The adult entertainment industry has a long history of stigmatisation and marginality. At school, we were never informed that this could be a potentially viable line of work, or even that people can choose this line of work. Instead we’re encouraged to look at people who work in this industry askance, with sympathy, or disgust. Most children grow up thinking that someone’s life situation must be pretty unsavoury for them to be doing that kind of work.
Whilst there are certainly people working in this industry whose circumstances might have made this one of only a few options, isn’t that the same with so many other jobs in the service industry, and other jobs in general? While stripping differs in that it deals with bodies (mainly female bodies), and is part of a wider discourse of the female body situated within the patriarchy, it is still a job in which a consenting adult performs tasks to earn a wage. This conversation is part of a larger conversation about privilege, choice, and protest. Any conversation about the female body should always take into account these things, and should attempt to dismantle ossified ideas about what a person identifying as female can and cannot do with their body.
Scarlett talks about her experience working in this industry, challenging mainstream perceptions of what it is like to work in an industry where workers still seem to need to justify themselves.
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Firstly, can you please tell us a bit about yourself—only as much as you want. Your background, what you do etc.?
I am a māori and pākehā artist/writer based in Wellington. I am originally from down south. Currently I financially support myself and my practice primarily through working as both a cam girl and as a dancer at a strip club.
How long have you been working in the sex industry?
I have been in the industry on and off for two years.
What is your reason?
I was interested in camming through the convenience of being able to work from home and choose my own hours, as well as having agency over how I engage with my clients. I enjoy the performance of talking to so many different men craving intimacy. It’s interesting. I started working as a dancer after wanting to learn pole. I get paid very well to perform emotional labour for men. After working in the service and fine art industries for too many hours for too little, I like being paid for my time for what I am worth.
What is your perception of the industry as a whole, from someone who is inside of it, but is also outside of it?
It’s regulated in Aotearoa and much safer than many places in the world. You hear stories about the Chow brothers. Sex workers teach people about boundaries and consent. It’s hard work. Sometimes you have to deal with assholes. There’s a perception of needing to ‘save’ sex workers, or that we are wasting our lives, it’s very patronising and frustrating to be told sex work isn’t work.
Can you tell me about your life prior to and outside of this industry?
I worked as a florist, in galleries, retail, and hospitality. I also worked as an artist model. I studied for a while, but mostly I’m focused on my art and writing practices. I am part of an art collective and have currently been writing a lot about emotional labour, colonisation, and sex work.
Do you see yourself as part of the service industry?
Very much so. There are slight differences though. I often think about being a very young waitress and being exposed to being groped, screamed at, and patronised by mostly male customers. I’d have to smile, apologise, and tolerate their bad behaviour. Now I can kick them out through the bouncers and tell them to fuck off. When camming I can block them and feel safe and supported by my employers.
Do you see yourself in this industry for a long time? Is it a means to an end?
I don’t think I’ll stay in the industry forever, but it’s hard to see when I will leave it. I’m saving for travelling and other projects overseas at the moment.
What are the benefits/what do you enjoy about your job?
I make good money. I work with good people from so many different backgrounds. I choose my hours. I get to drink wine at work. My safety is the priority of my manager, which is very important for me. If I’m uncomfortable I can make a customer leave; so many jobs don’t have that luxury of support.
What are the expectations of people within your line of work? Customers? Employers?
It varies. Some clients understand how strip clubs or camming works. They understand we don’t get paid hourly, it isn’t a zoo and that we are real people. These clients let us dictate the terms of how we engage with them. Some clients treat us like we are pieces of meat for them to consume. Your perception of consent is based entirely upon what you are comfortable with and this is a constant, ongoing negotiation. The notion of emotional boundaries between my regular clients is something that is difficult to negotiate as well. Often I feel like I am a version of therapy for some of the customers I talk to. My bosses are both wonderful to be honest. One boss at the club used to be a dancer and is incredibly supportive, kind and straight up with all of us. Unlike most clubs we don’t really get fines. My camming boss is someone I’ve only really interacted with via skype and online. He helps me whenever I need any technical support and is in general just what a boss should be like. I understand the privilege I have in being able to have such good relationships with my employers, a lot of sex workers don’t have that same luxury. I think it’s funny that the first bosses I’ve had that don’t treat me like shit are in the sex industry.
What do you think of people’s perceptions of the industry and the people who work in it versus the reality of it?
People seem to think it’s dirty. Some have a perception that sex workers are inherently repressed and pitiable people. There is something almost Victorian about the way they view morality and sexuality. I know that I have been lucky to have only had a few bad experiences and am not qualified to speak on the industry as a whole, but my understanding is that it is a hard, but financially rewarding industry. Dancing can be very good for feeling good about yourself and keeping fit hehe.
What does an average day/night for you look like?
I’ll go to work on the weekdays at 7.15–7.30pm to get ready and practice new pole tricks. From 8.00pm we are open and must dance/speak to customers in between stage spots. Stage spots are three songs long and mostly we get to choose what music we dance to. After the stage spot we collect tips around the club by doing table dances then we go back on stage, grab our costume and take off our g strings. Then we have a shower and smoke a cigarette. We do lap-dances which are either standard or VIP. VIP is more expensive and enables clients to touch us, but we direct how they engage with our bodies. It’s a performance, but does have moments of true intimacy. On weekdays I finish at 4.00am and on the weekend at 6.00am. I’ll get a cab home and eat a pie with my workmate.
When I’m camming it’s just like being in a chatroom but with private rooms. We collect tips and do private shows.
How do you justify this line of work as a feminist?
I have been told that I’m not a good feminist for doing sex work. I’ve been told that I can’t be a feminist. I just laugh in their face, because tbh I don’t care about white girl saviour feminism where a woman must not make money from her body. I’ve always been sex positive. I’m a survivor of a lot of sexual trauma, but in my line of work I feel I am really working to teach (mostly) men about consent and boundaries. I’m constantly belittled by ‘feminists’ who actually have no idea about what the industry is like. I feel like the solidarity I experience with my colleagues empowers me a lot. We have a lot of fun in our jobs. We deal with dicks, but we support and look out for one another.
How do you think as a society we can better educate people about this line of work and how we can educate people to see it as a viable line of work for those who choose to?
It’s a difficult line of work to destigmatise when we live in a hetero-patriarchal colonial state. I think first and foremost there needs to be an acknowledgement that sex work is work and that it encourages sexual autonomy, consent, and the assertion of boundaries.
What do you think of Lena Dunham’s comments about sex work in undeveloped countries? (If you don’t know what this refers to, you can read about it on Bust.com)
Fuck Lena Dunham and white feminism and its saviour rhetoric. Honestly she has no idea on any feminist issues other than those that actually affect her… she should only be speaking to her own experiences… fuck off Lena Dunham. Anyone who owns her book should burn it and exorcise her dangerous and incredibly privileged view of feminism from their lives. Vomit it out. It is not intersectional in the slightest. People who haven’t worked in the sex industry are not qualified to comment on how the industry should or shouldn’t be regulated. They are speaking for people they have not engaged with. What the hell does Anne Hathaway know about sex work. They should be advocating for the rights of sex workers, not preventing them from supporting themselves and (as this article clearly states) their loved ones. To be honest I am sick to death of Emma Watson type of white feminists commenting on feminist issues without really engaging with their own privileges as white, cis, and incredibly wealthy wahine, but also issues that have never affected them. Of course there is still sex trafficking and exploitation within the industry, but this has not been my experience. I see regulating the industry offering the possibility empower sex workers to. Again they are talking about consensual sex, not sex trafficking and exploitation.
*Not her real name.