Kat and I recently had an exchange on twitter with a strip club customer I’ll call “Jay.” It started after I tweeted, “4 girls in bikinis shooting an ad in front of a strip club when a lady stops her car to take pics of us w/her phone” and “It’s totally inappropriate! You should ALWAYS ask first before taking someone’s photo, especially if it’s a woman in a swimsuit.” Jay didn’t see what the big problem was, so I tried to educate him, but you can only say so much with 140 characters.
First, let me say that I do know Jay beyond twitter. He’s frequented a few of the strip clubs I’ve worked at, and he’s always been polite to me there. However, I strongly disagree with his assumptive attitude that it’s acceptable for a person to take photos of whomever they like without that person’s consent. Just because someone is attractive to you, does not mean she is begging to have you take her photo. I also take issue with with his statement: “It’s not like you were sunbathing. You were already HAVING your pic taken.” So, let’s break this down: the difference between taking someone’s photo without her consent while she is sunbathing versus without her consent while she is participating in a closed (as in not including you) photoshoot is that the sunbather is likely unaware that the picture is being taken, while the model can clearly see that someone is taking her picture. In either situation, the picture of the sunbather/model is being taken without her consent. Also, taking pictures of a human being is so totally NOT “like taking pictures of a movie set” and taking pictures of a sex worker while she is in a situation that clearly portrays her in her job role can put her (or him) in a potentially very damaging, even life-changing predicament. I’ll explain why that is; but first, let me describe the situation behind those tweets.
The incident in question happened during a recent outdoor photoshoot, the results of which are for use in an advertisement for the club’s annual bikini carwash. For this photoshoot, four bikini-clad dancers (including myself) were washing a Mustang convertible that was parked up on the curb directly in front of the club’s sign. The sign is located on the front of the building adjacent to the main entrance. As the hired professional photographer snapped away, a woman slowed her car to a stop about ten feet from where I was standing, whipped out her cell phone, and began taking pictures. She had a small child in the car with her.
“Hey! I do not want you to take my picture. Stop!” I yelled. The other dancers’ body language showed that they were uncomfortable, too. One of them muttered “What the fuck is that lady’s problem?” under her breath. The photographer immediately stepped in front of the car window with his backside pointed at the woman, inviting her to take a shot of his butt instead.
“You guys ARE out on the street, you know. I can take a picture,” the woman quipped. Then she speedily drove off in a huff with her kid’s head bobbling around the backseat.
Now, on to the aforementioned carwash: this strip club is one of many in the area that holds bikini carwashes every summer. At this carwash, however, the strippers do not keep the tips we are given. Instead, we donate them to a nonprofit. Last year we gave them to the Humane Society. Every year, the carwash is innunated by skeezy guys trying to take inappropriate photos of the dancers. What I mean by inappropriate is that these guys don’t ask first or even hint that they’d like to take a photo. They aren’t trying to get us to pose. They are trying to get shots of us when we aren’t looking: shots of us bending over, nipple slips, etcetera. In fact, one such sleazeball took quite a few photos at last year’s carwash and posted them all over facebook. I stumbled across them and was utterly mortified; not just for myself, but for all of my co-workers. One girl had been photograhed bending far over with her cut-off jeans barely covering her vagina. She was very obviously NOT posing for the picture. I immediately flagged all of his offending pics and they were removed shortly thereafter. It adds insult to injury to know that my co-workers and I are out there working all day at an event FOR CHARITY and these guys are incessantly swooping in to prey upon us. It’s one thing if someone asks politely if they can take your picture, giving you the opportunity to stand up, smile, and look into the camera OR give you the option of politely replying “no thanks, I’d rather not.” It’s quite another when a person is sneaking around in a predatory manner, taking candid crotch shots without the subject’s consent.
These two instances are prime examples of potential “outing” and are a violation of any person’s privacy, especially a stripper’s privacy. This is because so many strippers keep what they do for a living secret. Another instance of “outing” made national news when a photographer in Toronto took photos of unsuspecting dancers on their smoke breaks on the rooftop patio of the club and then posted them to his Flickr account. Eventually the photos surfaced on a blog called the Torontoist and from there to other online media sites. “I was really upset because I didn’t expect to have that happen, to be taken pictures of while I was wearing what I was wearing,” said one of the dancers. “I don’t want someone to recognize me and tell my parents and friends. I didn’t want it to be all over the papers and on the internet.”
Sex workers were outed in a different (if not bizarre) way with the publication of No Man’s Land, a photo book consisting of Google Street View images. The images show women that British author Mishka Henner has labeled “women who appear to be soliciting sex” on the side of the road. The author is making money off of the images of these women without their consent, and likely framing them in a manner that they don’t want shared with the public. I think Furry Girl states it best: “This is no different than when police publish mugshots of sex workers against their will. Both involve outsiders sensationalizing and preying upon vulnerable and unwilling photo subjects.”
I’d like to point out that I personally do publicize that I strip for a living, but I am careful about where and how I do so. I make sure to know exactly where photos portraying me as a stripper could end up being used or posted, and I guard my legal name diligently to protect my privacy and safety. It helps that most of my more conservative relatives live thousands of miles away from where I work. I wouldn’t want certain relatives or professional contacts to know what I do for a living, not because I am ashamed of it, but because there is a heavy social stigma attached to stripping. I don’t want that stigma to interfere in my relationships with family or hinder me in getting a non-sex industry job in the future. For another person to take away that choice–my choice, to be private about my job is invasive and extremely upsetting. In the same vein, every time certain relatives visit from out of town, I loathe going to particular neighborhoods for fear that some oblivious customer is going to approach and call me by my stage name. I find it flattering to be recognized; however, depending upon who I’m keeping company with, I may not want to be outed. I certainly hope that this makes clear sense to anyone reading who may not have thought about the potential outcomes of “outing” any sex industry worker. Please act with caution and respect our privacy. Thank you.