Great Sex Work Moments in Pop Culture History

Hugh Hefner the image. (Photo by Flickr user Sarah Gerke)

Content warning: this post contains brief references to rape and abuse. 

Hugh Hefner died.

Of course he did. Dude was 91. When my castmate announced it after rehearsal, I didn’t feel shock at the news. Hefner may as well have died when he stopped being the editor of Playboy magazine. Or when The Girls Next Door tried selling us on twincest. Or when the magazine stopped publishing nudes. He was a go-to pop culture joke about debauchery and smoking jackets, but he’s hardly been relevant for years.

Still, I had some mixed feelings. I never much cared for Hefner or his image, having been introduced to him as a doddering grandpa on reality TV, but Playboy the brand had been in my life since I was a child. It molded my early ideas of what it meant to be attractive. It introduced me to the idea that sexiness could be playful or serious. When I turned 18, I bought an issue just because I could and delighted at the articles and interviews just as much as the pictorials. This, I thought, was the intersection of brains and beauty. By thumbing through the pages at my grandma’s house I was somehow becoming a well-rounded adult.

To say nothing of the accidental connection between Playboy and queerness. For generations, Dad’s secret stash (or in my case, my mother’s boyfriend Chad’s collection that he just left out in the open in his office) was a gateway not just for teenage boys but also girls. It felt like fate that my first issue featured a spread with Adrienne Curry, the first out bisexual I had ever seen. Since Playboy could also be “for the articles”, I was able to hide my queerness even from myself. Perhaps even more than the cool girls I had met in high school, Playboy gave me the most intense stirrings of looking at a woman and not being sure if I wanted to be her or be with her. As I grew I realized, hell, why not both?

When I went to college I found vintage issues and hung the centerfolds in my kitchen, aspiring to their fresh-faced, breezy beauty. I copied the makeup, teased my hair higher, and then rebelled against the streamlined pin-ups in favor of some Hustler-esque trashiness. Those styles helped me experiment and come into my own again and again as I rolled through my early 20s. Even now, I’ll sometimes look at them and imagine living in a dreamy world of sheer babydolls and fur rugs. It’s a world I realize I now have the means to create for myself at any point. Several photographer friends are just a Facebook message away, and within the week I’ll have a pin-up of myself to tuck away. In them, I’m eternally 19, 21, 24, and these versions of me seem younger and younger every year. They’re my own digital flashbacks that I wish I could share with my younger self. “Look,” I’d say. “You’re pretty too.”

But none of that was Hefner. It was the women I idolized—women who were paid peanuts to be immortalized in soft focus.

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Blac Chyna. (Via Youtube)

Recently, Blac Chyna has been relegated to being nothing more than a sex worker by opponents and supporters alike, people who reference her “finesse” and gloss over the abuse she’s suffered, reinforcing a dangerous narrative. Her humanity and her role as a mother are edited out of the persona people are now creating for her, as if being a sex worker makes those things less authentically part of her.

Blac Chyna is a mother who left her abusive partner Rob Kardashian several times in the last few months, and had his abuse of her play out in the court of public opinion. She happens to have been a stripper, a model, a sought-out video vixen, and a business owner of multiple companies not related to sex work, so to reduce her to a one-dimensional caricature of a sex worker strips her of every bit of her life off the pole.

Men are resources regardless of your occupation. Cis men come with access to respect, personal safety, often a degree of financial stability, and societal power that women are so often denied. To comment on what Blac Chyna was or wasn’t given during her relationship with Kardashian and cite it as the only reason she stayed exhibits a myopic and biased view of a person who engages in sex work. All people can benefit from proximity to men, proximity to whiteness, and the combined resources of both identities. That’s not exclusive to sex workers. Furthermore, financial abuse is often a tactic used by abusers, especially ones of Rob Kardashian’s means, and we can’t ignore that he got even more generous with his gifting once she started leaving him. We can’t blame her for being pulled into a cycle of abuse, and we shouldn’t keep running score of what women and femmes receive in a relationship as a ledger of emotional and physical debt they owe to the provider, regardless of their occupation.

I first became aware of Blac Chyna when friends would tag me in posts of a trailer video for Kardshian and Chyna’s then-upcoming reality show, Rob and Chyna, in which Chyna screamed into her phone at Kardashian: “Are you still texting bitches, yes or no?!” It was supposed to illustrate how possessive and mentally unstable she was. All I saw was someone responding to a deep lack of trust in their relationship and obviously being emotionally tormented by their partner’s actions. I felt her pain and empathized with her reactive search for reassurance from the one causing it. Sis knew he was talking to other women as sexual interests and she had just lost her first child’s father, Tyga, to his pedophilic interest in her current partner’s teenage sister, Kendall Jenner. I didn’t see anything funny to laugh at in that trailer video.

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Rarri True.

This has been quite the week in Hollywood, specifically within the Kardashian world. We’ve witnessed a particularly messy breakup and have been given insight into the company Blac Chyna keeps.

The morning of the breakup last Wednesday was incredibly entertaining, problematic, and dramatic—like most things pertaining to the Kardashian clan. By now I presume you’re aware of the key plot points, so I won’t rehash, but as a sex worker I was very interested in Blac Chyna’s alleged “mistress”, Rarri True (AKA Ferrari). I went to his Instagram to investigate who would be suitable company for someone at the Kardashian level of fame. His IG had a standard LA/Hollywood aesthetic: nice cars, jewelry, and clothes. I couldn’t quite put my finger on what his occupation was, though. As a full-time FSSW, I had an inkling he was part of the family in some way, and pretty early on, social media pundits such as Youtube personality and drag Ballroom performer Stahr Milan began commenting stating that he is a sex worker/scammer/entrepreneur. (On July 6th, True himself vaguely tweeted, “Don’t listen to the lies, I swear they all lies“, but he also tweeted in May that “If you tell me you ain’t do it then you ain’t do it and if you did then that’s family business“, which might better indicate his attitude towards his potential sex work.) 

This made perfect sense to me in terms of why Chyna would want him in her life. Who could possibly be more discreet and cautious than a sex worker? Who else would be more reliable as she attempts to escape Rob Kardashian?[Editor’s note: Though as of yesterday, it’s clear Chyna’s not taking chances anymore when it comes to her confidentiality, even with Rarri.] What’s a bit different about this story is that typically, celeb relations with sex workers are denied and the sex worker involved is shamed. But Chyna,  hasn’t repudiated Rarri True and has actually remained very calm under what must be terrible pressure to give “answers” about her companion and their relationship. [READ MORE]

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drakememe

Tits and Sass is a Rihanna blog. This is a sound editorial decision Caty and I made a long, long time ago, and so far it has served us well. Tits and Sass has never been a Drake blog. Which isn’t to say we’re anti-Drake, we’re just not explicitly pro-Drake the same we are, say, pro-Rihanna. Recently, it came to our attention that Drake loves Rihanna, and we love Rihanna, so, therefore, we reluctantly give space to Drake. In any event, this is the internet, and you can’t just ignore something on the internet, because the internet will not allow it, the internet will force you to talk about it. So, here is the post in which we feebly acknowledge that Drake is opening a strip club. That’s right, you heard it here first, folks (actually, you probably didn’t).  Drake is opening a strip club. This is our post about it. [READ MORE]

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Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) proposing to his sex worker girlfriend Vanessa Carslyle (Morena Baccarin) in Deadpool.

Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) proposing to his sex worker girlfriend Vanessa Carlysle (Morena Baccarin) in Deadpool.

When I first saw Deadpool on Valentine’s Day with my civilian partner, I remember leaving the theater on cloud nine, sure that my relationship could withstand anything. The movie made me feel like my job was not an obstacle to be overcome by romantic interests but a core part of me that could be embraced. I remember thinking that Morena Baccarin never had to go back to Joss Whedon to play a laterally whorephobic space courtesan because this film had allowed her to play an amazing sex worker.

I rewatched the film for this review and I have to say that this time it hurt. Watching Vanessa and Wade’s relationship unfurl on screen hit me hard.

Not because it was poorly written, though. Quite the opposite.

My partner and I broke up less than two weeks ago and watching this movie only reminded me of better times. Because Baccarin as Vanessa is awesome and her relationship with the titular hero is everything I have ever wanted from a story about a guy dating a sex worker. And it also represented everything that I wanted from being dated as one, with the addition of bad guys, bullets, and the breaking of the fourth wall.

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