Sex and the Windy City

Tail of two cities: Sex Worker Literati

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Photo by ExpatJane

I've never been a sex worker. The closest I got was getting someone to pay me $5 for making out with a straight girl in college. Now I do that all the time, but oddly, no one wants to fork over any Benjamins for my efforts. But I am something of a sex worker groupie, in that I am continually amazed and inspired by their stories, their perseverance and the occasional yeast infection remedy they provide me. Last week, when I was on "vacation" (bloggers don't get real vacations) in New York, I was lucky enough to catch Sex Worker Literati, a new reading and performance series hosted by Audacia Ray and David Henry Sterry on the first Thursday of the month in New York City's SoHo district. 
The series features peep show girls, rent boys, strippers, hookers, phone sex operators and everyone else in between the sheets of the sex industry, and offered an honest, funny, tragic, glib, absurd and life affirming look at the timeless profession of buying and selling sex. Additionally, a percentage of the proceeds from the series go towards helping sex workers - this month it was St. James Infirmary in San Francisco. So, it's for a good cause too.

The sex industry is often glamorized (like the new HBO series "Hung") or villainized (by many). Rarely is there any in-between on what the sex industry actually looks like, so it was fascinating to see the scope of performances, the wildly different experiences and the inspirational messages that sprang forth from each of the performers. Some of the pieces focused on the light-hearted. Sam Benjamin performed a monologue about trying to live the straight life after several years of making porn. "I used to be a pornographer," he said. "Now I'm just poor." Tinkly jazz music played in the background as he listed various legit jobs he'd had - bus boy, beer distributor - and how ultimately unfulfilling they were, financially and otherwise.

The half-Scandinavian, half-African Damien Decker read a detailed cuckold request that he'd gotten from a client whose wife wanted to be f*cked by "Big Black Master. (That's YOU!)" He also had a humorous take on performing racial stereotypes: "As a European, I find it really difficult to pretend to be a thug from the ghetto." Molly Crabapple lent a feminist bent to the world of nude art modeling by reading an essay she wrote when she was 21. She posed a provocative question: does beauty lose its value when there are artificial elements, like botox? Lipstick? Photoshop? She also had the best pitch for buying her graphic novel, which was: "Buy my book. It has lots of strap-ons in it."

The humorous requests and political gripes were tempered by Jodi Sh. Doff, who read a beautiful, heart-breaking piece about a 15-year-old stripper, once vibrant and innocent, claimed by what she referred to as "the machine" - the underworld of drugs, sex and violence in the 80s, where one's own survival outweighed all else.

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Photo by: Alan Mercer

The coup de gras, however, was definitely headliner Candye Kane, who was recently in Chicago for Market Days, (don't worry, she'll be back in October). She was truly a voice to be reckoned with. A former pin-up cover girl, stripper and phone sex operator, Ms. Kane used the sex industry to launch an internationally successful music career that has spanned two decades. Between showcasing her powerhouse pipes with blues songs, she spread an overwhelming message of hope and triumph. As she said to my friend and fellow blogger-in-arms, Annie Scott, who interviewed her that night: "I feel really strongly about being not only a positive affirmation person, but being somebody who a sex worker can look up to and go 'hey, I can find my way out of this if I want to, or even if I don't want to, I can make this as beautiful as it can be while I'm in it.'" Ms. Kane said she drew much inspiration from blues singers past, a genre steeped in oppression that certainly has commonalities with the sex industry.

Check out Candye Kane's new album, Superhero, which has debuted at #10 on the Billboard Blues Charts. And be on the lookout for her when she makes her way back to the Windy City.

Chicago could definitely benefit from a Sex Worker Literati series of its own. Who wants to get that ball rolling? Get on that and I'll get on you.

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2 Comments

Muhammad Saleem said:

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A very informative piece Anna. I would love to read your take on xex tourism, which seems to be taking off with older women.

If you're successful in getting the ball rolling getting the series started, I'm sure you wont have trouble finding an audience.

sgf said:

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Safer sex is a precaution taken by sexually active individuals in order to better protect themselves from Stds and HIV.

Bejino,
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