As an indie-listening escort, I was surprised by the content of August Alsina’s 2014 medley/single, “Grind n’ Pray/Get Ya Money”: “Wait a sec, is this actually an ‘I’m a sex worker’s partner and I understand the economic uncertainty we both suffer because I’m a member of the lumpenproletariat/grey market too’ song?” Most strippers will probably be familiar with Alsina from his track “Porn Star” from the same album, Testimony, but I’m still just discovering the R & B genre and realizing just how much I’ve missed—neither Belle and Sebastian nor the Magnetic Fields are going to be writing a slow jam about the perfect love of a stripper and a drug dealer any time soon.

But Alsina is here to save the day and provide everything the hipster musical canon doesn’t in the touching underclass story this track tells:




Together we can be the ones doing the shakedown. (photo courtesy of Tobias Higbie, from Industrial Pioneer, Februrary 1924)

I’m currently in the beginning stages of suing local Portland strip club Casa Diablo. So of course when last fall the Oregon chapter of the National Association of Social Workers hired lobbyists from lobbying firm Pac/West to find out what protections strippers need and to craft a bill that offers these protections, I was very interested. But by the second meeting it was clear that as far as knowing strippers’ rights was concerned, both groups were starting from a blank slate.

To clear the matter up, I talked via e-mail to Corinna Spencer-Scheurich, a lawyer from the Northwest Workers’ Justice Project, an Oregon organization that represents workers in wage claims, does education and outreach about wage theft, and works on other ways to promote human and labor rights. This fall, Spencer-Scheurich represented a dancer in a lawsuit against Portland club Rose City Strip, which won in arbitration. She’s also done two presentations on the legal rights of strippers for SWOP-PDX.

Red: In most of the country, strippers are working thinking they’re independent contractors.  But are they really?  We’re winning these lawsuits for employee status across the country—Rick’s, Sapphire, Spearmint Rhino, Rose City—what are the indicators of independent contractors status?

Corinna Spencer-Scheurich: Those are a lot of big questions so let me see if I can break it down.  Many workers (including dancers) are treated as independent contractors, when they are actually employees. This happens in a lot of industries.

Red: Like FedEx drivers it turns out! And Uber drivers.

Spencer-Scheurich:  Exactly.  So this is a big problem overall.  It is especially rampant in the exotic dancing industry. Clearly, there are independent contractors who are dancers. The clear cases are where people are headliners or traveling acts, etc. Where they are their own business entity separate from the club. But, there are many more dancers who are employees. And those are the cases that you are seeing dancers bring across the country.

Red:  So to really be an independent contractors would you have to be registered or licensed as your own business?

Spencer-Scheurich: That would be one hallmark of an independent contractor. Another might be that the dancers could actually negotiate their contracts (instead of everyone [being] subject to the same rules).

Red:  So being able to change prices for dances, or [deciding] when they show up to work and leave?

Spencer-Scheurich: Right, the less control the club has over the dancer, the less likely the dancer is going to be an employee. So, you are more likely to be an employee if you are subject to fines, can’t set your own schedule, have to dress a certain way, can’t control how you are paid, etc. No particular factor determines whether you are an employee or [an] independent contractor. Courts just look at the whole picture. One big piece of the whole picture is whether the dancing is an integral part of the club’s business. As we know, strip clubs need strippers.


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You can find the first part of this round table here.

Has anyone had a regular whom they legitimately could not stand? The kind of guy that just wouldn’t go away? Maybe his personality was foul, or maybe he was living in a fantasy world with you? What are some defense mechanisms for coping that with sort of regular?

Leigh:  This can take a couple of forms for me: I’ve had regulars who are really good clients, in the sense of being well-behaved and pleasant, but whose fetishes I’ve found really emotionally draining or just plain gross to accommodate. Then there are the “why on earth do you keep booking me?” guys who will make appointments really consistently, but complain the whole time, appearing generally unhappy with their experience. The professionalism-nerd in me finds the latter much harder to deal with. I can be extra gentle with myself around seeing Mr. Creepy-Fantasies, and tell myself that I’m providing a life-improving service, but guys in the second group are both annoying to spend time with, and leave me feeling like I’m lousy at what I do, which is much more of a blow. If I had to pick a worst-instance, there was a guy who was actually a house-regular at the dungeon where I first started working who probably takes the cake. To start with, he smelled rank. He wore the same the clothing all the time, and it smelled like he didn’t take his trousers off when he had to piss either. But he came in two or three times a week the entire time I was working there, and while he’d go through phases where he’d focus on one woman, and see her once or twice a week, he was remarkably un-picky in whom he saw overall. On top of this, he also didn’t openly have a fetish. You’d ask him what he wanted to do and he’d say “I dunno,” and nothing you tried seemed to get more or less of a rise out of him. And boy, did we try everything, from cross dressing to diapers to floggings to role play to rope bondage. (I don’t think anyone ever tried foot worship, because, well, you wouldn’t even put your feet on him, seriously.) My pet theory was that he wasn’t a submissive at all, that he was actually a top who got off on making women uncomfortable or humiliating them, and his noxious odor was the tool of choice.

I’ve found with tricky regulars, especially as an independent, there’s lots of ways to make them more manageable—whether internally, by scheduling them when you’ll have time to decompress, or when you really need the money, so it feels like an extra-solid accomplishment, or externally, by over time finding ways to defuse their irritating foibles. But I think the biggest single thing that makes it workable is that it’s a really clearly defined time limit: I only have to suck it up for an hour or two, and then I’m done until the next booking. The fact that I know exactly what I’m making and how long it’ll take is a big part of making it sustainable for me. I imagine that I’d have a much harder time working in a club or camming, for that reason, since the hustling gets done while you’re meeting the client, rather than beforehand. This ties right back in to why I focus so much on cultivating regulars in the first place: predictability is a big bonus that’s worth a lot of tradeoffs to me personally. I find not knowing what my week looks like much more stressful than the pushiest, grossest regular.

Caty: ​When I encountered this—”baby I LOVE YOU”, that is—when I was much younger, I used to just take the easy way out and agree to keep seeing them, say, every night for a week, until they ran out of money to see me. I guess I was lucky enough—well, in this sense—to live somewhere where most clients’ incomes just can’t take seeing me several times a week. ​Callous, maybe, but it worked efficiently enough.

Otherwise, often just dropping the pretense of giving a shit will do wonders. That way, you don’t put the besotted client in a Romeo and Juliet situation by blacklisting, making them feel like they have to win you over again and possibly having them turn violent stalker in the process. Rather, they just don’t want to see you anymore because you’re not the girl they thought you were!

Josephine: I wish there were an easy strategy to adhere to. I’ve tried to to pawn them off on younger, more patient dancers. If that didn’t work, there were only two semi-effective methods that did: drinking copiously OR bluntly setting clear boundaries: “I appreciate your generosity, but I hope you know not to expect anything in return.”

Ephemeral: Is it sad that there were quite a few I couldn’t stand? I don’t think I’ve ever had a regular that didn’t get irritating at some point. I will say there is one guy that’s such a headache simply because he is a huge pain to talk to. He’s not rude, or clingy, but he re-defines “bored to death.” The only sex he can stay erect and ejaculate from is very carefully done oral to a small penis suffocating underneath the fat fold of a pudgy lower gut. Yes, it’s as agonizing as it sounds. Throughout this process he is eerily silent. He’s a very awkward kisser and his lips are continuously chapped. Figuring out what he wants in the first place has been a series of trial and error because he seems remarkably indifferent and/or uninterested in everything I do. After I perform the world’s least sexy blowjob, we’re left with 2/3 of the 90 minute booking to talk, or cuddle…except he does neither. He has a gruff, cynical opinion on every conversation topic under the sun. He actively hates, or tastelessly makes fun of everything, including himself and his own life. It leads to a painfully dull interaction, that feels depressing even after he leaves…ugh! When I was too fed up with it, I sat on top of his belly and said these words to him very clearly: “Despite everything else, you’re fucking ME right now, and that’s awesome, so cheer the fuck up.” Now we just talk about me, which is easy, because even with all the cynicism in the world he can’t deny that yes, I AM awesome.



adifferentWhat do most sex workers, from cam girls to escorts, have in common? Their regulars! Whether they’re consistently annoying, consistently charming, or consistently forgettable, they’re certainly an enduring feature of our lives. So we got a stripper, a pro domme, and two escorts into an endless e-mail chain together to see what they came up with on the topic. The round table that follows is an edited version of that conversation. (Read the second part of this round table here.)

Who was your most memorable regular?

Josephine: My favorite was a squirrely little white guy named Sheldon. There are two words that describe him: horny and nerdy. Sheldon was about 5’4″, rail thin, and shamelessly sported a suede fedora (not the douchebag kind, the Indiana Jones kind). He’d breeze into the club about once every two weeks unannounced, skip buying a drink, and grab me for dances. While I danced he’d rattle off [the plot of] the latest fantasy or science fiction book he’d read. I gave him a copy of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? for his birthday and within a few days he e-mailed a proper book report. Sheldon was some sort of layman but he always wanted to be a writer. The most endearing thing he ever was did was write a short fantasy story about me. I can’t remember what it was about except that I was a mermaid princess and he ad’hered to a go’ofy fantas’y dialect that used lots of apos’trophes and acc’ents.

Leigh Alanna: For a couple of years, I’ve had a standing weekly appointment with an older regular. And I do mean regularevery week, Sunday night, eight o’clock. Even the staff in the deli nearby know me, and have a coffee waiting for me at 7:45. Still, we’ve always sent each other a confirmation e-mail sometime in the couple of days before. One Sunday morning, instead of waking up to a friendly “Hey, same bat-time, same bat-network?”, I got an e-mail from his daughter telling me that her father had had a fall and while he was fine, he was going to be in the hospital for a couple of days and wouldn’t be able to make our appointment. I thanked her for letting me know, and sent appropriate good wishes, but entirely lacked the stones to ask her (or later, him) who she thought she was e-mailing. Did she know she was writing to her dad’s dominatrix? Or was I some bright young mentee?

Ephemeral: Probably the nightclub guy. He was in finance, mid-forties, a young face that didn’t match a rapidly aging hairline. He loved to take me out to all the “sexy spots” (his words) in the Meatpacking District and LES. We would go out “late”10 PM. Which was great because I don’t know anyone who gets there before 1 AM. He drank way too much, and hated drinking alone. He was too tall for how bad his dancing was. Afterwards, he’d take me home to fuck while 80’s rock blasted from a sound system: “ITS SUCH A RUSH, YOU KNOW?”  The moment of giving a blowjob while the Eagles played and him saying this line is the only time I’ve ever felt ashamed of myself as a sex worker. He had no idea what he was doing with his life, but the Ivy League degree, and two story Manhattan apartment would suggest that he didn’t need to stop and re-evaluate. Just keep drinking, just keep trying to dance, keep buying hot girls to dance with him. He was constantly perplexed as to why I couldn’t stay the night for the same rate, because “we’re having so much fun!” I’ll never forget anything that infuriating.

Caty: My weirdest regulars were the ones I inherited when I first started working, from the group of women who trained me–the same dysfunctional frequent callers we all saw. You know, guys like the gambling addict who was the only one we all trusted to pay with a check, a guy who had what looked like elephantitis of the balls, who’d go through every outcall in total, eerie silence.

There was the pretentious ex-military officer whose dick was literally as big as a baby’s arm holding an apple. He’d boast, “Oooh, the girls are all afraid of it at first, but then they’re bouncing up and down on it like there’s no tomorrow!” My rule with him was that as soon as I said stop, he had to pull out no matter what. One time, I told him to get off me and he just kept keening, “Oh, baby, I’m almost there, I’m so close…” So in a display of hysterical strength, I flipped him off of me and he sailed over the bed ass over teakettle, landing headfirst into a lamp. After that I had his perfect obedience.

Then there’s Rick, the most entitled, whiny Jew boy I ever did meet—and having grown up in the Russian Jewish community, I know from whiny Jew boys. There’s nothing atypical or particularly memorable about him except for the fact that he’s everything that annoys me about clients taken to the nth degree. When I first started to see him he used to complain to the other escorts about me, because I wouldn’t massage his pasty white anus—”she has a shitty attitude!” I always wanted to point out that I might have a shitty attitude, but he had a shitty ass. Nowadays whenever I see him he always goes on at length about how FAT one of our mutual escort friends has gotten and how DISGUSTING it is. I always want to turn his face to the mirror to look at his washed out, chubby, bald self head on, but so far I’ve resisted the temptation. Rick is a pharmacist, but that’s never allowed me any drug-related advantages. He’s always wondering why he can’t get a date while complaining vociferously and at misogynistic length about every woman he meets over dating sites. He’s also the one client I ever worried might DIE while in session with mehe came in to see me once right after getting stung by a bee in the parking lot of my incall, and his allergies were so severe I thought I’d have to out him in order to call an ambulance for him for a few minutes till he gathered himself enough to drive himself to the ER. Death by allergies—so stereotypically whiny Jew boy, if you’ll pardon my self-hating anti-Semitism.



Ms. HR wants the best for you and your bun in the oven. (image via Flickr user trialsanderrors)

Ms. HR wants the best for you and your bun in the oven. Though you probably won’t want to nurse your tot if you’re on methadone after it’s born. (“Nurse the Baby” poster by Erik Hans Krause, via Wikipedia Commons)

All the queries Ms. Harm Reduction answers are actual questions from readers. If you have a quandary related to drugs, sex, work, or any of the other pitfalls and pleasures of life that you need Ms. Harm Reduction’s solution for, please write in at

Dear Ms. Harm Reduction,
I’m a recovering addict/alcoholic stripper (20 months clean) and I just found out my best friend at work is a pregnant heroin addict. I’m one of the only people who knows she is pregnant, and I’ve been trying to talk her into getting some prenatal care as well as food stamps and WIC because she never seems to have enough to eat. Last week I learned that she doesn’t want to go to the doctor about her pregnancy because she’s a heroin addict. The resident dope dealer/stripper [at work] (also a pretty close friend) confided in me that she is also worried about her. I always thought she was falling asleep at work because she works too much but now I realize she was nodding off, and now I also understand why she never has enough money despite doing well at dancing and why she’s so underweight. Lately, she’s been looking extra pale, dark circles under her eyes, and crying a lot. I’m worried. I know she’s hiding her addiction from me because she knows I’m in recovery and because I’m somewhat of a mentor to her and she doesn’t want to disappoint me. I also understand firsthand the painful shame that often accompanies drug addiction.

I don’t want to embarrass her or make her feel defensive, but I also want to let her know that I do love her regardless and most importantly I would like to give her some information about harm reduction. Is there a way I can go about this that won’t feel invasive? I know a former sex worker who works at a harm reduction center that will give her clean needles. I’ve also been hearing a lot about a bad batch of heroin that’s been going around my city. We’ve had a huge spike in overdoses and I want to make sure she knows it’s out there.

And finally, what the hell is a pregnant drug addict supposed to do? Will she be arrested when her baby tests positive for heroin? Drug addict or not, she needs prenatal care. I can understand the difficult position she is in.

I’m not naive enough to think I can talk her out of her addiction, but I also don’t want her to feel like she needs to hide it from me. I want her to know I’m not judging her and that I’m here to help her if she decides she needs it.


Girl On Opiates is a Great, Amazing Homey