Management

Jacqueline Frances (Photo by Danielle Rafanan)

Jacqueline Frances has drawn attention and acclaim with her deceptively simple cartoons of everyday strip club doings.  The simplicity of her comics draws you in, and before you know it, you’re seeing men and masculinity from a sex workers’  view that few people can bring themselves to take on consciously. Frances toured last year with her baby-stripper memoir The Beaver Show, and is touring this year with her new project, Striptastic!, a comic book celebration of strippers.  She’s traveling the country for the next month and a half on the Sex Witch Tour.

Red: So, early on in Striptastic! you have a great illustration of a woman onstage saying she’s smashing patriarchy, and then you write a bit below that about how stripping is feminist and against patriarchy.

And I wanted to ask if you think it’s that simple, because there are later illustrations of “bad nights,” and one of a girl being groped where the caption is something like, “for every Instagram picture of a stripper with stacks, this is what she had to put up with” (which is WAY TOO REAL). These illustrations hint at a different reality, one where women/strippers don’t have all the power—or much power at all—and the work is a complex negotiations of boundaries with customers for cash and then with management for their respect (or for them to at least act like it) and with some management beggaring dancers before allowing them to leave after a slow night.

So, given these illustrations, I was wondering how you see stripping now, if you still see it as a patriarchy-smashing activity, or if it is in fact just another job with compromises like everything else, or if it can be both. Can it be patriarchy-smashing if the clubs are set up to profit men with as minimal benefit to the dancer as possible? Is a woman with low or no social capital being able to earn a living radical (I think it is!), but can that also co-exist with the fact that she’s able to make this living by working in a space that expressly centers men, male desires, and male conspicuous consumption of female energy, bodies, and services?

And is her work that benefits all these men, is that still smashing patriarchy?

Jacqueline Frances: No, it’s definitely not that simple. We exist within it and all have bills to pay. There are many ways to chip away at and/or smash the patriarchy, and I don’t believe there is one pure and simple way to do it.

Red: What’s your ideal outcome with the book? Are you trying to build stripper solidarity? What would you like to do with that, if that’s your goal? What are your visions?

Jacq: Yeah, I totally want to build stripper solidarity! Hmm, what was my goal with the book? I don’t know—the book kind of just happened organically, I started drawing and I knew that people were disappointed that The Beaver Show wasn’t illustrated—

Red: [laughing] Did you see the review—someone posted a review of The Beaver Show and it was clear they hadn’t even touched it, they describe it as a comic book and I was like, “Mmmm…”

Jacq: No, it’s not! But yeah, there are a lot of typos and it is a baby stripper memoir, it’s how you start. And so I was like, “I guess I should make a book of pictures!”

So I made it, and the survey made it not so much a book about me, more about other people. And I was talking to my mom today, [telling her that] I want it to feel like a yearbook, I want other strippers to open it up and relate to it and be happy about the positive memories and the strength they’ve discovered through stripping and sex work. I really want it to be an artifact for the women who’ve done the work, to celebrate their achievement. And I also want it to be educational for people who don’t do it, but that’s not my MO.

My MO is not teaching dudes, that’s all I do at work all day. I’ll offer some pearls of wisdom, or my zine, How not to be a dick in the strip club, which I just made available on Amazon again, but this is a gift for strippers.

…I’d love to usher in more women telling their stories. I know it’s not safe to come out, I know I have a ton of privilege that makes it safe—stripping is legal, I’m white, I’m educated—I have a lot of privilege that makes it easier to come out, so I want to use that. I want to start a dialogue. [READ MORE]

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(Image by CarpesTreasures via Flickr)

(Image by CarpesTreasures via Flickr)

Working as a professional submissive often makes you feel like an outsider.

Pro-subs and pro-switches are a relatively rare breed of service provider, which makes our work feel pretty esoteric from the get go. For every one of us, there are many more vanilla, in-person, indoor workers. In part, this could be because the need for resources like fetish equipment and dungeon access means that subbing isn’t an accessible entry point into sex work. However, there is undoubtedly greater stigma and misinformation surrounding the work which deters many people from working as subs. Because we offer services such as restrictive bondage, sensory deprivation, corporal punishment, and erotic masochism, subbing is frequently thought of as intrinsically unsafe. Far too often, we are perceived as having knowingly “put ourselves in harm’s way”, and into the path of sexual violence as an inevitable consequence. I’ve lost track of the appalled responses from both sex workers and civilians when I tell them I let men tie me up and hit me for a living. They fail to grasp that there is a fundamental difference between consensual, pre-agreed upon pain and abuse.

The consequences of this stigma became apparent very quickly when I first started working as a pro-sub in a professional dungeon. The management created an environment in which clients paid for the privilege of foregoing boundary negotiation with subs, and we in turn were paid to ignore these boundaries. By treating us subs as if we had minimal agency, both our clients and we came to believe this was the natural order of things. In my 6 months at my first dungeon—and in the previous years when friends also worked there—none of us could recall a single client being blacklisted for sexual violence, despite the fact that colleagues experienced numerous incidents of assault.

As pro-subs, our work is affected by stigma from within and outside the community. As sex workers, our labor is more stigmatized than other types of work, and as pro-subs, our job is often dismissed by those working in other parts of the sex industry. But why is pro-subbing so marginalized, and what effect does this have on us and our work?

At my first dungeon, the effect was extremely negative. Ostensibly, the setup appeared professional. For a total newbie with no savings, it seemed ideal. Unfortunately, it was a deeply unpleasant place to work. The management bullied and coerced workers, and kept us all isolated and competitive with one another in order to maximize profit. They also went out of their way to appease clients. A key component of this was issuing explicit statements that we subs would willingly take any punishment they wanted to dispense. It was here that I first encountered the attitude that submission is an inherently high-risk service, in which subs are paid to tolerate the non-consensual violence presented as an unavoidable part of the job.

As a skittish baby hooker, I quickly internalized the view that my job was essentially an exercise in mute endurance. If something scared me or hurt me in a way I was not comfortable with, or even if I changed my mind about a scene halfway through, that was my problem.

[READ MORE]

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(Photo by flickr user sharyn morrow, via Creative Commons)

(Photo via sharyn morrow’s flickr and the Creative Commons)

Dungeons are often a launching pad for newbies entering the industry as the work seems safer and often more socially acceptable to the general public. In recent years pro-domme, sub, and switch work has gotten more popular than ever. Meanwhile, commercial dungeon management continues to prey on people entering into the industry looking for an “empowering” job and finding out that it’s the exact opposite.

Serpent Libertine began her career at commercial dungeons in Chicago and later moved onto escort work. She is currently an organizer with SWOP-Chicago and part of the team behind Adult Industry Truth, which conducts research about human trafficking in the sex trade.

Cathryn: I started out doing fetish work independently, mostly spanking fetishists alongside my friend. I transitioned to indie pro-domming and escorting. My first time ever working in a house was last year but I’m back to independent work now. I’m what I like to call a prostidomme. I’m basically an escort, but I do the weird stuff.

Reina: An old friend from high school started Domming at a professional dungeon and told me the work she did at her dungeon was fun, but sometimes the work (and management) was crazy and weird. I was always drawn to the ‘weird and crazy,’ so immediately I was curious about what could possibly be so jarring that she had to leave that place and seek a new dungeon. I was there for a full year before winding up at another commercial dungeon for another year, before going independent in February.

Selene: I have worked as a pro-domme at two commercial dungeons; a year at each one. I learned about it through an acquaintance of mine at school who told me “I’m a Dominatrix.” I was taken by the title and my interest rose until I finally called the dungeon. However, I had no idea as to what was in store.

What was your initial experience working at a commercial dungeon? What sort of expectations did you have?

Serpent: Pro-domme work was my introduction to the sex industry. My roommate was working at a dungeon that this  guy ran out of a basement apartment near Wrigley Field. He resembled the singer Tiny Tim (google him), but was even more creepy looking, with a huge pot belly and frizzy hair. He never showered and had a voice changer on his phone so he could pretend to be one of the dommes while setting up appointments with clients. I’d become well-acquainted with him via phone calls to our apartment asking for my roommate so eventually, I asked to come into his dungeon for an interview to work as a pro-domme. When I arrived, first he first seemed pretty cool and funny, but after talking to him for awhile, he laid down on the ground and began sniffing my feet, without my consent. He would continually talk about these fetish videos he wanted to shoot and ask my roommate and I to do a “screen test” to see how we looked on camera. Later I looked in his kitchen cabinets and found dozens of videotapes, likely of other women who had come into “interview” with him. Tiny Tim dicked me around and never gave me a shift at the dungeon but later phone harassed my roommate by calling her over 20 times a day after she quit working for him. I accompanied her to court when she pressed harassment charges against him and he was ordered to stop contacting her.

After that, I began working at one of the large commercial dungeons in Chicago. If I was nervous at all, I don’t remember, but I had no experience in BDSM activities at all. My training was to sit in on a few sessions with the other dommes and then start doing solo sessions. Our “dungeon” was just an apartment and we sat around bored most of the time, waiting for clients. I had purchased some rather pricey latex fetish clothing but at this place, most of the other dommes did sessions in lingerie or cheap fetish clothing.

[READ MORE]

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(Image via Melissa Gira Grant's twitter account)

(Image via Melissa Gira Grant’s twitter account)

You might recognize this sentiment: the sex workers’ rights movement is funded by “the industry.” We are “the pimp lobby,” whether we’ve ever been in any sort of management role ourselves or not, let alone whether we’ve abused or exploited other workers. You might think it’s pretty easy to laugh at that sort of thing, but if you’ve ever spent any time going through the e-mails that sex workers’ rights organizations receive, you’ll hear a lot of this, even from people and organizations who are sympathetic. They’ll make assumptions about “staff”—”we want to meet your staff”or they want to meet in “your office.”  There are people who try to chat you up about nonprofit careers at events, thinking you have jobs to offer them. And so on. It would be funny if it weren’t so frustrating, and if people with nasty motives didn’t use these assumptions against us.

It’s human to overestimate the resources of others and to underestimate one’s own. But let’s have some real talk.

Management doesn’t want to fund the sex workers rights movement. They do not have an interest in our vision for social change beyond issues of their own legality. Don’t believe me? This is management in action, or more specifically, strip club managers in action, allying themselves with anti-trafficking organizations. Management-directed organizations want to cover their own asses and reap benefits from the REAL money spigot, the anti-trafficking movement, of the “End Demand” variety, funded by former ambassador and current filthy rich lady Swanee Hunt. You’d see the same from escort agencies if they were legal, and you already do see the same from the legal Nevada brothel industry. As it is, some of the individuals in sex work management give us mild, conditional support, sort of the same way clients do. You know the storythey have many more demands than they do contributions. I have never seen any of them donate money.

Radfems, the “pimp lobby” is pretty firmly on YOUR side on this one.

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Bobby explaining club rules (c) Six Island Productions

Bobby explaining club rules (c) Six Island Productions

In one of this film’s first scenes, a manager tells a stripper “I’m fining you $20 because I’m so pissed at you,” while handing her a $40 payment for a shift. She tells him she was scheduled for one shift, she showed up for it and he couldn’t “fine her” or withhold her pay. “I can do whatever I want,” he says. 90 seconds in, and I already have a grudge against the people running this strip club.

Director Shawney Cohen tells us that The Manor, which opened the 2013 Hot Docs film festival in Toronto, is not a documentary about the titular strip club—it is about his family. Shawney’s parents bought the Manor, a combination strip club/downmarket residential hotel in Ontario, when he was a child, and now it’s run as a family business with their two adult sons. The film is more mystifying than revealing, as it cites connections between family disorder, dysfunction and the running of a strip club which are never really clarified. [READ MORE]

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