as myself.

The story begins when a prostitute on the Strip is beaten for two days by her pimp, who’s also the father of her son. Baughman becomes her crusading investigator, despite the victim’s objections to leaving her attacker. Baughman seems to understand the cycle of violence and abuse with which he’s so familiar, and acknowledges the woman’s reluctance to assist in the case. He acknowledges that there are indeed “bad” cops:

“I understand that the power of the badge can only amplify qualities in a person. For instance, a good man with a badge can only amplify qualities in a person. … There are others who carry a badge and feel an automatic sense of entitlement. They might bend over backward for some citizens, but declare in the same breath that any ghetto is just a self-cleaning oven. These men have also become my enemies. I have no use for them. They have dishonored their position, slighted the city I love and tarnished the badge that I carry.”

Striptastic! (2017)

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?

Remembering Stone Butch Blues’ Pledge To Sex Workers

"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.

The Lengths (2013)

(image via TheLengths.com)
(image via TheLengths.com)

When did I last read a novel about gay male escorts that didn’t make me want to set the world on fire with rage? It was probably Rupert Everett’s Hello, Darling, Are You Working?, one of the sex workers’ rights advocate/actor’s less well-known works. But also I read that book years ago, so long ago in fact that I don’t really even remember too much about it, beyond that it wasn’t completely maddening.

I haven’t done a study or anything, but it seems that rent boys feature in memoirs a lot more than they feature in novels. (The most recent example I know of was self-published by gay porn star Christopher Daniels in November; I haven’t read it.) But even some of the fictional works—Everett’s among them—are at least somewhat autobiographical. Howard Hardiman, author of eight-issue comic The Lengths, fits into that category. In an interview with The New Statesman he says he “did a bit of sex work” with some of his escort friends, and it’s evident that he sympathizes with his characters. The Lengths is fiction, but in addition to (presumably) drawing on his own experiences Hardiman clearly did a lot of research, interviewing London’s male sex workers as he assembled the story of a wayward dog named Eddie.

Yes, Eddie is a dog. I think he’s a bull terrier?