Escorting

(poster via axxomovies.org)

(poster via axxomovies.org)

There’s a scene in which under-the-weather-feeling, anti-heroine protagonist Rachel (Kathryn Hahn) describes the way she feels as “shit city.” Afternoon Delight, directed by Jill Soloway, is shit city. This film screamed “rescue project” from the very start. Rachel is a bored, restless, wealthy, vaguely hipster stay-at-home mom living with her husband and young son in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles. Her contemporaries are mostly other jobless, Jewish, “hip” housewives who spend their time doing volunteer work, if only to thoroughly document it on social media; organizing play dates amongst their elementary school-aged children, and running something called “Craftacular.” Thing is, Rachel doesn’t like this life and she doesn’t like these women. She wanted to be a war journalist. In a scene near the end she wails, “I was so bored I could have died!!!!” One of this film’s only saving graces is the fact that her therapist is Jane Lynch, whose character is truly the only “delight” Afternoon Delight has to offer.

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Melissa at Frida Kahlo's house. O, roving reporter. (Photo via Melissa's flickr)

Melissa at Frida Kahlo’s house. O, roving reporter. (Photo via Melissa’s flickr)

In the early aughts when I was a novice escort and On Our Backs was still being published, I was wowed by Melissa Gira Grant, an internet porn-making, geeky, theory spouting phenom, even managing to be friends with her despite the fact that she was an Anais Nïn devotee. Over the years I’ve kept in touch with her as she branched out into self-publishing on her imprint Glass Houses, producing works like the innovative sex anthology Coming and Crying and Take This Book, her report on Occupy Wall Street’s People’s Library; activist and foundation work at St. James Infirmary and the Third Wave Foundation; and radical journalism. Soon enough her byline became a common sight in publications like the Guardian and the Nation, bringing sex workers’ rights to the attention of the mainstream public. Now, with the publication of her new book, Playing The Whore: The Work of Sex Work, Melissa has brought her formidable intellect to bear on how the mainstream conceives of us.

You’ve always been fascinated by representations of sex work. I remember when I first met you, you talked about how you used to love to look through escort ads in the back of your local alternative weekly as a teenager, and you write about that in the book as well.

And before the paper, the phone book! It wasn’t just the ambient Massachusetts puritanism I grew up in, even if that would be easy to blame it on (and actually, I was raised Catholic). I was desperately curious about sex as a kid is what I’m saying. (Thanks for taking us to such a Freudian place right off the bat, Caty.)

So even though it wasn’t totally obvious what was going on in the phone book escort ads, they did a good job of signifying that it was probably sex. And then you got much more than clip art of lips and evening gowns to advertise with on the internet. It’s difficult to imagine what it would be like to be confined to what some print designer put together, probably to sell prom dresses. It’s not just the photos, videos, and everything else some sex workers can afford to put in their ads to stand out now online that attract me. I wrote something for $pread once about how even the typography in the headlines of ads on Craigslist Erotic Services—the asterisks, the spacing, the creative use of symbols—it reads like a red light as much as red neon does now, to someone scrolling around online. I look at ads as cultural production, as part of the labor of sex work. If someone has some old phone books to donate, or could just tear out the “E” section, I’d take them. I know ads are almost always meant to be ephemeral, but someone needs to archive ads for posterity.

Yes, I remember your curiosity about my advertising process back when I was a pre-internet escort in 2002, working out of one of those alternative weeklies, and you were an ex-stripper just starting to establish herself as a writer. You actually chronicle one of our Q and A sessions about my work back then in one of the first chapters of your new book, discussing how fraught that exchange was, given that sharing information with other sex workers can still be construed as felony pandering. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on sex workers’ fascination with other sex workers’ jobs. You captured your side of the interaction, how you didn’t know whether you should be asking, whether you were good enough to do full service work, whether what you said might make me think you thought you were too good for full service work…

Well, how else was I supposed to learn about escorting, I thought? I had met other escorts before, but they all worked in big cities, either for agencies or in ad-hoc ways using the internet (this was in the early 2000’s), using Yahoo personals or Craigslist. Way before social media, but still at a time when the back page of the newspaper didn’t seem real. I had been doing sex work for some time, and I still didn’t understand that the ads in the paper would be tolerated long enough by police for anyone to make a living off of running them. So that was my curiosity: the medium.

It’s fascinating now, to look back and remember what an outsider I felt like, within our friendship and in our very very small community, because I hadn’t escorted. It’s one thing for a dancer to help out another dancer, but to ask you how you structured your calls and organized your business? I knew I was asking you to take a risk on me, because of the legal issues that could be associated with giving that kind of advice, under criminalization. And I also, on some level, wanted to seem like, oh of course I must know all this already! But I didn’t. No one is born with the two-call system in their head. [READ MORE]

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The 25 ft, record breaking (?) stripper pole in question at Vivid Cabaret (Photo by Jefferson Siegel/The New York Daily News)

The 25 ft, record breaking (?) stripper pole in question at Vivid Cabaret (Photo by Jefferson Siegel/The New York Daily News)

Amnesty International gets on board with decriminalization. Unfortunately, Julie Bindel puts in her two cents (though we think they’re worth even less in her case.) Meanwhile, Amnesty’s blog follows up on continuing violence against sex workers in the Honduras’ San Pedro Sula district, “the most dangerous city in the world.”

Prostitutes Steal Millions and Walk Free“—this crew of “four foxy female thieves,” as the article refers to them, makes us think the rest of us really need to step up our game.

Porn is prematurely announced dead, judging from this year’s sparse AVN awards attendance; the media rediscovers cam work.

More coverage on the future of Canadian sex work post Bedford v. Canada. In that context, Feministe’s Jill Filipovic sticks her nose into sex workers’ business yet again in an Al Jazeera opinion piece: “Despite my philosophical objections to the purchase of sex and my personal feelings of disgust aimed at those who buy sex, I nevertheless think people absolutely must have the right to sell sexual services without fearing abuse, incarceration, marginalization or stigma.” That’s nice, Jill. Thanks for your, uh, support and for sharing your tormented FEELINGS about our livelihood. No1curr.

The new Vivid Cabaret in Midtown, Manhattan boasts a 7.6-meter steel stake, more than twice as tall as most stripper poles. Thanks to Vivid Entertainment’s partnership with the club,  a number of porn stars, including Tera Patrick, will be appearing at the club’s opening night. How many porn stars can fit on a 7.6 meter pole? At least three, apparently.

More evidence of Ruth Jacob’s amazing transformation from anti to sex workers’ rights advocate this year in her interview of Tits and Sass contributor Lori Adorable and her interview of trafficking survivor, victim’s rights advocate, and sex worker ally Jes Richardson.

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Just a couple of dudes in front of the Booty Lounge. (image via Facebook)

Just a couple of dudes in front of the Booty Lounge. (image via Facebook)

Only eight days left to buy a one dollar raffle ticket for beloved tumblr blog and sex workers’ mutual aid organization Sex Worker Problems/The Pink Phoenix’s give away! Each gift bag is worth over $350, and the prizes include iTunes gift cards, Amazon gift cards, and premium advertising credits at slixa. The proceeds will go towards helping Pink Phoenix with the cost of filing for non-profit status and purchasing care package items for sex workers in need.

Detroit’s mobile strip club, the Booty Lounge, is back in business because AMERICA!

When will they learn? An owner of a couple of strip clubs in Texas is getting sued, by two D.J.s, for — WAIT FOR IT—  violating federal labor law.

Do you sometimes suspect that your favorite exotic dancer might be a…super hero?  Well, here’s your proof.

Oooh la la! British P.M. David Cameron followed a “high-class” escort agency on twitter. An almost-scandal ensues!

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World War II military propaganda poster, circa 1940 (Image courtesy of the National Library of Medicine)

1940 World War II military propaganda poster (Image courtesy of the National Library of Medicine)

I was in the midst of a pretty good day when I received a phone call from one of my non-client lovers. The poor boy had come down with a case of throat gonorrhea, which I didn’t even know was a thing.  He was just calling to let me know I had been exposed the last time we had sex, since we had made out with great vigor and he had also gone downtown, like the sweetheart he is. I thanked him for letting me know, told him to feel better, hung up and began to evaluate the situation in the calm and rational fashion that any sex-positive, non-monogamous person might try to evaluate a situation such as this.

Gonorrhea. No big deal, right? I have always expected to contract an STI at some point in my life, and as far as STIs go that’s not such a bad one. I was feeling a little funny in the junk, which I figured was probably due to a yeast infection. It seemed likely to me that I might, in fact, have gonorrhea, and I should probably get tested ASAP either way.

Then I remembered what I do for a living. I remembered that there weren’t just lovers whom I may have exposed, albeit unwittingly, but possibly about three clients as well. Even worse, I remembered that I desperately needed to make the money I was planning on making over the coming weekend— or else I wasn’t going to be able to pay my rent.

Mother. Fucker.

In my work as a full-service escort, STIs had always been a sort of intellectual, if abstract, concern. It is something I knew could be a really detrimental thing to have happen to my business, but it hadn’t happened yet, so I wasn’t too worried about it. Now here I was, in the exact situation I had only considered in the abstract. The one where I need to make money but can’t really figure out an ethical way to do so without exposing myself as every client’s worst nightmare: the poxy whore.

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