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The H-Word: Q & A with Tits and Sass!

Tits and Sass is a blog written and run by sex workers who saw a void when it came to a smart, witty response to the public image of the sex industry.  The ideas promoted about sex workers in the public eye have as much an impact on the realities of the lives of sex workers as the law. For this reason, one of the site's co-creators, Charlotte, says, "we're not letting any more dead hooker or stripper bones jokes pass by without comment."

Contributors come from different backgrounds and locations across the country. They work as strippers, porn performers, pro-dommes, and prostitutes—work that supports the 100% volunteer operation. "[Tits and Sass] is our space for calling out pop culture fails, celebrating sex worker culture, and talking shop."

Bitch had the opportunity recently to ask the site's creators a few questions about Tits and Sass:

a white woman, nude, with her breasts resting on an Incredible Hulk figurine

Who is titsandsass.com? What is the idea behind the site?

CHARLOTTE: The original staff consisted of Bettie, Bubbles, Catherine, myself (Charlotte,) and Kat. We still create the bulk of the site's writing and handle all other responsibilities, too, like site maintenance and correspondence with potential contributors. Contributors find us online and approach us, usually, or we might ask working friends we know personally to contribute. We started because we believed sex workers need a space that isn't exclusively about activism and politics but that also makes room for some personality and humor. The end of $pread Magazine played a role in our formation in the sense that we wanted a new, regular source of sex worker-made media.

KAT: To me, more and more lately, I've been feeling like Tits and Sass is as much about an exchange of ideas as it is about having a space to address sex work in the media and popular culture. There are so many posts or even comments that spur other posts. With things like the recession and evolving technology, it's an interesting time to be doing sex work. I feel like we're finding ways to keep up with a changing industry and being connected to each other helps.

Where'd you get the name? Did you ever think "no, we shouldn't"?

CHARLOTTE: Kat came up with the name and while there were some other candidates we liked, it didn't take long to decide on Tits and Sass. There was some concern that the name might drive off male sex workers but I think that was the only issue that gave us pause. No one's given us a hard time about it. 

BUBBLES: I think it's hilarious, but I was the one person who wanted us to have a less NSFW title (I was in favor of "The Pros" or "Service Piece") so that it would be less of an issue for more conservative media outlets to link to us. But I think it lets you know what we're about pretty quickly.

KAT: I thought of the name. We had some other clever ideas, but having a domain that was easy to remember was a priority. Before we made our final decision, we did talk about the fact that it sort of alienates male sex workers. We still would like more male (trans, etc.) sex work perspectives, so hopefully our name isn't scaring people away. I kind of like that it's a little profane, but I also think the NSFW aspect is kind of a bummer if it's stopping certain outlets from being able to link to us.

How are sex workers generally portrayed in the reactive or mainstream media? How do you think this affects our community/individual sex workers' conceptions of self?

BUBBLES: Sex workers are generally portrayed as victims or punchlines. Like any marginalized population, only the extremes catch the eye of the media, so a stripper is either a cracked-out victim of abuse or a single mom/student trying to climb into another class. So many of us fall in the middle. I feel like I've worked with every type of woman, and the stereotypes are an impediment to forming community, because who wants to rigidly associate herself with either end of the spectrum? And if you're just working in sex work as a job, are you supposed to feel less virtuous if you're not a parent or student?

CHARLOTTE: Most media coverage concentrates on extremely disadvantaged women who are doing survival sex work under really bad conditions and, understandably, they hate it. To whatever extent the mainstream media even acknowledges the possibility of someone performing and not hating sex work, it's usually a white girl in New York City who's spending all her earnings on designer handbags, and the assumption is that she's a ditzy slut with no morals. The tone of these stories is often simultaneously pitying and salacious, if not outright hateful, and it puts sex workers in a position of 1) distrusting all journalists, and 2) feeling like they have to entirely contradict the usual narrative if they do share their own stories. Many sex workers (myself included) feel like they can't talk publicly about the negative aspects of their job for fear that the conversation will stop once they admit a single unhappy experience. And some radical feminists will accuse women of being tools for "pimps" or bought out by "pimps" when they talk about their right to work. That's pretty vile criticism to take on for someone who just wants to make their living safely, with the regular human rights afforded to others. 

KAT: If you're talking about movies/television, we're usually the punchlines, and if you're talking about the news, we're usually nameless, faceless, and reduced only to our vocations. I've definitely felt like a lesser person for being a stripper in the past because I hadn't really been told otherwise, especially not by the mainstream media. I feel really grateful to have found so many sex worker friends that I admire and respect. Whenever I feel down on myself or guilty, I think about my friends who are doing the same job and it really helps.

What have you learned from operating the site? Any big surprises? Any haters?

CHARLOTTE: Honestly, I've been pleasantly surprised by how little negativity we've encountered. I've gotten much meaner emails through my personal blog. I think part of that has to do with our comment policy, which is strictly enforced, and that fact that most people who come across our site are already part of a community that supports sex workers. Most of our commenters self identify as current sex workers, but we get fan emails from allies (often college students in women's studies or sociology) and men who don't identify themselves as being in the industry. I've been really surprised at how little negative feedback we've gotten.  Some posts, like Elle's Slutwalk piece really brought out the trolls.

BUBBLES: Like Charlotte said, most of the negative comments come from the anti-sex worker crowd. Oh, and guys who think we don't have a sense of humor about dead hooker jokes (we don't).

KAT: We had some amazingly horrible comments (most of which violated our comment policy and didn't get approved) after a feminist site linked to our post sharing Feminist Whore's video... I love that we called in an expert to deal with one particular hater.

You ran a piece recently about the divides among sex workers. Can you speak a little to the intent behind that piece, and to your experience of—in essence—speaking for such a large, diverse community?

CHARLOTTE: I would never presume to speak "for" other sex workers. I don't think any of us do. We speak for ourselves, and we don't agree with each other all the time but we want the site to reflect our differences as well as our moments of consensus. Sex workers aren't monolithic. Assuming that sex workers are or should be the same is exactly what we don't want to do.  But I wrote the "Sex Work Snobbery" piece because even friends of mine or smart acquaintances who I respect sometimes say snide things about women who work differently than they do. Like, "I know how to please these guys so well that I don't *have* to give hand jobs in the VIP room" or "I'm not selling sex, I'm selling my time." It's okay to be proud of how much you can get out of a client while maintaining your boundaries and it's okay to want it recognized that you engage in as much (or more) emotional and mental labor as purely physical. But everyone has different boundaries, and while I might feel like it's way too much to have anal sex with a client, another escort might feel like it's way too much to talk honestly with a client about her personal life. My own boundaries don't need to extend to all sex workers everywhere. There are legitimate distinctions and then there are mean-spirited hierarchies. Every time we insult another sex worker because she's doing her sex work "wrong," we make it that much easier for people to denigrate us for working, too—because for those rallying against us, there is no "right" way to do any sex work. And that same cannibalization happens among feminists, too. Would you rather make cruel remarks about the girl with breast implants, or would you rather put your energy towards making sure she's paid as much as her male counterparts and can exercise her reproductive rights? 

KAT: The sex worker hierarchy has bugged me for years, not that I've been totally guilt-free from passing judgment on fellow sex workers myself. I made this flowchart last year after getting into it on a stripper forum over whether strippers are sex workers. What bugs me about infighting between sex workers is that it makes it harder to get anything done. Sometimes when there are arbitrary beefs, I just want to yell, "This is why we can't have nice things!" I guess I feel like the cool thing about Tits and Sass is that we are getting more voices, so we are starting to paint a fuller picture of the sex industry. I don't know if I'd say we're trying to speak "for" sex workers either, but rather to give sex workers a platform.

What members of the community do you find least represented by the website? What are you doing to be inclusive (assuming inclusivity is a goal)?

CHARLOTTE: We have no contributors who are male or trans, and I would love for that to change. We also don't have many women of color writing for the site; I hope that changes too.

BUBBLES: I'd love to have more porn performers and camgirls write for the site. People who do in-person sex work (prostitution, domination, stripping) are our main contributors, perhaps because they feel more connected to the community. We continue to reach out and ask all different types of people to contribute, however, because of the nature of what we are—a website building community through commentary—we're necessarily engaging with the type of sex worker who has the time, access and inclination to engage in pop culture, social media, and politics.

KAT: Inclusivity is definitely a goal. I would like to see more phone sex operators, cam girls, and porn performers involved because we mostly have exotic dancers and escorts. I also would like people who are comfortable vlogging (video blogging) getting involved.

What challenges do you perceive sex workers having when engaging with earned media (sex workers who consider themselves writers and/or want to create media to represent themselves)?

CHARLOTTE: My impression is that a lot of sex workers start personal blogs because they need an outlet to talk about their work, and they can't confide in the people in their everyday lives. But usually there's some paranoia that goes along with that, and so they end up writing under a different name in an attempt to remain anonymous and low-profile…or they stop writing entirely because the risk feels too great.

BUBBLES: Obviously the biggest challenge is that "sex worker" or "former sex worker" will precede her name in any mention of her work. Whether or not that's a challenge or a feature depends on the audience. If you want to write about something other than sex work, it could be an issue. If you want to write about sex work itself, you could find yourself pigeonholed. But there are so many women who have broken into mainstream media that I think a background in sex work is rapidly losing its disruptive potential.

KAT: I would say that you should be mindful of separating your work and writing identities. I definitely didn't have any big plans when I started my personal blog, and wish I would have known to be more anonymous. I've had some annoying encounters with my blog readers at the strip club where I work. There are men who think that they know me because they read my blog, and there have been some boundary issues. There have been times that I've had to pull back from blogging because I've received one too many inappropriate emails. I can't always be as honest as I would like in my blogging and sometimes wish I could be anonymous so that I could say what I really want to say. My blog is pretty honest, but sometimes I find myself holding back. I'm really glad that Tits and Sass has the Suzy Hooker account for any contributors who want to write anonymously.

What are some of your favorite pieces you've run?

CHARLOTTE: I love all of Kat's posts, but her Top 10 Anti-Sex Work Billboards article is especially hysterical. I also like Catherine's review of Female Chauvinist Pigs and Suzy Hooker's "The Language of Selling Yourself."

KAT: It's hard to choose! I think Charlotte's "If You Can't Accept Facts, You Can't Be An Ally" piece is important because it really breaks down sex trafficking hysteria. I like Bubbles' "In Praise Of The Man Who Doesn't Get Strip Clubs" because it forced me to do some thinking. Definitely Bubbles' "Tina Fey Hates Sex Workers: Part One of Infinity" because it was really the first place that anyone has called out Tina Fey for consistently using sex worker jokes—plus the last line is such a zinger. We've also had a lot of great guest posts, such as Trixie's ".XXX Makes Me .MAD." Trixie really hit the nail on the head with that one.

BUBBLES: I really love Kat's "I Went to An Actual Vag Pageant" piece, so so much. That's probably my all-time favorite.

Re: the pic. Choosing an image is somewhat tricky when my subjects require anonymity (as was the case here). Photos become representational and so, by definition, can be objectifying. Sex workers—including nude models, such as the woman behind the breasts in this pic—frequently (although not always) allow themselves to be objectified for the purposes of art, to make money, etc. Being that I support sex workers, I have no qualms using or appreciating the products of their labor. More precisely, I liked this pic because I see the subjects of the article—Charlotte, Bubbles, Kat and all the writers over at T&S—being represented by the Hulk figurine, and the breasts representing the blog's subject matter. You are free to disagree/debate the use of the pic in the comments! 

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Comments

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Great!

I wasn't familiar to Tits and Sass prior to this; lots of compelling articles. I especially like the stripper-not-sex-worker flowchart and the review of Female Chauvinist Pigs. (I had similarly ambivalent feelings about that one.)

And Melissa, this is one of the best and bravest blog series I've ever read. I'm looking forward to the rest of your pieces.

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