Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Hos, Hookers, Call Girls, and Rent Boys Review

This a guest post from everyone’s favourite Gus, Allison McCarthy.

 

Allison McCarthy is a freelance writer, a co-host of the BlogTalk Radio podcast Womanist Musings, and a columnist for "The Intersectional Feminist" at the group blog, Girl with Pen.

 

image Hos, Hookers, Call Girls, and Rent Boys is a self-described collection of "short memoirs, rants, confessions, nightmares, journalism, and poetry covering life, love, work, family, and yes, sex."  I was lucky enough to attend a reading of the book at Busboys and Poets earlier this month and the experience has lingered with me. 

The collection seeks to express a diverse range of experiences and reflections on sex work.  From sex educators and artists like Nina Hartley and Annie Sprinkle comes a round of entertaining essays which ruminate on the sex-positive aspects of the industry.  Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore writes about hustling in New York hotels with a poet's wit and razor-like edge.  And Dr. Carol Queen breaks down the art of "oral clairsentience" (I'll leave you to figure out what that means...). 

What makes the authors so readable is their ability to shed light on the unseen aspects of sex work.  Shawna Kenney, author of the memoir I Was a Teenage Dominatrix, describes a run-in with a male stripper at a co-worker's bachelor party in "Seven Minutes with Stripper #2."   With a sage sense of humor, Kenney reveals her brief encounter with the second of two male dancers hired for the hotel party as they share a matter-of-fact laugh over "knowing the magician's tricks."  In a reading that brought down the house at Busboys and Poets, Sterry's rendition of "I Was a Birthday Present for an Eighty-Two-Year-Old Grandmother" was both incredibly funny and a fascinating anti-ageist commentary on the things we're all afraid to ask for (namely, women asking for oral sex).  Renee has written about women, oral sex and reciprocity before and as I sat in the audience, enraptured by Sterry's uncanny vocal impressions and gesticulating, I thought about how unbelievably awful it must feel to never be able to ask for something so, in the words of Sterry, "basic."

(His enormously entertaining reading has also left  me feverish with desperation to get my hot little hands on a copy of his best-selling memoir, Chicken: Love for Sale on the Streets of Hollywood.

The book unflinchingly represents the voices of those who have harder stories to grapple with: survivors of pimping, rape, abuse, and other violent atrocities thrust upon those who are forced into the sex industry.  What makes the book so compelling is editor David Henry Sterry's refusal to "grind a political axe."  His work with the San Francisco-based non-profit organization Standing Against Global Exploitation Project (SAGE) is highlighted at the end of the book, as stories of commercial sexual exploitation of children and adults are searingly rendered.  Yet Sterry bears witness to their testimony and he has successfully etched out a safe space for these survivors' sharp, sensitive prose. 

With short essays on a wide range of sex worker lives, Hos, Hookers, Call Girls, and Rent Boys is a must-read for anyone who wants to get beyond "the glitter and stiletto heels, the myths, prejudices, and misperceptions" and experience first-hand the voices of contemporary sex workers.