Good piece about being a sex worker – Winner of the World sexual Health day 2015 writing competition – food for thought.
But in case the link doesn’t work – here is the article
Sexual Health Writing Competition
2015 WINNING ENTRY
ELLE LYNN STANGER
“I’m a Sex Worker and I Experience More Harrassment As a Civilian”
I leaned back in the armchair, with the curly haired man beneath my weight. He sat, unmoving, except for the slow rise and fall of his breathing. He had sat like this for four songs, while I moved around him slowly, massaging his shoulders, gently pressing my cheek to his, tickling his hair, and pausing at times to bend and spread my labia. He smiled, blinking at long intervals. The final song ended, and I opened my arms to hug my customer. We embraced, “Thank you, that was very relaxing.” He handed me four bills, and I opened the curtain for him to exit. I plopped on the armchair, tucked the money in my cowboy boot, checked my hair, and smiled upon re-entering the strip club room. It was one of many pleasant, although otherwise conventional transactions at work.
I’ve been a female for all of my life, a performing ballet dancer for ten years, a stripper for six years, a wife for several years, and a mother for three years. I’m a petite, White, blond woman that is happily approaching thirty. When I’m clothed, I do not look outlandish or peculiar, and yet I’m acutely aware of my existence, due to the way I have been treated in public spaces, by strangers, all of my life.
Allow me to define “sex worker” and “civilian”, as I use them.
Sex worker: any person using their words, or actions to illicit a sexual stimulus, purposeful sexual thought, or sexual response, typically for money or other goods.
Civilian: any person behaving without any relation to the aforementioned.
So, a person, usually a woman, working as a webcam model, stripper, escort, dominatrix, masseuse, are categorized as a sex worker, especially while they are “on the clock”.
And yet, for the vast majority of the time, there is no way to tell the difference or to accurately gauge what a person does for a living, when that worker is out in public. When I go to the bank, grocery store, hardware store, coffee shop, library, or preschool, nary a person could look at me and know what I do for a living. Such is the same with an off-duty cop, an off-duty construction worker, or an off-duty librarian. Because I know how I present myself between the two, I am able to note the differences between the world in which I exist, and the microcosm that is the strip club.
Society tells me that I should not be surprised when a man propositions me for sex when I’m at the bar of a strip club. Or that I should not have been displeased with the woman who slapped my ass while I was waiting for a glass of water from the bartender. Or the guy who leaned into me near the ATM and hissed insults, before I had uttered a word. His friends apologized to me as they pulled him away, and yet he argued, “What? She’s a stripper, she loves that shit.”
And yet these things happen at times; such negative behavior is the result of a person feeling entitled to my body, because society has taught them to attach no value to women who have ownership of their sexuality. I see the unfortunate causation.
And yet, I feel much more safe in my place of work as a stripper, than when I walk to the grocery store, drive to the hardware store, sit with my back to the wall at the coffee shop. While I am no statistician, I can recall two decades of harassment for merely existing. When I compare civilian life to the interactions with hundreds of intoxicated strangers in a highly stigmatized industry, my amount of negative experiences in the strip club pale in comparison. Unfortunately, women in even the most developed parts of the world experience sexual victimization before they are actually old enough to be women.
I grew up in Fallbrook, California, “the friendly village”, a town so small that you literally have to drive ten miles in order to buy underwear. The village boasts two grocery stores, one Payless shoe store, one Starbucks and an awful sushi spot. Fallbrook prides itself on small town values, with one street nicknamed “Church Street”, because so many houses of worship line its curbs. Not one strip club, peep show, or naughty bookstore exists for at least fifteen miles. And yet sexual violence does.
In kindergarten, I stopped wearing skirts and dresses. It was a choice, due to the fact that in the older grades, all of the school children, ages five-nine at this school, knew that Friday meant “Friday-flip-up-day”, in which the boys would pull up or down the skirts of the girl students.
The first time I thought that I might be raped, I was twelve, and my sister was nine. We were walking our dog a few blocks from our house, when a car-full of men stopped and began calling to us. The car was red, the men were unfamiliar, and their words were crude and harsh. I pulled on my dog’s leash and reached for my sister’s hand, and yet she was actually the one who improved the situation, by screaming and kicking the door of their car. They drove off, cursing at us. We were lucky.
In middle school, I learned that a childhood friend had been raped in the public bathroom of a park on her seventh birthday. It was then that I understood why my mother stopped taking us to “that park”.
In junior high school, I was teased for having pubic hair; my little tuft had sprouted over the summer, and most of my friends were shaving themselves bald. It was considered “gross” to have pubic hair.
When I entered in to high school, I decided to lose my virginity earlier than I had wanted, not because I wanted to have sex, but because so many of my peers and friends had been raped their ”first time”. I wanted to ”get it out of the way”. It’s taken me fourteen years to realize all of the implications for this.
When I was fifteen and was mopping the floor of my first job, an ice cream shop, an elderly man looked at my rear in the air as I reached for the dust bunnies behind the freezer, licking his lips, “I bet everything in there tastes as good as it looks.”
During sophomore year, I opted out of swimming because I was afraid I’d be teased for my small breasts, so I took softball instead. Every day it was a preponderance all of the adult men in cars who honked or shouted at the teen girls who were throwing softball on the field. Every. Day.
There was the time that I was nineteen and the stranger with bleached and slicked-back hair snickered as he followed me through the grocery store aisle, and then unexpectedly rammed his shopping cart into mine. There was no reason, and he laughed harder as my face turned red and the cashier said nothing.
I understand now how this culture perpetuates itself. My mother was always fearful for the safety of her two daughters. She expressed this fear with worry, anxiety, by keeping curfews early and meeting the parents of my sleepovers. She expressed her concern passively, as our culture has historically dictated. My father was fearful for his two daughters as well, and he expressed his worry with anger. “If anybody ever hurts you, I will kill that person.” Because I was afraid of upsetting my mother, or unintentionally putting my father in prison for retributive homicide, I never told them a thing.
When my father discovered that I was sexually active with my nineteen-year-old boyfriend when I was sixteen, he was furious, calling him a “rapist”, and forbidding us from seeing each other. And yet, there was never a real conversation about the consequences of teenage sex. Sure, I had sat through public school’s sexual education, including two assemblies on abstinence, but many of my friends, myself included, were already having sex by the time I even heard any of it.
Now, as a grown woman, not much has changed. I was hurrying through the mall one morning, breastfeeding my infant to my chest and underneath my sweater, when the suited man slid near, pressed my shoulder and whispered, “Nice”.
Most days that I don’t go jogging is only because I can’t stand to be screamed at by men, or even teenage boys. This happens about once a month, sometimes a couple of times in the same day. When I asked my husband, “How many times has anyone shouted at you when you were jogging?” He blinked and thought. “Once, and I think the guy was on drugs.”
Aziz Ansari was right when he said in this year’s standup routine, “Every woman in here has at least three stories like this.” At least, and many, hundreds more.
In October of 2014, the term “viral” doesn’t even begin to describe the impact of the video made by “Street Harassment Video”, in which the woman is harassed simply for walking hurriedly, looking straight ahead, fully clothed. Detractors tried to criticize the video, saying that it had been edited to prove a point, as if that negated any of the behavior, such as that of the man who followed the woman for thirty minutes, even though she spoke not a word to him.
The fact is: women are treated as objects throughout the world. The other fact is: people are surprised when they learn that a stripper is often treated better by her patrons than by some strangers at a bus stop.
Yes, I’m a stripper and before I stroll to the store I find myself searching for that hooded sweatshirt that just might be baggy enough to prevent catcalls, even more fervently than I hunt for my favorite g-string before hitting the stage.
The simple thing that most people choose not to acknowledge is that a strip club is an excellent example of how well consent can work. There is an understanding among many strip club goers, that if you want to interact with the half-naked woman, you compensate her for your time. Our nudity, our sense of humor, our empathy, and our beauty is traded for those who will literally give something of value in exchange, i.e, a tip.
The most successful strippers interact with dozens, even hundreds, of people every shift, and so we become pretty adept with dealing with them.
Here’s what I have learned. Out in public, all women, have been harassed or made to feel unsafe, by men. In the strip club, all women have been harassed or made to feel unsafe, by men and, yes, by women- patrons also. As a civilian, the predators who feel powerful by using their presence to intimidate others, do so knowing that what they do is wrong. In the strip club, women and men will sometimes treat the sex workers unfavorably, because pop culture has reinforced the notion that we are lesser individuals, simply for the work that we choose. I do not denigrate the person who works at a fast food restaurant, and still eat the burger. I would not follow the court case of the musician who rapes minors, and still buy his album. And I don’t masturbate to porn, and openly deride the performers. Do you?
And unlike the fast food worker, I get to choose who I serve. The person who insults me or my friends or my beliefs, will never know the pleasure of my company and closeness. I do not give backrubs to people who disgust me, and I don’t drink and joke with humans that are unpleasant. And yet, if I choose to interact with someone who is personally distasteful, you had better believe I am doing it for a fee. Where in the outside world, does that exist? Sex work can be truly liberating.
Of course, my experience is unique to me, and I do feel fortunate that the strip club in which I work, tends to cultivate intelligent and respectful patrons, led by a professional staff and entertainers who like their chosen trade. Good behavior and an understanding of consent begets more good behavior and a better understanding of consent. After a half decade in this industry, I’ve realized that poor behavior is prevalent in venues where it has become permissible, or rather, par for the course. The difference? In the strip club, we can reinforce good behavior, with positive reinforcement.
How can we make things better? Firstly, let’s call bullshit when we see it. A “real woman” is not defined by her breast size, what she does for a living, or even if she has a vagina, but by the fact that she is a human, existing in the world, just trying to survive like the rest of us. If you choose to support the degradation of sex workers, you’re choosing to criticize any person, specifically women, who exhibit any iota of sexual being. I do not believe in saying, “that’s just the way it is”. If you are against change in worker’s rights, or human rights, then we’d all still be led in chains by a select few, building temples to the 1%. And if you do not support better living conditions for any human being, you are on the wrong side of history.
As people, we can discourage the abuse of other humans, by not encouraging it. If you are a woman, who insults a woman by remarking on her alleged number of sexual partners, you are the problem. If you are a woman, who uses the word ‘slut’, ‘whore’, ‘skank’ as insults, or as a measurement of a person’s worth, you are part of the problem. If you are a woman who agrees with your boyfriend, husband, father, lover or coworker when he treats a person poorly because of their sexual expression or identity, you are part of the problem. If you are a man, who does these things, you are part of the problem.
It’s Friday night in Portland, as I type this. I’m toasting a sandwich for my daughter, and I’m warming my g-strings in the dryer. I work tonight. I’m looking forward to work. I wish I always felt this good about heading to the grocery store.