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The Second Shittiest Thing About Being Abused: Survivor Solidarity And Getting Out

Part of a piece in the Waiting Room/Domestic Violence Tableau at the Topeka Library (Photo by the Topeka Library, via Flickr and the Creative Commons)
Part of a piece in the Waiting Room/Domestic Violence Tableau at the Topeka Library (Photo by the Topeka Library, via Flickr and the Creative Commons)

I actually didn’t know who Christy Mack was until I started seeing articles about her attack flying around the internet last week. But her story is one that is familiar to me. Intimately familiar.

I stripped for eight years, in a dozen clubs across New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Iowa, Minnesota, Colorado, and Georgia. I met strippers who were also full service sex workers inside or outside the club, sugar babies, cam girls, and adult film stars. I’ve seen co-workers “graduate” into Playboy and Hustler. I’ve seen every combination of education, economic background, race, size, upbringing, parental status, and religion, so when I overhear non-sex-workers talking like we’re all a certain type, I can only laugh.

But one thing we all seem to have in common is an abuse story, either one of our own or of someone very close to us.

One thing I noticed early on in my career is that stripper locker room talk is brazen and honest. There is some high speed bonding that goes on over trays of eye shadow and half-finished drinks. As a more-or-less good girl going to state college on my parents’ dime, I was no stranger to boozy heartbreak stories, but stripper stories almost always went somewhere darker, faster. Without even knowing a co-worker’s name, I might hear the details of how her ex-husband broke into her house, or how she was borrowing a phone from another girl after receiving threatening texts from a stalker. I’ve had girls show me pictures of men on their phones with the warning, “If he shows up, tell the bouncer and come warn me. I don’t care if I’m in a VIP, just come tell me.”

There’s this recurring theme in our love lives a man will admire us for our independence and freedom, and of course, our money. We’ll thrive on the attention for a while and we’ll enjoy spoiling him with gifts or trips. Maybe he moves in because his roommates are irresponsible, or maybe we move in with him because we’re sleeping over all the time anyway. And then the fights start.

“Where the fuck were you until five in the morning?”

Coming Out: Lilly Muse

a shocked musical theatre aficionado. photo by CarbonNYC on flickr

A couple of months ago I was at auditions for a musical at my community theater, and during the interminable waiting period I found myself chatting with a group of middle-aged women (why not the shy 20-year-old hottie in flannel? Sigh). Easy conversation bumped along, from “what are you singing?” to “I’m such a horrible dancer” to “yes, I am the kind of mom who plunks her kid in front of the TV so I can pee in peace.” Eventually, we were bound to land on work/money, which is a subject I stay pretty quiet about as long as I can, what with being a dirty whore and all.

The women were discussing a man, a local theater staple, who had to move out of town due to financial hardship. They agreed that times are indeed tough, especially in our city, “unless you want to do something somewhat soul-crushing,” one of them said. My ears always perk up at the term “soul-crushing,” yet without missing a beat, the rest of the group groaned aloud in agreement, as if they’d had this exact conversation the day before. “I did that for a while,” the woman continued carefully. The murky reference awarded no response from the others, so I chimed in, “what, like waitressing?”

Romance & Relationships: A Stripper’s Love Story

As I’m writhing under the crimson-lit, leather furnished room, his eyes never leave my face. Although my glance is cast downward, I know that he is smiling and I sense his contentment. I don’t bother to hide my smirk, as I lower my lips to his neck, and deliberately graze them across the wiry brush of his beard. My knees are at either side of his waist, and I wind my waist around until I press against the bulge in his pants. He exhales against my cheek.

The last week when he visited, I giggled quietly to myself as he fucked me from behind, out of sight and sound of the other customers, staff and my coworkers. Tonight we are in the smaller, more visible private-dance room. The gauze-like curtain does little to hide our activities tonight, and so I will maintain my professionalism. Peripherally, I can see a bachelor party gawking from the couches adjacent to us.

The thumping rhythm comes to an end, and with the sound of DJ Robert’s voice, I loudly sigh and plop back in to the chair. My husband closes his eyes, and takes a breath, before reaching for his beer.

“Well, thank you Penguin,” he says to me, as he reaches in to his pocket and passes money to my outstretched hands. I daintily take it, and tuck it into my waist cincher as I bend to kiss him on the cheek. He knows the drill. Apparently he is also aware of the couch-gawkers. The bills are singles rather than twenties, but it is of no matter; I’ll surely just use them to buy us coffee in the morning.

I stand to give him a hug, as I do most of my well-paying customers. I step from the room, smiling, keeping my gaze level with the crowd, and hold the curtain open for him. My beautiful, bearded man returns to the bar, and I head to the bachelor couch.

Smiling bigger than I mean to, I greet them. “Well, hello, gentlemen. I couldn’t help but notice you watching. So…who’s next?”

From an Industry to A Hobby: How Review Boards Have Changed Our Work

The good old days: 2007 Village Voice print escort ads, shortly before the dominion of the review boards (courtesy of the Design Observatory Group)
The good old days: 2007 Village Voice print escort ads, shortly before the monopoly of the review boards (courtesy of the Design Observatory Group)

When I first started working as an escort in this industry, review boards did not exist. The internet was not as widely used as it is now and I worked for agencies that advertised in the phone book or in local papers. We didn’t even have to post photos of ourselves in a public forum; some operator just described our looks and personality over the phone and clients took their chance at booking us. Business was hit or miss, but I liked the anonymity. Though I heard more and more escorts were using online advertising to promote themselves, I was late to the game. My old way of working didn’t yield me as much revenue as other workers, but it protected my privacy. And then finally the gig was up. I had to change with the times and start advertising online or I would have virtually no business. But I didn’t want a website. And I definitely didn’t want reviews.

I first became aware of escort review sites when I read an article about the Big Doggie debacle of 2002 and even then, I still didn’t quite understand what the website was. Upon visiting TBD for the first time, it looked like a confusing mess of ads and message boards, none of which I could access. Sometime later I found out about The Erotic Review, mostly from the controversy stemming from its founder Dave Elms and the various charges that were brought against him. Either way, I wanted nothing to do with either site. As someone who had already experienced arrest once before while working, I couldn’t believe any escort would want a detailed description of a session with a client posted online for anyone to read, providing law enforcement with another tool to prove their guilt in prostitution cases. Oh sure, the  disclaimer stated that the reviews were for “entertainment purposes only”, but when escorts got “fake” reviews, they were sure to raise holy hell about it and complain to the site administrators to have it removed, which is a daunting process in itself.

Then I got one. A fake review, that is. Yes, my first review was a fake review. It described me as having blond hair (not at that time),fake boobs (I wish) and doing a session I don’t recall booking, but I couldn’t read the rest because I wasn’t a “VIP” member. It was just a fluke that I found it as I never looked at TER, but I was bored one night and there it was, linked to my phone number and email address.

The Tedium of Trans Sex Work

asarahtransmisogynycomingAs a trans woman doing full-service sex work, I’ve found that my work provides sharp and unrelenting insight into how men sexualize and fetishize trans women. This phenomenon isn’t unique to trans women in sex work, of course. But these attitudes define my experience of the industry in profoundly different ways to those of non-trans women in the industry.

There is not much about trading sex for money that inherently bothers me, and the usual challenges of the industry, such as the income instability, are things that I can deal with. So I find that this often makes me particularly sour about just how much the added impact of transmisogyny changes my whole experience of the industry. Clients who treat me remotely like they would a cis woman are easy as pie. The sad reality is that, sticking this out in the long term, those clients tend to be few and far between, and with my average clients, the day-to-day weirdness and unpleasantness of those bookings drains on me something fierce. I’m lucky in that I’m surrounded by lovely friends in the industry, but almost all of them are cis, and this side of my experience can be quite difficult for them to understand.

Trans women are sexualized in bizarre and frequently contradictory ways. We are so often seen as disgusting, even monstrous, but simultaneously considered desirable in the most shameful and mysterious of ways. As a civilian trans woman, this was just a depressing reality of life that I could avoid where possible. But as a sex worker, it fundamentally defines my experience on a daily basis.

My clients rarely see me for the sorts of reasons they might seek out an escort who wasn’t a trans woman. They want some kind of once-in-a-lifetime bucket list sexual experience, have no idea what that is, and expect that you’ll be able to provide it—because that’s what they think trans women are there for. I know this is also a common complaint among cis fetish workers: clients who show up with a vague fantasy that they’re too scared to communicate, expecting you to magically work out what it is. I know they, at least, know how maddening those bookings are. However, when the fetish property concerned is your mere existence, I cannot under-emphasize how dehumanizing that can get.

A cis friend of mine made this tongue-in-cheek observation: “I think all I need to do is turn up and actually touch a dick and I’ve done an amazing job”. When I think of the psychological workout nearly every single booking I do takes, I find myself wishing “Oh, if only.”