Prostitution

(Image courtesy of Red Umbrella Project)

(Image courtesy of Red Umbrella Project)

Prose & Lore is a literary journal published by the New York sex workers’ rights organization Red Umbrella Project.  Memoir stories about sex work are collected in two issues per year (Fall/Winter and Spring/Summer.) We at Tits and Sass have been following Prose and Lore since the journal began, and the third issue is even more fantastic than those that preceded it. Featuring selections from movement heavies like our own contributors Mariko Passion, Tara Burns,  Lily Fury, Lori Adorable, and Peach E. Keen, plus Kitty Stryker, Rachel Aimee, and  Audacia Ray, as well as promising new writers like Dion O. Scott and Leigh Alanna, each and every one of this issue’s pieces are affecting and visceral in their prose, from a frightening account of a client gone suddenly violent to the tale of the slow erosion of a relationship with a subtly whorephobic partner.  You can buy a single copy of the new issue or sign up for a print or digital subscription to the journal, including back issues. Those in New York city can attend free readings by the authors on Wednesday, January 29th and Monday, February 10th at Culture Fix and Brooklyn Community Pride Center respectively.

Here, we feature an excerpt of “Crippled Pleaser,” by Dynasty (W) Rex, a story of endurance and take-no-shit survival focusing on Rex’s experiences stripping as a Black woman with lupus and arthritis, with her dancing schedule often punctuated by hospital visits. The excerpt focuses on the piece’s club scenes, but we encourage you to get a copy of Prose and Lore so you can read about the grueling hospital stay which makes up the story’s core.  I think the thing we love the most about “Crippled Pleaser,” though, is how well it captures the phenomenon of sex worker outfit envy.

It was the middle of a sweaty summer night in Sunset Park, New York and I was on my way to Gold Rush, the sleaziest titty bar I could find through the internet. The large, but hardly swanky, dive was almost empty around 4:30 p.m., an odd point between the time that day workers come in after work, and when more adamant partiers come in after drunken nights. Even with barely enough people to fill a single table alongside the stage, it was lit up like a Christmas rave: strobe light blaring, music screaming from mounted speakers. I was relieved to find that there were only three men in the club to witness my arrival in dirty, black, barely-there shorts and a tube top. Not because I looked bad, but because after an all day excursion looking for jobs I had aggravated my limp. After a couple of awkward ass pops around middle pole on the stage that served as my audition, I was hired by Dave, the owner and manager at Gold Rush. I was asked to stay onstage for two more songs to start my shift.

Dave, a stocky man with a financial demeanor, is watching my bare feet and ankles pointedly, as if to sear the skin. I wasn’t quite sure if his look was one of approval or disgust. He pulled me aside by placing a sweaty palm on the underside of my arm as I’m walking offstage towards the stairs that led to the dressing room where some of the other girls were making mean faces at one another, or maybe discussing amongst themselves the very same thing that the owner/manager is so obviously about to say to me.

“I’ve been,” he started, “I’ve been watching you on stage, and your legs look funny. Are they always like that?” he asked, perhaps regretting the choice to hire me on the spot after my audition.

“No, I hit them against the bar when I was coming down the pole,” I retorted quickly, so as to not be found out, hoping that the fact that I had not been dancing long would be allow me to continue the night without embarrassment. There was positively no way I was about to tell this dude that I have a disability that makes my fingers and toes swell and my whole body ache. That would essentially amount to announcing my unfitness for the job that is easiest to attain and most lucrative to stay with.

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RIP Amanda Gonzalez-Andujar (photo via the Gothamist)

RIP Amanda Gonzalez-Andujar (photo via the Gothamist)

There are John Scarpas everywhere. There is a John Scarpa in every department of the federal government. There is a John Scarpa in every police department. Every four years, a John Scarpa is nominated to run for president. Our world is full of John Scarpas. The difference is that, unlike his doppelgangers, the actual John Scarpa stated the ethical beliefs that underlie the transphobia, whorephobia, and HIV criminalization policies carried out at every level of government around the globe out loud.

For those who missed it, John Scarpa was a Queens-based defense attorney for Rasheen Everett, the murderer of trans sex worker Amanda Gonzalez-Andujar. And while Everett acted out the hate in his heart by killing Gonzalez-Andujar for being transgender, his attorney acted out his own hate by way of his defense. From The Gothamist:

…defense attorney John Scarpa caught the ire of the judge when he argued against the victim’s character. “Shouldn’t that [sentence] [twenty five years] be reserved for people who are guilty of killing certain classes of individuals?” he reportedly asked, adding, “Who is the victim in this case? Is the victim a person in the higher end of the community?”

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World War II military propaganda poster, circa 1940 (Image courtesy of the National Library of Medicine)

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.

Mother. Fucker.

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.

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(via imdb.com)

(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.

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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.

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