I found this line weeks ago. I can’t remember when I wrote it or what brought it on. It was isolated on a sheet with other notes, none as dramatic. ‘I wanted to make strange men touch me.’ When did I want this? Or rather, when will I stop wanting this?
Nightmare Brunette was originally a blog which Charlotte Shane, long time sex worker blogger and co-founder of Tits and Sass, decided to republish to coincide with the release of her Tinyletter memoir collection, Prostitute Laundry. Now she presents almost the entirety of Nightmare Brunette’s material in book form.
I love the way Shane discussesher customers most of all. She’s very open and honest about how relationships with clients are often blurry, strange things—the good, the bad, and the ambivalent. There are bits of unexpected humor:
Most amusing of all was her dismounting line: ‘I can’t believe how many times you just made me come!’ Well. No other woman in the room [would] believe it, either.
I really appreciate that Shane doesn’t write aboutclients with contempt. She does discusstheir flaws and hersex work-related irritations, but I never get the feeling that she is mocking anyone. Shane also discusses clients who crossed boundaries:
“So what’s the moral of the folktale? I still can’t figure it out. Is it that human beings are weak and at the mercy of their own urges? That curiosity destroys? That even in great love, it is impossible to refrain from harming others? I don’t know. I recognize the truth of it but I could not articulate a lesson beyond that of the importance of respecting someone else’s boundary, even if you don’t understand why that boundary exists.”
While Shane’s Prostitute Laundry focuses less on escorting, and more on the way her personal relationships are evolving and changing, N.B. touches more on the minutiae of sex work. N.B. feels a bit more open to me, possibly because at the time the material was written, Shane wasn’t out as its author. Since this work was originally on a blog, her voice here feels more personal, like she is trying to hold back less. This is a conscious choice—in N.B. Shane discusses the delight she sometimes takes in feeling unknowable, and deciding what to reveal and what not to reveal. She ends upsharing quite a lot in these pages. I especially appreciated the frank talk about her abortion.
Coming Out Like A Porn Staris an anthology edited by award winning indie porn talent and author Jiz Lee consisting of essays by porn performers and industry workers on privacy and disclosure. It was featured by Reason’s‘ Elizabeth Nolan Brown as one of the best sex work books of 2015. Foreworded by renowned Black porn scholar Dr. Mireille Young, the book includes pieces by celebrated porn mainstays such as Stoya and Annie Sprinkle, as well as work by Tits and Sass’ own contributors and interviewees such as Kitty Stryker, Conner Habib, Tobi Hill-Meyer, and Cyd Nova. The collection spans a wide array of porn experiences from writers of color, trans and queer authors, and performers from every branch of the industry. With Lee’s permission, we excerpt two exciting essays by authors who are new to us, “Queen Beloved” by Milcah Halili and “Even Someone Like Me: How I Came Out As A Smut Starlet” by Betty Blac. They both feature stories of the authors communicating with their sex worker writer idols, so we were immediately hooked.
During my first few years working, I would get my hands on any stripper memoir I could read, obsessed with finding out how other women experienced this bizarre life I ‘d embarked on. I was relieved at finding how common some of my insecurities and struggles were, and occasionally disappointed to discover that none of my thoughts on the business were as original as I had hoped.
The Beaver Show, by Tits and Sass contributor and blogger Jacqueline Frances (AKA Jacq the Stripper), was a reintroduction to my love for stripper lit, and brought with it a sweet nostalgia for my fish-out-of-water feelings as a baby stripper. The book chronicles Jacq’s first days working at clubs in Australia, then follows her to stints in New York City, New Mexico, Alberta, Canada, and Myrtle Beach, S.C. Like me, Jacq goes from feeling confused, clueless, and decidedly like an imposter, to riding the high that comes with early success, to settling with the persistent irritation that I think is unavoidable after you’ve been in the business a few years. She begins the book with a short personal essay she wrote in fifth grade, where she says that her proudest moment to date is dancing onstage in cool costumes. From there, we follow her to her first day at work.
In 2012, former Olympian middle distance runner and motivational speaker Suzy Favor Hamilton was outed as a Vegas agency escort. Recently, Favor Hamilton published her memoir, Fast Girl: A Life Spent Running From Madness, telling the story of her childhood, her athletic career, her stint escorting, her family life, and her struggle with bipolar disorder. After reviewing the book for Tits and Sass, contributor Katie de Long had a conversation with Favor Hamilton over e-mail about the New York Times bestselling autobiography. The dialogue below is a condensed version of those e-mails.
What motivated you to write your memoir?
When I was outed, I was contacted by several writers within the first couple days. I was still in a heavily narcissistic mode, which […] can be pretty common with bipolar mania, especially when untreated.
At that time, I wanted to pretty much write a sex book, detailing my adventures in Las Vegas, capitalizing on my misfortune, so to speak. No mental illness aspect at all. No running, no childhood, just Vegas. At this time, I had no idea I was bipolar…and saw nothing wrong with me.
As time went along, my motivations changed, and I grew unsure I wanted to write a book at all. My parents were making it clear they did not want me to write a book. Others were advising me against it. Things had settled down, so why bring it all out in the open again?
As I began to achieve more clarity, and what had happened to me began to make more sense after diagnosis and treatment, my motivation for writing a memoir grew again. Before the escorting, I was speaking quite a bit about my brother’s suicide and my experience with anxiety and depression, so that desire to make a difference had always been there. I saw a memoir as the most effective way of making that difference, being better understood, sharing what is admittedly a complicated story, and doing so on my terms. I thought a book could have a more lasting impact on a bigger platform.
What do you hope people will learn about bipolar disorder from your book?
I wanted to show the common elements of denial, silence and stigma and how they prevent good people from getting help, and getting well. I want people to be aware of behaviors to look for, so they can help others or perhaps motivate those not yet diagnosed to seek help for themselves.
There are many people out there who don’t buy the whole idea of mental illness and bipolar and how bizarre behavior can stem from it. The “convenient excuse” argument. I hope my story might open a few minds.
Now that you are receiving treatment and establishing a new normal for yourself, do you find yourself being treated differently? Do some people expect you to be able to return to who you were before the disorder worsened?
My parents want the old me back, but I think they are accepting that won’t happen.
There is that perception that I’m not well, mainly when I speak about sex, dress a certain way, hang with a certain person, use my voice. Or, quite frankly, if I happen to be a little manic or depressed on a certain day (especially manic). I’ve learned with certain friends and family, I…stay away from certain topics…sit on my hands and smile, otherwise…they’ll just give me that concerned look. Others, they like “this me” who’s not afraid to be myself. [They] know my moods might change from day to day, even minute to minute. Those are the people I tend to gravitate to these days.
Those who don’t get mental illness think you have to be a non-functioning zombie when you’re manic…In many ways, you can be more productive, more creative, and go, go, go, etc. I believe my mania was a big reason I was a desired escort…My clients loved my mania. Disney, who hired me for their racing series, also loved my mania when I think about it. Zero inhibitions. Bubbly, sparkly. Life of the party. I had no off switch, no ceiling.
I am that imperfect girl, and I want to be that imperfect girl. What’s the bipolar? What’s the real me? I just know I want independence, [to] do what makes me content. I still want to live life to the fullest, live it with a little edge. Don’t want to live by others expectations. Be myself. But admittedly, I’m pulled into old habits often where I do what others expect of me. People are so accustomed to the old me that they think I’m not well when they see someone else.
Let’s say I were to want to go to Burning Man, go hiking with a couple of escort friends, post a beautiful nude portrait of myself that was done for me…many around me would raise red flags. I’m having to be something to please others and doing what drove me to craziness in the first place. So am I going to get criticized on occasion or told I’m not well? I suppose. Dr. Phil said as much when I was on his damn show.
Suzy Favor Hamilton’s autobiography, Fast Girl: A Life Spent Running From Madness, catalogs the Olympic runner’s experience with mental illness, her career shift from professional mid-distance running to high-end escorting, and her eventual outing and diagnosis as bipolar. Following the birth of her daughter and her retirement from running, Favor Hamilton found her career path fraught and unsatisfactory, its travails amplified by her growing problems with postpartum depression and bipolar. Eventually, the media outed her as a sex worker, exacerbating her struggles.
From growing up picked on by her bipolar brother in small town Wisconsin, to her love/hate relationship with the athletic talent she built into a career, and the way that relationship shaped her psyche and primed her for sex work, Fast Girl covers a wide range of material. It is also one of the more honest memoirs I’ve seen on the day-to-day struggle of being bipolar, and how the disorder can escalate.
I’ve been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and other mental illnesses. My thoughts upon reading the book were filtered through my own experiences with the illness: some of these ideas may seem strange if you haven’t lived with bipolar disorder, or lived with someone who copes with it.
In my experience, an important thing to understand about living with bipolar disorder is that it doesn’t always make sense to those who don’t suffer from the disease. Triggers might be minor, like someone looking at you wrong. You might never find out exactly what association triggered your most recent bipolar episode. Sometimes you do know exactly what the trigger is, but even when you know, you can’t really stop it, only remind yourself your perceptions aren’t reflecting reality.
At times, bipolar made my work in a strip club a hell in which I was irrationally afraid of accepting drinks, terrified that every customer was laughing at me. It made me second guess every moment so thoroughly that suicide sometimes felt like a logical post-shift endeavor. At its worst, this illness makes me question everything about myself: my agency, my sanity, my humanity, my very perceptions. My body and mind became communal property- things for others to manage without my input, sometimes overriding my preferences.
Accepting treatment for a mental illness like bipolar can feel like a violation to me. I have to accept that it’s not about me, it’s about what people around me want for me. Maybe I want it, too, but accepting that treatment means accepting I won’t be the arbiter of what’s “right” for myself. That is left to the family members who can no longer handle my outbursts, or the doctor who thinks that no matter how I feel now, it’s worth reaching for something even better by shifting the med dosages, even at the risk of the new doses making me sick.
That level of outside authority is one that women who’ve grown up in a patriarchal society are already used to. We’ve had it enforced from birth that our wishes and agency are second to the men around us, second to our families, second to the comfort of our community, etc. Favor Hamilton’s story is rife with that conflict, even in instances unconnected with her mental health or sex work. From the other department’s coach in college who videotaped her breasts as she ran, with no negative consequences; to the coach who dictated her sex life after her marriage; to the spectators and competitors who claimed her main talent was her beauty; to her dad’s pushiness and embarrassment in response to her swimsuit calendar modeling, the list goes on and on.