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Uptown Thief (2016)

uptown-thiefSlam poet and African American studies professor Aya de León’s new novel, Uptown Thief, is every activist sex worker’s fantasy: her protagonist Marisol Rivera is a women’s health clinic director by day and an escort agency manager and expert safe-cracker to fund that clinic for survival workers by night. True, any enterprising hooker who actually tried this would get her pet cause into very hot water. But reading about Marisol’s escapades teaming up with her escort employees to rob their rich clients’ friends, practicing some creative accounting to enter these “donations” on her books, is the next best thing to pulling it off yourself.

Though de León has never been a sex worker, she’s been open about her respect for her ex-stripper mother and her aunt’s sex work. Her book is stolidly pro-sex worker without being blandly sex positive, representing a spectrum of experiences in its characters’ diverse backgrounds of high end escorting, survival sex work, and trafficking and abuse survival. There’s even a Live Nude Girls Unite poster in the clinic’s office. There’s never any hint of judgement in the tone de León takes narrating these women’s lives, although occasionally a tinge of didactic respectability politics bleeds through in the novel’s focus on clinic entrepreneurship classes and grad student escorts. Still, a story in which every whore makes good is a refreshing change from our usual crime fiction fate of death or destitution.

De Leon does make some gaffes in describing the way the agency operates which demonstrate her lack of personal experience with the work. Marisol’s escorts dress up as delivery workers in order to get into fancy hotels (huh?). And the agency’s clients agree on every sexual act they’ll perform with her employees in advance with her over the phone—a good way to get arrested. But once I started reading the book as a wish-fulfillment vehicle instead of holding it up to an impossible standard of realism, I began to really enjoy it. Plus, de León doesn’t make as many bloopers writing about sex work practice as many other writers do, perhaps because she made a point of having sex worker consultants edit her early manuscript.

The author’s general pro-lumpenprole stance is very clear here. For example, Marisol’s ex-NYPD love interest, Raul, left the department after suing them for racial discrimination and confesses that his one major regret is becoming a cop. When he catches on to Marisol’s heists, he’s openly admiring, wishing he could be a barrio Robin Hood as well. de León depicts some of the dangers sex workers commonly face by making his white ex-partner a cop who extorted sex from workers with the threat of arrest. And, of course, one of the most reprehensible characters in the book besides the abusive pimp is a snooty billionaire financier client.

De León also exhibits her populism in the way she’s marketed the novel: she’s explained in interviews that she purposefully branded the book as a women’s urban crime novel, a la Zane and Sister Souljah, to make it accessible to as many kinds of readers as possible. Indeed, one activist I know told me that this genre represents the most requested (and sadly, least donated) books to the books for women prisoners program she works with.

Magic Mike (2012)

You’ve got to be on bath salts if you don’t already know that Magic Mike is the new Steven Soderbergh film about male strippers, based on head hunk Channing Tatum’s experiences in the business. Everyone knows this, and there are no spoilers, really, because we could tell you everything that happens in the movie without ruining your enjoyment. So: Mike (Tatum) brings in newbie Adam (Alex Pettyfer) to Tampa male strip club Xquisite, run by senior stripper/manager/owner Dallas (Matthew McConaughey). Hijinks ensue as Mike crushes on Adam’s sister Brooke (Cody Horn, rivaled only by Sasha Grey in acting ability) and tries to start his own business, Adam gets a case of babystripper hubris, and Big Dick Richie (Joe Manganiello) swings his namesake around. For our beloved Tits and Sass readership, Kat and Bubbles gladly dragged themselves to a screening to give you our stripper-biz-centric thoughts. We’ll leave the analysis to other reviewers, because what we are interested in are the elements that relate to stripping, not Soderbergh’s commentary on capitalism or his orangey color schemes.

Bubbles: How excited were we to go see this movie? I’ll readily admit that we went in rooting for a good time, as did the rest of the audience. It reminded me of being the stripper at a hyped bachelor party where they’d throw money at you and holler at the simplest flex of a buttcheek.

Kat: There were women who got to the theater at 4:30 in the morning and waited all day in 104 degree heat, essentially risking their lives. The excitement in the room was tactile. I thought some penis goggles would have completed the giant bachelorette party sisterhood vibe, but Magic Mike turned out to be such a blast that I didn’t even need phallic accessories to enhance the experience. Not to mention that I would hate to wear anything that would potentially obscure my view.

Bubbles: No kidding. What a visual delight!

Kat: What this movie lacked in plot, it made up for in amazing choreography and tearaway pants. Pants that disappear with a single tug would be the Magic Mike drinking game cue.

The Lengths (2013)

(image via TheLengths.com)
(image via TheLengths.com)

When did I last read a novel about gay male escorts that didn’t make me want to set the world on fire with rage? It was probably Rupert Everett’s Hello, Darling, Are You Working?, one of the sex workers’ rights advocate/actor’s less well-known works. But also I read that book years ago, so long ago in fact that I don’t really even remember too much about it, beyond that it wasn’t completely maddening.

I haven’t done a study or anything, but it seems that rent boys feature in memoirs a lot more than they feature in novels. (The most recent example I know of was self-published by gay porn star Christopher Daniels in November; I haven’t read it.) But even some of the fictional works—Everett’s among them—are at least somewhat autobiographical. Howard Hardiman, author of eight-issue comic The Lengths, fits into that category. In an interview with The New Statesman he says he “did a bit of sex work” with some of his escort friends, and it’s evident that he sympathizes with his characters. The Lengths is fiction, but in addition to (presumably) drawing on his own experiences Hardiman clearly did a lot of research, interviewing London’s male sex workers as he assembled the story of a wayward dog named Eddie.

Yes, Eddie is a dog. I think he’s a bull terrier?

Stripper Music Monday: Lords of Acid

Played in strip clubs more than AC/DC, Kid Rock, and Prince combined, the songs of Lords of Acid are a peeler staple. I’m not a particular fan, but a new Lords of Acid record is definitely stripper news.

That being said, I have very little desire to search out any of the tracks here, so. Maybe I’ll hear it later? In the meantime, I’m in Austin for the South by Southwest interactive, film and music conferences, and will certainly update if I discover any amazing new music for work. I look forward to seeing current work faves Das Racist, Ellie Goulding,  Liturgy (kidding! I wish) and others.

Gigolos: Meet My New Guilty Pleasure

“I can’t wait to watch it next week!”

“You liked it?” I was pretty sure we had just spent half an hour laughing uncomfortably, except for the part where we paused and rewound to check if one of the gigolos really had a giant black tattoo in place of pubic hair.

“I hate it. But I can’t wait to watch more!”

Hey, she was right. “Yeah, I’m excited too, actually.” Besides, I was the one who had just watched Gigolos for the third time. First I watched it alone, then with a guy friend (“I could NOT do that”), and then with a lesbian friend whom I promised it would only last half an hour.