1940 World War II military propaganda poster (Image courtesy of the National Library of Medicine)
I was in the midst of a pretty good day when I received a phone call from one of my non-client lovers. The poor boy had come down with a case of throat gonorrhea, which I didn’t even know was a thing. He was just calling to let me know I had been exposed the last time we had sex, since we had made out with great vigor and he had also gone downtown, like the sweetheart he is. I thanked him for letting me know, told him to feel better, hung up and began to evaluate the situation in the calm and rational fashion that any sex-positive, non-monogamous person might try to evaluate a situation such as this.
Gonorrhea. No big deal, right? I have always expected to contract an STI at some point in my life, and as far as STIs go that’s not such a bad one. I was feeling a little funny in the junk, which I figured was probably due to a yeast infection. It seemed likely to me that I might, in fact, have gonorrhea, and I should probably get tested ASAP either way.
Then I remembered what I do for a living. I remembered that there weren’t just lovers whom I may have exposed, albeit unwittingly, but possibly about three clients as well. Even worse, I remembered that I desperately needed to make the money I was planning on making over the coming weekend— or else I wasn’t going to be able to pay my rent.
In my work as a full-service escort, STIs had always been a sort of intellectual, if abstract, concern. It is something I knew could be a really detrimental thing to have happen to my business, but it hadn’t happened yet, so I wasn’t too worried about it. Now here I was, in the exact situation I had only considered in the abstract. The one where I need to make money but can’t really figure out an ethical way to do so without exposing myself as every client’s worst nightmare: the poxy whore.
(Image via imdb.com)
Watching portrayals of sex workers in film and television can be a pretty rough proposition. With the notable exception of “Secret Diary of a Call Girl” (which eventually veered off into some wacky territory of its own) there haven’t been many media depictions of sex workers where we aren’t treated as punchlines or murdered. (Or both, as jokes about hurting and killing prostitutes seem to be prime cannon fodder for network powerhouses like Chuck Lorre and Tina Fey.) It can be a downright depressing experience for a lonely ho looking for a little on-screen validation, so while Blue certainly has its flaws, it is perhaps the closest any scripted series has ever come to treating our lives and our stories with due respect.
Blue tells the story of Blue (neé Francine) a 29 year-old mother moonlighting as an escort to support her teenage son, Josh. (I found it somewhat odd that Blue uses her hooker name in her personal life as well, but to each their own, I suppose.) Blue works a day job at an accounting firm so as not to raise anyone’s suspicions, and has a close relationship with her free-lovin’ Mother (Kathleen Quinlan). The show frames Blue as a woman caught between the burgeoning sexual awakening of her teenage son and the sexual re-awakening of her mother, a single woman in her 50s. Both her son and her mother are content to “give it away,” reveling in sex for its own sake, while Blue is often shown to be the “voice of reason” of sorts, using her sexuality to provide for her family, not simply for her own pleasure.
Let’s try a thought experiment. ‘Every year thousands of people are promised a job as a dancer, but sadly, they end up here.’ The curtain rises on someone working in a tailor’s shop. That doesn’t quite work the same way, does it? We don’t automatically assume that it would be sad to work in a tailor’s shop (because that would be a horrible and classist thing to assume) and we certainly wouldn’t represent the problem of some people suffering abuse in the textiles industry by showing images of someone just doing their job. Nor would it make much sense to witness the dawning realisation of a potential customer looking in the window who will never again have a pair of jeans adjusted now he knows that some people in tailoring shops were promised jobs as dancers.
Eithne Crow takes on a video that claims to be anti-trafficking but is, unsurprisingly, mostly the same old anti-sex work propaganda we’re so regular exposed to.
The 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.
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. [READ MORE]
Prior to the publication of her debut novel, Marie Calloway was best known for the stories “Adrien Brody” and “Jeremy Lin.” There’s been a lot of commentary on the sexual themes in Calloway’s text, but no discussion by sex workers of Calloway’s treatment of her month escorting in London. Charlotte Shane and Caty Simon rushed to fill that void.
Caty: I guess I should start with full disclosure: I have chatted a bit over the past few months with Marie Calloway on the internet and she seems to be really sweet for a literary enfant terrible. But I didn’t know her from Adam when I first read her work in 2011.
Charlotte: I feel strangely protective of her in spite of never having met or corresponded with her. So it’s good to air out our biases.
Caty: I’d like to focus on the parts of her book examining sex work, because otherwise we could be here all day having the same debate that’s consumed the rest of the media about whether she’s a worthless narcissist whose very existence is endemic of essential problems with confessional writing, women and sex, and internet culture, or whether she’s a brave, feminist descendant of Bataille and Jean Rhys, who galvanizes strong responses from her readers because people are uncomfortable with her brilliance and…blah blah blah, you know where this is going.
Charlotte: Right, we’ll stay limited to T&S relevant moments. [READ MORE]