This Time, It's Personal

Home This Time, It's Personal

An Excerpt from Sapphire: Escape (2013)

saphThe following is an excerpt from the first volume of dancer JA Sapphire’s self-published memoir, Sapphire: Escape. At this point in the book, it’s 1996 and Sapphire has just decided to work as an exotic dancer for the first time. She has escaped from an abusive background and moved to Atlanta from the Eastern Seaboard, and worked a series of jobs, but found herself unable to pay rent, so she made her way to Magic City and has been taken to the dressing room by one of the managers, Nick.

I watch Nick close the door behind him as I place my bag on the table to search for something to wear. I don’t have much. I pull out something that I think is very sexy, something that I bought from the lingerie place in the Phipps Plaza. It’s black, full-lace with thick lace embroidery that covers the real important parts. It has two snaps at the bottom of the crotch, the neck comes up like a turtleneck, and the shoulders are ruffled. I take out a small red pencil and light the tip with a lighter to line my eyelids. I use the black mascara to extend my lashes. I use the black gel called Ampro to smooth my hair’s edges. With curl activator I bring up the waves in my hair. My hair is still cut into a boy-like fade. I pull out some lipstick that cost me about two dollars and paint my lips. I look at my reflection thinking I look great.

I start rubbing my body down with lotion when I notice a medium light-skinned girl with broad shoulders walk in. She’s dressed very conservatively in a white turtleneck, jeans and bootheels. She places her bag on a chair and glances at me but doesn’t speak. She goes in front of the mirror and stares at herself. She has blunt-cut bangs. She untangles the scarf from around her neck and the back of her jet-black hair. I feel that it’s impolite that neither one of us is speaking; therefore, I walk up to her with an extended hand to introduce myself to her.

“Hello,” I say happily. “I am Janel. I’m new here.”

She looks at me disdainfully up and down, then walks out the room. I hear her mumbling to Nick, then laughing. She returns but never says a word. “Excuse me,” I interrupt. “About how much money do you make in here?” She cuts her eyes, looks at me angrily and remains silent. “Excuse me,” I repeat myself. “Do you hear me?”

Sex Worker/Social Worker: An Ethics Roundtable

via soulkreations on Etsy
via soulkreations on Etsy

Monica Jones was both a student in and a target of the Arizona State School of Social Work when she was arrested in a sweep that was part of Project ROSE, the prostitution diversion program that’s a partnership between the school and the Phoenix PD. We asked sex workers who, like Monica, are students in or graduates of social work programs, to talk with moderator Tara Burns about the ethical and professional intersections of sex work and social work. The participants are:

Serpent: I’m a longtime sex worker, an active board member of SWOP-Chicago and one of the people behind AIT Research, a research project on trafficking in the sex trade. I’m also currently enrolled in a MSW program in Chicago. Find my websites at sexpros.net, redlightdistrictchicago.com, and AdultIndustryTruth.com, and my tweets at @redlightchicago and @AITResearch.

Katie: I have been a dancer for about 18 months, and I recently entered and withdrew from a Masters of Counseling in Marriage, Couples, & Family Therapy program. I currently work full time as a domestic violence advocate and work with our local sex worker outreach coalition. I write at sexualityreclaimed.com.

Cyan: I danced and also did the more private variety of sex work from age 21 to age 27 in Los Angeles and in Vegas. Now I am in my second year of a Masters in Clinical Counseling program. I’m currently too busy with school, work, and single parenting to write in it very much lately, but I have a blog called snapshots of a spiral path.

Annie: I have been involved off and on in sex work for about the last seven years, mostly escorting, some massage. I’m currently in a Social Work Ph.D program, and finished my MSW in 2010. I also work as the program coordinator for an LGBTQ IPV program. Before starting my Ph.D program, I coordinated a harm reduction program for folks working on the street. Right now, I’m doing a lot of education with a colleague, to various organizations and university programs, on students working in the sex industry. Annie is one of my working names.

Tara: I’ve done all kinds of sex work off and on for well over a decade, and I recently had a brush with an MSW program. I blog at ecowhore.com.

What is/was your experience with a social work/counseling program? Did they know you were a sex worker?

Both A Mother And A Whore

Happy Mothers' Day. (image via Flickr user owly9)
Happy Mothers’ Day. (image via Flickr user owly9)

The illusion of “common sense” and its alleged empirical certainties is one of the the most steadfast means by which we collectively propagate whore stigma. As a recent example, critics lampoon Imtiaz Ali’s short film, Indian Tomorrow, for portraying an economically savvy sex worker. “Prostitutes who rattle off sensex [India’s stock market] figures during sex,” proclaims one critic, “exist only in the world of fantasy art.”

Tacitly deferring to “common sense” as a barometer of a sex workers’ intellect is not only deeply paternalistic, but it also acts as a censor for the kinds of stories we tell as a society. Surprising no sex worker rights advocate, it seems like the only acceptable cultural depictions of sex workers are those that fall in-line with the “common sense” stereotype of harlots as intellectually inferior. Art allows us to envision a better world. If artists are deterred from producing nuanced depictions of sex workers as agents of their own lives, even if these depictions are utopic fantasies, our culture will likewise be deterred from envisioning better circumstances for sex workers.

But this cultural imperative to tell one dimensional stories is limited to the stories of marginalized people like sex workers. Stories that transcend the simplistic theme of victimization are critiqued as dangerous and sexist. This is in spite of Standpoint Feminists themselves claiming that the moral obligation of any society is to tell more stories, not fewer. 

Working While Pregnant Is About Survival

(Photo by Pierre Galin via Flickr)

Yes, I saw the coverage earlier this month on pregnant Nevada brothel worker Summer Sebastian blogging about enjoying a few months at work at the Bunny Ranch while her (former) millionaire partner watches their beautiful twins at home.

No, I didn’t get the promised message of empowerment and normalization or a real heart-to-heart on what it’s like to be a mother and a sex worker.

This woman lives in a fantasy world where she’s the personal star of her own little reality show. She has safeguards, privileges, incentives, and motivations that even the most successful of us more marginalized sex workers lack.

I’m not going to applaud her for working full-service during her pregnancy and sharing it with the world, because she isn’t sharing it for me.

We don’t even need to talk about any risks posed to her baby because, let’s be real, she has the security of open access to medical care, stable housing and food, security personnel protecting her at her legal brothel, virtually no risk of being blackmailed or arrested, andmost invaluable to every pregnant personshe has a solid system of support in other workers. Sex work is lonely and isolating by nature and having a tribe physically present is a vital resource that we should all have access to.

This woman has access to literally anything in the world that a pregnant hooker could ever need.  

Including a platform.

Your Story Already Sucks: An Open Letter To Tourist Journalists

Oh, hello there. It’s such a surprise to run into you here, Clueless Journalist Who Successfully Pitched an Article About Prostitutes Which You Have No Idea How to Actually Deliver. I know how much you hate to do even the most basic amount of research about the huge, knotty subject you’ve cavalierly decided to tackle, so it’s refreshing that you’ve deigned to stop by Tits and Sass. I’ve been involved in the sex industry for about 9 years, which means I’ve had plenty of time to collect examples of the emails you send to solicit my time and expertise in order to support your own career, and boy, are they compelling. Time and time again, before even doing fifteen minutes of self-education, you get straight to the interview solicitation. Why try to learn on your own when there will surely be a bevy of call girls dying to tell you everything you need to know for free, right?

Here are the all the important points to include if you want to make it clear right away that you’re completely unqualified to say anything on the subject of prostitution.

1) You don’t want to “demonize” me. Color me impressed. We all know that famous aphorism about how good intentions reliably pave the way to magnificent results, so the ability to not hate me is the only credential you need in order to earn my trust. Plus, it’s federal law that journalists, like cops, have to tell you the truth if they’ve not got your best interests at heart, so I’m sufficiently reassured that you mean exactly what you say.