Great Sex Work Moments in Pop Culture History

Home Great Sex Work Moments in Pop Culture History

SESTA Vs. Stormy Daniels

(Image via Flickr user Donkeyhotey)

The fact that porn workers have always been popular scapegoats for the broadest strokes of politics and media is hardly news for those who work in the sex industry. There are myths claiming pornography leads to violence and there is the historical fact that porn workers have protected our civil rights. Protecting our First Amendment rights is just scratching the surface of sex workers’ contributions to labor and women’s rights movements, among others, since antiquity. Although more is at stake for sex workers than free speech, the passage of FOSTA and SESTA will not only affect us but civilians too, especially in light of the repeal of net neutrality. In a titillating cross-section of lawmaking and scandal, we have on one side Stormy Daniels suing 45 for unlawful payoffs and calling him to account publicly for his associates’ threats against her, and on the other side, legislation that has already silenced common sex workers, with the overlaying intersections of race and class; good whores and bad whores; victims and perpetrators; and misinformation all around.

You might see liberal celebrities championing Daniels, but you won’t see them championing sex workers’ rights.

Leave Cardi Alone

Like, I had to go strip. I had to go, ‘Oh yeah, you want to fuck me? Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, let’s go to this hotel,’ and I’d drug ni**as up, and I’d rob them. That’s what I used to do! Nothing was motherfucking handed to me, my ni**a. Nothing.

Full disclosure: I don’t actually care about Cardi B. Nothing that she does or creates is essential to my life and her behavior consistently irritates me. Yes, I’ve bopped along to Bickenhead (a certifiable summertime bop) and her verse on G-Eazy’s No Limit speaks to my shriveled hooker heart, but beyond the music, I don’t care about Cardi B. I didn’t watch her on Love and Hip-Hop (because I don’t acknowledge Mona Scott, unless it’s L&HH: Miami), I didn’t listen to her mixtapes, and I wasn’t actually aware of her existence until Bodak Yellow’s release became a massive cultural event. Since then, I’ve made note of particularly compelling moments in her career as they appear on twitter: past colorist and racist comments, blatant transphobia, defence of her then boyfriend Offset’s homophobia, mockery of a mother with a dead child, constant feuding with Nicki Minaj, etc. Now, I’ve written before about the prevalence of bigotry in the hood and how being “ghetto” is not an excuse for ignorance, so it would be disingenuous of me to defend her past behavior. I won’t do it. So, when I say “leave Cardi B alone”, it’s not about that. It’s about how local jagoffs on the internet took the issue of a sex worker operating on the edges of what’s considered socially acceptable to survive and turned it into a crusade against her which likened her to R.Kelly and Bill Cosby.

On Sunday, March 24, 2019, an old video of the rapper surfaced on twitter, where all discourse goes to die. In the video, Cardi can be heard responding to accusations that she doesn’t deserve her fame or success because she didn’t “work for it.” It’s a filthy lie that sex workers don’t work as hard as or harder than anyone else, and yet that lie lives on because of misogyny, whorephobia, and general stupidity. We don’t get days off. “Down time” is spent in the gym, coding websites, designing ads, engaging in advocacy, and freestyling. We function as surrogate spouses, therapists, and friends. We have to work on our bad days, our bloated days, and our heavy flow days. All we do is work, so kill that lie.

In the video, Cardi starts by saying, “Ni**as must have forgotten the shit that I did to motherfucking survive.” Now, Cardi has a thick accent, clearly influenced by her New York and Latinx roots, so some of the words are difficult to identify with 100% certainty. But it sounds like—and this is the story the internet has decided to run with—she goes on to say that men would approach her at work, ask her to (most likely) break club rules and have sex with them, and go home with her where she would drug them and then rob them. “Like, I had to go strip. I had to go, ‘Oh yeah, you want to fuck me? Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, let’s go to this hotel,’ and I’d drug ni**as up, and I’d rob them. That’s what I used to do! Nothing was motherfucking handed to me, my ni**a. Nothing.”

I firmly believe that robbing men is just taking reparations for the unending misogynistic and patriarchal bullshit we’re subjected to on a regular basis. I also believe that sex workers should be compensated for their time at all times if you’re asking them to provide labor of any kind. So I don’t care about her lightening the pockets of these men. If we’re being pedantic and dumb, we can acknowledge that drugging and robbing men, either as separate acts or in concert, is illegal. It’s “objectively” wrong. But I still don’t care. To quote MsGizelleMarie, “There’s no rules to survival sex work.” Encouraging clients to drink a little bit more or do another line, taking an extra $20 for cab fare when a john is in the bathroom, calling the police when a client gets too aggressive—we all do what we have to do to stay safe, pay rent, feed our kids, buy our meds, and take care of our parents. Cardi B became a stripper after the loss of her civilian job forced her to live with an abusive ex and drop out of college. That is survival sex work.

When your literal life is on the line, the boundaries between the available options and the acceptable options start to blur. If you have never had to choose between food and paying a bill, this is not the place for you to clutch your pearls. This conversation is not the place for you to make yourself heard at the expense of poor, survival sex workers. If you can leave sex work today and find employment tomorrow without having to explain the gaps in your CV because of your education or connections, this is not the time for you to talk about your anecdotal experiences. You don’t have the range or the right to derail this discussion. If you can call the police when a client gets out of line without worrying about being railroaded by ICE, I don’t care about your opinion. I don’t want to know what you women who can openly talk about your sex work careers without losing jobs, respect, or your lives would do in Cardi’s place. Because you have never been in Cardi’s place.

Can You Make Six Figures A Year Off Reply Guys? Caroline Calloway Thinks So.

The week before the health department shut down all bars was a brutal one at my club. The upside was that there were so few customers and so little cash changed hands that it didn’t feel like we were getting exposed to much of anything besides boredom. The owner was berating dancers for not working more amid this virus hysteria, and getting their names wrong while he did so. Nobody was jumping to pick up dead shifts, and most of his dancers had abandoned their work ethic and any sense of duty to attend a Tool concert.

Around the same time, it was apparent that Fox News had begun to acknowledge that a pandemic was indeed occurring. This meant that the owner, in turn, had started to take it seriously. Now he was even more proactive than the health department, and we had to come in at 10:30 a.m. and empty our lockers because he urgently needed to eradicate the viruses thriving inside them.

We left with our trash bags full of mangled, body-spray-doused spandex. Like the rest of the country, some of us adopted the sleep schedules of koalas. Some of us obsessively consumed the news like we were trying to crack a code. Some of us measured time only by examining our pubes. Some of us took advantage of liquor stores being deemed essential. All of us watched Tiger King. After getting past the initial shock and unorthodox food cravings, many of us joined the masses of Royally Fucked sex workers everywhere in creating OnlyFans accounts. 

I haven’t done the OnlyFans thing partially because I am on pandemic unemployment assistance as an independent contractor. It took multiple applications and waiting for the state to to wait on the federal government, but it’s been a godsend. I can stop panicking until July 31st. I’m also not on OnlyFans because it’s a lot of hard work and that’s only exacerbated by this whole end-of-days thing. 

I’ve watched my friends navigate OnlyFans and discover that there’s all kinds of paraphernalia to research and buy, like glitchy Bluetooth selfie clickers. One friend ordered an interactive phone-app controlled vibrator, and was devastated when it malfunctioned during her first live show. Another friend has been making content in her microscopic studio apartment. She assembled and installed a Murphy bed and has done an impressive job of taking hot photos that don’t give away the limited space in which she’s working (shit, I’m impressed just by the bed itself). 

A third friend was completely thwarted from pursuing an OnlyFans hustle when her driver’s license was rejected for being too beat up and the DMV couldn’t get her in until May 16th. She’s been discreetly selling videos on an app that is not sex-worker friendly (LOL, like any are) and crossing her fingers that she doesn’t get busted.

A fourth friend recently couldn’t deliver on the type of video a subscriber was requesting, because she’s quarantined with her ex and he was in the next room. And like many strippers who went from physically demanding jobs to staying home, she’s gained weight. It’s not easy to shoot, edit, and post nude photos and videos when you’re struggling with your body image.

A fifth friend isn’t comfortable working online because she’s pursuing a career in a male-dominated field where she doesn’t want to be outed as having been a sex worker. Instead, she’s putting all her stuff in storage and moving into a yurt. 

If so many people I care dearly about weren’t using OnlyFans as a way to make ends meet while bracing for a depression and worrying about dying, it would be at least slightly comical that “minor influencer” Caroline Calloway bragged on Sunday that she was “currently looking at a $223,800 annual salary from OnlyFans.”

A Judge’s Notes: The Fourth Annual Vagina Beauty Pageant

943658_10151812837405485_194116338_n
DJ Dick Hennessy with Miss Beautiful Vagina 2013, Jordan

I was dressed modestly in a knee-length black dress, white Converse, and a denim jacket, and felt as comfortable as any stripper can when behaving as a civilian at a strip club event. Although Portland is home to about 45 strip clubs, its downtown entertainment district only has five, but on this Thursday evening, Club Rouge was already thumping with activity. I proudly displayed my black and pink VIP pass to the door attendant, feeling like vaginal royalty. About three dozen women of various ethnicities and body types strutted and mingled.

The judging panel was comprised of local Portland celebrities and industry folks: Tres Shannon, the delightfully eccentric owner of Voodoo Donuts, heavily bearded Jedediah Aaker, promoter of Tonic Lounge, who sports a leather thong in IFC’s Portlandia, traveling drag performer Miss Sasha Scarlette, an owner of a marijuana dispensary who wished to remain anonymous, and the unnamed owner of the upscale Stars clubs, who looked like a slightly more heterosexual John Waters. I was the only judge with an actual vagina. “I feel a lot of pressure was on your shoulders to maintain order and balance,” host and creator of the Annual Vagina Pageant, DJ Dick Hennessy, later told me.

20 contestants, 19 of whom were strippers, were vying for the title of Miss Pretty Vagina 2013. Scoring was based on three categories: Stage Talent (20%), Attractiveness (20%) and Vagina Beauty (60%). One young lady, appropriately dressed as a cute (yet clichéd) school girl, was introduced as having never stripped a shift in her life. While I admire the bravery of any woman willing to bare all in an industry competition, I was already dreading watching an amateur “dance.”

Club Rouge and Hennessy had attracted a diverse crowd. Twentysomething bros laughed and drank among well-dressed older men, a pack of women whispered into their hands and pointed at the strippers, and the Old Guy Who Sells Roses was weaving his way through the audience, muttering “Rose for the lady?” Dancer Ari from the Boom Boom Room giggled to me, “I just saw my dentist. He asked me, “How’s everything going? I asked him, “Like, in my mouth?” A fish-faced middle-aged man stood behind the judges, his mouth agape, not moving except to lick his lips every few minutes.

The bartender laughed at me when I asked “Do you serve hot tea?” and instead I settled for ice water with a lemon, dunking in my own smuggled tea bags. Once the contest began, the next four hours were a blur of vaginas and stilettos.

What The Fuck, Justin Bieber?

image via @1real_diamond
image via @1real_diamond

What the fuck, Justin Bieber, here’s the pile of money you dropped at a strip club in Houston last month.