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The Name Game: Privacy in the Cyber Age

The pseudonym is perhaps one of the most titillating aspects of sex work. Non-sex workers are intrigued by the names we choose to define our personas; there are a million little devices to help them even create their own hypothetical sex worker name. Names can seem insignificant or interchangeable, but over time they become such an intensely personal, integral part of a worker’s identity. Sex work is already taboo, so picking a name has limitless bounds—we can come up with the most absurd, unconventional, socially unacceptable creation. No wonder civilians are so captivated; we get the opportunity to let our freak flag fly high and call it whatever the fuck we want.

It’s a common misconception that sex workers operate under different names because we’re ashamed of our work. The issue comes up even more as sex workers have carved out a space in the world of social media. Since many types of sex work are illegal, sex work (hell, even sex blogging) carries a huge stigma, and most of us would like to create a space where our clients can’t track down our parents or partners. Creating a fantasy is part of our job description; we may be a client’s Manic Pixie Dream Girl in the workplace, but that doesn’t mean we stop having private lives.

Same Bat Time: The Regulars Round Table, Part Two

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You can find the first part of this round table here.

Has anyone had a regular whom they legitimately could not stand? The kind of guy that just wouldn’t go away? Maybe his personality was foul, or maybe he was living in a fantasy world with you? What are some defense mechanisms for coping that with sort of regular?

Leigh:  This can take a couple of forms for me: I’ve had regulars who are really good clients, in the sense of being well-behaved and pleasant, but whose fetishes I’ve found really emotionally draining or just plain gross to accommodate. Then there are the “why on earth do you keep booking me?” guys who will make appointments really consistently, but complain the whole time, appearing generally unhappy with their experience. The professionalism-nerd in me finds the latter much harder to deal with. I can be extra gentle with myself around seeing Mr. Creepy-Fantasies, and tell myself that I’m providing a life-improving service, but guys in the second group are both annoying to spend time with, and leave me feeling like I’m lousy at what I do, which is much more of a blow. If I had to pick a worst-instance, there was a guy who was actually a house-regular at the dungeon where I first started working who probably takes the cake. To start with, he smelled rank. He wore the same the clothing all the time, and it smelled like he didn’t take his trousers off when he had to piss either. But he came in two or three times a week the entire time I was working there, and while he’d go through phases where he’d focus on one woman, and see her once or twice a week, he was remarkably un-picky in whom he saw overall. On top of this, he also didn’t openly have a fetish. You’d ask him what he wanted to do and he’d say “I dunno,” and nothing you tried seemed to get more or less of a rise out of him. And boy, did we try everything, from cross dressing to diapers to floggings to role play to rope bondage. (I don’t think anyone ever tried foot worship, because, well, you wouldn’t even put your feet on him, seriously.) My pet theory was that he wasn’t a submissive at all, that he was actually a top who got off on making women uncomfortable or humiliating them, and his noxious odor was the tool of choice.

I’ve found with tricky regulars, especially as an independent, there’s lots of ways to make them more manageable—whether internally, by scheduling them when you’ll have time to decompress, or when you really need the money, so it feels like an extra-solid accomplishment, or externally, by over time finding ways to defuse their irritating foibles. But I think the biggest single thing that makes it workable is that it’s a really clearly defined time limit: I only have to suck it up for an hour or two, and then I’m done until the next booking. The fact that I know exactly what I’m making and how long it’ll take is a big part of making it sustainable for me. I imagine that I’d have a much harder time working in a club or camming, for that reason, since the hustling gets done while you’re meeting the client, rather than beforehand. This ties right back in to why I focus so much on cultivating regulars in the first place: predictability is a big bonus that’s worth a lot of tradeoffs to me personally. I find not knowing what my week looks like much more stressful than the pushiest, grossest regular.

Caty: ​When I encountered this—”baby I LOVE YOU”, that is—when I was much younger, I used to just take the easy way out and agree to keep seeing them, say, every night for a week, until they ran out of money to see me. I guess I was lucky enough—well, in this sense—to live somewhere where most clients’ incomes just can’t take seeing me several times a week. ​Callous, maybe, but it worked efficiently enough.

Otherwise, often just dropping the pretense of giving a shit will do wonders. That way, you don’t put the besotted client in a Romeo and Juliet situation by blacklisting, making them feel like they have to win you over again and possibly having them turn violent stalker in the process. Rather, they just don’t want to see you anymore because you’re not the girl they thought you were!

Josephine: I wish there were an easy strategy to adhere to. I’ve tried to to pawn them off on younger, more patient dancers. If that didn’t work, there were only two semi-effective methods that did: drinking copiously OR bluntly setting clear boundaries: “I appreciate your generosity, but I hope you know not to expect anything in return.”

Ephemeral: Is it sad that there were quite a few I couldn’t stand? I don’t think I’ve ever had a regular that didn’t get irritating at some point. I will say there is one guy that’s such a headache simply because he is a huge pain to talk to. He’s not rude, or clingy, but he re-defines “bored to death.” The only sex he can stay erect and ejaculate from is very carefully done oral to a small penis suffocating underneath the fat fold of a pudgy lower gut. Yes, it’s as agonizing as it sounds. Throughout this process he is eerily silent. He’s a very awkward kisser and his lips are continuously chapped. Figuring out what he wants in the first place has been a series of trial and error because he seems remarkably indifferent and/or uninterested in everything I do. After I perform the world’s least sexy blowjob, we’re left with 2/3 of the 90 minute booking to talk, or cuddle…except he does neither. He has a gruff, cynical opinion on every conversation topic under the sun. He actively hates, or tastelessly makes fun of everything, including himself and his own life. It leads to a painfully dull interaction, that feels depressing even after he leaves…ugh! When I was too fed up with it, I sat on top of his belly and said these words to him very clearly: “Despite everything else, you’re fucking ME right now, and that’s awesome, so cheer the fuck up.” Now we just talk about me, which is easy, because even with all the cynicism in the world he can’t deny that yes, I AM awesome.

Shadowbans: Secret Policies Depriving Sex Workers of Income and Community

Written collaboratively by Juniper Fitzgerald and Jessie Sage

Several months ago, we attended the Adult Entertainment Expo in Las Vegas, which included the Adult Video Network (AVN awards). The problematic aspects of such conventions notwithstanding—for example, a panel of “industry leaders” at the Expo admitted to never hearing of FOSTA—it is an event many sex workers count on for networking. This year, one thing stood out at the various parties and meetups: none of the people in attendance, from well-known porn stars to newly minted cam girls, could find each other on social media platforms. So we—your very much alive and visible authors—decided to search for one another. Sure enough, even typing our exact handles into Twitter’s search bar yielded “no results.”

Since AEE/AVN, other sex workers have publicly addressed shadowbanning. The day after International Whores’ Day on June 2, NYC-based Dominatrix Mistress Blunt tweeted, “It’s really upsetting that when I go to tweet about #IWD everyone is #shadowbanned and I can’t find them to tag and I can’t livestream important speeches because I’ve been banned from that feature too.” Sex workers are finding that Twitter and other platforms have shadowbanned a significant portion of our community. Shadowbanning is the increasingly common practice of social media platforms silently censoring a user’s content without either the user or her potential followers knowing. In the The Economist, the anonymous writer G.F. describes Twitter shadowbanning:

Shadowbanned users are not told that they have been affected. They can continue to post messages, add new followers and comment on or reply to other posts. But their messages may not appear in the feed, their replies may be suppressed and they may not show up in searches for their usernames. The only hint that such a thing is happening would be a dip in likes, favourites or retweets—or an ally alerting them to their disappearance.

In the year since The Economist column was published, shadowban testers have been created. Shadowban testers are able to determine whether a Twitter user is banned in search suggestions, general searches, and/or in their thread. Essentially, the test detects whether a user’s Twitter handle is suggested to others, whether their handle pops up in a general search, and/or if the user’s entire thread is invisible to other users.

In the column, G.F. further maintains that “the currency of social networks is attention.” While there may be some truth in this statement, for sex workers, the currency of social networks is also, well, currency. Accessing community and clients translates to income for people like us who are marginalized, stigmatized, and criminalized. So, when sex workers lose access to social media, we lose access to income. Shadowbanning, then, is an opaque practice that effectively denies sex workers their livelihood. Sex worker Leana Lane tells us over Twitter DM, “I suspect that fewer clients are seeing and booking me than they would otherwise [because of it].”

Realizing how pervasive shadowbanning had become, we began to ask questions: What exactly is shadowbanning? How do sex workers on Twitter know that they’ve been shadowbanned? What have sex workers tried to do to get around shadowbanning? And, perhaps most importantly, how has it impacted their businesses and their community?

How To Start A Post-SESTA Emergency Organizing Group

Maxine Holloway and Arabelle Raphael, co-founders of BAPS (photo by Light Theif, via BAPS)

This post was jointly written by Maxine Holloway and Arabelle Raphael, co-founders of BAPS.

On the morning after the Senate passed FOSTA we texted each other about whether we should remove our ads from our social media accounts. We weren’t exactly sure what to do and knew that many other people were in the same situation. FOSTA had not yet been signed into law, and sex workers all over the country already had difficult decisions about our livelihoods and safety to make. Mercurial legal and cyber information and advice were flying around Twitter, online forums, text threads, and worker Facebook groups like wildfire.

We decided to host an emergency meeting for Bay Area sex workers that very weekend. We hoped we would gather a few people in Maxine’s small Oakland living room to share information, and figure out the best ways to move forward. Our small meeting quickly turned into 60-plus concerned workers RSVPing for the gathering. Because of the gravity of this situation the event promptly developed into a comprehensive cybersecurity and risk analysis training; an overview of current advertising platform options; and strategic action planning around local sex worker safety, media advocacy, and policy work.

But the most crucial thing that came from our meeting that we were able to come together to support each other. We didn’t all know each other, but so many of us were able to share and somewhat sooth the fear, sadness, and anxiety that FOSTA created. This worker-to-worker support and solidarity didn’t leave a dry eye in the house.

After our first meeting, we knew we realized how much work there was to be done to keep our communities safer, connected, informed, and empowered. We decided to create an organization to centralize the work needed to advocate for the health, safety & livelihoods of sex workers post-FOSTA/SESTA legislation: Bay Area Pros Support (BAPS).

An integral part of BAPS is to recognize the diverse and intersecting identities that make up our larger sex worker communities and to center the needs of sex workers who have been hit the hardest by FOSTA and experience the most criminalization. It is important to our organization leverage the power and privilege in our communities to create support for workers with fewer resources. One of the most critical subcommittees we have is our Outreach Committee, created to reach workers that are not online, and work with them to connect them with support.

The purpose of this article is to share the information and resources that BAPS has gathered thus far—on cybersecurity, general FOSTA/SESTA information, and post-FOSTA-SESTA organizing. Below are detailed notes and action plans for our meetings. One of the biggest lessons we have learned is that having community support through this process has been crucial. We hope that the creation of BAPS will encourage other sex workers who wish to organize in their communities as well.

When reading this guide, please keep in mind that everyone is making decisions that are incredibly hard, and only you can know what’s right for you. We tried to gather as much information to share as possible to empower people to make the best decisions for themselves. There is no one or “right” way to navigate this complicated situation.

Dancing and Disability: A Workplace Primer

(Photo by Du R Maciel via Flickr)
(Photo by Du R Maciel via Flickr)

Disability is the reason that I’m no longer a dancer.  Occasionally, I’d fool myself and go back to work for a while, and then remember why I can’t do it anymore.  The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.  Dancing is hard on the body – and for my body, it’s particularly difficult.  I’m having a hell of a time with chronic pain, and as it stands right now, it’s painful when I walk or drive. Thinking I can dance an eight-hour shift these days is an exercise in self-delusion.

I’m Mel, formerly known as Valkyrie.  I started dancing when I was 20, and I retired this year.  I’m bipolar, and I’m also physically disabled.  I have a connective tissue disorder called Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS).  My joints are very easily dislocated, and I have issues with back and neck misalignment, dislocations, subluxations, moderate to severe chronic pain, and chronic fatigue.  Think major arthritis and a hand tremor, and that’s the reality of the body I’m living in.  I should mention that I am about to turn 31, and none of these conditions are readily apparent unless I talk about them, or unless I’m visibly wearing braces.  

Disability is pretty common in the sex work industryoverwhelmingly, invisible disability.  Many sex workers choose sex work because they can pick their own hours.  The ability to earn high amounts of money in a short period of time really helps conserve spoons/limited energy, which is particularly helpful when dealing with a painful condition.  Many dancers, models, cam girls, and full-service workers suffer from chronic pain or physical limitations.  Mental illness is also very common; I’ve personally run into people with PTSD, depression, bipolar disorder, and at least one sociopath (who, lest you get the wrong idea, is a friend of mine and a wonderful person, all stereotypes to the contrary).  Mental illness can be disabling to a greater or lesser degree, depending upon circumstances.

I have some tips for those of us who are dealing with disability. Then I’ll be discussing disabled customers and how we can interact with them in a way that’s good for both them and us.