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On Survival

(Photo by Flickr user Nasrul Ekram)
(Photo by Flickr user Nasrul Ekram)

Last month, I woke up to the news that a friend of mine had overdosed and died.

I’d never met her, but I’d known her for almost 15 years online. We’d found each other back in the days of Livejournal, back when it was a shock to my system just to be able to read the writing of another heroin-using sex worker like me. I read everything about us I could get my hands on back then, even tabloid trash or Narcotics Anonymous literature.

Reading someone writing about her life, our lives, in the first person—daring to construct her identity as more than a punchline or a cautionary tale—was revelatory. People talk about the value of “representation,” but there’s no way to describe what knowing she was out there like I was meant to me when I was 22.

I could always talk to her about all the things I couldn’t discuss with my straight friends: lazy dealers, asshole cops, and the constant grind of working enough to keep ahead of withdrawal. Later, when we both got on methadone maintenance, we groused to each other about the unique blend of bureaucracy and condescension we found at the clinics. She’d always keep me up to date on the latest drug war fiasco, and we could be candid to each other about our rage in response.

I’m still not sure what happened to her. She could have been a victim of all the fentanyl floating around the country mixed in the heroin supply. I know she hadn’t used dope in a while. Keeping her kid was too important to her. Her tolerance must have been low.

But I can’t shake the suspicion that her death wasn’t entirely accidental. Like many of us, she was incredibly harm-reduction savvy. She could have taught a class on overdose prevention. I don’t think she killed herself. But I’m not sure she was trying her hardest to stay alive.

And who could blame her if she stopped making that monumental effort to survive, for a moment?

I have to tell myself everyday that despite all evidence to the contrary, I’m worth something, even if I am a walking worst-case scenario to most people. Even if by every rubric of mainstream success, I’ve gone way off course. Even if living like I do is not only criminalized, but reviled.

But sometimes, it’s difficult to believe that message when you and your small circle of movement friends are its only source.

Aw, You Shouldn’t Have: A Compendium of the Odd Gifts We Receive

(photo by worth1000.com user garrettkipp. image via worth1000.com)
(photo by worth1000.com user garrettkipp. image via worth1000.com)

Sex work comes with a lot of fringe perks: convenient hours, creative work uniforms, and basically having the coolest job on the planet. One of the lesser-known perks of sex work are the gifts we receive: the tokens of appreciation that the men that favor us hand out around the holidays. Most of the time we get the traditional pretty girl-type gifts. A box of chocolates. An austere piece of jewelry. Maybe a bottle of perfume.

Any veteran sex worker will tell you that he or she has also unwrapped something a little…peculiar. It’s true—we get a lot of weird gifts (it’s worth noting that weird isn’t necessarily synonymous with bad). We’ve learned over time how to gracefully accept some, shall we say, unconventional presents.

Our clients and customers try, they really do, to mixed results. Bless their hearts.

We wondered: What sort of oddities have our readers received?

No Such Thing As A Free Colonic

My favorite aunt almost died a few weeks ago due to a burst colon, and it got me thinking about my own colon health. It was my birthday week and I’ve been eating so many fried things and drinking too much and eating birthday cake off of girls’ titties. As a result, my body just feels NUTS. I could use a little digestive fresh start, so I decided to schedule a colonic.

I googled “colonics,” and didn’t read much about any of the places, just picked one that wasn’t too far from my house. I showed up a few minutes early and was greeted by an extremely friendly bulldagger, which I’ve always taken to be a good sign. She gave me an intake form to fill out. Under “occupation,” I just put “dancer.” Such a handy euphemism when you don’t feel the need to LIE, but would rather not write “stripper.” I finished the rest of the form, gave the clipboard back to the friendly dyke, and sat back down in the waiting room.

A few minutes later I was greeted by a different butch dyke, who led me back to the irrigation room. She went over my intake form. “What kind of dancer are you?”

“A stripper.”

She lowered her artsy eyeglasses and peered over them at me in a meaningful way, like someone on TV who has realized that their terrible suspicions have been proven true. After several seconds of silence, she announced, “Well. You’re not going to pay for your colonic today.”

A Tunnel, Not A Door: Exiting Conditioned, Generational Sex Work

One of Lime Jello's ancestors?  (Image via Wikipedia Commons)
One of Lime Jello’s ancestors? (Image via Wikipedia Commons)

This piece is adapted from a December 17th speech the author gave this year.

“You’re so lazy, you’ll never be anything but a whore. And you won’t even be a good whore because nobody wants to fuck a girl with a book in front of her face.”

When I was about twelve, as I lay on my bed reading, my father walked into my bedroom. When he saw me reclining and reading, that was what he told me. Funny thing, though: the student schtick really sells. Clients like to think they’re “funding” something worthwhile, like my education and not my drug habit. (I have both.)

My point is this: entry into and tenure in the sex industry is both constrained and conditioned by personal, historical and socio-economic contexts. In the movement, we talk about constraint whenever we talk about poverty. I think we avoid talking about conditioning, however, lest we reinforce stereotypes about hookers who were abused as children. But I don’t believe I became a sex worker by accident. I think I was conditioned, and I want to talk about it.

An Open Letter From A Detroit Extras Girl

by user wootam! on Flickr
by user wootam! on Flickr

This is one of three responses to Josephine’s “An Open Letter to the Extras Girl” that we’ll be running this week. First up is M, a dancer who, like Josephine, works in Detroit.

On a sweltering August afternoon in 2012, I walked through the impossibly heavy glass doors of the glitziest strip club in Detroit. I had done copious amounts of research on the strip clubs in the area, spending nearly a month scouring reviews online and taking trips to clubs in the area. This particular club was the shiniest and it was filled with executives, physicians and lawyers. Promises of riches sparkled like the strobe lights overhead. Even though I had never stripped before, I forged ahead, fearless. Go big or go home, that was my motto.

Looking back, I was somewhat naïve. I had no particular urgency to my sales pitch. I was simultaneously working my “normal” job and stripping. It wasn’t as though I couldn’t pay my bills. So I started with the thought that I would only dance, no extras whatsoever. Perhaps I was conceited enough to think that my pretty face, tight body, and educated mind would be enough to make me money. Unfortunately that notion was completely false.