“But how should I address the invitations?” the young brunette across from me asked.
“Husband first, so ‘Mr and Mrs blank,’” advised the older woman next to her, and everyone nodded.
I blinked and made a note, tried not to look confused or judgmental. I was at a planning meeting for It’s a Cupcake Christmas!, a benefit for the Cupcake Girls. They talked about logistics, about raffle prizes, about how much money they wanted to raise, and I played with my mug of tea, not sure what to make of these nice ladies who bring cupcakes to strippers, all of whom were younger than me and married.
Their mission statement reads, “We exist to bring non-judgmental support, consistent caring, community resources and peace, love and cupcakes to women in the adult entertainment industry.”
It sounds simple, but I didn’t get it. That’s why I was there, because I didn’t know what to make of them. This was like a “behind the scenes with the Cupcake Girls!” deal, and we’d scheduled a real sit-down interview over tea the upcoming week and between the two of those I hoped to have a better grasp on what was up with them. In the meantime I wanted to make the most of my sneak peek into how they worked but I kept getting sidetracked by questions like “Who goes first on the invitation?” I didn’t even know people my age cared about such things outside of like, Gossip Girl.
The first time I heard of the Cupcake Girls I was really confused. “The Cupcake what?”
My friend tried to explain:
“They’re Christians, they bring cupcakes to the club and spread the message of the Lord.”
“They bring actual cupcakes?”
“I think sometimes they do hair and makeup too. But they’re trying to make church look less scary and win Christ followers.”
I couldn’t wait to meet these people.
Missionary outreach to sex workers is not as unusual as it may sound. I’d already met some sex industry missionaries in my years of stripping; one of my good friends tried to convert me by giving me Jesus Loves PornStars, a New Testament put out by xxxchurch, who translated it into stripperese for the benefit of a supposedly borderline illiterate population (sample: “So, since we’re out from under the old tyranny, does that mean we can live any old way we want? Since we’re free in the freedom of God, can we do anything that comes to mind? Hardly…As long as you did what you felt like doing, ignoring God, you didn’t have to bother with right thinking or right living, or right anything for that matter. But do you call that a free life? What did you get out of it? Nothing you’re proud of now. Where did it get you? A dead end.” [Romans 6:22 Jesus Loves PornStars].)
Cupcake activism sounded way more normal and less offensive in comparison. It turns out I’m not the only one to think so: Laura Lasky, the founder of cupcake missionary activism, worked with XXXChurch before moving on to found Solace in San Francisco in 20081. If you google “cupcake christians” you’ll find them all over the west and southwest states, bringing cupcakes to brothels and to strip clubs. While most have overtly missionary overtones, the Cupcake Girls are now very vocally a non-religious non-profit.
So I had questions. Like, was my friend right? Are they covertly missionary? Why else would they do this? Why strippers? Why not people more urgently in need of services and advocacy? What do they think of us? Do they think we need to be saved? Where do they get money for this? Does it come with strings attached? How do they understand the sex industry?
I didn’t get any revelatory answers. The Cupcake Girls—at least the Portland branch—are what they say they are: really well-intentioned people who want to support a marginalized and stigmatized population by providing them with local resources and a friendly space. They do this by acting as a bridge between strippers and service providers, whether that’s connecting a woman to low cost health services or more directly, through helping a dancer move, or helping with resume writing. Full disclosure: I even got my chance to call on them for help a month after our first interview: in the midst of moving, a hitherto unknown eviction started showing up on my credit report. I texted Amy (one of the volunteers I interviewed) to ask if she knew of any legal resources and she gave me the number to the Lewis and Clark legal clinic. The legal clinic was unable to help, but did give me the number to the courthouse, where they looked through the eviction records to tell me that ultimately, though it was ruining my credit, the case had been dismissed and I could pick up a copy of the dismissal to show to future landlords.
I spoke with Bri, the director of the Portland Cupcake Girls, and Amy, their Chief of Communications, in November. The following is edited and condensed from the in-person interview and follow up questions via email that include answers from Nadia, a former stripper who volunteers with the Cupcake Girls.
I was looking at the website and I saw the Vegas [Cupcake] Girls have so much going on. Is that your goal, to have a halfway house and educational resources?
Bri: Yeah, definitely. They don’t have all those things now; they have a Women’s Resource Center, so that is their office and resource center in one. They also have support groups, weekly support groups, which we call Coffee and Cupcakes cause they’re not necessarily like, support groups, just like a time where women from the industry can come talk about whatever’s going on.
Amy: And they’re also almost two and a half years older than us, so we keep thinking, all right, you know, in two years, we’re gonna do this.
How do you get the resources together for dental [services], do you partner with people, like Outside In [a local clinic/shelter for homeless youth specifically but also homeless and uninsured adults]?
Amy: We partner with doctors, dentists, lawyers, we reach out to people constantly; if there’s a need that comes up when we’re in the club and if someone’s saying—we had something happen where a girl commented on our Facebook, she was like ‘hey, my teeth are killing me, I really need to go to the dentist,’ and we were able to reach out to [Oregon Health Sciences University], whom we partnered with, and they were able to help her at a very discounted rate, to not only take care of both of her teeth but also give her porcelain crowns and she said it was under $100.
…And then really practical people’s resources too, Northwest Children’s Outreach just reached out to us and they were able to provide us with a brand new, absolutely free breast pump for one of our girls who needed a breast pump, and diapers for the family that’s taking care of the baby and like all this just really practical stuff too. So we’re able to help on different levels.
That’s nice, because I never really think of dentists or doctors as… altruistic.
Bri: And some people too, back on just the individual people, they just want to do something. Like me, I’m a hairstylist and before I was volunteering I was like, ‘how can I do something where I’m using my skill to volunteer, give back, or do something good?’ We just had a counselor donate five sessions at a very discounted rate. Her being a counselor, she’s like, she wanted something where she could use her skills to help others. So there’s that too. People wanting to volunteer, maybe they don’t have money, but they have their time.
So how did you each get involved with the Cupcake Girls? How did you hear about it and then how did you get involved? Were you in Vegas?
Bri: So, I heard about it probably three years ago, and I actually heard about it through my parents. They were in Vegas, that’s where it started obviously, and they had met Joy and Phil, the couple that founded it, and came back and told me about it and were raving about them: ‘You would love Joy and Phil, this is what they do–’
How did they meet, just socially, were they at a strip club–?
Bri: Um, they, no. They were actually, they heard Joy speak, and I don’t know where, it was at some conference then in Las Vegas and they heard Joy speak at it. My parents were actually down there with their church, they lived in Utah, they were down with their church doing something, like with other people, and. I don’t know. Wound up hearing Joy speak at something down there. And then so they told me about it and I was like, ‘That’s awesome! but, I’m up here and that’s down there.’ And then exactly two years ago when Cupcake Girls started here I heard, from my parents again, that were kind of still connected, just through people, to Joy and Phil, and they said Cupcake Girls was in Portland. And I said ‘Really? that’s amazing,’ because I had been, like a few months prior I had been like, ‘Okay, I need to volunteer,’ cause I never had before, I didn’t grow up volunteering, I just didn’t. I’m like, ‘I need to be.’ And the more I looked at different opportunities, I was like, ‘Ehhhh,’ I mean there’s good stuff happening, but nothing like, really just grabbed me. Until I heard the Cupcake Girls were here and I was immediately like, ‘Okay, that’s what I’m supposed to be doing.’ And then also cause I am a hair stylist, just knowing that–cause typically, I know we haven’t done this at [your club] but typically we do hair and–
I know, somebody corrected me on Instagram [saying the Cupcake Girls do more than distribute cupcakes] and I was like ‘Ohh, I’m sorry,’ I sounded snide, ‘We only get cupcakes.’
Bri: No, we’re just not allowed in your dressing room.
Amy: I’m glad you said that though, because now we’re like, we need to bring them special cupcakes. We totally need to.
Bri: We do. So, in some of our clubs we actually go and hang out in the dressing room, which is awesome because then you get more of that one on one time. And so doing hair for girls in the clubs just sounded like really fun and like a way that I could use what I can do. And so I pretty much started volunteering immediately, and just started off going in to clubs once a month and slowly started doing more and more, and here I am today.
Amy: I’ve always kind of volunteered, my dad was really passionate about giving back and using your life as a way to like, take care of other people and not just take care of yourself. So I remember being five and walking around with a napkin and trying to get people to sign up to give things to the homeless, you know, it’s just always been where I’ve been at, mentally.
And I started a non-profit in Eugene, just giving back to homeless teens and then I moved to Portland for a job and left that behind and just felt like something was missing from my life and was talking with a couple of my friends and my friend Sunya had gone to school with a girl who was volunteering with the Cupcake Girls and she was like ‘This would be such a great fit for you, I really think this would be something that you’d like,’ and then she ended up going to the Justice Conference , where the Cupcake Girls were at. And she was like, ‘Amy, no, you need to go,’ and I was like, ‘I don’t know, this maybe will be good,’ and then I went and I was like [urgently] ‘this is it’ and I’ve been going ever since.
What’s the Justice Conference?
Amy: It’s this massive thing, I think it’s like 500 different non-profits or something, that are, over a three day period, given time to talk about who they are and what they do, whether it would be having a table or actually speaking in front. It’s just a way to motivate non-profits to keep doing what they’re doing and pull people in to get involved.
[To quote from the Justice Conference site: “The Justice Conference has grown to become one of the largest international gatherings on social and biblical justice. The vision of the conference is to reach tens of thousands of people over the next decade through an annual gathering that educates, inspires and connects a generation to a shared concern for the vulnerable and oppressed.”]
Is [Cupcake Girls’] mission still faith-based, or was it to begin with?
Bri: It is not—we’re a non-religious non-profit. I don’t know technically what it was in the beginning, I don’t think it was anything? For over a year we’ve been registered [as] a non-religious non-profit.
When did you first get involved, and did you immediately get involved or did you mull it over for a while? I know strip clubs can seem like these kinda weird/intimidating spaces.
Amy: When I joined Cupcake Girls, I JOINED. I was at every meeting, I wanted to be involved in every discussion, and I was PUMPED. I wanted to know everything inside and out. When I joined the meet-up team—the team of 5 girls that goes into the clubs and offers free hair, makeup, lashes, and cupcakes—I had NEVER been into a strip club in my life. I was a little nervous, but I was mostly nervous that I wasn’t cool enough haha! That first night was a blast though and I was hooked.
Nadia: I heard about Cupcake Girls through a community event, and it was actually perfect because for some time I had a desire to volunteer. I was a dancer a few years ago and because of what I went through, I knew I wanted to work with women and girls. Not that every girl in the club has a tragic story or a hard life, but when I was dancing I was in a bad spot and I wanted to be there for these women in a way no one was there for me.
Do you have interactions with customers when you visit the clubs? Do they ever come up and want to know what’s going on?
Bri: Yes, sometimes. They usually just want our cupcakes and we tell them they are only for the girls working but if they really want one they can pay $20. No one has ever paid up, haha.
Amy: We respect that we’re walking into a business and we treat it as such.
We have mostly no interaction with the customers. The clubs are a place of business and we have a job to do as well. We come in, offer free services, free cupcakes, and we leave. We take what the girls are doing in the clubs very seriously. It is how they are making their money, and we do our best to not interfere with that.
A lot of dancers, myself included, believed that you focused on active, missionary-style outreach; as well as a rescue mission. Where do you think that comes from? How does faith inform your volunteer work, if it does?
Bri: The Cupcake Girls is not a faith-based organization. We are not trying to get girls out of the industry. I don’t know where those opinions come from, other than there not being any other organizations like us that I know about, with no agenda. We are simply here to care for and love on women! We do complimentary [sic] hair and makeup in most of the clubs we visit. We give birthday gifts, and bring gifts in on some holidays.
Nadia: I myself am a Christian, but it’s not my mission to be a missionary. There are religious organizations that go into the clubs, but we are not affiliated with them. For me the reason I am a part of Cupcake Girls is because they’re not here to save/ take anyone out of the industry, but to empower these girls and women and to really reiterate to them that they are amazing, beautiful, smart people worth everything. I know from personal experience that it’s an industry that takes a lot [out of you] and sometimes you are marginalized because of judgmental uninformed attitudes.
I was googling you guys and found this post. This paragraph gave me pause:
Joy coolly said to the guy, “Oh really? Yeah, maybe. Hey, do me a favor. The next time you’re at the strip club, take a look back at the bar. You’ll see all these big dudes sitting there. You might as well walk up to those guys and give them your money, because that’s where all your money is going. You didn’t just fund her law school or pay for her nails. You just helped sell her to him. You just helped her stay in bondage to that guy, and the more money he gets, the more incentive he has to continue to exploit her. So keep giving him the big bills, buddy.”
Bri: I think we all agree that this should not have been in the article and we are going to ask to have it taken out. This was said by a volunteer in Las Vegas [Joy Contreras, not to be confused with Joy Hoover—ed]* who had a daughter that was trafficked, so she said these things coming from a totally different place than most. I apologize for this offending anyone, that was not the intention.
Amy: This article makes it seem like The Cupcake Girls is made up of people from one religious background and this is just not the case. Our volunteers are a beautiful eclectic mix of people from all walks of life and backgrounds.
One coworker described you guys as “house moms.” Would you say that’s an accurate description of what you’re going for?
Amy: Someone once called us HR for dancers and that has really stuck with me.
At my job I have really great insurance and a really great HR team. I was feeling depressed a few winters ago and I went to HR and asked them what was covered on our insurance. They printed me out a really nice list of people I could see, and followed up with me to see if I was able to see them. They wanted to make sure I was ok.
That’s how I see The Cupcake Girls [in relation] to the adult entertainment industry. We’re here for you if and when you need us. If you don’t feel like you have a need that’s TOTALLY fine! Take a cupcake and some free lashes! If you DO need something let’s sit down and talk about how we can assist you!
Nadia: Personal[ly], I really have no experience with House Moms, but as long as the girls feel we are there for them and feel supported by us and know that we are there with no condition just to love on them with no judgment. That is what is really important to me. I want the girls to know that we don’t want/ expect anything from them, we are just there to empower them in their lives, whether it be them feeling great about dancing and loving their lives or [whether] they choose another path.
What could a dancer who wanted help from you with career counseling, health care, or legal services expect?
Bri: If a dancer wanted to get in touch with us they can call, text, email or go to our website. We then like to schedule a meeting so we can get a better idea of how we can help, and so we can find out if there is one specific need or many. If there are many we usually prioritize and try to get things started as soon as possible. Sometimes waiting for an appointment with one of our resources can take a few weeks if it’s not urgent. Some things are a process that would take a few meetings, like building a resume. If there is an urgent need we will work our hardest to get that need met, even if it’s not a connection we have made yet.
What are some success stories you’ve had with helping women in the industry in Portland? Full disclosure here, Amy was super helpful in getting me the number of the Lewis & Clark legal clinic when it turned out a former landlord started eviction paperwork after I moved out; so I’ve also availed myself of your services!
Bri: I’ve personally helped girls rebuild their resumes who have wanted to get a second job; connected girls to a financial advisor who has helped them with money management; helped a girl who was in an accident get in to see a chiropractor; delivered a car seat to a mother in need; brought cupcakes to a kid’s class for her birthday; and helped get Christmas gifts for a family with many kids who didn’t have the funds to buy gifts.
Amy: We have connected a girl to discounted counseling, through which she was able to be diagnosed with schizophrenia and receive medication, all at discounted costs. We got a phone call from a girl at 12:30am who’d just heard that her boyfriend was hospitalized while she was at work. We picked her up and took her to the hospital and that entire weekend kept checking in on her, sitting with her in the waiting room, buying her food, and whatever else she needed to make sure she knew she was supported. We were able to help a girl who was making as little as 7 dollars a day prove her income and receive government assistance.
Nadia: A story that really stuck out to me was a girl I met last year. We had met a couple times and I had helped her look for another job and just hung out and listened to her. She texted me and said she was three months clean and sober and living back with her mom. She then proceeded to thank me for being there for her, listening, and just giving her support and advice. I struggled with substance abuse in the past, so I knew what a huge step that was for her and it was so awesome knowing that I was there to encourage her.
I want to appreciate and acknowledge good intentions, the impulse to make the world a better and kinder place in whatever way possible. But it’s complicated because I do feel that the trendiness of strippers in the early 21st century has a lot to do with this enthusiastic charity work: We’re very in right now and we’re also safe (indoors) and by and large easy to access and interact with.
In her Ted Talk, Cupcake Girls founder Joy Hoover (like Lasky, an XXXChurch alum) comes across as patronizing and clueless, confusing problems of poverty and access (poor dental health, precarious housing), problems endemic in marginalized communities, and rates of sexual assault against women in the United States, with problems inherent to the sex industry. Volunteers post glowing stories about her sticking it to the man, telling strip club customers that they’re contributing to our oppression and exploitation. I happen to believe that strippers are financially exploited—through stage fees and other payouts—but I’m not sure she’s helping us any by telling random customers that by giving us money they’re keeping us exploited and in bondage, rather than, um, simply compensating us for our labor. What does she suggest as an alternative? (Besides supporting Cupcake Girls.)
Surely we would expect more nuance and understanding from the self-proclaimed “stripper whisperer”? She must understand that some of the money does actually go to us, and that most of us are acting on our own agency—perhaps we don’t enjoy that mythical “empowerment” everybody talks about, but we definitely actively choose to participate in the sex industry. Then again, maybe she really doesn’t get it. She does refer to herself as “the stripper whisperer.” If this is the head of the organization, the founder, how much nuance and understanding can we expect from the rest of the organization? There appears to be a disconnect between Hoover and her volunteers, the women who come into the club to try and offer support to a stigmatized population. But without more transparency and frank discussion of the ways in which Hoover’s vision—and more than that, the national conversation around sex work—might be limited or wrong, it’s hard to tell how much more sex worker positive the volunteers themselves are than their leader is.
On one level I think the Portland Cupcake Girls are exactly what they seem to be: a bunch of stripper and cupcake-loving Christians who focus their passionate activism on strip clubs. It’s sort of refreshing in contrast to the furious and limited conversation around trafficking limiting so much sex work activism. On another, I still have all these questions that I don’t know how to get answers to: Why strippers? Is it how transgressive and cool we are, without the dirty illegal status of full service workers? When I think about people who need outreach, who need help getting access to resources, who might need food, I think of survival sex workers, I think of street sex workers. Without trying to construct a bullshit hierarchy, I think it’s fair to say that strippers are pretty privileged. We’re marginalized and financially exploited, but we don’t face the same level of stigma and discrimination that many other sex workers do. It feels weird and disingenuous to be pouring this much energy into this kind of activism for a population that is by and large doing okay.
And then I reprimand myself for being such a judgmental liberal. I believe that good intentions matter. Not for everything, and not indefinitely—Laura Lasky’s still-murky dealings with Solace and the trail of bad feelings she left in her wake are arguments against the feel-good bandaid of “But they mean well!” Still, I harken back to the eight levels of charity in Judaism. Even a mitzvah, a good deed, done publicly and for cool cred is still a mitzvah…just not a very good one. And it’s not like strippers don’t need resources or help with legwork getting to them. Maybe not all activism has to be centered around people with the most immediate need. Maybe some of it can be fun and involve pink frosting.
But we need to be careful. There’s an ambivalence present here in the emphasis on Cupcake Girls as a fun social activity that volunteers can do for themselves, as self improvement or because it makes them feel good. Of course it’s good to enjoy volunteer work: it’s free labor, done to benefit other people, and the burnout rate is high. It’s good to enjoy what you do, but not everything can be enjoyable. Some of the most necessary work that needs to happen around sex work is messy and frustrating. It tends to require in-depth knowledge of and familiarity with the people you want to support. And if volunteering is something you do for yourself, where does that position the ostensible object of your benevolent intentions? How long can you keep going if you start to receive the kind of hate that actual sex workers’ rights activists (and actual sex workers) get? If you’re doing charity work to feel good, how far can you take it? How much research do you do into the feelings, needs, legal problems, and issues of the population you’re attempting to serve? Who monitors your work? How do you ensure that the targeted population’s needs are being met? What if they express needs or desires you disagree with?
There’s a power imbalance when non-marginalized people work with marginalized communities, one that’s magnified when the communities are as scrutinized as sex workers are. It’s the same imbalance that allows sex workers to be seen as objects to be studied, while other groups (bankers, for example) pass by without scrutiny because they are so ostensibly “normal” (and moral). The complex lived realities of sex workers and the structural issues of sex work aren’t commonly understood, which explains Hoover’s confusion of problems of access—problems that are endemic to marginalized and stigmatized communities—with issues of abuse inherent to the sex industry. Objectification becomes a risk when the focus is moved from the subject in need of aid to the [good] feelings or emotions of the person proffering it.
It’s harsh to point out that someone’s best intentions may not be enough, or may not be what matters the most. I do actually think nothing but the best of the specific Cupcake Girls I’ve interacted with. I think they’re kind and full of good intentions, and uninterested in pushing a message about Christ’s love. They seem relatively innocuous, but I can’t resolve that with how cagey they were about Joy Hoover’s statements and about religion, and how they obfuscated the religious content of the Justice Conference and the Cupcake Girls themselves. I discussed my mixed feelings with some social worker friends of mine, who pointed out that irregularities or questionable statements are acceptable on a small, human scale, but they raise warning signs from the head of a growing organization with ambitions on a national scale. When local volunteers choose to affiliate with a national organization, they affiliate with the larger organization’s beliefs and politics, and they reinforce that choice when they don’t act as a voice of dissent within that organization. That’s my issue: as sweet as the individual volunteers were, I don’t trust Hoover and the framework she’s created, or her emphasis on dancers as pimped and trafficked. I think she’s ill-informed and invested in a narrative that doesn’t require her to become better informed—one that posits hair stylist Joy Hoover as just as knowledgeable about our lives, jobs, and realities as we are (if not more so, since we may be biased). There is good work that volunteers may be able to do within this framework–helping dancers move, connecting them with dental resources—but I don’t know about how this work will help these dancers in the long term and on a larger scale. If the Cupcake Girls were to familiarize themselves with structural issues facing sex workers and engage with and involve dancers further in their work, they’d have a better chance of creating meaningful change.
1. Solace SF closed in February after an internal audit into all of the organization’s activities; at the same time, Lasky filed for divorce and disappeared. Whether Solace did many of the things the website had claimed–whether it did much beyond deliver cupcakes, is open to question. In an interview with SF Weekly Lasky admitted “that roughly 70 percent of her time was spent on cupcake outreach.”↩
*editorial clarification made 05/12/14
Thank you for this. I’ve always been deeply uncomfortable with these organizations but couldn’t quite articulate why, but you hit the nail on the head. It’s really a shame that there is such a dearth of organizations providing actual compassionate, understanding, nonjudgmental support for sex workers in the form of services (as opposed to political and social spaces). Outside of legal services like the Sex Workers Project, the only one I know of is Abeni in Orange County.
Thank you for writing and going behind the scenes. This confirms my thoughts and feelings about the Cupcake Girls and others with a similar mission. I’m uncertain about “outreach” in most forms, it feels like “rescue” in a pretty disguise. With good credibility, the people who want help can reach out, it’s on their terms, rather than the organizations. Credibility takes time to establish and many want to do the work before deeply understanding.
TBH it’s hard to argue with free/low-cost dental care and legal services, as someone who has been in dire need of both but unable to afford them. A huge part of the reason I do SW is to pay off debt related to such expenses.
I wish the Cupcake Girls helped SWs in other areas of the industry!
I will be completely frank, I asked for some help from them in a couple instances thinkinking they had hook ups left and right or could help out with all the cash they get at benefits; unfortunately calling them is just like calling 211 information or looking at a rose city resource guide, but with a two or three day delay.
But Lord they are nice women.
That’s disappointing and has been my exact experience with most types of volunteer orgs in my city – nothing offered beyond what I can google. But maybe helpful to folks who lack internet access.
[…] It’s also timely that this piece at Tits and Sass was published yesterday by a local dancer. I really appreciate the complexity and nuance Red discusses, and she does it well: Love and Frosting: A Conversation with Portland’s Cupcake Girls […]
Great work. OH, and for more eye-rolling, look at stripchurch.com….
Thanks for this! I was really interested in how you looked at your ambivalent feelings. As a San Franciscan who worked with Laura Lasky, I wanted to mention that I always assumed she wouldn’t participate in political actions. I never invited her because of my assumptions, and was very surprised when she did turn up and even made political statements to the media at a demonstration protesting the ways sex workers were silenced and targeted in the context of anti-trafficking campaigns and stings.
Anyway, in the mix of all my ambivalent feelings (that resemble yours) I hold out some hope that some rights based activism can emerge from projects that spin off from this.
This issue makes me think about the issue of allies and sex workers in general (not the subject of your report, just thoughts). When I did street outreach with condoms and referrals, I felt that, although a sex worker, in that context, I was primarily an ally, as many sex workers are who do outreach, no?
The ramifications of identity politics are could be examined more in our movement. There is much rhetoric about participation and identity and it’s helpful, like ‘Nothing About Us Without Us,’ which I love, but when I am getting ready to use it…
Anyway, I am eager to see further discussions about sex workers and allies, about positive ways we can work together. I have seen some materials about how allies should support sex workers, but also think there is more that could guide us. My personal explorations in this are about how the sex worker movement could be more emotionally healthy and supportive for sex workers and our communities.
Maybe folks have seen this analysis about relationship with allies:
Interesting article and a worthy discussion. One thing I’d advise is get to know the cupcake girls better. While this article is well-written and well-intended, there are a lot of assumptions and opinions being made off of one interview and reading some blogs, etc..Actions speak louder than words and if you take the time to see them in “action”, especially the founder Joy H, I think you will be impressed and less skeptical (maybe not:)
I had the opportunity to spend a month in Las Vegas and a week in Portland with the CCG and not only attended meetings, events, etc… but I got to spend personal time with them outside of work. While its not a long time, I think it gave me a unique perspective of the CCG. They are an amazing group of women (and a few men) and they are about as real as you can get.
Yes, you should feel skeptical and we need to hold organizations like the CCG accountable for how and why they do what they do. Informed discussions are great and needed but the key word is “informed”.
People would immediately discredit the CCG if all they did was write about the sex industry based on some interviews they did with women. Most of society observes from the “outside” and this contributes to the marginalization of many communities in the world. This goes to the heart of what the CCG are about in that they want to “live life” with the women. Not because they feel sorry for them but because they see them as amazing women who have a lot in common with them.
Why the sex industry? I’ll let Joy H explain that the next time you meet her. Again, you should feel skeptical of their intentions but I can assure you her story is real, sincere, and unlike many others I’ve heard (I’ve done a lot of work in the non-profit world all around the world). Its not about her, its not about saving the world, its not about a “mission”. Its about finding common ground and even admiration in a part of society that is often marginalized and offering unconditional love, just like she’d want. Joy H, and the other women of the CCG live this out in all areas of their lives, not just with women of the sex-industry. Its just who they are.
Again, this is a great discussion. I just wanted to offer my insight for what its worth.
I felt like this article was really kind, fair, reasonable – and really didn’t paint the CCG in a bad light at all.
It sounds like Red spent significantly more time with the Cupcake Girls and invested more energy in creating discussions with and researching them than the average stripper they might come into contact with during their volunteering. That is to say, if somebody from the Cupcake Girl’s target population who really took the time to get to know the Cupcake Girls well came away with such a very different view of them than you have, we can certainly assume they’re not projecting themselves any better to the strippers with whom they have much more limited contact.
If the Cupcake Girls don’t look to a stripper like they look to you, and if the Cupcake Girls want to help strippers, they need to do more work to present the version of themselves that you see, especially considering that most of the time, they’ll have to communicate that version of themselves with far fewer interactions and in-depth conversation than Red provided. The answer to this different in perception isn’t that Red should’ve gotten to know them better (nor should any stripper be required to do so — they’re the target population for this organization, they shouldn’t be asked to do any work on the organization’s behalf). The question is, why after interviewing, interacting with, and interviewing the Cupcake Girls was Red not able to know the version of them that you do? It’s not on strippers to get to know the Cupcake Girls better — it’s on the Cupcake Girls to take this information, learn from it, and present themselves more accurately in the future.
Yes, I think the article intended to be written fairly and honestly. I think you did your best to understand the CCG as much as you could from an interview and other media. I don’t believe you set out to with any agenda other than to understand the CCG and it was a solid attempt. I just don’t think it was enough to get the full picture and I assume you have a large audience who respects your thoughts and opinions and I wanted to give a different perspective.
Below is just one quote I took to shine Joy H (and thus the CCG) in a negative light:
“I don’t trust Hoover and the framework she’s created, or her emphasis on dancers as pimped and trafficked. I think she’s ill-informed and invested in a narrative that doesn’t require her to become better informed—one that posits hair stylist Joy Hoover as just as knowledgeable about our lives, jobs, and realities as we are (if not more so, since we may be biased).”
First of all Joy Hoover does not have a framework of dancers being “pimped out”. I assume you got this impression from the blog post your quoted that talked about helping strippers stay in bondage to their pimps and being exploited. If so, the quote was not Joy Hoover’s, the founder of CCG, rather it was a different Joy who volunteers with the CCG (a volunteer with personal experience). Bri even explained this in your interview. Second, Joy H and all the women work with the CCG strive to understand the lives of women in the sex industry. Just like you would with a friend. They recognize their limited understanding and because of this, they don’t dwell on the differences and focus on the many similarities that exist amongst all the women involved.
“In her Ted Talk, Cupcake Girls founder Joy Hoover (like Lasky, an XXXChurch alum) comes across as patronizing and clueless, confusing problems of poverty and access (poor dental health, precarious housing), problems endemic in marginalized communities, and rates of sexual assault against women in the United States, with problems inherent to the sex industry.”
First of all, if you knew Joy’s relationship with XXXChurch, you would better understand why she separated herself from them. Her philosophy and approach is very different than XXX’s and you can’t associate her with them. Second, words like patronizing and clueless are pretty strong and not very complimentary of Joy or the CCG. Again, you make judgements and strong statements like these based on a 20 minute video you watched. Its not fair and not accurate. Its good for internet entertainment but attempts like this only contribute to uninformed belief systems that are harmful to society.
I would encourage you to spend some time with the CCG to get a real understanding of what they are about. While there may be differences, I think you’ll find they have a lot in common with you and they really are out to live life with people from all walks of life.
While we may differ in our opinions, I welcome the discussion.
I am not the author.
Hey there–actually, Red spent a considerable amount of time shadowing the Cupcake Girls and hanging out with them besides what’s represented above in the interview. Furthermore, a TED talk may be 20 minutes long but it’s also a very big media opportunity and I’d assume Joy H would have picked her language to be representative of the organization. When she talks about problems that are caused by labor exploitation and says that they’re inherent to the sex industry, that does come off as patronizing and clueless, any way you slice it–if she’d spoken to sex workers’ rights organizations formed by sex workers about her understanding of the issue, she’d have gotten a more accurate analysis, so one must assume she is ill informed–clueless–and too arrogantly certain of her own opinion to learn from experts–patronizing. And, we didn’t include this in the correction as we’d like to give the CCGs the benefit of the doubt, but at first the web page Red linked to made no distinction between Joy C and Joy H, and earlier versions of the interview show that the CC girls answered her interview questions without making a distinction between them either. Perhaps reference to the Internet Wayback Machine would be enlightening here, unless all caches have been destroyed.
Hello! I figured I’d chime in to clarify the Joy C – Joy H confusion. I am Joy C, the one who commented in the blog post. I have a daughter who was trafficked into the industry at 17 by a boyfriend. Joy H. has a 1 year old and is significantly younger than me (not to age myself), but we are definitely 2 different people. And we have 2 different view points on the industry. I walked through my daughters time in the industry with her, that journey started in hotel rooms with craigslist ads, then transitioned into clubs. I got to know a lot of the ladies she worked with. My opinions where shaped by what I saw. My opinions are not fact, and I certainly cannot speak to everyones situations, and my intention is never to offend any of the lovely ladies who choose (or feel stuck because of their personal situations) in the industry. I chose to serve with CCG Vegas because I wished I had known about them while my daughter was dancing. She could’ve used the medical, legal and assistance moving. I am personally a christian, and the magazine writing that particular article was a christian magazine….but I assure you my time spent with this organization was not spent sharing the gospel. There are plenty of non-christians who serve just as passionately and without judgement in the organization. I certainly respect your view points and again I’m sorry if mine rubbed anyone the wrong way. I don’t think I’m an expert or have all the answers, I’m just a woman who spent time walking through her daughters journey with her. Cheers! 🙂
Hey, Joy C, I’m not saying you and Joy H aren’t different people! And thanks for reading and coming to share your story with us, by the way. But what I am saying is that originally the difference wasn’t indicated on the website or in the Cupcake Girls’ comments, so Red made that mistake in good faith. Anyway, there’s now an editor’s note in the first mention of the Joys that we put there about a week ago that makes the distinction.
Thanks Caty! I’ve playfully been known as “the other Joy” in CCG…so I just wanted to make sure she was not tagged with my personal opinions. You know Caty, as I reflect on that interview my quote was pulled from I was sharing a lot of my personal frustrations with the christian organizations (or missions) that you mentioned, or even the christians that separate themselves from this industry as a people group. I’m not personally a fan of the – enter a strip club to tell dancers that “Jesus loves them” or the bible handout approach. The main thing I’ve always loved about CCG is they go in with hearts of connection and service, they go into clubs to say “you are beautiful and I care about you and I’d love to be here if you want me to be”. Do they hit it out of the park with every lady in need, every time? Hell no. In some cases they are at the mercy of community partners to meet the needs of each women. But from what I observed during my time serving I saw volunteers spending countless hours finding shelters out of state for a woman having her life threatened. I saw months where volunteers spent more time packing & moving industry women than they did with their husbands. I saw tears…buckets of them, at the funeral of a dancer who took her own life. Joy Hoover is a lover of justice and the organization looks to do right by women in the industry. And sometimes the extent of their service is being a friend over a cup of coffee and a cupcake. Thank you for letting me share my personal side of all of this.
I think Red (and Tits and Sass!) does/do appreciate the Cupcake Girls’ work. Personally, I think that connecting people who are workers in a field where they don’t get health insurance with health care they can access easily is particularly valuable. But what Red was saying here–and I agree with her–is that if Joy H and the Cupcake Girls in general worked more closely with sex workers’ rights organizations, and were more in tune with sex workers’ own perspective on their work and what we want–such as helping us fight the clubs to not charge stage fees and protesting other similar exploitative practices, and listening to us when we distinguish between labor problems and things that are endemic to the sex industry, you all would be much more effective.
I am so thankful for Joy Hoover and the cupcake girls.
Getting to know Joy for the past 4 years,has influenced
And inspired me to love myself more know my worth.
I felt great comfort being around positive women,
That truely want to make a difference.
I never felt Judged, condemed, or unsafe with them.
I have taken advantage of their resoures that have
Changed my life and daughter for the better.
Forever grateful perla
Hello, I want to express tremendous love and gratitude toward The Cupcake Girls of Las Vegas. I was in the Adult Industry for the passed 10 years. I met the Cupcake Girls 2 years ago, they have helped me beyond any words can describe. Offering me endless resources from financial planning, counseling, battle with addictions, tutoring, to just being a friend with no expectation! I have learned the difference of a REAL, positive, compassionate, no judgment and safe place to heal from my traumatic past. Joy Hoover is one of the BEST people I know. The Cupcake Girls are my forever family I am in gratitude and humbleness with the life skills I’ve acquire by watching and learning the ways to strive forward. Healthy, honoring, peacful and a positive life! Thank you for allowing me to share.
Have a beautiful day <3
i liked this article. i will say, though, that my experience with them has been much different. i asked if they could help me find some dental resources, mentioned that i definitely already knew about the dental school and that my root canal and crown were not dental school material. i talked with a cupcake girl on the phone, and she said she could probably help, that the cupcake girls know a lot of dentists, etc., and set up a coffee date with me. we met for coffee and the girl asked me tons of invasive questions about my work and feelings about my work, and family and upbringing, and even went so far as to ask whether my trans partner at the time had had “genital surgery.” i played along, trying to be polite, but also desperate for some help with my teeth that i couldn’t afford to fix. finally, i said, “i am feeling uncomfortable. i don’t want to talk about any of this anymore, do you think you will be able to connect me with some help for my teeth now?” and she gave me a paper with the dental school hours and phone number written down. it felt like such a bait and switch. i was pretty bummed.
[…] in order to work in a field in which their appearance must be immaculate. Read Red’s longform piece on shadowing the Cupcake Girls for more on these well meaning altruists’ fundamental misunderstandings about the sex […]
Posted on behalf of sally anne/@paperless_me, whose comment wouldn’t get through for some reason:
my name is sally anne & i am one of the many victims of this organization. the first thing yall need to understand about the cupcake girls is that they aren’t “sexworker-positive” by any stretch of the imagination.
in true bait-and-switch fashion that puts even the notorious “8minutes” to shame ( and using all the drama of THAT concept ) they will lure women to them with promises of help. their MO = that they show up at clubs bearing their overrated cupcakes. then they will ask if you need anything in the way of assistance.. assuming you say that you do in fact need emergency aid of some sort, you can expect to have to meet with them at a later time to fill out a form in which they demand your full name, address, birthday and social. most women who actually comply b/c they are desperate for help
the ONLY assistance that can be had from cupcake girls is referrals to community resources. they will farm you out to public social & human services organizations and private charities.
cupcake girls method of assisting women is based on the premise that women in the sex industry are too stupid to google. lets play devils advocate and say that’s true. you STILL can get those exact same “resources” just by visiting any county or municipal social services agency and get the same list for free. in addition : most churches & civic organizations maintain a list of “resources”. if cupcakes has it available, you can get it from elsewhere.
most importantly: there is no direct assistance for “emergency housing/ food/ transportation” or any of the sort
yes, i know, i know : “but they helped kamylla and held a fundraiser for her attorney’s fees” . cupcake girls jumped on the *kamylla bandwagon* during a time of intense publicity surrounding that case. kamylla was a immigrant mother who was arrested for prostitution in texas. cupcake girls has never held a fundraiser for a sex worker in their own backyards ( las vegas, nevada and portland, oregon ) because doing so wouldn’t benefit this organization. they literally piggybacked onto the kamylla hype & publicity and used her case in an attempt to ingratiate themselves with the sex worker community on social media
the fact is that not before – and certainly not SINCE – kamylla have the cupcake girls held a fundraiser for anyone’s legal needs. this : in spite of the fact that the las vegas metro police arrest some 3,000 women a year on sex-for-hire charges. arguably : many are also immigrants, mothers, disadvantaged and marginalized. but you are going to have one rude awakening if you think cupcake girls will hold a fundraiser for YOU if you case isn’t splashed all over the media. the cupcake girls will “help” you if its something to be gained by them, some advantage on their end otherwise your out of luck, child.
those women who end up jaded and actually post negative comments on social media sites – if cupcake girls knows who they are ( cross-referencing them via their intake form ) they will call the authorities just to notify them that your a sex worker and give your address for good measure
fair warning : stay away from their support group and “free counseling” . they do NOT keep your information confidential. at least one woman complained that cupcake girls notified her probation officer she was using substances, this she claims is information she disclosed during support group. other ladies have had child welfare called on them, yet others have stated that cupcake girls takes the worldview that the entire sex industry is “trafficking”. therefore ; if a lady has a boyfriend or husband that man is assumed to be her “pimp” and this information is reported to the authorities, causing the family to be broken up. so many ladies are outright TERRIFIED of them.
i could go on and fill up a whole page w/ my comments. rather I recommend you review their ratings at https://www.ratethatrescue.org/wp/organizations/the-cupcake-girls-las-vegas/
to learn more about the hell i experienced from them see my blog >>