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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?

Sugarbabe: Kat Commiserates With A Friend

I was introduced to Sugarbabe by my friend Charlotte who received the book from a client. I was able to track down one used copy at Powell’s after a few weeks of keeping an eye on the sex worker section. It was obvious from a dog-eared page toward the beginning of the book and the way that the spine wasn’t cracked and that the previous owner hadn’t made it very far. It’s a shame that he or she didn’t stick it out because it’s kind of the greatest bad sex work memoir ever.

Holly Hill finds herself 35, out of work, and dumped by the married rich boyfriend who had been supporting her. She decides to make a career out of being a sugarbaby and places an ad online. As soon as she gets her first response, she is already so turned on that she moans aloud in anticipation before even opening the email. It only gets better from there as she navigates the tricky business of being a full-time sugarbaby, taking a tour of multicultural dick and learning about herself (maybe? Not really) along the way.

More like, “The book that will be on everyone’s flaps”

Bob Kolker on Lost Girls (2013)

9780062183637The search for the supposed Long Island Serial Killer began in December 2010, when the bodies of four women who had worked as prostitutes were found in the course of the search for a fifth who had disappeared that May. No suspect has been found to date. I spoke with New York contributing editor Robert Kolker via chat to talk about his first book, Lost Girls, which is a study of the five women who disappeared there and their surviving friends and family. Chat edited from its raw form.

Bubbles: Did your personal attitude about prostitution/prostitutes change a lot over the course of reporting this book?

Kolker: When I first reported on the serial-killer case, I was coming into the subject with no real knowledge of sex workers or sex work. In hindsight, I had a lot of preconceived notions. My first impulse, as a reporter, was to join the crowd and try to report on the whodunit aspect of the case. I didn’t occur to me to learn much about the victims at first because I assumed, naively, that they had no stories at all—that they were “dead” long before they were really killed. (I actually thought of Season 2 of The Wire, in which the bodies of trafficked girls are found in a shipping container. I thought these women were like that—people who were social outcasts who might never be identified.)

Then I quickly learned they all had families, of course, and loved ones and friends. And as I got to know the families I realized that sex work, in part because of the Internet, attracts a very different sort of person from the stereotype. I wanted Lost Girls to be about that change—about the lives of these women—as much as I wanted it to be about the case itself.

About that change in their lives?

About the change in the world of escorts. How the shift from outdoor to indoor sex work has allowed a wider variety of people to find the work appealing.

The ease of entry.

Yes.

Now, I’ve talked with plenty of escorts who say that the Internet has actually made their work safer—that they can do background checks on clients and so forth—and so I didn’t want this book to beat up on the Internet itself. But I do think the field has changed and the professional challenges have changed, even as the risks remain in place.

Strip Club: Gender, Power, and Sex Work by Kim Price-Glynn (2010)

StripClubPrice-GlynnIn the midst of Girls Gone Wild culture, in which stripping is made to seem effortless and women’s naked bodies are cast as easily replaceable, Kim Price-Glynn enters the Lion’s Den. The Den, a seedy strip club in a small, white, working-class town in the Northeast, is a far cry from the glamorous media images of low lights, glamorous makeup, and dazzling stage sets. Quite the contrary, the Den’s physical layout—run-down and in serious need of repair—mirrors the niche its strippers occupy as the exploited and expendable employees of a club centered around male desire and profit.

Strip Club: Gender, Power, and Sex Work is an ethnography by Price-Glynn in which she explores what she calls the “gendered processes” underlying the organizational structure at a strip club. While working as a cocktail waitress, Price-Glynn turned her attention to the formal and informal processes by which strip club employees, dancers, and customers exercised authority and had their needs and desires fulfilled. Who “wins” when it comes to stripping? Her answer, while attentive to the ambiguities, suggests that males—customers and employees—“win.” Strippers get the short end of the stick.

Price-Glynn doesn’t believe that strip clubs need to be shut down, nor that strippers are caught in cycles of abuse. Instead, she places the “blame” for the exploitative conditions experienced by Lion’s Den dancers on a larger culture of misogyny. Rape culture, the permissibility of violence, and the unique intersection in the club of racism, ageism, and sizeism are overarching social realities that converge to enable the Den’s brand of sexist exploitation.

Neon Wasteland: On Love, Motherhood, and Sex Work In A Rust Belt Town (2011)

aneonwastelandpicSusan Dewey conducted fieldwork for her academic study at a strip club she calls “Vixens” in a town she calls “Sparksburgh” in the post-industrial economy in upstate New York. She describes interacting with approximately 50 dancers but focuses on a few: Angel, Chantelle, Cinnamon, Diamond, and Star. Some names were changed, but these pseudonyms will sound familiar to anyone who has spent time in a club. The run-down club offers entertainment for working class people in an area with high unemployment. The club is not glamorous but is perceived as the best opportunity in a place of few options, including a few other bars with exotic dancers.

The first chapter opens with a quote from a dancer addressing Dewey: “You grew up like all of us and so you understand.” This context is important because money and socio-economic class are the main topics of the book. The book describes the women’s lives: poor starts in foster care, having children early, low levels of education, little financial or moral family support, economic contraction in the region, unreliable boyfriends and substance use. Dewey’s primary focuses are family and economics, contributing to a small but important body of work (I think of Jo Weldon’s piece in Sex Work Matters) examining the income provided by sex work. In other words, she studies the work rather than the sex.