Great Sex Work Moments in Pop Culture History

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Klute (1971)

You guys, this was my first time seeing Klute and I am totally sold on it. I was into it pretty much from the first few seconds because I am one of those people who decides whether they will like a film based on the colors and whether they feel “good” to me or not. I’ve been having a green moment of late, and there is so much green in that opening scene! There seems to have been (from what I have gleaned from interior design books from the 70’s) a lot of that happening, the garden in the house thing. It reminded me of this post at Desire To Inspire. I love it. If I didn’t kill plants I’d start a garden!

But I do.

So let’s get into this film, shall we?

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.

Great Sex Work Moments in Pop Culture History: The Facts of Life

Thank you, @fishymessiah, for making me track down this classic Facts of Life episode where Blair finds out her boyfriend, med student Cliff, works as a male stripper when the girls take Mrs. Garrett to a strip club for her birthday. It’s surprising! Highlights: the club is called Wedgwood’s, Jo takes pictures and is not tossed out, and Mrs. Garrett smacks down Jo’s judgement of Cliff. Enjoy your next 22 minutes.

Nothin’ Dirty Going On: “Best Little Whorehouse” Madam Edna Milton Chadwell Dead At 84

The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas, based on Larry L. King’s The Whorehouse Papers, was a seminal work of sex work-themed pop culture. The successful 1982 film version of the musical, starring Burt Reynolds and Dolly Parton, included “I Will Always Love You,” a ballad that would later become Whitney Houston’s signature showstopper in The Bodyguard, and “A Lil’ Ole Bitty Pissant Country Place,” a showtune that would become the go-to performance choice of future musical theater strippers across America. Undoubtedly, many young children of the 80s were first introduced to the very idea of prostitution by the film.

But before all that, the Chicken Ranch in La Grange, Texas, was a real place, and a massive news story in 1970s Texas. The brothel was brought down thanks to the, ahem, consumer advocate reporting of Geraldo Rivera precursor Marvin Zindler. During its final days, the Chicken Ranch was run by Edna Milton (later Chadwell), who had started working (yup) at the brothel in the 50s and later bought it for $30,000. The real life Miss Mona said she’d never had an affair with the local sheriff and that their relationship was all business. Somehow, this doesn’t make her story any less interesting.

Edna died this week after sustaining injuries in a car crash last October. Unfortunately, she never published an autobiography, but went on the record whenever she was asked. Although she often said the fictional stories about the Chicken Ranch were sensationalized, it’s hard to imagine her actual story was in any way boring.

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.