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“Getting Away” With Hating It: Consent in the Context of Sex Work

doorwaydogI’ve been selling sex in one form or another for nine years, which is a long time. Most people in the sex trade pop in and out as their financial situation warrants, and few think of it as their career. For me, however, among the straight work I’ve pursued concurrently, prostitution is my profession and I’m comfortable with that. I’ve engineered that. My various privileges mean I operate in a way that is about as low-risk and comfy as one can get: I screen extensively, I am my own boss, I request a very high hourly rate, and I don’t see people who are violent or rude. If you asked me if I like it, I would say, “yes, I like it.” I like the people I meet, I like the freedom of schedule, and I like the money I make.

A big part of thinking about escorting as my career means evaluating my work and trying to improve the quality of service I’m offering in the interest of maintaing current clients and attracting new ones. Because it’s my profession, I think about it professionally and seriously, as a business person. It’s during these performance reviews that I might chastise myself for making my unhappiness with the physical interaction transparent, if/when I struggle to hide it. “He can tell I don’t like it,” I’ve thought to myself before, about clients with whom the physical aspect is more challenging, “but he lets me get away with it.” The “it” here means my inability to pretend I enjoy the sex. That’s what he “lets me get away with,” by not demanding his money back, I guess, and by continuing to see me and pay me for my time.

In other words, this man allows me to not to disguise my fundamental lack of desire to have sex with him. I think this feeling of being granted some type of permission to not fake enjoyment isn’t unique to me and isn’t unique to sex workers. I think a lot of women’s heterosexual sex is or has been characterized by negotiating their own lack of  “enthusiastic consent,” a relatively new concept aiming to educate in a more nuanced way than “no means no” and “yes means yes.” It’s rare that I give authentic “enthusiastic consent” while I’m working. And that’s how I prefer it.

Where To Get Help

Reach out to someone. (Photo by Mark Fischer [Flickr user fischerfotos])
Reach out to someone.
(Photo by Mark Fischer [Flickr user fischerfotos])
The numbers are staggering. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, one out of every four women has or will experience domestic violence. If those numbers are correct, it is guaranteed that you know someone that has been or is a victim.

Domestic violence isn’t always physical; it can be verbal, emotional, or even psychological. Escaping an abuser is never as easy as “just leaving.” Being abused is isolating and stigmatizing; the notion of even asking for help for a civilian woman can be terrifying. Considering the systematic whorephobia that sex workers face,  getting away from an abuser seems downright impossible for some of us.

But help is out there. Here are some sex worker friendly resources should you or your loved ones need help. All of these resources are trans inclusive as well, to the best of our knowledge.

In or near San Francisco:
A Woman’s Place, an emergency shelter and transitional housing.
San Francisco Women Against Rape is a trans and sex worker friendly center that provides crisis counseling.

In or near Chicago:
The Heartland Alliance provides a variety of resources to those that have been impacted by domestic violence or other types of trauma.
Apna Ghar provides holistic help to the immigrant population affected by domestic violence.
Mujeres Latinas en Acción provides domestic violence counseling to the Latina population.
The Domestic Violence Legal Clinic offers free legal assistance.

In or near New York City:
The New York State LGBTQ Domestic Violence Network can direct to an agency that will provide the services you require.
The Sex Workers Project provides legal and social services to sex workers.
Safe Horizon can provide emergency housing and safe haven for individuals and families.
The Anti-Violence Project provides direct services such as immediate crisis intervention; safety planning; short or long-term counseling;  police, court and social services advocacy and accompaniment; and information and referrals to anyone who calls their hotline or comes to their offices or intake sites.

In or near Salt Lake City:
The YWCA provides shelter and legal services for domestic violence victims. Their 24-hour crisis line is: 855-992-2752.

In Boston:
The Casa Myrna agency

In Portland:
The Portland Women’s Crisis Line

If you know of any sex worker friendly resources that we missed,  leave them in the comments.

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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?”

Tap Dancing For The Man: Leaving Academia For Sex Work

via flickr user Iain Farrell
via flickr user Iain Farrell

Leaving academia isn’t just for sex workers, but there are a good number of former academics among our contributors and readers. Once you’ve done sex work and experienced the particular freedoms it affords, academia’s constraints can seem more chafing and its endgame more pointless. This post in particular prompted us to have some of them talk about their experiences with higher education and why they left. Thank you to our participants, who will introduce themselves:

Charlotte Shane: I’m in the US and I went to school here, mostly. I got one graduate degree (M.A.) and then went for another. The second time was when I became…A DROPOUT. I’ve been sex working in one form or another since the start of my first grad school stint. I also have various straight jobs, but none of them are dependant on any degree. (Not even high school, I don’t think.)

chelsea g. summers: Possessing a checkered academic past, I didn’t graduate college until my mid-30s, a few years after I started stripping. I worked the last year or so of college as a stripper, the year between undergrad and grad school, and the first two years of grad school. When I started my Ph.D. program, I quit stripping because I realized my students had fake IDs. It was fine if they were hot for teacher, but I didn’t need them to see the evidence that teacher was hot. Plus, I did my work at a Jesuit college here in New York City. I left my program with an M.Phil in 18th-century British Literature and a staggering amount of debt.

Lux ATL: You can find me on Facebook and Twitter. I spent 12 years in higher education, earning a B.A. in English, an M.A. in Creative Writing, and a Ph.D. in Literary Studies. In 2013 I finished my Ph.D. and officially became a doctor.  I taught Freshman Composition from 2006 until 2014. I also spent my entire adult life working on and off as a stripper and occasional nude model. I started stripping when I was 18 and have continued to strip, with breaks in between, until present. I am currently 32.

Outcasts Among Outcasts: Drug-Using Sex Workers in the Sex Workers’ Rights Movement, Part 2

The madam of an opium den relaxing into a nod—note that is she is unbothered by clients as she does so. (One of a series of photographs by Hungarian photojournalist Brassaï taken in Paris in the early 1930s.)
The madam of an opium den relaxing into a nod—note that is she is unbothered by clients as she does so. (One of a series of photographs by Hungarian photojournalist Brassaï taken in Paris in the early 1930s.)

(You can find part one of this discussion here)

Caty: I’ve seen former drug-using sex workers like Kate Holden write that trading sex for drugs directly with a dealer was “just tacky,” and in my shallow, callow early years as a heroin-using escort, I often said the same thing. But the real reason I’ve avoided doing this for a decade, with one exception, is that I’m terrified to have the power dynamic between possibly withdrawing user and dope holding dealer client be that starkly clear. I can safely retreat into the farcical mask of my privilege when with my escorting clients, I can advertise as an “ex-Ivy League activist and escort” on my Backpage ad, leveraging those respectability politics for all the profit they’re worth, and within that pretense, I can be as primly outraged as a Victorian maiden with her honor insulted when these clients ask for a BBJ. I can’t maintain that pose shaking and sniffing in some dealer’s living room.

I remember the one time I did trade a blowjob for three bags, early in my dope career. I remember his limp cock in the condom, the way he grimly surveyed my grimy, slovenly SRO room, how he said, concerned, that I should do the bags first, so then I had to do them in front of him even though I wasn’t sick yet and all I wanted was to enjoy the dope after he’d gone and I had my solitude returned. I know it could’ve been much worse, but I’d never felt so exposed, so confirmed as all the stereotypes about junkies whores.

Then there was the part where I had to awkwardly encounter him every once in a while for years after that—and that’s another thing, trading a session directly for dope means that one has to break the common rule escorts make about not seeing people that know their real name, people who are part of their social circles, as clients.