Clients

Bruises Brenneman sustained from one of the beatings she suffered at the hands of men hired by Isgitt. (Photo by Amanda Brooks via her blog, courtesy of Amanda Brooks and Jill Brenneman)

Bruises on Brenneman’s back from a beating she suffered at the hands of Isgitt’s hired men. (Photo by Amanda Brooks via her blog, courtesy of Amanda Brooks and Jill Brenneman)

Interview co-authored by Josephine and Caty

Content warning—the following contains descriptions of extreme injuries and rape suffered by two sex workers due to a campaign of violence by an abusive client, as well as an account of child abuse.

Jill Brenneman and Amanda Brooks are veterans and heroines of the sex workers’ rights movement.  As a teen, Brenneman suffered years of of brutal abuse in which she was coerced into working as a professional submissive. In the early aughts, Jill made an amazing conversion from membership in the prohibitionist movement to sex workers’ rights activism. She set up SWOP-EAST from the remains of an anti sex work organization she’d led. SWOP-EAST grew to be one of the most vital sex workers’ rights organizations of the era. Brenneman was also a frequent contributor to early sex workers’ rights blogs like Bound Not Gagged.

Amanda Brooks is the acclaimed author of The Internet Escort’s Handbook series, the first one of which she published in 2006. They served as an important resource for escorts advertising online back when there were few other how-to sources on the topic. She was also one of the earliest escort bloggers starting in 2005, writing entries brimming with eloquence and common sense at After Hours.

The two fell off the map recently.

When they returned, we were shocked to read Brooks’ blog post about what they’d endured: a campaign of terror by one of Brooks’ clients, affluent lawyer Percy LaWayne Isgitt. Isgitt—Brenneman and Brooks call him “Pig”—caused both Brenneman and Brooks severe brain injuries when his arrogance and negligence piloting a plane the three of them were in led to a catastrophic “hard landing.” Despite the fact that Brooks was clearly incapacitated and near death, Brenneman had to browbeat Pig into taking her to the hospital the next day. Once Brooks was checked in, Pig fraudulently signed in as her relative and attempted to control her treatment. Despite her still severely injured state, Brooks continued to see Pig as a client for two sessions after her hospitalization, in desperate need of money to pay for medical bills. When she finally tried to break ties with him, he hired people to make threatening phone calls to both women. In response, Brooks went into hiding, so Pig sent men to stalk, rape, and beat Brenneman on a number of occasions, trying to discover Brooks’ location. Neither the police, nor the many medical facilities that misdiagnosed them along the way, nor the personal injury lawyer they hired were any help to the two women against a deranged, abusive man with wealth and social capital.

The injuries Brenneman suffered from the plane crash combined with the injuries she sustained from the attacks led to the fatal exacerbation of her previous medical conditions. Her doctors have told her she has very little time left to live.

This story illustrates the insidious way institutions empower abusers to commit violence against sex workers. The only people they can often rely on in these situations are other sex workers. You can read the original account here and donate to their Giftrocket account using this email address: abrooks2014@hush.com. Donations will be shared equally between them to cover their respective medical costs.

Amanda, you write in your blog post, in reference to Jill’s past abuse:

To those who doubt, her stories are true. They’re things only men would think up and most of the time, it’s the mundane details that stand out the most to both of us. I’ve read stories from so-called trafficking victims who describe ridiculous “Satanic” rituals or elaborate set-ups. The truth is, the men who were Bruce’s [Jill’s captor’s] clients weren’t very bright, in my opinion, and they had a lot of the same stupid fantasies and beliefs that most vanilla clients do—only much darker and violent.

This factor plays into your story of how Pig hurt you both, too. There’s a voyeuristic undertone to the way people listen to stories of abuse. People expect the “elaborate set-ups,” and yet abuse is usually no different than other misbehavior in kind, if not in degree—abusers do it because they want to feel big, or because they care about themselves a lot more than they care about anyone else. How do you think the fact that often stories of abuse are mundane and banal makes it harder for victims to get help?

Jill Brenneman: People don’t want to believe the mundane stories, they want to believe the exotic stories. Like a wife who gets hit. Unless she’s put in the hospital, no one cares. Or she returns home because she has children. But the trafficking victim imported from Estonia gets all the attention.

Amanda Brooks: Because they’re too believable or not dramatic enough. [Pig] raped me twice, yet it’s not something most people acknowledge as rape. It even took me a while to realize that it was rape, despite how I felt about it. People like to parse situations down to the point where the only way it’s “real” is if it’s outlandish.

Jill, you were held captive by a sadist for three years in your teens, and forced to endure unimaginable abuse. As an adult you returned to sex work voluntarily to make a living, and then you went through this ordeal with Amanda at Pig’s hands. What unusual problems have you faced as a sex working abuse survivor? What can we do as a movement to make things better for the abuse survivors among us?

Jill: The ordeal that Amanda went through made me livid and still does.

Working as an abuse survivor led me to more abuse. I learned from [my captor and abuser] Bruce in the 80’s. Bruce was a cliche master sadist. There was never a sense of love or affection between him and I. I was an object. I did what I was was told. I was taught how to relate to clients. I overapplied this training as an adult. I willingly went back to work as a professional submissive. This was a place that I did not belong. Despite there being a 19 year gap between [my captivity and going back to] sex work, I did not belong in sex work —especially as a professional submissive. I needed the money to pay for very expensive subcutaneous blood thinners because of a clotting disorder. I needed to pay the rent, the car payment, food, care for the dog, etc. I took the work that came. I started off with two old pictures of myself, no website, no reviews, and took some pro-sub clients to make money when it was tight. I did not belong in sex work. I was still far too impacted from previous abuse to be doing it but I had no choice, I needed the money.

The most important thing the movement needs to do is work on decriminalization so that we have options.

Amanda: The movement truly doesn’t have the power to deal with this, unfortunately. Until the laws are changed, we never will.

[READ MORE]

{ 4 comments }

(Image by Nicolas Royne,  via Flickr and the Creative Commons)

(Image by Nicolas Royne, via Flickr and the Creative Commons)

One of the brightest spots of sex work activism is when some bright-eyed bushy-tailed sex-worker-to-be finds her way into the space and wants to know the best way to get into our sordid business. “Come, little one! Join me in the fresh hellscape that is the business of selling sexual services,” I declare, fancying my mentorship style half old-school brothel manager chain-smoking Virginia Slims, half Archimedes the uptight but good-hearted owl from Disney’s Sword in the Stone. But one of the darker spots of the same situation is when these apprentices say things like, “I think I could start with something easy like stripping.” Oh, girl. You did not.

It is times like this that I wish I had this story in my back pocket to pull out and give to would-be strippers that think dancing is the Diet Coke of sex work. It is the story of a man with a shit-eating grin and a monumental sense of entitlement calling the police on a stripper who denied him sex in a VIP room in the appropriately named city of Butte, Montana. To recap, this man believed that the denial of sex from a stripper was not only a criminal offense but a criminal offense worth escalating to involvement with law enforcement. The sense of entitlement to sexual services beyond the ones on the official job descriptions are ones to which strippers are subjected regularly. While it is newsworthy because the guy actually called the cops, strippers know that boundary-pushing clients are part and parcel of the sexual and emotional labor of stripping.

[READ MORE]

{ 17 comments }

Not all clients are totally predictable.

Not all clients are totally predictable. (image via twitter user @a_girl_irl)

Just as the rallying cry of men defending themselves from those mean, mean feminists seems to be, “Not ALL men!” so does the sex work client object to generalizations about him. In fact, the one thing all sex work clients have in common is that they all think they’re different, special, and  not like those other guys. So, when they throw out that tired line you’ve been hearing ever since you started working, they think they’re being clever. We asked escorts, street workers, strippers, pro-dommes, cam-people, and phone sex operators to get on Twitter on #notallclients and tell us all about it. [READ MORE]

{ 21 comments }

Frost and Nixon. Cronkite and Thatcher. Amanpour and Arafat. O’Reilly and Obama. Today, Tits and Sass brings you what will certainly be remembered as another essential interview in the history of journalism. We all have met him. Every single one of us has been touched in a very special way by this storied individual. Who hasn’t wondered: What’s his side of the story? Now we’ll know. This is our exclusive interview with Sweat Pants Boner Man.

{ 4 comments }

(Image via memegenerator, courtesy of femmefurious.tumblr.com)

(Image via memegenerator.net, courtesy of femmefurious.tumblr.com)

I got an anonymous message on my Tumblr after a recent post I made complaining about how fashionable it seems to be for the sex workers’ rights movement to focus on the voices of clients of sex workers. Like me, the anonymous poster felt that clients’ feelings and experiences were being prioritized over theirs. This poor anon felt obligated to give a fuck about men’s feelings. I want to make one thing perfectly clear. I really don’t give a shit about clients’ feelings. If I’m not being paid to deal with male bullshit, I have no interest in it.

Yet I, like anon, feel like I’m alone in that position a lot of the time. The illustrious Morgan M. Page/Odofemi, a Toronto-based trans writer, artist, activist, and former sex worker, has written about the clients of trans sex workers and described them as “the missing link in obtaining trans* and sex workers rights”. Entire blogs are dedicated to telling the stories of punters. It seems like people are really keen on the idea that the men who use our services should be there to stick up for us. And why not? They’re being criminalized too (though we’re the ones who suffer the truly awful consequences), and I’m sure many other sex workers will agree that we do get a sense from some clients that they appreciate our humanity. It all sounds very good on paper. So, what’s the problem?

Well, first of all, have a look at the link to the blog about punters’ stories I posted. One of the posts is even titled “Women only sell sex because they have to.” Really? You’re speaking for us now? Excuse me, dude, please do not tell me why I do anything. I am entirely capable of doing that myself. Sadly, the voices of non-sex workers have long been used to drown out those of actual whores, and this divergence into punters’ points of view doesn’t seem any different from here. What are they actually contributing? Are they calling out whorephobia, talking to their friends about how to treat us with respect, designing laws and social policies that make our lives easier? No. What I’m seeing is eerily reminiscent of review-culture, which is about them, not us. I could live with that, if they stopped it there and didn’t tip-toe over to our side of the fence and, armed with their male entitlement, start speaking for us in ways that usually re-affirm victimized whore tropes. I remember one post in particular in which a man moaned woefully—and creepily—about the breakdown of his marriage, his ex-wife’s daughter, and his mental illness (hi, I have one too and I’m not a twat), then suggested that an escort he contacted clearly wasn’t “a real professional” and wasn’t “dedicated to her work” because she didn’t want to deal with him calling her repeatedly weeks before his fucking booking. Why should we listen to that kind of shit? Who is it helping? Hint: NO ONE. Oh look, here’s the post in question. Somehow I don’t think “everyday whorephobia” understands how ironic their blog name becomes when they post this trash.

The point I am trying to make here is that if clients were contributing something valuable or even something innocuous to our movement, I could deal. Instead, they are perpetrating whorephobia. I fear that people who don’t know better will see posts like this and think these men somehow have more knowledge of our lives and the realities of our work than we do. After all, the conversations surrounding punters and activism are largely cisheteronormative, and most of these men bring their male privilege to the table, while not even being aware of these advantages.

[READ MORE]

{ 141 comments }