NOTE: If this is your first visit to one of my pages, you might want to
check out my home page first, so you have an
idea where I’m coming from.
Recently I went to see an unusual piece of performance art.
Carol Queen, author of Exhibitionism for the Shy and Real Live Nude Girl,
co-owner of Good Vibrations (the well-known S.F. sex toy shop), Ph.D.
candidate and all-around gorgeous articulate babe, did a performance
called “Peep Show”. It was a two hour retrospective and analysis of her
year working at the Lusty Lady in San Francisco — a place where she
gyrated and talked dirty behind a pane of glass. The glass fronted onto
booths where men (generally) sat and masturbated, sometimes talking dirty
right back at her. If they asked nice for what they wanted, she’d usually
give it to them — provided they paid their five bucks per three minutes
and stayed on their side of the supposedly bulletproof glass.
Some of the things she did at work? Carol stripped down to
something skimpy. She showed them her pussy. She took them on a tour
down there. She masturbated. She often came (the latter being somewhat
unusual for women working the peep shows). She gave blow jobs to dildoes,
or occasionally used them on herself or on another girl (costs extra).
She talked dirty, or sweet, as requested. I’d love to tell you some of
her stories, such as the one about Improbable God or Dan and Susan, but
she tells them much better than I ever could. I recommend picking up one
of her books or seeing her in person as she tours. Details on the Good
Vibrations web site (www.goodvibes.com).
I’m telling you all this because a) she’s a friend of mine and I
want to give her a nice big plug (no, not that kind of plug…), b) she’s
way cool and provides an outstanding mind-opening, artistic experience,
and primarily c) all of this leads into something I wanted to talk
She spent a long time answering questions from the audience
afterwards — and one of the better questions was basically ‘how do you do
it when you find the man totally unerotic?’ How does a sex worker, of any
flavor, keep on with her (or occasionally his) job when her client is
unappealing, unpleasant, unsexy? Carol’s also worked as a prostitute, and
so she didn’t just have to enjoy herself behind a pane of glass — she’s
had to try her damnedest to enjoy herself while someone was bumping and
grinding against her. Had to try to enjoy herself while his pheromones
were wrong, while he was sweating on her — enjoy herself the times when
he was clumsy, she was tired, and she’d rather have just been at home
soaking in the tub…or having sex with her partner, who knows what she
likes. Tried to enjoy herself while feeling like she really couldn’t just
get up and go away, or say ‘this isn’t working’ the way you might with a
new lover. The clients have paid to enjoy themselves, and so it’s always
part performance, as the sex worker makes sure the customer has a good
If you’re a sex worker, this doesn’t mean you have to put up with
everything. If you’ve got decent working conditions, you get to turn away
the truly scary ones, the really obnoxious ones, the terminally rude.
Consider the plight of the sex workers who don’t have that option — now
that’s truly a rotten job. Carol’s generally worked at better places
than that, as have the dominatrixes I’ve interviewed. If the client’s
giving them shit, they refund his money and send him back into the world.
If we assume that that’s the paradigm we’re working with, then we have
some options for the clients who aren’t rude or obnoxious, but also aren’t
The classic option is, of course, to fake pleasure. After the
show I watched, no one asked Carol if she had ever faked it — certainly
lots of sex workers do. While that’s definitely not something I’d
advocate for your personal sex life (though I know it’s tempting at
times), as a professional in the field, there must be times when it seems
the only option. And if you lose a certain sincerity, a potential for
intimacy and honesty — well, it’s a tough job. It could be worse, and
often is. But Carol advocates a different approach, if you can possibly
In her eight total years of sex work so far, Carol’s found that
she can almost always find something to empathize with in the client. It
doesn’t have to be something sexual. She got a little inarticulate trying
to put this into words, and I don’t know that I can do much better, though
I think I know what she meant. It’s a certain fellow-feeling, an
appreciation of who they are, an empathy for the position they’re in, and
the bravery they’ve shown in actually admitting what they want. She’d do
a patter in the peep show, “C’mon baby, tell me what you want — what’s
your fantasy?” And they’d tell her. That takes courage, to say exactly
what your fantasy is, what you want sexually. A courage that many of us
find difficult to muster (myself included) in our own sex lives. It’s not
so hard to understand why she might appreciate such customers. Even the
ones that stammer and blush at least have had the nerve to walk in the
door. They walk in because they need something, and a sex worker can
take pleasure in feeling that need and helping them with it.
We all need — it’s part of being human. Carol and other sex
workers like her address that need in what I think is a very caring,
compassionate, healthy way. It’s a shame that our culture ostracizes
women like her. It’s a shame that not all sex workers can maintain such
an attitude. It’s a tragedy that something so human is seen as so
immoral, so inhuman. We need to stop demonizing sex work. We need to
respect the people who do such a difficult job, especially those who
manage to keep seeing their clients as real people. We need to create a
space for safe, sane and healthy sex emporia where men and women can work
with integrity, pride and compassion.
Next week I’ll introduce you to Lady Sally — she’s a fictional
character, but she runs the kind of whorehouse where I’d like to work.
If you have ideas for future columns — issues you want addressed,
questions you think I might be able to answer, drop me a line at
– Mary Anne
August 13, 1997