I did it for the money but it was also true that I enjoyed it. Like no job I'd had before, stripping took skills. Yes, it was physically strenuous, but it was not only physical. Interacting with customers required intelligence and personality. I was free to be myself—or, at least, a part of myself. Indeed, of all the jobs available to me at the time, there was no question: stripping was, by far and in many ways, the best. It had the best uniform. I could make my own hours. I liked to dance. I felt genuinely good at it. And then there was the money.
"Working as a dominatrix was empowering. I dressed exotically, did creative roleplay, and was worshipped—physically and psychologically—on a regular basis. It helped me cope with my other part-time job: receptionist."
"I started dancing seven years ago. On the topic of prostitution, I generally say, you know, I have sex for many different reasons in many different contexts. I guess that's a buffer, a way of easing discomfort. I suppose I like that people are interested in my work, so long as it comes from an empathetic and genuine place. But there are so many other aspects of my identity. And so often people's curiosity does not come from a good place."
This weekend Sex, Power and Speaking the Truth: Anita Hill 20 Years Later convened to discuss women's ability speak up against gender inequality and abuses of power, with a focus on the intersectionality of race, class and gender in defining a woman's experience, as well as a look at women's continuing "credibility problem." The speakers were a parade of some of the most high power professional women of this lifetime: Catharine MacKinnon, Gloria Steinem, and yes, Anita Hill. As an attendee, I was inspired and energized. I felt a part of something big. I also felt something important was being left out.
"It all started with Stephen Elliot. I read his book My Girlfriend Comes to the City and Beats Me Up while in grad school and I started following him. I discovered the Rumpus and submitted an essay. I got rejected until I wrote something they liked."
"I'm a whore, a proud whore. What does this word mean? A whore is a prostitute, sex worker, hustler, degenerate, scum in a female body. I call myself a whore revolutionary. I consider myself a survivor."
"When I was a teenager, like 14, I took off from an abusive foster care situation (one of many) and I had to 'make it' on my own. I had no ID, and no money. I danced at Billy's Topless and a place called The Baby Doll Lounge, until I was legal age to be on my own and to get a proper job. I never got drunk at work, I never did drugs, or slept with or dated clients. The older women looked out for me, big time."
Many people find it challenging to see sex workers as subjects, rather than as objects—as individuals capable of making choices and as actors in their own lives. Tragically, many of these same people purport to be our advocates.
Here at the Bitch Community Lending Library, we're spending the spring talking about sex work. Last Tuesday, our book club got together to discuss Working Sex: Sex Workers Write About a Changing Industry edited by Annie Oakley. In April we'll be discussing Unequal Desires: Race and Erotic Capital in the Stripping Industry by Siobhan Brooks, and in May we'll read Rent Girl by Michelle Tea. If you're in Portland, come to our book clubs! But regardless of where you are, if you're looking to put a few books that explore the sex industry on your bedside table, you should read along with us.
If there are other books about sex work that you would like to recommend to readers, leave them in the comments!