Escorting

Visual approximation of Ms. Harm Reduction and her gal pals. (Photo via Flickr user gbaku at the Creative Commons.)

Visual approximation of Ms. Harm Reduction and her gal pals. (Photo via Flickr user gbaku and the Creative Commons.)

Dear Ms. Harm Reduction,
About six months ago I had my first ever genital herpes outbreak. I am a cis female and a full service provider. I don’t do bareback, but I do still continue to work. I am on herbal suppressive therapy (lysine, other immune boosters and stress management) and haven’t had an outbreak since the first one. I know it’s controversial, but I love my job and I don’t want to do any other type of work. I just want to know how to be as safe as possible. Also how big of a risk is this? Am I totally fucked up for working? For the record I would never work during an outbreak, but outside of that, is it ok? I was also wondering if internal condoms (female condoms) offer more protection because they cover external surface area?

Best,
Sexy Or Risky? Escort

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Photo taken by Silvia Escario

Visual approximation of Ms. Harm Reduction back in the day. (Photo taken by Silvia Escario.)

Dear Ms. Harm Reduction,
I’m an escort with an Oxycontin habit. For the most part I can plan ahead and maintain, but sometimes supply runs out and I have to go to work when I’m in withdrawal. I serve a middle class clientele, and I’d lose clients if they found out I was a drug user. I’m also afraid some of them might even become violent if they discovered I was a “junkie.” How do I hide the tell tale signs of dopesickness while working?

Best,
Sniffling Isn’t Cute y’Know

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(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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