Archive for the 'stagefees' Category


What Goes Around Comes Around

In the last month or more since I wrote my last blog, I am finally blessed with a come up of my previous luck of the summer.  I don’t love the work like I used to as times are a changing, but at least I am not hating every single thing that I have to do for it and there are steadier calls and some better clientele who aren’t trying to fuck me over at every turn.  I know when it is down down down that the pendulum swings and it will soon come back up, but it had been a long summer of bad, economic recession and vultures flying low and clicking their teeth in anticipation of me slipping. I am still working on transition, but I am not naive to think that this is going to be a quick process.  I have made steps toward re-integrating myself into the working world, paid for my own criminal background check so that I could make sure that my misdemeanor charge was showing as dismissed as I had fought for.  The funny thing about expunging your record is that even though you may have gotten any of your previous charges dismissed, the person reading your background check still gets to read what the original charges were alongside the original sentences which are usually set extreme to scare you out of thinking you have any chance of getting off easy.  My original charges read  “7 days of jail, 18 months of probation, HIV test report and stay off Craigslist erotic services section.”  WOW.  Try applying for a teaching job with that even though the final lines say clearly “probation terminated on good behavior and case dismissed.”  Starting this process indeed made me teary eyed, but I feel similar to the process of representing myself pro per (as my own lawyer) in court and fighting for the dismissal would be an interesting exercise in seeing exactly how hard re-integration can be for someone like me who is supposed to have a wealth of so called choices.

I hate the word CHOICE.  Hate it. Fuck choices when it comes to work.  Choice is a continuum.  And for me, so is sexual assault.  I have been violated so many times I stopped counting because it would just be disturbing.  I have been violated so many times that I have accepted that I am a permanent warrior enlisted in the gender violence war.  And that is not my choice. But ‘Choice’ is the dominant paradigm that sits in opposition to FORCE.  forced sex work.  forced prostitution.  sex trafficking.  slavery.  Choice is also a word thrown around in the PRO-CHOICE movement.  This same pro-choice camp also so often fails to notice the lack of choices available to poor, marginalized women of color in regards to reproductive options and sex work is a part of that.   They are all for women being pro-choice with their bodies except when it comes to “choosing” to do sex work.  We sex worker rights folks are aware of the FALSE DICHOTOMY between force and choice.  But still sex workers talk about choosing sex work because it sounds good.  Connecting sexual abuse, drug use/addiction and sexual assault to prostitution sounds awful, pathological, typical.  How can we make these connections without these attributes?  Those sex workers may believe that they have the choice to do sex work just as simply as they choose to eat candy in the morning (or not) or fast food at night (or not).  Perhaps I feel like it is not a choice because so many times I have had to go to WORK and suck up my feelings time and time again and it was far from what I would have chosen to do with my time.  The nature of the SERVICE INDUSTRY particularly ones with BOSSES or SUPERIORS is that when you don’t want to do it, it will always feel like slavery.  This is true of housekeeping, childcare, farmwork, garment work, office work or anything that has a naturally submissive aspect to it in order to earn gratuity above minimum wage.  For me, it started when I was a stripper hating the repetetive monotony of my job.  I had just gone through my first major breakup of my 20s with a guy I was in love with and going to work to be chipper and sexually entertaining to the world and other men was the most difficult thing ever.  It was at this point when I started to medicate with marijuana on a daily basis in order to create a positive facade over the hatred I had for the job.  In the beginning of the healing I would dance on stage and go in the private rooms to cry.  13 years later I still medicate depression and anxiety with marijuana on the daily but now I don’t feel so bad about it.  Using weed is not just a result of being a sex worker, nor is my depression or anxiety but I definitely can be fond of eating a half of a pot cookie, smoking a bong (in the past, I vaporize now) or heating up a vaporizer to deal with anything in my life that I have to go out and do that takes strength.  This included going to grad school, student teaching and regular teaching.  Marijuana allows me to reach a level of seratonin balance that life doesn’t.  I have a deep and intimate relationship with MaryJane.  She is my mothers nipple to nurture my cries in an empty apartment at times when I am bawling hopelessly on the floor.  She is also just a way for me to push out the negative voices and replace them with positive affirmations about the big picture: the beautiful sunny Los Angeles day, the awesome music, the delicious food, the fact that I have many talents, that I am an intelligent analytical being, a writer, a singer, a funny joking child like spirit that deserves to live life to the fullest.  Maybe I choose weed over heroin, alcohol or speed or other substances that close down emotions and thought or maybe I am just choosing to live.  Is that a choice?  I don’t even know anymore.  I think so.  I mean, I know I have potential that is greater than being a junkie or commiting suicide or even relegating myself to a full time “normal” job.   The word has been used in so many negative connotations (mostly in my choosing to do sex work) that I don’t even use it anymore except as a necessary part of sentences.  Let’s just say I don’t use it fervently.  I don’t believe that work is a choice in America or anywhere in the world.

Mostly because I truly believe that I have been attracted to sex work and have stayed in sex work for as long as I have to unravel and discover my power struggle with sexism, rape culture and patriarchy that was NEVER my CHOICE.

My first sexual assault was a date rape on the beach at 17.  A naive teenager is getting drunk at a youth hostel with backpackers in the their 20s.  One of them asks me to go to the liquor store to get more drinks for the rest but instead I found myself laying in the dark at a secluded beach in Honolulu, Hawaii the sight of my first taste of what it meant to not understand the intentions of men.  As Tribe Called Quest would sing,”Classic example of..a date rape.” It wasn’t physically violent so [all my]  perpetrator[s] probably thought it was consensual.  I don’t remember who he was, only that he was some white surfer dude and that I knew exactly at the moment of penetration that this was not my choice.  There were many more after that.  The worst was from the first boy I ever fell in love with at 16, my best friends brother.  This assault would tear my best friend and I apart for many years and create a rift in our relationship that was only fully healed when at his funeral when he died (heart disease at only 26)  I had to face his brother again for the first time since the assault and be cordial. It worked out. We hugged and I was able to forgive him. David helped me from heaven or wherever he was. Then, another backpacking incident in Northern Australia, a vulture asks me to come to his room to get a massage and naive 21 year old adventurous me thinks that he has innocent and therapeutic intentions. NOT.  Because of that incident is the reason I attribute to why I feel I get so much out of the sensual massages that I give men.  Sensual and consensual they come so easily in my hands.  It is more than them ejaculating.  It is like the power blood gives vampires.  A refill of my power supply that had been depleted by trauma.  A refill of my power supply that had been depleted from the sexism of that day walking down the street before I came into my power or dealing with the privilege of men of that given time in my school, in my dating life, etc etc.  Melissa Farley and her clan love to hear stories like this.  It makes them hard, gets them funded, makes them look smart, makes them feel that I fit the stereotype.  The big difference is that I am empowered in the end.  More so than not.  Otherwise I would not be in it for as long as I have.

“Everytime a client comes an angel [hooker] gets her wings…”

Some sex workers are in denial of this connection.  I’m not.  I see it everywhere I turn.  I saw it especially when I was working with street workers in Skid Row.  So many of those girls find street work and prostitution satisfying because it is a gritty hustle.  Because their Uncle used to take for free continuously now they can not only not be around that abuse but get paid for the same desires that their pervy Uncle once had. And yes, it IS more empowering than being returned home or going back to a foster home at times.  I get it.  Do you?  I like craigslist/LA Weekly/Backpage clients for the same reason.  I attain high class clients occasionally through these outlets, but mostly I deal with working class, younger, drug using guys that I can yell at (if they act up) and never see again.  And they call me for the same reason and I DARE them to try to disrespect me.   Workers can be mean and strict with their tricks and get paid for it.  We prey on their shame of what they are doing.  We get paid for their racism.  PAYBACK in the short term, but in the long term perhaps more damaging.

NOT ALL MY CLIENTS ARE DICKHEADS THAT WANT TO RAPE ME.  Lots of them, most of them are great and fine, average guys that I heal myself and them simultaneously by surviving our transaction with ease and bliss.

In my acknowledgement that I am in the tail end of my sex work career, I acknowledge that I have attained enough of the positive and the negative to move on.  I have pissed in the mouths of men and slapped them around with their own dicks (practically).  I have watched them destroy themselves with drugs throw their money at me in effort to seem manly and as a result their manliness has disintegrated before me.  They’re not nearly as strong as I thought they were before I first started dancing at 22.  From my first day at the stripclub, I wore my 4″ stilettos and was suddenly able to look them in their eyes and see them for what they really were: vulnerable.  lonely.  compassionate.

It was the prostitution world that really helped me see this, as well as being a dominant.  I didn’t finish the journey in the stripclub, as all the stripclubs in America are ruled by pimps that exploit their workers at least to some degree and in the worst case scenarios they mirror the sexism that the mafia has with their harem of girls that one has become familiar seeing in movies.  (“Tell her to go upstairs and see the boss if she doesn’t have her stage fee..”) I have defiantly held my ground in verbal altercations and watched them back down.  Sometimes I have lost and a screaming cussing dude has chased me into my car after I have refunded him his money back.  So,  I have also lost and retraumatized myself in this effort.  Prostitution was the only thing that could have done this.  Stripclub stripping is legal, somewhat safer.  I could have not gotten arrested in a Craigslist sting, nor robbed or ripped off in ways that I had as an escort by staying the stripclub.  It was all a part of my beautiful struggle, my journey that I am still on.

Today is the first week of my 2011 marijuana cleanse.  I try to do it once a year.  Last year it was because my asthma had gotten so bad that I could barely breath without coughing like an old man every morning.  I abandoned my bong for 50 days and then broke down and went back to it without condemning myself.  I have since switched from smoking to vaporizing and have eliminated smoking anything from my life.  This also eliminates most of the social rituals of being a stoner because most people don’t vaporize.  I can’t believe it’s been a year already.  I used to love my bongs so much, now the taste of smoke sickens me.  I caught a cold Occupying LA and going to rallies in front of city hall.  It was the first major rainstorm of LA’s autumn/winter cold.  This rally was also the first activist event that I had really believed could make a difference somehow.  I hadn’t been to a march or rally in over a year, maybe two.  I thought often about supporting Oscar Grant’s case, but I just knew what the outcome would be whether I took the time to wake up in the morning to support his cause or not.  I was right.

Whenever I am sick, I don’t feel like using marijuana because clouding my head with what would normally be euphoria just ends up feeling like I’m just clouding my brain with smog.  So sickness often is a blessing in disguise for me to take a break from a medicine that I am usually mentally dependent on.  I have since kicked my dependence on asthma steroids.  I weaned myself off of them slowly using a herb called Lobelia which I would drop into water and drink to help relieve some of the symptoms.  It was working.  This was a relief to me as the ashtma medication that seemed to work on me the best cost $200 for a months supply.  I knew that this was just a sham from big pharma.  The doctors prescription said I NEEDED it twice a day everyday when because of finanncial constraints I started to use it once a day and then once every 3 days and then..only as really needed. (in addition to Lobelia tinctures).  I was proud of kicking this dependence.  Medical expenses are no fun.  I still owe my asthma doctor $350.  A visit to that clinic was the same cost to me as I charged my clients ($300/hr) yet, it never seemed to even out, it was never easy to pay the bills and buy the needed medicine and I still have a tab with them.  Today I am proud of the fact that I have found St.Johns Wort to help with my depression, Passion Flower extract to deal with my anxiety and I have only used marijuana ONCE in 7 days.  The cold allowed me to not crave and the herbs help to alleviate the symptoms that I often use marijuana for.  I use marijuana as a pain reliever for chemical imbalances AND emotional pain.  When I face difficult situations with people I am often running to my weed supply, driving straight to a dispensary to feel better and be cradled by my familiar nurturer who sings an internal lullaby and tells me softly “Do not worry about what they are saying.  Do not worry about what they do.  This, too shall pass.”  It is like an herbal teddy bear, I cuddle it and it helps me sleep better at night.  Judge me if you will but you aren’t the one who is holding me or offering to come over when I am depressed, you are the one who doesn’t want to hear my bullshit, who can’t hear my bullshit because it inconveniences you, because it triggers you.  So keep on talking your shit, and I will keep using my weed.  I want to have a baby in the next five years and join the ranks of all the wonderful sex working mamas that I know who have succeeded in defying society’s stigma.  This year’s cleanse is not for the asthma, its for the future baby.  Twice already this week tough times have come and gone, I have cried in depression without crawling to my usual supply of painkiller and survived.  I am super proud of myself for this.  Every little obstacle that I overcome I give myself a gold star because you won’t.  and it’s quite alright.


Activist Flashbacks circa 1999

I came into sex work activism as an undergrad planning a conference. One of the first people I met were the founders and fire behind the Exotic Dancer’s Alliance and the San Francisco “stripclub liberation movement.” One of the most important things that the EDA did was get A.B. 2509 passed. When AB 2509 became effective. Owners who require the payment of “stage fees,” “commissions,” or “quotas” from any portion of dancers’ tips were in violation of California State labor laws. This effectively set the precedent for any exotic dancer who was ready to exit out of the industry and file a labor claim against any of the clubs that she worked at in SF. Most cases, once filed and processed are awarded in the favor of the dancer/worker.

I came into stripping with previous knowledge on stage fees and fines, as I was mentored by some women who were either retired or about to retire and had already collected their renumerations from previous stripclubs. During my baby stripper days, there was a lot of drama and bickering between the groups of women involved and EDA soon became inactive, and the original founders of EDA became the founders of St. James Infirmary clinic, which is still open now. The EDA and many of the members made a lot of amazing strides for sex workers in SF, but stopped short of a stripper revolution, I believe because of the craziness that ensued between the members of the community. One of the women, whose personal suffering is always made known by herself, spent approximately 5 years showing up at meetings, throwing fits at everyone who didn’t agree with her, and really made it quite difficult for stripclub rights to go anywhere. Most of the women, burnt out on the drama exited the activist scene and are still supportive at heart but haven’t been seen actively involved in over ten years. Occasionally, waves of this inherited drama between the original stripper liberation movement in SF is still visible. One the most groundbreaking moves to unionize the Lusty Lady and then move it into a worker owned cooperative was also filled with horizontal hostility and drama that stunted its development into something that could have been much greater than it is now (I believe it is struggling?) I was burnt out on activism before I truly started! I and many other younger sex worker activists in SF inherited the drama of these women and would occasionally receive email diatribes between them on list servs that we were part of. One day, an email from Stacey, co-founder of Desiree Alliance asserted that “we [then] younger activists didn’t want to be a part of your drama” in so many words and that was a big turning point for sex worker activism in SF. Or, at least, it was a memorable point of entry for me to feel safe to enter with a clean, energetic state free from the baggage collected from all the fighting that had been going on between women that we didn’t even know that well.

I met Carol Leigh around this time and she introduced me to the prostitutes movement. Around this time, I also met Robyn Few and she and Carol and some others were just in the founding stages of Sex Workers Outreach Project. I remember thinking, wow, the prostitutes sure have more energy and direction than the strippers have had in years…

I guess with all of the issues that have ensued around the brothel issues, and other issues around social justice, class and privilege-I have gained some very visible opponents of my own and am starting to learn that taking the heat from any position that you are trying to organize, is part of organizing. Right now, in San Francisco all the sex worker activists have sort of unified around Measure K, the proposition to Decriminalize Prostitution in SF. Women who have sworn to never work together, women who are uncomfortable being in the same room together, have all somehow gotten together to be able to work together, but separately on this very important campaign even if they still don’t really like or trust each other. They know that they must unify their expertise to fight for decriminalization.  I am happy to see this happen, as many of us left San Francisco out of frustration so that we could actually make changes without inherited drama.

I know what my intentions are in the work that I am doing. I didn’t let some bitches’ at the brothel pouring tabasco on my computer stop me, and I shouldn’t let the voice of a hater silence me either, even if and especially if, she is part of the same organizations as I am.

The brothel issue is an interesting intersection between stripclub politics and prostitution politics. I feel, since I have experienced both that a lot of the issues are the same. There are many issues that are hotly debated that all of us from either side are not going to agree on, but enforcing labor rights was the right start that the EDA needed, and I feel that it’s the same tactic that can be enforced in Nevada too. If it is truly legal selling of sex, then we should be able to have recourse for injustice. When we speak of decriminalization, often folks will state legalization as their only understanding. Most of us knew that the brothel wasn’t the ideal model, but we had avoided talking about it in too much detail because we didn’t have representation from the brothels. Former brothel workers who have become leaders in our movement have confirmed that the way that management and girls try to break you down so you can get your stripes and then make your money existed then and as I confirmed, still exist. They have also pointed out to me, however that this is where they and other girls were at and I cannot harp on them for being brainwashed or damaged for doing so.  My words against the workers have been edited to be less critical, I am not apologizing to them for my blogs, but I was angry at every single one of them from the top down and blogging was the only fightback that I had.  No one admitted it, but they were all guilty to me. Management admitted her involvement by kicking me out after it happened, and I was guilty too because I was talking shit about their workplace which I had deemed was bootcamp and jail.  I was losing my mind from the inside out and writing is sometimes all I have to express my pain.  Later, I might write a song about it, but until then…

There is talk of getting current workers involved in any actions or recommendations that we make. I strongly believe that it is impossible to get more current workers than Amanda and I to the table, because you cannot be inside a house and critical of the master at the same time. Didn’t I find that out? Luckily for me, being kicked out and sent home didn’t have the same weight as it does for others who are given the same treatment, but it definitely wasn’t NOT a big deal. The same issue of current stripclub strippers speaking as the mouthpiece of management exists whenever there is some motion to close down the private booths that most of the dancers make their money in comes up. Some dancers have been assaulted in the private booths, and many dancers do full service sex work in these booths so there is a lot of divided camps of anti-prostitution, violence against women, current stripper, former stripper, and more which stops any progress on the issue. Current workers cannot speak their own minds about working conditions and still have a job.  So, no agreements are made and no changes occur.  There are still stagefees upwards of $400/shift and the private booths and full service sex work still thrive and prosper in many SF stripclubs.  Defacto legalization means no rights, and the stripper-prostitute hierarchy is still reinforced by the failure to address the issues in the stripclubs, but I don’t even think they are talking about this issue in their campaigning of measure K, because it might complicate the issue!

Since most sex workers are not protected by union laws, organizing against their employers (and blogging about them) usually means not having a job. And that is much scarier to many than having to deal with any of the things that I blogged about.  These days I am feeling on a strange tipping point with the sex worker rights movement in the U.S.  (I was so happy in Mexico!) Will we see the same shying away from clear cut labor violations because we are afraid of threatening the jobs of those currently working under those conditions?  We clearly don’t have as much power as them, but the EDA didn’t either and they got their resolution passed all the way to the state level!  I would just like to see the same precendent set for the workers in the brothel system.  This way,if workers felt that they could someday muster up the courage to fight for their rights, they had a method to do so.  It took me almost 2 years from the point I picked up paperwork at the Labor Commission to actually do something about it.  (and it took me over a year to get paid).  It is an extremely scary step, and many sex workers who do this are in fear and isolation of exiting the industry.  Sex worker activists agree that the brothel system is not ideal, but are not really working to change this.  But changing this is very very difficult indeed, and I’m sure has been tried by some before.  I feel that it is my duty to at least find out what has been done and if anything can be done in the future.  I have nothing more to lose in the brothel system. I am the perfect candidate.  This reminds me of the case I filed against the former Boys Toys club in SF.  I had only worked there for about 3 or 4 days and I was recompensated $1000 in backwages and illegal fees.  Never underestimate what the power of one and former precedents by others before you can do..

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