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Letter From An Extras Girl: If It’s So Easy, Why Haven’t You Done It?

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Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny, consume you it will.—Yoda

Hola Hater,

Thanks for the helpful suggestions in “An Open Letter to the Extras Girl.” You know, for telling me how to do my job. Don’t take it personally if I ignore them. This is business, girl, and if you can’t wrap your head around what we—you and I—actually do for a living, it’s no problem of mine.

I know times are tough. This recession settled in on the whole country and it’s not going away anytime soon. I’ve been at this job long enough to know that the legendary monsoons of cash in the aughts—when girls could flash a titty and a smile and walk out with one large in their pockets—aren’t coming back. If you want to ply your craft and still turn a profit, sucking and fucking is going to be part of the deal, eventually.

Social Media, Zola, and the Sex Worker Horror Story

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The headline at Jezebel.

By now, you’ve probably heard the story of Zola and her fabled strip trip to Florida with her new friend, Jess. If you haven’t, the story was told in a series of dramatic tweets by Zola, AKA twitter user _zolarmoon. In it, she spins a story that’s so intense and absurd that it’s hard to believe. In sum: she reluctantly agrees to take a work trip with her new pal, Jess, to Florida. Things immediately go wrong in a variety of terrifying ways. Zola’s narration of the journey is flippant and casual. She saw a lot of humor in the events that allegedly occurred.

The series of tweets were so flagrantly wild that they exploded on Twitter—at one point her story was (and still may be) trending worldwide. The story was picked up and regurgitated by your typical new media blogs: Fader, Buzzfeed, Complex, and, Jezebel (the list is still growing). It’s not surprising that Zola’s narrative was embraced so thoughtlessly. It contained the trappings of a good story that the new media elite thrive on, a perverted version of the who-what-where-when-why-how I learned about in journalism school: sexy pictures, nefarious and criminal doings, content that could be quickly mined and embedded, and, uh, Florida.

Sex worker Twitter did not appreciate the Jezebel piece. It triggered a familiar dialogue about the intersection of social media and journalism. What, ethically, is public record? Is Zola’s Twitter account public record? Jia Tolentino, the author of the story, argued that YES, it is. And further, the original tweets themselves had been shared hundreds of timesso who cares? The story went viral. Deal with it.

Holy Shit: Adventures In Survival Sex Work And Stimulus Checks

(Image by Jared Rodriguez)

by Jackie and Alex

Jackie’s story, like that of so many, begins with domestic violence, violence she weathers with the help of her sex work. Her son’s father continuously uses abusive financial tactics, severing any ability she’s ever had to gain ground in her life. Her ten-year-long saga has kept her working under the table, which in turn has constantly disqualified her from government perks, benefits, and safety nets, most recently The 2020 Economic Impact Payments, aka the stimulus checks.

In California Family Law, child support is often awarded on a first-come, first-serve basis, and Jackie’s ex demanded an amount that he knew she could not pay. As a young mother with no representation, she had no ability to fight back, and thus began her downward spiral out of mainstream existence. She tried to make her child support payments, but she was caring for her son almost half the week, working, and going to school. Then came garnished wages. She couldn’t afford to live, so she moved her job underground.

She’s not alone; low-income sex workers have complicated financial lives. We often arrive at sex work in the first place because the gray or black markets were our only options. We wake up every day with debt collectors, past convictions, or neglected forms hanging over our heads, but it’s impossible to coherently state exactly how we ended up here. Our individual stories become so dizzying that we had to focus this article on Jackie to keep it digestible; our lives are filled with the type of bureaucratic adventures that enrage and derail us while boring readers.

Sometimes, our entire households or extended families have stories too complicated to relate, even if it all began with a single misstep. For Ana, a young Chicana woman with disabled migrant parents who don’t speak English, the bureaucratic nightmares target multiple generations. She thinks the trouble started with a car accident years ago. Nobody in her house is getting a stimulus check. She says: “It’s not helpful. We used to collect recycling, but we aren’t supposed to anymore. I’d get a panic attack explaining this all to you and it still wouldn’t make sense.”

In Jackie’s situation, her driver’s license was suspended after continued non-payment, further affecting her ability to work and care for her child. Of course, with no license, you cannot insure your vehicle; with no insurance, it’s impossible to register your car. A client added her to his insurance for one month and paid for the registration, which of course expired when the DMV received notice that the insurance was canceled. She had to hope that the tags were enough and that the cops wouldn’t scan her plate. Eventually, she was pulled over.

No credit, no license, no insurance, no registration—the court doesn’t care that it’s nearly impossible to find work under those conditions. Just pay the child support!

Many sex workers face similar spirals, where one situation becomes a multi-year financial disaster. This precludes us from living normal lives while compounding our other vulnerabilities. For example, the stimulus checks are sent out based either on recent tax reports or on receiving specific government benefits such as SSI (Supplemental Security Income), unless you actively choose the option meant for non-tax filers who make under $12,200 a year. Sex worker media written from the perspective of more privileged workers makes it seem so simple for us to pay our taxes! But it should be no surprise that structurally oppressed people, including the multiply marginalized in our community such as transgender and Black sex workers, often can’t or don’t prioritize organizing our financial lives in socially acceptable ways.

An Excerpt from Sapphire: Escape (2013)

saphThe following is an excerpt from the first volume of dancer JA Sapphire’s self-published memoir, Sapphire: Escape. At this point in the book, it’s 1996 and Sapphire has just decided to work as an exotic dancer for the first time. She has escaped from an abusive background and moved to Atlanta from the Eastern Seaboard, and worked a series of jobs, but found herself unable to pay rent, so she made her way to Magic City and has been taken to the dressing room by one of the managers, Nick.

I watch Nick close the door behind him as I place my bag on the table to search for something to wear. I don’t have much. I pull out something that I think is very sexy, something that I bought from the lingerie place in the Phipps Plaza. It’s black, full-lace with thick lace embroidery that covers the real important parts. It has two snaps at the bottom of the crotch, the neck comes up like a turtleneck, and the shoulders are ruffled. I take out a small red pencil and light the tip with a lighter to line my eyelids. I use the black mascara to extend my lashes. I use the black gel called Ampro to smooth my hair’s edges. With curl activator I bring up the waves in my hair. My hair is still cut into a boy-like fade. I pull out some lipstick that cost me about two dollars and paint my lips. I look at my reflection thinking I look great.

I start rubbing my body down with lotion when I notice a medium light-skinned girl with broad shoulders walk in. She’s dressed very conservatively in a white turtleneck, jeans and bootheels. She places her bag on a chair and glances at me but doesn’t speak. She goes in front of the mirror and stares at herself. She has blunt-cut bangs. She untangles the scarf from around her neck and the back of her jet-black hair. I feel that it’s impolite that neither one of us is speaking; therefore, I walk up to her with an extended hand to introduce myself to her.

“Hello,” I say happily. “I am Janel. I’m new here.”

She looks at me disdainfully up and down, then walks out the room. I hear her mumbling to Nick, then laughing. She returns but never says a word. “Excuse me,” I interrupt. “About how much money do you make in here?” She cuts her eyes, looks at me angrily and remains silent. “Excuse me,” I repeat myself. “Do you hear me?”

Romance & Relationships: (Call) Girl Meets (Rent) Boy

This year, I’m spending Valentine’s Day with a guy who’s not my boyfriend (though I wouldn’t say that to him). I’ll be spending my evening at a stuffy French restaurant in Las Vegas, with a married, submissive man who’s several decades older than me, listening to him ramble endlessly about mergers and acquisitions while I pretend to care. Back home, my boyfriend, Tom, will be spending Valentine’s Day not dissimilarly, at a stuffy restaurant in San Francsico’s Castro District, with a gay, submissive man, who’s several decades older than him, listening to him ramble endlessly about mergers and acquisitions, while he pretends to care. Throughout the day, my real boyfriend and I will send each other funny texts about the weird things our “boyfriends” might do to impress us. He’ll pick me up from the airport tomorrow; we’ll both laugh and complain and commiserate about the tedious fake-romantic evenings we spent with our clients. We’ll talk and talk until one of us inevitably says, “oh my god, we have to stop talking about these people,” and then sex work will fade into the background again for a couple days, until one of us has to work again.