If there’s one thing we love here at Tits and Sass (besides vagina pageants and corny films about sex work, that is) it’s complaining. And it’s our dedication to this fine art that led us to conceive of a poll where you, our dear readers, could weigh in on the worst things about your jobs. We excluded the most obvious and serious options (the stigma; the illegality; the cops) and focused instead on some of the more precise sources of annoyance, usually client based. Voting will be open until Wednesday at 11:59pm PST, after which we’ll have another vote on Friday to rank the top three responses in each field. Leave out anything we missed in the comments and please, feel free to rant.
The illusion of “common sense” and its alleged empirical certainties is one of the the most steadfast means by which we collectively propagate whore stigma. As a recent example, critics lampoon Imtiaz Ali’s short film, Indian Tomorrow, for portraying an economically savvy sex worker. “Prostitutes who rattle off sensex [India’s stock market] figures during sex,” proclaims one critic, “exist only in the world of fantasy art.”
Tacitly deferring to “common sense” as a barometer of a sex workers’ intellect is not only deeply paternalistic, but it also acts as a censor for the kinds of stories we tell as a society. Surprising no sex worker rights advocate, it seems like the only acceptable cultural depictions of sex workers are those that fall in-line with the “common sense” stereotype of harlots as intellectually inferior. Art allows us to envision a better world. If artists are deterred from producing nuanced depictions of sex workers as agents of their own lives, even if these depictions are utopic fantasies, our culture will likewise be deterred from envisioning better circumstances for sex workers.
But this cultural imperative to tell one dimensional stories is limited to the stories of marginalized people like sex workers. Stories that transcend the simplistic theme of victimization are critiqued as dangerous and sexist. This is in spite of Standpoint Feminists themselves claiming that the moral obligation of any society is to tell more stories, not fewer.
So, by now many of you have probably seen last Friday’s article on Jezebel about “Jeffy,” AKA jlaix, Captain_Derp on OkCupid (although he seems to have deleted his account), or Jeffrey Allen. Jezebel was inspired by a post on Mission Mission, concerning spottings of his “rape van,” emblazoned with hand-painted portraits of Tupac and Pedo-bear. Katie J. M. Baker found a local woman, “Amanda,” willing to go public about her ultimately fruitless correspondance with Jeffy on OkC. Well, I’d already gone a bit further.
Being an adventurous and somewhat awkward internet dater in the SF Bay Area, I went on a date with this fine specimen of manhood in December. And yes, it was all that you would expect—and more. Upom leaving the house, I told my roommate that it was either going to be the best date ever or the worst experience of my single life. It turned out to be both, and also an excellent insight into the psyche of the so-called pickup artist (PUA, in their terminology).
I’ve been a sex worker for about four years now. Having been a nude model, peepshow dancer, stripper, porn performer, sensual massage provider, and dabbler in pro-domming, I now make my living mostly as an independent escort. While working in strip clubs, a friend introduced me to Neil Strauss and his book The Game, and told me that the techniques described inside worked even better on male customers and would open wallets like nothing else. I devoured the book (and also the Vh1 reality series starring Mystery, a man famous for his love of furry hats and success at leveraging drunk girls’ low self-esteem for blowjobs). Turns out, she was right. Drunk, entitled men really respond to “negging” (backhanded compliments made to prey on insecurities), “peacocking” (wearing bright or outlandish clothes to attract attention, something strippers have been excelling at for years), and other PUA tricks.
So when I wound up sitting at a Mission bar next to a self-proclaimed master PUA, I was armed and ready.
We at Tits and Sass wanted to run a series on racial fetishization in sex work. We were interested in questions like “What is it like for sex workers of color to labor in an industry where customers’ racist attitudes are often allowed to run rampant and may even be encouraged by management or workers themselves as a way to generate more income?” “How does your race shape the way you create and market your work persona?” “Are there advantages as well as disadvantages to being of color and working in the sex industry?” Mariko took this idea, found participants, and ran with it, creating an East Asian sex worker round table. We’d also love to hear from non-Asian sex workers of color on their fetishization in the sex trade and how they cope with it, capitalize on it, and rise above it.
Note from Mariko: This is just one roundtable. No social justice lens was used to select the voices heard here, and to be transparent, all the participants have a four year degree and all except one are part of pretty exclusive circles of global activism and First World/class privileged cisgendered folks. This post is not meant to be THE voice of East Asian sex workers, just an interesting, well voiced snapshot.
What are some racialized marketing techniques you have experimented with in your sex work?
Ho Lee Fuk: My ad did say Asian, and I had a full face pic, but it was both to advertise my race and to warn off clients who weren’t seeking [an] Asian [provider]. Of the great and minor disappointments in life, there’s nothing like getting dim sum when you really want lasagna.
Nada: I just try to be myself, I don’t put ASIAN ASIAN ASIAN everywhere.
Kate Zen: Oh, I market it consciously. Especially here in Quebec, where there are fewer Asians around.
Ho Lee Fuk: There are like four male sex workers in the whole East Bay (location, location, location!), and I was the only Asian. Which meant I didn’t have to compete with these muscle girls with nine inch cocks working in SF. I was kind of the prettiest dish on the knick-knacks table at the church bazaar.
What is one scene involving Asian race play that you refuse to do? What is your criteria for rejection?
Kate Zen: I’m kind of ashamed to say that I don’t have a strong criteria for rejection. If you pay me enough money, most dominant roles are fair game, since it’s all clearly pretend to me anyways. I feel that my client’s personal ignorance is his own problem. I don’t usually make it my job to educate him. However, I don’t often switch or play submissive roles, which is more often the Asian stereotype—so sometimes, just by insisting on a dominant role in every scene, I feel that I am rejecting many Asian stereotypes. In fact, it’s a relief that I can say: “Hey Mom! I’m not exactly a doctor like you wanted, but sometimes, I still get to wear a stethoscope!”
Nada: I refused to be a yoga teacher. I think it is the worst kind of appropriation in the West. But don’t worry—I only apply this criteria to my own actions. I understand everyone will do what they need to in their own lives.
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.