NOVEMBER 29, 2018

How old are you?

I’m 26.

And where are you from originally?

I was born in Kalamazoo, Michigan and I moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania when I was five. I lived there until I was 19 and then I’ve gone back and forth since then.

When did you come to New Orleans?
I first came to New Orleans four years ago next month but I first started living here four years ago next August.

What made you move here?

My background is in business management and specifically contracting and construction. Working with men didn’t bother me. It did bother me that they would do whatever the fuck it was that they wanted regardless of what I said. It didn’t matter what knowledge I had, they were going to do whatever they wanted and they just wanted me to support them. I was like, this is so fucking stupid for me to be waking up at seven o’clock in the morning for this shit. I had a friend of mine that had lived in New Orleans and I saw her before I went and lived for a very brief stint in Los Angeles and then I thought to myself that it was all so stupid and decided to come back here and be a stripper full time. 

What has kept you here?

As a dancer, everywhere I go I can work and since I file my taxes, I am able to file all of my traveling costs and fees and everything. I still travel back and forth but my official residence is here. What has me moving here full time is that I am ready to transition out of dancing full time. I want to work on my skill sets and one of the ones I think I have is that I am empathetic—which is why I think I am good at sex work—and I feel very spiritually moved by the world. So I am mainly down here to get initiated into vodou and be able to heal people. Because of the Caribbean and African diaspora, people want to understand it more and more. But in places like Pittsburgh that are 66% white, there are groups that don’t have any sort of tether to be able to understand themselves and their ancestry. So many places have to outsource their information and I’d like to educate myself so I can bring that to people whose culture it is but don’t necessarily have that community where they live.

How do you refer to your work? What do you call yourself?

I say a sex worker, I say a dancer, a stripper, an entertainer. I switch them in accordance with my audience because, for example, I see that a sex worker can be a performer but depending on how a sex worker is providing their services, it could also not be performative at all. There are so many layers to it and so many individual, independent experiences for all sex workers. I choose the word I use based on what I think my audience would most be able to understand.

Do you feel comfortable saying where you work or have worked in the city?

I won’t say where I work now but I would love to tell a quick story.

Go for it.

I started working at Barely Legal in August of 2015. Everyone knows that a new chick starting in the summertime when it’s slow goes to Barely Legal. I was friendly and loved it and was in good graces and everything was cool. I was still moving back and forth between here and Pittsburgh and I came back here earlier this year and started working for Hustler. In April, there was this group of women who were taking videos of me and throwing mad shade at me. It was a Sunday during French Quarter Fest, I will never forget it. I looked at the security guard and he came over and told them they couldn’t do that. Then when they were on their way out, they were screaming shit at me. There were people around because it was French Quarter Fest and I’m trying to do my stage set and they were just yelling at me so I turned to them and said, “Hey man, all he’s trying to say is that my privacy matters and it does, girl. Don’t get it twisted.” They told me, “Your privacy stopped mattering the second you got up on that stage you dumb ass bitch.” I was shocked. I was so mad. I took one of those two dollar hand fans that they have at the beauty supply store and fucking threw the fan in their direction and everyone else in the club applauded and tipped me. I got off stage and was told I needed to go see the manager. I’ve seen women punch men in the face for getting too handsy—that’s the New Orleans I know. But I told him, “I understand that things have been different since the raids. I get it. I get it. I’m sorry. That was petty and I know it was wrong.” He told me he had to send me home for the day but that when I came back to just tell the night manager what happened and about this conversation. So then everything was cool, it was all fine. Then there was another time when a man from Vegas who was fucked up was throwing shade at the manager but we went in back and were doing a couple private dances and he was still too handsy. I had just shaved my fucking pussy and he wraps his hand around my outfit—a one piece and g-string—and starts pulling. I asked what the fuck he was doing and he keeps pulling so I slapped him across the face. He shoved me off of him, we start yelling at each other, security came and told me to go upstairs and ultimately, I got fired. Things like this have happened to me before and I never did anything about it. I’ve tried the alternative of sitting there and taking it and batting my eyelashes and cooing my way out the situation with an aggressive, drunk man who is aroused. I’m sitting in front of my female manager with my torn underwear in my hand telling her that their way of “handling” a situation like that is disastrous. I didn’t understand why I was being fired when I was sitting there with evidence in my hand and she just kept citing my previous suspension. I owned my shit, it was petty but this is different. I have torn clothing in my hands right now. It was bullshit. I started crying because I was overwhelmed. I was later told that someone overheard the customer telling my manager that he would leave a bad Yelp review if you don’t get rid of her or some shit. Bourbon Street is so sensitive now because of the raids and so I lost my job.

What has happened since you got fired?

I just started looking at other clubs. Fuck Hustler. I said I never wanted to work for corporations and I only started working for corporations when I became a dancer. Isn’t that the ironic flip of the script? The moment you become a private contractor is the minute corporate gets you.

We’re also seeing a lot more pop-up events starting to happen that is fusing with the local burlesque scene that is so popular here. This is a great example of that crossover, this is where it starts to become entertainment. Sex work has a much more psychological and obviously sexual undertone whereas performance and entertainment tend to distance themselves from the sex element of it. There are a lot more independent channels now much like everything else. Instead of needing a label to release music, artists can make themselves a Soundcloud or a Spotify page and do it themselvbes. It’s the same with stripping and sex work. There are pop-up strip events and all you need to do is keep a g-string on and wear pasties. There is starting to be a re-taking of the scene by the people that actually do the work.

I also just want to start working less. Instead of praising the Almighty Dollar, I am actually trying to spend less and humble what it is that I do and don’t have and get fucking roommates which is not always easy. 

Can you define sexism?

Sexism. Yes I can. I would say that sexism is not being sensitive to or working towards the equity of the sexes. Gender is so fluid and I think that we all could review our own masculine traits, feminine traits, passive traits, active traits. We can always review our own duality but I think in the social aspect it is the absence of sensitivity and not working toward the recognition that some people need more platforms and some people need to take a seat. 

When you were growing up, do you remember being told or taught anything about what it meant to be a girl and the expectations that came with that?

I was raised on pop culture. I was born in 92 and was months old when I was listening to TLC’s first album. That time in the 90s was really fucking cool because of Alanis Morisette, Courtney Love, TLC, En Vogue, Ru Paul, and Prince of course. There was gender bending, there was feminine love and expansion. But then in my teens, my formative years if you will, there was a weird flip. In the 2000s, the focus became bulimia and spray tans and low-rise jeans and the O.C.

I had all of those things.

Right! I saw a lot of body shaming and body non-positivity. That was the time of fad diets, a lot of plastic surgery—

That was the rise of reality TV, too…

Along with a rise in what our expectations of reality were! And now it’s on our phones so we literally take it with us everywhere we go. I was an athlete when I was younger—

What did you play?

I was a swimmer. My mom had had two kids, had gained weight, was curvy. She was fat. I also feel like we shouldn’t be afraid to say the word fat, fat isn’t bad. But she was always saying to me that I was lucky to have the body I did. So even unintentionally, I ended up placing a lot of value on the fact that I had this nice body. But I am also mixed and grew up around a lot of white people. There was a notion of being cute and being light-skinned and even though I was not white, I was accepted by whiteness. 

Throughout my interviews for this installment, I have learned that there is a large discrepancy in the experiences that white sex workers have and the experiences that sex workers of color have. Do you feel like you have one experience more than the other or yours is one that runs down the middle of those two parallels?

There is a hip-hop culture that is focused around the hustle and the come up. A lot of black culture talks about how your parents tried to do the wholesome thing but the man is so fucked up that it didn’t get them far and that’s why they hustle. I think the representation of the hustle in sex work is this really flashy way to be cute and cool before you settle down and have your business and level up the casting system. Being mixed and being light-skinned I understand a lot of parts of that world, especially through stripping. I have danced in clubs where I am one of the only non-white girls and I have danced in clubs where there are like five light-skinned girls with natural hair. 

Do you always notice when people are acting in a sexist way?

I don’t know because sometimes my judge of character is best in hindsight. I more so notice when people aren’t being sexist. When you feel comfortable is noticeable.

“Good, that guy didn’t yell at me as I walked past him.”

Totally! I talked to a dude the other day and I was like, “Listen, I’m only fucking women right now” and he was like, “Cool.” And then we smoked. (laughter) I felt like our level of conversation was even.

What’s the best part about being a sex worker?

Because I am an empathetic person and I don’t just feel people but I feel myself and I remember certain times when I was not in a good place. Sometimes people are there to party and have a good time and I’m down! I’m about to party for free and you’re about to party for expensive. We all win! But I also know and feel that certain customers want to be in the company of beautiful women and are there because they need someone. A lot of men put so much focus on the breadwinner stereotype even now and have to have a house and have a car and have a fucking big dick and all these things but at the end of the day are lonely. Sex work doesn’t need to be tragic, it’s just an industry where people have always known they can go. 

What’s the hardest part?

When people try to put their finger up your butt. I say it with comedic relief, but it’s so fucking annoying. Another thing is whorephobia. Lateral whorephobia is when underneath the umbrella of sex work, each different type of sex worker thinks that they have a pedestal or that they are higher up on the ladder. It sucks, it’s stupid. A lot of people have this false idea that being in a strip club is just infinitely better than full service sex work. One of the hardest things for me working inside a strip club is that I still work for men who don’t give a shit about me. They don’t give a shit about us! We could only be so lucky if a manager had some save-a-hoe complex and god forbid, hears your side of a story and be on your team. But cute, young girls are interchangeable when they see us as dollar signs. That’s why I think the grassroots scene is so cool and so powerful. 

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

In the name of all customers that I’ve had who were actually really wonderful, we also need to ask ourselves when we’re being sexist. Whenever I meet a dude who does not strike me as a fellow empathetic person, who does not give me that notion of being sensitive, receptive, willing to listen, not going to objectify me, I still go in thinking that I will not get along with that person and that that conversation is going to annoy me. I think in general we need to give masculine people space as well. Everybody needs to have their chance to speak but everyone also needs their chance to listen.