Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Snippets of my day yesterday…

I go to a Capitol Hill bank to make a deposit. Sitting in the drive-through, I put my slips through the teller’s drawer. She picks up the paychecks from The Stranger and says from behind her glass, “Oh, do you work for The Stranger? A lot of people from The Stranger come here.”

I have a habit of not chit-chatting with strangers, and certainly I do not volunteer personal information to them. It always startles me slightly when people I don't know - even bank tellers, whom one supposes have access to a certain level of one’s personal information - ask me such questions. I think of it as a ladylike reserve. But Max informs me I’m a bit of a curmudgeon, so I tell myself, I’m sure she just means to be friendly. Thus, I smile and say, “Yes.”

“Oh, what do you do for them?”

Ok-ay. “I write for them.”

“What do you write?” She's still smiling brightly at me as she counts my money. Do I want to have this conversation? Not particularly. Do I see a polite way out? Not really. I suppose I could claim to be Erica Barnett, but that’s not the name on my check.

“Control Tower.”

She furrows her brow quizzically at me. Ah, so fickle is fame. “I’m Mistress Matisse.”

“Oh. OH. Oh, really.” She looks down at her desk, away from me. “So, anything else for you today?”

Hey, don’t ask the question if you don’t want to know the answer.

Later, I’m standing in my dining room with Nerdygirl and her um-friend. (This gal needs a blog moniker and an official job-description, but I am not authorized to assign her either.)

Monk is modeling his outfit for Folsom Street Fair for us. “I just need to make sure I look gay enough,” he says seriously. You see, Monk is always one to wear the appropriate costume for an event, and since FSF is a heavily gay-male event, Monk is dressed like, well, a gay leatherman. But I won’t give details, as he might want those for his blog.

“Honey, I think you look as gay as a straight guy can look,” I say.

“But is gay enough?” Because with Monk, whatever it is he’s doing, it can’t ever be just-okay. It has to be faaaaaaabulous.

“Dude, you could be a backup dancer for the Village People. That’s a very gay outfit.”

Nerdy and her companion agree. Then Nerdy says something about Monk being an otter.

I say, no, he’s not an otter. “He’s not hairy enough to be an otter. Galahad is an otter.*”

“Well, he’s not a twink. Or a bear.”

“He doesn’t really have to be any of them, you know,” I say, laughing. “Especially since he’s not really gay.”

“But do I look gay?” says Monk, getting us back to the important matter at hand.

We all assure him he couldn’t look gayer unless he was fucking a twinkie boy in the ass with a cigar in his mouth.

Hopefully I’ll get a picture of him at the fair proper.

*Galahad is actually not gay, either. Although like Monk, he enjoys flirting with gay men.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Further Thoughts On Labor Issues In The Sex Industry

Molly said yesterday: It kind of depresses me to hear you say (I paraphrase) "Just accept your crappy working conditions, that's the way it is and it's not going to get any better."
Sure, if you just roll over and accept terrible working conditions, your work environment isn't going to improve. But workers, in the sex industry or otherwise, have rights to working bathrooms and to have their contracts (number of scenes, whatever) agreed to. If no one stands up and says "Hey, don't treat us like shit!" management won't change.
Maybe I'm just idealistic, but I've seen direct positive results from the labor movement. I think those ideas can be adapted to sex work. Then again, I've never been a sex worker, so this is all theory.

I understand what you’re saying. I myself put in quite a lot of time doing sex-worker activism in the nineties. I helped run a local sex workers organization called Blackstockings, I wrote articles, I made speeches, I produced sex worker events, I helped put out the ‘zine. (Remember 'zines?) So it's not that I don't care, or that I don’t think social change can happen.

But I am a pragmatist, and I am also a capitalist, albeit something of an anarcho-capitalist. I have seen a lot of smart, earnest women expend a lot of energy trying to change the way sex business owners treat their contractors (read: de facto employees) and achieve...not very much. It's great and wonderful that they/we achieved anything at all, given the level of resistance that exists, but to me, it was like trying to bail out the ocean with a bucket. I saw that if I worked really, really hard, I might, just might, help create…a slightly better place for women to go make money for sex business owners. Hmmnn. Didn’t seem worth it to me.

I suppose part of it is my family background – I come from a whole nest of self-employed people, and I was raised in an atmosphere where if you wanted something to happen, you made it happen for yourself. The idea that workers have the right to make demands about how a business owner runs their business is sort of strange to me. I’m not saying it’s wrong, because I know, intellectually, that it’s not. I’m just saying that it’s not a way of thinking that would ever naturally occur to me. For me personally, if I don’t like what’s happening in a work environment, my rights are my feet: I can leave and work somewhere else, or better yet, start my own business and run it my way.

The sex business owners don't care because they don't have to. As it is now, if women quit because they don't like the conditions, it doesn’t matter, because there are plenty more where they came from. There is no financial incentive for them to change, and appealing to their better nature is a joke. Thus, my answer was to quit bouncing from one workplace to another and create my own work environment. I think that’s a better solution. If enough women quit working for someone else and started their own businesses, that would make an impact on sex business owners. They’d be inspired to offer more competitive working conditions, or see their labor pool dry up.

But I think that's unlikely. Many people want to work for someone else. This baffles me, but I see that it’s true. However, I’m hoping that if I keep talking about how I have created what I want, then I will inspire other women to do the same - whatever it is they want.

I didn't dance at strip clubs or work at lingerie-modeling joints to create social change, I was doing it to make money for myself. While I was there, I saw and accepted the trade-offs that come with the gig. But I made plans to get myself out of there and into something better. I’d rather teach women how to do that then spend a lot of energy trying to change the rules of someone else’s game.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Sex Work and Entrepreneurism

Last night Monk told me of an article he had read in Rolling Stone, about men in the gay porn industry. It was mainly about the murder of porn producer Bryan Kocis. But apparently it also touched briefly on how a lot of young men in gay porn don’t make very good money, although many of them hope to. However, their dreams of stardom and riches are frequently dashed – much like a lot of women in the porn industry.

Why am I not surprised by this? Probably because my experience of sex work is pretty vast, and regardless of gender, if you want to make good money in the sex industry, then you need to do two things. One: get in the room with the client, and two: eliminate the middleman.

That means that any form of sex work you do which does not place you in the room with a client should be viewed as temporary and prone to marked fluctuations. Nice extra money, but not to be exclusively relied on to make you a steady, long-term living. So, phone sex, modeling, peep-shows, cam sites, and yes, porn videos – that kind of work can provide a continuous small trickle of money into your pocket, or it can occasionally inject a large wad of cash into your budget. But while I know a lot of people in the sex industry, I don't personally know anyone who has made a decent living exclusively from such avenues for any long period of time.

(And no, the photographer who pays you to model for commercial publication is the not the client. He’s a middle-man. The guy who buys the magazine or joins the paysite is the client.)

The money in those gigs is a bit better if you own the venue. There was a window of time in which mom-and-pop porn sites could do pretty well. But unfortunately I think that era is over - between the federal government regulations, and the expansion of the corporate porn industry, a lot of indie porn sites have been muscled out of business, or at least out of the black.

The women I know who have done best with not-in-the-room sex work are very smart, extremely organized and ferociously self-disciplined. My pal Lydia, for example. I’ve known her for almost ten years. She does a lot of modeling and video work, and has done better with it than many. It doesn’t hurt that she has one of the most naturally beautiful bodies I have ever seen in my life. But that gorgeous figure would not pay like it does unless Lydia had the brains and the drive to make it happen, year-in and year-out. It’s my observation that not so many people have that. And even Lydia does private pro domme sessions.

No, the real money – money to live comfortably, buy a house, create a retirement fund, build some security – comes from establishing relationships with your clientele. So you gotta get in the room with them. Whatever else you do or don’t do with them, you have to look in their eyes, talk to them, and really be there with them. If you can’t do that, then I predict you will never make a good full-time living doing sex work.

And most of the time, you also have to run the business yourself. (I have known some strippers who just danced in clubs and made good money over the long term, but I think they’re the minority.) A lot of people want to just punch a clock, so to speak, and not have to take any responsibility for the success of the operation as a whole. You can find places where you can do that, but the sex industry is the wild wild west. It’s largely unregulated, and the people you’ll be working for are interested in one thing and one thing only: money. They are not interested in your safety or your happiness. That’s just the way it is. It’s like gambling in Vegas – the odds are always in the favor of the house. When I see people in the sex biz fussing about employment conditions or unfair treatment, I always sort of shake my head. I mean, sure, it would be nice if the toilets in strip-club dressing rooms always worked, and porn producers shouldn’t pressure performers to do more extreme scenes than they agreed to. But – that’s not how this industry works. If you want sparkling-clean working conditions and supportive management, go apply at Starbucks. I’m not saying it’s right, but it’s just how it is.

So if you want to make a good living in the sex industry, my advice is: Set up your own shop, run the business yourself, and deal with your clients directly and personally. Don’t be fodder in someone else’s money machine.