Tools of the Trade

photoscI live a double life. By day, I am a software developer, living in a world where your choice of hoodie, afternoon beer, and text editor mark your rank within the social tribe. At night, my mousy ponytail comes down and the Givenchy Rouge goes on as I fire up my snowball microphone and HD webcam. No doubt, I’m probably getting naked for guys whose open source code I use day to day in my projects. I’m a tech geek and proud cam model. That’s why last month’s  Federal Trade Commission ruling that the popular photo sharing mobile app Snapchat deceived its users has me fuming.

The story of Snapchat reads like the typical Silicon Valley tech bromance novel. Founded by Bobby Murphy and Evan Spiegel when they were students at Stanford and living in the school’s Kappa Sigma fraternity house, the early years of Snapchat are chronicled in Forbes. They were frat-bro misogynists with little regard for the women of Stanford, illustrated by some emails obtained by Valleywag that Spiegel sent to his Kappa Sigma brothers which included the term “sororisluts.”

Snapchat’s main value proposition is that the app allows users to send mobile photos that are secure and which are deleted from the recipient’s phone after one viewing. However, the FTC found that the app is not secure at all. The FTC’s ruling details that the company failed to communicate security holes to users. These security holes include a hacker security breach, a recipient’s ability to take a screenshot of a photo without notifying the sender, and the fact that images were not deleted after a recipient opened them. According to a press release from the FTC, “Snapchat deceptively told its users that the sender would be notified if a recipient took a screenshot of a snap. In fact, any recipient with an Apple device that has an operating system pre-dating iOS 7 can use a simple method to evade the app’s screenshot detection, and the app will not notify the sender.” The FTC also found that Snapchat “tracked and transmitted some users’ location information and collected data from their address books without consent.” Although many users who trusted Snapchat with their private photos were surprised to learn about the FTC’s findings, the history of the company points to a disregard for user security almost from the start. [READ MORE]

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Schedule C and an example of a deductible expense.

Schedule C and an example of a deductible expense.

In the last couple of weeks I’ve read sex workers on Facebook and Twitter talking about the difficulties they had in getting an apartment, qualifying for a car loan, and signing up for health care because they didn’t have any proof of income. “I don’t get paychecks,” the sex worker might say (unless she is an employee), “So how can I prove how much money I make?” I read dancers telling other dancers to get a strip club manager to write a letter estimating what she makes in a week, and while that might work to buy a car at You Work—You Ride! it won’t help with big leasing companies or the bank.

What will help is having a copy of your tax return. Even before you file it, make a copy of your completed return to have on hand for any occasion that requires proof of income. It doesn’t have to be complicated; if you take a look at the Schedule C and panic at all the deduction categories, if you don’t save receipts for anything, if you haven’t filed in years, if you’ve never filed during your sex working career, just remember this: don’t panic. You can do this. All it is is counting money and adding and subtracting it.

Well. And paying it. That part is no fun. But if you’re filing as a self-employed person, you’re supposed to pay quarterly estimated taxes, which is somewhat better than paying one chunk in April, and hey, at least you don’t have to get depressed looking at a deduction on a paycheck every couple of weeks. OK, it’s unpleasant. There’s really nothing less fun to do with your money than send it to the IRS other than using it to pay for car repairs or dental work.

We are not accounting or tax professionals here at Tits and Sass but I, for one, am a career stripper who had her own tax missteps in the past (the part where I pretty much forgot to file the entire time I was in college) (and I was in college for a long time). If I could get straightened out, so can you. Let me be clear that I’m not urging anyone to pay taxes for any other reason than to make their own life easier. I do, however, want to emphasize how it can make your life easier: [READ MORE]

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Kristen Wiig knows the secret to our success.

Kristen Wiig knows the secret to our success.

(You can find Part One of this discussion here.)

Lori: Taking a professional approach to my work makes it more enjoyable for me, but I hardly think that’s a universal experience.  When it comes to being a professional and giving clients what they’re “owed”, I think the standards for acceptable behavior are actually pretty low. In most circumstances I’d say clients are at least owed honesty: about how we look, what services we offer, what our rates are, and what our skill levels are (especially as pro-kinksters), if not a certain level of service. But if you need to lie to a john to get by? Fuck, do it. If your rent is due and you’re afraid a regular won’t see you if he finds out you gained weight, don’t mention it. If you need to go food shopping, and a new client wants some elaborate bondage that you can’t do, say you can do it. The worst that can happen is he leaves having a slightly less exciting orgasm than he anticipated, and you get to go on staying alive. Seems like a fair deal to me. (The only exceptions to lying to clients, even for survival sex work, would be your experience with edge-play and high-risk activities—anything that could compromise his safety.)

I don’t want to get too far off-topic, but the civilian men I’ve been with have a spotty track record on boundary-pushing as well. Sexual coercion is a problem with patriarchy and male privilege. It changes based on context and will be worse when men think a woman falls way on the wrong side of the Madonna/whore dichotomy and they can pay her for unlimited access… but it’s not exclusive to that context. The sex industry is patriarchy turned up to 11, but patriarchy is still like a 9 everywhere else.

Charlotte: I agree about what clients are owed; I’m an advocate for accurate descriptions of appearance, personality, and services offered. I’ll get mad on behalf of a client if I hear that he once saw a woman who totally ripped him off or who got so trashed she almost passed out, or even if she helped herself to his minibar without asking. (I’m probably kind of uptight when it come to etiquette like that in general, though.) There have been times when I’ve wondered if women who are pure rip offs even “count” as sex workers. Is it sex work to pretend you’re going to have some type of sexual contact with someone but then take their money and run? I think that’s theft, not work.

But I lie to clients all the time if they push me on things I don’t want to share, like my real name or what I was doing on a weekend when I wasn’t working, or whether I’m in a relationship. I do not think any client is owed information about my private life or identity, even the ones I’ve known for years. And I’m shocked by how pushy regulars can be about that type of stuff. I’m not a good liar, and if someone is really persistent while questioning me about personal details, sometimes I slip and give out something that would be identifying if they went hard on Google. And it feels so violating, to be worn down that way. I hope they don’t understand how violating it is, and that they’re just clueless instead of cruel. But who knows.

I also think clients are owed some emotional honesty in the sense that I do not approve of serious manipulation of the “I love you” variety. Part of me recognizes that this is my own personal moral boundary, and another part of me feels very, very strongly that there is nothing ethical or defensible about telling a client (or anyone!) that you love him in order to get more money. I had a very devoted webcam client years and years ago whom I hustled pretty hard with one huge lie, mostly just to see if I could get away with it. I got a lot of money from it but it wasn’t worth it. If there’s anything in my life I am completely ashamed of, it’s that. The only remotely redeeming factor is that I told him it would go towards my school tuition, and it did. [READ MORE]

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summer-august-lazy-work-seasonal-ecards-someecardsBelow, four in-person sex working professionals discuss how to maintain boundaries while keeping clients happy, the most common problems that cause conflicts with customers, and what they think professionalism means in the context of a career plagued by stigma and illegality. Part two will be posted tomorrow. The women weighing in are Lori Adorable, Amanda Brooks1, Charlotte Shane, and Tizzy Wall.2

Charlotte: Sex work is very much my primary career, so I tend to think of it as I would any other personal service job, meaning I want a client to “get his money’s worth.” I want him to have the experience he wants to have. But I’ve also developed a pretty strong sense of boundaries over the years, and there are a lot of things I don’t allow and wouldn’t be willing to do no matter how much a client complains or cajoles. Do you think about your work in terms of satisfying the client? How do you negotiate that “the client is always right” mentality (yours or theirs!) with your own boundaries and preferred way of doing things?

Amanda: I’ve never felt I had to do anything the client or strip club customer wanted just because they were paying me. Quite the opposite. (I guess this means I have an “attitude”). However, I do feel they’re paying me to have a good time or have a need met. I consider it my job to give them my full attention and find a way to make them happy. I like making clients happy because it pleases me and offers personal satisfaction in my work. By “happy,” I don’t mean I do everything they’ve ever dreamed of. There’s always a middle ground.

Of course there have been times when I’ve shut off that inner voice and allowed a boundary to be pushed because of the money — but it always snaps back into place naturally, damn the consequences. I’m not someone who responds well to being told what to do or having my sense of privacy invaded. Add my stubborn refusal to fake it and it becomes a real mess, especially when I end up doing something I really don’t want (like have sex) just because I know it’s expected. Not to derail this into issues of consent; this is about personal satisfaction and playing a particular role that doesn’t fit me as well as it used to. As most service-industry workers probably feel, the less happy I am, the more I should be paid. [READ MORE]

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Remember the first time you watched Nomi Malone lick the pole at Cheetah’s? Weren’t you all “Ew, who does that?” as you decided Windex was one of the better things coming into contact with her tongue? Have you seen a new girl at the club cruise by in a mullet tutu and been like “What just happened?” I die a little on the inside witnessing less glaring hustle mistakes. One of the most humbling things about stripping (besides the constant rejection) is that you’ll still be fine-tuning your sales skills and learning from your mistakes even after working long enough that dumb regulars call you a “lifer.” Maybe you’re all business in the front resulting in not enough party in the back. Here are a few cringe-inducing moves I know I’ve been guilty of.

Next On Stage We Have Amnesia: My number one personal problem is consistently forgetting about customers who express interest. Thanks to garish carpet, lasers, loud music, and other things designed to disorient patrons into spending, my attention span seems to clear and reset approximately every thirty seconds. If I’m collecting my stage tips and a guy tells me to come talk to him, I’ll go straighten up in the dressing room and get back on the floor with the interaction erased from my memory. He’ll watch me walk around, cold-calling other men like his money isn’t good enough. By the time I work my way to him and say that he looks familiar from somewhere, the damage has been done. So remember your medication, write on your hand with eyeliner, and set a phone alarm for three minutes in the future. Mostly, don’t get sucked into dillydallying in the dressing room. [READ MORE]

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