books

Treading Air (2016)

by Sarah on November 28, 2016 · 0 comments

in Books, Reviews

treadingairAs a sex worker and a fairly enthusiastic reader, I’ve come across so few of our stories told in fiction—and very few set in my own country of Australia. So when I recently discovered Ariella van Luyn’s 2016 novel Treading Air, I was instantly intrigued. It had a fascinating historical premise and a sex worker protagonist, Lizzie O’Dea. Unfortunately, it wasn’t what it could have been: although van Luyn had clearly done some research and tried to humanize Lizzie’s portrayal, so many bad clichés about sad sex workers crept into her story that it totally ruined the book for me.

We first meet Lizzie O’Dea in 1943, confined in a lock hospital in Brisbane, Queensland, waiting for her husband to be released from prison after nearly twenty years. The novel alternates between focusing on O’Dea’s story in 1943 and a series of events in the regional port town of Townsville in 1923 and 1924 that would alter the course of her and her husband’s lives.

The decision to set part of the book in a lock hospital in Queensland immediately caught my attention. By Australian standards, Queensland had notoriously draconian controls on sex workers in the latter half of the nineteenth century —although substantive parts of the law remained in place well into the twentieth century as well. Under the Queensland legislation (which was based on a broader version of the English Contagious Diseases Act), sex workers were required to register with police and forced to undergo fortnightly medical checks. If a doctor deemed them to be “diseased”, they were sent to a lock hospital in the state’s main prison to receive treatment, sometimes for long periods of time. It was a system which produced plenty of horror stories, yet it’s largely unknown today. I was curious to see what kind of light van Luyn would shine on on that chapter of history. I should have known that it would turn out to be one more twist on the premise that a sex worker’s story always ends badly.

Much of the first quarter of Treading Air centers on Lizzie’s courtship with future husband Joe, whom she meets at a Brisbane racetrack in 1923. Lizzie is the daughter of an illegal bookmaker and unenthused with her options in life. They promptly marry, moving to Townsville in North Queensland when Joe gains a job as a meat worker. Joe soon loses this job after an industrial accident, and Lizzie, fed up with being back in poverty, accepts an offer to work for a madam she knows. I enjoyed this section of the book: Lizzie’s portrayal felt familiar, the historical details about how her brothel operated made sense, her reasons for entering into the industry were pretty standard, and her first clients were ordinary clients.

And so, I’m happily reading this book when I come across this sentence, not long after Lizzie begins working: “So she reinforces her demeanor of gentleness and politeness. A man can do anything—pick his nose with one hand, hold his cock with the other; piss on her [emphasis mine]; cry and snot on her – and she doesn’t move. They like her for it.”

I thought “wait, what?”. I read this passage out loud to a friend over the phone to ask if it was as fucked up as I thought it was. Her spluttering down the line told me that it was.

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(Photo by Alexa Vachon)

(Photo by Alexa Vachon)

Coming Out Like A Porn Star is an anthology edited by award winning indie porn talent and author Jiz Lee consisting of essays by porn performers and industry workers on privacy and disclosure. It was featured by Reason’s‘ Elizabeth Nolan Brown as one of the best sex work books of 2015. Foreworded by renowned Black porn scholar Dr. Mireille Young, the book includes pieces by celebrated porn mainstays such as Stoya and Annie Sprinkle, as well as work by Tits and Sass’ own contributors and interviewees such as Kitty Stryker, Conner Habib, Tobi Hill-Meyer, and Cyd Nova. The collection spans a wide array of porn experiences from writers of color, trans and queer authors, and performers from every branch of the industry. With Lee’s permission, we excerpt two exciting essays by authors who are new to us, “Queen Beloved” by Milcah Halili and “Even Someone Like Me: How I Came Out As A Smut Starlet” by Betty Blac. They both feature stories of the authors communicating with their sex worker writer idols, so we were immediately hooked. [READ MORE]

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(photo by worth1000.com user garrettkipp. image via worth1000.com)

(photo by worth1000.com user garrettkipp. image via worth1000.com)

Sex work comes with a lot of fringe perks: convenient hours, creative work uniforms, and basically having the coolest job on the planet. One of the lesser-known perks of sex work are the gifts we receive: the tokens of appreciation that the men that favor us hand out around the holidays. Most of the time we get the traditional pretty girl-type gifts. A box of chocolates. An austere piece of jewelry. Maybe a bottle of perfume.

Any veteran sex worker will tell you that he or she has also unwrapped something a little…peculiar. It’s true—we get a lot of weird gifts (it’s worth noting that weird isn’t necessarily synonymous with bad). We’ve learned over time how to gracefully accept some, shall we say, unconventional presents.

Our clients and customers try, they really do, to mixed results. Bless their hearts.

We wondered: What sort of oddities have our readers received?

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This post was removed at the author’s request.

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HERE. Book Cover6HERE. is Lindsay Kugler’s “mini-memoir,” covering a year in her early twenties living in Austin, being in a codependent relationship, and working on My Free Cams. She also worked as a social worker and writes about dealing with clients from both worlds in a style that reads like poetry, with negative spaces that leave you wanting more while you cackle.

One time while trying to find one of JC’s medicine bottles I found a soiled copy of The Ethical Slut by Dossie Easton. I first encountered it in one of my sexuality courses I took at Arizona State and I wondered why JC would even have a copy. I imagined him pushing through a bookstore to find something so salaciously titled to bring it home and find it was less Penthouse and more personal theory.

HERE. feels like stumbling upon someone’s very relatable diary. Haven’t we all done the equivalent of getting drunk and crawling into a cardboard box so someone would happen upon us and give us sympathy? Originally self-published through Portland’s Independent Publishing Resource Center before being picked up by University of Hell Press, Kugler’s debut also has my all-time favorite About The Author line: “She is a college dropout who has never cared about school.” I loved doing this interview and can’t wait to read what she writes next.

How did you get started camming?

In the context of the relationship that I was in, I was not getting a lot of attention and I was not getting a lot of sexual fulfillment. I had first gone through Craigslist Casual Encounters being like, “I’m just interested in being on cam with someone via Skype and I don’t even really want to see you. I just kinda want to take my clothes off and that would be it.” And I got a few responses and talked to some people and then they were like, “You could make money doing this.” At the time I was working for AmeriCorps, so I was working 40 hours a week making like no money as a case manager, and I was like, “You know, I could use some extra income.” So I looked into it and really how I got started was sort of a mixture of needing to get paid and also needing to fulfill this void that I had in my life. [READ MORE]

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