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The Early Erotic Review or Harris’s List of Covent Garden Ladies (1757)

Harris’s List is an 18th century catalog of London prostitutes complete with (real) names, addresses, and descriptions of each, and it proves to me just how much men throughout the ages have loved reviewing prostitutes. They love it today, they loved it 250 years ago, and my guess is that even most Egyptian hieroglyphics and ancient animal cave paintings will one day be recognized as elaborate codes indicating which slave or wild woman gave the best BJ in exchange for some fruit. Not that it’s all about crude physical congress; Harris’s List attests that johns have always valued good education, witty conversation, and pleasant demeanor in their paid companions while frowning upon arrogance and high prices. There’s also an astonishing amount of sexism on display with the regular endorsement that if she weren’t such a fallen slut, Suzy Hooker would have been a proper lady. (“Notwithstanding the unfortunate bent she has taken;” “if she had not quitted the path of virtue.”)

Harris’s List was published annually for 38 years and written by various authors over that time, but the copy I read was one compiled from versions by original scribe Samuel Derrick—inspired by a pimp, though not a pimp himself—who, according to academic Hallie Rubenhold, died in love with a courtesan he couldn’t afford. That’s sweet cosmic justice since Derrick, or at least the narrator’s voice he assumes, is a bit of dick, though I’ve admitted before that I almost categorically hate reviews and those who write them, so I might be biased. You can judge yourself with the following choicest tidbits. Which lady would you visit?

Disclaimer: I am not a scholar of old-timey prostitute reviews, but I will do my best with these translations.

Sleeping Beauty (2011)

It's merciful to sleep through this, trust me.

Does anyone need a reason to be sexually reckless? I’m not sure. For much of my adult life, I’ve been sexually reckless (or careless, or heedless—take your pick) and I don’t know that a camera following me around would have picked up on any explanations as to why. But we expect more from art than we expect from life, which is why Sleeping Beauty, an Australian film about a young woman who will submit to anything for money, is such a disappointment.

Main character Lucy (Emily Browning) is like a lot of college students: pretty, promiscuous, apathetic, and broke. She holds a variety of odd jobs, including cafe janitor, human guinea pig, and Girl Who Operates A Xerox Machine, yet she never makes enough to pay her rent. Her family situation is uncertain, though we are let in on the existence of an equally broke astrologer mother. We have no indication of what she’s studying in school, what matters to her in life, or who matters to her, except for an alcoholic peer named Birdman whom she brings groceries and pointless chat. She and Birdman go back a few years. We know there’s an unfulfilled promise of a romance between them because Birdman says as much, but that’s about it. When we’re first introduced to him, Lucy casually makes him a bowl of vodka and cereal as they banter with each other in affected tones (“And how are you?” “Oh, I’m very well.”) It’s so dumb.

Dear Tits And Sass: Agency Edition

Time again for us to share our thoughts on the many dilemmas that arise around sex work. And this question is a doozy. The issue of whether or not to work for an agency is surely one to stir up debate, so feel free to leave your own insights and experiences in the comment. And if you’ve got a problem, email info [at] titsandsass.com and we’ll do our best to help or call in a guest who can. Please note this offer is only good for current sex workers with work-related inquiries. 

Dear Tits and Sass,

Now that Craigslist is no longer such a useful arena for scouring out clients, and I am not sure where to turn. I am considering working for an escort agency. The splits I have found out about from a few of them seem quite a lot less compared to how much I charged on my own, and I am a bit nervous about not having total control over how I want to do sex work, yet it also seems like a relatively easy way to make stable money. What are some things to expect from working for an agency? Is it safe and the diminished splits worthwhile? Is sex or a photography session expected at the initial “interview”? Are there questions I should ask or things to establish before I decide to start?

Sincerely,
Seeking Business

Invisible Men and Blind Curation

tumblr_n3b9i3QnoZ1sn3as5o1_500The Invisible Men Project, a tumblr-turned-Glasgow-art exhibition, supposedly reveals the previously unknown attitudes of men who engage the services of sex workers. The project was launched by the Glasgow Violence Against Women Partnership who come off as bonafide in their intention and achieve poor results. They do this by constructing a poorly designed mask (a faceless one, because sex workers are faceless, right?) and plucking quotes from the worst reviews written by clients. They paint this in the same manner an artist might paint a mask for a masquerade—with the idea of presenting cryptic truth through ambiguous art.

The Invisible Men Project is a propaganda project that fails as a creative project. They have painted the “faceless” sex workers with the words their clients use for them. As if the client’s opinion even matters. As if the sex worker’s worth weighs solely on their clients opinion about them. They haven’t even thought to use the words of the sex worker in question, they just assumed that the client’s opinion about their work resonates similarly.

Bravo to the Invisible Men Project for creating a space to glorify the misogynist attitudes of these men. And they are glorified. Highlighting their words does nothing but promote their behavior. They’re not ashamed—if they were, they would never had posted their reviews in the first place. The curators are completely aware that attaching a price tag to each piece will further shock their audience, especially if that price seems low. They don’t bother to put the prices in a context that allows for regional or socioeconomic differences.

The sex industry is competitive in its very nature. It’s not odd for fake reviews to be written, especially from the direct competition. Or for them to be exaggerated by a disgruntled client. This often happens because these business dealings are not in the economic mainstream (depending on the type of legal framework the country functions under). Every sex worker and every punter knows to take reviews with a grain of salt. The public doesn’t always know this, and the Invisible Men Project doesn’t bother to mention this.

The Eros Raid Means None of Us Are Safe

Three days ago, Eros-Guide’s call center in Youngsville, North Carolina, was raided by the Department of Homeland Security. On Tuesday morning at 10:30 AM, a dozen black government vehicles converged on parent company Bolma Star Service’s office and data center, beginning a search and seizure operation that would last into the night. They confiscated computers, documents, and servers. The search warrant is sealed in federal court, with officials offering no comment on the investigation besides the fact that it is an active investigation. All DHS agents will say is that they are often assigned to crossborder cases involving money laundering, cybercrime, and human trafficking. So we have no idea what their probable cause even is. No arrests have been made yet, or charges filed. But collectively, we sex workers shudder with that familiar fear: we’re witnessing yet another instance of an ominous multi-year pattern, from Craigslist to MyRedBook to Rentboy to Backpage, of our advertising platforms being raided or pressured out of existence.

Once again, some of us are left in desperate suspense, waiting to see if our business models are about to be disrupted; if we’re going to be left in economic turmoil. Sure, eros.com and the other Eros subsidiary sites are still up for the moment, but how secure are they to conduct business over now?

Over the past few years, Eros has required progressively more revealing ID checks in order to confirm advertisers are of age. Now those IDs, including those of migrant and undocumented sex workers, are in the hands of the Department of Homeland Security. Sure, if they use this evidence at all, the feds will probably just focus on those of us they can construe as traffickers—sex workers who own incalls for the use of other sex workers, for example. There’s probably no reason for most Eros users to panic about this. Still, having your real name, address, and ID number in the hands of DHS is a nightmare scenario in a profession where our survival depends on our anonymity.

When it comes down to it, though, as many Eros workers pointed out on social media, they’re more worried about being homeless than about the government having that information.

The rest of us look on with empathy, knowing that any day, we could be next. We all try not to think about how tenuous and transitory our ways of doing business are so that we can go through our days without feeling the paralyzing economic terror hitting many of us now. But when something like this happens, it’s difficult to avoid that hard fact.

When Backpage caved to government pressure and shut down its adult ads earlier this year, some middle and upper class escorts felt immune. They felt that the higher prices they were charged for ads on Eros and Slixa meant they were paying for security. They acquiesced to the ID checks those services innovated, trading in their anonymity for the hope that now their advertising platforms couldn’t be accused of trafficking minors the way Backpage has been. (Not that the ID submissions weren’t foisted upon them as one of an array of very few options.) But now that Eros has been hit, our higher end counterparts must recognize that none of us are safe. No matter what security measures we take, no matter how many layers of privilege might mitigate our grey market or black market status, at any point, criminalization can strip us of all of them and leave us economically and legally exposed.