From Shaking Tail to Spinning Tales

by chelsea g. summers on July 7, 2011 · 14 comments

in Strippers, What is Sex Work?

In March 2005 I started a blog. My first post was about my new hideously expensive purse, but my blog, pretty dumb things, quickly became a blog with—not necessarily of—sex. I wrote a lot, posting five or six times a week, often but not always, narrating something sexual. At the height of its popularity, my blog brought in somewhere between 4,000 and 10,000 visitors a day. Which is a dizzying number for a one-woman show of neuroses, orgasms, butt sex, blowjobs, pop culture, occasional snark and/or whimsy, and tales of when I was a stripper. My writing got noticed, and I got paid to write for various magazines and anthologies, got interviewed by Susie Bright, and got semi-pseudo-famous, in short, for my sexytime writing.

Writing about stripping first made me consider how similar writing is to stripping. To wit: you generally do both for an audience, and whether stripping or writing, you have to create a space that the audience wants to inhabit. Your job is to captivate your audience, to make your audience buy what you’re selling (however metaphoric) and to sustain that audience’s attention until you’re done; fail to do these things, and you’ve failed whether you’re a stripper or a writer. Succeed, and you win.

But those similarities work for any kind of writing, really. In the terms I’ve just laid out, Kerouac is Kat is Balzac is Bubbles is Cheever is Cee-Cee (the name I gave my strip self). The overlap between erotica and stripping is, however, somewhat more fraught.

Few people choose to write erotica under their own name—there are exceptions, for sure, and Rachel Kramer Bussel is one; Alana Nöel Voth is another (Alana also was a stripper, though I’ve no idea of her dance name). Likewise, I knew only one stripper who stripped under her own name. She was the legendary Sheena, and when asked where she came up with her name, she answered, “My parents gave it to me. Of course I became a stripper. What else was I going to do? Become a librarian?” She had a point.

Strippers and erotica writers choose to write under names not only because they fear personal and professional reprisals—sex is a dangerous business, even if you’re just depicting it in words; you don’t even need to airfuck for cash to make sex dangerous; never mind the zip code, just living in the Congressional district of sex is dangerous and implicating—but because the fantasy of being someone else isn’t just for the audience. In some way, it’s there for you as the stripper or the writer too. I call this “The Sasha Fierce Effect.”

Beyoncé created her alternate wild-girl persona Sasha Fierce in order to do the stuff on stage that she as Beyoncé wasn’t entirely comfortable doing. If, like a person with multiple personality disorder, you fracture your self into discrete (and ideally discreet) units, you might find you can deal with the perceived dangers of that freakish enterprise. I think we can all agree that a strip club is unique in its sheer artificiality. There’s not much more fake than tromping around in Lucite heels and candy-colored costumes, asking strangers if you can take advantage of the relentless disco beat to simulate sex and get paid handsomely for the privilege. It’s the very definition of “artificial.” Having a fake name (and a fake bio; mine shaved seven years off my age and gave me a fictitious veterinarian-to-be out-of-state boyfriend) helps you keep the real safe from the taint of the fake, and it helps you sell the fake as if it were real.

Writing erotica under an assumed name lends a similar padding. Had I been writing under my own name, I could not have written about all the times my boyfriend bound me, blindfolded me, and made me come like a yowling banshee. I couldn’t have written about experiencing world’s fastest threesome or being the meat in a boy sandwich. I couldn’t have written about fucking a clown, or my visceral love for giving head, or the first time I squirted, or my impassioned ambivalence over nipple clamps. It would have felt, for lack of a less Eisenhower-era word, unseemly, and I’m sure that my prose would have flowed less like warm honey and more like tepid mud.

There is freedom in being someone else, and that binds the stripper and the erotica writer. So does the fact that you can wake up and feel overexposed in the morning. It’s easy to push “publish” on something before you’re ready; it’s also easy to get caught up in the moment and allow this one customer a liberty you’ve previously always verboten. It’s easy to regret. Likewise, both the stripper and the erotica know the vertiginous euphoria of having a room full of people grooving on your naked body of work and giving you a big pile of cash. I never made a grand in a night as a stripper, but I made four figures writing for Penthouse. That was awesome.

Both erotica and stripping makes people fall in love with a person who doesn’t really exist—in fact that’s kind of your job. However, you only have to remain polite if you’re stripping. Or not. I knew some blistering thundercunt strippers who made thick stacks of money. Counter to conventional wisdom, there’s value in being neurotic both as a writer and a stripper. People like to see you’re human. It makes them feel soothed. Overly sanitized dirty sexy stripping or dirty sexy writing comes off as alien and odd.

And of course both require you to summon the sexy when you’re not feeling the sexy. Blessedly, you don’t have to sustain the sex fakery for as many hours when you’re writing (and you get the comfort of your jammies, your bed, or both). But there’s no question that my experiences as a stripper helped my writing. The Sisyphean effort it sometimes took to ply my wares, the diaphanous euphoria of a table dance done expertly, the dreamy drifting gaze of a paradoxically riled up and satisfied custy, the dance-of-seven-veils attenuation of fucking narrative, the immutable pull of deeply artificial eye contact—these things shaped my erotica. You dance with your hips, you dance with your belly, you dance with your tits and your ass. You dance with your words.

You dance.

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Olivia Quiver July 7, 2011 at 4:08 pm

Well said. I write The Sauce, a sex column, under a pen name, and it allows me to be much more candid than I otherwise would be if I were writing under my real name.

I’ve never stripped, but I imagine that you would want the same disconnect between yourself and your job.

I look forward to browsing through Pretty Dumb Things!

Olivia

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chelsea g. summers July 7, 2011 at 7:24 pm

Thanks, Olivia. I’m glad you enjoyed and I look forward to your thumbing through my voluminous archives. Just lick your finger when you turn that page, will you?

kissykiss,
chelsea g.

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1st Republic 14th Star July 7, 2011 at 10:42 pm

Diaphanous — I think I learn at least one new word each time I read one of your pieces.

I can’t recall reading a better essay conclusion than the last two sentences of this one.

Nice work.

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chelsea g. summers July 7, 2011 at 11:23 pm

1st/14th,

I’ve missed you. Thanks so much for your kind words and your myriad kindnesses over the past few years.

kissykiss,
chelsea g.

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efg July 8, 2011 at 6:36 am

CG – enchanted then, enchanted now and you included Sisyphus.

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Kate Black July 8, 2011 at 12:32 pm

Another beautiful piece.

Sisyphus would’ve been impressed.

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chelsea g. summers July 8, 2011 at 2:16 pm

Thanks, Kate and EFG. I feel like I include Sisyphus in everything. He’s my standing “Plus 1.”

Mc, as for my numbers, well, it was a different time in blog writing. My readership really took off when I became an editor at Fleshbot for a feature they have since discontinued called the “Sex Blog Round-Up.” It’s shocking what a little Denton media can do for a girl.

cheers,
cgs

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Kumquat Mae July 8, 2011 at 8:39 pm

I am wondering if there is a contributor out there who would want to give advice to an aspiring sex worker. Since puberty I’ve fantacized about getting paid for sex. Now that I am in my late 20s, working two shit jobs, with the student loans piling up, it’s starting to seem like less of a fantasy and more of a viable option for escaping my persisently inadequate pay checks. I understand that the fantasy is different than the reality. I have read a lot of stuff about and by sex workers, including many of these blog posts- I think I have a pretty decent attitude about it and a fairly clear picture of what is actually involved in the work, but what I want to know about are the logistics of actually DOING IT… or rather, getting paid for it. How do find decent clients, how do maintain discretion and keep your day job in a relatively small city etc. I’ve done some burlesque and enjoyed it but found it wasn’t really “cost effective’. I was thinking of starting with a naked house cleaning business… Anyway – advice and guidance is appreciated.

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chelsea g. summers July 9, 2011 at 9:05 am

Ms Kumquat Mae,

I know nothing about sexwork aside from stripping, and the only advice I can give you would be strip-related, which doesn’t sound like what you’re interested in doing. Naked house cleaning does sound like a potentially lucrative niche market, but please do wear gloves.

best,
chelsea g.

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Miss Trotwood July 9, 2011 at 10:11 am

CG, I miss your writing. It’s awesome to see you reappear on one of my favourite blogs.

Kumquat Mae, you can get good (if UK-specific) advice over at http://www.saafe.info . I don’t know about other areas of the sex biz, but I’ve found other people working in the UK BDSM scene to be super helpful and friendly when approached with courtesy and respect. I’ve definitely benefited from other people’s know-how and experience. But don’t expect other people just to drop everything and sit down and mentor you – here’s a post by Jenny de Milo about losing patience with newbies who want advice for free and then ignore it. Her four rules about sex work are good ones to bear in mind, too, and her whole blog is really worth reading for anyone doing adult work.

All that said – I have been thinking that it would be cool if there was a kind of open-thread feature on Tits and Sass where people in the sex industry who were faced with professional dilemmas or questions could use the forum to ask each other for advice. Not like ‘sex tips from professionals’, more like ‘How do you deal with answering your work phone when your parents are visiting?’, or ‘my ex boyfriend has become famous and would get a lot of flack in the press if I was ever outed as a sex worker – should I tell him what I do?’. Like a problem page for sex workers – Ask-a-Ho.

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Charlotte Shane Charlotte Shane July 10, 2011 at 10:56 am

We actually have the first advice post coming soon! Like Miss Trotwood suggested, it won’t be blanket work information but rather reactions in response to some of the unique situations that arise once one is already involved in sex work.

An aside for anyone who needs it: Since pandering is a felony in the United States, one prostitute giving advice to another (including a wannabe) can be construed as a serious crime. Laws about activities like domination, private dancing, massage, and so on vary state to state, but I believe we here at Tits and Sass are going to err on the side of caution and never write an explicit “how to get into the business” post on any type of sex work.

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Miss Trotwood July 12, 2011 at 11:19 am

Oh, terrific! I’ll look forward to that.

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Miss Trotwood July 12, 2011 at 11:21 am

P.S it is completely fucked up that you cannot give each other advice about how to work safely in the USA. Prostitution laws in ‘making no sense’ shocker…

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chelsea g. summers July 10, 2011 at 9:44 am

Ms Trotwood,

Gosh, thanks so much, and great suggestions. Get in touch with Bubbles and Kat, the PTB of T&S, though given that they approve the comments, they’ve already read your thoughts.

kissykiss,
chelsea g.

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