One of the brightest spots of sex work activism is when some bright-eyed bushy-tailed sex-worker-to-be finds her way into the space and wants to know the best way to get into our sordid business. “Come, little one! Join me in the fresh hellscape that is the business of selling sexual services,” I declare, fancying my mentorship style half old-school brothel manager chain-smoking Virginia Slims, half Archimedes the uptight but good-hearted owl from Disney’s Sword in the Stone. But one of the darker spots of the same situation is when these apprentices say things like, “I think I could start with something easy like stripping.” Oh, girl. You did not.
It is times like this that I wish I had this story in my back pocket to pull out and give to would-be strippers that think dancing is the Diet Coke of sex work. It is the story of a man with a shit-eating grin and a monumental sense of entitlement calling the police on a stripper who denied him sex in a VIP room in the appropriately named city of Butte, Montana. To recap, this man believed that the denial of sex from a stripper was not only a criminal offense but a criminal offense worth escalating to involvement with law enforcement. The sense of entitlement to sexual services beyond the ones on the official job descriptions are ones to which strippers are subjected regularly. While it is newsworthy because the guy actually called the cops, strippers know that boundary-pushing clients are part and parcel of the sexual and emotional labor of stripping.
For those that do not provide extras, such expectations mean being in a permanent state of feigned-friendly negotiations to continue earning from the client but having your boundaries pushed, often to the point of feeling endangered. For those that do provide extras, there is the expectation that you must provide them to any client under any circumstances. Yet, strippers who do provide extra services selectively offer them to regulars or at specific price points. As a firm believer in the “you do you” model of having zero expectations from my fellow workers about how they conduct their business, I still hope for a work environment in which everyone’s boundaries are respected by clients.
In watching the celebrity nude photo scandal unfold in the last few weeks, I can’t help but compare it to the relentless onslaught of clients that think it’s just a hoot (owl reference intended) to secretly photograph sex workers, take screenshots without permission, and otherwise collect unauthorized and unpaid for memorabilia from their sessions. Their sense of entitlement mirrors that of the largely male group of self-professed experts in internet privacy that make the argument that if Jennifer Lawrence didn’t want her nude photos shared, she should never have taken them. Similarly, sex workers from across the industry who are pressured, assaulted, or worse are told that if they didn’t want to perform particular acts, well, then, they should have never performed a sexual act in a transaction in the first place. Didn’t they realize that any act made them available for all acts, even in the absence of a negotiated price, in perpetuity, until the end of their wretched little sex worker lives? For those that think that this sounds hyperbolic, I dare them to ask ten random strangers on the street if it’s possible to rape a sex worker.
It is stories like the one from Butte that also make me wish that more strippers identified as sex workers and joined the ranks of sex worker activists. Despite the relative legal safety of the strip club, there are still a number of dangers and opportunities to be stigmatized by the very public nature of the work. Of course, my “you do you” model also prevents me from forcing the title of sex worker on those that do not wish to adopt it, but it is something to hope for as the movement grows.
I am someone who has worked in different sectors of the sex industry and I’ve found stripping to be the most emotionally and physically taxing, the sector in which I’ve been subject to the most degrading language and boundary pushing. I know that strippers have something of a Regina George reputation among sex workers as many deny they are sex workers at all, considering themselves above the designation. Some strippers have been unkind trolls to Belle Knox and other porn performers on Twitter. Strippers are also arguably among the most likely type of sex worker to be denied the label by our clientele, mostly because strip club customers don’t want to have to identify as clients and they can deny that status more easily if we aren’t identifying as sex workers. But the expectation of explicitly sexual services is absolutely built into the idea of the VIP room, and it means that negotiating and/or denying various forms of sexual labor is part of the job.
This constant onslaught of demands for sexual services make the work of stripping much more than a set of training wheels to prepare for “real” sex work. And to negotiate those boundaries in six-inch heels and half a pair of underwear, alone in a room with a man who considers deodorant and dental hygiene as optional, is arguably harder than pulling a magical fucking sword out of a rock that was put there by a wizard. Apprentices, you are on notice.
Agreed that stripping is actually a much more difficult type of sex work, in many ways, than dealing with a client one-on-one. I often wish I’d just gone straight into escorting instead of stripping first (though it wasn’t because of any grand sex-work-career-path plan).
Is there really any kind of sex work lite? My experiences in the divide between sex work and not seems to indicate that you’re either sex working or you’re not. I haven’t seen any good grey area in my experiences. Not that there aren’t plenty of situations that aren’t grey, but they’re never positive. Sex work seems to be a very binary type of situation.
Definitely, I see dangers and pitfalls in all types of sex work and I think all of us do, especially compared to outsiders who have this “PENIS IN VAGINA SEX IS THE MOST BASE TRANSACTION ON EARTH” mentality and don’t understand the emotional and physical demands of other forms of sex work. Even when I was a wee foot fetish girl that sold panties on the side, I encountered situations where men demanded more in a way I wasn’t prepared to negotiate considering the original terms of our meetings. The point is, we could all use a bit more solidarity and empathy and it looks like you’ve got all sorts of that.
I would say that no matter what kind of sex work one does, or how often, or to what degree, in the eyes of mainstream society one is still a dirty whore, full stop :/
Thanks for writing this. I sometimes visit strip clubs with my clients and have occasionally been really uncomfortable with the ways they pushed against the dancers’ boundaries. It is an incredibly awkward position to be in. I try to be an advocate for the other sex workers boundaries as best I can, but part of the job feels like I also need to go along with certain aspects of it (“oh yes, I’d love to bring her back to the hotel with us! Let’s ask her in a very non-pushy way”). I don’t even know what to say other than that I both admire strippers highly and appreciate how hard the job is enough to make me never want to do it (I did do it for a hot second in my early 20’s, had to quit almost immediately).
One thing I find slightly upsetting about the linked to story of the man who was arrested for calling 911 on a stripper who wouldn’t have sex with him is that he was charged with soliciting prostitution. It’s not that I don’t think he shouldn’t be charged with something- I just wish we lived in a world where he could be charged with sexual assault and for calling 911 in a non-emergency situation. Maybe he was charged with those, but leave it to the media to leave those details out in favor of a prostitution charge.
I hadn’t even thought of how criminal and irresponsible the rest of his actions were, that is a great point. It doesn’t even occur to me that customers are committing crimes when they touch inappropriately since the standard procedure is so often “just playfully dance their hands away.” Ugghhhh.
True, a bogus call to 911 is a misdemeanor in itself, and any unwanted bodily contact with a person is a form of battery, degree depending on the code where they live. More so if there’s a sexual context, in one state I lived in, going by the strict letter of the law it would be “lascivious battery” (a felony) for someone to shove his hand down a dancer’s thong without her permission.
I suppose that in this case the report goes with the more obvious charge. Also it may be the parties involved may not wish to go into specific details for an assault allegation, when they’ve got an ironclad solicitation case in hand.
Seriously! I’ve had fingers shoved into my vagina twice in the last three months doing hot seats because it’s tough to watch my back and balance at the same time, and tonight a guy shoved a dollar bill up my asshole as my hair was in my face and I wasn’t being vigilant enough. They’re shocked when I angrily inform them they just sexually assaulted me. I refuse to play nice after that bullshit.
I have a lot of respect for what strippers have to put up with. To me, it sounds like some of the most difficult work in the sex industry (if not THE most difficult). 8-hour shifts in high heels in a loud, dark club, having to cold-call man for dances constantly! Constantly having to flirt with emotionally needy guys, boundaries-pushers, and the random bitter woman-hater. If you have body issues, comparing yourself to other undressed women. Management busting your balls and everyone in the club trying to get as much money from you as they can. PACKS OF DRUNK MEN.
The author, Ms. Champagne, discusses clients taking photos/vids…this is a huge problem with me and if I was a stripper, it would be one of my big concerns. At least one-on-one, in fetish work, I could monitor them, and they were undressed. In the strip club….notsomuch. Men and their fucking CAMERAS, I hate it!
I don’t think that there is a “sex work lite.” Maybe selling “used” panties and bras and clothes on the internet/ebay counts. Don’t see how anyone could make a living at that, though.
“But the expectation of explicitly sexual services is absolutely built into the idea of the VIP room, and it means that negotiating and/or denying various forms of sexual labor is part of the job.”
This. Sounds like “tease-and-denial,” only with a guy who’s not there for tease-and-denial, and is not tied up.
If there was a stripper in my office with me right now, I’d give her $20 on basic principle.
Thanks for the kind words, Miss Margo. It is alway encouraging when fellow workers in other parts of the industry don’t dismiss the labor of stripping. And I may or may not swing by your office…
I’d also like to thank you for writing this! The upside to the job is what we most often focus on when we share our experience with non-sex workers so we don’t get the unwanted pity and moralising, however this can lead to our jobs being disrespected and not taken seriously for other reasons… Just because I can pick my own hours and drink at work does not mean it is easy, by any means!
Thank you for acknowledging that.
In regards to “the negotiation/denial of sexual labour”, in the UK the expectation of explicit sexual services in VIP rooms is actively squashed by management and is completely unacceptable in every club I’ve worked at. The thin line between club and brothel is legally very clear, however some girls push this distinction and perform illegal extras on site when they’re behind closed curtains… this makes it a really uncomfortable environment for the girls who don’t, as they get asked constantly for sexual favours and have to put up with having their boundaries pushed all night because ‘other girls do it’. It also makes it harder for the girls who just dance to earn money legally when customers are being given happy endings in booths for the same price as a regular no contact dance, and so this pushes girls to start being more lenient with things they aren’t really comfortable with… I don’t think this is fair at all, and certainly shouldn’t just be treated like an ‘occupational hazard’.
I have no problem at all with anyone ecxchanging sex for money, just not in a lap dancing club!
I worked in a lingerie restaurant before I was a full service sex worker and at the time I thought there was this massive divide between my job and stripping (bullshit) and an even more cavernous divide between that and sex work (bullshit.)
I kind of wish I could go back to that job now, man would I make some cash. Fuck, that job was wasted on a girl who thought that sex work was icky (and out of my league) and naïve enough to really believe that extras at the restaurant didn’t exist. Ha!
But I also look back and think how very out of control of my boundaries I was, and how, if the restaurant hadn’t been truly amazing at assisting girls in maintaining exactly the working conditions they wanted, I would probably have had some very bad times there. If I’d been working at a strip club, I would definitely have gotten myself into sticky situations.
That job really was sex work lite, and writing about it only highlights how important management is in creating a good working environment. There is no reason strip clubs couldn’t run on the same principles as that restaurant – where every client knows exactly where the boundaries are and knows they will be thrown out the SECOND they consider pushing any girl even a little bit. Where you know the regulars get special treatment from some of the girls, but you also know that if you refuse them, you won’t get in trouble and that if you were to report them to management for hassling you, they would take your side even against the highest rollers. I didn’t realize it at the time, but girls were operating at a range of service levels and I was happily making decent money by totally toeing the line.
Before I started sex work I know I thought stripping was hella easier, but I definitely don’t think that now. I highly doubt I could strip actually, I dread the day when circumstances might mean I have to switch to it – the constant hustle and disrespect is so so draining, and it doesn’t seem like ‘easy clients’ really even exist! (Easy clients like when a dude pays you for 2 hours, cums in his pants and then talks about what to buy his daughter for her birthday for 45 minutes and leaves early.) And management! FUCK WORKING FOR SOMEONE ELSE again. Shudder.
Also, I actually read the article – and they actually make it sound like the guy got ripped off. Like $350 is way too much for a private dance and no wonder he was expecting sex.
I have worked in clubs in the UK where an hour of our time is £300. $350 is £230… so that amount is actually a fair price for a long private dance. Customers should not expect sex from strippers, unless it has been agreed upon and carried out off the premises.
Oh sorry, I understand what you were saying now. That the tone of the article is sympathetic to the plight of this asshole. Apologies!
“I dare them to ask ten random strangers on the street if it’s possible to rape a sex worker.”
When I hear this I ask in return, “Is it possible to steal from a retail store? Then it is possible to rape (steal) a person who works in the sex industry….”
I know many sex workers consider rape to be theft of services, but to me it’s still rape. Stealing would be not paying me or taking money from me. Rape is rape.
I’ve actually never heard a sex worker dismiss rape as theft of services–I’ve only heard that bullshit from whorephobic civilians.
Agreed, with you and Amanda.
I kind of have seen this, once. On a ladies only part of a message board, a sex worker mentioned that clients at a Bachelor’s party did more than what was agreed to without paying. When I suggested that this was assault and offered local community resources, the sex worker in question resisted this interpretation, preferring to see it in more commercial terms. I backed off. I never asked about the details and I don’t remember the exact words she used. But I remember reflecting on it and thinking that to me, the description was clearly that of a sexual assault, yet she was more comfortable with a different interpretation, perhaps, due to the gravity that the connotation of assault/rape carries.
I’ve talked to several sex workers, one of whom is an activist, who consider rape simply to be theft of services.
‘ I was once employed at a “clip joint,” or a spa. The thing was to just keep upselling the client and then direct him to masturbate himself while I watched him while in various stages of undress. House fees were 50%.. The owner owned three locations and was very wealthy. The entertainers were in constant danger. Car tires were slashed, police were frequently called because no one actually provided a service. Yet this is legal. Actually providing a service is not.
weve all had those things happen and we all had special customers who got special treatment of course at an accepted price and weve all had those guys who expect special treatment for nothing i was lucky i lasr worked in black night club and felt i was treated special