Great Sex Work Moments in Pop Culture History

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How Everyone Has It Wrong On Blac Chyna

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.

Hugh Hefner: Rapist And Revolutionary

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.

SESTA Vs. Stormy Daniels

(Image via Flickr user Donkeyhotey)

The fact that porn workers have always been popular scapegoats for the broadest strokes of politics and media is hardly news for those who work in the sex industry. There are myths claiming pornography leads to violence and there is the historical fact that porn workers have protected our civil rights. Protecting our First Amendment rights is just scratching the surface of sex workers’ contributions to labor and women’s rights movements, among others, since antiquity. Although more is at stake for sex workers than free speech, the passage of FOSTA and SESTA will not only affect us but civilians too, especially in light of the repeal of net neutrality. In a titillating cross-section of lawmaking and scandal, we have on one side Stormy Daniels suing 45 for unlawful payoffs and calling him to account publicly for his associates’ threats against her, and on the other side, legislation that has already silenced common sex workers, with the overlaying intersections of race and class; good whores and bad whores; victims and perpetrators; and misinformation all around.

You might see liberal celebrities championing Daniels, but you won’t see them championing sex workers’ rights.

A Judge’s Notes: The Fourth Annual Vagina Beauty Pageant

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DJ Dick Hennessy with Miss Beautiful Vagina 2013, Jordan

I was dressed modestly in a knee-length black dress, white Converse, and a denim jacket, and felt as comfortable as any stripper can when behaving as a civilian at a strip club event. Although Portland is home to about 45 strip clubs, its downtown entertainment district only has five, but on this Thursday evening, Club Rouge was already thumping with activity. I proudly displayed my black and pink VIP pass to the door attendant, feeling like vaginal royalty. About three dozen women of various ethnicities and body types strutted and mingled.

The judging panel was comprised of local Portland celebrities and industry folks: Tres Shannon, the delightfully eccentric owner of Voodoo Donuts, heavily bearded Jedediah Aaker, promoter of Tonic Lounge, who sports a leather thong in IFC’s Portlandia, traveling drag performer Miss Sasha Scarlette, an owner of a marijuana dispensary who wished to remain anonymous, and the unnamed owner of the upscale Stars clubs, who looked like a slightly more heterosexual John Waters. I was the only judge with an actual vagina. “I feel a lot of pressure was on your shoulders to maintain order and balance,” host and creator of the Annual Vagina Pageant, DJ Dick Hennessy, later told me.

20 contestants, 19 of whom were strippers, were vying for the title of Miss Pretty Vagina 2013. Scoring was based on three categories: Stage Talent (20%), Attractiveness (20%) and Vagina Beauty (60%). One young lady, appropriately dressed as a cute (yet clichéd) school girl, was introduced as having never stripped a shift in her life. While I admire the bravery of any woman willing to bare all in an industry competition, I was already dreading watching an amateur “dance.”

Club Rouge and Hennessy had attracted a diverse crowd. Twentysomething bros laughed and drank among well-dressed older men, a pack of women whispered into their hands and pointed at the strippers, and the Old Guy Who Sells Roses was weaving his way through the audience, muttering “Rose for the lady?” Dancer Ari from the Boom Boom Room giggled to me, “I just saw my dentist. He asked me, “How’s everything going? I asked him, “Like, in my mouth?” A fish-faced middle-aged man stood behind the judges, his mouth agape, not moving except to lick his lips every few minutes.

The bartender laughed at me when I asked “Do you serve hot tea?” and instead I settled for ice water with a lemon, dunking in my own smuggled tea bags. Once the contest began, the next four hours were a blur of vaginas and stilettos.

What The Fuck, Justin Bieber?

image via @1real_diamond
image via @1real_diamond

What the fuck, Justin Bieber, here’s the pile of money you dropped at a strip club in Houston last month.